In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari talk of the world as being a recording surface on which everything is engraved. The essential thing, they say, is to mark and be marked. And, for them, the recording surface is also known as the body. This means both body in the literal, physical sense in which you and I have a body, and equally in an abstract, conceptual sense. The earth, seen this way, is a body (indeed, it’s known in science as a planetary body).
Think about this, then, in terms of territories. Of place-writing, of land-marking. I’ve written before about landmarks.
In the most simple and remote of settings, where life and land are close, the very act of dwelling shapes the place. Paths are worn across the earth, rocks are shifted, wood collected, fires burned, the lives of the inhabitants become ingrained, engraved on the place. Living generates specificity: the people and the place are interwoven, moulded around one another. The traces permeate the place; it is distinct, particular to the people.
To mark is to leave a trace, a legend which can be read. And in this respect it is intrinsically tied to language, words inscribed upon the landscape. It is the marks upon the surface which lead to the capacity to record, and they are thus intrinsically tied to memory: all of this takes place in and through and across time.
Over time, fragments – of bodies, of surface, of objects – are made and joined and assembled and disassembled, continually rearranged. It’s a process which can be termed coding and over-coding, the iterative replacement of one configuration with another, as the street plan of a city might evolve over time. And again, just as material fragments are literally rearranged, so too are conceptual fragments – of ideas, of methods, of abstract concepts like capital or society. They are broken down and re-formed from what is left of what existed before. Sometimes this happens gradually and sometimes very rapidly, but it is an ongoing, relentless process.
Some aspect of identity emerges from the combination of these two things: of enduring traces and continual over-coding. Continuity and change. Perhaps, too, identity is caught up in the capacity to create: to leave traces, to rearrange fragments around oneself, to make active decisions about what is changed (or allowed to change) and what is preserved (or allowed to stay). To curate one’s life.
All this makes me think about the different ways in which people are disenfranchised, are separated from these actions. They might be denied their bodies, the primary, most immediate recording surface. They might be denied the opportunity to create in a way that is meaningful to them. And they might be denied the record of their own activities, over the marks they make and leave.