Warps and Woofs | Machines and Diagrams

Returning to Deleuze and Guattari on language and linguistics, like the last time, I’ll be looking into the fourth chapter or plateau in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. The last time it was established that, for them, language is not simply informational and communicational. Instead, for them (75) language is highly functional and hardly neutral. I’ll try my best to avoid repeating what was in the previous text, but something tells me that’s not going to be easy. Anyway, like last time the relevant part of the book is titled ‘November 20, 1923 – Postulates of Linguistics’ and this time I’ll be covering the second of these postulates, titled by the two (85):

“II. ‘There Is an Abstract Machine of Language That Does Not Appeal to Any ‘Extrinsic’ Factor’”

Okay, let’s jump right into it, like they do in each of these plateaus. But before that, as a spoiler, as one might already gather from their stance to the first postulate, in short, their reply to the second postulate is, simply, again, no. Anyway, they (85) open up the second postulate:

“If in a social field we distinguish the set of corporeal modifications and the set of incorporeal transformations, we are presented, despite the variety in each of the sets, with two formalizations, one of content, the other of expression.”

Okay, so keep these two in mind, content and expression. They add (85-86):

“For content is not opposed to form but has its own formalization: the hand-tool pole, or the lesson of things. It is, however, opposed to expression, inasmuch as expression also has its own formalization: the face-language pole, the lesson of signs.”

Now, adding form to the mix, content is opposed to expression but not form. Opposition of two has to do with formalization. The wording things and signs makes me think of Foucault here, but it might be just me. Moving on, they (86) clarify this:

“Precisely because content, like expression, has a form of its own, one can never assign the form of expression the function of simply representing, describing, or averring a corresponding content: there is neither correspondence nor conformity.”

In other words, expression isn’t simply just expressing content on an as is basis. They (86) state that:

“The two formalizations are not of the same nature; they are independent, heterogeneous.”

They (86) clarify the independence of the two by pointing out that it was the Stoics who theoreticized this first, distinguishing “between the actions and passions of bodies” and “incorporeal acts.” It is worth clarifying that Deleuze and Guattari (86) use the word body as broadly as possible, “as applying to any formed content”, and the incorporeal acts as “the ‘expressed’ of the statements[.]” So, like in the previous essay, I pointed out that a body can be more than a human or animal body, for example a body of water. They (86) then clarify how the two are formed:

“The form of expression is constituted by the warp of expresseds, and the form of content by the woof of bodies.”

They first (86) exemplify the form of content:

“When knife cuts flesh, when food or poison spreads through the body, when a drop of wine falls into water, there is an intermingling of bodies[.]”

Here you have what I mentioned in the previous essay, how body can also be of liquid, not just what we typically think of when the word body is used. Anyway, in each case one body acts on another body, entering it, intermingling with it. They (86) then turn to how this is similar with statements:

“[T]he statements, ‘The knife is cutting the flesh,’ ‘I am eating,’ ‘The water is turning red,’ express incorporeal transformations of an entirely different nature (events).”

Indeed, so, as they (86) mentioned already, these two are independent, the expression is not the same as the content. Now, hold on, I think someone might object here, but do bear with me. For apparent reasons, they (86) call this a paradox, something the Stoics took as far as possible, “up to the point of insanity and cynicism[.]” They (86) note that:

“The paradox gets us nowhere unless, like the Stoics, we add that incorporeal transformations, incorporeal attributes, apply to bodies, and only to bodies. They are the expressed of statements but are attributed to bodies.”

So, in other words, language does things to things. They (86) then reiterate that it’s not about representing or describing:

“The purpose is not to describe or represent bodies; bodies already have proper qualities, actions and passions, souls, in short forms, which are themselves bodies. Representations are bodies too! If noncorporeal attributes apply to bodies, if there are good grounds for making a distinction between the incorporeal expressed “to become red” and the corporeal quality ‘red,’ etc., it has nothing to with representation.”

They (86) push forward with the argument:

“We cannot even say that the body or state of things is the ‘referent’ of the sign.”

As expressed a number of times already, content and expression are independent from one another, at least inasmuch as they are formed (I think of the virtual-actual here…), so words don’t actual refer to things, but to words. Once again, I’m thinking of Foucault, but now Derrida as well. Instead, they (86) argue that:

“In expressing the noncorporeal attribute, and by that token attributing it to the body, one is not representing or referring but intervening in a way; it is a speech act.”

This is their connection to J. L. Austin’s work, as discussed in the previous essay. They (86) specify this by adding that:

“The independence of the two kinds of forms, forms of expression and forms of content, is not contradicted but confirmed by the fact that the expressions or expresseds are inserted into or intervene in contents, not to represent them but to anticipate them or move them back, slow them down or speed them up, separate or combine them, delimit them in a different way. The warp of the instantaneous transformations is always inserted into the woof of the continuous modifications.”

How to put this as simply as possible? Well, the two argue that language interferes with things, transforming and modifying them. Here, if the warp and woof confuse you, remember that it was stated a while back that warp has to do with the statements, the expression, and the woof with the bodies, the content. Connecting the two, words and things, the form of expression and the form of content, Deleuze and Guattari (87) turn to assemblages:

“An assemblage of enunciation does not speak ‘of’ things; it speaks on the same level as states of things and states of content.”

In other words, as they (87) repeat for the what seems by now like umpteenth time, independent from one another, the two forms are not mirroring each other, but parceled together, grappling one another:

“[E]xpressions are inserted into contents, in which we ceaselessly jump from one register to another, in which signs are at work in things themselves just as things extend into or are deployed through signs.”

Which came first? Well, for the final bit here on the independence of the two and their intermingling, Deleuze and Guattari (87) summarize:

“[T]he functional independence of the two forms is only the form of their reciprocal presupposition, and of the continual passage from one to the other.”

The part on reciprocal presupposition reminds me of Foucault, or, well, Deleuze’s treatment of Foucault, in ‘Foucault’, the articulable and the visible, the discursive formation and non-discursive formation, as irreducible to one another and existing in mutual presupposition, so there is not one without the other. In ‘Foucault’ Deleuze (49) actually uses what he and Guattari defined as the form of expression and form of content, as discussed in this essay, in reference to the discursive formation and non-discursive formation. Deleuze (66-67) clarifies how the two interfere with one another:

“[I]t is the statements and visibilities which grapple like fighters, force one another to do something or capture one another, and on every occasion constitute ‘truth’.”

While Foucault, or rather for Deleuze’s (67-68) Foucault gives primacy to the discursive formation over the non-discursive formation, Deleuze and Guattari (87) do not privilege either:

“[O]ne cannot posit a primacy of expression over content, or content over expression. Sometimes the semiotic components are more deterritorialized than the material components, and sometimes the reverse.”

Now, to be fair, Foucault is or might not be giving primacy to the discursive formation as a universal, always so, but so under certain circumstances, as elaborated in his work in general. Anyway, what Deleuze and Guattari do here is to point out is that primacy occurs, but it isn’t given, always this or that, but, well, that it depends. How this functions then? Well, skipping the examples, they (87-88) summarize the process:

“In short, there are degrees of deterritorialization that quantify the respective forms and according to which contents and expression are conjugated, feed into each other, accelerate each other, or on the contrary become stabilized and perform a reterritorialization.”

They (88) clarify that what they mean by degrees is what they call circumstances or variables, which in turn they define as:

“[V]ariables of content, or proportions in the interminglings or aggregations of bodies, and there are variables of expression, factors internal to enunciation.”

They (88) use the date included in title of the plateau, November 20, 1923 to exemplify this. The date has to do with the hyperinflation of the Reichsmark and the following response, transforming it to the Rentenmark, a deterritorialization followed by a reterritorialization. The second example provided is the date mentioned in the first postulate, examined in my previous essay, July 4, 1917, how the councils were transformed to the party, spearheaded by the vanguard, a deterritorialization followed by a reterritorialization.

In the previous essay I encountered a problem, having to use a concept likely unknown to the reader and unexplained in the text at that point. I did cover it in passing, defining it in my words, based on memory alone. As I’ve pointed a number of times in the past, Deleuze and Guattari do this on purpose, using concepts they haven’t explained properly, which pushes you to read the book differently. You just have to go on and let it sink, trust the authors that you’ll eventually encounter whatever seems to be missing. Anyway, at this point they (88) rather abruptly address this, first on what they call the horizontal axis:

“[A]n assemblage comprises two segments, one of content, the other of expression. On the one hand it is a machinic assemblage of bodies, of actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one another; on the other hand it is a collective assemblage of enunciation, of acts and statements, of incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies.”

By abruptly I mean that they could have started with this, fronted this in the plateau, instead of burying it in the mid parts of the second postulate. Anyway, this is not your run-of-the-mill book, so it’d be silly of encounter this earlier on, followed by further examination of the concepts. On the vertical axis then, they (88) add:

“Then on a vertical axis, the assemblage has both territorial sides, or reterritorialized sides, which stabilize it, and cutting edges of deterritorialization, which carry it away.”

I think this part is important but also easy to forget. The assemblages aren’t static and it is important to emphasize that. The assemblages are subject to change and indeed do change, at least inasmuch as they do, by themselves or through the interference between the two. I’ve covered this in the past, but reiterating it here in short, they (89) the use the example of a knight, on one axis combining a number of bodies and expressions, and on the other axis combining to the Crusades.

It is not worth reiterating the independence of forms, which Deleuze and Guattari (89) address once more. However, it’s worth noting that they (89) warn reducing content and expression to material, i.e. goods and the means of production, and to ideology. This is further elaborated in the notes (525), where, in reference Stalin’s text ‘Marxism and Linguistics’, it is indicated that such view treats the relevant forms as pure and neutral. I can’t help but to think how ironic that is, especially with regard to language. In the notes (525) it is pointed out that, according to Stalin, language serves as “a pure means of information and communication.” Okay, for sure, if Stalin says so. It only makes sense. To be honest, I haven’t read that text and I’m actually puzzled by how Stalin had anything worth saying on the topic, but then again, great leaders aren’t great leaders for nothing, so I guess that only makes perfect sense for him to know a thing or two about linguistics. If it wasn’t clear enough, Deleuze and Guattari (89) are stating this is in criticism of Marxism and dialectics.

Deleuze and Guattari (90) elaborate that the material or machinic side of assemblages does not have to do with goods and production of goods and that the enunciative side of assemblages does not have to do with the productivity of language. Instead, they (90) argue that assemblages have to do with the intermingling of heterogeneous bodies and variables that determine which language elements come to be used. They (90) exemplify this with how, on their own, certain things are just things, but, in relation to other things, they are tools that have certain functionality, well, inasmuch as they do. They (90) note that this applies to language as well; the elements do not stand in isolation from other elements.

With specific relevance to linguistics then, they (90) argue that the form of expression, the discursive formation in Foucault’s parlance, is not itself a linguistic system, a structure. They (90) point out that it does not qualify as, for example, “a signifying phonological structure” “or as a deep syntactical structure” as that would result in erecting “an abstract machine of language” consisting of “a synchronic set of constants” where words simply refer to things. The problem for them (90-91) is not that such understanding is too abstract, but that it’s not abstract enough because it’s then a linear closed system, one that explains itself in its own terms, according to its own logic. For them (90), what stands outside language cannot be separated from language, even if the two are considered separate, as form of expression and form of content. In other words, as they (90-91) clearly argue, pragmatics must be taken into account, not as something external or by extension, but as integral to language. They (91) assert that:

“There is no use constructing a semantics, or even recognizing a certain validity to pragmatics, if they are still pretreated by a phonological or syntactical machine. For a true abstract machine pertains to an assemblage in its entirety: it is defined as the diagram of that assemblage. It is not language based but diagrammatic and superlinear.”

The core of the issue for them (91) then is that:

“[T]he inter-penetration of language and the social field and political problems lies at the deepest level of the abstract machine, not at the surface.”

In other words, our understanding of language needs to be radically changed. Instead of thinking of the surface then, they (91) state that:

“The abstract machine as it relates to the diagram of the assemblage is never purely a matter of language, except for lack of sufficient abstraction. It is language that depends on the abstract machine, not the reverse.”

Now, unless you are familiar with Deleuze and/or Guattari, you’ll probably be puzzled by the concept of the abstract machine. I’ve covered it in the past, at least to some extent, but as the concept is of high importance for the two, I’ll let them (91) continue:

“At most, we may distinguish in the abstract machine two states of the diagram, one in which variables of content and expression are distributed according to their heterogeneous forms in reciprocal presupposition on a plane of consistency, and another in which it is no longer even possible to distinguish between variables of content and expression because the variability of that same plane has prevailed over the duality of forms, rendering them ‘indiscernible.’”

What they say here is that, on one hand, you have a state in which content and expression are distinct from one another and, on the other hand, you have a state in which they are not distinct from one another. Also, pay attention to the reciprocal presupposition. This is of relevance to what was stated some paragraphs back in reference to Deleuze’s treatment of Foucault. In ‘Foucault’, Deleuze (34) summarizes what Foucault calls the diagram:

“It is an abstract machine. It is defined by its informal functions and matter and in terms of form makes no distinction between content and expression, a discursive formation and a non-discursive formation. It is a machine that is almost blind and mute, even though it makes others see and speak.”

So, as it was elaborated earlier, we can speak of the articulable and the visible, the discursive formation and non-discursive formation. Deleuze and Guattari prefer to define these two as the form of expression and the form of content. I think their translator, Brian Massumi (17), puts it neatly in ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari’: “What brings these formations together is the ‘abstract machine.’” More specifically, he (17) states that:

“The abstract machine is interpretation. It is the meaning process, from the point of view of a given expression. Any sign, quality, or statement, as the trace of a process of becoming, can be considered a de facto diagram from which a formal diagram of the operative abstract machine could be developed.”

Note here how this is viewed from the expression side. Why? Well, because we make sense of things through words, while, of course, we can’t do that without having bodies to do that. Anyway, that probably still leaves you hanging, so he (17) exemplifies this:

“In the case of ‘meaning’ as commonly understood (that is, as restricted to the conceptual linguistic planes) the abstract machine is the subject of meaning (in the sense of the agency responsible for its unfolding), and the ‘meaning’ is the formal diagram of forces extracted from the encounter in question.”

So, meaning or, as I like to call it, sense, happens, here and now. Importantly, the abstract machine or the diagram is what’s responsible for something being meaningful or making sense to us. Note how it’s not someone, like me or you, or someone else. He (17) then clarifies that:

“A diagram is a contraction of the abstract machine, which it envelops from a particular angle, recapitulates on a given level.”

In order to grasp his summary of the abstract machine better, he (17-18) states that at times Deleuze and Guattari refer to meaning as ‘essence’ and that they call it that because:

“[A]s the point of intersection between formations, it constitutes a point of contraction enveloping the entirety of the processes.”

He (18) clarifies that:

“The essence is always of an encounter; it is an event[.]”

That’s the here and now that I keep repeating. As he (18) points out, in their treatment essence has nothing to do with anything Platonic, so it’s not “stable nor transcendental nor eternal” rather than being immanent to that “dynamic process it expresses and has only an abyssal present infinitely fractured into past and future.” In the notes, its is clarified by him (148) that the event is also known as an incorporeal transformation, as presented in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. In other words, language is performative, as Austin might explain it, which means that the meaning or sense of what is expressed unfolds in the act of expression, in the speech act. Massumi (18) then clarifies the distinction between diagram and abstract machine:

“The essence can be condensed into an integrated graphic representation of a vectorial field – a literal diagram, directional arrows between points[.]”

In summary, Massumi (17-18) defines an abstract machine as the de facto diagram, the agency behind how whatever unfolds unfolds, and diagram the formal diagram, the meaning or essence of what unfolds. This is a very subtle difference, one that isn’t particularly clear, at least not in ‘Foucault’, yet it’s there. Elsewhere in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (56) do indicate that it’s the case:

“[T]he abstract machine cuts across all stratifications, develops alone and in its own right on the plane of consistency whose diagram it constitutes … piloting flows[.]”

More specifically, they (72) note state that:

“[A]bstract [m]achines … they construct … body or draw … plane or ‘diagram’ what occurs[.]”

In reference to Foucault’s analyses of various institutions, they (67) note that:

“At most, along with other contents and expressions, they imply a shared state of the abstract [m]achine acting not at all as a signifier but as a kind of diagram (a single abstract machine for the prison and the school and the barracks and the hospital and the factory…).”

That said, at times the difference between the two seems fuzzy. As quoted already, they (91) argue that:

“For a true abstract machine pertains to an assemblage in its entirety: it is defined as the diagram of that assemblage.”

In this case, like in ‘Foucault’, the abstract machine is defined as a diagram, rather than constituting or drawing it. In the same paragraph, it is, however, noted that:

“The abstract machine as it relates to the diagram of the assemblage is never purely a matter of language[.]”

So, right, again it is not the exactly the same, but related to it, as argued by Massumi and evident from the following passage in still the same paragraph (91):

“At most, we may distinguish in the abstract machine two states of the diagram[.]”

Right, now, if this isn’t confusing enough, further on they (100) state that:

“The abstract machine is like the diagram of an assemblage. It draws lines of continuous variation[.]”

And (101):

“It is only at this point that one reaches the abstract machine, or the diagram of the assemblage.”

As well as (141):

“The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute.”

Plus (141):

“We define the abstract machine as the aspect or moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain. A diagram has neither substance nor form, neither content nor expression.”

Then at one point they (142) use it a bit differently:

“The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent[.]”

Nevertheless, there seems to be a difference, as they (144) state:

“Abstract machines do not exist only on the plane of consistency, upon which they develop diagrams[.]”

I didn’t quote all of the cases included in the book, but I think on the basis of these already I can see why Massumi opts to differentiate between the two. Deleuze and Guattari use the terms at times interchangeably, yet in certain contexts they differentiate between the two, abstract machines being the ones that constitute, draw or develop diagrams. One could say that the abstract machine is a diagrammatic machine, as noted in one of the quotes. Diagram then is, at least in the formalized sense, as pointed out by Massumi (17-18), a contraction or a condensation, a tracing (drawing), a mapping or outlining, as noted by Deleuze and Guattari (146). In reverse then, following Deleuze (34) in ‘Foucault’, a diagram could be understood as the abstraction of the machination, as abstracted by the abstract machine.

I seem to have gone off on a tangent, once more, but I thought it was relevant to try to further examine and elaborate the concepts. There’s a difference between an abstract machine and a diagram, but whether it makes great difference to the reader, I’m not sure. So, where was I? Right, on the last page of the second postulate, which is great because this is probably enough for one essay. I realize this essay contains a fair bit of repetition, but it kind of happens with Deleuze and Guattari.


  • Austin, J. L. ([1955] 1962). How to Do Things with Words (J. O. Urmson, Ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.
  • Deleuze, G. ([1986] 1988). Foucault (S. Hand, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Massumi, B. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Stalin, J. V. (1951). Marxism and Linguistics. New York, NY: International Publishers.