Nomadology: The War Machine – Smooth Space vs Striated Space

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and, more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all of the flows traversing the ecumenon.

This seems especially relevant today, with the technocratic desire to quantify, label, and then be able to monetise everything. Technocrats continue to sell us the vision of smooth space – that their products, their data, their dark designs, will make our lives easier and better, but that hasn’t happened, and it won’t happen, because in practice they are actually more heavily striating our lives than ever before. They believe that they can fully understand nature, the world, humanity, and individuals if only they were able to gather enough data, but our world doesn’t work like that.

Some people nowadays are too eager to criticize this numerical organization, denouncing it as a military or even concentration-camp society where people are no longer anything more than deterritorialized “numbers.” But that is false. Horror for horror, the numerical organization of people is certainly no cruder than the lineal or State organizations. Treating people like numbers is not necessarily worse than treating them like trees to prune, or geometrical figures to shape and model.

But then if that’s the way Deleuze and Guattari’s State is manifested in the current moment, then it’s worth considering what they have to say about the nomad, and see what lessons we might be able to learn from nomadology. Bear with me with this next quote, but I think it captures dichotomy of the sedentary and the nomad really well.

sedentary space is striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures, while nomad space is smooth, marked only by “traits” that are effaced and displaced with the trajectory. […] The nomad distributes himself in a smooth space; he occupies, inhabits, holds that space; that is his territorial principle. […] Toynbee is profoundly right to suggest that the nomad is […] he who does not move. Whereas the migrant leaves behind a milieu that has become amorphous or hostile, the nomad is one who does not depart, does not want to depart, who clings to the smooth space left by the receding forest, where the steppe or the desert advances, and who invents nomadism as a response to this challenge.

To me, this distinction between the migrant and the nomad really speaks of adaptability. Our ability to embrace true nomadism is being stifled by the State and Capital’s efforts to enclose everything, but the nomad’s strength is in clinging to the smooth spaces – perhaps the spaces the state has abandoned.

I’m a sci-fi writer, so I can’t help but think of this thread in terms of climate change, and the huge numbers of climate refugees we’re likely to see in our lifetimes. But as the State retreats to its fortresses, what opportunities might remain outside those walls for the nomad? I don’t have answers, but I think the climate nomad is a compelling figure – someone who shuns the striated spaces of the State and instead seeks to reterritorialize the spaces left behind.

Nomadology: The War Machine – US Military in the Modern Day

It’s probably not surprising that in so much of this discussion of the war machine and the state, I’m put in mind of US imperialsm, particularly the past 20 years of the so-called War on Terror in the Middle East. With the recent situation in Afghanistan, a lot of people have been referencing Vietnam, so let me do the same. With Vietnam it was truly the US going to war – the draft meant many young men were sent to fight regardless of their own feelings about that war or war in general, it was a highly televised event broadcast into American homes every night, and it weighed heavily on political discussions and elections all throughout the years of the war.

Compare that to 20 years in Afghanistan. There’s no draft, so the people going over to fight have volunteered to do so – though economic realities being what they are for many people, can it really be called volunteering? – and even then, more and more of the war was entirely privatised. It wasn’t a war fought by the American people – by the State – but rather by the State’s military apparatus.

A fact that many people likely aren’t familiar with is that even when the US does deign to sign on to various climate change agreements, they will always demand that the US military is exempt from any restrictions related to decreased pollution. In so many ways it is simply not held accountable to the State or the people it is ostensibly protecting.

The war machine is pure exteriority, taking funding from the polity, but otherwise having little or nothing to do with it.

It is not enough to affirm that the war machine is external to the apparatus. It is necessary to reach the point of conceiving the war machine as itself a pure form of exteriority, whereas the State apparatus constitutes the form of interiority we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking.

Now, the US military isn’t a true war machine in the D&G sense. “(What we call a military institution, or army, is not at all the war machine in itself, but the form under which it is appropriated by the State.)” As they say: “The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems.” That seems a really interesting point to me – the state and the military are always at odds with one another – but still the State is convinced it needs the military, even as the military takes ever-larger pieces of the state’s budget, and even when that military might choose to one day become the state, as with many coups across the last hundred years.

The military institution is a highly regimented and striated hierarchical organisation, but it seems to me that in formal militaries, the true nomadic war machine comes to light in the ways units are able to conduct their duties under their own supervision. There is still a military chain of command, but if the large number of atrocities and war crimes committed by our forces is any indication, that command must seem very distant indeed. And that ties in to some of the other parts of this essay that seemed to me to be speaking of the experience of the war veteran.

If being a part of the nomadic war machine means moving over smooth space – literally, in many desert settings, but also mentally or spiritually, a space where the moral and ethical constraints that underpin society have been smoothed over by a set of increasingly-lax Rules of Engagement –then it’s no wonder both that the rigid hierarchy is required to keep these would-be nomads under control, and also that they so often struggle upon return to the striated space of real life.

Deleuze and Guattari write: “Trapped between the two poles of political sovereignty, the man of war seems outmoded, condemned, without a future, reduced to his own fury, which he turns against himself.” They go on to cite some examples out of ancient myth, but we don’t have to look any further than the many, many veterans who commit suicide upon return to the world. It’s not that their description matches every veteran, but it sadly covers many. Some survive by returning to the war machine – either the formal military institutions, or the private sector – some survive by an act of reterritorialization, becoming something other than a man of war.

Origami – Notes on The Fold, Chapter 1

Below are my notes on The Fold, Chapter 1. Might look a little like a transcript this time around because I really struggled to unfold this text and felt the need to stick closely to my notes. Enjoy?

One of the reasons I found this first chapter difficult on first look is that Deleuze wastes no time in demonstrating the breadth of his thought here. Immediately he calls the Baroque an “operative function” that endlessly produces folds, and says that rather than inventing anything, the Baroque entails folds coming from “the East, Greek, Roman, Romanesque, Gothic, [and] Classical folds.” (This description of the Baroque as something that contains what came before sounds similar to how one might describe postmodernism, though of course lacking the meta or self-referential aspect that really defines PM.) I don’t know enough about the Baroque in art and architecture to know whether Deleuze is accurate here (or if it’s even perhaps a controversial statement), but he’s setting the boundaries of discussion, and they are seemingly endless – as he says “The Baroque fold unfurls all the way to infinity.”

It’s worth taking this on-board as something of a warning. Ahead of you is a dense and dizzying read. And that makes sense when you consider that this book is in conversation with the work of Leibniz, who is the sort of genius that developed ideas and theories more than 300 years ago that are still relevant to philosophy, mathematics, and computing today.

After establishing the boundaries (or lack thereof), Deleuze moves on to a metaphor of a sort of Baroque House made up of two floors. The lower floor (the Pleats of Matter) has windows (which represent the inputs of the five senses), but the upper floor (the Folds of the Soul) is closed off, though there is movement and communication between the floors.

The lower floor is where matter is amassed and organised. The upper floor is where “the soul sings of the glory of God inasmuch as it follows its own folds, but without succeeding in entirely developing them, since ‘this communication stretches out indefinitely.'” The notion of a soul needing to follow its own folds is reminiscent to me of the lines of flight that we discussed previously with On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature. And in particular the part about the process stretching out indefinitely links to the idea of becoming – that being a process which is (or should be) ongoing.

So already I’m making connections, I’m folding this chapter in with some of the other works we’ve discussed in an effort to grasp on to some sort of meaning. But I know I’m struggling when I can’t help but wonder exactly what Deleuze means by “matter” here. When he discusses the house, and the communication between the upper and lower levels, he could easily be discussing the human – the way the physical and the spiritual influence and interact with one another. But we’re also talking about Leibniz and mathematics, and so in the next paragraph Deleuze is talking about the curvilinear movement of the universe, because of course he is. But I think the important idea to take out of this section (where Deleuze is going from the Baroque House to an almost cosmic perspective) is summed up in a quote from Leibniz: “The division of the continuous must not be taken as of sand dividing into grains, but as that of a sheet of paper […] in folds, in such a way that an infinite number of folds can be produced, some smaller than others, but without the body ever dissolving into points or minima.” Later – particularly when we’re talking about monads – we could slip into a modern scientific mode of atomistic thinking, so I think we’ll be served well by keeping this in mind. Deleuze isn’t concerned with discrete atoms, he’s concerned with the folds within and between matter.

Deleuze says, “The unit of matter, the smallest element of the labyrinth is the fold.” And I like this idea; if you’re thinking about a labyrinth, the fold isn’t actually a part of the maze in the same way that the walls are, the fold is instead the relationship between the walls themselves. The fold is the smallest element of the labyrinth because it’s the metadata that defines the shape of the labyrinth. Perhaps as digital natives (or at least digitally naturalised, for us elder-Millennials) we’re in a better position to grasp the idea of the fold because we’re already intimately familiar with the relationship between the physical and the non with the way our digital lives are overlaid on and intersect with our physical lives – or the way they’re enfolded together.

Anyway, we’re moving into a section that pits organic matter against inorganic matter. Organic matter is defined by internal folds, while inorganic matter is worked upon by exterior forces. Here I can only guess that he’s talking about the development of organic matter – growth and change – because sadly we’re not immune to external forces, and your organic matter is going to find itself quite severely folded if you get hit by a truck, or slam your hand in a car door (sorry, Matt, but the example was right there). But still, it’s an important distinction to make – inorganic matter is worked on by wind, water, tools, chemical reactions, etc, but organic matter is a machine made up of self-replicating and self-perpetuating machines – that being cells.

(In another bit Deleuze also says that there’s no difference between organic and inorganic matter, so what the fuck do I know?)

On the distinction between the two types of matter, Deleuze says “Our mechanisms are in fact organized into parts that are not in themselves machines, while the organism is infinitely machines, a machine whose every part or piece is a machine […].” So, inorganic mechanisms can move between one level and the other only with external interference – it can be folded, but it cannot fold itself – whereas a living organism has an “internal destiny that makes it move from fold to fold, or that makes machines from machines all the way to infinity.” His use of “infinity” can’t really be read as literal, but rather potential. It also sounds more akin to how cancer cells operate then the bodies that host them.

I’d be interested to see how someone working in the space of Object-Oriented Ontology might respond to this section on organic vs inorganic matter, so if any listeners have recommendations or thoughts, please get in touch.

Anyway, Deleuze continues to develop this line of thinking, and posits that instead of unfolding its parts to infinity, organic matter unfolds according to the development of its species. He uses the example of the fly: “The first fly contains the seed of all flies to come, each being called in its turn to unfold its own parts at the right time.” And he also uses the example of the butterfly, which “is folded into the caterpillar that will soon unfold.” So he’s talking about living process – or plastic forces – as being the folds taking place within organic matter.

In the same paragraph – it’s a long one, and one that kept on grabbing me no matter how badly I wanted to move past it – he quotes Leibniz, saying “Each portion of matter may be conceived as a garden full of plants, and as a pond full of fish. But every branch of each plant, every member of each animal, and every drop of their liquid parts is in itself likewise a similar garden or pond.” I highlighted this because to me it sounds like a description of environmental systems right down to the level of microbial biomes, which is something we’re still coming to understand today. Leibniz was apparently a thinker outside of time.

Sean Gets Off His Face

Our Sean recently deterritorialised himself off the podcast and wound up on another plane of buddies, discussing the “faciality” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus with the lovely folks on the Acid Horizon podcast.

Read the introduction to the episode below, and listen over on the Acid Horizon Patreon for just £1 a month.

What is the role of the face in the construction of societies and the development their forms of political power? In today’s episode, we are joined by Sean from ‘Buddies Without Organs’, a philosophy podcast which conducts close readings of the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Together, we examine the plateau entitled “Year Zero: Faciality” from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.  We discuss the emergence of the face as a historical object which functions as a component in the deployment and mediation of forms of political and social power.  In particular, we focus on the importance of the face of Jesus of Nazareth depicted as a ‘White Christ’, a visage which Deleuze and Guattari claim to be the face par excellence, one to which all other faces become subordinated. Moreover, the construction of the face entails serious implications for imperialism, racism, transphobia, and other political issues. Other figures discussed: Heidegger and Foucault.

Writer-Becoming

Deleuze spends a lot of time in On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature writing about writing – and when that’s caught up with his ideas about lines of flight and becoming, then it starts to read to me as writing advice. Or maybe writer advice – advice to help you think like a writer, or even to become one…

It is possible that writing has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there. To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer. That is to become something else.

Again, “To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary.” I just wanted to linger on that for a moment. I write science-fiction, so of course the things I write are entirely imaginary, but at the same time they’re not, because I’m trying to root them in something real, and to bring to life those characters and their world. Maybe I don’t always do that for the reader, but when I do it for myself then I know I’m on to something. For instance, I can’t even think about the closing chapters of my novella trilogy without getting misty-eyed; these aren’t characters that I created, they’re people that live in my mind and who I care about so fucking much. Perhaps they started off imaginary, but they’re very real to me now. And I think that is a huge part of the ‘trick’ of writing a compelling narrative – however imaginary it is, it has to be real as well, it has to be taken seriously. If you aren’t losing yourself in the work to some degree, you’re not on a line of flight with your work.

Now, back to the last part of that quote: “To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer.”

A lot of aspiring or new writers struggle with the idea of becoming a writer – they think it’s an identity that’s beyond them that they wish to grasp, but the simplest interpretation of what Deleuze is saying here is that it’s through the process of writing that one becomes. But it’s not the becoming-hyphen-writer you should concern yourself with. The writer is the first thing you become as soon as you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but the act of writing starts you on the line of flight because – I would argue – writing means seeing your thoughts, ideas, prejudices, etc, on paper and having a chance to think about them, to deconstruct them, and to reconsider them in the way that should help you in becoming that which you are supposed to be. That’s not even necessarily what Deleuze is saying – this is not an essay on self-actualisation through the act of writing – but it’s something I’ve chosen to take out of the essay.

The great and only error [lies] in thinking that a line of flight consists in fleeing from life; the flight into the imaginary, or into art. On the contrary, to flee is to produce the real, to create life, to find a weapon.

God I love that last bit – to find a weapon. Whether that’s your mind, your voice, your persistence, your community, or something else, you’re going to need a weapon if you’re to have any chance of getting through life as the person you truly want to be. And I think with the talk of becomings, Deleuze is arguing that writing without purpose is not really writing:

In writing one always gives writing to those who do not have it, but the latter give writing a becoming without which it would not exist, without which it would be pure redundancy in the service of the powers that be.

The writing does not stand alone – it is part of a rhizome. The assemblage is not complete until the writing has been deterritorialised and reterritorialised in the act of being read. Without forming that connection, it’s redundant, lifeless. It has not become anything. Elsewhere he calls writing the “means to a more than personal life” – and perhaps he means a public life, or perhaps he means a communal one, because writing is indeed a great way to find and build a community.

And one last thought to finish on…

Writing always combines with something else, which is its own becoming.

That something else should be a spark from deep inside you, a fear you are forcing yourself to face, or some of your own blood spilling out on the page. That will make it real.

Lines of Flight and the Inward March

The line of flight would be the central idea of Deleuze’s essay On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature. Even before he mentioned Joseph Conrad, the “line of flight” immediately put me in mind of Heart of Darkness and then Apocalypse Now, and the anabasis represented by each (he also mentions Aguirre, Wrath of God, the historical figure, though Herzog’s film certainly fits the anabasis definition). Anabasis means “inland march,” but in these examples that inland march parallels an inward journey toward the heart of darkness inside the narrators themselves. Deleuze refers to the flight as a sort of delirium, which we certainly see in both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – the narrators realise the line of flight might kill them, but they are driven onwards anyway, desperate to see what lies at the end of this becoming.

There is something […] demonic in a line of flight. Demons are different from gods, because gods have fixed attributes, properties and functions, territories and codes: they have to do with rails, boundaries and surveys. What demons do is jump across intervals, and from one interval to another.

When Deleuze mentions demons, he isn’t referring to anything evil, and indeed, the trickster seems like the real comparison. The demon, or trickster, is a force that might influence people to embrace something chaotic, or something that might normally be outside of their range of likely responses. Staying withing the boundaries of the rule-bound god will not help you embrace a line of flight, but by breaking out, one might find a new line. This is presented quite literally in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – our narrators embrace the chaos of the jungle, leave behind their civilised selves (which are possibly only fiction-suits, where their true self is something they are frightened of as much as they are seduced by it) precisely because it is only by embracing a madness like Kurtz’s that they might have a chance to find and confront the man.

But there’s a lot more to the line of flight than embracing madness – indeed, I would argue that any journey or discovery would entail a line of flight, that any undertaking entered into consciously and with a strength of desire is a line of flight. It is anything that pushes one beyond one’s boundaries and into becoming. Deleuze denigrates French literature, because it represents the opposite of the line of flight – it is insular, static.

Deleuze mentions the clean break, which is an idea I would have liked him to dwell on more as he touches on it only briefly here. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald as saying “A clean break is something you cannot come back from; that is irretrievable because it makes the past cease to exist.” I would argue that when Deleuze talks of the line of flight he’s not necessarily talking about something you can’t come back from, but rather getting yourself to a place where you do not want to return –you become something truer to yourself and would never go back. (And I think this “clean break” maybe sits at odds with the French dwelling on history and secrets that Deleuze talks about elsewhere in the essay.)

But then Deleuze speaks also of what I’ll call the dirty break: “How can one avoid the line of flight’s becoming identical with a pure and simple movement of self-destruction […]?”

Here again is where he takes issue with French literature. “They are happy to stink personally, since what they write will be all the more sublime and significant.” To my mind both these quotes connect to the bullshit romanticisation of the drug-fucked artist, the idea that self-destructive habits will make you a better writer or musician or whatever. Getting bogged down in addiction seems to me the opposite of the line of flight – how can you be a person-becoming when every waking moment is spent in communion with your drug of choice? You are instead addiction-becoming.

Deleuze argues against these secrets and degradations in favour of the power of life. He doesn’t specify precisely what he means by this term, but from context I think it’s safe to say it’s related to embracing the line of flight.

But the line of flight, the clean break, can be vulnerable: “A true break may be extended in time, […] it must constantly be protected not merely against its false imitations, but also against itself, and against the reterritorializations which lie in wait for it.” The simple metaphor for this one is the drawn-out break-up. When you know that you need to make that clean break, but you find yourself being drawn back to that old relationship and those old patterns. But then the final part, the “reterritorialisations which lie in wait for it” is something to be aware of – the diversions and mistakes that can lie in wait for you when you’re trying to make those lines of flight – when you’re focused on becoming.

And maybe this sounds too much like I’m turning this essay into Deleuze’s self-help manual, but as someone who is intent on not seeing myself as a final product but rather as a process – an ongoing becoming – this is some of what I took from the essay.

Are you on a line of flight now, or are you stuck? Are you embracing self-discovery or self-destruction?

I’m still in my early days of reading and understanding Deleuze, but one thing I’m already glad of is the absence of nihilism in his writing. There is instead a sort of joy at finding the rhizomatic connections, the reterritorialisations, and the lines of flight, a pure excitement at exploring these ideas. As someone prone to general depression and a sort of nihilism concerning our collective fate, it feels like reading Deleuze is part of a line of flight that I need…

What’s in Your Pipe?: Notes on Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

Structuralism begins from an attempt to understand the arbitrary “structures” that give signs meaning. Ferdinand de Saussure, who was a linguist and semiotician, broke signs down into the signifier and the signified. This simple deconstruction of what constitutes a sign describes the basic semiotic relation we deploy intuitively every day. For example, I can pick up a pen and say “this is a pen” and everything is right with the world. The signifier is that which points and the signified is that which is pointed to; the signifier is the word “pen” and what is signified is an ink-based writing instrument. But then, why is a “pen” called a pen? If we think about it, there is no material relationship between the word “pen” and the object it describes. This becomes all the more apparent when we ask people who speak different languages what they call a pen. They’re all going to have their own word for it. What Saussure argues, then, is that we understand very intuitively that that relationship between signifier and signified only works because the pen-as-sign is captured within this sprawling informative structure we have called language. And that’s it. That’s all there is. In this sense, a “pen” doesn’t just signify an object in itself but its entire web of relations. A pen isn’t just called a pen so you can identify pens but so you can distinguish pens from paper and paper from desks and desks from rooms and rooms from houses, etc. etc. etc. 

It’s one of those things that seems very, very obvious but actually has very complex implications. For the structuralists, this affects our understanding of language — and society more broadly — quite utterly. This is not, for instance, a materialist analysis of language, because there is no material relation that explains why a pen is called a pen. The naming of a pen is totally arbitrary. Language is structural, then, in that it explains itself. We use words to explain words. There’s no hidden substrate that gets us back to some sort of foundational truth. We are beings trapped in language.

This has an impact on a lot of philosophy in the 20th century. Jacques Derrida, very famously, doesn’t just reconstruct language systems but deconstructs them. Michel Foucault does something very similar, albeit with history. Whilst there is nothing outside the text, or outside of language, we can find interesting trajectories of thought when we consider how language is constructed over time. And, in so doing, we may be able to get back to some material foundation, which explains, if not the word themselves, then the opposing relations that demanded new terms be constructed. Through such a process, we can also deconstruct language to produce new meanings within it as well. Jacques Lacan takes a similar approach and applies it to psychoanalysis. He “gets out” of language and the baggage of its arbitrariness, so to speak, by turning to mathematics.  

For Deleuze and Guattari, however, the arbitrariness of naming allows them to have a lot more fun with language. If language is without material foundation, it is essentially a house of cards. But, for Deleuze, this doesn’t necessarily make the structure of language fragile. In his book Logic of Sense he explores how “nonsense” still has a function within the structure of language despite structuralists’ attempts to rationalise it, and explains how its application doesn’t undermine sense but instead expands its possibilities. It is in this (non)sense that Alice in Wonderland becomes its own sort of philosophical text. It’s as if Carroll’s is a kind of non-Euclidean linguistics that may not follow the standard rules of language and its structures of grammar but which still expresses truths and meanings. And wrapping our heads around that leads us to some strange and interesting places.

We see a similar sort of process occurring in the “Geology of Morals” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. From the very beginning, it is clearly a promiscuous text that uses various sorts of language interchangeably, shifting from the fictional to the philosophical to the geological to the structuralist. Indeed, through its narrative framing device of a kind of post-Conan Doyle fiction, we see sense and nonsense become entwined. Professor Challenger, a character lifted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s various tales, wholly embodies his own name. He is there to challenge and oppose the neatly structured relations that otherwise provide consistent meaning. He, as the man who made the world scream, is not interested in reconstructing histories or stratas. He wants to take on the world on its own terms, in its totality, and he engages with language in much the same way. He places the convivial and the technical side by side. What happens here, in this post-structuralist play, is that the signifier and the signified can no longer be wrestled apart. Theory and fiction are no longer split between that which points and that which is pointed to, but instead become reconstituted as a singular sign, as a part of language, as a multiple that, when added up, becomes One; becomes its own thing. This is how the Earth becomes a body without organs. When we explore its depths, we have to organise all the dirt we dig up, perhaps for our own sanity, but in so doing we undermine the process itself. 

It is why this chapter is such a dizzying reading experience. If we were to approach it like diligent little readers, breaking down its references and movements, we would love work in its totality. We would lose its own movement and the force of its presentation. This is to say that, in our attempts to render it more legible, by annotating and footnoting every aspect that is not immediately clear to the average reader, we would likely render it even more illegible. This is the double bind that Deleuze and Guattari speak of. To analyse its content, we lose the power of its expression. But in embracing the power of its expression, we must sacrifice the lucidity of its content. 

This observation is scalable. We can apply it to theory-fiction on the one hand, as that awkwardly-named cleft concept, which cannot be understood either as a composite or a singular entity without losing the true meaning of its gesture, but we can also apply it to the earth itself. Who does the earth think it is? That is, what is the earth beyond the limits of our knowledge? And what influence does this unknown entity have on our own attempts to “stratify” it?


This is Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images. “This is not a pipe”, he says, and he’s right. It’s not an actual pipe but we understand that a painting of a pipe signifies a pipe all the same.

What his painting does is highlight that semiotic relation and make us laugh because we get caught up in the slippage that results from the signified — a pipe — being impossibly torn away from its signifier — a painting of a pipe. But there is also a further tearing that results from this, whereby the word “pipe”, which is also present, is made just as ridiculous as the picture and its object.

So Magritte effectively deploys two signifiers for a pipe in order to tell us that the signifier is not the signified, and yet, whereas we might expect this paradoxical presentation to make the whole world crumble, nothing changes. We can both appreciate the painting’s content — its cascading mess of asignifying relations and deterritorialization — and its expression: the aesthetic qualities of the painting as a painting, as a world within its own frame. 

Here we have a feedback loop, maybe — what Deleuze and Guattari call the plane of consistency. What allows us to appreciate the relationship between content and expression is precisely their innate distinction from one another, that is nonetheless dependent on the friction that disturbs us. In geological terms, we can say that Magritte’s painting erodes the meaning associated with each signifier, but the painting itself provides space for sedimentation to occur again. We can laugh at the utter crisis of meaning on display — the content, which Deleuze and Guattari describe as the “abstract machine” — because it is contained by the boundaries of the painting — the expression, or the plane of consistency. Here, again, we have the double bind — and we might note that it is similar to a process we discussed in the first episode of this podcast, on the body without organs; what Spinoza calls “nature naturing”. 

If we are struggling to follow the twists and turns, I always fall back on an observation that is, at once, superficial, but may help us to anchor ourselves in the process we are trying to better understand. To what extent is this text, “The Geology of Morals”, doing rather than explaining what it hopes to describe? How is it demonstrating its thesis through the very explication of its thesis? 

*Who* Does the Earth Think It Is?!: Notes on Geology of Morals

My first appearance on this illustrious podcast might have been a little clumsy – I’ll be the first to admit that – but I did in fact have some decent notes prior to recording. Matt pre-empted some of what I wanted to say in his opening section, and I didn’t want us to be repeating ourselves, so instead I kinda jumped haphazardly into my notes (I’ll get better at this podcasting business, mark my words). Below you’ll find said notes, focused on the theory-fiction aspect of this essay, along with a couple of other bits that I wanted to post here for posterity.


When Sean first suggested The Geology of Morals he said something along the lines of “We’ll have fun with this one.” Fool that I am, I thought that meant this was going to be a light or easy essay. But it’s not, not at all. It is however fun, and a big part of that comes down to the narrative framing device Deleuze and Guattari use here. That device is of sitting in on a lecture given by Professor Challenger, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it means that Challenger becomes a stand-in for Deleuze and Guattari themselves because he is the one presenting their ideas, which means it also gives them a chance to pre-empt their critics:

Besides, the professor was not a geologist or a biologist, he was not even a linguist, ethnologist, or psychoanalyst; what his specialty had been was long since forgotten. In fact, Professor Challenger was double, articulated twice, and that did not make things any easier, people never knew which of him was present. He (?) claimed to have invented a discipline he referred to by various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities.

Secondly, it allows them to put a variety of thinkers in conversation with each other. Obviously a framing device isn’t necessary here, because any number of philosophical texts do the same thing without it, but, again, it’s a fun way to do so, and even brings in an element of hyperstition. Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned at the very opening of the essay, so even if you’re unfamiliar with When the World Screamed, the simple mention of ACD means it’s fair to assume that Challenger is a fictional character. It gets interesting then when D&G start to bring in these other “characters” in conversation with Challenger, but when you check the endnotes you find these are real scientists and thinkers. There’s something about the light presentation of these dense ideas reinforced by this web of research that gives the essay a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi (hey, D&G are French, so it works). It gives the essay an extra feeling of depth, which is one of the ways that I can feel hyperstition – when I feel unmoored, unsure of what’s real and what’s fiction.

(Some other things that give me that hyperstitional feel:

  • PKD’s VALIS
  • Luke Rhineheart’s The Dice Man
  • The film The Fourth Kind

And other experiences that are immediately lesser if you open up wikipedia and go looking for truth…)

Third, the essay on the whole is about content and expression, and the tension and connection between those two modes. So what do D&G do with this subject matter – with this content? They write it as theory fiction. They use a form of expression that might bring attention to itself and reinforce the content for the reader as they go through the essay. The piece itself acts as a meta-metaphor for the content of the essay (and seeing as most of the talk of strata in this essay went over my head, it was the other metaphors that I really latched onto, meaning I couldn’t very well miss or ignore this one).

And lastly, I’m coming back to this, I know, but it’s fun. It’s a dense essay, but throughout they’ll bring you back to the framing device and give you a breather before carrying on. It’s simple but really effective. As that framing story unfolds, we see Challenger’s authority challenged, his lecture become a puppet show and a shambles, and the man himself turns into a lobster – a lobster giving a lecture to an empty room. (This ending is peppered with Lovecraft references, but Challenger’s transformation just pet me in mind of William S. Burroughs’ All American De-Anxietised Man.)

For more on theory-fiction, A Theory Fiction Reading List.

And while we’re on the topic of theory and also literature…

What’s the art, if I can say that, what’s the literary dimension of writing theory? It’s a genre of literature, Marx is a literary genius. We sort of lose track of that, creating language to describe new situations but in ways that don’t lose track of their genesis and genealogy. To write theory as a literary genre, to tackle that, rather than recycle these terms we picked up from the great famous names.

Mckenzie Wark, interviewed at Believer Magazine

That might not always be easy to see if we get lost in the theory itself – in the ideas and the intellectual aspect apart from the aesthetics (if we get caught up in the content and forget the importance of expression), but I think this essay does a great job of reinforcing her point.


There were also a couple of quotes in this essay that put me in mind of Object-Oriented Ontology, which is something I got interested in largely in regards to my novel Repo Virtual, but which I want to read more on if only because it seems like an effective battering ram against anthropocentric thinking…

To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even rivers, every stratified thing on earth.

And this:

The development of the associated milieus culminates in the animal worlds described by von Uexkull, with all their active, perceptive, and energetic characteristics. The unforgettable associated world of the Tick, defined by its gravitational energy of falling, its olfactory characteristic of perceiving sweat, and its active characteristic of latching on: the tick climbs a branch and drops onto a passing mammal it has recognized by smell, then latches onto its skin (an associated world composed of three factors, and no more). Active and perceptive characteristics are themselves something of a double pincer, a double articulation.


And lastly, there was a vein in this essay about evolution and/as deterritorialisation that really grabbed me, but I might end up expanding on those thoughts at a later date. So for now, I shall say goodbye and that I’m glad to be here with all you buddies.

Every Drive a Death Drive: Notes on Schizophrenia and Desiring-Machines

The death drive for Lacan isn’t a return to a primal inorganicity but a constant circling around an unattainable lack; it produces repetition. But this also means that, in Freud’s own terms, every drive is a death drive.

This is to say that, for Lacan: every drive pursues its own extinction; every drive involves the repetition of this pursuit; every drive is an attempt to go beyond the pleasure principle, where enjoyment is experienced as suffering. 

What’s important for Lacan, however, contra Freud, is that the death drive has nothing to do with biology, making it cultural rather than natural. Deleuze and Guattari complicate this relation even further — it’s not a case of culture versus nature but of capitalism,  and separating culture from nature in that context is a fool’s errand. Capitalism thrives because it transgresses the divide.

This is why Deleuze and Guattari necessarily make desire machinic — you can’t distinguish the organ-machine of the human body from the “actual” machines of capital. As far as capitalism is concerned, there is no difference anyway. 

But that conflation of distinctions is also central to their symptomatology of schizophrenia, introducing one of Anti-Oedipus‘s most famous lines early on: “A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic on the analyst’s couch.”

There’s a paradox here. Schizophrenia is a human pathology to be cured, so that we can better function under capitalism (or so Foucault would argue), but for Deleuze and Guattari schizophrenia seems to be a pathology of capitalism itself. What is an illness for us is capitalism’s primary mode of operation. So why attempt to suppress the schizophrenic when schizophrenics arguably understand the (symbolic) nature of the world far more intuitively than the so-called healthy-minded? 

As they write of Lenz, the titular character in Georg Buchner’s novella-fragment — a man out for a walk in a surreal world but a world that he is nonetheless one with — his “walk outdoors is different from the moments when Lenz finds himself closeted with his pastor, who forces him to situate himself socially, in relationship to the God of established religion, in relationship to his father, to his mother.” But to be situated socially is only to drive a wedge between Lenz and the world that feels so immediately accessible to him. As Buchner writes of Lenz out on his stroll: “he could not grasp why it took so much time to clamber down a slope, to reach a distant point; he was convinced he could cover it all with a pair of strides.” What is pitched to us as a well-travelled route towards understanding is, to the schizophrenic, a torturous detour. 

This isn’t to privilege insanity over reason, but to perhaps complicated the relationship between reason and understanding. Ergo, to better understand the schizophrenic is to better understand our own relation to a capitalist system.

In seeing nature as the schizophrenic does, as a process of production — which is almost like saying, to see nature capitalistically — then Lacan’s distinction between nature and culture becomes yet another imposition. Of course, Lacan is right to say that every drive is a death drive, but he retains a hold on Oedipus. His work is, like psychoanalysis as a whole, arguably concerned with origins above all else. And Deleuze and Guattari make a joke about this later on, asking which comes first, the chicken or the egg. But an egg is a BwO — a plane of consistency. It is a body all mixed up and indistinguishable, unformed, unmoulded. The chicken is a chicken, inserted into its own socio-symbolic milieu. An egg becomes a chicken, of course, but the chicken remains capable of producing that BwO again. And so, the best way to understand the chicken / egg paradox is schizophrenically. There is no difference. There is only a traversal by the BwO into the symbolic order.

Oedipus is representative of this traversal. Oedipus is the primal figure of this disorientating thrust into the world of the socio-symbolic, and so, if Deleuze and Guattari are to privilege the worldview of the schizophrenic, they have to be anti-Oedipus. 

But again, this isn’t some wholly irrational pursuit. In undoing the distinction between man and nature — producing a Homo natura, as they put it — is, or should be, “the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry”. And this makes their project innately Spinozistic, surely — Spinoza who puts forward a heretical and supposedly atheistic view of the world that nonetheless views production as Deleuze and Guattari do — as nature naturing, which we discussed when talking about the body without organs.

Here it is worth emphasising that, although Deleuze and Guattari are obviously informed by an understanding of schizophrenia as a clinical pathology, they are extending it into its own critical apparatus. This is what happens when they insist that “schizophrenia is the universe of productive and reproductive desiring-machines”. Schizophrenia is not a pathology attributed passively to the mentally ill, but an active critical framework through which we can interrogate the world anew — or, if not anew, at least afresh, as we’ll see . 

This too is a Spinozist maneuver, in the sense that Spinoza argues in his Ethics, “if we form a clear and distinct idea of an emotion itself, this idea will not be distinguished from the emotion itself insofar as it is related to the mind alone … Therefore the better we know an emotion, the more it is placed within our abilities and less passive the mind is in relation to it.” And this emphasis on an emotion as an idea is importance here. Deleuze and Guattari write that Oedipus also “is not a state of desire and the drives, it is an idea, nothing but an idea that repression inspires in us concerning desire; not even a compromise, but an idea in the service of repression, its propaganda, or its propagation.”

A Note on Non-Photography

If philosophy begins with the creation of concepts, then the plane of immanence must be regarded as prephilosophical … Prephilosophical does not mean something preexistent but rather something that does not exist outside philosophy, although philosophy presupposes it. These are its internal conditions. The nonphilosophical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself…

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?

I’ve often thought about the nonphilosophical as being analogous to a kind of nonphotography. (And it is worth noting that Francois Laruelle has a book on non-photography, but I won’t declare this to be at all analogous to what he is theorising. If it is, it is by accident.)

Sean and I are both photographers and I’m sure we can both appreciate that thrill of going out in the world and making photographs. But photographs are more like the pleasing result of a broader sensorial experience. We tend to forget this, or take it for granted. But doing so can make us blinkered in innumerable ways.

A photograph, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense, is like a concept. We can take photographs and even become totally obsessed by photographs, arranging them and tweaking them and perfecting them. And that’s a beautiful process in and of itself. It aids how we look at the world and we can hone an eye for seeing beauty more frequently and in surprising places. But the process of photography, in its complexity, can cover over that initial process that makes us pick up a camera in the first place, which is engaging with the world around us.

In fact, we can go so far as to objectify that world, removing ourselves from it as special observers, who falsely believe that we see things differently or even as they really are, relative to those who do not share our interests. But when we focus all our attention on the complexities of photography, we can — no pun intended — lose sight of looking, as that which is prephotographic or nonphotographic, but which is closer to the heart of why we photograph than anything else about photography. 

I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe too much. It is precisely what frustrates me about professional photographers — of which I almost was one. And this frustration definitely drove me from a career as a photographer to become a writer instead. Because, as Deleuze and Guattari correctly suggest, “Thinking provokes general indifference.” Photography too, for its own sake, can provoke a general indifference towards the world.

The plane of immanence, then, as an image of thought, is nonetheless a very practical concept, I think. We may find ourselves getting wrapped up in knots trying to articulate that which is supposedly inarticulable, but when we stop trying to articulate it we find ourselves falling victim to our own shortcomings. To attempt to think the prethought is precisely to engage in a thought most fundamental. This is why they write that “To think is always to follow the witches’ flight.” To think, more than just philosophise or perceive or learn by rote, is to fly across this plane of immanence and pass through other images of thought. To think is always to transfigure oneself because “one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think — an animal, a molecule, a particle — and that comes back to thought and revives it.”