A Thousand Plateaus, abstract machine, abstraction, assemblages, guattari, machinic unconscious, pragmatics, redundancy, rhizome, Schizoanalysis

Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Pragmatics

Until Marxism, capitalist political economy has also pretended for a long time to pass as the general grammar of all economy, but linguistics still has not found its Marx and Engels who would reset it on its feet. –Guattari, L’Inconscient Machinique, p.30 fn. 14.

The sign is a position of desire; but the first sings are the territorial signs that plant their flags in bodies. And if one wants to call this inscription in naked flesh ‘writing,’ then it must be said that speech in fact presupposes writing, and that it is this cruel system of inscribed signs that renders man capable of language, and gives him a memory of the spoken word. –Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 145.

All methods for the transcendentalization of language, all methods for endowing language with universals…have fallen into the worst kind of abstraction, in the sense that they validate a level that is both too abstract and not abstract enough. Regimes of signs are not based on language, and language alone does not constitute an abstract machine, whether structural or generative. The opposite is the case. It is language that is based on regimes of signs, and regimes of signs on abstract machines, diagrammatic functions, and machinic assemblages that go beyond any system of semiology, linguistics, or logic. There is no universal propositional logic, nor is there grammaticality in itself, any more than there is signifier for itself. “Behind” statements and semioticizations there are only machines, assemblages, and movements of deterritorialization that cut across the stratification of the various systems and elude both the coordinates of language and of existence. That is why pragmatics is not a complement to logic, syntax, or semantics; on the contrary, it is the fundamental element upon which all the rest depend.—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 148.

Linguistic Machinics: Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Pragmatics

In their Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes, Deleuze and Guattari outline a historically materialist theory of language and society which is essentially based upon their theories of assemblages, multiplicity, abstract machines, and deterritorialization along with many other concepts. The difficulty in fully appreciating the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus, is mainly due to an ignorance of Guattari’s solo work L’Inconscient machinique which was published a year before ATP and constitutes a sort of companion volume or workbook for the former. It is now time to fully explore this work while keeping A Thousand Plateaus closely in mind in order to fully understand what Guattari’s critiques and use of linguistic theories really amounts to. In other words, the main focus of this essay (beyond an explication of Guattari’s untranslated work) is to specify how language in its stabilization in power formations comes to dominate our everyday lives and what are the means of transformation that pragmatics proposes in order to conceive and actualize new possibilities of subjectification. To perform such a (broad) task, we will focus here mainly on the concepts that Guattari proposes and how they work together to specify the problem in working toward new solutions that the project of a schizoanalytic pragmatics can offer.

Abstract Machines and Contingent Assemblages

The conceptual framework must be stressed here because it seems that in L’Inconscient machinique Guattari particularly wants to safeguard and legitimate his squatter’s rights on philosophical territory. This is not to say that Guattari’s earlier work lacked philosophical content; rather, it is the presence of a certain self-consciousness that betrays Guattari’s eager intent upon truly being recognized as a philosopher in his own rights. His proposal of a machinic unconscious no doubt brings him immediately within the conceptual camp of psychoanalysis, but his insistence on and novel understanding of an abstract machinics forces him in the same movement to qualify his concept of the abstract machine against Platonic ideas and Aristotelian forms (8). Arguing against a time tied down to an abstract, presupposed universality, Guattari proposes to show how abstract machines are produced by their own production through their developments of existential consistencies in conjunction with the various assemblages that allow the actualization of their machinic expressions/propositions. “Abstract machines do not cling to a single, universal time but to a plane of consistency, trans-spatial and trans-temporal, which affects through them a relative coefficient of existence. Consequently, their ‘appearance’ in reality no longer claims to be given with only one source: it is negotiated starting from quanta of potentiality.[1]” Thus, the relative existence of abstract machines depends both on propositional discursivity as well as energetic discursivity in order to effectuate a consistency.

The abstract machine thus conceptually brings it into the domain of the actual and the virtual along with an emphasis on contingency and historical singularity[2]. This emphasis will be crucial for the success of a pragmatics that entails the analysis of the stability of power formations and the means of breaking out of a consistency which has become too viscous in its stratifications which legitimate themselves as universal (hence Guattari’s drive to create a materialist (Marx-Engels) critique of linguistics with his emphasis on pragmatics[3]). But, at the same time, it is difficult to merely speak of the actual and the virtual without stressing that abstract machines make no distinction between the plane of consistency and the plane of content. They are both turned toward the strata, effectuating deteritorializations and reterritorializaitons while also being turned toward the plane of consistency which effectuates destratifications which conjugate the deterritorializations, but only on condition of the quanta of potentiality which will catalyze the processes by releasing diagrammatic signs-particles which will guarantee the passage between these existential registers[4].

In other words, because abstract machines are responsible for their own convergence of degrees of consistency which allows them a relative coefficient of existence, they both preexist the stratifications and constitute transformational materials or optional subjects which may allow stratifications to consist or not. “Abstract machines mark, all in all, the fact that deterritorialization, in all its forms, ‘precedes’ the existence of the strata and the territories.[5]” They precede them because the strata and territories demand a separation of content and expression, they require that contents have been formed and expressions have substance, while abstract machines work through unformed matters and formless functions. Non-semiologically formed materials or semiological encodings will be able to pretend to universality, but, consequently, are always under the threat of decomposition because of the transversality of their quanta of potentiality, that is, due to their constantly recreated nature which is more or less sustainable given certain consistencies due to the convergence of heterogeneous realities. Their degree of transversality[6] will indicate the success with which they are able to traverse various realities and destratify them for new possibilities. Since abstract machines are opposed to abstract structures[7] which concern reproducing themselves and their homeostatic conditions, deterritorialization will be understood as the unground for assemblages, that is, their historically singular and contingent conditions which ultimately undermine any preestablished coordinates of existence. Ultimately though, Guattari’s understanding of the disequilibrium of the abstract machine allows it at the same time to be a dynamic machine whose contingency is precisely the aspect of its heterogeneous relations that guarantee its consistency:

Universality will no longer have as an obligated reference the discourse of a subject, incarnating itself in a word, a revealed text, a divine or scientific law…While conferring on the points of singularity a particular power of crossing stratified fields, signs-particles (carriers of quanta of potentiality) will only equip them for so many universal capacities. Indeed, the assemblages that incarnate the singularity- abstract machine conjunctions remain susceptible to being demolished in order to open up other potentialities and contingencies. Universalist thought always receives a reverential fear with respect to an established order—religious or natural. Conversely, that of assemblages and molecular machinisms should continue setting practices of every nature in relation from the perspective of the changes and transformations of the existing orders and the reduction of their power (14-15).

We will see later the more functionalist side of abstract machines when they work directly within concrete assemblages (from which they are inseparable, along with the deterritorializing effects they produce within the assemblages in relation to the territories). While turning there, let us try to understand more directly Guattari’s construction of the different pragmatic fields that animate the contingent assemblages and sign regimes beyond the politico-philosophical abuses of claims to universality.[8]

Distinguishing Pragmatic Fields and the Threat of Capitalist Abstraction

Schizoanalytic pragmatics reexamines the relation between assemblages of enunciation and pragmatic fields under the angle of unconscious phenomena in the social field. The principal behind this is a radical tranversalist meta-modelization embodied by the concept of the rhizome or lattice which opposes the binarist model of the tree. Rhizomes are fundamental to understanding Guattari’s cartographies of the unconscious because they make it impossible for linguistic and semiological components to claim hierarchical positions over other modes of encoding. Not only is every unspecified point able to connect to another, but also rhizomes bring into play both modes of signs and regulations of non-signs while remaining collapsible and suitable for constant modification. Rhizomatic mappings of the unconscious make a distinction between semiology and semiotics, the former giving primacy to the laws of language and the latter proposing to study sign-systems independent of linguistics. This division corresponds with the division between pragmatic fields, that between interpretative components and non-interpretative components.

The interpretative components can be distinguished between the analogical (iconic semiology) and the signifying (linguistic semiologies). Each of these components belong to specific assemblages of enunciation, and so we can better define Guattari’s understanding of the interpretative side of the pragmatic[9] as the differentiation among particular modes of subjectification due to the presence of certain components which allow the development of assemblages that correspond with different regimes of signs rendering them subservient to historically singular power formations[10]. Analogical components or icons, for example, relate to territorialized or reterritorialized assemblages of enunciation while individual assemblages of enunciation and capitalistic subjectivity corresponds to signifying transformations (L’Inconscient machinique, 17). On the other hand, there are two sides to the non-interpretative components, one symbolic, the other diagrammatic. The first is concerned with an “intensive” semiotics (at the level of perception, gesture, mimicry, etc. while the second involves an a-signifying semiotics “which proceed[s] by a deterritorialization relating jointly to the formalism of content and expression while setting into play mutant abstract machines (systems of signs-particles and quanta of potentialities working simultaneously in the register of material and semiotic realities)” (18). The distinction between the interpretative and non-interpretative will become clearer later on when we discuss the transformations among these fields and show how they entail different coordinates of efficiency—in other words, Guattari makes a generalization between the two fields due to the different types of redundancies that function in these fields. Redundancies of resonance correspond to semiological components of subjectification and consciousness formation, while machinic redundancies or redundancies of interaction correspond to a-signifying diagrammatic components. (For example, in a crystallization of signifying powers, the fields of resonance are submitted to a semiological subjection while the fields of interaction are cybernetically and semiotically enslaved. In other words, libidinal economies and political economies merge in the field of linguistic overcoding through the conjunction of three elements: imperatives of the dominant grammaticality of expression, “ideological” assemblages at the level of content (subjection of redundancies of resonance) and diagrammatic assemblages of enslavement to decoded capitalistic flows at the level of the referent (36).

However, we will not truly be able to understand redundancies until we have dealt with the level of existential coordinates which specify three different types of consistency. There is the molar consistency of the strata with its significations and dominant realities (complete objects, subjects, individuals), but there is also a molecular consistency that expresses the real mechanical incarnation of an assemblage, although on this level it must be stressed that assemblages can neither be distinguished from the fields in which they consist nor the components which allow them to do so. Finally, and above all crucial for the diagrammatic importance of the distinctions made above, the abstract consistency determines the “theoretical” degree of the possibility of the preceding consistencies.

Molar consistencies develop effects of weak resonance (signifying[11] effect, e.g., pure formal translation) and weak interaction (surplus value of stratified codes) because their redundancies are highly stratified and crystallized (46). “What characterizes the molar politics of stratification is the constitution of a world of stratified, identified or hierarchized objects and subjects, singularities and abstract machines there being grasped from systems of coordinates which authorize only the minimum degree of freedom necessary to the survival of the assemblages.[12]” The molecular field on the other hand is not as stratified and allows for strong effects of resonance and interaction to take place. This consistency is the one that will be critical for a micro-political engagement with the social field. “This type of inter-assemblage, inter-component and inter-field consistency is a fundamental micro-political stake for schizo-analysis, such as the greater or lesser malleability of the assemblages to be bent to the various powers of subjection and enslavement, – concerning, in other words, all that pertains to social power struggles and the molecular metabolisms of the machinic unconscious” (47). In other words, there is more freedom for the assemblages here which can empower them to evade subjection and enslavement or can render them powerless in the face of such overcoding. Finally, there is an abstract consistency that never exhausts itself at the level of actualization and always keeps quanta of possible in reserve. These last two consistencies form the field for transformational schizoanalysis.[13] But, beyond these consistencies and the abstract machines that populate and produce the crossings of their singularities, capitalist[14] abstraction is at work proposing to neutralize the potentialities of assemblages and render the entropy of sign-systems too viscous to effectuate truly transversal means of deterritorialization.

To fully engage in the extended complexity of capitalist abstraction it would be necessary to fully account for all the transformations within consciential components and the different creations of black hole effects that correspond with them (this will be one of the positive directions for this paper to continue to plot). To conclude, however, it would first be necessary to sketch the power relations inherent to this capitalist power takeover. To do so, let me quote extensively from L’Inconscient machinique and then draw out the consequences of Guattari’s pragmatic field transformations:

Abstraction is not a “frozen” abstract machine but an active system of neutralization and recuperation of machinic indices and lines of flight. Thus it has always remained bound to key institutions of power. Religious abstractions have long served the grounds for personological, sexual, ethnic or national identity and modulated the signification of the feeling of a membership to a territoriality of reference. All these functions have been captured in relay by a system much more fragmented, much more diversified and at the same time more molecular and more susceptive to devices of power, utility services and mass-media machines, so that today all instances of semiotic production and all systems of value weave a gigantic net composed of points of signifiance from which it is impossible to escape without a radical setting in question of the ensemble of assemblages of enunciation. Religious overcodings were less malleable, more “passive” than the instruments of this capitalistic network. Each system of redundancy is now constantly altered and re-calculated so that the tolerable thresholds of deterritorialization for the established order are precisely determined. Any coding will have to pass and permanently re-pass by the ordering mega-machine of molecular equipment. Any intensity will be forced to give up connections which would be established apart from the “coherence” of abstractions and dominant coordinates. Thus the perspectives open to lines of flight and machinic assemblages will be perfectly delimited: the former will have to be retained on this side of an abstract horizon, and the latter constantly return to the universal contents for which they will become the apparent foundations. If abstract machines are regularly pinned to the sky of universal abstractions, then assemblages of desire are put to the service of a world order, which is an all too terrestrial fact (52-53).

On the one hand, we have the analogical field (interpretance) which refer to territorial or reterritorialized assemblages of enunciation; then there is the signifying field which refers to an individuated assemblage of enunciation; there is the symbolic and a-subjective field which proceeds through desubjectified assemblages of enunciation[15]; finally, there is the “a-subjective diagrammatic transformations whose a-signifying contents deterritorialize not only the assemblages of enunciation but also the machines of expression and semantic formalisms while establishing at the same time a direct connection with intrinsic modes of encoding in the various stratifications of the referent (that which implies a “reference” common to another nature at the most deterritorialized level: that of the machinic plane of consistency)” (58).

Since all assemblages of enunciation are somewhat mixed, we can map the transformations across these fields. For example, moving from the intensive symbolic to the analogical can be understood if we consider that mystic examples, for example, can be reterritorialized on a fascistic assemblage (fascism being understood as the territorial interpretation of redundancies due to a particular membership to a blood or volk—similar to Badiou’s full void or statist operator of the event which claims that only the people directly involved with an event belong). On the other hand, the diagrammatic can be converted into the signifying mode with the recrossing of syntagmatic and paradigmatic dimensions. This forces an a-subjective machinic assemblage to become (re)subjectivized across a field of signifiance (Guattari gives the example of a bad writer entering L’Acadmie française, thus rendering a certain style as a machine of expression which produces definite contours and traits, etc.—one thinks of Hawthorne or Faulkner for American literature with their unbearably long, drawn out and impossible-to-diagram sentences). This type of transformation corresponds to the ways in which a-signifying fields are transformed into signifying fields. There is, however, an opposite direction to this activity. The signifying field can easily turn into intensive symbolic or the diagrammatic. The first is effectuated through a homophonous and polyphonous proliferation which fragments the denotation of morphemes of the referent; the other proceeds through unsettling the semiologically formed substances in order to extract signs-particles from a-signifying chains of expression.

An extended account of Guattari’s schizoanalysis is called for, but clearly this task can only be undertaken once we have begun to ruminate on the vast conceptual apparatuses which are at work in such theoretical enterprises. The next installment of this paper would direct its studies towards a more thorough engagement with systems of redundancies and the transformations of subjectivity which can be effectuated through their modulations.


[1] Guattari, L’Inconscient Machinique, Paris: Recherches, 1979. p. 9.

[2] “Rather than abstract machines perhaps it is preferable to speak about ‘machinic extracts,’ of deterritorialized and deterritorializing machines…By preserving in spite of its ambiguity this expression ‘abstract machine,’ it is the same idea of abstract universals that I propose to dispute. Abstraction can result only from machines and assemblages of concrete enunciations. And as there does not exist any general assemblage overhanging all of them, every time we meet a universal enunciation, it will be necessary to determine the particular nature of its assemblage enunciator and to analyze the operation of power which leads it to pretend to such a univerisality” (10).

[3] There is no preexistent, universal assemblage of enunciation, only power takeovers by certain assemblages of enunciation which lay claim to universality: “It is always the same juggling act: through the promotion of a transcendent order founded on the allegedly universal character of the signifying articulations of certain enunciations—the Cogito, mathematical and scientific laws, etc…—one endeavors to guarantee certain types of power formations, consolidating, at the same time, the social status and the imaginary security of its notables and its scribes in the fields of ideology and science” (11-12).

[4]On the one hand, strata could never organize themselves if they did not harness diagrammatic matters or functions and formalize them from the standpoint of both expression and content; every regime of signs, and even signifiance and subjectification, is still a diagrammatic effect (although relativized and negativized). On the other hand, abstract machines would never be present, even on the strata, if they did not have the power or potentiality to extract and accelerate destratified particles-signs (the passage to the absolute). Consistency is neither totalizing nor structuring; rather, it is deterritorializing…” (A Thousand Plateaus, 144).

[5] L’Inconscient machinique, p. 13.

[6] “Rather than having a being as a common trait which would inhabit the whole of machinic, social, human and cosmic beings, we have, instead, a machine that develops universes of reference—ontological heterogeneous universes, which are marked by historic turning points, a factor of irreversibility and singularity” (Guattari, “On Machines, p. 9).

[7] “The autopoetic node in the machine is what separates and differentiates it from structure and gives it value. Structure implies feedback loops, it puts into play a concept of totalisation that it itself masters. It is occupied by inputs and outputs whose purpose is to make the structure function according to a principle of eternal return. It is haunted by a desire for eternity. The machine, on the contrary, is shaped by a desire for abolition. Its emergence is doubled with breakdown, catastrophe—the menace of death. It possesses a supplement: a dimension of alterity which it develops in different forms. This alterity differentiates it from structure, which is based on a principle of homeomorphism. The difference supplied by machinic autopoesis is based on disequilibrium, the prospection of virtual Universes far from equilibrium.” Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: an Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans. Julian Peyfanis and Paul Bains. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1995, 37.

[8] The promotion of a universal subjectivity promotes the homogeneity and interests of capitalism: “In reality, we are experiencing the same type of process of universalization that every formation of power has retroactively used which would want to be given the appearance of a legitimacy of divine right, and, in particular, ones which would want to “justify” the expansionism of capitalism” (35).

[9] In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari designate the object of Pragmatics as any regime of signs whatsoever along with the four components that constitute regimes. They specific a generative component which indicates how every semiotic is concretely mixed, a transformational component which show how regimes are translated into another and how they can be created from one another, a diagrammatic component working at the height of abstraction in contact with the real which promote the creation of new abstract machines through the extraction of particles-signs from regimes of signs, and a machinic component which indicates how abstract machines are effectuated in concrete assemblages. In other words, the generative deals with mixed semiotic regimes, the transformational deals with pure semiotic regimes, the diagrammatic deals with semiotically and physically unformed matters and the machinic both semiotizes matters of expression and physicalizes matters of content (145-146). They propose for pragmatics to trace the mixtures in order to put them on the map of transformations moving to the diagrams of abstract machines whether virtual or actualized and then to the programs for machinic assemblages to mobilize these components (146-147).

[10] The State apparatus, for example, can be understood as a contingent assemblage whose consistency is produced by the same abstract machine which allows for the despot to become the BwO redirecting lines of alliance and filiation, flows of capital and people, thus simultaneously providing the existential conditions for the signifying regime of signs with a Signifier commanding all the chains, etc. “As Foucault clearly shows, regimes of signs are only functions of existence of language that sometimes span a number of languages and are sometimes distributed within a single language; they coincide neither wit a structure nor with units of a given order, but rather intersect them and cause them to appear in space and time” (A Thousand Plateaus, 140).

[11] “The point of view adopted here leads…to refusing the phenomena of significant resonance any grasp on reality and to ascribe it only to diagrammatic, a-signifying, and a-subjective interactions of a meta-semiological nature. In the world of representation, which is always ‘faked’ by the relations of social forces, signifying subjectification constantly moves between two limit feelings:

—a fusional feeling of appropriation which envelops conforming significations, which promotes objectal, individual, egoistic identities, which systematically reduces ‘everything excessive,’ which crushes semiotic asperities, which makes all values and desires equivalent, which puts every local memory into a central memory bank…

—a feeling of ‘cartographic’ hyperlucidity which presides on the contrary over the location of transversal iteneraries, which thwarts micropolitical black holes inherent to personological, oedipal deixis (it, I, you, he, we, me, the other, thou…), which facilitates the extraction of proliferating singularities, the rise of minor languages, the promotion of a politics of active memory loss, the liberation of creative memory which Proust calls involuntary memory…” (217-218).

[12] “The exercise of what will later be defined as generative schizoanalysis will remain circumscribed in this low level of molar consistencies. It will consist in operating displacements of consistency within the assemblages, reducing the effects of resonance to the benefit of weak diagrammatic interaction” (46).

[13] “It will consist in operating displacements of consistency within the assemblages to the benefit of the release of components of passage, of the launching of new machines of diagrammatic sign-particles and to the detriment of semiotic fields and capitalistic abstractions” (47).

[14] Though it is beyond the scope of this paper, this is why Deleuze and Guattari oppose a diagrammatics against an axiomatics: “It is not enough to say that axiomatic does not take invention and creation into account: it possesses a deliberate will to halt or stabilize the diagram, to take its place by lodging itself on a level of coagulate abstraction too large for the concrete but too small for the real” (A Thousand Plateaus, 144).

[15]“ Here we will designate collective assemblages of enunciation even if only one individual expresses himself, because s/he will be considered as a non-totalizable intensive multiplicity” (58).

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4 thoughts on “Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Pragmatics

  1. Twitch of the death nerve says:

    Notes:

    (1) Footnote for the earlier Guattari works would help.
    (2) Be careful not to get pulled into concepts. They need to be explained sometimes.
    (3) The sentence: “The abstract machine thus conceptually brings it into the domain of the actual and the virtual along with an emphasis on contingency and historical singularity.”: is a little vague.
    (4) “Rhizomatic mappings” as opposed to…what? Maybe launch an attack on psycho-analysis here.
    (5) “more freedom” in relation to the molecular is a troubling turn of phrase for my reading of D & G. Is this from the text?
    (6) Sentence: “For example, moving from the intensive symbolic to the analogical can be understood if we consider that mystic examples, for example, can be reterritorialized on a fascistic assemblage (fascism being understood as the territorial interpretation of redundancies due to a particular membership to a blood or volk—similar to Badiou’s full void or statist operator of the event which claims that only the people directly involved with an event belong).” A turn to more specificity on fascism (i.e. mysticism in Nazism) would be a nice turn.

    Overall, a great paper. You should keep working in this direction and look at a conference paper in the future.

  2. Pingback: Difference | ልዩ ጉዞ … liyu-guzo > the Journey > le Voyage …

  3. Pingback: Difference | HILINA

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