(A)esthetic Experience As Assemblage – Aesthetic Assemblage?

How might what Dewey calls “esthetic experience” be viewed as what Deleuze and Guattari, or Jane Bennett deem as “assemblage?”

Could there be such thing as an aesthetic assemblage?

esthetic experience: deep and meaningful interaction between an artistic product and the self in which previous experiences, current understandings, and all elements are being are completely merged, showing a concern for the perceptual whole, constituted by related parts. 

assemblage: (in short) compositions of heterogeneous elements or objects that enter into relations with each other, or what Karen Barad might call, entanglement.

Jane Bennett (2010) refers to assemblages as: 

ad hoc groupings of diverse elements, of vibrant materials of all sorts.  Assemblages are living, throbbing confederations that are able to function despite the persistent presence of energies that (p. 23) confound them from within. Assemblages are not governed by any central head:  no one materiality or type of material has sufficient competence to determine consistently the trajectory or impact of the group. The effects generated by an assemblage are, rather, emergent properties, emergent in that their ability to make something happen (a newly inflected materialism, a blackout, a hurricane, a war on terror) is distinct from the sum of the vital force of each materiality considered alone. 

If we are to consideresthetic experience as assemblage, it is important to acknowledge the various heterogenous elements that are involved in an esthetic experience: substance, form, perception, space, time, imagination, and the work of art, itself. Without a specific conglomeration of these interrelated yet diverse elements, it may be impossible to have a true esthetic experience. To separate one aspect from the whole of the assemblage may be a complete undoing the assemblage. Dewey explains that “in every experience, there is the pervading underlying qualitative whole that corresponds to and manifests the whole organization of activities ” (p. 204).

Furthermore, any rearrangement of these elements (different form, perceiver, etc.) would constitute a completely separate assemblage, and therefore, completely different (esthetic) experience. For example,

We may indeed speak of red, and then of the red of rose or sunset. But these terms are practical in nature, giving a certain amount of direction as to where to turn. In existence no two sunsets have exactly the same red. They could not have it unless one sunset repeated the other in absolutely complete detail. For the red is always red of the material of that experience […] There are no two reds in a picture exactly like each other, each being affected by the infinite details of its context in the individual whole in which it appears (p. 223-224).

It is esthetic experience that merges “all the elements of our being […] in special emphases and partial realizations.” In this type of experience, the elements of being “are so completely merged” (p. 294) that  it would not be possible without the function and placement of dynamic parts to create a whole. Esthetic experience is concerned with the “perceptual whole,” a constitution of related parts (p. 141). There is “no one single figure, aspect or quality” but a grouping that constitutes the esthetic, and in turn, the esthetic experience of perceiver.

I will leave you with a quote that really hit the whole esthetic experience as assemblage thought home in my mind:

In his Enjoyment of Poetry, Max Eastman uses the apt illustration of a man crossing the river, we will say coming into New York City on a ferry boat, to bring out the nature of an esthetic experience. Some men regard it as simply a journey to get them where they want to be – a means to be endured. So, perhaps, they read a newspaper. One who is idle may glance at this and that building identifying it as the Metropolitan Tower, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, and so one. Another impatient to arrive, may be on the lookout for landmarks by which to judge progress toward his destination. Still another, who is taking the journey for the first time, looks eagerly but is bewildered by the multiplicity of objects spread out to view. He sees neither the whole nor the parts; he is like a layman who goes into an unfamiliar factory where many machine are plying. Another person, interested in real estate, may see, in looking at the skyline, evidence in the height of building, of the value of land. Or he may let his thoughts roam to the congestion of a great industrial and commercial center. He may go on to think of the planlessness of arrangement as evidence of the chaos of a society organized on the basis of conflict rather than cooperation. Finally the scene formed by the buildings may be looked at as colored and lighted volumes in relation to one another, to the sky and to the river. He is now seeing esthetically, as a painter might see (p. 140-141).

References and Sources: 

Bennett, Jane. (2010).  Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things.  Durham, NC:  Duke University Press. 

Deleuze on Assemblages (2009) , blog post on “Larval Subjects” – http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2009/10/08/deleuze-on-assemblages/

Dewey, John. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Penguin Group. 

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