A bit of housekeeping

This is just a quick recap of a presentation that I gave today at a conference at the annual Finnish Conference of Linguistics. As I pointed out in a previous essay last summer, I happened to watch Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’, which includes ‘A White Woman’s Instagram’, which I thought (and still think) is a great example of faciality, as defined by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. So, yeah, that’s what I did my presentation on and I might write an article on it sometime in the future. We’ll see.

While my presentation was, I’d say, somewhat barebones, going through my own takes on the works of Louis Hjelmslev and André Martinet, as presented in some of my previous essays, combined with my takes on the works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who do the same, work through Hjelmslev and Martinet (which is where this idea to look at their works as well originated), it got the job done. I had it all in my head all this time and just went with it, compiling it into something presentable in the last week or so. How did I do? I did alright. Could have been better, could have been worse. It went great in the sense that I got it done, basically winging it, like I do, as I’m not in the habit of practicing my presentations or speeches. It didn’t go great in the sense that I was a bit worn out, tired from not having slept enough in the last week, not because I spent all that time working on that presentation, but because, well, that’s work for you. In my opinion, it was alright. I’ve seen worse, way worse. It might have been a bit of a niche thing though. I mean, covering Hjelmslev’s net, aka stratification, double articulation, and faciality, bundled with regimes of signs, semiotic systems, authenticity (in the Sartrean sense), is some heavy shit for the uninitiated. That said, I have to give Burnham credit for making my job easy when it comes to exemplifying all that. I think people got the point, at least the functionality of faciality, how it, firstly, defines the standard or the norm, combined with indicating the supposed deviance from it, in negation, and, secondly, pushes people to conform to whatever the standard or the norm happens to be, the face of Jesus, which is what Burnham looks like in ‘White Woman’s Instagram’, and how I happened to look while giving the presentation. I think they also got the point how flexible faciality is, how, while it can be the face of Jesus, it doesn’t have to be that, like male, white, adult (etc.). It can equally well be female, like in this case because that’s the supposed standard or the norm in the US context when it comes to Instagram users or, at least, how it was at the time.

I may cover some of the presentations I’ve seen, but we’ll see. The last time I attempted that, I only covered the first day of the conference. I mean it’s good that I did, but it’s a bit shit of me not to cover the other days. It was just me being lazy.

I also read Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, which has been included in a number of publications and can be found, for example, in ‘Illuminations’. While I don’t have a lot of use for it, I’ll try to find some time to comment on it, covering what I find interesting about it.

What else have I been up to? Well, since the last essay, I got this idea of going through all of my essays, seeing what’s what, to fix typos and wonky sentences (yeah, what can I say, except, perhaps, that they weren’t exactly spotless in this regard), to better explain and exemplify some things if I hadn’t done a good job (it’s mostly been good in this regard, not much to clarify or add) and to shorten (I’ve started to abhor long titles) or change (yeah, again, some of them were just … let’s be honest … shit) some of the titles, so that they fit the text better (to be honest, coming up with titles is difficult for me, because the title should be to the point, snappy, but also captivating, snazzy, sexy). Why go through all that effort? Well, I’m aware that it’s not like people are going to read them, like who is going to read something that I wrote years ago (no one, absolutely no one), but if someone did happen to land on one of those essays, they’d get most out of that essay. I’m pretty sure that the people who may actually read my essays have already read them and moved on. My guess is that they just check if I’ve written something new and then read that. That makes sense. That’s what I’d do. I’d only check something old if I need to check some reference or the like. That’s, however, actually what I’m doing. I’m giving my old essays a fresh coat of paint. It’s kind of like spitting on something and then rubbing it with a shirt sleeve. It won’t fix any flaws, no, but that’s not the point. It’s for those who haven’t read them and for those who have read them, but just want to look up where they could find more about whatever they are looking for. That’s why I’ve shortened the references in the running text and moved them to the end of each essay (it gives you more detail than just tagging them at the end and in this way all the details are in one place). Had I done that initially, I would have saved a lot of time. But it is what it is. Shit happens, c’est la vie and what not.

As a side note, I honestly don’t know if anyone reads these because I don’t have the relevant statistics on. Yes, you got that right. They are disabled (and they have always been disabled). It’s the same with the comments features that are disabled, on purpose (they also add an extra admin that comes with it, you know, the usual, ranging from trolling to spamming, which I don’t want to deal with as it’s just a waste of my time). Why? Wouldn’t it be better to know how many people read these and, perhaps, from where they are. Also, isn’t dialogue good? Well, not having these features on it gives me creative freedom (there’s also all that GDPR stuff that I don’t want to deal with it and I don’t have to deal with it if I don’t keep any records). There’s no pressure for me to write. Writing is then all about writing. Thinking is then all about thinking. I don’t have to do either, beyond what I do for living. Instead, I get to write. I get to think. The best thing about it is that I’m doing it on my own terms. This means that I have absolute control over the process. I can even go back and change things, as I see fit, like I’m now doing, for those who haven’t read what I’ve written and for those who want to take a closer look at the originals, to find out more about what it is that they are interested. My take is my take, but the original is always the original, the real deal. So, yeah, I’m not doing it for someone, real or imagined. Or, well, I guess I am, as, in my view, all language is a dialogue, but that’s not contradictory with my approach when it comes to writing these essays. How so? Well, while it may seem like I am writing to someone, which is clear from what I just stated, how, among other things, I’m slowly editing my old essays for the benefit of the reader, thus catering for an audience, I’m not asking anyone’s permission to do that, nor do I feel like I should do that. Why? Well, why should I? The thing is that you, my reader, could be anyone, without any labels. Maybe you are an academic. Then again, maybe not. Maybe you are this. Maybe you are that. Maybe not. All I know is that I don’t know and not knowing gives me creative freedom to do what I want to do, the way I want to do it. If you like my essays or something about them, then, okay, good for you. If you don’t like them, or something about them, then, well, too bad. I don’t get to determine if you like them or not, nor to what extent you like them or not, but, at the same time, you don’t get to determine what I write and how I write. Oh, and it’s not about being defensive. No, no. I can’t even be that because I’m indifferent about the whole thing. That’s why I don’t have these features on. Haha! That’s the beauty of it! It’s that simple, really.

Apparently I’m also converting the text format from something, from whatever it was, to blocks, or something. I guess it’s worth doing? I honestly have no idea. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t see a difference, maybe there is something to it. I don’t know.

Maybe the biggest thing is marking the concepts and anything particularly important in italics. I had done it, here and there, but I see that it had little consistency. I’m used to marking the concepts in italics only in the first instance and then leaving them be, but my essays can be so long that I thought it’s wisest to mark them each time they crop up in the text. I may still end up being somewhat inconsistent, so I might end up doing an extra round at some point, going through them again, just to check on those. We’ll see.

This post (as I guess this is more of a post than an essay) was also a good example of this process as I ended up fixing a number of typos from the day before (it was bound to happen, as this was written in like 20 minutes, on the go). Plus I forgot to mention why the commenting is not on. It was convenient for me to add it here, instead of writing a separate text just on that. Adding that didn’t change things as the statistics features are also off for the same reasons.

References

  • Benjamin, W. ([1932] 2007). The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. In W. Benjamin, Illuminations (H. Arendt, Ed., H. Zohn, Trans.). New York, NY: Schocken Books.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Same same, but different

I had something else in mind for the next essay and I did come up with something else. I just ended up on a tangent that didn’t seem to come to an end, so I thought I’d write something else instead and then return to that essay, when I have more time for that tangent. This also means that this will be on the short side. There will be some other stuff as well, but I won’t be going on some tangent in this one, as otherwise this essay will end up like the one I was working on before this.

I recently noticed that I have, at best, only mentioned Walter Benjamin in the past. To fix that, I thought I’d look at one of his texts. It’s on translation and it has been published a number of times. I’m looking at the one translated by Steven Rendall, titled as ‘The Translator’s Task’, as published in ‘TTR : traduction, terminologie, rédaction’ in 1997. The original was first published in 1923, accompanying his translation of Charles Baudelaire’s ‘Tableaux Parisiens’, and, according to what is mentioned in ‘Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, Volume 1 1913–1926’, it was written in 1921, which means that this text is about 100 years old.

To be clear, I’m not a translator, nor do I claim to be one. I can translate, sure, but, if I were you, I wouldn’t hire me for that purpose. This is just my take on this text and what I get out of it. The good thing is that the text is not just about translation. I mean, yes, it is about translation, so it does match the title, but it’s not only about that. Anyway, let’s get started.

Right, Benjamin (151) starts by arguing that “it never proves useful to take the receiver into account” when we think of “a work of art or an art form”. Now, this is basically saying the same thing as claiming that art should be made for art’s sake, not to cater for this or that audience. That said, he is giving this a slightly different spin as he is approaching it from the perspective of encounters with art and not from the perspective of the artist.

It’s worth noting that he (151) isn’t saying that a work of art won’t have an audience, nor that it cannot be intended for a certain audience. No, no. I don’t think that’s it. Instead, he (151) wishes to emphasize you are just as much as its audience as any other audience. In his (151) words: “no work of art presupposes … attention” to it. He (151) goes as far as to argue that “[n]o poem is meant for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the audience.”

To be clear, to repeat the previous point, I don’t think he (151) denies the artist’s intentions, nor an intended audience. You still need the artist, i.e., the creator, and at least someone who comes across the work of art, for any of this to make any sense. But that’s not the point here. What I think he (151) is saying is that neither matter. Why? Well, because a work of art will function, i.e., do something, regardless of who made it, why it was made and who was set to experience it.

He (151-152) attempts to exemplify this with translation. He (151) acknowledges that, minimally, a translation provides the original to an audience who’d otherwise have no access to it. He (151-152) adds that is just part of the story and that it will likely just result in “bad translations.” If you’ve ever tried to translate something that’s considered to be art, you know what he is talking about. Even if you haven’t ever done that, it’s also often the case with what’s considered to be factual.

For him (151-152), there’s the essential content, what we might call information, the message that is to be communicated, and the inessential content. The former is fairly easy to deal with, whereas the latter is where it gets tricky. I’m not entirely sure the labels are apt, essential and inessential, as, to be honest, what I think he is actually saying is that the inessential is actually what matters, that it is actually what is essential.

He (152) then argues that we get nowhere with this, if we insist that the translation ought to serve the reader. He (152) explains his logic, stating that if this is the case, that the translator must cater for the reader, then the original must have also catered for the reader. Again, I don’t think he is arguing against artists’ having intentions, nor that there cannot be intended audiences, but rather that they are, in fact, unimportant when we are dealing with the art ourselves. It is that inessential that is, in a way, quite essential here, like I just pointed out. It’s the key to understanding art.

In a similar way, in ‘Lines of Flight: For Another World of Possibilities’ (2016 translation by Andrew Goffey) Félix Guattari (258) makes note of how translation is not about providing someone something that matches the original, word for word, because the signified is always tied to a system of signs, what he and Deleuze call a regime of signs in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), but about the sense, as also sometimes referred to as the meaning (but I prefer sense, and, if possible, reserve meaning for semantic meaning, to that signified of the signifying regime of signs) of the phrase, as it’s done here. His take is actually based on ‘Signe et sens’, written by Paul Ricœur, for ‘Encyclopaedia Universalis’, in case you want to explore that more.

As that inessential is about sense, it means that it cannot be put into words. So, yes, the words are essential, but only because you won’t have what it is that you are dealing with, let’s say a poem, if there are no words. That said, if you ask me, it’s more important to attempt to convey that sense to others, as opposed to trying to stay true to the wording.

Benjamin (152-154) shifts his focus from what is actually translated to the relation between what is translated, the original, and the translation, what relies on the original. In short, as I just implied, for there to be a translation, there needs to an original. It’s as simple as that. That said, as pointed out by him (154), translations don’t come to being just for the sake of it, to have this translated into that, adding to the original’s fame or to make it famous. Instead, as he (154) goes on to argue, translations come to being because the originals have reached a certain level of fame.

While that’s probably not that surprising, I mean you could easily argue the same, not having read his text, the first point being super obvious and the second point also being rather obvious, what’s interesting here is what he goes on to add to this. He (154) notes that the translations are what keep breathing new life into the original, which may seem a bit strange, considering that the translation is the translation and not the original.

So, take something like ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, originally published as ‘Mille plateaux’. I rely on the translation and so do most people I know. In an odd way, ‘Mille plateaux’ is what it is largely because of its English translation, regardless of what you think of the translation. I think it’s fair to say that Benjamin (152-154) is right about the translation only not being something that provides the same thing to a new audience, in this case to readers like me who cannot understand the original, but also something that renews the original.

I’ve mentioned this in the past, at least a couple of times already, but it’s worth repeating, as Massumi expresses this point quite aptly in his 1992 book ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ when he (16) states that “[t]ranslation is repetition with a difference.” I’ve also stated this in the past, in a similar context, but it’s worth reiterating that we could also extend that, going beyond translation, to paraphrasing, which is, functionally, the same as translation as that’s exactly what it is, repetition with a difference.

What fascinates Benjamin (154) is how through translation we can understand how that inessential, what I’d call sense, is produced. He (155) returns to the issue of translating something to something else, word for word. He (155) rejects any emphasis put on the accuracy of the translation because he reckons that no one can define it. For him (155), it is far from clear what counts as essential. This is exactly why I suggested flipping these notions on their heads, so that what’s considered essential, what he (155) refers to as “the superficial and indefinable similarity of two … texts” is, in fact, inessential, and what’s considered inessential is actually what’s essential.

He (156-157) exemplifies this distinction with the word ‘bread’: ‘Brot’ in German and ‘pain’ in French. They are same, yet they are different. In his (156) words:

“[T]he intended object is the same, but the mode of intention differs.”

He (156-157) reckons that this means that they signify something different, which is why they are not interchangeable, but their object is, nonetheless, the same. I don’t think he is referring to sense here, but to two different signifying systems or regimes of signs. This is, however, related to how we make sense of something as part of that is about signification. To my understanding, the point here is that German ‘Brot’ is understood differently than French ‘pain’ because in each case the language is segmented differently.

To make more sense of this, I’ll borrow the examples used by Louis Hjelmslev in ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Language’ (1953 translation by Francis Whitfield). He (31-32) includes five different languages, including English, and exemplifies how each instance of ‘I do not know’ is different, but has still something in common, that sense, what he refers to as purport. The tricky thing with that is that sense or purport is, in itself, unformed matter, “an amorphous mass, an unanalyzed entity”, something that appears to us only when we analyze it as something formed, as he (31-32) points out. In other words, sense or purport is independent of language or languages, but it does not appear to us independent of it or them, or of other semiotic systems or sign regimes.

Hjelmslev (32) explains this quite neatly:

“We thus see that the unformed purport extractable from all these linguistic chains is formed differently in each language. Each language lays down its own boundaries within the amorphous ‘thought-mass’ and stresses different factors in it in different places and gives them different emphasis.”

This is the point Benjamin (156-157) also makes, although, I’d say, without the conceptual rigor of Hjelmslev (31-32). If that’s still a bit vague, Hjelmslev (32) provide a couple of examples:

“It is like one and the same handful of sand that is formed in quite different patterns, or like the could in the heavens that changes shape in Hamlet’s view from minute to minute. Just as the same sand can be put into different molds, and the same cloud take on ever new shapes, so also the same purport is formed or structured differently in different languages.”

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure if sand or clouds are good examples, considering that grains of sand and the particles suspended in the air are, in fact, formed matter. Then again, he does indicate that it’s like sand and like a cloud. Plus, we must also take into account that all of that, what we think of as amorphous mass, never appears to us as such, as something formless. It only appears to us as something formed. Anyway, he (32) continues:

“What determines its form is solely the function of the language, the sign function and the functions deducible therefrom. Purport remains, each time, substance for a new form, and has no possible existence except through being substance for one form or another.”

So, like I just pointed out, that amorphous mass only makes sense to us as whatever can be formed in a certain way. To summarize this, he (32) points out that:

“In each of the languages considered [the purport] has to be analyzed in a different way—a fact that can only be interpreted as indicating that the purport is order, articulated, formed in different ways in the different languages[.]”

To give you more examples of what Benjamin (156-157) is after, Hjelmslev (33) also exemplifies this with how colors are designated in English and Welsh. Think of colors as a spectrum, as that amorphous mass that is a continuum, as he (33) points out. Now, think of how it is segmented in some language. He (33) notes that in many cases you’ll find similar segmentations, but it’s all arbitrary. For example, what is ‘green’ in English is either ‘gwyrdd’ or ‘glas’ in Welsh, what is ‘blue’ or ‘gray’ in English is ‘glas’ in Welsh, what is ‘gray’ in English is either ‘glas’ or ‘llwyd’ in Welsh, and what is ‘brown’ in English is ‘llwyd’ in Welsh, which, could also be ‘gray’ in English, as exemplified by him (33).

Does this mean that people cannot understand each other, that they cannot make sense of one another, just because their world appears to be formed differently, depending on their language or languages? Well, no. Of course, it matters, as Benjamin (156-157) and Hjelmslev (31-33) point out, but it’s not like you can’t understand that others might understand the world differently, nor that you can’t learn to understand it differently, like they do.

This is why I’d go with what Guattari and Ricœur have to say instead. So, yeah, I’d say that in each case you have the play of signifiers and, yeah, in abstract terms, both are about ‘bread’. That said, in both cases they are understood in a different sense, which, of course, isn’t conveyed that well when we don’t have actual contexts where they’d appear. Signification plays its part, yes, but it’s not all there is to this.

Benjamin actually appears to shift his view to match that of Guattari and Ricœur when he (158) argues that what matters the most in translation is what cannot be translated:

“One can extract from a translation as much communicable content as one wishes, and this much can be translated; but the element toward which the genuine translator’s efforts are directed remains out of reach.”

Valentin Vološinov brings up something similar in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I. R. Titunik) when he (100) notes that it is impossible to explain a meaning of a word out of context. You need to take into account what he (99) calls “the concrete historical situation”.

This may seem counterproductive, like why would you then even translate anything if what matters remains untranslatable, but it isn’t. You don’t translate the untranslatable because it is, indeed, untranslatable. The problem for the translator is to make sure that the sense of it, whatever we are dealing with, is retained in the translation. The words themselves matter little in all this.

Like I pointed out already, I’m not a translator. I have, however, taken a basics course in translation, like … a long, long time ago, let’s put it that way, and I do remember this being discussed, albeit not in such fancy terms. So, we had this exercise where we had to translate from Finnish to English. It had this bit that had something to do with silverware that you can find in the Finnish Lutheran context. Now, apparently you do get this type of stuff elsewhere as well, as ‘church silver’, but, be that as it may, I remember the point being that it’s not a given that an English speaker knows this to be the case, whereas it is generally understood by Finnish speakers to pertain to all the small items you find in a typical church, like everything from candle holders to communion cups. So, you might go with something like brassware instead. The point was really that it’s not self-evident to an English speaker, whereas it is for a Finnish speaker, which means that the sense what we were after was not necessarily conveyed to the English speaker. As Benjamin (158) points out, it is the untranslatable that we were expected to focus on.

Anyway, Benjamin (159) further comments on this:

“The translator’s task consists in this: to find the intention toward the language into which the work is to be translated, on the basis of which an echo of the original can be awakened in it.”

That’s sense or purport for you, if it isn’t clear by now. He (159) also comments on how this may and, I guess, often does come at a price when you are dealing with art. How to put it concisely? Hmmm, I guess what he (159) means here is that while you can get the point across, to retain what matters, that sense or purport, you won’t get the style of the original, because that’s tied to the way the original is expressed in whatever semiotic mode you are dealing with. I bet you’ve run into this when someone has pointed out that, okay, it retains is the gist of it and this translation is actually pretty good, but it just isn’t as beautiful as the original. Now, of course, that’s tricky as one is comparing the translation with the original, not on its own terms, but in the terms of the original, which, I think is a problem. A very good translator would be able to overcome that, retaining the sense of the original while breathing new life to the original, or so to speak, by not trying to be as accurate as possible with the translation. I believe this is what he means when he (159) states that “the translation calls to the original within, at that one point where echo in its own language can produce a reverberation of the foreign language’s work.”

This is also why he (155) attempts to explain translation in different way. He (155) notes that just as there can be no objective knowledge, i.e., genuine objectivity, as even our best understanding of something is only our best understanding of something (although, to be clear, in my view, it is, of course, possible that there is such a thing as truth or objective knowledge and that our best understanding of whatever it is that we are dealing with matches that, I’ll leave that open, quite happily), nor to a claim to such (but I too doubt that we can verify that to be the case, to be absolutely sure, without a trace of doubt), there can be no translation that is true to the original. This is exactly why I like Massumi’s definition of translation.

As a side note, maybe it has to do with this being a translation (which would be, of course, only highly fitting here!), but it’s just funny how he (155) writes stuff like “In truth, …” and “the true relationship”, to make sure that his readers stay focused, that they get his point, only to argue that there is no such thing as truth, what he calls objective knowledge, nor access to it. It’s a bit ironic. Then again, this happens all the time. I try to avoid it, but, yeah, I’m sure I’ve used something like ‘in fact’, even though, for me, there are no facts, as such, only our facts, what we consider to be factual, which is not, strictly speaking, the same as facts. I’d attribute this, how it happens to Benjamin and to others like him, me included to the existence of stock phrases (which would be interesting to address, but I won’t go on a tangent on that here).

Anyway, he (155) reckons that translation would be, in fact (haha, here we go!), impossible if it had to be true to the original. I mean, wouldn’t it be the same if it had to be the same? Doesn’t it actually have to be different in order to be a translation? This is not, however, a negative thing, if you ask him (155), because this is how the original maintains its vitality.

He (155) reinforces his position on translation by going even beyond what I pointed out with paraphrasing. How is that possible? Well, as he (155) points out, even “[e]stablished words have their after-ripening.” In other words, words don’t stay the same. While they don’t change wildly, no, they are still subject to change. So, it’s one thing to read something and then to read it decades later. This means that even if a text is never translated to anything, nor corrected, it can still come across differently. This is the point Vološinov (99-100) makes. In Benjamin’s (155) words:

“What might have been the tendency of an author’s poetic language in his own time may later be exhausted, and immanent tendencies can arise anew out of the formed work.”

He (155-156) adds to this that there is nothing that can prevent this from happening as just the language that something is written is subject to change. In addition, translation contributes to this continuous change as it takes part in “the after-ripening of the alien word, and the birth pangs of its own”, as he (156) points out.

I mostly agree with him, but I’m not entirely sure that agree with his (159) take on translation being, merely, “derivative, final, ideal”, whereas the original is “spontaneous, primary, concrete”. Okay, I do agree with the original being the original, the one that is primary, whereas the translation is derivative of the original and therefore secondary, but I’m not so sure about it being final or ideal. As I pointed out, a very good translator, or, should I say, a great translator (to put the bar high enough), can work his or her magic with the original, retaining the sense of it, while breathing new life to it, so that, in a way, it challenges the original, as bastardly as that may seem. That is, of course, just my take on that.

What’s for sure is that he (160-161) rejects the task of a translator as guaranteeing accuracy or fidelity, as he refers to it in this context. As he (160-161) points out, there’s always more to words than just words. No matter how much effort you put into the translation to make sure that you’ve chosen the right words to match the original words, you’ll end up missing the point, as noted by him (161). It’s also worth noting here, I believe, that he (160-161) is referring to the meaning of the work as what Guattari (258) refers to as the signified, as opposed to the sense, in ‘Lines of Flight’. So, yeah, I agree with Benjamin (160-161) on this, that you can’t do justice to the original if your understanding of meaning is tied to the words, as opposed to the sense that is conveyed by the words.

To be honest, I don’t think he (161-163) does a good job explaining this (or, perhaps, his translator doesn’t do a good job explaining this). He (161-163) wants to retain the distinction between the original and the translation, which is fine, fine by me anyway, but he isn’t particularly clear as to what level of accuracy or fidelity he wants to maintain, while also giving the translator some freedom as to not translate something word to word. I have a feeling that he is lacking the vocabulary to get the point across. He (162-163) does talk about there being this thing that can’t be explained, what is exactly what matters, but he doesn’t have a good name for it. The best way he expresses this is when he (163) states that:

“To set free in his own language the pure language spellbound in the foreign language, to liberate the language imprisoned in the work by rewriting it, is the translator’s task.”

Again, he (161-163) seems to lack a good word for this, what I’d call sense or purport, as you have all the freedom in the world if you only worry about that and not about accuracy or fidelity. That’s why I like to think that not only is translation repetition with a difference, as Massumi (16) puts it, but so is paraphrasing. I mean you can say the same thing in many, many ways. What matters is that you get the point across.

He also seems to flip on his earlier position, on how you have this and/or that language, and how they convey things differently, when he (163) points out that a translation should not shoehorn the language of the original to fit the confines of the language that it is to be translated into. He (163-164) really wants to do that exact opposite, to expand or change the latter, by introducing it to the former. He wants us to broaden our horizons. I agree with him (163-164) on how it can be quite productive to import from one language to another.

I do that all the time, considering that my Finnish is often like a bastardized version of what you might expect, at least if you ask a teacher of Finnish, because it seems like its Anglicized. But if you were to ask an English teacher, or an English speaker, they’d probably like to point out that my English often appears Gallicized. Why? Well, I read so, so many English translations of French works that, oddly enough, the frothy and verbose that’s often attributed to the French originals and their English translations ends up being manifested in my own English, which then ends up being manifested in my own Finnish. Now, if you are language purist, like an exemplary schoolteacher, and, in my experience, many in the academics, it’s only likely that you hate the way I write. Why? Because in the case of Finnish it’s like an English speaker writing in Finnish, and in the case of English it’s like a French speaker writing in English. I remember in school, the Finnish teachers giving us students disapproving looks for using foreign sounding expressions, such as Anglicisms or Sveticisms, as if they were the end of the world. Little did I know back then, that out of all people, Walter Benjamin opposed such.

I think it’s also worth noting that I think Benjamin is a bit old fashioned as he treats languages as these distinct entities. It’s not that he isn’t right, that there aren’t these languages, as we know them, but he appears to take them for granted. These days it would be more apt to think in terms of variation, there being these varieties that are spoken and/or written by certain groups of people, in this and/or that context. In other words, while he is well aware of historical change, he isn’t or doesn’t appear to be aware of geographic change, how distance or proximity between people affects the language they speak and/or write.

He would probably acknowledge that. At least it would fit his views on language. I think he’d be more than happy to notice that people import all kinds of things from others, from one variety to another. This happens all the time, albeit we barely notice how our language changes. There are also various entities such as state institutions that do their best to prevent such change. Homogeneity helps in keeping people in line, which is why schools tend to teach standardized language. It’s kinda handy for the state to stamp out all kinds ‘peculiarities’ so that people won’t speak or write in ways that are difficult for the representatives of the state institutions to understand. It’s also kinda handy for the state to curb people’s enthusiasm by instilling in people that it is improper behavior to drop a swear word like ‘fuck’ in the middle of a sentence, write ‘nope’ instead of ‘no’, or to say ‘y’all’ instead of ‘you all’. It’s about toeing the line, knowing your place. There is this idea of harmony that the state institutions want to uphold, despite being wholly arbitrary. There’s no real reason why you can’t say or write ‘prolly’ instead of ‘probably’ or ‘kinda’ instead of ‘kind of’, except that certain people who can exercise power over you say so.

I write the way I want in these essays, as you may have noticed. I don’t do it to be as informal as possible. It’s not simply to differentiate myself from people who want all writing to be as formal as possible. I don’t really believe in such a duality of formal vs. informal. I think there’s constant variation. I speak and write the way I do depending on what I find to be the most apt in that situation. To be honest, I don’t even really think about it. I just write. It’s enjoyable. I think it’s dumb that, for example, using contracted forms like ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’ is thought to be informal or colloquial. To me, it makes more sense to use ‘it’s’ or ‘it is’ where such fits. If I say or write something like ‘yeah, it’s my job’, there isn’t much emphasis to it, it being my job, no biggie. In contrast, if I say or write something like ‘yes, it is my job’, there is a certain emphasis to that, that it is indeed my job, that I take it very, very seriously. I think it’s silly to lock yourself into just one or the other, just because someone thinks it’s how one should speak or write.

I did a quick search and landed on ‘A Question about Contractions: Are All of ‘em Colloquial?’ by John Hendrickson, as published in ‘College Composition and Communication’ in 1971. Now, this is, perhaps, out of date, there’s that, but I’m not interested in whether this and/or that was in use back in the day or the like (although, it sort of got me interested!), but in who gets to define such and on what basis. He (46) notes that there is this insistence among grammarians that contractions or contracted forms shouldn’t be used in formal writing because they are informal, because their origins are informal. He (46) rejects this claim by noting that it is by no means clear that they originated in colloquial speech and, on the contrary, it appears that they appeared first in writing, from which they then shifted to speech, thus becoming colloquial. Now, I don’t know if that’s the case or not, but, as I pointed out, that’s not really what interests me about this anyway. What’s much more interesting is who came up with ‘formal writing’ and who gets to define what is considered formal and then what is considered informal. He (47-48) exemplifies this point that interests me by noting that there’s a lot of variation in contraction, so that if all contractions are colloquial in origin, as based on how actual people have actually spoken, we’d have something like “wu’not, d’not, and c’not instead of wouldn’t, don’t, and can’t”. Similarly, he (48) seriously doubts whether there was anybody who ever said “let’s and shan’t”, instead of the more likely alternative of them coming to being as contracted forms of “let us and shall not” as a result of “[t]he time-honored practice of dropping letters in writing”. He (48) does, however, leave it open whether this or that is the case and acknowledges that some contractions are colloquial in their origin. It’s also worth noting that he (48) doesn’t want to be the person who decides what counts as formal or informal. What he (48) wants to do instead is to point out that such decisions shouldn’t be based von iews that we simply take for granted.

I think he gets to the point when he (48) states that this is based on some weird hatred on certain words:

“To be sure, 18th century proscriptions, based upon pure unreasoning hatred of certain constructions, cast a long shadow. The point is, though, that it is only shadow, not substance.”

Indeed. There is nothing inherent about certain words. They aren’t better or worse than any other words. Some are simply deemed to be more legit, as he (48) points out. Again, I don’t know what’s what when it comes to the origins of this and/or that contracted form, but what’s considered formal and what’s considered informal or colloquial is simply arbitrary, as he (48) goes on to add.

I also edit my texts, sometimes going back years to fix a typo, a wonky sentence or add a bit that wasn’t there originally, but totally makes sense to have in that context (instead of writing a new essay just for that bit). Some might say that you can’t do that. Well, the thing is that I can. I write however I like and do whatever I like with my essays. If you feel like I should write in a certain way or work in a certain way, according to certain conventions, perhaps it is you who should be writing and working on something, according to certain conventions that you subscribe to, not me. Feel free. I enjoy writing, they way I do, so, yeah, I don’t foresee myself changing it in any way that ruins the enjoyment of it. That’d be just counterproductive, a total buzzkill.

Anyway, I think what Benjamin is after in his short text is what Deleuze and Guattari (98) refer to as making one’s own stammer in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. For them (98), it’s like writing in a foreign language, but in a language that is, nonetheless, your own:

“To be a foreigner, but in one’s own tongue, not only when speaking a language other than one’s own. To be bilingual, multilingual, but in one and the same language, without even a dialect or patois.”

In my view, the point here is that it makes no sense to box oneself into a corner by setting limits to oneself. Language is as we make it. So, yeah, I think my Finnish teachers couldn’t have been more wrong when they objected to anything that was deemed to be borrowed or carried over from some other language to Finnish. To be candid, I loved English in school for this reason. Firstly, I was always good at it, having grown up with it. All the cool new things just weren’t available in Finnish (not that I mind translations). All or nearly all computer games were only in English, and they were very text heavy back then. To make progress, you needed to learn what’s what. Secondly, I’d say the teachers were pretty cool about it. You were given way more freedoms in English than in Finnish. It had an open-ended appeal. You could always learn more and put it into use, the way you saw fit, and the teachers thought it was great. There was little concern about propriety, whereas Finnish always had this seriousness to it. To be clear, I don’t it just happened to be that the English teachers were cool and the Finnish teachers were not. It seemed to echo what the teachers were once taught. I think it was institutional.

Writing an essay in English felt liberating, whereas writing one in Finnish felt like a stranglehold. To be fair, it could just be that I was shit at writing essays in Finnish. There’s that. Granted. But, at the same time, it felt like you had to prove yourself, that you are serious, which felt pretentious and stuffy. Anyway, be that as it may, I’m pretty sure that my written Finnish is inferior to my English. When it comes to speech, it’s about the same. I attribute that discrepancy to the fact that writing is way, way more regulated in Finnish than it is English, whereas there’s basically no regulation when it comes to speech.

Following that moment of candor, I think it’s time to wrap things up. While I don’t agree with everything Benjamin has to say in this short text, he does have his moments, which is pretty impressive, considering how old the text is. I don’t think I’ll return to this text, at least not in this detail anyway, but I think I should read more of his texts and comment on them as well. Of course, that all depends on what it is that happens to interest me when I have the time to read and write. I try to keep things fun, so I don’t foresee myself writing on something that doesn’t interest me. I think I should take another look at his ‘Arcades Project’ (1999 translation by Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin) and write something on that as that’s what got me interested in his works. It also encouraged me to think of indoor environments as landscapes, or, in terms of landscapity, even though that’s quite uncommon in landscapes studies (not unheard of though), as arcades are, in fact, major outdoor shopping streets that have been turned into major indoors shopping streets. As he (3, 15) puts it, they are covered cities, like roofed miniature worlds.

The rouble cheeseburger

Last time I wrote an essay that consists of mainly just rehashing old stuff (I know, how lazy of me) and then mixing it with something contemporary (yeah, we are all watching it unfold, but I’ll get to that, eventually). The format of this essay is the same, mixing something I’ve covered in the past with examples from what’s dubbed as the Ukraine-Russia war, which is simply a text book example of an empire invading what surrounds it because that’s what emperors do, as discussed in the previous essay.

I covered stuff that pertains to the emperor and the empire, how that all works (or doesn’t, really), so I won’t do that again (not that I’m not rehashing with this essay, I know, I know). To be honest, there’s no shortage of takes on this, so, instead of me doing just that, what you’d probably expect, copying people who know what’s what when it comes to the military, I’m going to do something what you probably don’t expect, mixing what I know from what I’ve read with my own experiences in the military, while contrasting that with what took place in the first weeks of the invasion.

Right, as I mentioned, this war is very real. It’s there and it gets recorded. It’s bloody and there’s plenty of evidence. People get killed and nothing about it is nice. You’re lucky if you die of small arms fire, like in what might happen in an armed robbery gone bad situation. If you know what kind of weaponry there is, what could get you killed, you aren’t that shocked by smart phone footage of people’s bodies scattered all over an intersection, having been blown to bits, bodies burnt to crisp by being exposed to temperatures that melt metal, recognizable only as broadly speaking having once been humans, or bodies lying face down on the asphalt, in a pool of water mixed with their and/or someone else’s own blood. There’s nothing funny, nor glorious about that. You are dumb to think otherwise. It’s just sad, really, to die a horrible death in some war that doesn’t even really make any sense to begin with.

Do we need to see such footage? Yes. Oh, yes. Should we be seeing such footage. Again, yes. For sure. And don’t get me wrong. That’s not to praise or glorify war or war efforts. No, no. When you realize how it is, gruesome, you won’t glorify it. You know you and others may end up paying a heavy price for such actions, so you’ll tread lightly. Sometimes it is a risk worth taking, yes, but you need to be aware how it is, likely very costly, so costly that an imperial regime like Russia does not want to show it to the people.

What I don’t want to see is tidied up footage, like what the Russian army PR troops publish. What they show is some convoy somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, embarking on some supposedly heroic journey, some tanks rolling in neat formation or helicopters or planes being armed at some remote airfield, followed by them flying in the sky, in an undisclosed location. It looks good, cinematic, color graded and what not, yeah, sure, but it is so contrived and glorified. It’s as if there was no war, as if there was no bloody invasion.

This sort of attitude has also crept to journalism as well (as a reader / viewer expectation). If you are a photographer covering war, you aren’t doing your job if you take photos of goods at a market stall, in some relatively safe area or soldiers petting cats in spotless uniforms, instead of taking photos of the mangled bodies of soldiers who’ve died gruesome deaths, local emergency services pulling people, alive and dead, from buildings leveled by artillery, air strikes or missile strikes, and showing it to the world.

I’m not a war photographer, nor do I want to be one, but as a photographer I could do that job and I’d have no issues covering the gruesome aspects of it. It comes with the territory. The closest that I’ve come to such is in sports photography, where people do get injured fairly regularly. I’ve had people send me angry feedback that I shouldn’t be taking and publishing photos of injured athletes, in agony, or the very moment that they get injured, in sports like hockey that have plenty of body on body contact, where that kind of stuff happens, regularly, it being part of it. Sorry, if it is violent, it should look violent. It’d be simply dishonest of me not to cover that aspect. I’d say that there’s probably something wrong with you if you can’t handle it, while claiming to be interested in it.

To be clear, I don’t think that violence should be glorified. No. There’s a limit to that. We don’t need to see every injured and/or dead person out there, from all the angles. But at the same time it should not be covered up or left out of the picture either. It should definitely be shown if it is something that comes with the territory. If you get offended by such footage, I’m sorry but you are probably out of touch with reality. Get a grip. It should be shocking. That’s the whole point, to push you, to shock you, to make you realize what it is like. Life is tough. No point sugar-coating it. Learn to handle it.

Anyway, to get back on track here, this is actually something that the Russian Feder… sorry, the Russian Empire, doesn’t understand or understands but is unable to turn into its favor right now. How so? Well, in the west it’s a free for all or nearly so anyway. You can express just about anything without consequences (there are, of course, some consequences, don’t get me wrong, but I think you get the point). For Russia this has meant that it can sow dissent abroad, which it has done, quite successfully. That said, it can’t do it now when it’s all too obvious. There’s just way too much footage of burning APCs, tanks, trucks, and planes, mixed with footage of dead soldiers that someone would go through the effort to make it up. War isn’t a picnic.

Back home the Russian strategy is the polar opposite: restrict media and access to it. To tie this with the previous essay, it’s not about what, but all about who gets to express what’s what. As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explain it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), what’s considered the truth is dictated by the emperor, in this case Vladimir Putin, and controlled by the functionaries, in this case those close and loyal to him. The question is not whether this and/or that journalist or media outlet is right about something, for example that it is a war and not a ‘special military operation’ or that the air forces and the artillery are hammering residential areas, indiscriminately, instead of targeting military targets, with precision, but rather who is entitled to express such in the first place. In this kind of despotic or imperial regime it is the emperor and the functionaries who are entitled to such. No one else is allowed to express anything that contradicts what the emperor has said or done or the interpretations of those by the functionaries. Everyone else is therefore just riffraff who mustn’t be allowed to participate in the process. Their task is to do as they are told.

The emperor and the functionaries would love to do this abroad as well, because that’s the only way they can control the situation. But as it can’t do that, at least not everywhere, it undermines the open processes that are outside its control by sowing dissent. When it cannot claim the exclusive right to dictate what’s what, what is considered objective, it seeks to make everything outside its territory subjective. It’s a clever ruse.

But what’s the problem for the empire then? Well, people in the west aren’t buying into their narrative and that means that nearly everyone has turned against the empire and are keenly aware of those imperial ambitions. Simply put, everyone thinks that the emperor is an asshole.

To be fair, that’s common among emperors, so this should hardly come as a surprise. After all, assholes do tend to be full of shit. An imperial regime doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t A) the emperor and B) one if the functionaries. That’s why reducing cities to rubble makes sense in that regime. It’s not like they care. It’s not like they have to rebuild any of those buildings or bury any of those bodies. Nah. It’s the people who have to do all that. Then again, if that does come as a surprise, or came to you as a surprise, that’s because it’s a system that builds on deception. Like I pointed out in the previous essay, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

But why does it resort to such an obviously poor strategy? It makes no sense to level cities unless it serves a strategic purpose. If they are filled with enemy military, then, yes, it makes sense. That happens all the time. Soldiers do use buildings as cover and the enemy soldiers do fire on them or their positions, sometimes calling for air support or artillery to take care of that for them. But if you are doing it for the sake of it, just reducing buildings into rubble, you seek to demoralize the enemy. Okay, that sort of makes sense if you seek to end it all, to get out of the war, but if you seek to grab the land, destroying it all comes with such a high price tag that it makes no sense, whatsoever. It’s just counterproductive. If your goal is to vassalize or annex, why the fuck would you destroy the infrastructure, blow up all the factories and kill many of your future taxpayers? That’s as stupid as keying the car you are about to steal.

Then again, that’s your average emperor type of stuff alright. Someone else will have to do all that reconstruction and someone else will have to pay for it, so it’s like, whatever. Don’t expect that to make sense. Just deal with it.

You may also be tempted to point out that it makes no sense sending your own soldiers to death, by the thousands, which is what is happening in Ukraine. And you are right, that’s just stupid. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because you are decimating your own taxpayers. Then again, you need to keep in mind that the emperor and the functionaries don’t care about the soldiers. They are riffraff to them.

Deleuze and Guattari (424-425) expand on that, explaining how the emperor operates. In summary, it’s about capture. What they (424) mean by that is that they bind people to their will. Importantly, the soldiers are not the emperor’s own soldiers, as they (425-426) out. In other words, they are people who the emperor dupes to do his or her bidding. They are expendable for that very reason. They are not those close to the emperor, so it’s like fuck them.

The two (425-426) make a particularly interesting point about how it is the mutilated or, rather, the infirm that do such. They aren’t capable of mutilation, which is a product of war, as they (425) point out, because they themselves have been mutilated, which is why they need others to do all that nasty business for them, as they (425-426) point out. In their (426) words:

“The State apparatus needs, at its summit as at its base, predisabled people, preexisting amputees, the stillborn, the congenitally infirm, the one-eyed and one-armed.”

This is basically what Herbert Hoover said during his speech on June 27, 1944, titled as ‘Freedom in America and the World’:

“Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die. And it is youth who must inherit the tribulation, the sorrow and the triumphs that are the aftermath of war.”

You can find this (254) in ‘Addresses upon the American Road: World War II 1941–1945’. Before saying that, he also said that:

“In every generation youth presses forward toward achievement. Each generation has the right to build its own world out of the materials of the past, cemented by the hopes of the future.”

I agree with this. This is how it ought to be. That said, it rarely is this way. It definitely isn’t this way in Russia. In fact, it has been that way over there, across the border, as I pointed out in the previous essay. It’s always old men making the decisions.

Anyway, back to Deleuze and Guattari. It’s worth pointing that I’m largely ignoring the other element here, the pact of jurists, which is opposed to the bond of the emperor. That’s because I’m focusing on all things imperial. Of course, it does play a role as it is not that empires don’t have laws and contracts. They are there in the mix, so that you can argue that a clever emperor not only makes others do his or her bidding, but also sends some of his or her functionaries to give those he or she dupes some security or, at least, some sense of security (which is probably false, as the whole regime is based on deception). In this case it would be lying to the soldiers that they will be rewarded after the ‘special military operation’. It’s still deception, so it’s not like this aspect plays a major role, which is why I opted to ignore it initially.

To summarize a couple things before I move on, for the emperor, in this case Putin, the problem with ignoring the western media, what the actions of the empire look to those outside the borders of the empire, is that the empire, in this case Russia, is already fucked. Nearly everyone is by now part of Team Ukraine and they’ll do anything to bankrupt the empire, as fast as possible. On top of that, the more there are Russian casualties and destroyed or lost military equipment, the more tempting it becomes for some to do exactly the same to the empire as what the empire did to its neighbor in hopes of vassalizing or annexing it. Some neighbors might just expand their borders at the expense of the empire once it cannot protect its imperial borders because there are no soldiers to do that, they are in the wrong place to do that, or they aren’t getting paid to do that. This might, of course, also happen from the inside, with some areas coming to the conclusion it might be time to do their own thing, seceding from the empire.

But why is imperial army so weak? Why isn’t it what people thought it was? Why can’t it handle what it considers its former province? Why is pesky Ukraine kicking its ass? Well, the thing with the imperial system is that it’s all for the emperor and the functionaries. The short answer is that everyone who matters in the empire is so busy lining their pockets, living the life of privilege, that money isn’t being spent on the military, or at least not to the extent people thought it was. It looks good on paper, there being this many armored vehicles, this many trucks, this many artillery pieces, this many aircraft, this many missiles, this many bombs, and this many soldiers with this many small arms, but it doesn’t do you any good if that’s only on paper. If most of that is mothballed somewhere, waiting to be repaired and/or upgraded, and if most of the soldiers aren’t trained as well as people were told they were, it’s all, once more, smoke and mirrors.

When everyone takes a cut, there isn’t a whole lot left of the original budget when everyone involved is taken into account. Imagine someone close to the top taking a 20 percent cut from the budget allotted to them by the one on the top. Then imagine someone else below that person also taking a 20 percent cut from what’s left following the first cut. The imagine someone below that person also taking a 20 percent cut from what’s left following the second cut and so on and so forth, until you reach the level of grunts. They get whatever they are allotted: boots, some camo uniform, underwear, a pair of socks and gloves, a vest and/or a chest rig, a helmet, an assault rifle (a light machine gun or a marksman rifle), a couple of magazines with 30 rounds each (belt boxes or a number of smaller magazines), a couple of grenades and possibly an anti-tank weapon of some sort. They might also have other stuff, like night vision goggles, but that’s all beside the point. They are also responsible for handling the vehicles, food, fuel, and the ammunition. There isn’t a whole lot to take a cut from, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian soldiers have sold some of their gear. The most expensive stuff like night vision goggles could simply be reported as having been lost and the fuel as having been used, even though they’ve actually been sold to civilians, who then profit from that once they sell them to someone else who wants a pair of those. The gist of that is that they can be sold because they are not their personal property. The military will give your unit more fuel and, perhaps, more gear to replace the gear that was reported as missing. Alternatively, those in charge may not necessarily supply more fuel, nor replace the gear, but indicate in some written report that they have done so.

Why are the logistics so, so shit? How can the vehicles run out of fuel? Well, firstly, if you don’t know it already, military vehicles weigh not just a ton but tons, and therefore require powerful engines that, simply put, consume fuel by the ton. For example, the Soviet era designed gas turbine engine in the costly tanks used by Russia in Ukraine, the T-80s, can, apparently, consume up to 750 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers. Even if that’s not accurate, even if that’s too high, that’s like 7,5 liters per kilometer, not per 100 kilometers (which would be pretty good for a car). It can do about 300 or so kilometers with its 1100-liter internal fuel tank, assuming that the tank stays on the road and the conditions are ideal, but that’s not a lot. On top of that, if it’s not re-fitted with an auxiliary power unit, that engine is going to keep consuming that fuel like crazy even when stationary. While western tanks also consume quite a bit of fuel per 100 kilometers and, to be clear, tend to weigh even more, those tanks are known to be hilariously fuel inefficient, even when the tanks have been modernized through upgrades. While the T-72s and the T-90s (they are really just a modernized T-72s) used by Russia in Ukraine do a bit better, they aren’t exactly fuel efficient either. Also, while the APCs and the trucks don’t consume such crazy amounts of fuel, they still consume a ton of it when compared to your modern fuel-efficient car.

Now, the good think for the Russian empire (to play the devil’s advocate here, for a moment) is that it has virtually endless supply of fuel. The thing is, however, that it’s one thing to have that and another thing to have that in the tank, in a tank, in a battlefield, across a border, in a territory that you do not control. To make more sense of this problem, the distance from the southern tip of the Belarus border, where a lot of Russian troops entered Ukraine, to Kyiv, the capital that the imperial army wants to take over, is only something like 150 kilometers if you stay on the main roads, so easily manageable even with a T-80, but that’s assuming that the convoy that doesn’t have mechanical issues  and that it won’t have to stop every now and then to avoid being ambushed for cruising on the main roads. In short, that seems easy, on paper, even with such gas guzzlers, but as it turns out, it isn’t.

In addition to fuel, you also need to make sure that you have enough ammunition, food, and water, as well as mechanics who can fix vehicles if they break down. Ideally you have plenty of ammunition, no problem, and enough food and water for whatever the goal happens to be. That all makes sense. It all needs to be taken into consideration. The thing is, however, that it doesn’t appear to be taken into consideration, at least not properly. If it is a common practice to skim a bit, here and there, as it is in such a regime, it’s not at all hard to believe that vehicles haven’t been maintained properly, readied for war, that they been refueled before leaving the friendly territory, that the ammunition has been taken care of and/or that combat rations have expired years ago.

In summary, the problem is that the imperial military is run on a surprisingly low budget, which is then undercut by people who claim to be using that budget properly, while actually pocketing some of that money. While running things on a tight budget is bad, it’s even worse when the actual budget isn’t what it says on paper. Now imagine that tighter than tight budget mixed with wasteful practices, such as shooting weapons for purposes such as breaking into private property, to get some loot, and there you go, even the ammo starts to run out at some point. You may think that it’s a minor thing, what’s a couple of rounds gonna change, and you are right, but imagine it being a common practice, so that soldiers shoot at random things instead of enemies or their positions, just because, and you have yet another big problem.  The logic behind that is that it doesn’t matter because you can always tell your superiors that you actually used them in a firefight, even though you didn’t.

Then there’s the sheer incompetence of it all. Basically everyone who has done military service in Finland has been taught that the Soviet or the Russian army is a great army that not only has much more equipment than we do, but also highly trained professional troops that our conscripts and reservists, mixed with a handful of pros simply cannot handle. I remember being told to keep my head down because they have some wizard level tech that fixes on our position once we are out of cover. Now, it turns out that apparently these guys can’t get anything right strategically, nor tactically, and they still run on some crummy cold war era tech that could never even do anything close to the kind of wizardry the officers warned us of. It’s mindboggling really. For example, their comms is utter shite. I mean come on. People are apparently trolling and jamming their comms, online, from the comfort of their homes, somewhere abroad. Also, they are supposed to have some new comms system, with all the latest bells and whistles, but they call their superiors, on some local cell phone, because their encrypted ones rely on existing 3G/4G network. What. The. Actual. Fuck. That’s one of the dumbest things that has come to my attention. Of course that system could be one of those highly touted things that never really worked in the first place, but that only makes it worse.

All of these issues undermine the imperial military. That said, I’ve yet to cover what’s most problematic: low morale of troops. Deleuze and Guattari (366) make note of this issue and further expand on it in the notes (555). The short story is that those who serve the empire tend to lack solidarity, because it’s all about establishing privileges and holding on to them, no matter what, as they (366) point out.

If you are more interested in this, I recommend having a look at what Ibn Khaldun has to say about this kind of situation in ‘The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History’ (1958 translation by Franz Rosenthal). While you have to get used to the terms he uses and read it all in the context of his time, in the 14th century, he explains the importance of solidarity really well, with plenty of examples. I don’t think you have to be a scholar of Islam to appreciate his work.

Ibn Khaldun (257) notes how in such arrangement it’s all top-down. The rule has full control. He (258) reckons that there to be a society, there must be some sort of hierarchy and some rules and restrictions. You can’t do just whatever. That said, he (258-259) differentiates between just rule and oppressive rule.

He (296) comments on the oppressive rulers, noting that no matter how popular one’s leaders are, there is this temptation to “indulge in a life of ease and sink into luxury and plenty”, to “make servants of their fellows and contemporaries” and to “use them to further the various interests and enterprises” that they have set up. It will only a matter of time when these leaders fall as all that life of luxury will make them weak, as he (286-287, 297) points out. In his (287) words:

“The things that go with luxury and submergence in a life of ease break the vigor of the group feeling, which alone produces superiority.”

And (287):

“They thus invite (their) own destruction. The greater their luxury and the easier the life they enjoy, the close they are to extinction[.]”

New leaders will emerge from the community, and they will step in to replace them or, alternatively, if there is no one to step in within the community, outsiders will swoop in, which will be the end of that community of people, as explained by him (297-299).

This is the case for Russia. Once Putin and his functionaries lose the last remnants of authority, they will get replaced. Either they are removed from within, and some others step in, or they fall prey to outside forces. Russia probably won’t fall and be swallowed by some other state, but I don’t think it would be out of the question that it splinters. A number of areas could secede to form their own states. Neighboring countries might also rush to take what they consider theirs. For example, there are number of minorities that may push for independence. Similarly, China might want some of the lands it used to control back in the day, despite having officially given up on those claims, and Japan might want Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands.

Now, of course, the situation is not as simple as presented by Ibn Khaldun. There was no nuclear threat way back then. The Russian army lacks solidarity, but it has that trump card at its disposal. He (299-300) does, however, manage to explain why the Ukrainian army is as strong as it is, why it has that solidarity: for the Ukrainians, defeat means a final defeat, being wiped out and assimilated to Russia, becoming Russians. It’s also worth noting that they can’t accept a deal that will result them becoming led by some puppet, because, as explained by him (301), “[t]he group that has lost control of its own affairs thus continues to weaken and to disintegrate until it perishes.” If they will be defeated, they will be reduced to people who’d rather tolerate being oppressed, having to pay taxes and serve the empire, than be proud for who they are, willing to be killed and destroyed for the people, for one another, as explained by him (289).

Speaking from experience, a military has a number of hierarchies. Firstly, you have the great split between officers and non-officers. Secondly, the officers are split between the commissioned and the non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Thirdly, the commissioned officers are split to those you can find in the battlefield, among the non-officers, and those who serve in some kind of strategic role in the HQ. Fourthly, you have the professional soldiers and the conscripts.

The non-officers are the grunts who do most of the work and tend to have solidarity among them. Importantly, that solidarity rarely extends to the officers. The grunts may have some solidarity with the NCOs as they spend time together, as well as to the officers who are on the battlefield, as they are there where things go down. They may also have general respect for the officers, in recognition of their accomplishments. That said, I reckon that solidarity is typically only found among the non-officers.

I’ll give you an example. I remember being in a forest, part of a larger military exercise. I went to get more firewood from our designated truck. The driver had brought some for us a while ago. It was snowy. I had to open up the back of the truck, climb aboard, move some of the firewood closer to the edge, get back down again, stack it on the ground (not ideal, because it picks up snow, but what can you do), close the back. That’s quite the ordeal, but, well, someone had to do it. So, I finally picked up the firewood, stacking it all in front of me, piece by piece. I could barely see in front of me because the stack of firewood blocked my vision. I started making my way back to our tent. Then I noticed an army car. Someone had popped for a visit. As I was alone, I was the one to investigate it. There was an officer in the car, some fancy pants colonel, who gave me shit for not introducing myself and my unit, as is customary, while I was holding a tall stack of firewood in front of me, unable to even see him properly, inside the car, mind you, with the engine running, mind you. I was like okay, okay, I’ll have someone come over, no problem, and I did, no problem, while I was hauling all that firewood while I was it, never dropping it to the ground, while that fat fucking officer took his sweet fucking time, being a complete asshole about it. Oh, and if you think that was the end of it. Well, no. I believe that I ended up having to do all kinds of extra chores, stuff that just somehow landed on me, stuff that was, to be honest, way over my head, while looking like an idiot while at it. I was sent to some briefing, not even having the faintest clue where I was. I was told that we’d be moving from where we were at the time, not knowing where that was, mind you, to somewhere else, to wherever the fuck that was. That may seem like a standard practice, fair enough, but thing is that I didn’t have a map with me, for that important meeting that I was assigned to, not because I forgot to bring one, but because I wasn’t given one. So, long story short, fuck that colonel. Zero shits given about the grunts. No solidary, whatsoever. All he cared about was his rank. Ooh, look at me, I’m a colonel. Had it been war time, I would have been fine, with my stack of firewood. It would have been easy for the enemy snipers to figure out his rank. It is not hard to spot an asshole. As I pointed out, an asshole tends to be full of shit and, to add something here, it tends to end up shitting all over the place.

Oh, and if you think that it’s inappropriate to exemplify such behavior with a defecating anus, you are wrong. It’s highly appropriate and you know it if you’ve ever lived the military life or, I guess, participated in any highly hierarchical system (you know, like how it is with the emperor and the functionaries). I’ve pointed this out in a previous essay, but, anyway, there is this expression in the Finnish military that “shit rolls down hill” or, to be more accurate to the Finnish original, “shit flows downwards”. The more you have stripes or chevrons (aka “shit plows”), i.e., the higher you are in that hierarchy, the less shit affects you, because it keeps flowing downward, largely settling at the bottom, covering the grunts.

Now, contrast that with another example. It was the same exercise. We had moved to the next place. Initially, we had trouble finding that place, because, well, I didn’t know where we had been and for sure didn’t know where we’d be going. I had been dropped off close by to our next position, during the daytime, with some others who showed me the way and later on brought me back. When we packed our stuff soon after, we moved to the next place in the dark. I was with the senior lieutenant, and I was supposed to tell him if we were there yet. It was pitch black and I had no idea where we were, because I didn’t even know where we were on the map. I couldn’t point to a map, because no one had given me a map (I felt like this was intentional, to teach me a lesson, because I had upset the colonel). Anyway, after the senior lieutenant did the sensible thing and asked someone who knew where we should have been, we got there. After that, everything was smooth sailing. I remember being out there, doing what were supposed to be doing. Once more, I was holding on to something, just waiting there for others to do their part. A car stopped near me. Oh no. Here we go again. Luckily it wasn’t colonel asshole this time, but general whoever it was, who was surprisingly keen to learn what it is that we were doing, in complete darkness, mind you. To be clear, that was pretty inconvenient, having to deal with a such a bigwig, having to answer his questions, while trying to do what I was supposed to do. The thing is, however, that he was keenly interested in it all, like oh, I see, interesting, interesting, keep up the good work young man and what not, not at all fussy about some formalities. I could respect the rank there. He had spotted us and had asked his driver to stop the car. He took initiative. He stepped outside, in the dark, in pitch black. He made his way to me and asked how I was doing. Whereas colonel asshole was all about eminence, general man of the people was all about solidarity. I think you should be able to get the point already, but I’ll elaborate on that soon enough.

Then there’s also that division between the professional soldiers and the conscripts. The former are typically academy trained career officers, but they can also be former non-academy trained conscripts, reservist officers, who are contracted, short-term, as NCOs. The thing to understand here is that they make their living in the military. While they don’t like to be called such and aren’t typically called such, they are, in my view, mercenaries as they are in for it for the money, no matter how they claim to serve their country. The conscripts aren’t motivated by the money. I mean there is hardly money there for them. It’s a matter of service, if not servitude. It’s possible, even likely that you get treated poorly as a conscript, by people who get a proper paycheck for it, which is why there is little solidary between the conscripts and the pros. It’s kind of tough for the have nots to feel for the have lots. It’s that simple. Again, speaking from experience, it’s also why the conscripts try to avoid the pros as much as they can. They don’t care about you and neither do you about them. They can and do exercise power over you, but not vice versa and there’s very little that you can gain from them, so you’ll do your best to minimize any contact with them. Again, you do respect the rank, but not the person. It’s just eminence. No solidarity there.

To be clear, unlike most people, I have great respect for the pros, inasmuch as they acknowledge that they are mercenaries. Why? How could I? Aren’t mercenaries in just for the money, like I just pointed out, and thus serve anyone who is willing to pay them for that? Yes, that’s right, but no mercenary is dumb enough not to consider who they work for, a mercenary company, and the contracts between the company and a state. It will look bad in the mercenary CV if he or she has been contracted to work for some known dictator. That’ll make it difficult to get more work later on. It’s about the short-term gains vs. the long-term gains. That said, my respect for them is not really based on that but on the fact that they don’t claim to do what they do out of the kindness of their hearts or in fealty to some state. Some countries have their own mercenary companies that they’ve branded as foreign legions. They claim that they aren’t employing people who aren’t nationals of a conflict party because once they are contracted, they swear allegiance to the one of the conflict parties. Note how it is not necessary to be a national of one of the conflict parties, only to swear allegiance to that party. How is that not a just a contract that must be fulfilled? Haha! Ludicrous!

Then we have the private military companies or PMCs, which is just some clever branding by the mercenary companies and the states that contract these companies in order to avoid coming across as contracting mercenaries, which is exactly what the states are doing. I think it would be better to just acknowledge that all mercenaries that are contracted by a state do it legitimately, without any need to justify it through some nonsense about allegiance to the state. They are just like the career officers and the NCOs that get a paycheck from the state. I don’t see a difference there. They are all mercenaries contracted by the state. They have a job to do and they do it until their contract is no longer valid.

I think Carlos Ortiz puts it well in his 2010 book on the matter ‘Private Armed Forces and Global Security: A Guide to the Issues’ when he (2) indicates that we’ve taught to take it for granted “that most forms of private violence are deemed illegitimate”, which is why the issue of mercenaries, i.e., private contractors, troubles us. He (4) expands on this:

“It is traditionally accepted that the exercise and overseeing of the legitimate uses of force are state prerogatives. The use and management of constabulary and military forces are their most recognizable articulations.”

He (4) then adds to this, noting that this is a Weberian take on it, how a state is a territorial entity that is based on the successfully monopolization of violence. So, the problem with mercenaries is that they don’t mesh with the conception of statehood, which is why they are typically deemed illegitimate, as he (4) points out.

What’s interesting about Ortiz’s (4-5) take is that these days states do, in fact, rely heavily on the private sector. Like he (4) points out, militaries are not, no longer large standing armies with large reverse forces, but lean and agile organizations, to use some IT-lingo here. So, in a way, they themselves operate a lot like mercenary companies. I guess we could even go as far as saying that the military is expected to work like a company, in the sense that it is to be held accountable for using its budget wisely.  I’m no expert in this, but if we trust Ortiz (5), most of what we think as being handled by the military is actually handled by private companies that compete with one another for those contracts. This is why he (5) notes that a Weberian take cannot be reduced to state having a monopoly on violence. Instead, the state has the monopoly on deciding who has the right to use violence, be it a public or a private entity, as he (5) points out. That’s why he (5) summarizes that:

“Therefore, while remaining the ultimate arbiter of the legitimate uses of force, the state increasingly assigns defense and security functions to private commercial firms.”

He (5) also makes an important distinction that nonetheless holds. On one hand, you have the mercenary companies, the PMCs, that are deemed legitimate by states, internationally, and, on the other hand, you have the mercenary companies, the PMCs, that challenge the existing order of things, internationally, working against states. What I find particularly interesting here is that while I agree with this distinction, that it is what it is, it nonetheless falls apart when you take something as rare as two legitimate and well-established states engaged in a war with one another.

For example, take Russia and Ukraine. Both have mercenary companies working for them. We can call them PMCs, if that’s what you want. We can also call them volunteers, if that makes you feel better. We can go back and forth, arguing about the nomenclature, but they for sure aren’t conscripts. Both states likely view the mercenaries they contract to be legitimate and the mercenaries the enemy contracts as being illegitimate. How do we know which side has legitimate contractors and which side has illegitimate contractors? Well, in the present, when the war is ongoing, they are, arguably, equally legitimate, as contracted by the states. However, in the future, it is likely that we’ll view those who served the winning side as legitimate and the losing as illegitimate because, generally speaking, the victors get to decide what’s what. I mean, you can’t hold the victors accountable for their actions, unless you are willing press the issue, which could then lead to having to settle that on the battlefield. So, in short, there are no legitimate or illegitimate mercenaries, as such, only winners and losers.

Ortiz (7-8) comments the terminology, noting that, on one hand, there is this tendency to conflate military with security, to soften the perceptions, viewing them as companies that provide valuable security services to the state, and, on the other hand, to view them as led by self-serving moneygrubbers that couldn’t care less how many civilians the people who work for them kill. He (7) argues that neither is correct and that we are naïve to think that the private-public partnerships in violence are a trend that will go away if we subject it to criticism in order to reject it. In other words, he (7) is against presupposing that what he prefers to refer to as PMCs and what I prefer to call as mercenary companies are inherently evil and therefore cannot be part of the order of things.

He (7-8) exemplifies this with how in some cases the restoration of the state, what people considered to be the legitimate state, would not have been possible had it not been for these companies. To be more specific, he (7-8) notes that Sub-Saharan Africa had many pervasive low-intensity conflicts that would have been impossible to handle without them, in order to “allow public, private, and humanitarian organizations to operate.” He (8) doesn’t buy into a one-sided narrative where there is only one side or a faction that does something and is therefore to blame for all of it:

“It is like imagining war and conflict with only one belligerent side in mind, often PMCs.”

To make sure that you get the point, he (8) puts that in other words:

“To put it bluntly, we rarely reflect that PMCs are contracted out to help reengineer a regime of security lost to the pillage and predatory advances of all sorts of armed factions.”

To be fair, he (8) does acknowledge that this is not always how it is, nor that there are any guarantees that things will work out great, so that order is swiftly and successfully restored. He (8) lists a number of things that may well happen when a state is dealing with these companies. Firstly, the higher the risks, the less likely that it is that the companies can fulfil their contract. There are just too many contingencies to take into account. Secondly, some companies may not necessarily fulfil their contract, ask for more than that was agreed upon and/or use excessive force. Thirdly, people may well get killed.

If you ask me, there is nothing surprising about any of those things. Mercenaries are expensive for those reasons. Firstly, they take the high-risk gigs, knowing that things can go wrong, really horribly wrong, and expect to be paid well for doing that. It is not a charity. As it is contract based, I assume that they get paid for achieving goals, not for loitering. If that’s not the case, well that’s on the party that contracted them. Secondly, not all mercenaries are equally professional about what they do. Something tells me that the more expensive ones take a lot of things into consideration, not only to fulfil their contract, to achieve the set goals, but also to get more contracts in the future, whereas the cheaper ones may not be as reliable, nor honor the contract. Thirdly, mercenaries know that people can and probably will get killed in the process. There’s nothing cute about it and I’m sure they are well aware of that.

He (8) also acknowledges that his stance, which is also my stance, is likely controversial, but that’s only because people tend to presuppose that all the state monopoly of violence is limited to public entities, which, by all logic, it is not the case as the state is, in fact, in position to delegate that as it sees fit, even to private entities, such as PMCs, as he calls them, or mercenary companies, as I like to call them (as all that is for profit, what we might just call work, because work is for profit, encapsulates the idea of being a mercenary, which is why I don’t take issue with mercenaries). Using private entities is just one way of doing things, which is not inherently better or worse than using public entities, i.e., institutions, to get the job done, as he (8) points out. I know it’s an unpopular view, but I’d say that it all depends on the outcomes.

To be clear, I don’t recommend anyone becoming a mercenary, nor endorse joining a foreign army as a so called ‘volunteer’. That’s not because I’m against mercenaries, no, for the aforementioned reasons, but because some may think it’s all fun and games. I know there’s a lot of foreign fighters in Ukraine, as requested by the state, and it’s probably tempting for many, knowing how poorly trained and equipped the Russians are, but the chances are that you and/or others are going to get killed, possibly because you happen to be there. If you don’t have combat experience, long military career (training others) and/or recent military training that is relevant to how the Ukrainians operate (namely anti-tank, anti-air, pioneer/engineering, sniper), you are unlikely to be of help (because even with specialist training your skillset might not match what they require or they use different equipment). Also, even if you do have a relevant background, but you don’t speak Ukrainian and/or Russian, you probably won’t be of much use. With excellent English, you might be of use, even of great use, but that really depends on a lot of other factors, including your physical fitness. I know for sure that while I’d be of great use here, if this had happened here, I wouldn’t be of much use in Ukraine. With my training and my language skills, I’d be just responsible for getting other people killed. It’s that simple.

Solidarity might also be what one might call camaraderie. When the grunts have to salute someone, to show an officer respect, for something that the grunts think that the officer hasn’t earned, which is their respect, not merely rank, there won’t be any solidarity between them and the officer. So, for example, if an NCO, such as a sergeant, has led a group of soldiers successfully, perhaps saving their asses a couple of times, and, perhaps, vice versa, there will be that solidarity among them, regardless of the rank. Notice how that’s dynamic, based on the interactions between the soldiers. The problem with rank is that it is a fixed notion, which isn’t conducive of solidarity. It has eminence, sure, but it doesn’t hace much to do with solidarity.

In many cases you have squads. They consist of small groups of grunts commanded by an NCO, who is, in turn, commanded by an officer. In this arrangement an officer commands multiple NCOs who each command a squad. The grunts in one squad may have solidarity with the commander of their squad, let’s say a sergeant, because they work well as a unit. There’s that respect, if you will, and, importantly, it’s earned, specific to the dynamics of that group of soldiers and their commander. That said, the grunts in that squad may have no solidarity with the commander of another squad, who, in turn, may or may not have solidarity with the group of soldiers he or she commands. Why? Well, there could be a number of reasons. I’m going to go through a couple of them.

Firstly, and most obviously, the soldiers might not deal or have dealt with a certain NCO that much. Remember that rank doesn’t result in solidarity. It’s just eminence. The soldiers are expected to do as they are told, sure, as that NCO outranks them, but they might not obey the commands of that NCO out of respect for that specific NCO. Instead, they only obey those commands because that’s how rank works in the military. It’s fixed. You have to obey your superiors. That’s the default configuration. It’s that simple. This means that the soldiers do what they are told, but they may do so somewhat reluctantly and even have contempt for that specific NCO. They might go as far as doing the bare minimum, just what they are expected, and even be glad if that NCO dies in combat, because their relationship is based on rank and not solidarity.

Secondly, an NCO may have acted in ways that show little consideration of the soldiers. Yelling at them, telling them what to do, perhaps even belittling them, with recourse to rank, won’t result in solidarity among the soldiers and the NCO. It’s more of the opposite. Those soldiers will look forward to having that NCO replaced with someone else, preferably with someone who doesn’t do that as then there’s a greater chance of having solidarity among them.

In my own experience, you typically have solidarity among the grunts, largely because, as a grunt, you can’t exercise power over other grunts, but not even that’s a given. It really depends on who you are dealing with. It’s not uncommon that some in the squad get along well, have each other’s backs and do most of the work, while there are also others who lack solidarity with them, probably because they aren’t willing to pull their weight or to have someone else’s back. I’d say it’s the same with the NCOs, albeit that only applies to a lesser degree. I remember some of them being great, so everything tended to go smoothly. The squad did good, which made the NCO look good in the eyes of their commanding officers, and the NCO did good, making sure the squad members were treated well. It was kind of the same when it came to the officers, albeit to even lesser degree than with the NCO. The grunts pulled their weight if they felt that they were treated fairly and what they had to do made sense to them. Conversely, if they felt like the officer treated them poorly and/or arbitrarily, there’d be that schism. They’d still do as they were told, but only doing the bare minimum. It was like doing things by the book, for the sake of the book, but without showing any interest to it. Some might opt to do things very meticulously, showing great care for what they were doing, not because they cared, but because it would take longer that way, which would, of course, irritate the officer, but in a way that they could do nothing about, kind of like following the letter of the law, but not its spirit. For example, some might carefully pack their belongings, taking his or her time to do a proper inventory of what it is that he or she was commanded to pack, which would grossly exceed the time the one in charge had allotted to it. That person would command the soldier to be faster, who, in turn, would refer to being obliged to take care of anything that has been allotted to him or her as it is not his or her personal property but the property of the state that he or she is personally responsible of keeping track of and maintaining, as anything that goes missing must be reported as such as soon as possible so that the chance of recovering it is maximized, as the soldier may have to reimburse the state for anything that goes missing if it was deemed to have been caused by his or her negligence. That is, of course, a total dick move, but that’s what you get when you lack solidarity, when you treat the soldiers poorly, unfairly or arbitrarily. They will respect the rank, but they will not respect you.

Oh, and if you want to have that solidarity, the troops need to be treated fairly, across the board. Doing seemingly pointless exercises (there might a point to them, but if your troops don’t get it, they appear to them as pointless, and the superiors are to blame for that) and looking like you get off from yelling at them won’t give you that. In reality, they are probably thinking of ways to fuck over their officers who behave in such ways. Some of that is about instilling discipline, you know, like all that marching in formation (as if such rows and columns have been relevant in the last couple of hundred years!), folding bedcovers, carrying heavy boxes from place A to place B, from B to place C and from C to A, basically any pointless task, which kind of makes sense, to a degree that is. That said, in my experience, instead of instilling discipline, it ended up sowing dissent. Okay, people wouldn’t go against their superiors, because you can’t do that, but they’d do their best to do put in the minimal effort or, at times, even intentionally fuck up, followed by asking a permission to redo what it is that where doing (in monotonous, almost robotic voice), as if it was a mere accident that they themselves noticed. Why fuck up intentionally? Well, because it makes the superior look bad in the eyes of their superiors. The superior might respond to that by treating the soldiers harshly, by making them do all kinds of pointless things, for the sake of it, which the soldiers would do, seemingly happily, while putting in the minimal effort. This is because they already feel like they are treated unfairly and it doesn’t make a difference if you keep treating them unfairly. What’s a bit more shit going to do to them? Well, nothing, really. They are alredy covered in it, and the commanding officer also gets a bit of that on him or her as well, which he or she wouldn’t otherwise get, so, yeah, there’s that.

The larger problem, from the point of view of the military, is that while discipline is required, so that people know that they can’t do just whatever, as you are there not just for yourself, but for those around you, just as they are there for you, it’s like a poor version of solidarity. In other words, if you have solidarity, you already are disciplined, but having discipline does not result in solidarity. To be clear, solidarity is way better than discipline. The former is active. The latter is passive. When you have solidarity, it’s not about you and you just know that, intuitively. It’s there and you’ll be a tight knit unit where everyone is looking after one another. If you have discipline, you are conditioned not to be selfish, to act in a certain way. That does, of course, have its benefits. The soldiers know what their role is in relation to others and the roles of others in relation to them, but they lack that motivation for it as everyone is replaceable. It’s robotic, if you will.

I already provided some examples, but to further comment on that, my knees took a beating in the military, not in anything that matters in warfare, but in all that pointless parading. They got much better once that over the top, fussy, exaggerated, marching stopped or didn’t happen that frequently and we focused on things that make a difference, in the battlefield. They got better and, to be clear, they are much better these days, because some stupid officer isn’t making me do pointless shit like parade marching. This is something that really irked me about the whole thing. Instead of focusing on the knowhow, going through each drill, first in parts, explaining what the point is each time, then again as a whole, followed by a further discussion of what the point of it is we just did stuff and were told that this is the way and that you don’t need to know why we do what we do, the way we do them. Like how are you supposed to adapt to changing situations when you are expected to do something mindlessly, without any consideration as to why it’s done that way? Yes, the one in charge is in charge and gets to make those decisions, but how will that work efficiently, yielding the best outcome if you keep relying on doing what that person tells you to do (hide behind that tree, yes Sir!), at all times (shoot, yes Sir!), without taking any initiative (reload, yes Sir!)? Why not teach the people to take initiative, no, not wildly, guns blazing, but in a way that’s cohesive? You’d think that you’d want that, so that the one in charge can trust those in his or her group, that they not only do as they are told, but do it on their own, without someone having to micromanage it all, because in actual situations you don’t have such luxury.

What I’ve explained so far has largely been about how things are during peacetime. While there’s probably not a lot of love between the grunts, the NCO and the officers during peace, things can change considerably during wartime. Why? Well, that’s basically because the mundane squabbles that you are used to no longer appear to be relevant. It’s you and me, and bunch of others, against some other people. Your background doesn’t matter unless it’s relevant to warfare. The arrangements are just very different. All the suddent it’s an us vs. them situation.

Now, of course, just because there’s a war doesn’t mean that you’ll have a lot of solidarity. To use the contemporary example, it’s clear that Russian troops have very little solidarity among themselves. In stark contrast, the Ukrainians have a lot of solidarity. It’s not hard to understand why. The former are part of an invading imperial army. They are not fighting for one another, for all the Russians, but for a new province or a vassal for the emperor. That’s not a very compelling reason to risk your life, if you ask me. The latter are fighting for themselves, for Ukrainians, and defending what they consider to be theirs, against an imperial army sent there by an emperor. In fact, they’ve got so much solidarity that they feel sorry for those who have ended up serving in the imperial army, because it sucks to serve an emperor.

So far I’ve been referring to solidarity because it’s probably much easier to grasp what this is all about by calling it that instead of calling it asabiyyah (عصبيّة). It’s not exactly the same as esprit de corps, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (366, 555), but it is close to it. In common parlance, sure, it’s the same and you should be able to get the point that way, but they (366) don’t conflate the two because the spirit, in this Ukraine context fighting spirit, also requires a body, not just the spirit. Oh, and the spirit is totally not a soul, as they (366) point out.

They (366) further elaborate the importance of the body and the spirit, not just one or the other, and their interplay by noting that this all has a nomadic origin. They (366) state that they build on Ibn Khaldun’s work, noting that what they call the war machine, i.e., the nomad way of life, combines families or lineages and esprit de corps. They (366) then clarify that what is meant by family or lineage in the nomad context is not to be confused with our conceptions of them as, what I guess, what we’d call nuclear family. Like I pointed out in the essay dedicated to this topic, because we are used to thinking of kinship in the way we do contemporarily, at least in western societies, it can be difficult to comprehend what they are after here. I mean the way they (555) characterize the nomad way of life as marked by pure lineages makes it seem a bit, how to put it nicely, obsessed by genetics, which can fool you to think it’s like that, like eugenics or something. Don’t be fooled by that, that’s not it. The nomad definitions of family and lineage is pretty much the exact opposite of that.

To make more sense of that, how the nomads handle kinship, one should check out Ibn Khaldun’s ‘The Muqaddimah’, as I’ve done in a previous essay (it’s generally speaking very good reading and way, way ahead of its time). In summary, if you don’t want the long story, according to Deleuze and Guattari (555), there are three main points that he makes in his book. I’ll go through these.

Firstly, unlike for sedentary peoples (those who hold ground, have territories), for nomadic peoples (those who do not hold ground, do not have territories, but rather stay on the move) eminence, i.e., authority or superiority, what Ibn Khaldun calls royal authority, is subordinated to solidarity. For sedentary peoples it’s all about explicit (known) eminence, like how you have these fixed positions from which power is to be exercised, hierarchically, as I’ve already pointed out. Know your place, if you will. For the nomadic peoples, it’s all about implicit (secret) solidarity between people. To tie this with my own examples drawn from my own experience in the military, the former is how it is all about having to respect the rank as authority or superiority, that eminence, in a fairly rigid way. The latter doesn’t lack eminence, but it subordinated to solidarity, as already noted. As Deleuze and Guattari (555) point out, the leader of a group does not have a fixed position of power over the others. Instead, it is the group that gives the leader power over them, as noted by them (555), inasmuch as they do and as long as they do, as leaders can always be changed as the eminence is always tied to solidarity. That’s why I pointed out earlier on how those who do have solidarity can and do find ways of getting rid of superiors that they think treats them poorly, unfairly or arbitrarily.

Secondly, sedentary peoples tend to be socially immobile, and their lineages tend to be impure, whereas nomadic peoples tend to be socially mobile and their lineages tend to be pure. What is meant by all this is that those who stay put tend to have very rigid or fixed social systems, with distinct fields (horizontal segmenting) and clear hierarchies (vertical segmenting). Moving up the social ladder is difficult. Not only are there a limited number of positions higher up, that those already occupying them take for granted, as theirs, but also the fields have fairly fixed boundaries, so that you can’t just expand it in order to have more positions. Well, I guess you can expand the boundaries, but then those on the other side of the boundary may object to it, thinking that you are encroaching on their territory. This happens all the time. You are expected to know your place, to stay on a certain field and respect those who are in higher positions. That’s exactly how it is in the military. That’s also exactly how it is academics, believe me or not. While nomads have hierarchies, that’s not contested here, and they occupy a ground, that’s for sure, their hierarchies are contestable, from within, and they never stay put for too long, holding ground. So, if a leader starts to serve his or her own interests, it’s only a matter of time until that leader is replaced by someone who serves the interest of people. Again, there’s that solidarity.

What about the purity aspect then? Well, summarizing Ibn Khaldun (252-253), people who are sedentary (or become sedentary, as this is a more of a tendency of settling down and subsequently staying put) are in the habit of taking prioritizing convenience and improving their own position, whereas people who are nomadic are in the habit of prioritizing what works for them. In other words, sedentarism is all about wanting to live the good life, which often happens at the expense of others. Okay, it doesn’t have to happen at the expense of others, but it often does, as once you get more, you want more, and it no longer matters how you get more. At the same time, you are making sure that you’ve solidified your own position, so that others won’t take anything from you. It all becomes very self-serving or self-indulgent, which is the exact opposite of solidarity. Nomadism seeks to ward off this kind of behavior, knowing that it tends to lead to decadence and to the decline of solidarity among the people.

When it comes to the purity of the lineages, it’s about that, what I just covered, but expanded to the social units that we are all familiar with. In short, it’s about how tightly knit you are as a people, whether you have or don’t have solidarity. To combine that with social mobility, when it’s mobile, the notion of a family, and by extension, a people, is much more expansive than it is when it’s immobile. As explained by Ibn Khaldun (267, 276-277), one can, in fact, change switch between families. In other words, kinship is not about genetics, but about solidarity.

To be clear, the purity aspect is not about the purity of a blood line. This is not some sketchy racial superiority thing, like white supremacy or Aryan race theory. Ibn Khaldun has some fairly sketchy stuff about race in ‘The Muqaddimah’, which is based on mere speculation, probably having never even lived in African (hot tempered people) or European societies (cold hearted people), only in Arab societies (not too hot, not too cold, just right, temperate), let’s be clear about that (to be fair, not too surprising for his time though), but, in my view, solidarity overcomes all that prejudice that he seems to have for others.

Thirdly, combining the two, implicit (secret) solidarity that’s just there among people so that it goes without saying, and high social mobility, you have this what Ibn Khaldun calls asabiyyah (عصبيّة) or group feeling. To be clear, if you have it, you have it. You don’t even have to speak about it among people. You see this with people who are willing to stand up for others, in their defense, getting into the thick of it, at their own risk, because that’s what having someone’s back is all about. If you have to ask others whether they’ll have our back or not, chances are that they don’t have your back. Conversely, if you don’t have it, you don’t have it, no matter how much you talk about having it. If you appeal to authority, indicating that it is up to this and/or that authority to intervene, you know, later on, whenever that is, you don’t have it. To be fair, this may work, no problem, but it does indicate that there’s no solidarity, only eminence.

To tie this with Ukraine again, the Ukrainians have solidarity. They do have a military chain of command, a clear hierarchy, what Deleuze and Guattari (555) call eminence, but it is supported by solidarity. In stark contrast, the Russian lack solidarity. All they have is eminence. In other words, not only do the Ukrainian soldiers have each other’s backs, but they also believe in the commanding officers, regardless of their rank, from the corporal to the general. The Russians don’t have each other’s backs and they don’t believe in their commanding officers. That’s why their higher-ranking officers have to step in, to tell everyone what it is exactly that they are expected to do, at each step of the way, and enforce discipline through the threat of punishment.

To me, there’s a massive difference between the two sides. While the Russians have certain advantages, simply having more soldiers and equipment, their strategy is terrible and it appears to be based on mere eminence, i.e., authority or superiority. Regardless of their rank, the commanding officers appear to be unable to get the best out of their troops. Why is that? Well, if it’s all about eminence, the soldiers can’t be sure that their commanding officers know what they are doing. Again, there’s a lack of solidarity among the Russian troops.

But why wouldn’t the Russian commanding officers know what they are doing? Surely the rank itself indicates worthiness, that the person is qualified for that position! Well, no. The best people for the job don’t always get the job, nor does the person most respected by others. Anyone who has ever applied for a job knows that. Now imagine a system that has that one guy (yes, chances are that it’s a man), the emperor, surrounded by a bunch of functionaries who excel at getting the best out of the arrangement, in order to live a life of privilege, as already discussed. Do you really think that the military isn’t full of these functionaries? I mean it’s only likely to be the case.

To get the point across, for the emperor, the problem with competent and well-respected people is that they indeed know what they are doing and they indeed have the support of the people. The emperor wants them when he or she needs to get the job done, but not as fixtures as they may pose a threat to the throne, you know, for actually being competent and respected by the people, i.e., for having the solidarity that the emperor clearly doesn’t have.

I think it’s worth pointing out that I’m well aware that technology matters as well, as does the strategic arrangement itself. The Russian empire is accustomed to fighting wars that it can win, for sure, having the superiority, having way more troops and equipment than the enemy. That’s bulldozing for you. What it isn’t accustomed to is fighting wars where it can’t do that. It has some 140 million inhabitants, whereas Ukraine has some 40 million inhabitants in a sizable country. Georgia was a piece of cake in 2008 because it only had fewer than 4 million inhabitants living in a fairly small country and it lacked the popular support of western countries. It was simply a numbers game. With Ukraine, Russia ran into the issue that it is fighting a comparable army that not only has the defensive advantage (it comes with major strategic and tactical advantages, demanding a lot more troops from the attacker … which they it doesn’t have, at least not without mobilizing reserves), but also many technological advantages. Ukraine basically has an unlimited supply of easily portable anti-tank and anti-air weapons that are perfect for guerilla warfare. This why Russian soldiers have been more than happy to abandon their vehicles. Those things are death traps.

Now combine that with rasputitsa, the muddy conditions that you get in fall (rain) and spring (melting snow), and you can only used paved roads, which means that vehicles are the last thing you want to be in as an attacker as there is nowhere to hide, nor to flee, when you are engaged with the enemy. You are an easy target, just waiting to be fried by the enemy. It’s that simple.

For the west, from their perspective, this is a proxy war, in which they can supply all the weapons that Ukraine wants (let’s be honest about this, everyone in the arms industry wants the Ukrainians to test their weapons in an actual war, not in some testing grounds, because that’ll lead to more sales!), whereas for Russia this is a genuine war where their soldiers get killed and their equipment gets destroyed. Now, to be clear, a lot of Ukrainians have died and will die, there is that cost, but Ukraine still has the advantage.

So, yes, technology and strategy, as well as the numbers, do matter, but that’s only part of it. Those things are nothing without that solidarity and, to be clear, Ukraine has a lot of it, whereas, it appears, in comparison, that Russia has none of it. Moreover, the more Russia resorts to underhanded tactics on the battlefield, i.e., targeting civilians and reducing the infrastructure to rubble, the more Ukraine will have solidarity. On top of that solidary, they have solidarity with western countries that fund them and supply them very generously, while also crippling the Russian economy to the point that it is only a matter of time that before the empire collapses due to a lack of solidarity, which is how empires fall, if we are to trust Ibn Khaldun.

Before Russia invaded Ukraine, when it acknowledged Donbass and Luhansk as independent, I expected Russia to take to take one to two weeks to roll over Ukraine, to occupy key locations, which would then be followed by guerilla warfare that makes it impossible for the Russian military to occupy Ukraine. Was I wrong? Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that Ukraine did way better than I expected, because Russia went in half-cocked, getting its troops decimated time and time again, in ways that I was told wouldn’t happen (when I did my military service). No, in the sense that Ukraine is doing exactly what I expected them to do, using their defensive position to their advantage, dragging Russia into a war that it simply cannot win, exhausting its resources and bringing it to the brink of economic collapse.

Oh, and then there’s that thing, that thing about the Ukrainian military being engaged in warfare since, what, 2014. How did Russia think that it could just roll in and Ukraine would be fine with it? I mean, Russia effectively trained its opponent to fight against itself, in an actual conflict, for eight years. Again, this is some of the dumbest stuff that has come to my attention.

What do I think about the situation then? Well, to summarize it all, it’s so out of date thing to do, so old school despotic and imperialist that it’d be laughable if it didn’t cost so many lives. It made zero sense to invade. It’s a lose-lose situation for Russia. If they win the war, somehow, they still lose. Why would you want a chunk of land that has all those people who don’t want you there? How on earth are you going to be able to handle all those people, to curb their enthusiasm for insurgency? There’s that solidarity that you simply can’t buy for your Russian troops. Where do you find enough soldiers to keep 40 million people in check? Plus, where do you think you’ll find enough food, water, fuel, guns and ammo to supply the required number of soldiers? Where do you find the vehicles for all that? And even if the locals did want you there, or, to be more accurate, even if some of them wanted you there, why are you destroying all that infrastructure that you can’t afford to rebuild? I don’t think Russia has enough roubles to fix all that rubble. Like I pointed out earlier on, it’s like keying a car you are about to steal, you dumbass! Ukraine, on the other hand, has one option, to fight and keep fighting. So, yeah, in short, what can I say, expect Slava Ukraini!

All Heil the Emperor!

I had something else planned for this month, but with the recent turn of events, with our dearly beloved neighbor, Russia, (read: not neighbors, not the people of Russia, an important distinction to keep in mind here), inviting itself to one of its other neighbors, Ukraine, I thought it would be apt to comment on it. But me being me, this is not your usual stuff. I’m sure there’s no shortage of hot takes, of all kinds, mixed with mis- and/or disinformation, nor of ethnonationalism, promoting one party over another.

This is, however, a kind of a rehash. It combines elements from some older essays, namely from the essays that deal with imperialism, or, better yet, with an imperial state of mind, an image of thought or a way of thinking that is, in its core, imperial. To be clear, it is not limited to this or that person, to an emperor or to people who wish to be the emperor. It is a much more expansive notion than that. It’s collective and social. It appears as a given, like how things are, not only here and now, but how they were in the past and how they ought to be in the future. That said, there’s nothing simply given about it. There’s no reason for things to be the way they are, nor for why they were the way they were, nor for why they’d be the way they’ll be in the future.

While this is a rehash of stuff that I’ve covered in the past, I’m sort of driven to to do that in the current situation. I think this will help people to understand these things better, because I’m not relying on random examples or the ones in the originals. It should also make it clear that while I may come across as obscure, it’s not because I happen to hold some arcane knowledge. A lot of what I know and how I make sense of things is just a matter of familiarizing yourself with what I’ve read and/or experienced and then just going with it, riffing a bit, not afraid of messing things up here and there. You don’t need a fancy degree or anyone’s blessing for any of that. I’d say it’s more of an art that way, doing things the way you want, at your own leisure, for your own pleasure. If someone finds something in it, for themselves, great, if they don’t, well, too fucking bad.

I’ll weave that with Mark Lanegan wrote about three years ago on Twitter, in reply to what appears to be a random person (I won’t name the person, because I can’t be sure the person would want that). The person wanted to know what Lanegan thinks of self-doubt, to which he responded that, in his experience, it is “a toxic mind-fuck” and that it not only applies to artists, like himself and the person he replied to, but also to anyone. I concur. Been there, done that, and it will make you a total train wreck. The worst thing is that it’s you all along. It’s what I call the doubled subject. That’s cruel all right. Hot and cold and the same time. Passionate about things, while at the same time ice cold and calculative. It’s the ‘I’ promoting itself, declaring itself, while also doubting itself, so that nothing ever appears to be in order. You’ll never reach the standard you’ve set up for yourself, because you keep comparing yourself with it. The person asking about this mentions that, how no matter how you try, the self-doubt creeps in, so that you never appear good enough. Ah, that’s actually quite perceptive. Kudos. Lanegan replied to this in the form of a question in order to question the purpose of the endeavor: “Good enough for what?” Indeed, what will be good enough? That’s the trap. He added to that, noting that if you do it just because it’s what you do, because that’s what you desire, that’s all you need. That doesn’t mean that you can just wing things, nor that you should be critical of yourself. No, no. It’s rather that if you think your work isn’t up to scratch, as set up by someone else (it could, of course, be set by yourself, but that’s the social/discursive aspect of this, that peer pressure to conform to what is generally considered the standard, so you or them, it’s all the same as you participate in it all, just like everyone else), you’ll end up making what he calls “the fatal mistake of comparing it to someone else”. It’s fine to be critical of yourself if it is about knowing that you can do better. You’ll be driven to do better, on your own terms, without any external pressure to meet some supposed standard. That’s not self-doubt because it’s just that you did something and realized that you can do it even better.

Late last year Lanegan had the same to say to Anton Newcombe, when he agreed to the absurdity of (some, but not all) criticism. People had been sending Newcombe some messages, indicating that he isn’t on this and/or that list because he isn’t doing what they want him to be doing, to which Lanegan replied, stating that the whole thing is absurd. Like it’s one thing to not like someone or someone’s work, without knowing them or their work, and ranting about it, on your own, that’s fair, feel free to do so, go ahead, but it’s another thing to track someone down just for that purpose, to let them know that you don’t like it. It’s as he puts it, “ludicrous”, “a fucking joke”. His “[f]uck them” is only appropriate here.

Anyway, not only was that relevant to my approach, but, if you haven’t been keeping tabs with what else has happened, Lanegan died, so I thought it’d be appropriate to give him some credit, not for the sake of it, like a fanboy, but because I think he deserves it. Gotta approve someone who is willing to point out the obvious and be blunt about it, instead of hiding in some ivory tower or expressing things in sanitized ways. I think it’s better to be blunt, when you really want to get the point across. I have little interest in civility and propriety. I can’t stand verbal hygiene. It’s a ruse. Oh, and it’s really, really boring. Also, he has a song ‘Emperor’, so I guess this is quite fitting. The song and the video are actually relevant to this essay. Anyway, that doesn’t mean that you should simply agree with people and flatter them. Nah. I also like people who don’t try to hide that they aren’t always right and that they’ve done things that others didn’t like. He certainly was no saint, but he didn’t expect people to think that he was. To be honest, I have little tolerance for grandstanding. That’s why I don’t make a fuss about myself. I don’t expect to be showered with recognition. I couldn’t give a damn about milestones, medals and awards. It’s like great and now what, what do I do with such? I don’t believe in comparing myself to some made-up standards. That’s, perhaps, the worst thing you can do to yourself, as also noted by Lanegan. I just do stuff and move on.

If you don’t like what I do, you can keep it to yourself. If you tell it to me, I wouldn’t know what to do with it. Sure, you can criticize, but then you should be constructive about it and be willing to let it go if it appears that I was right about it all along. I’m more than happy to have people chip in, to contribute something, but if it’s just nay-saying, telling me what to do and how to do it, without taking into consideration what I want to do and how I want to do it, yeah, then I’ll just ignore you or point out why what you tell me just doesn’t stick. It’s just that I rarely run into such honesty. Why? Well, because people want to have their cake and eat it as well. They really aren’t willing to put their neck on the line. They want to win, at all cost, without being willing to pay the price if they end up losing. There’s always some recourse to something or someone else, for example to their authority, which is, of course, just BS.

I think I could also explain that in terms of authenticity or sincerity, as I’ve done in a past essay while examining Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology’ (1956 translation by Hazel Barnes). That said, I think I’ve already gone on a tangent, so I think it’s better not to go on a tangent of tangent. Okay, I’ve done tangents of tangents in the past, probably even tangents of tangents of tangents, but I’m trying to keep this short and sweet.

Anyway, so, the imperial state of mind, what it is it about? You might guess it already, but Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari cover this is ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). To summarize it, without getting into the details, there’s the one on the top, what I like to call the emperor, and the functionaries who make things happen for the emperor, in exchange for a comfortable life in the court. The emperor is the one who decides everything and the functionaries just do what they are told. Deleuze and Guattari refer to the emperor as the despot or as the despot-god, but, well, it doesn’t matter what you call that role or position, inasmuch as you get that it’s the role or position that gives you the final say on everything. It’s that gig that the ruler claims to be his or her god given right, god being the almighty and the ruler being the fellow supposedly chosen by the almighty, in its absence, so, technically, a viceroy of sorts. That said, as viceroy doesn’t have a great ring to it, the ruler presents him- or herself more as an embodiment of the will of god. I’ve gone with the most general of monikers for those who are in the emperor’s inner circle, functionaries, because it’s not that context specific as, for example, priests as Deleuze and Guattari keep mentioning them in the book. Bureaucrats is also good label for them, as mentioned by them (114), but I think functionaries is even better.

They (116) warn us not to think of this arrangement as limited to situations where you have some despot and some priests:

“This excessively hasty overview is applicable not only to the imperial despotic regime but to all subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups: political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”

To which they (117) add that this can be found everywhere, even at home, in all kinds of domestic squabbles, and in state institutions. The thing to remember here is that you a have clear structure with one on the top, accompanied by a small circle of people who seek to retain their positions and all the exclusive lifestyles that come with it, regardless of who they serve. This social system is that simple. No one else matters. They are the expendables. They have no say on anything. The on the top is the god figure who decides everything and, by the will of god, is never wrong, no matter how the others think otherwise. Those in the inner circle, the functionaries, interpret that, what the ruler says or does.

It is only apt that they (114) state that “signifiance and interpretosis are the two diseases of the earth or the skin, in other words, humankind’s fundamental neurosis.” The former is the play of signifiers, how instead of going from a signifier to a signified you land on just another signifier, unless you somehow manage anchor it, as discussed by the two (114-115). That anchoring point is the master-signifier, what they (115) refer to as the center of signifiance. More commonly, they also refer to this as the face, which, according to them (115), “crystallizes all redundancies” of the signifiers, emitting them and receiving them, releasing and recapturing them, nonstop. The idea here is that the signifiers are deterritorialized, jumping from one to another, in a never-ending sequence, whereas the face is all that what gets territorialized or, to be more specific, “the reterritorialization  internal to the system”, that is to say the thing that halts that chain of signification, setting limits to it, making that process relative rather than absolute, as they (115) point out. In other words, “[t]he signifier reterritorializes on the face”, as explained by them (115). This is the point where the latter kicks in as it is reterritorialized signifiers on the face that fuel the process of interpretation, so that, in practice, when certain facial traits appear on the face, when the facial expression changes, we get a new interpretation, as they (115) point out. So, in summary, when the face of the one on top changes, when the emperor raises his eyebrow, or the like, the functionaries around him make note of this, interpreting it as this and/or that, as they (115) go on to specify.

Now, to be clear, there’s nothing to be interpreted here as the center of signifiance, that master-signifier, that face, is never a given. They (114-115) indicate this by noting that the center of signifiance is the personification of the signifier, which is then crystallized as the face as it appears to us that our voice emanates from the face. It’s pointless really, a mere empty abstraction that means nothing in itself as it has nothing to it, lacking nothing and having extra to it, as they (115) go on to specify.

In a summary, in this arrangement things are the way they are because the emperor says they are so. Sometimes it’s not at all clear what the emperor means, if anything, but that’s where the functionaries come in. They claim the exclusive right to explain to others what it is that the almighty emperor wants. It’s a sweet gig. They make good money while they are at it. Nothing about this is, however, fixed. It’s all made up. It’s all smoke and mirrors, “[l]ies and deception”, as Deleuze and Guattari (115) point out.

Oddly enough, while it is all a big fat lie, it’s there, in the open, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (115). As its all about the emperor, as the emperor is the embodiment of the will of god, “the face of god”, if you will, the emperor has nothing to hide, as they (115) go on to add. That may seem contradictory, aye, I get that, but just think of it. Nothing is hidden, nothing can be hidden when it’s all a lie, when there is no truth, except that the is the emperor is the one in charge.

To exemplify all that, think of the history of Russia, first as the Russian Empire, then as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and, finally, as the contemporary Russian Federation. They all work the same way. You have someone at the top that embodies the state, as the head of state, and gives it a face, something that the people recognize. It doesn’t matter what we call that person, the Czar of Russia, the Soviet leader (as the Chairman and/or as the Party General Secretary, if you care about the titles, for some reason), or the President of Russia. Then you have the functionaries, the state bureaucrats and adjutants who are responsible of running the show, perhaps sometimes even showing initiative, but who are, nonetheless, expected to toe the line. They can, of course, be politicians or party members, but they don’t actually function in some sort of parliamentary capacity, at least not in the sense that we think of them, anyway. They are part of the system and are expected to do as they are told, top-down, and not to speak their mind, bottom-up. So, if you are wondering why no one did anything, it’s because the on the top is the one who has the final say. The others are there to manage it all accordingly, while enjoying privileged positions in society. The one on the top technically doesn’t need this and/or that functionary, they aren’t irreplaceable, but they do market themselves that way. Okay, sure, people are needed, but they could well be anybody. They are just clever at solidifying their position, claiming to be irreplaceable, which is why the people accompanying the one on the top tend to be out of shape older men, at least when you look at official state photo ops. Oh, and they always claim that they serve the one on top and only the one on top, but they say that to anyone who happens to be on the top. They might not even agree with the one on the top, fair enough, but they know it’s a sweet gig, in a sense much sweeter than the gig of being one on the top, because there is no shortage of people who’d love to be the one on top, whereas your job is secure. Do a bit of browsing and you’ll be surprised how common it is for functionaries to slink from one arrangement to another, as if they didn’t serve the previous person on the top or the previous political system. The Bolshevik leadership was alarmed by such opportunism, only to not notice that they themselves were more of the same, a man on the top, accompanied by a cadre of opportunists. It’s the same with when the system changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s just old men who sought to maintain their status in the new system. It’s not like you had fresh faces with new ideas.

To explain where most people are, you have this center periphery setup where the one on the top is also the one in the center and those functionaries are close to the center, whereas everyone else is somewhere between them and the periphery, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (34). In addition, people are to identify with a group and the group with a leader and vice versa, as they (34) point out. To reiterate an earlier point, one is expected to be part of the group, of a mass of people, and to be close to the center (even though one is never allowed in the inner circle, as that’s for the functionaries), as well as to steer far from the fringes, expect, perhaps, to repel those from the fringes and those from the outside, as they (34) go on to add.

Then there’s also the issue of paranoia. They (112) characterize it as highly paradoxical as it comes with a feeling of impotence, that doubt that seeks to undermine one, mixed with a feeling power, that you must find out what it is that you don’t know or don’t know what it means. In their (112) words:

“The paranoid despotic regime: they are attacking me and making me suffer, but I can guess what they’re up to, I’m one step ahead of them, I’ve always known, I have power even in my impotence. ‘I’ll get them.’”

If that seems familiar, matching the one currently in charge, well, it’s because that’s how it is. That’s paranoia for you. The emperor is the one in charge and thus has the last say (even though there’s no guarantee that he or she is right about anything as the emperor is just like anyone else, flesh and blood), but he or she fears nothing more than being assailed. Every window, every balcony, every staircase, every meal, well, just about anything is potentially lethal to the emperor. What keeps the emperor going is this sense of power that he or she gets from staying one step ahead of the assailants, regardless of whether they are real or imagined.

They also (113) also capture the problem of this kind of regime quite well:

“Nothing is ever over and done with in a regime of this kind. It’s made for that, it’s the tragic regime of infinite debt, to which one is simultaneously debtor and creditor.”

Ah, yes, the emperor is self-centered, and someone is always out to get him or her, so everything that happens revolves around him or her (although at this stage I feel like I must point out that it’s typically a him, not because it has to be, but because typically it is, men and the fear impotence, what can I say about that…).

They (114) also make note of how this regime or system must constantly expand because of the paranoia of the emperor. Everything must be made part of the empire. Why? Well, because the fringes must be kept in check, from falling to the wrong hands, and what remains outside the borders of the empire must be made part of the empire in order to prevent it from assailing the emperor. The emperor must know everything that happens in order to stay ahead of his or her assailants.

This paranoia is what they (119) call a paranoid, interpretive or ideational delusion. They (120) note that the great difficulty of this kind of delusion is that people who suffer from it are not, in fact, batshit crazy, but appear to be so. How so? How is a paranoid person not crazy? Well, while they are self-centered, and fixated around ideas, like what is this and what does it mean, is it out to get me, they are actually highly functional. That’s certainly deeply troubling and problematic, yes, but that has to do with the regime and being placed as the leader in that regime. I’m pretty sure most of us have been this way, a bit paranoid about something, but life has still gone on. It happens. They contrast (120-121) this is with active or passional delusions in which the person appears to be fine, happy, content, not at all investing his or her time fixating on some idea, like what something is or what it means, but is actually just batshit crazy, which we come to notice when such a person suddenly loses his or her temper, doing something unexpected (death, arson and the like in the extreme cases).

Now, to be clear, they do not, strictly speaking, endorse either kind of delusion. Neither is great to be honest. What they (120-121) are saying, however, is that we tend to let the paranoid people off the hook, because they do alright, whereas we lock anyone who appears to lose their marbles all the sudden. We condemn the latter without really knowing what it is that they protested, whereas we are fine with the former, which is why we find such people on the top.

To wrap this up, if you’ve been wondering why Vladimir Putin (or any other self elected leader) acts the way he does, like a delusional paranoiac, it’s because it comes with the territory. The regime has been like that since forever, really. If it seems archaic, out of date, it’s because it is. It’s as simple as that. While it may help to replace him, I believe it does, but you really should the change the whole regime, the whole system, while you are at it. The thing with that is that it’s easier said than done. That regime is everywhere, albeit not in such pure form. Most organizations are run that way, with someone on top, for life, or for way too long, surrounded by a select few who are there for the ride. So, if you run into some organization and you notice that their chair or president, whatever you want to call the one on the top, has been in that position for decades, just stop for a moment. How messed up is that?

ΦFTU, or how the Given is Given

This time I’ll taking a closer look at Félix Guattari’s ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’ (2013 translation by Andrew Goffey). Why? Well, if you are familiar with his takes on Hjelmslev, alone and/or together with Gilles Deleuze, you are in for a treat.

To be honest, it is a very difficult book. It’s also very technical with a lot of tables and figures, so you really need to enjoy his work to get through it. This is one of those cases where I’d say that more is just more and less is just less, by which I mean that you probably wish that he’d be like he is with Deleuze in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane) or in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), letting it all sink in, as opposed to relying on this kind of bewilderingly meticulous presentation.

Even his (xv) translator points out that this book is really difficult. To clear, Guattari’s works are fairly difficult, but I’d say that this book is, at times, next level difficult. It pushes his thinking to its limits, taking some of his ideas further than he does in other books, which is why it is, at times, so difficult to read, as acknowledge by Goffey (xvi). In this book you’ll find him giving “the Spinozist Semiotics of Hjelmslev” a new spin. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say new, because it’s not like he doesn’t cover that in his other publications. It’s rather that he takes another look at that, which is exactly what attracted me to this book.

If you think that his other takes on Hjelmslev are difficult to understand, this is going to be even more difficult. Goffey puts it quite well when he (xvi) states that reading the book will lead to experiencing all kinds of feelings, including but not limited to “bewilderment, surprise, amusement, frustration and perhaps irration at its exorbitantly baroque qualities” and I think that will also be the case with this essay. I don’t think it is a secret that my style can be exorbitant or baroque, i.e., happily all over the place, without much care for the readers.

I think I need to point out that I don’t write the way I do, exorbitantly or in baroque fashion, just to fuck with my readers. No, no. It’s just what I do. It’s just how I roll. It’s just how I write. I can write in other styles, very conventionally, following a certain structure, but the thing is that I’m quite unconventional and I like to keep it that way, if possible, because it helps me to keep things open-ended. It leaves room for creativity. It leads me to all kinds of encounters that give me new ideas. Mix it up! Don’t be afraid to mix it up!

Goffey (xviii) points out that Guattari gets a lot of hate for his style. He (xviii) reckons that it is, at times, labeled as having “a peculiarly Gallic taste for rebarbative abstruseness”, which is a nice way of saying that it comes across as fucking irritating, being written in a way that is unnecessarily difficult for the reader. He (xviii) also remarks how Guattari’s work is, at times, derided for being overly theoretical, which is another way of saying that it is elitist and out of touch with reality, or, even worse, for just consisting of “fashionable nonsense”, as if he didn’t know what he was on about, even though he, if anyone, knew what’s what. The thing is that his style is what it is because it challenges us to think, for ourselves, as opposed to slavishly adhering to conventions. He has this “insouciance with regard to explicit or tacit norms of langauge use” precisely because he is against “tired rituals and institutionalized fictions of intellectual endeavour”, as Goffey (xviii) points out.

Goffey (xviii) makes a really good point here when he compares the criticism of jargon with the criticism of sophistry. It’s not really about style. It’s about who gets to speak and doesn’t, or a “regulatory zeal”, as he (xviii) puts it. He (xviii) summarizes this quite neatly:

“Whilst it is often tempting to consider the awkward or abstruse vocabulary of jargon as exemplifying the conceptual weaknesses or semantic difficulties of fashionable nonsense, or the protective defensiveness of sects and secret societies, a point of view that doesn’t presuppose some tacit linguistic normativity is obliged to read such asperities differently.”

Indeed. It’s like the two ways of reading a book Deleuze (7-8) explains in ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’, as included in ‘Negotiations’ (1995 translation by Martin Joughin). Either you obsess about it, trying to understand it, what it contains, what it truly means, or you just take what comes through in the process of reading, a bit of this, perhaps a bit of that, or maybe nothing, that can also happen. Deleuze and Guattari work in this second way, and so do I, nonchalantly, unapologetically.

Anyway, I won’t go through all of ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’. It’ll be a pick and mix, which, I’m sure you’ll hate if you want it all, but, hey, this my essay and I get to do whatever I want with it. Plus, I don’t think it’s worth covering it all. As interesting as it may be, there are also some parts that aren’t really that well connected to what I’ll be dealing with. What’s that then? Well, in short, once more, I’ll be looking at how the given is given or, the giving of the given, to put it in another way.

But how is this relevant to landscape and discourse? Well, as tricky as Guattari’s diagrams tend to be, I reckon they get the job done. They also help us to better understand how landscapes pertain to concrete assemblages and abstract machines.

The functors and the domains

Right, he has this two-dimensional thing going on in the book. He (57) reckons that it would be better to present it all three dimensionally, but, you know, that is quite the challenge when you are working with printed pages. Anyway, let’s jump right into it, starting from something, in the middle, if you will.

He (28) presents this two-by-two matrix, which I have edited a bit (I):

ActualVirtual
PossibleActual possibleVirtual possible
RealActual realVirtual real

Before I explain that, it’s worth pointing out that you can find Deleuze explain this ‘Bergsonism’ (1988 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam). He (96-97) notes that actual and virtual should not be confused with possible and real. He (96) specifies this:

“We must take this terminology seriously: The possible has no reality (although it may have an actuality)[.]”

Yes, note how Guattari (28) indicates that this is indeed the case. The possible may have actuality but it cannot be real, as otherwise it wouldn’t be, merely, possible. Deleuze (96) continues:

“[C]onversely, the virtual is not actual, but as such possesses a reality[.]”

Again, this is what Guattari (28) also points out. Now, to be true to this, he refers to the actual possible as the phylum of actual possibility (marked in the text as ϕ for phi, probably because it’s about the phi-lum), the actual real as the flux of actual real (marked as F for flux in the text), virtual possible as the universe of virtual possibility (marked as U for universe) and virtual real as the territories of virtual real (marked as T for territories). So, in short, we get this (II):

ActualVirtual
PossibleϕU
RealFT

If we look at how he and Deleuze explain this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, they (88) note that an assemblage has two axes: horizontal and vertical. The horizontal axis has to do with the segments of the assemblage, content and expression, of which content is always actual and the expression is always virtual. This has to do with what Louis Hjelmslev (30) states in ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Language’ (1953 translation by Francis Whitfield):

“[T]here can be no content without an expression, or expressionless content; neither can there be an expression without a content, or content[]less expression.”

It is specified in his notes (271) that the possible, both actual and virtual, the ϕ and the U, pertains to Hjelmslev’s forms, i.e., the forms of content (actual possible) and forms of expression (virtual possible), whereas the real, the F and the T, pertain to Hjelmslev’s substances, i.e., substances of content (actual real) and substances of expression (virtual real). In addition, to explain the links between the possible and the real, both actual and virtual, it is noted (271) that, the F and the T are manifestations of the ϕ and the U, as for Hjelmslev substance is formed matter, i.e., how form manifests itself in matter.

To be a bit nitpicky here, the F and the T are manifestees, and the ϕ and the U are the manifestants, and their relations are the manifestations, as explained by Hjelmslev (186) in ‘La stratification du langage’ as published in the journal ‘WORD’ in 1954. Anyway, if flip the table (pun intended), we see how this works in relation Hjelmslev (III):

RealPossible
ActualFϕ
VirtualTU

Now, why would you do that? Well, it’s because that’s how Hjelmslev’s net is typically presented (IV):

SubstanceForm
ContentSubstance of contentForm of content
ExpressionSubstance of expressionForm of expression

And, to clarify that, combining the two (V):

Substance (Real)Form (Possible)
Content (Actual)Substance of content (F)Form of content (ϕ)
Expression (Virtual)Substance of expression (T)Form of expression (U)

To further clarify that, to add the missing terms, matter, function and manifestation (VI):

Substance (Real)Form (Possible)
Content (Actual)MatterSubstance of content (F)ManifestationForm of content (ϕ)
Function
Expression (Virtual)MatterSubstance of expression (T)ManifestationForm of expression (U)

I will shuffle back and forth between these two presentations, Guattari’s (26) four functors and corresponding domains, tipping it all to its side where I find it useful, in hope of getting more out of it. The four functors are the F, the ϕ, the T and the U, which he (26-28, 56-57) further specifies as:

  • F = material/energetic and signaletic Flows (Actual, Real) = entities arranged in Complexions
  • Φ = abstract machinic Phyla (Actual, Possible) = entities arranged in Rhizomes
  • T = existential Territories (Virtual, Real) = entities arranged in Cutouts
  • U = incorporeal Universes (Virtual, Possible) = entities arranged in Constellations

At this point, it is worth noting that he seems to have flattened Hjelmslev’s bi-plane configuration (two planes, content and expression) to a monoplane configuration (one plane), considering that the Flows (F), pertains not only to material flows, but also signaletic (a-signifying / non-signifying semiotic) flows, and how they include libido (material), capital (material), labor (material) and signifier (semeiologic, signifying semiotic), as he (26-27) points out. I’ll return to this issue later on.

I think it’s also worth adding here, harking back to an earlier essay that deals mostly with Hjelmslev, that, for Deleuze and Guattari, Hjelmslev’s substance is their flow and form is their code, as mentioned by Guattari (202) in ‘Hjelmslev and Immanence’, as included in a 2006 compilation of his work, ‘The Anti-Œdipus Papers’ edited by Stéphane Nadaud (translation by Kélina Gotman). He (203) further elaborates their take of the two, noting that Hjelmslev gives too much credit to substance (flow) when he treats it as that what animates and fecundates an eternal form, which I take to be a criticism of mixing it up with matter, sort of like giving the two transcendent status, hence his remark about being haunted by Saussure, even though that makes no sense in this configuration. His (203) take is that:

“[Form is] a productive machine, a code in decompensation, a code in productive position, emitting flow.”

In other words, it is the form (code) that regulates the flow, in a positive sense, making it go here and/or there, not in a negative sense, blocking the flow. He (203) continues:

“Its substance, its ‘matter,’ are anti-production.”

Now, you need to know what he means not only by production, but also by anti-production, which is something that he and Deleuze cover in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. In short, as explained by them (235), it has to do with how all that production has to deal with anti-production, which sets limits to the production, conditioning it. They (235) exemplify anti-production with the state, the police and the army.

So, as substances (flows) are what’s real, not merely possible, as that’s exactly what appears to us, they are what sets limits to form (code). This means that form (code) doesn’t merely impose itself upon unformed matter, thus forming matter, producing substance as formed matter, as if it came out of nowhere, as if there was nothing before it. The substances (flows, formed matters) also simultaneously limit or condition the forms which are not real but possible. This is why they (235) state that anti-production is within production itself. Of course, it’s not a fixed thing, so that wherever you have production, you also have this or that much anti-production, as they (235) point out.

For them (235), different setups have different substances (flows, formed matters) and forms (codes), which define how it all works and what are the limits or the conditions of production, i.e., what can and cannot be produced under those circumstances. They (235) compare despotism with capitalism, noting that despotism relies on transcendence, which, in short, means that it is the despot or despot-god, serving as god, in the absence of god, is that substance that acts as the anti-production, defining what can and cannot be produced, whereas capitalism is much more regulatory and effusing instead of prohibitive or limiting as its guiding principle is to latch on to anything, whatever, it doesn’t matter what it is, in order to get something out of it, a surplus. They (235) further elaborate this with the capitalist system:

“On the one hand, it alone is capable of realizing capitalism’s supreme goal, which is to produce lack in the large aggregates, to introduce lack where there is always too much, by effecting the absorption of overabundant resources.”

To which they (235-236) add that:

“On the other hand, it alone doubles the capital and the flow of knowledge with a capital and an equivalent flow of stupidity that also effects an absorption and a realization, and that ensures the integration of groups and individuals into the system.”

In other words, if you don’t know how capitalism works, the idea is to provide you with something, but not just something, some thing among other things, but something that you appear to lack. Note how the production of that something is accompanied by its very own anti-production. There’s all this, whatever it is, but, alas, you don’t have it, unless, unless you spend some of that capital to get it. They (236) are very clear on this, noting how ironic it is that people can very knowledgeable, have all the information and the training they need to succeed in life, which means they probably make a good living from applying all that so that, you know, it’s smiles and all that, yet, somehow, they can be made stupid, obedient, repressive and repressed, even self-repressive, just by having them watch television or, I guess, nowadays browse the internet.

If you, my dear reader, probably an academic, think that you are somehow above this, by default, just because you are an academic, note how they (236) are actually talking of you here. They (236) exemplify this with the career of Gregory Bateson, who, to his credit, studied all kinds of things, fair play to him, only to end up working for the Office of Strategic Services, which was a World War II era precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Yeah, that went well. Now, to my understanding, they are not ridiculing him for that, but rather use him as an example of what can and does happen to people, even to the best of us, or so to speak.

So, following that tangent, back to Guattari (204) who reiterates that Hjelmslev had this thing for Saussure, which pushed him to retain “a taste of eternity” when it came to the forms and “a taste of transcendence” when it came to the substances, only to finally detach himself from “Papa Saussure” by the time he started to write his text on the stratification of language ‘La stratification du langage’. According to him (205) that all well and good, like finally, but, as much as he (205) likes Hjelmslev’s net, that 2×2 panel or 2×3 panel configuration, if you include matter in it like he (73) does in ‘The Role of Signifier in the Institution’, as included in ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’ (1984 translation by Rosemary Sheed), split into two planes, content and expression, still bothers him. In his (205) words:

“Very well! These are panels of consistency strata that are dependent on planes. But what’s annoying, as far as I’m concerned, is that there are planes and not a plane, a pure plane of consistency, of the filiation of deterritorialized machinic inscriptions[.]”

He (207) reiterates that it would be better to simply have a single plane, a single plane of consistency or a plane of machinic filiation, and n-strata. This would be great in his (207) view, because:

“All of Hjelmslev’s epistemological hopes would be realized and all of linguistics would topple over! Because wouldn’t it be even better to say that there are as many ‘semiotic’ functions as there are machines!”

This is interesting as the text was written sometime between 1969 and 1972, when he and Deleuze were working on ‘Anti-Oedipus’, some eight years before ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ was published, as noted by the editor, Nadaud (23). That said, I don’t see how him doing this by himself or with Deleuze, except, perhaps, in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’.

I’m tempted to think that he simply focuses on language and semiotics in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’, which would then explain why, later on, he (54) invokes discursivity in his diagrams. After all, this is pretty basic stuff in linguistics, the figurae (figures) being morphemes on the content side and phonemes on the expression side, as Hjelmslev (31-34) points out in ‘Prolegomena’. André Martinet agrees. He (22-26), in turn, points out in ‘A Functional View of Language’ (1962 translation) that the first articulation (content) pertains to monemes (an umbrella term he prefers to use instead of morphemes) and the second articulation (expression) pertains to phonemes. In writing those figurae (figures) would, of course, be graphemes.

Then again, I’m not buying this explanation, considering that, for him (26-27), flows are both material and signaletic. So, in other words, it appears that instead of placing all that’s material on the content plane and all that’s semiotic on the expression plane, like in a connotative semiotic, which is how he and Deleuze approach this issue in their other words, he opts to place them on a single plane. This means that he looks at this in an entirely different way, which is not the Hjelmslevian way that he and Deleuze rely on in their other works, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ being the prime example.

The material, the semiotic and the pragmatic

To make more sense of this rearrangement, which, to be honest, doesn’t mean that this it works any better than the Hjelmslevian arrangement that I’m more familiar with, we need to look at how he (58-59) sets this up in this book. In short, there are three levels of unconscious, i.e., something that we don’t have conscious access to. The first level is the level of the referent, what, I guess, we could also call the level of the indexical or denotative. This is the material level. The second level is the level of the semiotic, which, I guess, we could also call the level of the symbolic or connotative. Unlike the first level, which is all about the denotatum, this extends it to designatum. The third level is the level of the pragmatic and subjective. The gist of this is that the first level supports the second level and the third level, whereas the second level supports the third level.

To connect this to Hjelmslev’s work, it is added in the notes (271) that the second level of unconscious, i.e., the semiotic level, “corresponds to the Hjelmslevian function of solidarity” that, according to Hjelmslev (30, 35-36) in ‘Prolegomena’, is contracted by the two functives, form of content and form of expression. This simply means that this arrangement has three levels, one, two, three, of which level two is Hjelmslevian semiotics. It is also stated in the notes (271) that levels one and three pertains to what Hjelmslev calls manifestation, so that in each case the substance, substance of content and substance of expression, is the manifestee, as manifested according to the forms, which are the manifestants, as explained by Hjelmslev (166-167, 170, 186) in ‘La stratification du langage’.

In other words, Guattari seems to have reworked, not the assemblages, as such, but the way he presents them. Instead of presenting the material aspect of them and the semiotic aspect of them, side by side, like having two sides, faces or heads, like he and Deleuze (70, 291) refer to them in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, he presents them as superimposed. You have level one, laid over by by levels two and three, so they appear to us as superimposed, as one level. While this way of going about it is, I’d say, certainly more complicated and thus more difficult to comprehend, at least at first, it doesn’t have that awkwardness of talking about the material and the semiotic side by side, as if they were, somehow, next to each other.

I acknowledge that a part of the difficulty of comprehending it all might be attributable to me. I’ve worked with the Hjelmslevian take, mixed a bit of Martinet, as presented by Deleuze and/or Guattari, and I was bewildered, if not annoyed by this change in presentation. But I see now what he’s trying to do here, so fair play to him. He (57) briefly comments on this, noting that it’d be better to illustrate what he has to say three dimensionally, but that’s not something that he can afford as it has to presented on a two-dimensional plane, it all being explained on paper.

In the past I’ve mentioned this issue, noting how difficult it is to present something on one plane, two-dimensionally. When you have something like Hjelmslev’s net, how do you look at it? Are you looking at it from above, like a map, treating it as one plane, split into two planes, or are you, perhaps, looking at it top to bottom, so that the content plane is above the expression plane?

If you ask me, there’s no right or wrong way to look at it. To me, what matters is that you have all that’s material or corporeal, all those bodies, in the broadest sense of the word, and all that immaterial or incorporeal, all those signs, and in between them is the interesting part, how they come together, what I’d call the interface. As long as you get that, you’re good.

There is, however, a certain advantage when it’s all presented as levels. He (59) presents it as a triangle, but I think it’s more apt to present the levels as layers (VII):

Now, I think this is, however, missing the point. I’d rather think of levels aligning on top of one another, so that the semiotic level is superimposed on the material level and the pragmatic level is superimposed on the semiotic level. The result is like what you get with an overhead projector, kind of like what you get when you stack transparencies on top of one another. But first, let’s imagine they all have something on them (VIII):

Here you have three levels. The bottom level has a horizontal pattern, the mid-level has a vertical pattern, and the top level has a dotted grid pattern. Now, they are not neatly aligned like transparencies on an overhead projector, but you should get the point. When they are neatly aligned as a stack, what you get is a flattened projection where all the levels are flatted to one level (IX):

This is basically what Guattari has done in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’. It’s just a different way of looking at it all. This makes a lot of sense when you think of that overhead projector example. It’s also how we encounter just about everything. I mean, it’s not like there are two separate realities out there, one that’s the material reality and another that’s the semiotic reality. We are tempted to think otherwise, to look at the world as if we were outside of it and to think that there is a beginning and an end, but we are always in the thick of it, in the middle of things, here and now, as Deleuze and Guattari (23, 25) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

In fact, they (7, 22-23, 37) also keep reminding us of that reciprocity, how you can’t have one without the other, how there can be no content without expression nor vice versa, and how the collective assemblages of enunciation are inseparable from the machinic assemblages of desire. They (37) provide a particularly apt summary of how it all comes together:

“Every statement is the product of a machinic assemblage, in other words, of collective agents of enunciation[.]”

It’s clear that, for them, statements are part of the collective assemblages of enunciation, not of the machinic assemblages of desire, but, be that as it may, you can’t have collective assemblages of enunciation, nor any statements without the machinic assemblages of desire. It would be tempting to conclude that this simply means that all that’s material comes before all that’s semiotic, and, in a way that’s true, as acknowledged by Guattari (58) in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’, but you also have to keep in mind that all of this, all of that’s material, is nonsensical without all that’s semiotic. So, as I pointed out, and, as pointed out by Hjelmslev (30) in ‘Prolegomena’, you can’t have one without the other, really, as you need that reciprocity of the content and expression, their solidarity, which ties them together as a function.

Before I move on, I think it’s also worth clarifying here that what they (37) call collective agents of enunciation is just another label for the collective assemblages of enunciation. The agents here do not refer to “peoples or societies but multiplicities”, nor to individuals as even individuals are multiplicities, all of that pervades them, all of that makes them who they are, at any given moment. This has to do with the proper sense of what an individual is, someone or something that cannot be divided. For them (37) this means that a proper name is truly the mark of an individual. It’s just all there, already, at any given moment. No need to explain it.

The virtual and the actual

I don’t think explained the actual and the virtual that well, so I’ll return to it now. Right, what I find interesting in Guattari’s (28) formulations is that it explains how you can’t have something virtual without something actual, and, oddly enough, neither can you have something actual without something virtual. This is why the double articulation goes (if considered in isolation), or, rather, appears to go (if this is not considered in isolation from other articulations that have occurred and/or occur simultaneously) from substance to form and then, again, from form to substance, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (40-41) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

This only makes sense. You have to have some content, something actual that could have any form, yes, but it has this and/or that form, thus appearing to us as certain substance (formed matter), for that expression, which then becomes part of content after the expression as there can be no content that hasn’t been expressed.

Anyway, so, why the fuss over these terms? Wouldn’t we be just fine without them? Deleuze (208) explains this quite well in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton).

“The virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual. The virtual is fully real in so far as it is virtual.”

In other words, the virtual is always real, just as the actual is always real, unless one of them or both are merely possible, which is the opposite of real. He (208-209) continues:

“Indeed, the virtual must be defined as strictly a part of the real object – as thought the object had one part itself in the virtual into which it plunged as thought into an objective dimension.”

To which he (209) adds that:

“The reality of the virtual is structure. We must avoid giving the elements and relations which form a structure an actuality which they do not have, and withdrawing from them a reality which they have.”

I still want to further clarify the actual and the virtual before I move on. Charles Sanders Peirce (763) provides an excellent definition in the 1902 published ‘Dictionary of philosophy and psychology, Vol. 2’:

“A virtual X (where X is a common noun) is something, not an X, which has the efficiency (virtus) of an X.”

Which he (763) then exemplifies with:

“So virtual representation was the non-representation of the American colonies in the British Parliament, which was supposed to be replaced by something.”

To explain this in common parlance, which will only make sense, believe me, something virtual is the equivalent of something that is actual, but without being actual. For example, when I say something like ‘those things are virtually indistinguishable’ I’m claiming that I cannot distinguish them from one another, that might as well be actually the same, but I’m not saying that they are actually the same. I might also say something like ‘that’s virtually impossible’, which means that it’s not actually impossible, but it might as well be. It is as if was, without being so. That’s what he (763) means by efficiency (virtus).

He (763) wants us to remember that virtual should never be mixed up with potential or, as already mentioned as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari, with possibility:

“[Virtual] has been seriously confounded with ‘potential,’ which is almost its contrary.”

How so? How is potential (or possibility) not correct here? He (763) explains this:

“For the potential X is of the nature of X, but is without actual efficiency.”

Note how potential is always tied to something, whereas virtuality pertains to something that is not tied to it. Instead, it has its efficiency (virtus). He (763) exemplifies this:

“A virtual velocity is something not a velocity, but a displacement; but equivalent to a velocity I the formula, ‘what is gained in velocity is lost in power.’”

Neat, eh? This solves the problem with having to rely on the opposition of possible and real or what one could also call the realization of the possible. Now, you might be wondering what’s the problem with that? Isn’t that the same? Well, no. I’ll explain why.

The axes

Deleuze and Guattari (88) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that the vertical axis of an assemblage has to do with territoriality, so that one end pertains to territoriality or (re)territorialization, whereas the other side pertains to cutting edges of deterritorialization or just, more simply put, deterritorialization. When we combine the two axes and the functors/domains, we get something like this (X):

I’ve changed the terms in that diagram. The original looks something like this (XI):

Here Guattari (54) refers to the infinite and finite as pertaining to deterritorialization and the plural and unary as pertaining to discursivity. Okay, I need to break this down.

Okay, on the left-hand side we have the actual, and, on the right-hand side we have the virtual. He (58) also refers to the actual as the given and the virtual as the giving, because, on this horizontal discursive axis, you have start from something, from some given, but then you also must be able to explain the giving, i.e., how that given is given. In other words, it’s like when you plan a research question, you are typically pushed to think of a how question, as opposed to a what question. This makes sense because the how is usually much more interesting than the what, and may help us to understand why, but you can’t examine how something is given, without acknowledging it first as a given. That’s why I find it a bit silly when, for example, students are mocked for asking those what questions. I mean, okay, if that’s the only thing, fair enough, not that interesting, but you can’t ask the more interesting questions pertaining to giving without confronting the given. I mean, duh?

I’m not entirely happy with him using discursivity for the horizontal axis, mainly because it’s just confusing, but, okay, I’ll go with that. It’s his thing, so, yeah.

Anyway, he (58-59) refers to the actual or the given as plural and the virtual or the giving as unary, but I won’t get into more detail why he has chosen to use those instead of the given and the giving, which he’ll then keep on mentioning. The short answer to that is, I believe, that the given is always plural, either a multiplicity on the deterritorialized or infinite side, or multiple on the (re)territorialized or finite side, whereas the giving is always something that involves one, a single element drawn from the plural.

Unary is an odd term, I’ll give you that, but a dictionary (OED, s.v. “unary”, adj.) will help us to understand the choice:

“Composed of a single item or element.”

And, in mathematics, logic and linguistics (OED, s.v. “unary”, adj.):

“Of an operator, operation, or transformation: involving or operating on a single element.”

As well as in chemistry (OED, s.v. “unary”, adj.):

“Of a chemical system: consisting of a single component.”

So, the point here is that unary is one (element, component, or the like), binary is two, ternary is three, quaternary is four, quinary is five, etc., as a dictionary will tell you. Now, this is not to say that giving will only involve one element, component, or the like in each case, but, to my understanding, it’s unary in comparison to the given, which is plural, which is, in turn, simply plural in comparison to the unary, which is giving.

Plurality also pertains to continuity and fusion of elements, whereas unary pertains to discontinuity and mixing of elements, as he (61) points out. Another way of expressing is to state that the content is more plural than the expression, which, is, in turn, more unary than the content, as, in this configuration, content is on the left-hand side and expression is on the right-hand side.

Moving on! On top we have the possible and at the bottom we have the real. This vertical axis of deterritorialization indicates how on the top you have infinity and at the bottom you finity. Another way of expressing this is to indicate that on top you have deterritorialization, to the point that it’s irreversible, and at the bottom you have (re)territorialization, so that any deterritorialization in this end remains reversible, as explained by him (61). This also means that high deterritorialization results in everything being far from equilibrium and, conversely, low deterritorialization is close to equilibrium, as he (61) also points out.

Mapping the entities and the tensors

If you think what’s been covered so far is complex, perhaps even unnecessarily complex, well, you are in for a treat. He (60) throws this at you (XII):

Now, I’ve taken some liberties with this “[m]ap of entities and tensors”, as he (60) calls it. To make sense of this, I’ve retained the two axes, so that the horizontal axis is the axis of discursivity and the vertical axis is the axis of deterritorialization. The gist of this still is that, on the top everything is highly deterritorialized, to the point of infinity, whereas everything is highly (re)territorialized, so that you get finity. What’s on the left, the content, is the given, highly plural, and what’s on the right, the expression, is the giving, highly unary. In the middle you have the solidary function.

I’ve retained most of the terms used by him (60). If they don’t seem to make sense, it’s because they’ve been abbreviated from the French original, hence some of the mismatches. I’ll list them, instead of having them in the running text as otherwise it’s a pain to unpack that diagram.

I’ll start with the entities listed as entities of pragmatic manifestation. These entities are synapses, which are located on the left-hand side and the right-hand side, where the triangles meet, at the edge of the circles.

  • S = synapses
  • Se = synapses of Effect, pragmatic synapses (Effects on the left)
  • Sa = synapses of Affect, subjective synapses (Affects on the right)

These pragmatic entities pertain to the pragmatic level, which is the third level of the unconscious, as he (64) points out. Their job is to “‘adjust’ the three types of quantum configuration of non-separability, separation and quantification”, which I’ll get to soon enough. He (64) elaborates what this means:

“[T]he past potentialities of the Systems and Structures of level I and the surplus values of possibility of the semiotic concatenations of level II, bearing the future, find themselves capitalized, put into action, rendered present.”

So, that’s why you need the synapses, i.e., the pragmatic entities that constitute level III. They are, in the present, here and now, but they are, of course, linked to the past and the future, as he (64) points out here. Anyway, He (64-65) continues:

“The actualization of Effects and the virtualization of Affects cannot be assimilated to mechanical causation or dialectical implication, because their occurrences are indissolubly linked to the contingent, singular character of the Assemblages that effectuate it.”

At this point you might be scratching your head, thinking that weren’t we going from level I to level II and from level II to level III. Well, yes, but once we get to the pragmatic entities, we still have those pragmatic tensors that lead back to those level I material entities, as level III is always linked to the other levels, as he (65) goes on to point out. Again, that’s the here and now, being in the middle of it all, in the making. There is not a distinct first move (material), followed by a distinct second move (semiotic) and a distinct third move (pragmatic).

To be clear, we most certainly don’t start with the subject or consciousness, as the whole idea here is to understand how subjectivity or consciousness is produced. In his (65) words:

“The ‘present’ of schizoanalytics pragmatics doesn’t imply any primacy of a clear, distinct, continuous, rational, capitalistic and symbolically castrated consciousness.”

What have instead is, as he (65) puts it:

“The temporal schizzes and dyschronies generated by fragmented becomings are inscribed in its register in their own right.”

Anyway, it’s time to move on. In each corner, by the functors ϕ, F, T, and U, we have the entities of intrinsic reference. The codes and systems are on the left, and the ordination and structures are on the right.

  • Rm = machinic Rhizomes
  • Mc = matters of Content
  • Me = existential Matrices
  • ΣU = constellations of Universes

Tensors, what’s discussed in the previous essay, are marked by the arrows. There are two kinds of tensors: tensors of intrinsic reference and semiotic tensors. The former pertains to the first level of unconscious, the material level, whereas the latter pertains to the second level of unconscious, the semiotic level, as he (62) points out.

Tensors of intrinsic reference are marked by the arrows that point to both directions, by what he (62) refers to as “bijective couples”. This means that these tensors are reversible, as he (62) points out. They operate between the entities of intrinsic reference on each side. He (62) notes that there are systemic tensors situated in between the machinic rhizomes and the matters of content. He also (62) notes that there are structural tensors situated between the constellations of universes and existential matrices.

  • Yt = Systemic tensors (Y because St was already in use)
  • Ut = Structural tensors (U because St was already in use and Tt just didn’t work for me)

In addition to these two tensors, there are also two other tensors that he (65) refers to as efferent tensors. I’ll return to these later on:

  • Et = Synaptic tensors of Effect
  • At = Synaptic tensors of Affect

I also abbreviated these two in the diagram, because it’s pretty crowded otherwise.

He (60) indicates these material tensors in text in his own diagram, but I abbreviated them because, firstly, they don’t fit neatly, and, secondly, his way of presenting them is a bit confusing. It is also worth noting here that as this pertains to the first level of unconscious, its inner workings are inaccessible to us as our understanding of it is mediated through the second and third levels of the unconscious, as emphasized by him (62). This is just a fancy way of saying that we don’t direct access to this level, to all that that has to do with regimes of bodies, because we make sense of the world, pragmatically, through regimes of signs. This is pragmatics 101.

The semiotic tensors are marked by arrows, or “projective vectors” as he (62) calls them, shooting from each entity, crossing over where the two functives, content and expression meet in the middle, in that solidary function. He (62) adds that these semiotic tensors are irreversible, which simply means that they go one way, you know, like an arrow that’s been shot.

  • t = tensors

There are two tensors of persistence (from systems to structures; actualization)

  • Nt = noematic tensors
  • St = sensible tensors

There are also two tensors of transistence (from structures to systems; virtualization)

  • Mt = machinic tensors
  • Dt = diagrammatic tensors

He (60) has also indicated these semiotic tensors in text in his own diagram, but I thought it would make sense to do what he has done with the other terms.

To make sense of what he (54-55) by structures and systems, they are “two configurations of intrinsic deterritorialization” that, by all logic, pertain to the first level of the unconscious (the referent, the material level), as they are intrinsic. Systems are on the left and structures are on the right in the diagram.

To make more sense of that, he (55) adds that content and expression are two configurations of extrinsic deterritorialization. This means that, by all logic, they pertain to the second level of the unconscious (the semiotic level), as they are extrinsic. Content is on the left and expression is on the right in the diagram.

This double take, calling what’s on the left systems on the material level and content on the semiotic level and what’s on the right structures on the material level and expression on the semiotic level, is, perhaps a bit misleading, if your starting point is how he and Deleuze discuss this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ as they use content and expression for just about anything, material or semiotic. Then again, I see what he is doing here. Fair enough. Point taken.

Where those semiotic tensors arrive, where those arrows land, mark the semiotic entities. On the left are the diagrams and machinic propositions, the semiotic entities of expression (crossing over from expression). On the right are the sensible territories and the noema, the semiotic entities of content (crossing over from content).

  • Pm = machinic Propositions (abstract machinic Rhizomes)
  • Dg = Diagrams (energetico-signaletic Complexions)
  • Ts = sensible Territories (existential Cutouts)
  • N = Noema (incorporeal noematic Constellations)

Starting from the top, he (64) states Pm are capable of overtaking their matters of expression (coming from the expression side to the content side) that operate as their messengers (being the material, the medium of expression), which results in us having this sense of it always having been that way, and, I would add, always going to be in that way. He (64) uses the example of faciality, how it involves an incorporeal transformation of the corporeal world, a projection of a face of the Christ like standard onto a capitalistic machinic Phyla (Φ). This is also how landscapity works.

In his (64) words, this happens when we go from the material entities ΣU, in the domain of U, to the domain of Φ, carried by the semiotic tensors Mt that “actualize an abstract propositional expression”, resulting in Pm:

“From … to … ‘without guarantee’, charged with a potential for possibilities, dependent on a temporization that ceases to impose on the entities that fall within their jurisdiction the need to maintain a speed less than that of the relative threshold of the speed of light.”

Next up, he (63-64) refers to semiotic entities Dg as the signaletic matter, at domain F, to which we get from the material entities Me, in the domain of T, as the semiotic tensors Dt that “actualize a diagrammatic Expression” carry them there:

Fromto … ‘without guarantee’, that are charged with a potential for possibilities, dependent on a relative temporization and whose entities are obliged to respect the celebrated law which states that physical particles have speed that are less than or equal to that of light.”

He (64) exemplifies this with how “the signaletic matter of a credit card” is “able to trigger an ATM, depending on whether or not its PIN corresponds to what is typed into the machine, whether or not the card or machine is damaged”, “whether or not one is in [at home] or abroad” or something along those lines, anything that has to with how that all works. Of course, we have less use for ATMs these days, but credit and debit cards are everywhere, working exactly like this, having all these algorithmic features (e.g. when you are using the contactless payment, for example) and what not.

Moving on to Ts, in the domain of T, to which we from the material entities MC, in the domain of F, as carried by the semiotic tensors St that “virtualize sensible contents”, as noted by him (63):

Fromto … ‘without guarantee’ that are charged with a possibility-potential and are dependent on a duration with neither subject nor object, a pure existential turning-over, the entities which have null speed[.]”

He (63) exemplifies this with a totemic icon (in an anthropological assemblage), with a territorialization refrain (in an ethological assemblage) and with an imago (in a phantasmatic assemblage). The idea here is that you have this flow (F), which then results in a sensible territory, a cutout, something (unary) cut out from something (plural).

Then we have the semiotic entities N, in the domain of U, that we get to from the material entities Rm, in the domain of Φ, once the semiotic tensors Nt carry them there and “virtualize noematic contents”, as he (63) points out:

“From … to … ‘without guarantee’, charged with potential for possibility dependent on an infinitely fragmented, ‘multiplicious’ duration, the entities of which have an absolute speed, that is to say, a speed that cannot be related to EST coordinates[.]”

He (63) exemplifies this with “the Cheshire cat’s smile, which Whitehead tells us is encountered at all points in space without it being possible to localize it at any point in particular.” So, if his (63) explanation seems a bit difficult, the example ought to help you understand how these entities of absolute speed cannot be localized, as such, but rather appear everywhere, like that smile.

It is worth noting that you get from an entity of intrinsic reference, from what I like to call a material entity (because it’s just shorter), to a semiotic entity through one of the semiotic tensors, as emphasized by him (62). That said, it is the tensor that does the work in each case, that marks these entities as semiotic entities, not the entities at their point of origin, as they are material entities, as he (62) goes on to add. This is particularly important for him (62) because, on the third level, on the pragmatic level, “these semiotic entities are bearers of a surplus value of possibility susceptible of being actualized at the pragmatic level.”

The points he wants to make is also particularly important because he is stating that, oddly enough, you get from nowhere to somewhere, from something really basic, from some material entities to semiotic entities. It’s miraculous, really. This is something you can find in Hjelmslev’s work already, so the credit goes to him, which, I’m sure, Guattari would be willing to acknowledge.

Entities are important whenever we deal with quantification, which, according to him (55-56) pertains to inter-entiterian relations (as in between entities, from one to the other), as established between non-separability and separation. I’m gonna start with these two: non-separability and separation, before I continue explaining his definition of quantification.

He (54) explains that non-separability has to do with “the synchronic correlations at a distance that guarantees modes of compossibility between diverse entity states” and it has the status of intrinsic reference, which, in turn, means that it has to do with the first level of unconscious (the referent, the material level). If I get this right, he is talking about the entities, how they combine and recombine (or compose/decompose), so that we have all that there is, like this, or like that, at any given time. In terms of tensors, he (54) adds, this pertains to the vertical axis of deterritorialization and, it appears, that he is talking about the systemic and structural tensors.

He (55) also explains that separation has to do with “the diachronic inter-entiterian transformations on the basis of which the components of semiotization are established.” So, separation has to do with the second level of unconscious (the semiotic level) and, more importantly, how we get there from the first level, from the material entities to the semiotic entities. This is why he (55) states that it pertains to the other axis, that horizontal axis of discursivity, and to “vectorized tensors”, what he also refers to as tensors of separation. Those tensors consist of the four semiotic tensors (Nt, St, Mt, Dt), and four other tensors, what he calls the tensors of surplus value of the possible (ΔF, ΔT, Δϕ, ΔU; in short, surplus tensors) that “have the capacity to relay the sites of sense and to transfer them towards pragmatic Effects and Subjective affects”, as explained by him (55). He (65) refers to them as afferent tensors. At this point, when we cross over to Effects and Affects, we are already dealing with the third level of the unconscious (the pragmatic and subjective, what I like to just call the pragmatic level or the level of pragmatics).

So, in summary, there are the semiotic tensors (Nt, St, Mt, Dt) that result in the creation of what he (55) here calls sense entities, i.e., those semiotic entities (Pm, Dg, Ts, N), which, in turn, can get carried away by the tensors of surplus value of the possible (ΔF, ΔT, Δϕ, ΔU) to the pragmatic Effects and subjective Affects, by what I believe he (60) means the synapses of effect (left side) and affect (right side) that are also known as the entities of pragmatic manifestation.

Back to quantification, by which he (55) simply means “the establishing of the sites of entities”, i.e., where and at what level they will or won’t “come to be grafted instances that will be specified energetically from a thermodynamic, physico-chemical, biological, etc. angle.” In other words, quantification has to do with how we get from entities to other entities through these tensors, what we might also call vectors, and how they are mapped in relation to one another, i.e., where this and/or that takes place (at the material level, at the semiotic level, at the pragmatic level), inasmuch as it does (as there’s no guarantee that something will take place; maybe, maybe not).

If that’s difficult to grasp, which I don’t think it is, once you do all the necessary work to make sense of his diagram, what he (60) calls his “[m]ap of entities and tensors”, he (56) also calls quantification the “taking consistency of Flows”. He (56) also warns us not think of any agency, of any kind of action, reaction or interaction, prior understanding how this all works (quantification, nonseparability, separation). This is why he and Deleuze (22) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that “all we know are assemblages”, the “machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation.”

In this context Guattari (56) emphasizes the importance of the latter, what in this book he calls the “Assemblages of enunciation”, noting that they need to be taken into consideration, “in so far as [they] have been constructed and in such a way that they have effectively become producers of quantification, that is to say, have acquired a sectorial ‘point of view’, a ‘reading capacity’, the state of entities as an economy of energetico-spation-termporalized Flows.” To be clear, I don’t think he is ignoring the machinic assemblages of desire, all that that is on the material level. I think he is rather emphasizing the collective assemblages of enunciation here because it is necessary for the world, i.e., all those things, all that there is, materially speaking, to appear to us in this or that way, as a certain order of things, as he (56) points out. In his (56) words:

“This paradoxical dimension of a quantification proper to the ‘order of things’, the fact of considering a ‘point of view’ as an energy charge rests on the same kind of petition of principle as those that inspire our whole ‘metapsychology’.”

To which he (56) adds that:

“Here it leads us to postulate that if, at a molar level, there is numbered and numbering striation, grasped at the nth degree of redundancy of entity sites, this is because such a problematic was already posed at the most molecular levels.”

The way I see it, what he does here is to explain how the molar, what we consider these things, like this keyboard or this mouse, are not the only things that can be quantified. We could break both things to their component parts, and the break those components down to their component parts, and so on and so forth, until we are at what he calls the molecular level, which, to be clear, is not to simply decomposable to the level of molecules. Instead, the idea is that you can always compose something out of something else and decompose something into something else.

It’s also worth noting here how quantification pertains to the material level, marked de– and reterritorialization, and the semiotic level, marked by discursivity, or, as he (56) puts it, its role is to articulate two quantum configurations. There is this double articulation. He (56) further clarifies this:

“[It] also [has] as its mission the retroactive and prospective projection onto the Plane of Consistency of the potentiality for the discernibilization of: 1) quanta of deterritorialization within non-separability; 2) quanta of discursivity within separation.”

To go back a bit, just for a moment, note how the material level deals with what cannot be separated, which only makes sense, considering that you can’t separate it in order to move it somewhere else, to some other level. It’s always there, in this this or that composition. It’s at the semiotic level where you have that separation, albeit it is not material that separates, so that you get this extra, on top of what’s there. This make sense, considering that he and Deleuze (81) insist in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that expressions are attributable to bodies, and that they transform the bodies incorporeally, never corporeally as only bodies can alter other bodies corporeally.

This leads us quite nicely to a point that Guattari (56) wants to emphasize, to how there’s nothing hidden. There’s nothing waiting for us to uncover. Everything therefore becomes a matter of production. In his (56) words:

“It will be noted that this retroaction differs from the previously refused postulation of hidden semiotic parameters, to the extent that for these parameters there is no longer any possibility of an articulation that can do without this third level of quantification.”

Unless I’m mistaken, the third level here is the pragmatic level. At this point, he (56) also warns us not to think of the pragmatic level as a superstructure to the semiotic level and the semiotic level as a superstructure for the material level. There is no subordination between the levels of the unconscious, which he (56) also calls the quantum configurations, nor any kind of “mimetic tracing”, “duplication or dialectical synthesis.”

This leads us to the two tensors that I mentioned but so far haven’t explained, the synaptic tensors of Effect (Et) and Affect (At). They extend the tensors of surplus value of the possible (ΔF, ΔT, Δϕ, ΔU) by carrying the pragmatic and subjective entities, the synapses of Effect and Affect, towards the material entities of Systems (on the left: Rm of ϕ and Mc of F) and Structures (on the right: ΣU of U and Me of T), aggregating them at the systemic and structural sites of material level, as he (65) goes on to point out.

Unless I have missed something, this completes the diagram, so that all the entities and tensors listed by him should now be covered, so that the flow of quanta, from entities to entities, within each level, marked by the material tensors that pertain to their composition, deterritorialized/reterritorialized, semiotic tensors, running from the material entities to establish semiotic entities, surplus tensors that carry the semiotic entities to the synapses of affect and effect, from which it flows back to the material entities.

To make more sense of that, here is the diagram again, with color coding (XIII):

As you can see, I’ve indicated all that pertains to level one (material entities and tensors) in blue, to level two (semiotic entities and tensors) in red and to level three (pragmatic entities and tensors) in purple. It’s worth noting that, as done by Guattari (60), I haven’t marked the surplus tensors, nor the synaptic tensors with arrows. You can, however, see them in purple, and how they are between the semiotic entities and the pragmatic entities (synapses) and between the pragmatic entities (synapses) and the material entities, marked in dash.

To go back a bit, you can also see how all this operates on a single plane, on what he (56) calls the plane of consistency, which is divided into four domains of consistency (Φ, F, U and T), as already discussed. If we flip this to its side, we get can see how this aligns with Hjelmslev’s net (XIV):

So, in Hjelmslevian terms, as discussed in the notes (271), on top we have content, which is split into substance of content (F = material/energetic-signaletic Flows) and form of content (Φ = abstract machinic Phyla), and at the bottom we have expression, which is split to substance of expression (T = existential Territories) and form of expression (U = incorporeal Universes).

The axis of deterritorialization, the tensor marked in blue but now horizontal after the flip, is what Hjelmslev would call manifestation, how “substance is the manifestation of form in matter”, as explained in the notes (271). This means that F is the manifestee of the manifestant Φ and T is the manifestee of manifestant U, as also explained in the notes (271). The sign-function, i.e., the solidarity of content and expression is marked by the overlapping of the circles. As it’s a matter of semiotics, it functions only on the semiotic level, as it is also pointed out in the notes (271) and as you can see the tensors marked in red crossing over, whereas the tensors marked in blue and purple do not cross over.

I think there is a small gaffe in his notes (271). I just pointed out how manifestation is the relation between substance and form, which is how you get formed matter (substance) out of matter. It is true that “substance is the manifestation of form in matter”, with emphasis on it being a manifestation of rather than just about manifestation, like in general. Agreed, but I don’t fully agree with how he states in his notes (271) that while “the level of the secondary unconscious corresponds to the Hjelmslevian function of solidarity”, “the conjunction of tertiary and primary levels corresponds to that of manifestation.” Why? Well, while I agree that solidarity, i.e., the sign-function, has to do with the second level (semiotic level) and that manifestation has to do with the conjunction of the third level (pragmatic level) and the first level (material level), I’d say that it can also take place on the first level (material level), simply because, for Hjelmslev, the relation between substance and form is that of manifestation, the former being the manifestee (the manifested), the latter being the manifestant (what manifests), as I pointed out early on. Then there’s also the thing with how solidarity is between the form of content (material) and the form of expression (semiotic), so I think that it is a bit misleading to simply state that the second level (semiotic level) corresponds with solidarity. I mean yes, you need that second level (semiotic level), but, at least for Hjelmslev, you also need to first level (material level) as well.

Now, to be fair, Guattari does imply this in the notes (271), as he does clearly explain that manifestation is the relation between substance and form. I also do have to acknowledge that from the viewpoint of the third level, i.e., from a pragmatic perspective, we can only make sense of the first level through the second level, so, yes, that’s how manifestation appears to us, as this relation between the third and the first levels. That makes sense.

As a side note, I think it would also be apt to refer to manifestation as materialization, as I’ve done in the past in my research when I’ve talked about materialization of discourse (or as materialized discourse or discourse materialized), considering that there is that conjunction of the third level (pragmatic level) and the first level (material level), that we get to once we move from the second level (semiotic level) to the third level (pragmatic level). As explained by Richard Schein (663) in his outstanding article ‘The Place of Landscape: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting an American Scene’, as published in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers in 1997:

“Each seemingly individual decision behind any particular … landscape is embedded within a discourse. When the action results in a tangible landscape element, or total ensemble, the cultural landscape becomes the discourse materialized.”

While he is using discourse here, it works as, the expression plane is the discursive plane, if we opt to use Foucauldian terms. Anyway, he (663) exemplifies this:

“Examples of such discourses might include zoning theory and practice, architectural design trends, economic consumption patterns, and others.”

He (663) finishes off this by explaining the manifestation, what he calls materialization:

“As a material component of a particular discourse or set of intersecting discourses, ‘the cultural landscape’ at once captures the intent and ideology of the discourse as a whole and is a constitutive part of its ongoing development and reinforcement.”

In other words, there’s that move from the second level (semiotic level) to the first level (material level) through the third level (pragmatic level), that manifestation or materialization, whatever you want to call it (what matters is that you get the point). You can’t have something that we deem semiotic without the material. How so? Well, let’s take something like speech, which is, of course, spoken. That requires a speaker (material) who uses parts of body (material) to modulate the passage of air (material) from lungs (material). It’s the same if we (material) put up a road sign (material), by the side of a road (material). You need that materialization, that manifestation. Now, of course, none of that makes any sense (what is speech besides modulation of the passage of air to make sounds? what is a road sign besides something made out of metal with some paint or tape on it?) unless we take the semiotic side into account. We need to understand a lot more behind it, what has been said and done before, the semiotic side of it, to make sense of any of it, but that doesn’t negate the importance of the material side of it.

Guattari provides us another good word that also conveys what we are here. In his book ‘Lines of Flight: For Another World of Possibilities’ (2016 translation by Goffey), he (18) calls it incarnation. He (17-18) uses it in a regilious context, when explaining how the role of Christianity, namely Catholicism, shifted from how it was when the Roman Empire existed to how it was in the Middle Ages. He (17-18) notes how during the Roman times Christian places of worship were these dark candlelight lit unground places where people could barely see anything, whereas in the Middle Ages these grand cathedrals were constructed, with light beaming in, glistening metals and jewels, iconographic stained glass and impressive liturgies, and the like. The point he (18) wants to get across is that not only was the world constructed differently (materially), but it was also understood differently (semiotically) in different eras. In addition, the constructions (material) played a role in shifting that understanding of the world (semiotic), as Christianity could not appear to people in the same way in these two very different settings (material). In his (17-18) words:

“[T]he abbey at Saint-Denis, for example, … assembles [agence] a collective semiotisation, an incarnation … of the relation of God to men and to royalty.”

In other words, Christianity is not and was not this abstract thing that remained fixed. It’s also not like it just happened to be case that people had these different places of worship at different times. Yes, people probably did initially gather in those dark places because that was their only option and then moved into better venues, those well lit cathedrals, when they had the opportunity to do so. Now, of course, those buildings weren’t there already, just waiting to be moved into. Plus, it’s not either the case that people just suddenly opted to build such grand buildings. Instead, you have that constant interplay of the two, the material and the semiotic. There’s that, sure, but that’s not exactly what here is after here. His point is that Christianity itself transformed (semiotically) as it was incarnated in the grand architecture (materially).

In any case, if you know your Hjelmslev, you might object to Guattari’s mapping of his net, because it appears that you no longer need to go from substance of content to form of content in order to get to form of expression, which allows access to the substance of expression. It’s clear that you can go from substance to form, yes, and, in reverse, from form to substance, inasmuch as we think it all happens simultaneously, immanently, as opposed to there being this one initial move or articulation, followed by another, and so on and so forth (the material tensors marked in blue would be otherwise indicated as going from F to Φ and U to T, in sequence, which would then make sense, fair enough, if you think of it that way), but the semiotic tensors marked in red may fool you to think that you can go from substance of content (F) to substance (T) and/or form of expression (U) without passing through the form of content (Φ). However, that’s not possible, as explained by Guattari in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’ (58):

“[A] principle of exclusion that forbids direct tensorial relations between, on the one hand, the consistencies of F and U and, on the other hand, the consistencies T and Φ.”

What’s still different from Hjelmslev is that it is or at least it appears that you can go from one substance to the other, considering that this constraint only applies to directly crossing over from substance of content (F) to form of expression (U) and from substance of expression (T) to form of content (Φ). In a sense, that is true, but when you get into the details, when you look at the entities and the tensors, you’ll notice that you can cross over from content to expression through the sign-function (the overlapping area) through the semiotic tensors (marked in red), and to get to one or the other, the form of content or the form of expression, you’ll need to go from the semiotic entities to the pragmatic entities (synapses) through the pragmatic tensors (marked in purple). That’s the only way you’ll get back to the material entities, through those pragmatic entities. This is the point he (60, 62) makes about the first level being inaccessible to us. What happens on that level is always merely mediated to us.

You might also be tempted to point out that you can’t go from expression to content, and I would agree. That said, that only applies if we look at one instance, where you have some content for some expression. We also need to consider how an expression can function as content to another expression. His (60) map takes that into account, so, yeah, you can do that, as he (59) points out. It makes sense. This has to do with how the content is deemed to pertain to the given and the expression to the giving, as he explained by him (58-60).

I’ve reworked his (60) mappings a bit here (XV), combining the one where he maps the entities and the tensors with the one where he indicates that there is an intrinsic systemic referent that corresponds to the given (the circle first from the left), and an intrinsic structural referent that corresponds to the giving (the circle first from the right). I wanted to combine the two mappings here because I think it helps to understand how, for him (59-60), the given is always given, how it always involves giving, which, in turn, always involves something that’s given. In other words, to understand the first level, you need to understand the second level and the third level, or, as he (60) puts it, you need to realize that systems and structures only make sense to us inasmuch as they are “mediatized by tensors of discursivity” (semiotic tensors) or “by Assemblage synapses” (pragmatic entities).

This way of mapping the process is pretty difficult, which is certainly a disadvantage, aye, but it does have advantages over the presenting it as a net. While the net is simplistic and gives a good idea of how it all comes together, it may come across as very linear, going from one thing to another and that’s it. Of course, if you know that a content is, in itself, an expression, and that an expression can be content for another expression, you’ll get the point. No problem. That said, if you don’t know that, you may miss the point.

Guattari (57) comments on this difficulty, noting that, on one hand, you have these three levels of unconscious that are distinct and autonomous, and, on the other hand, the entities presuppose one another, operating through one another and even transforming one another, albeit, I guess, indirectly, at arm’s length, because, well, they do remain distinct and autonomous.

In my opinion, the major advantage is presenting it all on one plane, whereas presenting it as the net, so that you have the content plane and the expression plane, tempts you to think that there are two planes. It is certainly bewildering at first, before you read the text, again and again, to make sense of it, bit by bit, but once you understand it all, all those terms he uses, entities, tensors, and what not, you learn to appreciate it. I did, anyway.

Sure, good luck trying to use that presentation in an article, hahahaha, because there simply isn’t going to be the space for you to explain how it works. More is more, more complexity involves more complexity. This is why a net like presentation might work better in certain contexts. Then again, I might be wrong about that. I mean, Hjelmslev’s net does its job, aight, but it does require considerable familiarity with his work or with someone else’s takes of it.

Anyway, to add a further layer of complexity to this, it’s time to move on to valence. Guattari (65-66) states that there are bivalent codings and orderings, trivalent synapses and tetravalent synapses.

  • Bivalent codings and orderings = conjunction of two (afferent) surplus tensors
  • Effect of extrinsic coding (left side) = ΔT and ΔU, having the consistency of F and Φ respectively as they are in these domains
  • Affect of extrinsic ordering (right side) = ΔF and Δϕ, having the consistency of T and U respectively as they are in these domains

He (65) exemplifies the Effects of extrinsic coding with “a ‘groundless’ perception of the order of delirium or hallucination” and the Affects of extrinsic ordering with “a ‘lived impression’ on an aesthetic, oneiric or mystical plane”. In any case, what’s worth noting here is that these codings (left side) and orderings (right side) are bivalent, which is a fancy way of saying that they are combinations of two elements. No more, no less.

  • Trivalent synapses = conjunction of two (afferent) surplus tensors (ΔT and ΔU or ΔF and Δϕ) and one (efferent) synaptic tensor (Et or At)
  • Systemically closed Effect (left side) = efferent synaptic tensor (Et) has the consistency of F
  • Systemically open Effect (left side) = efferent synaptic tensor (Et) has the consistency of Φ
  • Structurally closed Affect (right side) = efferent synaptic tensor (At) has the consistency of T
  • Structurally open Affect (right side) = efferent synaptic tensor (At) has the consistency of U

He (65) specifies the first two, noting that a systematically closed Effect is “an effect of enslavement in the cybernetic sense”, such as “a conditioned reflect system”, and that a systematically open Effect is “a system far from equilibrium”, such as a “micro-social system[] in which family therapy and network practices endeavor to intervene”.

He (65-66) also specifies the latter two, adding that a structurally closed Affect is, “for example, an ego, superego or ego ideal function” and that a structurally open Affect is, “for example, a ‘becoming’ animal, child, vegetable, cosmos” or the like.

If you are familiar with his work, with or without Deleuze, he is in favor of those open Effects and Affects. Why? Well, because they are, indeed, open, as in open-ended. He is certainly for the rhizome (abstract machines, Phylas) and becoming (nomadic subjectivity) and against machinic enslavement (continuous de/reterritorialization; the hallmark of capitalism) and being (social subjection).

  • Tetravalent synapses = intrinsic coding effects and systemic synapses, both open and closed, or extrinsic ordering Affects and structural synapses, both open and closed

To make more sense of this, when you combine something that is bivalent (two elements combined) with two synapses (one that is open and one that is closed, one plus one), you get tetravalence (four elements combined).

To summary this “game of taking consistency”, as he (66) calls it, you have all these entities, tensors and synapses, material, semiotic and pragmatic, that explain what an assemblage is or, rather, how it works. He (66) also notes that an assemblage can be polarized, either favoring persistence (from left to right), the virtualization of an Affect or transistence (from right to left), the actualization of an Effect.

  • Persistence = persistential virtual implosion (from plural to unary)
  • Transistence = transistential actual expansion (from unary to plural)

It’s worth adding here that while an assemblage can be highly polarized, it can never result in the removal of Affect or Effect, as pointed out by him (66). It’s like with Hjelmslev, how content and expression can never collapse into one another.

When it comes to taking consistency (of F, Φ, U or T), going from plural to unary, “[t]he more (intrinsic or acquired) consistency an Affect possesses at the degree zero of discursivity”, going from unary to plural, “the more consistency the differentiated Effect, with which it is assembled, is in position to acquire”, as explained by him (66). In other words, the more the consistency you have as a given, the more consistency the giving can have. So, yeah, more can get you more than less, and, conversely, less can get you less than more, as he (66) also points out.

He (67) calls this crossing over both ways, from content to expression and back, from the given to giving and back to given, the double movement of the affectation and effectuation of consistencies, which, I reckon, is his more sophisticated take on double articulation. You will like it if you want something better than Hjelmslev’s net, something that doesn’t appear to stop, but you’ll hate it if you think that this just adds unnecessary complexity.

What else is there

I was quite doubtful of this, how it’ll pan out, not to mention whether I can make sense of it, which I think I now can, but, yeah, I reckon it did pan out alright. It does question what we are used to, hierarchical and linear models, which is what he wants to accomplish with it, as he (67) points out.

I think I have to emphasize how reluctant I was to go through this. I mean, it is a very difficult book. That said, challenging myself, immersing myself in his jargon, turned out to be very productive. Not only did it help me to better understand his and Deleuze’s take on Hjelmslev, it also led to read and write on all kinds of interesting things that would never end up being published in anything ‘proper’, even though I kept this pretty clean. I mean, I was going go with ‘Axes, bloody axes!’ as one of the headings, but I went with something more ‘proper’ instead, just so that you who quit reading this essay, ages ago, never even getting to this point, being, you know, all ‘proper’, could continue reading, not having your feelings hurt by such impropriety.

His discussion of quantification was something that I particularly liked, because, like Baruch Spinoza, he gives it an interesting spin. I love how he is full on quantitative, and all nonchalant about it, which, I’m sure, angers a lot of people in the social sciences. The thing is, however, that he gives it the life it needs, which is exactly why I appreciate it. His discussion of the unconscious is also a highlight for me, because, like in his other works, he shifts our attention away from the subject, which would be the starting point in much of what it considered qualitative, to the production of subjectivity, which is, in his account, firmly quantitative, because it involves all those entities, material, semiotic and pragmatic, that are carried and transformed by the tensors. To combine those two, I just love the way he isn’t content with taking something as a given, but instead works his way, both vigorously and rigorously, to explain how the given is given, while also explaining how the given keeps on giving.

I may end up writing more on this book, but we’ll see what I get out of it. Maybe something, maybe nothing. We’ll see. In the meanwhile, I’ll try to go through this again, to fix some typos and other small blunders that I’m sure plague my essays. I don’t have a lot of time for such, but I try my best to fix those little things wherever I encounter them in these essays, in case you’ve ever wondered how a typo from 2020 has been fixed. It’s likely that I checked some reference, these being kind of like my own notes, only notice a small typo, so I’ve fixed it on the fly.

All systems go

Okay, so finally, let’s do this. Let’s cover Félix Guattari’s ‘Machine and Structure’, which appears at least in two of his compilations, ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’ published in 1984 and ‘Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971’ published in 2015 (both translations by Rosemary Sheed). I’ll be referring to the latter, in case you wonder about the pagination. Now I’ve mentioned all kinds of things about it already and hyped it so much that I can’t be bothered to do that again. Instead, let’s get to it.

The great thing about this text is that the crucial things are already indicated in the title: machine and structure. From this you should already be able to figure out that they are not the same. That said, while they are distinct, they are, nonetheless, inseparable, as he (318) points out:

“I want therefore to make it clear that I am putting into parentheses the fact that, in reality, a machine is inseparable from its structural articulations and, conversely, that each contingent structure is dominated (and this is what I want to demonstrate) by a system of machines, or at the very least by one logic machine.”

It’s also worth noting here that this works both ways. So, on one hand, a machine is tied to its structural or, should I say, structured articulations, but, on the other hand, a structure is structured by a machine or, rather, a set of machines which act in concert. In addition, there are various logic machines. Now, I can’t be sure, but something tells me that what he means by machines here is what he and Gilles Deleuze later came to refer to as desiring machines and assemblages. I also think that the logic machines are what they came to refer to as abstract machines.

I think it’s also worth noting here how he explains this in terms of structure or structures, as opposed to stratum or strata, which makes sense, given that, unless I’m mistaken, this before he was familiar with Hjelmslev’s work. My general understanding is that he and Deleuze got a bit allergic to using the word structure, not because it couldn’t or wouldn’t work for them, I don’t think it’s that, but rather because it had that structuralist baggage to it, because it made people think of it in ways that simply didn’t mesh with their train of thought. It reeked of totality and transcendence, I guess.

Anyway, Guattari further elaborates what he means by machine and structure. He (381) adds in the notes that he defines structure as Deleuze uses it (or used it) in his work (this being an early work that comments other early work, namely ‘Difference and Repetition’ and ‘The Logic of Sense’), as about generality, having these positions of exchange, which allows the exchange or substitution of elements. In other words, I guess we could say that, for him, a structure is entirely relational. To be more specific, he (382) states that, firstly:

“Two heterogeneous series, one defined as the signifier, the other as the signified.”

Again, note how this is an early text. He hasn’t familiarized himself with the works of Hjelmslev. So, instead of referring to them as the form of expression and the form of content, he is referring to them as the signifier and the signified. Secondly (382):

“Series one (signifier) and series two (signified) only exist if both exist at the same time.”

This is also applicable in his (or their) subsequent Hjelmslevian take on this, how he and Deleuze (57) insist, for example, in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that content and expression are always in a reciprocal presupposition, i.e., how does not appear without the other. So, in summary, combining these two, for there to be a structure of sorts, what they refer to as stratification in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, there needs to be content and expression which never appear in isolation.

He (381-382) contrasts structure with machine, noting that it is, in turn, about the order of repetition that pertains to what is non-exchangeable and singular, as opposed exchangeable and general. In other words, machine is never simply explainable as the sum of this and/or that, as these and/or those parts, as like a list of interchangeable components, but as that which makes this this and not that, and that that and not this, even though, at a glance, they may appear to be identical.

So, for example, we can two things, let’s say something mass produced like pens, which consist of certain parts that are interchangeable. This means that we can disassemble them and reassemble them as we see fit, without there being any noticeable difference to us. We could say that they are virtually the same, even if we swap parts between them, and even if we introduce more of those pens to swap more parts between them and the newly introduced pens, but they are not actually the same and never will be, no matter how we swap the parts. They will always remain different. Each pen is certainly composed of a number of parts that are, in this case, interchangeable, but each of them is a composition that retains it singularity, as this or that pens, regardless of the composition.

This might be difficult to understand, but the point here is that it is that composition of parts that give them their singularity, how they come together in this or that way, which is never exactly the same as it is with the others. Now, you may wish to object to this, noting that ah, but aren’t the parts identical? Well, sure, if we assume that the parts themselves are actually the same, not merely virtually the same. The thing is, however, that that’s never actually the case. Nothing is actually the same, nor does anything remain actually the same, except difference itself, which leads us to where Guattari got this idea.

Deleuze explains this quite neatly in ‘Difference and Repetition’. He (1) starts by stating that:

“Repetition is not generality.”

He (1) reinforces this statement by taking issue with, one one hand, common sense and, on the other hand, science:

“Every formula which implies their confusion is regrettable: for example, when we say that two things are as alike as two drops of water; or when we identify ‘there is only a science of the general’ with ‘there is only a science of that which is repeated’.”

Now, as you can see for yourself, he (1) laments on how there is this tendency, tied to the dominant image of thought, i.e., way of thinking, to mix repetition with resemblance. To be fair, he (1) does go on to give science its fair shake:

“[G]enarality expresses a point of view according to which one term may be exchanged or substituted for another. The exchange or substitution of particulars defines our conduct in relation to generality. That is why the empiricists are not wrong to present general ideas as particular ideas in themselves, so long as they add the belief that each of these can be replaced by another rother particular idea which resembles it in relation to a given word.”

This is what he (1) means by exchange and how one thing can qualitatively resemble another thing or be quantitatively equivalent to another. There is this exchange or substitution that Guattari also mentions in his text.

That said, that being all well and good for Deleuze, he (1) still objects to equating repetition with resemblance. Why is that? Well, the problem for him (1) is that:

“By contrast, we can see that repetition is a necessary and justified conduct only in relation to that which cannot be replaced.”

Now you must be thinking like: wait what? Don’t worry, he (1) goes on to further explain this:

“Repetition as a conduct and as a point of view concerns non-exchangeable and non-substitutable singularities.”

If this feel familiar to you, it’s because I’ve already kind of covered this, because Guattari is building on this, quite evidently, in explicit reference to this book. Anyway, Deleuze (1) exemplifies this:

“Reflections, echoes, doubles and souls do not belong to the domain of resemblance or equivalence; and it is no more possible to exchange one’s soul than it is to substitute real twins for one another.”

Again, you might be tempted to think that a reflection is about resemblance. Your mirror image is certainly like you, and I think he would agree with that, but the thing is that you cannot exchange yourself with your mirror image, nor anything else with its mirror image, for that matter. It’s the same with an echo. You cannot substitute the sound with the echo. They are not the same, which is why it is so fun to shout in places where you get a proper echo. It sounds nothing like you. The echo has its own singularity. I don’t know if anyone would be dumb enough to suggest that the echo is your voice, because it isn’t. The soul is also rather obvious. You literally cannot swap a soul with another soul, because that’s literally what’s considered to be singular about something, it’s soul! I’m not sure about what he means by doubles, but he does make a good point with the twins. You literally can’t swap one with the other in hopes of it being the same, because, duh, it isn’t, not even if the twins are identical. That’s exactly what he means by singularity.

He (1) summarizes this by adding that:

“If exchange is the of generality, theft and gift are those of repetition. There is, therefore, an economic difference between the two.”

Ah yes, couldn’t put it better myself. Just think of it. In the first instance, it’s all about the exchange, about interchangeability. You replace this with that. In the second instance, it’s about giving or taking. There’s no back and forth. If I give you my pen, I no longer have that pen, my pen. Sure, it’s just a pen, fair enough, and I can easily replace it with another pen, which is why a pen is, generally speaking, not a great gift, unless, unless, of course, there is something highly specific about it, some very me about it that you appreciate. It has that singularity. To be honest, even if its not very me, to you, as general as it might be, it does have its singularity. We are just in the habit of overlooking it. That’s why his (1) twin example is so good. If someone you know is taken away from you, let’s say, kidnapped, comatosed or killed, it’s not like that person’s twin can simply substitute in his or her absence.

But what does he mean by theft and gift pertaining to repetition? Well, if you take or give something, the act is repeated, but not what is taken or given. Conversely, if you exchange something, there is no repetition, only resemblance. How to put that in another way? If you swap something with something else, that’s synchronic, whereas if you take or give something, it’s diachronic. If that confuses you, I think I may have failed you and it’s better to have him (1) explain it to you:

“To repeat is to behave in a certain manner, but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent.”

To give you an example, that, somehow, I think I may have already used in the past, think of an athlete. What is training? Well, usually training is considered to involve repetitions or, in short, reps. What are they? We are tempted to think that they are monotonous drills in which the same is repeated and, in a sense, that is correct. It is, however, not the same action that is repeated, but the drill itself that is repeated. What do I mean by this? Right, so, it’s the drill that is repeated, but the idea of the drill is to change you, to make you better in some way. If you wouldn’t change between the reps, if you performed the drill the same way, each time, the notion of reps would be pointless. Get it?

He (1) exemplifies this with festivals.

“This is the apparent paradox of festivals: they repeat an ‘unrepeatable’. They do not add a second and a third time to the first, but carry the first time to the ‘nth’ power.”

And, to add a bit more specificity to that example, he (1) adds that:

“With respect to this power, repetition interiorizes and thereby reverses itself: as Péguy says, it is not Federation Day which commemorates or represents the fall of the Bastille, but the fall of the Bastille which celebrates and repeats in advance all the Federation Days; or Monet’s first water lily which repeats all the others.”

If that makes no sense to you, think of any contemporary festival. The festival is never the same as it was before. I mean, why would it even strive for that? What would be the point of a festival that had the same place, the same time, the same lineup, the same schedule, the same everything? The odd thing is, however, that if you’ve been to that festival, you’ve been to that festival, no matter when it was. It’s the same, but different.

Anyway, he (1) summarizes this:

“Generality, as generality of the particular, thus stands opposed to repetition as universality of the singular.”

And that (2):

“Repetition can always be ‘represented’ as extreme resemblance or perfect equivalence, but the fact that one can pass by degrees from one thing to another does not prevent their being different in kind.”

So that (2):

“The head is the organ of exchange, but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition.”

Now, to be clear, this bit is a bit too cutesy for my taste, as it kinda repeats an old adage that has it that we think with our brain, which is considered to be the right thing to do, think, think, always think, and act with our heart, which is considered the wrong thing to do, because it doesn’t involve thought, but, okay, I get it. It’s about just going with it, not thinking about it. It’s what I’d call intuition. You just sort of know it, just like that, and there’s no need to think it over. That’s why he (2) adds that:

“It is true that repetition also concerns the head, but precisely because it is its terror or paradox.”

He (2) then moves on to note that the problem with generality is that results in “an empty form of difference” or in “invariable form of variation.” If you are familiar with sociolinguistics, you’ll note how he is trying to give variation its due. Generality presents variation as something that is subordinated to a constant. So, instead of constants and variants or variables, as he (2) calls them here, there’s just variation, a bounded infinity, which, of course, in terms of generality, appears to us as a great of number of varieties.

To exemplify this, he (3) explains how scientific experiments get this wrong:

“[E]xperimentation constitutes relatively closed environments in which phenomena are defined in terms of a small number of chosen factors (a minimum of two – for example, Space and Time for the movement of bodies in a vacuum).”

To which he (3) adds that the problem is that:

“Consequently, there is no reason to question the application of mathematics to physics: physics is already mathematical, since the closed environments or chosen factors also constitute systems of geometrical co-ordinates. In these conditions, phenomena necessarily appear as equal to a certain quantitative relation between the chosen factors.”

The point here being that in such experiment, you’ve already set the rules, i.e., the laws, according to which you experiment something, but aren’t willing to admit it. Simply put, this amounts to cheating. Here physics is piggybacking on mathematics, as he (3) points out. He (3) continues:

“Experimentation is thus a matter of substituting one order of generality for another: an order of equality for an order of resemblance. Resemblances are unpacked in order to discover an equality which allows the identification of a phenomenon under the particular conditions of the experiment.

Which, for him (3) means that:

“Repetition appears here only in the passage from one order of generality to another, emerging with the help of – or on the occasion of – this passage. It is as if repetition momentarily appeared between or underneath the two generalities.”

But, he (3) isn’t buying this:

“[T]here is a risk of mistaking a difference in kind for a difference of degree.”

So, in summary, for him, the problem is that difference is primary, and identity is merely secondary, but this ends up turned on its head. To really hammer this home, he (3) adds that:

“For generality only represents and presupposes a hypothetical repetition: ‘given the same circumstances, then…’.”

Ah, yes, there is that presupposition, what I called cheating. You aren’t really starting from scratch. You aren’t really experimenting. Instead, you presuppose this and/or that, so that repetition, this and/or that has the appearance of occurring in the same way, i.e., this resembling that. Anyway, he (3) continues:

“This formula says that in similar situations one will always be able to select and retain the same factors, which represent the being-equal of the phenomena.”

In other words, this is about repetition, but about attempting to explain it by subordination it to resemblance, as he (3) goes on to add:

“This, however, does not account for what gives rise to repetition, nor for what is categorical or important for repetition in principle[.]”

As that can be a bit difficult to grasp, he (3) clarifies that by noting that:

“[W]hat is important in principle is ‘n’ times as the power of a single time, without the need to pass through a second or a third time.”

Note here how it’s about a single time, about singularity, not about multiple times, not about assessing the singular through a definite number of factors and thus subordinating it to generality. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ when they (24) reject the opposition between the one and the multiple:

“Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities!”

Which they (32) elaborate:

“Let us return to the story of multiplicity, for the creation of this substantive marks a very important moment. It was created precisely in order to escape the abstract opposition between the multiple and the one, to escape dialectics, to succeed in conceiving the multiple in the pure state, to cease treating it as a numerical fragment of a lost Unity or Totality or as the organic element of a Unity or Totality yet to come, and instead distinguish between different types of multiplicity.”

I’ll get to multiplicity in a bit, but, to further elaborate this, they (21) note that:

“[It] is reducible neither to the One nor the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five, etc. It is not a multiple derived from the One, or to which One is added (n + 1).”

Their (21) point here being that:

“[T]he One is always subtracted (n – 1).”

So that (7):

“[T]he only way the one belongs to the multiple: always subtracted[.]”

In other words, multiplicity or singularity deals with something that can’t be explained as one or multiple. There is no reference to something that it is not. It is what it is. It’s not an image of something, which the one and the many presuppose, as they (16) point out.

To explain multiplicity, in relation to singularity, the point here is that singularity is multiplicity, kind of like one and the many being the same thing, one always consisting of many, which consist of many, without any general unity of one which is subdivisible to the many, or the multiple, whatever you want to call it. They (99) exemplify this, as well as the previous point I made about variation being about variation, not about constants and variants or variables:

“It is possible to take any linguistic variable and place it in variation following a necessarily virtual continuous line between two of its states.”

Note here how they (99) work with the terms. Here they start with rejecting the constants and variables by noting that variable is not tied to a constant but to variation itself. In other words, a variant or a variable is not tied to a constant, according to which it deviates from it to this and/or that extent. This means that we are dealing with variables or varieties whenever we are dealing with variation. They (99) exemplify this:

“Agrammaticality, for example, is no longer a contingent characteristic of speech opposed to the grammaticality of language; rather, it is the ideal characteristic of a line placing grammatical variables in a state of continuous variation.”

The point here is that what we think as ungrammatical is tied to something that presuppose as grammatical, i.e., as something that we think is a constant. This is that point about cheating that I mentioned earlier. They (99) continue:

“In spite of [Nicolas] Ruwet’s structural interpretation, we should avoid taking the view that the atypical expression is produced by the successive correct forms.”

Note how they are going against structure here. Like Guattari (318) points out, structures are there, yes, but they are always contingent. They never fixed. Why? Because they are always dominated by the set of machines and at least one logic machine, as he (318) points out. Deleuze and Guattari (99) also point this out:

“It is instead the atypical expression that produces the placing-in-variation of the correct forms, uprooting them from their state as constants.”

Simply put, no constants, only variables in continuous variation, which produces contingent structures, what they (100) like to call optional rules, as opposed to invariable or obligatory rules. Okay, okay, sure, we may reckon that rules are invariable or obligatory, that you cannot get around them, but, well, they’d (99-100) counter that by noting that they only appear as such, for now, until they don’t, which means that they are merely contingent or optional in the broader scheme of things, only appearing as invariable or obligatory in a certain context. This is why they (99) argue that:

“It assures an intensive and chromatic treatment of language.”

As neatly exemplified by their (99) treatment of something as simple as the conjunction ‘and’:

“An expression as simple as AND … can play the role of tensor for all of language. In this sense, AND is less a conjunction than the atypical expression of all of the possible conjunctions it places in continuous variation.”

Now, you’ll be puzzled by what they (99) mean by tensor. Let’s start with a dictionary definition (OED, s.v. “tensor”, n.), which tells us that it is a term borrowed from mathematics:

“An abstract entity represented by an array of components that are functions of co-ordinates such that, under a transformation of co-ordinates, the new components are related to the transformation and to the original components in a definite way.”

They (99) elaborate their take rather briefly:

“The tensor effects a kind of transitivization of the phrase, causing the last term to react upon the preceding term, back through the entire chain.”

To which they (99-100) add that:

“[T]hey are pragmatic values essential to both assemblages of enunciation and indirect discourses.”

They don’t really provide a clear-cut definition of what tensors are, but they (141) certainly link them to tension and intensity. They (511) also refer to them as nonformal functions. This doesn’t help us much.

In their book on Franz Kafka, ‘Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature’ (translation by Dana Polan), they (23) refer to them as intensives, which, by all logic, means that they are not extensives, i.e., they lack form, even though, I’d say, that they act upon form or, rather, within form, within all that is extensive, segmented, articulated or stratified. They (22) also state that:

“[W]e might call the linguistic elements, however varied they may be, that express the “internal tension of a language” intensives or tensors.”

So, simply put, tensors are what express internal tension. A tensor is what get us outside the structure, for example in language, providing room for creativity, as they explain this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (99):

“[I]t causes language to tend toward the limit of its elements, forms, or notions, toward a near side or a beyond of language.”

And in ‘Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature’ (22):

“It is this sense that the linguist Vidal Sephiha terms intensive “any linguistic tool that allows a move toward the limit of a notion or a surpassing of it,” marking a movement of language toward its extremes, toward a reversible beyond or before.”

Here they (93) refer to Sephiha’s article ‘Introduction à l’étude de l’intensif’ published in ‘Langages’ in 1970. I’m not going to get stuck on this, at least not now, but what I find interesting about it is how he (114-115) notes that the intensive, what Deleuze and Guattari call the tensor, covers everything, including but not limited to “reinforcement, emphasis, superlative” and “expressiveness”. He (115) clarifies this by stating the this has to do with how, for example, we can have different intensities of ‘loving’, such as ‘adoring’ or ‘worshipping’. If you’ve ended up worshipping someone, it clearly surpasses the notion ‘adoring’ or, in general ‘loving’. There is another interesting bit in the text where he (118) states that this is not all there is to this as words can change meaning, i.e., in what sense we understand them, but retain that intensity. He (118) uses the example of bikini, which used to be about a large explosion, as a dictionary (OED, s.v. “bikini”, n.) will tell you (in refence to the Bikini atoll, where atomic bomb tests were carried out), but it (OED, s.v. “bikini”, n.) is nowadays understood as “[a] scanty two-piece beach garment worn by women.” It can, however, also lose that intensity, like it did with bikini or atom, originally trademarked for that purpose, for that intensity, to make a bang, if you will, and it did, albeit only to lose some of that impact as it gained popularity, to the point that misconstrued its origins, as noted by him (118).

Deleuze and Guattari (93) mention in their Kafka book that they got the term tensor from Jean-François Lyotard’s work, where it is used “to indicate the connection of intensity and libido.” He deals with it in his book ‘Libidinal Economy’ (1993 translation by Iain Hamilton Grant). There’s a handy glossary, in which it is stated that by, I presume, the translator (xiii-xiv) that Lyotard uses it to counter “most directly the nihilism he takes to be inherent in all semiotics (structuralism in particular), the issue being that there is a certain semiotic or structuralist subordination of intensities, e.g., actions or emotions, to a lack whenever one approaches them in Saussurean terms. It is noted that (xiv):

“The sign refers, or defers itself, to an elsewhere, constitutively replacing something (absent) for someone.”

This is the problem with signification, as also noted by Deleuze and Guattari (112) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“There is a simple general formula for the signifying regime of the sign (the signifying sign): every sign refers to another sign, and only to another sign, ad infinitum.”

In other words, signs end up on an infinite deferral, so that everything is just a representation of something else, hence the nihilism opposed by Lyotard. They (112) continue:

“That is why, at the limit, one can forgo the notion of the sign, for what is retained is not principally the sign’s relation to a state of things it designates, or to an entity it signifies, but only the formal relation of sign to sign insofar as it defines a so-called signifying chain.”

So, in this configuration, what you have is not a sign, signifier and signified, but endless signification or a signifying chain. They (112) further clarify their position:

“When denotation (here, designation and signification taken together) is assumed to be part of connotation, one is wholly within this signifying regime of the sign.”

To be clear, this is how language works, no doubt about it. This is, however, only part of the story. I think that you should mash denotation and connotation together, making no distinction between them as argued by Valentin Vološinov (102) in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’. That said, you should retain these notions in order to indicate that denotation has to do with usual or central meanings, whereas connotation has to do occasional or peripheral meanings under certain conditions. There is nothing given about them. That’s the point.

Deleuze and Guattari (112) explain what’s missing here, that other part of the story:

“Not much attention is paid to indexes, in other words, the territorial states of things constituting the designatable.”

Note here how they object to ignoring the things, what it is that we point to, what it is that is supposedly signified. Anyway, they (112) continue:

“Not much attention is paid to icons, that is, operations of reterritorialization constituting the signifiable.”

Here the object to how there’s this tendency to not only ignore what it is that we point to, but also the underlying process that allows us to point to something that is then, supposedly, signified. They (112) still have something to say about this:

“Thus the sign has already attained a high degree of relative deterritorialization; it is thought of as a symbol in a constant movement of referral from sign to sign.”

So, in Peircean terms, it just all about the symbols, while ignoring the indexes and icons. They (112) explain this in Saussurean terms:

“The signifier is the sign in redundancy with the sign.”

This means that it’s just signifier that a signifier signifies, which is why they (112) reiterate that:

“All signs are signs of signs.”

And, to be more elaborate about this (112):

“The question is not yet what a given sign signifies but to which other signs it refers, or which signs add themselves to it to form a network without beginning or end that projects its shadow onto an amorphous atmospheric continuum.”

For them (112), this means:

“The atmospherization or mundanization of contents. Contents are abstracted.”

They (112) clarify this by noting that the signified has no content, i.e., it lacks its referent, that index or icon, so that, oddly enough, the signifier never signifies anything signifiable. For them (112) this results in a paradox:

“The sign that refers to other signs is struck with a strange impotence and uncertainty, but mighty is the signifier that constitutes the chain.”

It’s like you need to know, so that you know, but once you think you know, you realize that, after all, you don’t know, which makes you want to know, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. They (112) a number of examples of how, following Claude Lévi-Strauss (61), in his ‘Introduction to the work of Marcel Mauss (1987 translation by Fecility Baker)’, “the world begins to signify before anyone knows what it signifies”, so that “the signified is given without being known”: a woman who looks at her husband with a certain expression, a mailman crossing his fingers after handing over a letter from tax authorities, stepping in dog shit, seeing two sticks that look like they are clock hands and someone whispering at the office. What does any of that mean?

Their (112) answer to that is that it doesn’t matter what it means, because can’t know what it means as meaning is always deferred. It’s like yeah, but…? The tragedy of this is exactly that, the deferral of meaning, as they (113) point out. It’s a loop, as they (113) go on to add:

“A sign refers to another sign, into which it passes and which carries it into still other signs.”

So that (113):

“Not only do signs form an infinite network, but the network of signs is infinitely circular.”

So, yeah, it’s a loop alright and it has that “hint of the eternal return”, but, yes, only a hint of it, like they (133) put it. It’s like a botched version of the eternal return, where what keeps returning is more of the same, as it fails to be a creative force, as Deleuze (xi-xii) points out in ‘Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983 translation by Hugh Tomlinson).

Right, back to Lyotard’s ‘Libidinal Economy’ in which it is indicated (xiv) that he wishes “to reintroduce into the sign a tension”, i.e., the tensor, “that prevents it from having either a unitary designation, meaning or calculable series of such designations or meanings (polysemia)”, in “an attempt to block this movement of referral and remain as faithful as possible to the incompossible intensities informing and exceeding the sign.” It is also clarified (xiv) that it should not be mistaken for what Lyotard calls a dispositif.

What is a dispositif or a dispositive? Well, it really depends on who you ask. According to the same glossary that is included in this book, for Lyotard, it is (x) a combination of dis and positif or positive. It is stated (x) that positif or positive is about the production or the positing of libidinal investment, whereas the dis is about the disparity and the exclusion that is produced. Together, you have (x) this “disposition to invest, a cathexis.” If we look at some dictionary definitions of it (OED, s.v. “dispositive”, adj.), we get a better idea:

“That has the quality of disposing or inclining: often opposed to effective, and so nearly = preparatory, conducive, contributory[.]”

And (OED, s.v. “dispositive”, adj.):

“Having the quality or function of directing, controlling, or disposing of something; relating to direction, control, or disposal.”

It can also be used as a noun (OED, s.v. “dispositive”, n.):

“Something that disposes or inclines[.]”

It is also worth distinguishing it from disposition (OED, s.v. “disposition”, n.):

“The action or faculty of disposing, the condition of being disposed.”

And, more specifically (OED, s.v. “disposition”, n.):

“The action of setting in order, or condition of being set in order; arrangement, order; relative position of the parts or elements of a whole.”

In more specific uses, such as in architecture, in military and in naval contexts, it (OED, s.v. “disposition”, n.), it pertains to some sort of an arrangement, a schematic or a plan, how something is to be arranged, administered, allocated, constituted, distributed, or destined to be, as well as how they are or tend to be, as in disposed or inclined to be in a certain way.

For Lyotard (xiv), dispositifs or dispositives are what make signs possible in the first place. Tensors are also not signs, but signs are also tensors or, rather, what conceal or disguise them (xiv).

I’d love to stay on the dispositifs or dispositives, to investigate how Lyotards’ definition differs from Michel Foucault’s definition, but I’ll leave that for another day as that seems like a lot of work, having to do with works that are only in French and/or not available to me right now. Anyway, I haven’t fully explained Lyotard’s take on tensors, so I’ll switch back to it.

The translator (xxi) indicates in his introduction that proper names are tensors. Some of them are low intensity tensors, meaning that they are capable of “attracting to themselves phrases belonging to different regimens and to heterogeneous genres of discourse”, whereas high intensity tensors are capable of doing much more, “melting fragments that never were a totality into unheard of configurations”, which he (xxi) reckons infuriates “logicians and other nihilists” as it “is the name of impropriety.”

What about Lyotard’s own take? Well, before I delve deeper into this book, I think it’s worth noting here what he himself has to say about proper names and tensors. He (55) indicates a thing that puzzles smart people like Gottlob Frege and Bertrand Russell:

“It is primarily of this name that … poses the logician a problem since it refers in principle to a single reference and does not appear to be exchangeable against other terms in the logico-linguistic structure: there is no intra-systemic equivalent of the proper name, it points towards the outside like a deictic, it has no connotation, or it is interminable.”

Indeed, that’s the thing with proper names. They mess up generality as they are not mutually exchangeable. It’s like with the twins. This Mike is not the same Mike as that Mike. He (55) notes that the logicians like to think they’ve got it when they explain it as a matter of existence, but he isn’t buying it. This is because a name does not just someone’s name, indicating someone’s existence, but their singularity, as he (56) goes on to point out. Mike is Mike, in his singularity, to me and someone who knows Mike and it doesn’t matter how we know Mike and what Mike is to me or to that other person, or to someone else. The intensity of that tensor sign may vary, of course, because that’s how singularity works.

Anyway, moving on, I think he (27) puts it quite well by stating that:

“The symptom, or at least the syndrome, will be able to be read, analysed and reconstituted as a structure, a stable composition of elements; intense passages, tensors, are then no longer singularities, they take on value, as elements, from their continuation, from their opposition, from a metonymy without end.”

Note how explaining things in terms of structure ends up making it all static, as he (27) goes on to add:

“The unconscious is structured like a language, let’s speak of it in this way, that’s all it demands. It is in fact, and is only so when intensities are in decline, when the incandescence of the bar makes way for the glow of what is discriminating, when the dream is exchanged for the dream­narrative, when the traveller has just lain down and sold images for an ear which would relieve him of them.”

What’s worth noting here is that the unconscious is not structured like a language, as, I believe, Jacques Lacan would put it, but it is libidinal or machinic, as Guattari would put it. As he (27) points here, it is structured like a language, but only inasmuch as we let it be defined in such a way that cuts it off from desire or constitute desire as a lack.

He (43-94) a who chapter of his book to tensors, but I’ll leave it up to you to read it, unless, one day, I get around to covering it. I’ll just riff on it, including what I find interesting about it. Anyway, he (43) starts by taking a stance against signification, not unlike Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. The problem for him (43) is that hollowing, that substitution, replacement or exchange, which results in “anything but references”, so that there’s that infinite deferral of meaning. That in turn ends up explained by a so-called great signifier, which is never there, always absent, hence my earlier remark of defining desire as a lack. Deleuze and Guattari (306) also point this out in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1983 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane):

“For a structural unity is imposed on the desiring-machines that joins them together in a molar aggregate; the partial objects are referred to a totality that can appear only as that which the partial objects lack, and as that which is lacking unto itself while being lacking in them (the Great Signifier ‘symbolizable by the inherency of a -1 in the ensemble of signifiers’).”

Unless I’m mistaken, the great signifier is the same as the master signifier as it also invokes lack. In their (208) words:

“But this master signifier remains what it was in ages past, a transcendent stock that distributes lack to all the elements of the chain, something in common for a common absence, the authority that channels all the breaks-flows into one and the same locus of one and the same cleavage: the detached object, the phallus-and-castration, the bar that delivers over all the depressive subjects to the great paranoiac king.”

They (208-209) refer to it as the despotic signifier, but what’s central to it is lack, something that was considered to be there, but no longer is, like “the empty tomb, the dead father, and the mystery of the name!”

Attributing this to Lacan, they (209) add that:

“Lacan accompanies the signifier back to its source, to its veritable origin, the despotic age, and erects an infernal machine that welds desire to the Law, because, everything considered … this is indeed the form in which the signifier is in agreement with the unconscious, and the form in which it produces effects of the signified in the unconscious.”

So that, oddly enough (209):

“The signified is precisely the effect of the signifier, and not what it represents or what it designates.”

What are these master signifiers then? Well, I think Deleuze and Guattari (208-209) put it quite aptly when they mention that it is a “transcendent stock” or a “transcendent signifier on which the [signifying] chain depends” or, rather, appears to depend. I think Mark Bracher provides some good examples of master-signifiers or “identity-bearing words”, as he (23) calls them in his 1993 book ‘Lacan, Discourse, and Social Change: A Psychoanalytic Cultural Criticism’. They could be anything, but they tend to be what people come to desire and ally themselves with, such as God, nature and society, as he (23-26) points out. The problem is that they are merely signifiers, just like any other signifiers, referring to other signifiers, as he (25) also points out. They are despotic because they are erected into a high position, i.e., given that transcendent status, ruling over every other signifier, which is great inasmuch as one desires one’s own repression, being defined in this way, as also noted by him (26), but not so great if you aren’t into that.

There is, however, a greater underlying problem. It’s already being implied, but, yeah, the whole logic of this is twisted. Note how the master signifier is not what is desirable, as it is just a signifier among signifiers, not higher or lower in status, but what come to find desirable, i.e., what they come to think as worth identifying with. Deleuze and Guattari (129-130) explains this quite neatly in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, noting that you have this doubled subject:

The subject of enunciation recoils into the subject of the statement, to the point that the subject of the statement resupplies subject of enunciation for another proceeding.”

As that is quite tightly packed, it’s worth letting them (129) further clarify this:

“The subject of the statement has become the ‘respondent’ or guarantor of the subject of enunciation, through a kind of reductive echolalia, in a biunivocal relation. This relation, this recoiling, is also that of mental reality into the dominant reality.”

The most messed up thing is that it’s all you! You are part of this process. You are at fault for the normalization of yourself, as they (129-130) point out, so that, paradoxically:

“[T]he more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself!”

Lyotard (48) also discusses this, noting how the ‘I’ is constituted as both the addressee, i.e., as the slave, and the addressor, i.e., the master who comes up with the codes and the procedure of decoding the messages. I don’t think he explains this that clearly, but, yeah, it’s there.

Simply put, giving primacy to certain signifiers, setting them up as master signifiers, gets you nowhere. You only end up being the master and the slave at the same time. What’s even more messed up is that, if didn’t already notice it, it’s not just you. It’s everyone! You didn’t come to this world, readymade. No, no. It was all already there. Sure, it has changed to some extent and you may have changed a thing or two, maybe, but that’s not much. This means that what you desire is not your desire, but what you’ve come to desire. It’s a fine distinction, but it is worth emphasizing. This is why, in the past, I have clearly indicated that people desire what they come to desire, not what they have chosen to desire.

Oh, and that really riles up people! Why? Well, because they take their autonomy for granted, because they’ve come to desire it, because it is a common master signifier. Bracher (26-27) also points this out, noting that when you point out their beloved master signifiers, what it is that they’ve come to identify with, what they’ve come to take as transcendent, as simply given, it produces a great deal of “alienation and anxiety” in them, as well as “responses of aggression”, including its immediate rejection, or indifference to it. He (26) is also dead on when he adds that you can test this quite easily by observing what happens when people insult us or, rather, when we take something as an insult, going against “our sexual, racial, ethnic, religious, class, or political identifications.”

The problem here is, however, and I think it’s worth adding, that genuine criticism of the whole logic ends up being mistaken for criticism of who they are, which it is not. It’s about going against the contemporarily relevant mixed regime of signs that relies on both signification and subjectification, as Deleuze and Guattari (129, 179) explain it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, so that the master signifiers come function as points of subjectification, as what one comes to identify with and, to be clear, is often expected to come to identify with. Simply put, it’s about opposing the way they’ve come to think, not what they think. It is also why the reaction tends to be so quick and aggressive. This explains what they (179) have to say about this:

“The mixed semiotic of signifiance and subjectification has an exceptional need to be protected from any intrusion from the outside.”

To which they (179) add that:

“In fact, there must not be any exterior: no nomad machine, no primitive polyvocality must spring up, with their combinations of heterogeneous substances of expression.”

Now, as already noted, what’s so tragic about this is that what people have come to desire, at any given moment, is not what they have chosen to desire. Bracher (27) points this out, noting that this is not about individual authority and, on top of that, whatever it is that you’ve come desire, that master signifier, is always linked to what else is considered desirable, that is to say a whole host of other master signifiers. He (27) uses the example of masculinity and how it is associated with strength, virility and large size, so that desiring it results in also desiring what’s linked to it. If that doesn’t convince you, his (27) example should. Think of what it is that you really subscribe to when you identify with a flag of your nationality.

Right, where was I? Tensors? Ah, yes, back to Lyotard (44) objects to all this by stating that:

“See what you have done: the material is immediately annihilated.”

Which is true. That is the crux of signification. It’s all signs, signs, signs, and the infinite deferral of meaning, as he (44-45) laments it. He is also right when he (45) argues that as there are, no longer, any simple givens, you know like God, all you have is that redundancy, that looping, that you need to stop somehow. That’s why, for him (45):

“There is no sign or thought of the sign which is not about power and for power.”

How so? Well, as already established, the master signifier is just a signifier that has set up as such. The relevant question to ask is not, no longer, what that is, but who set it up as such. When it is just a matter of exchange, it doesn’t really matter what it is. It’s way more important to address who is in the position to make this and/or that something that we are expected to identify with.

To be clear, what I think is even more important than challenging this regime is to challenge how that regime is constituted and to provide an alternative to it, which is exactly what Deleuze and Guattari do in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. That’s the point of that book! Otherwise, it’s just replacing those master signifiers with other master signifiers, so that all you change are the points of subjectification, and/or rearranging who gets to do all that. That amounts to nothing.

Moving on to another interesting point where he (46) gripes about how this also results in neglecting the present, here and now, by giving primacy to “an always past and a still to come”, as well as “an even now and a not yet”. Yeah, that does sound about right, how the past is the past, but also the past in the present, and the future the future, but also how the present is not yet the future, which then ignores the present.

Hmmmm, where was I with Deleuze and Guattari? Right, the bit where they (100) elaborate the general and the singular.

“But the abstract machine of language is not universal, or even general, but singular; it is not actual, but virtual-real; it has, not invariable or obligatory rules, but optional rules that ceaselessly vary with the variation itself, as in a game in which each move changes the rules. That is why abstract machines and assemblages of enunciation are complementary, and present in each other. The abstract machine is like the diagram of an assemblage.”

Here we have the abstract machine and the concrete assemblages, what, I believe, Guattari (318) used to call the logic machine and the system of machines. To further elaborate on the variation bit, they (100) add that:

“It draws lines of continuous variation, while the concrete assemblage treats variables and organize[s] their highly diverse relations as a function of those lines. The assemblage negotiates variables at this or that level of variation, according to this or that degree of deterritorialization, and determines which variables will enter into constant relations or obey obligatory rules and which will serve instead as a fluid matter for variation.”

I think it’s, finally, time to get back to Guattari (318) who states in ‘Machine and Structure’ that:

“We may say of structure that it positions its elements by way of a system of references that relates each one to the others, in such a way that it can itself be related as an element to other structures.”

Right, that’s structure for you. But what about you and me? What’s our part in this? Well, for him (318), it’s in the mix:

“The agent of action, whose definition here does not extend beyond this principle of reciprocal determination, is included in the structure.”

So, in others words, as you may have guessed already, the subject is always structured. He (318) continues:

“The structural process of de-totalized totalization encloses the subject, and will not let go as long as it is in a position to recuperate it within another structural determination.”

That may seem a bit confusing (de-totalized totalization), but this is simply about how the subject is tied to the structure, i.e., how it is always structured, at least to a certain extent. To use explain this in the he does alongside Deleuze in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (67), “[w]e are stratified”, “never signifier or signified.” While he (318) indicates that the subject is always to tied to the structure, whatever that may be, it is not that he (319) is saying that the machine is not relevant to the subject. We’ll get to that, eventually, but I’ll let him (319) continue:

“The machine, on the other hand, remains essentially remote from the agent of action. The subject is always somewhere else.”

Yes, you won’t find the subject in the machine, at least not as such. He (319) elaborates this point:

“Ternporalization penetrates the machine on all sides and can be related to it only after the fashion of an event.”

Again, yes, the machine pertains to the event, whatever it is that happens, here and now, which, I’d say is beyond the subject. Events may involve subjects, but that’s not the point here. He (319) further elaborates this:

“The emergence of the machine marks a date, a change, different from a structural representation.”

How to put this differently, well, it is what it is, it’s just what happens, for better or for worse. Some things come, some things go, as he (319) goes on to add:

“Every machine is the negation, the destroyer by incorporation (almost to the point of excretion), of the machine it replaces. And it is potentially in a similar relationship to the machine that will take its place.”

To explain what the machine has to do with the subject, to skip some bits here, he (319) states that:

“The unconscious subject as such will be on the same side as the machine, or better perhaps, alongside the machine. There is no break in the machine itself: the breach is on either side of it.”

Which amounts to saying that the unconscious is machinic, hence the title of one of his books. I’m going to skip some things here, again, because he (319-322) goes on to explain how there are machines within machines and how, in a sense, humans are also machines within machines, like little cogs in a system of machines, or, at least, being fated to being integrated to such machinery.

The next interesting bit has to do with how he (322) states that:

“The essence of the machine is precisely this function of detaching a signifier as arepresentative, as a ‘differentiator,’ as a causal break, different in kind from the structurally established order of things.”

Why is this interesting? Well, because he (322) goes on to add that:

“It is this operation that binds the machine both to the desiring subject and to its status as the basis of the various structural orders corresponding to it.”

If you go about this the other way around, i.e., not from singular to the general, but from the general to the singular, it won’t make sense, as he (322) points out:

“In trying to see things the other way round, starting from the general, one would be deluding oneself with the idea that it is possible to base oneself on some structural space that existed before the breakthrough by the machine.”

This goes back to the initial point about how the machinic has primacy over the structural or stratified, regardless of the reciprocity, of how you need something structural or stratified to make any sense of it. Following that lengthy tangent, it is only fitting that he (322) goes on to state that:

“This would lead to wrongly locating the truth of the break, the truth of the subject, on the level of representation, information, communication, social codes and every other form of structural determination.”

This is also exactly the point Lyotard makes when he argues that proper names are tensor signs. Mike is Mike. That’s it. That’s singularity for you. If you attempt to define Mike by listing all these things like male, muscular, blonde, smart and what not, you are missing the point. Sure, Mike might be all those things, but not just those things. Also, it’s not that you can get to the bottom of it, what makes Mike Mike by expanding that list. It doesn’t work like that. Anyway, he (322) continues, adding what might be of interest to a linguist:

“The voice, as speech machine, is the basis and determinant of the structural order of language, and not the other way round.”

As you can see, he (322) is not a fan of structuralism. That said, he (322) isn’t giving it its due:

“The individual, in his bodiliness, accepts the consequences of the interaction of signifying chains of all kinds which cut across and tear him apart. The human being is caught where the machine and the structure meet.”

Aye, there’s no escaping language, as such. We are structured, yes, but we aren’t bound to a fixed structure. It doesn’t take much to figure out why he ended up preferring the Hjelmslevian terms stratification and strata, being stratified to this and/or that extent, unless you destratify, to this and/or that extent, only to stratify again. It just makes it easier to avoid making it seem like you are bound by something it is fixed. Anyway, he (322-323) goes on to explain what the problem for us is:

“Human groups have no such projection screen available to them. The modes of interpretation and indication open to them are successive and contradictary, approximative and metaphorical, and are based upon different structural orders, for instance on myths or exchanges. Every change produced by the intrusion of a machine phenomenon will thus be accompanied in them with the establishment of what one may call a system of anti-production, the representative mode specific to structure.”

So, as I pointed out already, we can only make sense of it all through some semiotic system. It just so happens to be that language and, more broadly speaking, signification is a dominant system. At this point he (323) also wants to specify that anti-production has to do with the machine, not with the structure, even though it is tied to it. You’ll find him and Deleuze (346, 373) explain this in more detail in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, the gist of it being that the system can and does turn on itself, so that it is indeed possible to repress desire and to desire repression or, rather, to channel desire in ways that some desires are fine, whereas others are not.

He even addresses the stuff they discuss together in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. Notably, you’ll find him (323-324) discussing part objects or partial objects, i.e., Lacan’s objet petit a, connecting to machines, resulting in him calling then objet machine petit a:

“The existence of this objet-machine petita,’ irreducible, unable to be absorbed into the references of the structure, this ‘self for itself’[.]”

He (326) also calls them “the objets petita’ as the unconscious desire machine”. Anyway, he (324) adds that:

“The object of desire decenters the individual outside himself, on the boundaries of the other; it represents the impossibility of any complete refuge of the self inside oneself, but equally the impossibility of a radical passage to the other.”

Now, to make more sense of these bits, it’s worth taking a closer look at what Lacan means by objet petit a. He (62, 180) explains this in his seminars, namely in ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’ (1977 translation by Alan Sheridan, as edited by Jacques-Alain Miller) as an object of desire that is lost or unattainable. Deleuze and Guattari (27) address this in ‘Anti-Oedipus’:

“Lacan’s admirable theory of desire appears to us to have two poles: one related to ‘the object small a’ as a desiring-machine, which defines desire in terms of a real production, thus going beyond both any idea of need and any idea of fantasy; and the other related to the ‘great Other’ as a signifier, which reintroduces a certain notion of lack.”

Note how they give credit to Lacan for pinpointing what’s crucial about machines, these, in themselves, unattainable or, should I say, rather nonsensical units that only make sense as parts of a whole or as wholes that, in turn, consist of parts, which, in turn, consist of parts. This is about production or, rather, desiring-production, which they (4-6) define as the production of production. That’s also what makes it machinic., the coupling of partial objects, machines connecting with other machines, as they (6) point out. Note also how they acknowledge the signifier, only to give it a negative spin, as already discussed in great detail. That’s the deal with anti-production.

Guattari (324-326) details what happens in anti-production, when desire is defined in terms of lack, as opposed to in terms of affirmation. In summary, you’ll be stuck in representation, because that’s the deal with signifiers. There’s that looping. In his (325) words:

“This relationship of the structures sets going a mad machine, madder than the maddest of lunatics, the tangential representation of a sado-masochistic logic in which everything is equivalent to everything else, in which truth is always something apart.”

There is this a search for the truth, as he (325-326). The problem is that such search is pointless because there is no truth, inasmuch as you approach this in terms of signification as there is that never ending chain of signification. As Lyotard (45) points out, it’s not even a search for the truth, just a search, and, as Guattari (326) points out, the problem is not only that truth has somehow disappeared, that we are not stuck in phantasy, but that it was never to begin with, as it’s not attainable through signification.

He (326) moves on to point out that this is the same for the individual and the group of individuals as both will be unable to grasp the unattainable, the desiring-machines or assemblages. He (326) is quite adamant about this:

“The essence of the machine, as a factor for breaking apart, as the a-topical foundation of that order of the general, is that one cannot ultimately distinguish the unconscious subject of desire from the order of the machine itself: On one side or other of all structural determinations, the subject of economics, of history and of science all encounter that same objet petita’ as the foundation of desire.”

To give you an example of why this is also relevant on the level of groups, he (326) argues that, in structural terms (later on in stratified terms), “the black community in the United States represents an identification imposed by the white order.” In other words, black people identify or, rather, come to identify as black, whatever that is supposed to mean, I leave that open, not on their own terms, but on the terms of the white people. That’s the problem with signification mixed with subjectification, what he and Deleuze discuss in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

Moving on again, he (327) reiterates the initial point that machines are not structures. He (327) is also clear about the point that machines pertain to production, whereas structures pertain to anti-production, what we could also call the desire and the desire to be repressed, the affirmation and the lack.

The last point I want to make is that, in his (327-328), the problem with revolution is that while it involves desire and production or, desiring-production, it also tends to involve the desire to be repressed, that anti-production. In his (328) words:

“The problem of revolutionary organization is the problem of setting up an institutional machine whose distinctive features would be a theory and practice that ensured its not having to depend on the various social structures-above all the State structure, which appears to be the keystone of the dominant production relations, even though it no longer corresponds to the means of production.”

As he (327-328) points out, there’s always that anti-production that creeps in, which seeks to retain or re-establish the previous social order. It’s a trap! Ah, comforts of the past! This is what happened in communist countries, as he (328) goes on to add:

“The revolutionary socialist intention to seize control of political power in the State, which it sees as the instrumental basis of class domination, and the institutional guarantee of private ownership of the means of production, has been caught in just that trap.”

Now, this is a major problem for him (328):

“What entraps and deceives us is that it looks today as though nothing can be articulated outside that structure.”

Which is why he (329) reckons that the revolution requires reformulation:

“The revolutionary program, as the machine for institutional subversion, should demonstrate proper subjective potential and, at every stage of the struggle, should make sure that it is fortified against any attempt to ‘structuralize’ that potential.”

This is the end of his text and my text. It’s fitting, really, because what he says here is exactly what he set out to do, on his own, and in collaboration with Deleuze. That’s exactly what, for example, why in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ they are not merely content to do more of the same, just explain things, in theory, but also provide a way out of that structural impasse, in praxis, as he (329) puts it. That’s what attracts me to their work. It’s useful, to the individual and to the group. It’s not theory for the sake of theory, thought for the sake of thought. It’s about being applicable. It’s not about legitimating oneself and one’s work, but about providing people tools do what they do and what I do themselves, without any need to ask for any permission to use those tools.

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The last time I mentioned that I had recently read Félix Guattari’s early text and worked on it a bit. I also mentioned that I didn’t get around finishing another essay related to my work, and to the title of this blog. Well, the thing is that I’m still not done with either. I continued on the former, but, well, as I was on it, I ended up on a tangent. This essay will be on that, instead of what I had planned.

So, to give you bit of background, I recently finished that manuscript I mentioned in the previous essay and sent it to a publication. Nothing interesting about that, really. It’s just business, business being business, no hard feelings as long as business is conducted like business. That’s the case here as well, so no, this is not a rant about something where someone seems to have taken something personally. Plus, if you’ve read my previous essays, you know that, in my work, I’m not really interested in people, in their subjectivity, but rather what makes them or, rather, what could have made them act in this and/or that way, that is to say produced their subjectivity, so it’d be pointless to play some naming and blaming game.

Anyway, so I pitched my paper to a publication that deals with all things social and all things spatial, only for it to be quickly desk rejected, because, you know, it only made no sense, despite it focusing all things social and all things spatial, as well as being highly topical. My guess is that they get so many manuscripts that, business being business, they just look at the title page and if the title and/or name accompanying the title doesn’t tickle their fancy, then it’s just binned, like someone handing over a stack of stapled papers, only for the recipient to never even rest it on the table, instead of just throwing it in the bin. Well, whatever, happens, not to the best of us, but to the rest of us, like me. I then edited it for another publication, and we’ll see how that’ll go.

This publication might work out, but we’ll see. I can’t say I’m off to a great start, having my reference management software bug out on me, so that I managed to hand it over in the wrong style (you coder guys just couldn’t fool proof that menu where you do that choice, eh?). Okay, to be fair, it is my problem and I’ll take the heat for that fuckup. It was easy to fix, once I noticed it, so no biggie. Anyway, every time I submit something, somewhere, I have a feeling that it’ll end up somewhere else, eventually, knowing how the business works. Not that it matters, really, except being a waste of everyone’s time. The content will be the same and everything else that’s there, or is expected to be there, is just window dressing.

To be honest, and to get to the point, to what this essay is about, I don’t understand the faff, like, at all. If the content remains the same, if you make the same point, I don’t understand why would you give a fuck where it was published. When I read something, I’m there for that, not for that publication. Sorry, but, like, who the hell reads the publication? It’s not like any of us works with paper copies of actual volumes or numbers these days, all giddy about whatever it is that some other boffins have come up with lately, all chuffed about it, wondering what the next writer will have in store for us, as we flip over to the next thing. Come on! Come on! Said no one, no longer. Just image of that, hilarious. No. You look up stuff using keywords, like discourse and landscape, only to end up on something fairly random, be it an article, a book chapter or a book about it, or even, heaven forbid, a blog post, which you then assess without prejudice, not giving a fuck who wrote it, where it came out, nor when it came out. You are there for the content and if it’s there, it’s there. It’s that simple.

I love what Michel Foucault (302) stated about this in an anonymous interview with Christian Delacampagne, appearing in ‘Le Monde’, as subsequently published in English as ‘The Masked Philosopher’ (translated by John Johnston), as included in ‘Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984’ (compilation edited by Sylvère Lotringer):

“I will propose a game: the year without names. For one year books will be published without the author’s name. The critics will have to manage with an entirely anonymous production.”

Haha, imagine that! It’d be priceless and, I think, totally worth doing. He (302) is, of course, quick to note why this won’t happen:

“But I suspect that perhaps they will have nothing to say: all the authors will wait until the next year to publish their books.”

Haha, gotta love the way he explains why it wouldn’t work, after all, you know, people being people.

Anyway, so, if you didn’t get the point, that’s too bad. No, no, I’m kidding, I won’t leave you hanging. He (302) exemplifies this with a story of someone with a fancy psychology degree venturing into some, supposedly, God-forsaken part of the world, better known as Africa, to better understand what these, supposedly, primitive people have to say about what he has to offer them. He (302) notes that this westerner shows a film to these people, in hopes of gaining insight into whether they got the gist of the story or not. The thing is, as he (302) points out, that these people had little interest in the characters in the film, unlike the westerner, and, instead, focused on some seemingly random shit like “the passage of light and shadows through the trees”, not because they are idiots, or the like, no, no, but because it is we, the westerners, who are obsessed with characters, with people that we can name.

Now, you might object to that, in the sense that, surely, a name tells us what’s worth our attention. Well, yes and no. In a sense, yes, when we know that someone has something interesting to say, it is only likely that it’ll be the case whenever we run into them. I mean, you’d think that Foucault, of all people, would be happy about it, considering how he had a lot of interesting things to say. Ah, but, well, it’s not that simple, as he (302) goes on to add:

“Why have I suggested that I remain anonymous? Out of nostalgia for the time when, being completely unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard.”

So, in other words, no, in the sense that once we know someone, once it is attributed to someone, we tend to approach that person in a certain, preconfigured way, as he (302) on to specify:

“The surface contact with some possible reader was without a wrinkle. The effects of the book rebounded in unforeseen places and outlined forms I hadn’t thought about.”

What he means by this is that it may seem like a blessing to be a big name, but it is also a curse as people will end up approaching you and what you have to say in a certain way, just because what is said or written is attributed to that name. So, yeah, I was quite amused to get that desk reject. It was kind of obvious that my name wasn’t recognized, which is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. I mean it’s a bit shit to rejected, just because your name doesn’t ring any bells, but, then again, I don’t mind it because it really doesn’t matter where my work gets published, if the content remains the same. All I care is that someone gets to read it, for whatever reason they end up reading it, and, perhaps, gets something out of it, whatever that may be. I couldn’t care less if they credit me for that, for what they’ve learned. Good for them. It is also quite telling how the system works, how “[t]he name is a facility’, as pointed out by him (302).

It is only fitting that he (303) adds to this that he prefers to be anonymous, or, at least, would have preferred that, just like I do with these essays where I don’t keep referring to myself by name (albeit you can, I believe, see it at the bottom of each post, which may or may not have been the case in the past, and could figure it out quite easily), for certain reasons that I agree with:

“If I have chosen anonymity, it is not in order to criticize such and such, which I have never done.”

Indeed. I don’t do this in bad faith, to fuck over people. I mean, I don’t hide the fact that I am the writer. I don’t make a fuss about it, but, yeah, I’ll acknowledge that I’m the writer if someone asks me that (not that you could ever be sure of that, because, perhaps, I’m not really me, but someone who acts in my stead, or, perhaps, I just sign these with my name and someone else writes these, as someone like Jacques Derrida might explain that). Also, I don’t even name the people, nor the institutions, when I disagree with them, not even if others would feel that is warranted. I wouldn’t do that even if I could do that, because I’m not fond of bad faith and ressentiment. Why do I do what I do then, the way I do it, in these essays? Well, I’ll let Foucault (303) answer that:

“It’s a way of addressing more directly the possible reader[.]”

Exactly. When you read these essays, you get to have a sort of one-on-one with me or, at least, a taster of it, what it is that I find interesting and worth discussing, without it actually being about me, because, well, if you want to know me, for what I’m worth, to you, I guess, it’s better to ask me to shoot some shit, having some pints at some pub or talk to me at my office, you know, whatever works. Sure, there is the occasional anecdote, or the like, but that’s there to amuse you. Life is too short to be serious all the time.

He (303) summarizes why it is better to not care about who expressed something:

“‘Since you don’t know who I am, you will not be tempted to look for the reasons for which I state what you are reading: let yourself go to the point of simply saying to yourself: this is true, this false. That I like, that I don’t. One point, that’s all.’”

Amen! If you like what you get from my essays, good, if you don’t, well too bad. Also, feel free to like what you like, to the extent that you do, and to not like what you don’t like, to the extent that you don’t like it. That’s all, as he (303) puts it.

I realize that I’m on quite the tangent here, can’t help it (not that I really care, because it is what it is, my house, my rules and what not, and you just have go with it, or not, if that is what you wish), and now I’m veering off to a tangent of a tangent, but I’ll just go with the flow here. To be serious, for a moment, this is actually connected to what I’ve written in the past about judgment, so I think it’s worth covering. In his (303) words:

“It’s crazy, that people like to judge. It’s everywhere, all the time. No doubt it’s one of the simplest things that humanity has been given to do.”

Ah, yes, the temptation to judge. It’s always there. I’m sure Gilles Deleuze and Friedrich Nietzsche would agree with Foucault’s take. Anyway, he (303-304) takes this to extreme, to really hit home with his readers:

“And you know that the last man, when finally the last radiation has reduced his last adversary to cinders, will take a wobbly table, sit down behind it and begin the trial of those responsible.”

Haha, true, so true. It just isn’t enough that you’ve gone through the effort of making sure that you’ve won, no matter what the cost. You just have to point out that it was their fault, that it was they, the others, that started it.

If you don’t get the gist of this, what’s so problematic about judging, well, he (304) does go on to add that:

“I can’t help thinking of the critic who would not try to judge, but bring into existence a work, a book, a phrase, an idea.”

Yeah, imagine that, a critic, someone who criticizes you, not to put you down, to reject you, but to create something better in its stead. Damn! That’s some next level shit right there! Why doesn’t that happen then? Well, it’s quite simple, really. Coming up with something new is difficult. It’s just so much easier to criticize without creating. Deleuze and Guattari (28) make note of this very issue in ‘What Is Philosophy?’ (1994 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell):

“[W]hen [people] criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs and that melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons. It never takes place on the same plane.”

In more simple terms, criticism tends to work like this, saying: ‘ha, fuck you and fuck everything that you stand for.’ They (28) note what actually happens in criticism, or, rather, what should happen in criticism:

“To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it.”

Indeed. Criticism should be about looking into whether something works or not, what happens when we use this and/or that in another context. The problem is that such rarely happens, as they (28-29) go on to add:

“But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are [a] plague[.] All these debaters and communicators are inspired by ressentiment.”

Foucault (304) explains what we need instead of such plague:

“[They] would light the fires, watch the grass grow, listen to the wind, snatch the passing dregs in order to scatter them. [They] would multiply, not the number of judgments, but the signs of existence; [they] would call out to them, [they] would draw them from their sleep. Would [the] sometimes invent them? So much the better.”

Followed by contrasting the two, as stated by him (304):

“The sententious critic puts me to sleep. I would prefer a critic of imaginative scintillations. He would not be sovereign, nor dressed in red. He would bear the lightning flashes of possible storms.”

At this point (304), his interviewer, Delacampagne, turns his attention to the role of media, which, to be clear, we typically take to mean any news outlet, be it published or broadcasted, in some auditive, visual or audiovisual form. Foucault (304) acknowledges that the role of someone who creates and those who address them is always uneasy. He (304) notes that, on one hand, you get this publicity, this attention, but, on the other hand, it means that some control over the work is lost in the process. He (304) states that a certain tension arises from this arrangement. All creators seem to wield some extraordinary power that must be kept in check, by the critics, yet everything appears to have been already done, kind of like just more of the same, which is hardly worth keeping in check. If it’s all just more of the same, which, to be honest, it often appears to be, why fear of it getting out of hand?

This turn his interlocutor to ask him whether there is, right now, a lack of creativity, of ingenuity, to which he (305) responds that he isn’t buying such argument, that, all the sudden, we have some period of decadence or intellectual drought. He (305) reckons there isn’t a shortage of creative people, but rather a shortage of outlets for creative people. What’s particularly interesting here is that he (305) isn’t blaming what we typically refer to as the media for doing too much, for expressing too many things. In fact, as already noted, he (305) is, instead, saying the more, the better. What he (305) wants is, of course, not just more of the same, in the same existing outlets, but more of all kinds of outlets:

“The problem is to multiply the canals, the bridges, the means of information, the television and radio networks, the newspapers.”

Now we’d add the internet here, of course, with all its platforms. He (305) isn’t happy with how people are in the habit of restricting the media, so that only some means or channels of information are legitimate, and others are not. He (305) rejects the idea that there is such a thing as too much information for us to handle. To be clear, I don’t think he (305) means that quantity is simply better than quality, or so to speak, but rather that there is something peculiar about the will to restrict people’s curiosity, as if it was, almost, a vice or a sin. What he (305) wants to do is to save curiosity from such stigmatization:

“The word … pleases me. To me it suggests something altogether different: it evokes ‘concern’; it evokes the care one takes for what exists and could exist; a readiness to find strange and singular what surrounds us; a certain relentlessness to break up our familiarities and to regard otherwise the same things; a fervor to grasp what is happening and what passes; a casualness in regard to the traditional hierarchies of the important and the essential.”

What he (305) goes on to add to this probably will probably seem familiar to you, considering that even this essay is now part of that:

“I dream of a new age of curiosity. We have the technical means for it; the desire is there; the things to be known are infinite; the people who can employ themselves at this task exist.”

Yes. The internet gives us plenty of opportunities to do that and many have embraced such opportunities. And yes, like I just stated, this blog is part of that, although I can’t say it’s my job. Now, as there’s been a proliferation of new media, you may feel like objecting to this, by pointing to the so-called ‘fake news’. Well, the good thing is that he’s (305) got you covered, but the bad thing is that I don’t think you’re not going to like it:

“There is no point in adopting a protectionist attitude, to prevent ‘bad’ information from invading and suffocating the “‘good.’”

In his (305) view, the problem is not that we have too much information, be it good or bad, but that we have too little information:

“Why do we suffer? From too little: from channels that are too narrow, skimpy, quasi-monopolistic, insufficient.”

So, he (305) reckons that instead of attempting to control the media, one should multiply the media:

“Rather, we must multiply the paths and the possibility of comings and goings.”

To be clear, by this, I don’t think he (305) means that more in the same outlets is better, but rather more outlets is better than fewer outlets. He (305) is, in fact, against homogeneity and all for heterogeneity:

“Which doesn’t mean, as it is often feared, the homogenization and leveling from below. But on the contrary, the differentiation and simultaneity of different networks.”

So, no, I don’t think he’d be happy with how social media works, not because he’d be against the idea of people having a voice, but because he’d point to the homogenizing tendencies of social media platforms. The so-called new media have ended up functioning a lot like the so called old or traditional media, kind of like having a certain editorial policy, not unlike a news outlet. If you think of the homogeneity that is involved, all of those echo chambers, I guess you could call the mass media, in the sense that mass has to do with a homogeneous mass or something that is meant for the masses, to homogenize them.

This leads his interviewer to ask what the role of universities is in all this, to which he (305) responds by stating something that you probably don’t like if you are an established academic or a protégé of one:

“Books, the university, professional journals—they are also media.”

Yes, they most certainly are. They do function that way. I mean they do mediate the message, the content. For example, think of journals. They typically indicate that they have certain goals and certain readership. They also have editors. In other words, they have some sort of an editorial policy. This means that some information is considered to be ‘good’ and some information is considered to be ‘bad’. It’s as simple as that, as pointed out by Foucault (305). Gotta admire his (306) willingness to point this out and really go with it, considering that he was part of the academic circles and involved in publishing, which means that he was doing this at his own peril (okay, maybe not here, this being anonymous back then, but he did express this kind of views in other non-anonymous contexts as well):

“The problem is to know how to play out the differences; and to know if it is necessary to establish a reserved zone, a ‘cultural park’ for the fragile species of scholar threatened by great ravages of information, while all the remaining space would be a vast market for the shoddy products.”

I think he is spot on here, calling scholars a fragile species that exists in a reservation, as if what’s outside the reserve threatens their existence, and I don’t mind stating that I agree with him, even though I’m fully aware that I do such at my own peril. Anyway, he (306) continues:

“Such a division doesn’t appear to me to correspond to the reality. And worse: it’s not at all desirable. To implement useful differentiations, there must be no division.”

So, to get to the point, to express the gist of this, to explain his main argument, he is against all kinds of vanguardism. He is pretty allergic to having some people tell others how things work, not because he isn’t aware that some people might know better and could thus be off use to others, no, no, but because it tends to end up taken for granted, as a fixed arrangement, so that the few get to judge what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’, for everyone else, without taking any responsibility for it, acknowledging that they might not only be wrong, but also serving their own interests instead of the interests of everyone who they claim to serve. I think he (306) manages to explain this quite neatly when he answers another question:

“What is [this about] if not a way of reflecting not so much on what is true and false but on our relationship to the truth?”

Exactly. No more good vs. evil, truth vs. falsity. Instead, it’s about acknowledging the relationship we have with what is called ‘the good’ or ‘the truth’. Simply put, before we jump to any conclusions, to judge whether this and/or that is true or false, good or bad, if not evil, we must address who it is that gets to make those conclusions, to judge that, and on what basis. It’s as simple as that. Just take a step back. In his (307) words:

“I would say at this point that [it] is a way of reflecting on our relation to the truth. But it must not end there. It’s a way of asking oneself, if such is the relation that we have with truth, then how should we conduct ourselves?”

Note how this isn’t as simple as good/bad, good/evil, true/false, which boils down to yes/no, accept/reject, type of conduct. He (307) acknowledges that such approach is highly tempting, which is exactly why people do it, why we keep encountering it, even among academics, even though people might think that academics are the exception to this:

“One understands that certain people are crying about the vacuum today and that in the realm of ideas they wish for a little monarchy.”

Well put, well put. There is indeed this temptation to set up some sort of monarchy, some sort of feudal system, what we today simply refer to as a hierarchy. What’s so tempting about it? Well, I’ve expressed this a number of times in my essays, but I think it’s worth reiterating. It’s about having a sweet gig and getting to keep that sweet gig. It’s just so much easier to do that, to have that position which allows you to exercise power over others, just because, just because it is your position that entitles you to do so, instead of having integrity, instead of keeping yourself in line, at all times. It’s just way more convenient that, instead of reflecting on your relationship with the truth, it is you (possibly in connection to some others, a select few, that vanguard) who gets to define the truth. It is you. You get to express the Will of God because, in this arrangement, you are God.

He also mentions a couple of other things in this interview, but I only wanted to address what I found particularly interesting in it. I’m sure you can look it up yourself. This is all, for now. I hope to get to one of those two essays, but we’ll see. I have a feeling that I’ll end up on another tangent or series of tangents before I do, but, yeah, we’ll see.

Add title

I planned to write either on article that I’m working on, or an old text written by Félix Guattari, but I never managed to get where I wanted with that article (you know, editing a bit of this and a bit of that, adding, removing, as if it actually changed anything, except for Reviewer #2 who we all know to be darling, let’s put it that way) and I ended up on a major tangent while on that second text (I did manage to make notes on the whole text though). Anyway, so, this essay will be that tangent.

So, the old text is called ‘Machine and Structure’. It appears in at least two different complications of Guattari’s work: ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’ published in 1984 and ‘Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971’ published in 2015 (both translations by Rosemary Sheed). It was published in a journal 1972, but, according to the notes included in the latter compilation, it was planned as a lecture that was to be given in 1969. That means that this text, essay, article or lecture, I’m not sure what it should be called, gives us insight to Guattari’s thinking at the time he was working with Gilles Deleuze.

This is, apparently, also the text that is known to have caused a fallout between Guattari and his former mentor, Jacques Lacan, which, in turn, led Guattari to work with Deleuze. I remember reading about this and, perhaps, I’ve even mentioned this in the past, but I’ll let Janell Watson explain this. She (39, 189) covers this episode in her 2009 book ‘Guattari’s Diagrammatic Thought: Writing Between Lacan and Deleuze’, noting that there are (at least) two versions of this story.

According to the first version, Lacan wanted to publish the text in his own journal, ‘Scilicet’, but, well, just never did, so it ended up in Jean-Pierre Faye’s journal, ‘Change’, instead. According to the second version, Roland Barthes wanted the text to be published in his journal, ‘Communications’, but Lacan wanted it to be published in his journal, which prompted Guattari to pull the article from ‘Communications’, despite having agreed to publish it there, only for it to be never published by Lacan and then ending up published in ‘Change’.

What’s common between the two versions is that Lacan wanted the text to be published in his journal, but then just didn’t bother to publish it, which, I reckon, angered Guattari. The gist of that episode is that Guattari started working with Deleuze, because one way or another Deleuze ended up reading it, as pointed out by Watson (189).

If aren’t into Guattari but would like to understand what he means by structure and, more importantly, by machine, you’ll like this text because, unlike many of his other texts, it’s fairly straight forward. Sure, it’s difficult to read, as you’d guess with anything written by Guattari, on his own or in collaboration with Deleuze, but it’s alright if you just focus on it and make some notes while at it. Deleuze (21) mentions this text in preface for the latter compilation, noting that it is a particularly important text alongside another text, which, to be honest, is hilariously difficult to read, not because Guattari has gone all the way to make it hard to read, but because it’s basically a collection of excerpts, so that, well, technically, it’s not really a text at all but rather some 27 pages of his notes.

That other text is called ‘From one Sign to the Other (excerpts)’. It’s like reading someone’s train of thought. It’s kind of like how I work, how my essays must appear to some of you who happen to read these, but, well, let’s say that if you find my train of thought difficult to follow, you probably shouldn’t even try to read that text. I’ve tried to get through it, but I need more runs at it to make more sense of it. Maybe someday. We’ll see.

It might actually be more fruitful to try to find the original as, according to Watson (26), it is supposed to be longer. The translated version that I have access to is only a partial reproduction, which explains why it’s listed as dealing with excerpts. There might also be some fresh translation of it out there, somewhere, but, as I pointed out already, we’ll see.

It’s actually kind of funny, now that I’m teaching a basic writing course. I mean, in academic writing you are expected to cater to your reader, to make it so that everything is, supposedly, as clear as possible and that your train of thought is easy to follow, which, in my opinion, does have its merits, no doubt about that, but it can and often does end up pampering and infantilizing the reader, as if he or she couldn’t figure out stuff on his or her own.

Deleuze comments on this matter in ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’, a text I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past, noting that there are two ways of going about this. It’s included in as included in a collection of texts known as ‘Negotiations’ (1995 translation by Martin Joughin). He (7-8) uses the example of reading, stating that there are two ways of reading. The first one he (7) refers to as the perverse or depraved ways of going about it:

“[Y]ou … see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the book like a box contained in the first or containing it.”

He (7-8) adds to this that this results in a never-ending search for its meaning:

“And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and so on.”

Now you might be thinking, ha, gotcha, you idiot, that’s exactly what you are doing when you write these essays. Ooooh! Saucy! I do like your attitude, but no. That’s not what I’m doing, at all, nor what Deleuze did in his own books on other people’s works, like the ones on Baruch Spinoza, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust. Yes, it’s commentary, but I’m under no illusion that I have the answers that you might seek, that I know for sure what any of the people whose works I’ve commented on actually meant with this and/or that, whatever that may be. They are my takes, and you should always take them as such. If you find them useful, well, great, good for you, and if you don’t, well, that’s too bad, not good for you. Plus, I really, really recommend that you go through the effort of reading the originals. I don’t seek to mislead you. It’s not my plan to provide you with some take that’s not even close to the original, just to fuck with you. Nah. It’s rather that I’m not the arbiter of truth. I’m not even its messenger. I try my best. I try to give you what I find important and/or interesting in some text, in its original form, if possible, to have that transparency, with my commentary of it. That’s exactly why I have these block quotes, which are sometimes, I know, I know, don’t think I don’t know, painfully long.

This leads me to the second way of going about it. Deleuze (8) explains it:

“[Y]ou see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is ‘Does it work, and how does it work?’”

That’s the way I go about writing and reading, the cherry-picking fucker that I may appear to be because of it. Now, you might be wondering what I mean by that, like, isn’t cherry-picking something frowned upon, something that I shouldn’t be doing. Well, yes, you are not supposed to be cherry-picking, aka quote-mining, when you write something academic, nor in argumentation in general, but do note that I didn’t write that I do that, but rather that I may appear to be doing that, even though I’m not doing that. But why do I then appear to be doing that, even though I’m not. Well, to connect this to the first compilation mentioned in this essay, to its introduction, to be precise, it’s rather that I do whatever I please, whatever I come to desire, without hesitation, without giving a fuck about on whose fields I roam. That’s what Deleuze and Guattari do and advocate for, as do I. David Cooper (1) explains this well in the introduction to that compilation:

“[I]n the tradition of Guattari and Deleuze there can be no compartmentalization of disciplines: philosophy, politics, structuralist linguistics, psychoanalysis (or rather its undoing), micro-sociology – all frontiers are violated but violated on principle.”

Exactly! There’s nothing whimsical, nor spiteful about that roaming. It’s like roaming, for the sake of roaming. I don’t know. Perhaps I shouldn’t even call it roaming, because it’s typically understood as lacking a purpose, whereas this has a purpose. It is principled, as pointed out by Cooper (1). It’s like moving for the sake of moving, being in movement, which, I guess, is not actually being but becoming.

Cooper (1-2) notes that this approach has its roots in French academics where most of the heavy hitters where familiar with at least two different fields or disciplines, while also acknowledging that such combos can either work really well or really poorly. I’d say that it can work well because you aren’t confided, because you no longer see the world in this or that light, but in this and that light. It can, of course, also work really poorly. That’s what happens when you don’t take your reading seriously, when you don’t put in the hours. Anyway, he (2) moves on to further comment what I already anticipated, as I was reading this introduction:

“The word [transversality], however, also connotes an intellectual mobility across discipline boundaries and above all the establishment of a continuum through theory, practice and militant action.”

That’s transversality for you. That’s what Deleuze and Guattari (499) mean by “streaming, spiraling, zigzagging” and “snaking”, as mentioned in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). He (2) also adds that it would be misguided to think that Guattari’s work (and I guess, by proxy, Deleuze’s work) is somehow against theory. Well, I’d say it is actually anti-theoretical, but only in the sense that it’s against treating theory as something separate from practice, as something pre-existing that we ponder about. Cooper (2-3) also points this out, albeit in slightly different manner, noting that, for Guattari, theory is about creativity, about the act of creation, not of what I’d call discovery.

Cooper (3) also explains how this works for Guattari:

“In this writing, individuals, groups and ‘the society’ are not denied, but the desiring machines operate in the spaces between these ‘entities’. Guattari’s writing itself issues from this sort of interspace and is directed back again into these ‘spaces between’, which are the spaces where things are agencées.”

I agree with his (3) take on Guattari’s writing, albeit with some reservations. I think this is a pretty good summary, but I also think it risks making it appear that the entities are given, even though they are not. To be clear, each entity consists of other entities that can be understood as its parts and also act as a part of some other entity, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (42) in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane):

“We believe only in totalities that are peripheral. And if we discover such a totality alongside various separate parts, it is a whole of these particular parts but does not totalize them; it is a unity of all of these particular parts but does not unify them; rather, it is added to them as a new part fabricated separately.”

They (42) also explain this in, perhaps, less difficult manner, noting that it’s not like we have some original unity of a number of pieces, like a puzzle, that we are set up to complete after finding all the pieces. There is no origin, nor a goal, only pieces, and we can do whatever we want with those pieces, fit them together in this and/or that way. That’s creativity for you. The totality or the unity of whatever it is that we are dealing with is always immanent. To be fair, Cooper (3) does acknowledge this:

“Then, by a curious but comprehensible logic, the writing itself becomes agencement.”

He (3) also notes that the difficult thing with Guattari’s work is that you have to let go of taking things for granted as Guattari is all about coming up “[h]ow to re-think what thought might be.” Related to this, he (3) also notes that reading Guattari’s works is difficult because he uses a lot of terms that people are unlikely to be familiar with, but that doesn’t mean that he “is guilty of stylistic perversity”:

“As with Deleuze his totally explicit aim is to destructure a consciousness and a rationality over-sure of itself and thus too easy prey to subtle, and not so subtle, dogmatisms.”

Cooper (4) finishes his summary of Guattari’s work and the way he does it, that transversality, or nomadism, as it is also known as, by explaining why we might want to go along with it, despite all the work that we must put into it, despite all the difficulty that we must face in doing so:

“If we choose to follow Félix Guattari in his nomadism through regions of ambiguity it is because we glimpse from very early on an eminently rewarding clarity that emerges through this highly original writing.”

I agree. Guattari’s writing isn’t at all difficult to read once you get into it. Is it easy? No. It’s not easy. It’s also much more difficult than most things you’ve encountered before, because it is so original, as Cooper (4) points out, but once you let go of that requirement that the writer must cater to you as a reader, holding you hand, making sure that you are taken good care of every step of the way, it’s not that difficult. Once you get it, you get it and it’ll be clear to you, kind of like, how to put it better, intuitively.

It might also be that what you are reading just isn’t for you, at least not in that moment. That’s the point Deleuze makes when he (8) adds that:

“How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book.”

Yeah, if it isn’t working, don’t try to force it to work because it doesn’t work that way. He (8) continues:

“This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or it doesn’t.”

So, yeah, don’t waste your time, reading, not to mention annotating, interpreting and/or questioning what you’ve read if there’s nothing to it, if it just isn’t coming across. He (8) has still something to add:

“There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It’s like plugging in to an electric circuit.”

Indeed, it’s that plugging in, that connection that you form with what you read. That’s exactly what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they state that something is a machine. Deleuze (8) summarizes this:

“This second way of reading’s quite different from the first, because it relates a book directly to what’s Outside.”

Note how this is in stark contrast what he (7) pointed out earlier on, how in the first way of reading you look at what’s in what you read, how you limit it to that, just that, or to it and what other texts it is linked to, in a series, to make sense of what’s contained in it. As you can see, this second way of reading something emphasizes the connection that you make with what you read, there and then, without anything else to it. That’s why it either works or it doesn’t. That’s why it’s so simple. He (8) elaborates this by adding that:

“A book is a little cog in much more complicated external machinery. Writing is one flow among others, with no special place in relation to the others, that comes into relations of current, countercurrent, and eddy with other flows—flows of shit, sperm, words, action, eroticism, money, politics, and so on.”

So, what he wants to emphasize here is that there is nothing special about writing and reading. That doesn’t mean that it is pointless to write and read. No, no. It’s rather that there’s much more to life than just writing and reading, like shitting, ejaculating, speaking, doing, eroticizing (is that even a word, it is now!), buying and selling, taking part in politics and what not, as he (8) points out. If that makes no sense to you, well, too bad, but let’s see if his (8) example is of any help:

“Take Bloom, writing in the sand with one hand and masturbating with the other: what’s the relation between those two flows?”

That’s a good question, to which I don’t know the answer. What’s the point of that James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ reference? I don’t know and I take it that neither do you. Why is Leopold Bloom having a wank? Why is he writing? How are these two things connected? Is he writing about whatever pushed him to have a wank? Is he writing about the wanking? So many questions, not a lot of answers, but that’s the charm of it. It’s up to you to make sense of it, because there’s nothing inherent about wanking and writing that connects them to one another.

Deleuze provides another example. He (8) states that he and Guattari wrote ‘Anti-Oedipus’ because there was a certain outside, a certain readership of young people that they sought to make a connection with through the book. The title ought to tell it to you, that it’s an anti-oedipal book. It is countercurrent that connects to a current. That book wouldn’t exist without that coupling. There wouldn’t be schizoanalysis without psychoanalysis.

He (8-9) summarizes what the deal with the second way of reading is:

“This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a flow meeting with other flows, one machine among others, as a series of experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do with book, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other things, absolutely anything … is reading with love.”

Note how he emphasizes that these connections that we make with texts are not just with other texts, but with, well, anything. It’s not that the connections between texts, i.e., intertextuality, isn’t important, but rather that’s not all there is to it. There are many connections between texts, yes, but there are also many connections to what’s outside texts. If that seems familiar, it’s because it is. That’s pragmatics for you.

As that may seem a bit obscure, he (9) exemplifies what he means by such connections. For him (9), it’s not about what the text is or what it means, in itself, as that’s the first way of reading a book, a futile endeavor, but what you do with it. In other words, the text works on you as you read it. It changes you to some extent, which alters how you connect with other texts and, well, with anything, unless it doesn’t, of course, in which case you move on to reading or doing something else instead. That’s the point Deleuze wants to make.

Anyway, so, that’s the end of that tangent that I ended up on because I started reading and making notes of ‘Machine and Structure’, while also teaching a writing course, being connected to that text, as well as texts related to writing, and the encounters I had in class. I started out somewhere, with some goal, yes, but I ended up somewhere else, zigzagging all over the place while at it, and I’m glad I did.

No, the record is for you!

Earlier this year, I read the whole of ‘Anti-Oedipus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane), from the beginning to the end while also making notes, some 30 pages or so (and yes, I’m that kind of a person, and that’s not even that much for me…). I commented on it as well. There was this bit in the book that I wondered about, where they (56) state that bringing a tape recorder to a discussion changes everything.

To give you a bit of context, how I ended up writing this short essay, what pushed me to it, there was this scene in a recent trailer for a new Matrix film. In that scene you have this typical set up of a patient and an analyst. It is not specified what kind of session it is. It could be about a psychiatrist, a psychotherapist, or a psychoanalyst. I don’t know. To me, it’s just an American film or TV trope. Anyway, it has this one-on-one superordinate-subordinate dynamic to it that got me thinking about that little thing in their book.

To give you the context that this appears in their book, they (55-56) are examining and criticizing, or, dare I say, analyzing, psychoanalysis. To be clear, they (55) do give some credit to psychoanalysis. They (55) credit it for being aware of what they call desiring-production or, I guess, what they generally refer to just as desire. It’s just that psychoanalysis somehow managed to botch it along the way, Oedipalizing the anoedipal, just like all revolutions end up failing at some point, becoming reactionary, even though they seem like genuine revolutions, as they (55) point out. In their (55) words:

“The anoedipal nature of desiring-production remains present, but it is fitted over the co-ordinates of Oedipus, which translate it into ‘pre-oedipal,’ ‘para-oedipal,’ ‘quasi-oedipal,’ etc. The desiring-machines are always there, but they no longer function except behind the consulting-room walls. Behind the walls or in the wings, such is the place the primal fantasy concedes to desiring-machines, when it reduces everything to the Oedipal scene.”

Now, to link this back to those two fairly recent longer essays, the one on Louis Hjelmslev’s work and the following one that expands on it through the works of Deleuze and Guattari, you’ll notice a familiar concept here, well, assuming you’ve read those essays or just happen to be familiar with their work (which is even better!). Long story short, they (55) are talking about assemblages here. Anyway, they (55) continue:

“They continue nevertheless to make a hellish racket. Even the psychoanalyst can’t ignore them.”

Indeed, the desiring-machines or assemblages, whatever term you want to use for them, whatever works for you, I don’t really care, don’t just suddenly disappear, just because you say they don’t exist. La-la-la, I can’t hear you. They (55-56) go on:

“He tends therefore to maintain an attitude of denial: all of that is surely true, but it is still daddy-mommy. Over the consulting-room door is written, ‘Leave your desiring-machines at the door, give up your orphan and celibate machines, your tape recorder and your little bike, enter and allow yourself to be oedipalized.’”

This is where I was like … hmm … that tape recorder! Why do they (56) mention a tape recorder, what we’d just call a recorder, a portable recorder or a handy recorder, because it’s not like we use tapes anymore, except when we haven’t digitized existing tapes (and then there are those tape aficionados, of course). I’ll return to this shortly, I promise! They (56) keep going:

“Everything follows from that, beginning with the unreliable character of the cure, its interminable and highly contractual nature, flows of speech in exchange for flows of money. All that is needed is what is called a psychotic episode: after a schizophrenic flash, one day we bring our tape recorder Into the analyst’s office—stop!—with this insertion of a desiring-machine everything is reversed: we have broken the contract, we are not faithful to the major principle of the exclusion of a third party, we have introduced a third element—the desiring-machine in person.”

Note how they (56) are saying, yes, very clearly saying, that a tape recorder is a machine that functions like an actual person. Is a tape recorder, or, nowadays a recorder, an actual person? No, of course not. Don’t be silly. But, but, it does function like an actual person. In other words, it’s like a person, without being a person. Think of it as like a virtual person. It functions like an actual person, so that, in a sense, it is, as if, there was a person there, yet, in actuality, it is not an actual person, as there is no one else there.

They mention a tape recorder again later on in the book. In this context, they (312) want to emphasize how the analyst, or, to be more specific, the psychoanalyst, presents him- or herself as neutral, as if there wasn’t any superordinate-subordinate relation between the analyst and the person undergoing the analysis. In their (312) words:

“In actuality, the benevolent neutrality of the analyst is very limited: it ceases the instant one stops responding daddy-mommy. It ceases the instant one introduces a little desiring-machine—the tape-recorder—into the analyst’s office; it ceases as soon as a flow is made to circulate that does not let itself be stopped by Oedipus, the mark of the triangle (they tell you [that] you have a libido that is too viscous, or too liquid, contraindications for analysis).”

Note here how, once more, a tape recorder is enough to derail the whole thing or, should I say, the whole arrangement, the whole assemblage. Now, let’s imagine that scenario or a similar scenario. Anything that involves a superordinate and subordinate will do just fine. It could be you and your boss. It could be you and your teacher. It could also be you as a child and your parent, be it your mom or your dad, or, in their absence, someone else who functions in that capacity, albeit not necessarily in the familial sense, as that’s what Deleuze and Guattari would most certainly want to avoid reducing this into. The point here is to come up an example that helps you to make more sense of this.

When you are all set, ready to go with it, think of that situation. How does that relationship work? Now, of course, when someone is your superordinate, you don’t really get to have a say about anything if you happen to be his or her subordinate. There should be nothing difficult about that for you to comprehend. Your superordinate is going to have the upper hand, just because that’s how that person is positioned, above you. There may, of course, be rules set in place. Your superordinate is not supposed to make you do just about anything, but, speaking from experience, that’s not how things work, as I’m sure you know if you have even just a bit of life experience. The problem for you is that there is very little that prevents your superordinate from taking advantage of his or her position. That’d be against the rules, yes, but it’s only likely that you have very limited options as to what you can do about it if your superordinate takes advantage of his or her position. Simply put, you’re fucked!

Now, imagine all that and add a recorder to that. Imagine your superior calls you to his or her office and ask you to do something which would be out of the question. It could be a little thing or something that’s considered appalling. Now, ask your superior what he or she would think about you having the conversion on the record. That’s the difference between off the record and on the record. What’s the deal with that? Well, if there’s a recording of it, of that conversation, regardless of whatever it may pertain to, the person, your superior, is unlikely to take advantage of his or her position. That’d be just dumb, plain dumb.

I realize that you might be confused by this, asking yourself, why is this relevant or, rather, what is this relevant to? What is really interesting here is that a recorder, a thing that can record sound, or something appears to be a recorder, a thing that appears to record sound, even if it doesn’t (maybe it’s just a recorder without a tape or, nowadays, a memory card), changes everything in this arrangement or, to explain this in their terms, in this assemblage. The superordinate is suddenly stripped of his or her capacity to act in any kind of way that could be understood as taking advantage of his or her position.

Guattari commented this over a decade before the ‘Anti-Oedipus’ came out. This can be foind in a psychotherapy report dated to 1958, written by him, subsequently referred to as ‘Monograph on R.A.’, as published in ‘Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Text and Interviews 1955–1971’ (1984 translation by Rosemary Sheed) . In summary, there was this patient at La Borde, where he used to work with Jean Oury. The patient had troubles establishing a relationship with others. I’d say that there was this deeply rooted distrust, especially when dealing with others one-on-one. Anyway, long story short, he (37) mentions that they, he and Oury, agreed that his conversations with this patient, referred to only as R.A., would be recorded. In his (37) words:

“Ostensibly, l started the recording when the dialog entered what l considered to be an impasse, or when something ‘bothered’ me. It was then as if a third person had appeared in the room.”

In other words, he had the tape recorder there, with him, and he only put it on when it appeared to him that something was off. Anyway, he (37) continues:

Two bodies psychology [analyst and analysand] and the associated perspectives of the imagination disappeared; an objectivation of the situation took place that had the effect, most often, of deviating, if not blocking the dialog.”

The point here is that a third body was introduced into this arrangement. This introduction of an extra body, of a third party, change the whole thing. This had the effect on the patient, this R.A., that allowed him or her to trust not only Guattari, but others as well. Guattari was no longer this person who was in a superior position. It was the tape recorder that made the patient trust him. How is that possible? Well, Guattari had nothing against the patient. Of course, the patient didn’t feel like trusting him. But if their conversations were to be put on record, Guattari would have to act in a way that others would find acceptable. This is not to say that he did, nor that he would act in a way that others would find unacceptable. Ah, but see, the patient had no way of knowing that. Having that third party there changed everything.

If you’ve paid attention, you may have noticed that the tape recorder wasn’t always even on. It was only on when they got stuck, when there was this distrust. He (40) also notes how, later on, things changed to the extent that it was doubtful whether it was necessary to even turn the recorder on to record their conversations. He (40) replaced it with a notebook. Now, that might seem suspicious. I get that and, I assume, he got that as well. The thing is that instead of making notes (or appearing to make notes) and keeping it all to himself, he gave the notes to his interlocuter, the patient, as he (40) points out. At this point he didn’t even need to make any notes as the patient made the notes for him, as he (40) goes on to add. I like the way he (40) explains this:

“[D]uring our conversations, l would interrupt him to say, ‘you could write that down,’ and l would repeat what he had said word for word (he was usually unable to remember it himself). l took on the role of the tape recorder (or the mirror), but in a more human way, the ‘disautomatization’ of the machine was correlated to the tact that he was now the machine recording the words circulating between us.”

In other words, he allowed his interlocutor to make notes, covering whatever it is that they’d talk about. He gained the trust of his interlocutor by making it so that the records that they kept were not kept by him. It doesn’t matter how those records are made as long as only the superordinate gets to keep that record. If the subordinate doesn’t get to keep that record or have access to it, if he or she cannot demand it to be provided for evidence, it is, as if, there was no third party. It’s then just back to where it all started. It’s just the same thing where the subordinate needs to do everything he or she can to make sure that his or her superordinate stays happy.

Now, what I like about this, the way Guattari explains this, is that not only does it explain a certain problem, what William Labov calls the observer’s paradox in his 1972 book ‘Sociolinguistic Patterns’, how awareness of being observed affects people’s behavior, how the presence of another person alters the arrangement, some 14 years before Labov, mind you, but also how it can be utilized as a solution. In other words, what I really like about this is that Guattari doesn’t address it first as a problem, as something that we ought to overcome, followed by offering us some solution to it, but rather gives it his own spin. He is keenly aware of how his presence alters the behavior of others, how there is a certain arrangement or an assemblage, which, in turn, changes remarkably once you introduce a virtual interlocutor into the mix. What’s great about this is that, in a way, he overcomes the underlying issue by giving up his role as a superordinate. He isn’t there to tell how things are, followed by telling how things ought to be, while making a record of everything that is said by his interlocutor. Instead, he is there to do the exact opposite. He is there just for his interlocutor to bounce off some ideas, as that tape recorder or as that mirror, as he (40) points out. Nothing about that is fixed. He isn’t there to judge his interlocutor, nor to keep a record so as to make sure that judgment is passed on his interlocutor. He isn’t there to make records that could be used against his patients, at least in their view that is, nor to make them to serve his own interests.What matters is the change in the assemblage and wherever it goes from there. It’s all open ended, as intended.

Anyway, that’s that, for now, something that just came to me. I thought it’d be interesting to take a closer look at this. It was. Time well spent.

Do your own thing!

I had some big plans for this month, but I just didn’t get enough done. That’s not really an issue as I can do whatever I want with this blog, without asking anyone for their permission to do so. That previous essay ended up being expanded, bit by bit, which sapped my time. Anyway, I still wanted to get something done, so I’ll go through something shorter. I’ll go through Félix Guattari’s ‘Molecular Revolution and Class Struggle’, as included in ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’ (1984 translation by Rosemary Sheed).

Why this text, from this book? Well, it’s an interesting piece because it’s actually an interview he did about ‘Anti-Oedipus’, the first book he did with Gilles Deleuze. He takes a lot of liberties in his writings, that’s for sure, but he takes even more liberties in interviews, which makes it particularly interesting reading. Of course, if you want things to be dull and polite, without any riffing, this text is not for you, nor are my texts, for that matter.

You should be able to understand why I say that he takes even more liberties than he normally does in his writing, when we look at the first sentence of this transcribed interview. He (253) states that:

“Beneath Marx and Freud, beneath Marxology and Freudology, lies the shit reality of the communist movement and the psychoanalytic movement.”

Haha, hahahahaha! I told you, I told you! Anyway, he isn’t just a provocateur. He is actually making a point with this, as he (253) quickly goes on to add to this:

“We have to start from this fact, and keep coming back to it. And I use the word shit advisedly – it is hardly even a metaphor: capitalism reduces everything to a state of shit, of an amorphous and simplified flux from which everyone must extract his own share in his own private and guilt-ridden way.”

I agree. I can only agree. That’s exactly how capitalism works. It’s all the same, all the same shit, just in different packaging. The shit comes from the same factories, if not from the same factory, even though the product packing looks different. To get to the point, and to not moan about shit, he (253) rephrases this:

“The keynote is exchange: absolutely anything, in the ‘proper’ proportions, can be equivalent to absolutely anything else.”

Yeah, that’s how capital works. Nothing is out of bounds. He (253) exemplifies with Marx and Freud:

“Marx and Freud, for instance, boiled down to a dogmatic pulp, can be introduced into common currency without any risk to the system. Marxism and Freudianism have been so painstakingly neutralized by the constituted bodies of the workers’ movement, the psychoanalytic movement and the universities that not only do they upset nobody, but they have even become guarantors of the established order, thus showing by a reductio ad absurdum that that order cannot be seriously shaken.”

In other words, something as revolutionary as Marx and Freud can be rendered into the same shit and put into use in the system, without any fear of a revolution that would overturn the system. So, if you are a Marxist or Freudian intellectual, possibly an academic, you are hardly a danger to the system that you, nonetheless, rely on. You as revolutionary a Che Guevara t-shirt. He (254) adds this that, okay, okay, some of you might object to that, stating that it’s the people who are to blame, not what they claim to stand for:

“It may be objected that one ought not to blame these theories for the distorted forms of praxis that claim to be based on them, that their original message has been falsified, that one must get back to the sources, correct inaccurate translations, etc.”

But he (253) has no time for such remarks:

“This is the fetishist trap.”

Why? Well, because texts never simply open up to us. There’s no inherent meaning to them, no correct interpretation, as he (253) goes on to add:

“There is no example anywhere in the sciences of this sort of respect for the texts and formulae propounded by the giants of the past. Revisionism is the norm. We are endlessly relativizing, rearranging, dismantling all the accepted theories, and those that resist remain under permanent attack.”

Now, that might come across as in support of people who resist such revisionist tendencies, but he isn’t siding with them either. In his (253) words:

“Far from setting out to mummify them, the aim is to open them out onto further constructions that are just as provisional, but more firmly grounded in the solid earth of experience.”

This is something that you’ll find in his own published work and in his collaborations with Deleuze. He isn’t interested in what something means, right here, right now, nor in what truly means, which is why it doesn’t matter whether you are working on something here and now, in this and/or that light, or trying to uncover what it originally meant. It’s all the same, all the same shit, if you will. Instead, he is interested in how something functions, whether it works and how it works, whether something is useful and whether it can be used for this and/or that purpose, as he (253) goes on to add:

“What matters, in the last resort, is how a theory is used.”

That’s what matters for, for Deleuze, as well as for me. What’s of great interest is not what something is, but what it does. It’s not that it’s not interesting to look at something, to examine how it might have come to appear to us the way it appears to us, but rather that it is much more useful to understand what it does, what is its function relation to something else.

None of this is to say that there isn’t merit into looking into things, right here, right now. It’s rather the opposite. What he (253) wants to do is to look at what we got and look at how we might have got to this point from whatever the source material is:

“We have to start off from what is actually being done in order to work our way back to the original flaws in the theories, in as much as itis they, in one way or another, that give a handle to such distortions in the first place.”

What he (253-254) wants to avoid is get trapped in the system, or so to speak:

“It is hard for the work of theorizing to evade the capitalist tendency to ritualize, to take over any activity that is even minimally subversive[.]”

But what is so problematic about getting trapped while theorizing? He (254) provides an answer, stating that it has to do with how capitalism ends up “cutting it off from all investments of desire[.]” Now, if you know what he means by desire, this all makes sense. To go back to the previous essay, for a moment, desire is what makes things happen, why, for example, you do what you do, the way you do it, to the extent that you do it, and why I do what I do, the way I do it, to the extent I do it, without it being about you or me. So, for example, if I fancy someone or something, let’s say some attractive woman or like a pint, it’s not that I’ve chosen to like that person or having a pint, but rather that I’ve come to fancy that person or having a pint. The point he (254) is making here is that there is this temptation to ignore desire in all this, to cut of theory from desire, making it neat and self-contained.

In summary, he (254) wants to do the exact opposite of what academics are in the habit of doing, to open up theorizing so that it’s open ended and relevant to everyday life. I guess another way of saying this is that theory should always be kept open, rather than closed, because it otherwise has that tendency to be reduced into some sort of transcendence, so that, ultimately, everything is explained as the Will of God, or so to speak. He (254) moves on to contrast two ways of looking at a text, whatever it may:

“There are two methods of receiving theoretical statements: the academic’s way is to take, or leave, the text as it stands, whereas the enthusiast’s way is to take it and leave it, manipulating it as he sees fit, trying to use it to throw light on his circumstances and direct his life.”

The former is based on this notion inhering something, either taking it or leaving it on an as is basis. It’s this either you are on board, one of us, or you aren’t on board, one of us. There is this disjunction. The latter is based on happily taking whatever you can and leaving it whenever you feel like it, without any obligation to take this, just this, as opposed that, to the extent that you want, for as long as you want or for as little time as you want, for the purpose of making use of it, for whatever purpose you want to use it for, or, rather, for whatever you’ve come to desire. This is about conjunction.

He (254) notes that it would be tempting to reject Marxism and Freudianism, wholesale, just because they appear to be outdated or lead to a dead end, but that’s wrong headed. What he wants to do is to take a bit of this and a bit of that from both, whatever happens to be relevant to everyday life, and make it work, to make it useful in everyday life.

The next thing to pick up from this interview is his (254) refusal to separate desire from social life and working life. The problem, for him (254), is that desire is seen as this individual thing, what it is that you think that you desire, as opposed to this creative force that drives you to this and/or that, whatever that may be. In other words, he (254-255) wants to make sure that you understand that desire is not a private matter, that this is not about you. He (255) also wants to make sure that you understand it’s not about this and/or that isolated case. He (255) exemplifies this with how we like to think that the university is about mere transmission of knowledge, from teachers to students, but it is, in fact, the whole society. In his (255) words:

“[T]he problem of the university is not just that of the students and the teachers, but the problem of society as a whole and of how it sees the transmission of knowledge, the training of skilled workers, the desires of the mass of the people, the needs of industry and so on.”

To this he (255) adds that whenever this issue is brought up, it is treated as this isolated case, so that the university or universities in question are examined in isolation from everything else, so that they are, at best, merely restructured and reorganized. After providing a couple of other examples, he (255) states that only the symptoms are addressed, but not the underlying causes:

“[T]he question is not how, today, one could alter the behavior [of people or groups of people], but the more fundamental one of how a society is functioning that it lets a situation like this arise at all?”

In other words, the important thing is not to address this and/or that, what it is, followed by pondering what the problem is and how it could be fixed, but to understand how it came or, rather, how it might have come to being in the first place. It’s much more useful to understand how we might have ended up here, as opposed to just taking it for granted.

The next thing I want to focus on in this interview is his (256) definition of transversality. For him (256), it has to do with this capacity to re-arrange, or, dare I say, reassemble. What he (256-257) wants to do with it is to indicate how desire is not individual, but collective. What he (256-257) means by this is that we act the way we do not because we choose to do so, just like that, but we come to desire it, to act the way we do. He (257) also wants to avoid the aforementioned cordoning, so that we don’t limit ourselves to this and/or that neatly isolated context:

“What transversality means is simply continual movement from one ‘front’ to another.”

He (257) adds to this, foreshadowing what he and Deleuze come to refer to as assemblages in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi):

“The unconscious is above all a social agencement, the collective force of latent utterances. Only secondarily can those utterances be divided into what belongs to you or to me.”

To be more specific, he (257) is foreshadowing what they, together, call the collective assemblages of enunciation, which, in turn, pertains to how all discourse is, first and foremost, indirect discourse, a murmur, if you will, as they (76-77) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. He (257) goes on to add that:

“The unconscious does not recognize private ownership of utterance any more than of desire.”

Here he (257) is foreshadowing he and Deleuze come to refer to as the machinic assemblages of desire in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. To get to the point, he (257) states that:

“Desire is always extra-territorial, de-territorialized, de­territorializing, escaping over and under all barriers.”

Again, this simply means that desire is never individual. It’s never about you, nor about me, nor about anyone specific. The role of capitalism is to tell you otherwise, as he (257) goes on to point out:

“[I]t works as a substitute religion. Its role is to regulate repression, to ‘personalize’ it, as the advertisements say.”

He (257) contrasts it with the practice of confession of one’s sins, like a good Catholic, acknowledging a certain similarity, a certain adherence to something, to that which is marketed to people, whatever that may be, but argues that capitalism is much more willing to make compromises, which makes highly flexible. He (257) reckons that it is “an active prostitution, a ritual that never ends”, a “drug” that makes sure that “there is no more risk of the subject[]s becoming seriously involved in any social struggle.” In other words, all issues are made private, something you have to deal, on your own, or in consultation with some expert who, nonetheless, keeps it a private affair, as he (257) points out. The problem is that it’s like a game, as he (257) goes on to add:

“It is not so much a matter of defending the values of capitalism as of pretending that they do not exist.”

What else is there? I’ve tried to skip all he has to say about psychoanalysis, because I’ve explained his views on it in the past, in that essay on ‘Anti-Oedipus’, and because it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m not too fond of it, nor familiar enough with it to properly comment it. He does, however, make some good points in this interview. For example, he (258) states that:

“It seems silly to have to say anything so obvious, yet one is continually faced with disingenuous assumptions of this kind: there is no such thing as a universal structure of the human mind, or of the libido!”

And that (259):

“What matters above all is not to reduce everything to a logical skeleton, but to enrich it, to let one link lead to the next, to follow real trails, social implications.”

This is the key thing about transversality, letting things stay open, staying in movement, as opposed to settling down and seeking to explain things as caused by this and/or that universal.

There’s also his (260) comments about identity and identification in this interview. This is something that he and Deleuze keep pointing out in their own work, but, to be clear, they reject any kind of reduction of becoming to being. They discuss all kinds of people in their work, including the mad or, rather, the people thought to be mad, but this should not be understood as an endorsement of any kind of behavior, as he (260) points out in this interview. There is no recourse to this and/or that identity, no “saying things like, ‘It’s all because of your homosexual tendency’” or like “‘[i]t’s because in you the death wish is confused with life force”, as noted by him (260).

As a last thing, I want to bring up his pessimism and optimism, perhaps I should rephrase that as his pragmatism. His interviewer, Arno Munster (260), asks him if his work at an experimental clinic, at La Borde, is crucial to his revolutionary project, a real breakthrough, if you will, or a mere reformism. He (261) responds to this by stating that it is a bit of both. To be pessimistic, he (260) reckons that it is bound to be stopped or taken over by the state, so that all the experimentality will replaced by something standard. To be optimistic, he (260), nonetheless, reckons that it won’t be the end of the world if that were to happen. What matters to him (260) is that there are always tiny openings that challenge the status quo:

“Illusory as I believe it to be to count on an approaching transformation of society, I am equally sure that projects on a tiny scale – communities, neighbourhood committees, setting up creches in university departments, etc. – can play a crucial role.”

He (261) believes that having multiple tiny projects that dare to challenge the system, to do whatever, is much better than taking part in major projects supervised and thus controlled by the system. Why? Well, if you work in such major projects, you end up changing things in the system, but aren’t allowed to change the system, to alter it in any way that would constitute any kind of breakthrough.

To wrap things up, this was an interesting text (interview) to go through because he is as all over the place as you might expect, if not more. In other words, considering all the talk about transversality in this interview, it’s appropriately transversal. It’s also interesting because this took place in 1973, just a year after ‘Anti-Oedipus’ was published in French, and yet he seems to have already reworked desiring machines into assemblages. Interesting.