In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Rhythm and Cadence, Frenzy and March: Music and the Geo-Bio-Techno-Affective Assemblages of Ancient Warfare
  • John Protevi (bio)

In one of many such passages in A Thousand Plateaus (hereafter “ATP”) Deleuze and Guattari describe the assemblage as the imbrication of the social and the somatic, this time using an example from ancient Greek warfare:

Assemblages [agencements] are passional, they are compositions of desire. Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled, desire [il n’y a de désir qu’agencant, agencé, machiné]. The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play, without the desires that constitute it as much as it constitutes them. Detienne has shown that the Greek phalanx was inseparable from a whole reversal of values, and from a passional mutation that drastically changed the relations between desire and the war machine. It is a case of a man dismounting from the horse, and of the man-animal relation being replaced by a relation between men in an infantry assemblage that paves the way for the advent of the peasant-soldier, the citizen-soldier: the entire Eros of war changes, a group homosexual Eros tends to replace the zoosexual Eros of the horseman … Passions are effectuations of desire that differ according to the assemblage … Affect is the active discharge of emotion, the counterattack [la riposte], whereas feeling [le sentiment] is an always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion.1

We are going to use this passage as a jumping-off point to examine some of the geo-bio-techno-affective assemblages at work in ancient Greek and Near Eastern warfare. We will look at the phalanx, but for greater contrast, we will not focus on the “zoosexual” horsemen, but on the berserker “runners” and their putative involvement in the 1200 BCE collapse of the Bronze Age kingdoms, of which Mycenae and Troy are the most famous examples. To describe these imbrications of the social and the somatic, I will use the term “body politic.”2 I have explored some dimensions of affect in contemporary military training;3 here I am extending the analysis to ancient warfare.

The article will have two parts. In Part 1, we’re going to explore the ontology, biology, and history of affect. In each case we will put Deleuze and Guattari’s work into the context of current research, primarily cognitive science, biology, anthropology, military history, and bio-cultural musicology. Exploring the ontology of affect will enable us to explain the exteriority of affect versus the interiority of emotion or “feeling.” Exploring the biology of affect will take us to the biophilosophical school known as Developmental Systems Theory (DST) as it intersects new research in neuroscience. From this perspective, affective bodies are experientially constructed, and that experience is open to the social; it’s a matter of variations on an inherited biological capacity for plasticity. In exploring the history of affect we will discuss cultural evolution and the anthropology of war. In Part 2, we are going to concentrate on the use of music in ancient warfare, and the difference between the types of music used to trigger the berserker rage versus that used to entrain the phalanx.

Part 1: The Ontology, Biology, and History of Affect

Ontology of Affect—For Deleuze and Guattari (hereafter “DG”) “affect” comprises the active capacities of a body to act and the passive capacities of a body to be affected or to be acted upon. In other words, affect is what a body can do and what it can undergo. The use of this term derives from Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza, in which Deleuze carefully distinguishes “affect” (affectus), as the experience of an increase or decrease in the body’s power to act, from “affection” (affectio), as the composition or mixture of bodies, or more precisely the change produced in the affected body by the action of the affecting body in an encounter. Affectus or what we could call “experiential affect” is not representational, Deleuze remarks, “since it is experienced in a living duration that involves the difference between two states.” As such an experience of...