sun-dried clay & exploited soil

October 11, 2012

“We live in a world populated by structures – a complex mixture of geological, biological, social, and linguistic constructions that are nothing but accumulations of materials shaped and hardened by history.” (Delanda, 2000, p.25)


DeLanda races through A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History at a breakneck pace. Traversing geological, biological, social, and linguistic constructions he foregrounds patterns of accumulation and reconstitution of matter.

First, there were minerals. The mineral world allowed the emergence of biological creatures, who – gelatinous and blobby at first – then reconfirmed their geological heritage through mineralisation – the forming of primitive bone. This “calcified central rod that would later become the vertebral column, made new forms of movement possible” (Delanda, 2000, p.26). These “new forms of movement” allowed the animal phylum to conquer every niche of the earth.

“The human endoskeleton was one of the many products of that ancient mineralisation. Yet that is not the only geological infiltration that the human species has undergone. About eight thousand years ago, human populations began mineralising again when they developed an urban exoskeleton: bricks of sun-dried clay became the building materials for their homes, which in turn surrounded and were surrounded by stone monuments and defensive walls.” (DeLanda, 2000, p.27)

DeLanda suggests this “urban exoskeleton” of sun-dried clay serves “a purpose similar to its internal counterpart: to control the movement of human flesh in and out of a town’s walls”. However he is cautious to avoid the error of comparing cities to organisms, especially when the metaphor implies that they exist in a state of internal equilibrium, as “urban centres and living creatures must be seen as different dynamical systems operating far from equilibrium, that is, traversed by more or less intense flows of matter-energy that provoke their unique metamorphoses.”

How did these flows of matter-energy provoke metamorphosis and what were the causes? In the case of the European exoskeleton, which formed around the eleventh century, “a series of innovations occurred which consolidated to form a remarkably efficient new way of exploiting the soil.” (DeLanda, 2000, p.29) This great agricultural intensification allowed a great increase in the “flow of matter-energy through society, as well as the transformations in the urban form that this intense flow makes possible.”

Almost one thousand years later we continue to exploit the soil. Although now we dig much deeper through the rich tapestry of top soil, deeper and deeper into the arteries of fossil fuels. We search for more intense matter-energy flows to channel through society. Our exoskeleton continues to grow, with the built environment the final resting place for a large amount of matter-energy flow. As we search for “new forms of movement” we must realise that exponential growth is an unhealthy goal in any system no matter how near or far from internal equilibrium.

We owe it to the minerals that allowed us the gift of movement, to one day, move in the right direction.

– Jordan Lane

Manuel DeLanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, New York: Swerve, 2000. Excerpt.

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