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.

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A Thousand Plateaus, abstract machine, becoming, Deleuze, language, machine, ontology, Politics


The scientific enterprise of extracting constants and constant relations is always coupled with the political enterprise of imposing them on speakers and transmitting order-words.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 101

Deleuze and Guattari admit that the notion of “minority” is very complex, with references and correlations in all dimensions of human and non-human existence. The opposition is not simply quantitative: “Majority implies a constant, of expression or content, serving as a standard measure by which to evaluate [it].” (ATP 105) Thus the majority need not be in numerical majority; for majority supposes only the assumption of a “state of power and domination, not the other way around” — the standard measure, when it is assumed to be the standard, thereby becomes major. Minorities, on the other hand, are not determined by constants — they are not systems but subsystems, outsystems — seeds of potential, creative and created, crystals of becoming.

These considerations are deployed together in one of the most significant points in Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of linguistics, which is this: that grammar is a system of power primarily, not a prototype but a protocol, directly connected to an economy and a politics more primarily than to a network of syntagms and semantemes. Thus even though grammar cannot be presented as an invariant linguistic substructure, it nevertheless possesses singular structural features — political ones — namely, functioning as the medium of transmitting commands, “order-words.” Thus language is shaped directly by political and economic forces; it is a prerequisite for the individuals’ submission to social laws. “No one is supposed to be ignorant of grammaticality; those who are belong in special institutions.” (101)

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abstract machine, antiproduction, body, code, diagram, diagrammatics, flux, idea, language, model, ontology, parasite, process, symbol, text



It is impossible to conceive the assemblage of a scientific experiment apart from a field that generates plans and topological, mathematical, axiomatic and computational descriptions. But sign-machines can function equally well directly within material and social machines without the mediation of significant processes of subjectivation, something which has become more obvious each passing day. The fact that the common essence of semiotic machines and material or social machines proceeds from the same type of abstract machine is the decisive step we must take in order to found a political pragmatics on something other than good intentions.

Felix Guattari, L’Inconscient machinique: essais de schizo-analyse. Paris: Editions Recherche, 1979. p. 67.

That we underestimate machines is an understatement. Human language itself is a code which produces codes, hence an always already over-coded decoding — and the decoding processes, for their part, go as far as you like. Let us be cautious, then, and attempt to linger for a moment on the side of the symbolic. Every discourse, every instance of language, every explicit “saying” — is also implicitly a kind of abstract program. A program gives us in turn the language in which that program is expressed — and also in which completely new programs can be expressed. Finally, every text also contains an irreducible element of pure ontology, thereby encoding — between the lines — the very principles for organizing discourse itself. Whichever metaphor obscurely prefigures the communicative passage, tracing these interdependent “resemblances,” or “differential” networks of “abstract” models, (or even “ethico-spiritual” traces of traces) necessarily takes us on an adventure outside of the text — but mysteriously or ironically, always into other kinds of texts! This infinite indeterminacy — or antiproductive rupture — is the basis of a “parasitic” logic, the logic of interruption, inequality, a constitutive non-determination.

Hence, in addition to these four distinct but interwoven layers or aspects co-existing in even the shortest text — indeed in a single word — it seems we must also suppose some pre-logical flux of intensity, a matrix of differences, in which these varying aspects would themselves become locally codified and relatively grounded. A diagram needs a space in which to be built and materials from which to be constructed; ideas needs relational fields in which they realize themselves sensibly and and dramatize their “break” into reality to one another — how, why and where they fall to their death onto the depths of bodies — but even this as though organically or by divine judgment. Bodies break the recursive cycle of language through the intervention of a partial object (programmer-parasite.) The parasite, the cold body sucking the warmth, writes new programs, and in doing so inevitably scrambles the meanings of the old instructions. The parasite is ontological rupture or antiproduction, phenomenological transduction — its work, grounding relation, is itself grounded only by an act of invention, translation, dramatization. Grounded in metaphor, in a productive diagram, in an abstract machine. Or, in other words: the parasite, whose provisional ground or counter-network is the minimal subject of the abstract machine, guarantees the consistency of the abstract programs’ specific productive diagram simultaneously as (1) a single variation, which is also (2) a model for variations; yet this is model is at once a (3) variable language of models, as well as the (4) machinic meta-ontology pragmatically governing the organizational principles of languages themselves.

abstract machine, code, Cognition, diagram, difference, energy, entropy, identity, knowledge, learning, memory, problem, structure, Thought, unconscious, wittgenstein

On Learning


One way of approaching the difference between knowledge and learning (so profound in our opinion that, despite their entanglement, there can be postulated neither a material nor conceptual ground which could ever serve to unify them) is by considering that even while wholly disparate, they are not in the least opposed for that reason. To learn and to know are two divergent operations, contrapositive dynamisms, which are nevertheless always both active simultaneously, as the “cutting edges” or ungrounding machines of cognition. A thought is grounded not in abstract oppositions, but in concrete forces traversing real problematic fields.

Knowledge is classically represented as a heterogeneous assemblage — our minds are far too imperfect to clearly perceive the pure, homogeneous Truth — which is self-totalizing and self-regulated by an internal learning process, charged with traversing its own experiences (as they are represented and reactivated as memories of varying intensities.) In this sense, abstract oppositions emerge only as variables of these mixed compositions of energetic and entropic flows. This is the illusion of hyper-diagrammatism (implying a kind of super-diagram of “all” thought.) We must try and see that thought isn’t about models and copies, not about identity and ideology — but rather about lines along which interminglings are operative, as though “between” concrete and abstract flows of energy — food for words, money for sex, death for love, virtue for pain, and on and on…

What is produced in this process of establishing communication between incommensurable problematic fields — or learning — should certainly not be characterized as a pure memory, but rather a decentralized and a-subjective cognitive process. “Thought” is not the difference between learning and knowledge, but rather an abstract machine which underlies them while nevertheless separating them, almost as though by an absolute divergence. Learning fights dullness and emptiness with lightning and fire, mortally threatening the stasis and death of “serious knowledge,” which would otherwise totally consume the brave and fiery heart of discovery. So let’s stop asking what “knowledge” and “learning” mean in themselves (and trying to ‘deduce’ the ‘difference’ — and thereby, most likely, only serving to overcode it by an all-too-serious line of death); let’s rather ask: how do these operations work?
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abstract machine, assemblage, becoming, code, cosmos, diagram, God, intensity, language, molecular, segmentarity, semiotics, sign, subject, truth



“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 not. There is no universal propositional logic, nor is there grammaticality in itself, any more than there is signifiance 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…

A Thousand Plateaus 148

The world is segmented, stratified, breaking or already broken-up: what happened, what is happening? What crosses over, releasing free, untamed intensities as it travels along the intermediary zones? What is it which is just now passing through — beyond, behind, between — these lines? How do these lines — and always bundles of lines, fibres — work? A question of codes, partitions, signal-sign networks: are these lines of forced motion (interpretation) or rather lines of free variation (experimentation)? “The mixed semiotic of signifiance and subjectification has an exceptional need to be protected from any intrusion from the outside.” (ATP 179) A single expressive substance precludes the development of nomadic machines — truth, God, the Earth, are not “allowed” to have an outside! Do we think we understand this “allowed”? What happened? But already in order to translate we must achieve an expressive unification, yet this by no means guarantees that the language we thus arrive at conveys a message: “You will never know what just happened, or you will always know what is going to happen…” (ATP 193)

All becoming are molecular — not objects or forms easily recognized from science, habit or experiences — and in this sense “unknowable,” at least from the outside. Are human beings the same way? Is there no relation of resemblance between the woman and becoming-woman, the child and becoming-child? “All we are saying is that these in-dissociable aspects of becoming-woman must first be understood as a function of something else: not imitating or assuming the female form, but emitting particles that enter the relation of movement and rest, or the zone of proximity, of a micro-femininity, in other words, that produce in us a molecular woman…” (ATP 275) The question is not about representing a woman, producing an accurate imitation of a particular molecular multiplicity — but of making something that has to do with that multiplicity enter into composition with the speeds of the image. In becoming we discover our own proximity to the molecular: “That is the essential point for us: you become-animal only if, by whatever means or elements, you emit corpuscles that enter the relation of movement and rest of the animal particles, or what amounts to the same thing, that enter the zone of proximity of the animal molecule.” (275)

Can we “make” the world a becoming? Only if we reduce ourselves to “one or several” abstract lines can we find our own proximities, our own zones of indiscernibility; that is, our own passageway to a becoming-everywhere, a becoming-everybody: “The Cosmos as an abstract machine, and each world as an assemblage effectuating it.” (ATP 280) Eliminate everything exceeding this moment; but don’t forget to include within the moment everything which it includes in its turn. We ourselves slip into the moment, which slips transparently into the impersonal, the indiscernible. “One is then like grass: one has made the world, everybody/everything, into a becoming, because one has made a necessarily communicating world, because one has suppressed in oneself everything that prevents us from slipping between things and growing in the midst of things… Saturate, eliminate, put everything in.” (ATP 280)

abstract machine, assemblage, chomsky, content, diagram, expression, hegemony, indiscernible, information science, intensity, Labov, linguistics, pragmatics, production, rhizome, semiotics, signifier, variation

Notes to Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: November 20, 1923 — Postulates of Linguistics

In truth, the nature of the abstract machine is the most general problem: there is no reason to tie the abstract machine to the universal or the constant, or to efface the singularity of abstract machines insofar as they are built around variables and variations.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (92-93)

Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of the Chomsky-Labov debate exemplifies a well-developed but perhaps under-emphasized aspect of their thinking — namely, their theory of semiotics — and in particular the curious relationship they argue holds between language and the abstract machine. The debate between Labov and Chomsky concerns linguistic variation — an issue which, as we shall see, helps illuminate an important aspect of Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of the abstract machine. Chomsky’s position is more or less what you would expect it to be: linguists isolate from an essentially heterogeneous linguistic reality a standard and homogenous system, thus grounding abstraction not in aggregations but in positions, roots, and linearity. In fact, he claims, it’s only in this way that one can get at real principles, and that science can operate in no other way… — and so on. D+G summarize:

“Chomsky pretends to believe that by asserting his interest in the variable features of language, Labov is situating himself in a de facto pragmatics external to linguistics. Labov, however has other ambitions…” (A Thousand Plateaus 93)

What does Labov do (according to Deleuze and Guattari)? He refuses the very alternative which Chomsky presumes exists between linguistic constants and pragmatic variability. Labov asks us to think about lines of pure or inherent variation. It’s not difficult to see why Deleuze and Guattari like Labov so much; it’s also not difficult to see see why they must move definitively beyond this particular debate, and challenge its very pretext. But let’s slow down, what do these lines mean in the first place — these lines of “inherent variation”? Deleuze and Guattari clarify that, on the one hand, we ought not to think of these simply as “free variants” already in relation to a given style or pronunciation (that is, whose features would still lie completely outside the system, thus leaving its homogeneity intact.) On the other hand, these lines of variations are not a “de facto” mix of both systems — in other words, we shouldn’t think that each system is homogeneous in its own right (“as if the speaker moved from one to the other,” write D+G.)
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abstract machine, catastrophe, chaos, communication, conservatism, cybernetics, decentralization, derrida, distinction, exteriority, godel, humanity, machine, metaphysics, ontology, spencer-brown, spirit, writing

Deconstructing Cybernetics

Notes on Derrida and Cybernetics

Let us conjecture that the invention of the transistor — an auto-controllable circuit — indicates the attainment of a critical level of development in cybernetics, a “tipping point.” Then for writing the corresponding moment is the invention of the video camera, perhaps more precisely the photograph: now seeing is writing, literally marking. Visio-literature is the only kind that can ever exists for us today — even ancient literature is post-modern for 21st-century readers. We cannot simply forget the history of writing, which is also the history of humanity — a spirit which is more like a ghost successively inhabiting our bodies, then our writing-instruments, then our machines, and next…?

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