I have recently come across three exciting new books as I start my work on Monsoon Assemblages. They are likely to become essential references for the project. The first is Levi R. Bryant’s brilliant Onto-Cartography, an Ontology of Machines and Media, published as part of Graham Harman’s University of Edinburgh series, Speculative Realism in 2014. The back cover introduces Bryant’s argument in the book, that “societies are ecosystems that can only be understood by considering nonhuman material agencies such as rivers and mountain ranges alongside signifying agencies such as discourses, narratives and ideologies.” He proposes that the world is composed entirely of material “things” (p6) and that these entities, be they physical things such as trees, humans, automobiles or, in my case, the monsoon, or discursive things such concepts, legislation or signage are all “machines” that dynamically operate on other machines (their inputs), producing outputs. What his “onto-cartograhy” (“onto” meaning “thing” and “cartography” meaning “map” (p7)) is, is a way of analysing how social and broader ecological relations are products of dynamic relations between machines.
The second and related book is Bob Beauregard’s equally brilliant Planning Matter, Acting with Things (University of Chicago Press, 2015). As far as I know, this is the first time that new-materialist ideas have been engaged by planning theory, in a rigorously argued attempt to bring matter back into planning. Too often, Beauregard argues, planners treat humans and human relations as if they were the only entities that count. Buildings, weather patterns, plants, hills, asphalt or regulation are treated as entities passively awaiting planners’ commands, rather than entities actively involved in the workings of cities and territories. He offers a new materialist perspective of planning practice that explores the many ways in which the non-human world acts in relation to what planners say and do.
The third book is Manuel deLanda’s new book, Assemblage Theory, also brought out by the University of Edinburgh as part of the Speculative Realism series in 2016. This is the first detailed overview of deLanda’s interpretation of assemblage theory, originating in Deleuze and Guattari’s writings, and critically connects deLanda with more recent turns in speculative realism.
While I have not yet had time to fully absorb these three books, I am very excited to find them. It seems to me that together they will provide critical ways to take my initial theoretical positions for Monsoon Assemblages considerably further.