Thing Power in the Arles Region: Assemblages, Depositions and Displacements

Jane Bennett borrows Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of assemblages to argue that humans are not the sole actors in and on the world. Instead, always-becoming assemblages that include human and non-human beings, materials, and forces produce events that shape our experience and, she argues, ought to shape our politics. How can these ideas help re-imagine a region under continuous transformation for several millennia, and now under social and environmental stress?

The seminar will start with Bennett’s and others’ concepts of “thing power,” or the idea that inanimate matter has capacity to act upon the world. Then, we will examine the assemblages acting upon the Arles region of southern France. Three landscapes converge around Arles: the Bauxite, or aluminum ore in the Alpilles, the flat lands of the Crau, and the marshes of the Camargue. The received image of this Mediterranean eden – lavender fields, markets overflowing with herbs, vibrating colors of Van Gogh’s landscapes – belies centuries of ecologically insensitive treatments that are coming to the fore in the present era of global disruption.

The ‘displacements and depositions’ that characterize the movements of human and non-human assemblages in Arles have significantly, but politically invisibly, shaped current regional conditions. Studied movements may include the entwined stories of rock from the Alpilles mountain range and now-underground Roman ruins; vegetal movements such as that of the Morus alba from the East via the Middle East and north Africa, through Spain to France; and the potentials of plants like algae to transform into new species of technonatures. We will examine time scales, from deep geological time to the seasonal movements of tourists, migrating people and animals, as well as perceptual features such as shade and illumination.

By understanding the vibrations of the region’s living and non-living matter, we will reimagine its ecological and socio-political futures. Our aim will be to understand how individual parts assemble into larger forces that affect the region. The outcome of the seminar will be an atlas of movements through and around Arles, which will suggest an expanded political agenda for the region.

Note: Students enrolled in the option studio RIZHOSPHERE, led by Teresa Gali Izard, are encouraged to take this seminar in conjunction with the studio. Individuals enrolled in the seminar but not enrolled in the studio will have an opportunity to enter a lottery allowing them to participate in a site visit to Arles, Frances, in conjunction with the studio. Students enrolled in the seminar but who are traveling in conjunction with another studio or course are not eligible to travel with this course. The six students selected to take part in the trip to Arles, France will be term-billed $300 and will be expected to cover meals and incidentals, including visa costs and any changes to the set itinerary for the trip. The enrollment for the seminar is limited to 20, and 6 of those students will travel to Argelaguer, Spain and Arles, France September 24- October 1st.