Metamaterials are those engineered to have properties not yet found in ‘nature.’ They are assemblages of conventional elements arranged in repeating patterns that derive properties not from their base materials, but from the precise size, shape, geometry, and orientation of their devised structures.
As such, metamaterial assemblages articulate a folding in of the arbitrary and anthropomorphic distinction between what is artificial and what is actual—a distinction Deleuze concisely rearticulates as the virtual and the real.[*]
Such a folding is made visible through nonlinear dynamics—also known as chaos theory—a multidisciplinary field of study which has exposed the inherent structures underlying what were originally considered random forms and events in life. From the ultraviolet light of a computer and the formation of a mountain range to the fluctuations of the stock market and the reverberations of an electromagnet, everything exhibits deep structural patterns.[†]
It is these nonlinear patterns that give rise to the myriad shapes and events that we perceive to be real. No longer is material—virtual or real materiality—taken to be an inert and lifeless substance that forces act upon to create forms and patterns, but rather, materials have self-organisation, form, and pattern immanent to them—materiality as epistemological anarchy.[‡]
There is, however, a specter haunting the structural chaos of the metamaterial. The rigid ontological commitments of discourse analysis regulate the metamaterial realm of social life to the status of an inert and apolitical backdrop, which only acquires significance via linguistic representation.[§]
Such a politics of representation constructs a distinction between meaning-making practices and an external-material world—a distinction predicated on the assumption that discourse is independent of materiality, which gives language the power to represent all strata, to translate all flows and codes into a sufficiently deterritorialised system of textual fundamentalism.[**]
This total textualisation of all existence derives from a very deep anthropomorphic positioning of the concept of ‘the political’ as something that exclusively pertains to discursive, and thus hominoid relations.[††]
Yet metamaterialism is not a critique of poststructural thought through the likes of Foucault and Derrida—who were in fact intertextual materialists who saw matter and language as mutually constitutive—it seeks to challenge to the ways their work has been appropriated by unrigorous textual fetishism.
Discourses are, of course, the subject of much of Foucault’s work, but a set of practices is intertextualised with those that produce discourse—material practices that involve causal interventions on the human body—from torture and mutilation to subtler punishments like imposed physical exercise.[‡‡]
While Foucault would, for example, agree that pairing a certain category of crime, like first-degree murder, with a certain category of punishment, like capital punishment, is clearly a discursive practice, the material act of execution is equally a non-discursive one. To label acts as either discursive or material is to ignore life’s intertextual nature—which situates itself between the scaling up to the strata of language or down to the material base.[§§]
Moreover, many believe Derrida to be arguing in his deconstructionism: ‘there is nothing outside the text.’ Yet in response to such misreading, Derrida argues that it is ‘monstrous’ to say that deconstruction confines itself to language and language games. While Derrida is clearly interested in language, he is also concerned with what lies beyond it, and the aporia of trying to address such a question from within the problematic of linguistic structures.[***]
It is arguably ‘materiality’—understood as the Other of language—that Derrida continually seeks to bring to the fore in his work. In Of Grammatology, the restless play of differance is not articulated as a purely linguistic structure, but rather, a field of forces that slices through the language-materiality divide in a way that renders it impossible to uphold such a distinction.[†††]
Thus instead of misinterpreting the intertextual materialism of Foucault and Derrida by reducing the political down to a politics of representation, metamaterialism stimulates a reconsideration of the status of the material as an active, affective, and politically significant set of forces in its own right.
In speculating the ways that matter has some ontological and epistemological significance beyond that which humans ascribe, metamaterialism adheres to a cosmologically distinctive yet entirely fluid set of intertextual commitments:
I) The classic dualisms that constitute modernity—false binaries such as mind/body, self/other, object/subject—are displaced by a non-reductive monism that emphasises the immanence of existence. Dialectical notions of matter as secondary to the forms imposed upon it are thus rendered obsolete by a molecular model in which vitality and activity are assumed to exist, and to have always existed, within energy-matter assemblages.
II) Futile attempts to transcend metaphysics in order to uncover the ‘post-metaphysical’ are overcome by a cosmological metaphysics of process that highlights the dynamic, temporal character of existence. Such metaphysics does not postulate a world where all being is in perpetual flux. Rather, it appreciates the differential nature of flows as a system moves through periods of relative equilibrium and periods of radical disequilibrium.
III) As the cosmos are composed of interacting forces with differing speeds and degrees of agency, metamaterialism requires a problem-orientation with all dimensions, from the microscopic to the planetary, folded in. In this way, a metamaterialist engagement is able to pursue the contours of a problem through the interacting and strata of all existence—from ‘international’ to ‘individual’—as specific analyses require.
IV) Through experimentation, metamaterialism requires acting beyond the dictates of established knowledge in order to advance speculations about processes that currently exceed comprehension. To do so requires supplementing all present conceptions of reason and knowledge with radically experimental technologic-artistic-psychedelic tactics that extend perceptual sensitivities through all of the supposed structural limitations.
V) Stabilisations of power can be punctured at strategic moments of recoil and reverberation by surprising accelerations and accentuated instabilities. When such moments of disequilibrium do arrive, notions of asymmetrical rhythm and vague intensity become pertinent concepts to deploy—not merely as metaphors for events reducible to familiar concepts, but as uncertain, operative processes of play during transitionary periods.
Many scoff at such formulations—particularly when things have settled after another disequilibrium. Yet time and again such conservative cautions prove foolhardy. We inhibit a cosmos of heterogeneous, interacting force-fields moving at different speeds. Creative cosmic events—outcomes that are less than chance and more than simple determination—flow through subjectivities rather than being simply reducible to a property of holistic agents.
Metamaterialism renders immanent the separations between human and nature, synthetic and natural, virtual and real. As morality is based in anthropic sovereignty, all moral codification are thus invalidated by an immanent ethics grounded on local causal affects. The idea of extrinsic laws governing material actions ceases and is replaced by an immanent causality of intertextual self-signification pregnant with infinitely incomprehensible possibilities.
[*] Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism, 1988.
[†] Felix Guattari, Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews, 1972-1977, 2008.
[‡] Paul Feyerabend, Against Method: An Anarchist Theory of Knowledge, 1975.
[§] Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 2002.
[**] Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1987.
[††] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.
[‡‡] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 1975.
[§§] Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge: & Discourse on Language, 1969.
[***] Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, 1967
[†††] Derrida, Of Grammatology, 1976.