Layer upon (no) Layer

A while ago I pointed out that I didn’t seem to be doing much, that’s because I got stuck on a plateau. Right, I keep returning to Deleuze and Guattari and this time I’m on a plateau titled ‘10,000 B.C: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)’, as contained in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. It is written in part through the lens of a Professor Challenger, a character from stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, just in case you wonder what’s the deal with that, as a future reference. In short, the plateau functions in part through that character, as if it was a lecture that the professor was giving. As a word of warning, this essay will be jam-packed with concepts that bounce around, but I’ll try to do my best to provide other relevant information where necessary.

Kicking things off, Deleuze and Guattari (40) state that:

“[Professor Challenger] explained that the Earth – the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the giant Molecule – is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles.”

What we have here is matter, as a flow, which is … hmmm … more like a process than a state, as contradictory as that may seem. But this is not important, right now, as they point out (40):

“That, however, was not the question at hand.”

Instead they (40) go for other things:

“For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification.”

Here we have a process that pertains to the formation of matter. They then (40) immediately clarify this:

“Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like ‘black holes’ or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach.”

Simply put, formed matter appears as strata. They (40) also include a reference here. It is included in the notes, clarifying what a black hole is, but I take it that these days this is more clear to most people, so let’s not go there. It’s what you think it is, like how it is in astronomy, from where they borrow it. Anyway, they (40) then clarify how it all functions:

“[Strata] operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality. The strata are judgments of God; stratification in general is the entire system of the judgment of God (but the earth, or the body without organs, constantly eludes that judgment, flees and becomes destratified, decoded, deterritorialized).”

They (40) then work through Challenger, explaining him as having said:

“A surface of stratification is a more compact plane of consistency lying between two layers.”

It is emphasized by the two (40) that this pivotal in understanding stratification. They (40) then reiterate that “[t]he layers are the strata” followed by adding that they come in pairs, one as the stratum and the other as the substratum. It’s like a layer on top of another layer, layer upon layer, if you will. In other words, they (40) explain:

“The surface of stratification is a machinic assemblage distinct from the strata. The assemblage is between two layers, between two strata; on one side it faces the strata (in this direction, the assemblage is an interstratum), but the other side faces something else, the body without organs or plane of consistency (here, it is a metastratum).”

So, in addition strification and strata, the production and the products, if you will, you have assemblages, which operate in relation to the strata. They then add that (40):

“In effect, the body without organs is itself the plane of consistency, which becomes compact or thickens at the level of the strata.”

Now, already from the beginning of this plateau the reader is bombarded with these concepts that crop up here and there in their book. As I’ve pointed out a number of times in my previous essays, this is on purpose and you just have to deal with it. Moving on, Deleuze and Guattari (40) complicate things further, first stating one of the most memorable bits of the book and then explaining it in other words:

“God is a Lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind. Not only do strata come at least in pairs, but in a different way each stratum is double (it itself has several layers).”

So, indeed not only are there strata, that come in pairs, but also each stratum has several layers. It’s a bit silly to express it that way, layers having layers, but I did not come up with that, so don’t blame me for that expression. This does indeed mean that strata consist of strata. Anyway, to the important bit, they (40) add:

“Each stratum exhibits phenomena constitutive of double articulation. Articulate twice, B-A, BA.”

This is, more or less, the whole point of this plateau, so keep that in mind. They (40) clarify this, how this applies to everything (which is why it’s worth keeping in mind):

“This is not at all to say that the strata speak or are language based. Double articulation is so extremely variable that we cannot begin with a general model, only a relatively simple case.”

They (40) then elaborate the first part of that case:

“The first articulation chooses or deducts, from unstable particle-flows, metastable molecular or quasi-molecular units (substances) upon which it imposes a statistical order of connections and successions (forms).”

They (41) use the example of the process of sedimentation, in which suspended or saltated materials are cyclically deposited in certain places. If you are familiar with geology, geomorphology, hydrogeography or the like, anything that has to do with fluvial processes really, then this should be fairly easy to grasp. So, from substances to forms it is. The first part is followed by a second part (41):

“The second articulation establishes functional, compact, stable structures (forms), and constructs the molar compounds in which these structures are simultaneously actualized (substances).”

They (41) exemplify the second part by the process of folding, in which the deposited materials, the sediment is transformed or cemented into sedimentary rock. Once again, if you are familiar with how it works, how, for example, streams and rivers erode the banks and the bottom of the river and then carry the eroded materials (which also function to erode on the way), such as sand, downstream where they end up deposited turn into, for example, sandstone, then this should not be hard to grasp. Once cemented, they become layers or strata, which you can observe in cross-sections, for example on the side of mountains or canyons. So, from forms to substances this time around.

Clarifying the concepts, Deleuze and Guattari (41) state that:

“[T]he distinction between the two articulations is not between substances and forms.”

To be more specific, they (41) further clarify that:

“Substances are nothing other than formed matters. Forms imply a code, modes of coding and decoding. Substances as formed matters refer to territorialities and degrees of territorialization and deterritorialization. But each articulation has a code and a territoriality; therefore each possesses both form and substance.”

Again, as a terminological note, keep in mind that substances are formed matters. Also, note how code is linked to form and territoriality is linked to substance, aka formed matter. They (41) rephrase this:

“[E]ach articulation has a corresponding type of segmentarity or multiplicity: one type is supple, more molecular, and merely ordered; the other is more rigid, molar, and organized.”

Here we have concepts molecular and molar that crop up elsewhere as well. Now, to further distinguish the two articulations, the first and the second, they (41) state that:

“Although the first articulation is not lacking in systematic interactions, it is in the second articulation in particular that phenomena constituting an overcoding are produced, phenomena of centering, unification, totalization, integration, hierarchization, and finalization.”

If you go back a bit, to the exampes of sedimentation and folding, this makes sense. This is one of the rare occasions that Deleuze and Guattari are actually rather straight forward with what they state. That said, they (41) problematize what they just asserted:

“Both articulations establish binary relations between their respective segments. But between the segments of one articulation and the segments of the other there are biunivocal relationships obeying far more complex laws.”

They (41) add that they could use the word structure here to “designate the sum of these relations and relationships”, as it’s sort of fitting really, but they are not happy with it as it comes across as overly static, or as they put it: “it is an illusion to believe that structure is the earth’s last word.” They (41) also note that it would also be overly simplistic to associate the first articulation with the molecular and the second articulation with the molar. It’s not that it isn’t or cannot be the case, as it certainly s with sedimentation and folding, but rather that it isn’t always the case. They (41-42) go on to explains different types of stratification and double articulation on the following pages of the plateau, including organic and chemical stratification. It’s not all exactly the same, the terms differ a bit, but overall it’s not worth adding here, not that’s it’s not worth reading, of course.

As this is related, and arguably helps to understand the plateau on the postulates of linguistics, I’ll jump ahead to a related bit here. Working through Challanger, the two (43) make note of Louis Hjelmslev, who addressed the stratification of language, “weav[ing] a net out of the notions of matter, content and expression, form and substance.” They (43) note that this bypasses the issue with the duality of formcontent, “since there was a form of content no less than a form of expression.” I think it’s worth expressing this further in their own words (43):

“Hjelmslev’s enemies saw this merely as a way of rebaptizing the discredited notions of the signified and signifier, but something quite different was actually going on. Despite what Hjelmslev himself may have said, the net is not linguistic in scope or origin[.]”

So, as they point out earlier on, this is not as simple as they initially led on. It’s worth clarifying the terms again, so they (43) state:

“[Hjelmslev] used the term matter for the plane of consistency or Body without Organs, in other words, the unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows: subatomic and submolecular particles, pure intensities, prevital and prephysical free singularities.”

That’s matter covered, at least for now. They then (43) define content:

“He used the term content for formed matters, which would now have to be considered from two points of view: substance, insofar as these matters are ‘chosen,’ and form, insofar as they are chosen in a certain order (substance and form of content).”

Then they (43) define expression:

“He used the term expression for functional structures, which would also have to be considered from two points of view: the organization of their own specific form, and substances insofar as they form compounds (form and [substance] of expression).”

As a side note, the [] indicate here addresses the mistranslation or typo in the English translation. In ‘Mille plateaux’, the French original, they do use the wording ‘forme et substance d’expression’, so it ought to be substance, not content there. Anyway, they (43) then redefine stratum:

“A stratum always has a dimension of the expressible or of expression serving as the basis for a relative invariance; for example, nucleic sequences are inseparable from a relatively invariant expression by means of which they determine the compounds, organs, and functions of the organism.”

In summary, you have matter, which is unformed, or so to speak, as already hinted, as well as content and expression, which both have substance, aka formed matter, and form. They move back to the articulations, after some examples that they mention, but do not clarify (44):

The first articulation concerns content, the second expression. The distinction between the two articulations is not between forms and substances but between content and expression, expression having just as much substance as content and content just as much form as expression.”

Okay, that ought to be clear by now. The first articulation deals with content. The second articulation deals with expression. That said, they (44) immediately problematize it, reiterating what was already previously pointed out:

“The double articulation sometimes coincides with the molecular and the molar, and sometimes not; this is because content and expression are sometimes divided along those lines and sometimes along different lines.”

So, as already pointed out, the first articulation does tend be molecular and the second articulation does tend to be molar, but it is not always the case. Generally yes, but not always. They (44) then add what’s also discussed in the plateau on the postulates on linguistics:

“There is never correspondence or conformity between content and expression, only isomorphism with reciprocal presupposition.”

So, indeed, as discussed on another plateau, and in some of my previous essays, one does not precede the other nor vice versa. They are sort of the same, yet different, hence they are distinct, as they state (44):

“The distinction between content and expression is always real, in various ways, but it cannot be said that the terms preexist their double articulation. It is the double articulation that distributes them according to the line it draws in each stratum; it is what constitutes their real distinction.”

When I stated that they don’t precede one another, it may seem a bit odd, considering Deleuze and Guattari speak in ordinals, the first and the second, but it’s just a matter of convenience, as they (44) note:

“Even though there is a real distinction between them, content and expression are relative terms (‘first’ and ‘second’ articulation should also be understood in an entirely relative fashion).”

In other words, one is first because as an articulation before an another articulation it is the first and the one after it is the second. The point here is, however, that they are thought of as such, as first and second, only when they are invoked like that. Another articulation, what would be the third articulation, would be the third, but it is, rather, the second, and the one before it would be the first, as articulation works this way, in tandem. They (44) then add that:

“Even though it is capable of invariance, expression is just as much a variable as content. Content and expression are two variables of a function of stratification. They not only vary from one stratum to another, but intermingle, and within the same stratum multiply and divide ad infinitum.”

So, as I’ve pointed out in my previous essays, the two do intermingle. They don’t just exist neatly isolated from one another. They do still remain distinct though. That still applies. In other words, they (44) summarize:

“In short, we find forms and substances of content that play the role of expression in relation to other forms and substances, and conversely for expression. These new distinctions do not, therefore, coincide with the distinction between forms and substances within each articulation; instead, they show that each articulation is already, or still, double.”

So, like with the articulations, there being a first and a second, that tandem, some content is content for some expression, which, could operate as content for some other expression. To get the gist of the second part, it’s worth going back just a bit, to where they (44) state that for form and substance:

“[T]here is no real distinction between form and substance, only a mental or modal distinction: since substances are nothing other than formed matters, formless substances are inconceivable, although it is possible in certain instances to conceive of substanceless forms.”

So, content and expression are distinct, for sure, whereas substance and form are only kind of distinct. The former is a real distinction, whereas the latter is more like an auxiliary distinction. Finally, to exemplify this, they return to the organic stratum (44-45):

“[P]roteins of content have two forms, one of which (the infolded fiber) plays the role of functional expression in relation to the other. The same goes for the nucleic acids of expression: double articulations cause certain formal and substantial elements to play the role of content in relation to others; not only does the half of the chain that is reproduced become a content, but there constituted chain itself becomes a content in relation to the ‘messenger.’”

So, in summary, there is this … double-double, double articulation of both content and expression. To make things less clear and somewhat more problematic, they (45) add, quoting Hjelmslev, that calling the two, content and expression, what they are called, content and expression, is hardly justified, but they are what they are, identified only by “their mutual solidarity” and defined by their mutual opposition and relativity, hence the real distinction, reciprocal presupposition and relativity.

Right, so, in summary, as indicated on the plateau on the linguistic postulates and expressed in some of the previous essays, content and expression are the pivotal concepts, both having matter, form and substance. As Deleuze and Guattari note (43), matter is “the unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows” and has to do with intensities. Content, as they (43) note, is the formed matter, its substance being chosen and its form being the order how its chosen. Expression then, as they (43) note, stands for functional structures with form referring to its organization and substance to compounding according to the forms. With regard to the relativity then, they (44-45) use the example of nucleic acids, think of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which, for example, can function as a content with the expression being, for example, a human being, which then, once aggregated, can function as content to the expression that is a collective, such as a society. So, in other words, think of the expression as, well, the expression of something, which can then also function as something which is the basis of another expression, which then … and so and so on. With regards to the lack of deemed justification for distinguishing the two, as noted by Hjelmslev himself, it sort of makes sense when you take account that chain I just described or attempted to describe anyway. That’s the deal with the isomorphism, same but different, different yet same, one not before the other or the other way around. If we go back to the erosion and sedimentation example, assuming that we ignore other rock (trans)forming processes, for something to sediment and to then become sedimentary rock, a thin layer (stratum) or a bed of, say, sandstone or shale, there needs to be something to be eroded, i.e. chosen to be suspended in the water or moved by it (saltation). That would be mineral particles of certain sizes, such as sand and clay, chosen to be carried away from their (then) point of origin by the stream of water (stream or river) flushing downstream. It could be another harder material that is eroded, then chosen or deducted, instead of a sandy or clayey river bank and/or bottom, but that only changes some of the dynamics, not the process itself. So, in other words, the point is that it’s not a closed system with a linear progression, from here to there, from this to that, but a dynamic open system in which the content and expression are distinct and relative to one another, in reciprocal presupposition. You can’t have sedimentation without sediment, which in turn requires something to be eroded, which itself could well be sedimentary rock. Here I purposely ignored other rock formations and how they relate to one another, but let’s not go there, otherwise this will never end. Instead, it’s worth emphasizing that as Deleuze and Guattari (45, 40) express it, there is “a multiplicity of double articulations affecting both expression and content”, “[t]here are double pincers everywhere on a stratum”, “double binds and lobsters” for “God is a Lobster[.]” Attempting to list all of them, if that’s even possible (I don’t think it is), would be foolish, not to mention beside the point, as the double articulation goes on and on, and on and on, for all eternity, or as they (44) put it, “[t]hey not only vary from one stratum to another, but intermingle, and within the same stratum multiply and divide ad infinitum.”

To use another example of what Deleuze and Guattari are after, one could think of procedurally generated maps in games, such as XCOM 2, to use a contemporary example. The idea behind procedurally created maps is having a pool of assets, bits of this and that, which then get actualized in various ways. It’s worth pointing out that procedural maps are not the same as simply random. Now, for example, in XCOM games a team of soldiers engage on a tactical level in different locations. It is possible to craft a vast number of local level maps for these engagements and simply hope the player never engages more than that preset number of maps hand crafted by the game developers. However, in practice, that’s quite the resource intensive task. It also results in people eventually knowing the maps in advance, enabling them to engage the enemy in ways that ought to be unforeseen in that situation. Randomizing the assets, for example walls, doors, cars, trees, etc. would surely result in more variety, but without some guiding principle, some generality to it, it would be all over the place, ruining the immersion and possibly gameplay as well. What you want instead is a modular system in which there are multiple levels of generality of … content and their … expressions, which function as the content for other expressions. So, in other words, you’d have a map layer which would function in map generation as a blueprint for the allotment of certain assets, say buildings. Ideally you’d have some generality that as well, based on, for example, landforms. Once those are generated on the map, it restricts the randomization of other assets on other blueprints. So, you’d only find trees on the ground, not on top of a building. You wouldn’t find a trash can in the middle of the forest, nor a wire fence inside a building, unless the code permits such. Obviously a game is simply a game and hardly a match for reality itself, but this is just so if you fail to grasp what they are after. It would require something along the lines of coding a game that has not only its contents and expressions manifest according to certain code or structure that permits variation, but also have that code or structure change dynamically in response to those manifestations. I guess that would be like attempting to create an actual open ended reality, one without set bounds, so, as much as I admire the work of coders, somehow I don’t see that happening.

Back to Deleuze and Guattari who move on to provide more examples. They (45) address the molecular and the molar, by providing some examples:

“In biochemistry, there is a unity of composition of the organic stratum defined at the level of materials and energy, substantial elements or radicals, bonds and reactions. But there is a variety of different molecules, substances, and forms.”

Right, note the unity part in particular as it’s relevant to what I just exemplified myself. They (45) start making use of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, a naturalist in the 1700s and the 1800s:

“He said that matter, considered from the standpoint of its greatest divisibility, consists in particles of decreasing size, flows or elastic fluids that ‘deploy themselves’ by radiating through space.”

Ay, so another way of speaking of matter, as already established. They add (45) that:

“Combustion is the process of this escape or infinite division on the plane of consistency. Electrification is the opposite process, constitutive of strata; it is the process whereby similar particles group together to form atoms and molecules, similar molecules to form bigger molecules, and the biggest molecules to form molar aggregates: ‘the attraction of like by like,’ as in a double pincer or double articulation.”

Here we have the processes that are responsible for the (de/re)formation of matter and how it is to be understood in terms the molecular, of atoms and molecules, and the molar, the aggregates. They (45) continue:

“[T]here is no vital matter specific to the organic stratum, matter is the same on all the strata.”

Now I maybe falling short here, considering that I was never really that much into the natural sciences and I haven’t taken too many courses in the relevant fields, but they are pointing out that matter is simply matter. There is no magic sauce type of matter attributable to the living that differentiates them from the non-living. They (45-56) then go on to point out:

“But the organic stratum does have a specific unity of composition, a single abstract Animal, a single machine embedded in the stratum, and presents everywhere the same molecular materials, the same elements or anatomical components of organs, the same formal connections. Organic forms are nevertheless different from one another, as are organs, compound substances, and molecules.”

So, no vital matter, but something else, something machinic that leads to certain forms and substances. They (46) summarize their view on this:

“The important thing is the principle of the simultaneous unity and variety of the stratum: isomorphism of forms but no correspondence; identity of elements or components but no identity of compound substances.”

They (46) then move on to posit Geoffroy against Georges Cuvier, the former arguing in favor of what we’ve covered so far, the unity of composition, isomorphism and a continuum of development with varying degrees and modes, and the latter who stood in staunch opposition of such nonsense. They (46) position Geoffroy as stating that:

“It is not everywhere on a stratum that materials reach the degree at which they form a given aggregate. Anatomical elements may be arrested or inhibited in certain places by molecular clashes, the influence of the milieu, or pressure from neighbors to such an extent that they compose different organs.”

In other words, not everything molecular ends up aggregated or compounded, so that they appear as molar. Adding some clarity, they (46) have Geoffroy rephrase this:

“The same formal relations or connections are then effectuated in entirely different forms and arrangements. It is still the same abstract Animal that is realized throughout the stratum, only to varying degrees, in varying modes.”

And once more (46):

“Each time, it is as perfect as its surroundings or milieu allows it to be (it is obviously not yet a question of evolution: neither folding nor degrees imply descent or derivation, only autonomous realizations of the same abstract relations).”

Deleuze and Guattari, I guess you could say famously, are all about becoming, not being, not that being is in opposition of becoming, as I’ve explained in some of my previous essays on the two. The way I read this has all to do with that. So you are exactly what you are at any given moment. You are always as perfect as you are, no less, no more. It’s worth noting here that this operates on a more general level than that of biological evolution, as they note in the extract above. I think it’s also worth adding that when they point out that the surroundings or the milieu play a role, they are not exactly saying that because the environment is this or that, it leads to certain things, but rather plays a role, among other factors which may or may not play some role, in varying degrees. Their opposition to arborescensce crops up in this discussion as well, in their characterization of Cuvier who they (46) have respond to Geoffroy:

“There are irreducible axes, types, branches. There are resemblances between organs and analogies between forms, nothing more. You’re a falsifier, a metaphysician.”

Indeed, axes, types, branches, you know, trees, arborescence. Anyway, Deleuze and Guattari (46-47) include other contemporaries of Geoffroy and Cuvier in the discussion, but you can read these yourself. As the main lines argumentation are between the two, it’s not worth going to detail here. Deleuze and Guattari (47) summarize their characterization of the two:

“Cuvier reflects a Euclidean space, whereas Geoffroy thinks topologically. … Strata are topological, and Geoffroy is a great artist of the fold, a formidable artist; as such, he already has a presentiment of a certain kind of animal rhizome with aberrant paths of communication – Monsters. Cuvier reacts in terms of discontinuous photographs, and casts of fossils.”

The former is, well, what you’d expect, how people generally view the world. The latter is how they view the world, which is far from how people tend to view the world. They (47) move on to summarize what was invoked by the discussion of Geoffroy:

“[W]e invoked two factors, and their uncertain relations, in order to explain the diversity within a stratum – degrees of development or perfection and types of forms.”

They (47-48) then bring Darwin into discussion:

“[The factors] now undergo a profound transformation. There is a double tendency for types of forms to be understood increasingly in terms of populations, packs and colonies, collectivities or multiplicities; and degrees of development in terms of speeds, rates, coefficients, and differential relations. A double deepening. This, Darwinism’s fundamental contribution, implies a new coupling of individuals and milieus on the stratum.”

They (48) elaborate this, first focusing on the coupling of individuals and milieus:

“First, if we assume the presence of an elementary or even molecular population in a given milieu, the forms do not preexist the population, they are more like statistical results. The more a population assumes divergent forms, the more its multiplicity divides into multiplicities of different nature, the more its elements form distinct compounds or matters – the more efficiently it distributes itself in the milieu, or divides up the milieu.”

They (48) clarify this by stating that this is the reversal of the relation between embryogenesis, anticipating a preestablished outcome on the basis of the parents, and phylogenesis, group development of organisms with no preestablished outcome. Following Georges Canguilhem, Georges Lapassade, Jacques Piquemal and Jacques Ulmann in their article titled ‘Du développement à l’évolution au XIXe siècle’, as indicated in the notes (522), Deleuze and Guattari (48) point out that with the former there seems to be a preestablished outcome, fixity, but it is illusory, only there for the sake of the “convenience of expression” as there are no fixed reference points or centers. Quoting them (34), Deleuze and Guattari state that:

“Life on earth appears as a sum of relatively independent species of flora and fauna with sometimes shifting or porous boundaries between them. Geographical areas can only harbor a sort of chaos, or, at best, extrinsic harmonies of an ecological order, temporary equilibriums between populations.”

Following the first part that deals with populations, they (48) move on to the second part, on degrees of development:

“Second, simultaneously and under the same conditions, the degrees are not degrees of preexistent development or perfection but are instead global and relative equilibriums: they enter into play as a function of the advantage they give particular elements, then a particular multiplicity in the milieu, and as a function of a particular variation in the milieu.”

They (48) add that, importantly, as a result:

“Degrees are no longer measured in terms of increasing perfection or a differentiation and increase in the complexity of the parts, but in terms of differential relations and coefficients such as selective pressure, catalytic action, speed of propagation, rate of growth, evolution, mutation, etc.”

So, in summary of the contribution of Darwinism, they (48-49) argue that it substitutes or replaces types with populations and degrees of development with speeds, rates and differential relations, resulting in shifting boundaries.

After admitting going on a tangent, or rather setting Challenger to go on on one, Deleuze and Guattari (49) return to the general discussion of strata. As already mentioned, they (49) reiterate:

“Materials are not the same as the unformed matter of the plane of consistency; they are already stratified, and come from ‘substrata.’”

So, what they call materials pertain to substance, aka formed matter. What is added here is, as they (49) go on to state, that:

“[S]ubstrata should not be thought of only as substrata: in particular, their organization is no less complex than, nor is it inferior to, that of the strata; we should be on our guard against any kind of ridiculous cosmic evolutionism.”

It’s worth going back a bit, to the point where they introduce the substratum. It was previously established that the machinic assemblage faces the strata and is the in-between strata, the interstratum, and what it faces on one side, the plane of consistency or the body without organs, the metastratum (40). It was also established that layers or strata come in pairs, one serving as the substratum for the other (40). Unless I’m mistaken, it sort of makes sense, considering that a layer is always on top of something else, why call it layer otherwise? Anyway, they (49) further elaborate the substrata:

“The materials furnished by a substratum are no doubt simpler than the compounds of a stratum, but their level of organization in the substratum is no lower than that of the stratum itself. The difference between materials and substantial elements is one of organization; there is a change in organization, not an augmentation.”

Okay, so, yes, it’s a matter of organization, not of adding or augmenting. The following will probably be among the tougher parts to grasp, but here we go. They (49) add:

“The materials furnished by the substratum constitute an exterior milieu for the elements and compounds of the stratum under consideration, but they are not exterior to the stratum.”

Aha, exterior, but not actually exterior, sure. Anyway, do go on (49):

“The elements and compounds constitute an interior of the stratum, just as the materials constitute an exterior of the stratum; both belong to the stratum, the latter because they are materials that have been furnished to the stratum and selected for it, the former because they are formed from the materials.”

As a clarification, remember, earlier on it was established by the two (40-41) how the first articulation is about choosing, deducting or selecting, from substance to form, and the second articulation is about establishing stable functional structures and then constructing molar compounds, from form to substance. Now, they (49) add important bit about relativity next:

“Once again, this exterior and interior are relative; they exist only through their exchanges and therefore only by virtue of the stratum responsible for the relation between them.”

Using the organic stratum as an example, skipping the other one here for the sake of brevity, they (49-50) summarize:

“[T]he materials furnished by the substrata are an exterior medium constituting the famous prebiotic soup, and catalysts play the role of seed in the formation of interior substantial elements or even compounds. These elements and compounds both appropriate materials and exteriorize themselves through replication, even in the conditions of the primordial soup itself.”

Okay, I admit I’m a getting a bit lost here, but keeping in mind the double articulation does help. Anyway, they (50) introduce a new term, the central layer or ring, which is comprises “the unity of composition of a stratum: exterior molecular materials, interior substantial elements, and the limit … conveying formal relations.” Moreover, they (50) add that the stratum envelopes an abstract machine that constitutes its unity. They (50) call it the Ecumenon, the counterpart of the Planomenon which is on the unformed side, on the plane of consistency. Complicating things further, they (50) indicate that it is not possible to uncover or locate the central layer of the stratum, to navigate to it, as it has several layers, stretching from a center to a periphery, which, in turn, functions as a center in relation to a new periphery, and so on, and so on. They (50) introduce a new term epistrata for these outgrowths that they call intermediates or intermediaries:

“There is an outgrowth and multiplication of intermediate states, and this process is one of the local conditions of the central ring (different concentrations, variations that are tolerated below a certain threshold of identity). These intermediate states present new figures of milieus or materials, as well as of elements and compounds. They are intermediaries between the exterior milieu and the interior element, substantial elements and their compounds, compounds and substances, and between the different formed substances (substances of content and substances of expression).”

They (50-51) rephrase this, stratum in relation to the epistratum:

“A stratum, considered from the standpoint of its unity of composition, therefore exists only in its substantial epistrata, which shatter its continuity, fragment its ring, and break it down into gradations.”

Further complicating things, they (51) introduce annexation and association alongside the relative interior and exterior. They (51) indicate that the association, or, more specifically the associated milieu, is defined by:

“[T]he capture of energy sources (respiration in the most general sense), by the discernment of materials, the sensing of their presence or absence (perception), and by the fabrication or nonfabrication of the corresponding compounds (response, reaction).”

Taking cues from Jakob von Uexküll’s ‘A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans’, they (51) exemplify this with how a simple tick is defined by energy (gravitational energy of falling), perception (perceiving sweat) and response/reaction (latching on to skin). You can find the tick example in great detail in von Uexküll’s text already in the introduction. I’ll go on a bit of tangent here, before returning to the example.

It’s fair to say that Deleuze is fascinated by animals, as evident in the letter ‘A is for Animal’ in his ‘Abécédaire’, a set letter by letter of interviews conducted by Claire Parnet. In this context he clarifies that he isn’t fond of animals that are treated as humans or rather like non-animals, as members of family, as familiar or familials, i.e. not on their own terms, if you will. Instead he is fond of having an animal relationship with animals, noting that, for example, hunters have an astonishing relationship with animals. Anyway, he is fascinated by animals, not only the fuzzy ones, like cats and dogs which he clearly isn’t fond of, albeit clearly for the human reasons, but also the supposedly insignificant ones like spiders, ticks and fleas. Of course, ask a biologist and surely they’ll tell you that they are not insignificant, but that’s the point exactly. They don’t have fuzzy muzzles and they creep around, creeping us, so they get relegated into the baddie sector. Anyway, back to the interview, he states that he is impressed by the fact that every animal has a world, regardless of the scope. He uses the example of a tick, as also elaborated by Deleuze alongside Guattari (51). As I’m on the interview now, I’ll have Deleuze explain what a territory is, as it’s been popping up quite a bit in this text already, just in case you are frustrated by it (minor differences with original translation as I’ve shortened this):

“Territory constitutes the properties of the animal, and leaving the territory they risk it, and there are animals that recognize their partner, they recognize them in the territory, but not outside the territory … I am interested in reflecting on this notion of territory, and I tell myself, territory has no term for the relation to a movement by which one leaves the territory. So, to address this, I need a word that is apparently ‘barbaric.’ … [T]he concept of ‘deterritorialization.’ … [W]hat it means, what its use is … [T]here are equivalents in other languages. … [I]n Melville, there appears all the time ‘outlandish’ … [It] is precisely the equivalent of the ‘deterritorialized,’ word for word. … [T]here is no territory, territorialization without a vector of exiting the territory; there is no exiting the territory, that is, deterritorialization, without at the same time an effort of reterritorializing oneself elsewhere, which is something else. All this functions with animals and that’s what fascinates me.”

That ought to explain not only territory but the perhaps odd terms of de– and reterritorialization that crop up in the text quite often. The interview is helpful as it explains this in quite simple terms.

Anyway, back to the milieus. Deleuze and Guattari (51) point out that the associated milieus are related to organic forms, which, in turn, should not be considered as mere structures, but rather as structurations, constituting associated milieus. They (51) ponder the relation between the organic form, such as a spider, and the associated milieu, such as a spider web, stating that both having a role in the morphogenesis of the organic form. I believe this touches on the topic of the role of genetics and the environment on the development of the individual. They (51-52) characterize the relation as interlaced, active, perceptive, and energetic; the milieu has to be in conformity with the code of the organic form, yet the milieu may develop the organic form. More specifically, they (52) state that:

“Milieus always act, through selection, on entire organisms, the forms of which depend on codes those milieus sanction indirectly.”

They (52) specify that:

“Associated milieus divide a single milieu of exteriority among themselves as a function of different forms, just as intermediate milieus divide a milieu of exteriority among themselves as a function of the rates or degrees of a single form.”

They (52) then introduce yet another term into play, the parastrata:

“We will apply the term ‘parastrata’ to the second way in which the central belt fragments into sides and ‘besides,’ and the irreducible forms and milieus associated with them. This time, it is at the level of the limit or membrane of the central belt that the formal relations or traits common to all of the strata necessarily assume entirely different forms or types of forms corresponding to the parastrata.”

In other words, parastrata explains how strata aren’t simply continuous layers or belts. They have their limits. They rework the definition of strata once again (52):

“A stratum exists only in its epistrata and parastrata, so that in the final analysis these must be considered strata in their own right. The ideally continuous belt or ring of the stratum – the Ecumenon defined by the identity of molecular materials, substantial elements, and formal relations – exists only as shattered, fragmented into epistrata and parastrata that imply concrete machines and their respective indexes, and constitute different molecules, specific substances, and irreducible forms.”

So, in short, we have strata that consist of strata, layer upon layer, but not in a neat continuous arrangement. Going back a bit, they (50) just defined the Ecumenon as the stratum that envelopes an abstract machine that constitutes its unity. Getting back on track, they (52) state something similar:

“[P]arastrata envelop the very codes upon which the forms depend, and these codes necessarily apply to populations.”

They (52) rephrase this in more simple terms:

“[W]e must always think in terms of packs and multiplicities: a code does or does not take hold because the coded individual belongs to a certain population[.]”

They (52) then ask a question:

“What does it mean to say that new forms and associated milieus potentially result from a change in the code, a modification of the code, or a variation in the parastratum?”

Only to answer it themselves (52-53), stating that it does not involve a passage from one preestablished form to another, from this to that, as “a translation from one code to another”, as that would entail going the Cuvier route where forms are irreducible. Later on (54) they point out that this works mighty fine, as long as forms are deemed as preestablished and compared to predetermined degrees of development. It’s actually rather obvious that it’s the case, because then it’s rigged to be the case. Neat but static. Instead, they (53) argue that code is inseparable from the process of (de)coding, noting that “[t]here is no genetics without ‘genetic drift'” and pointing out that code gets transferred sideways, meaning that, for example, the human code not only changes as we move from generation to generation to generation and so on, but it is also influenced by fragments of codes injected from other animals, namely through viruses. More simply put, for example, viruses decode certain fragments of code from one host which may then end up coded into the code of another host.

Returning to parastrata and epistrata, Deleuze and Guattari (53) indicate that, on one hand, “[f]orms relate to codes and processes of coding and decoding in the parastrata” and, on the other hand, “being formed matters, relate to territorialities and movements of deterritorialization and reterritorialization on the epistrata.” So, more simply put, the parastrata have to do with coding and the epistrata with territorialization. They (53) offer an example of the latter:

“Physical particles and chemical substances cross thresholds of deterritorialization on their own stratum and between strata; these thresholds correspond to more or less stable intermediate states, to more or less transitory valences and existences, to engagements with this or that other body, to densities of proximity, to more or less localizable connections.”

If we take the example of erosion and sedimentation, followed by rock formation, deterritorialization is required for it to take place. You need sediment for something to be sedimented and turn into a rock eventually after being deposited. At the same time you need material, no matter the size, anything that can be eroded one way or another, but let’s say granules of sand, for a stream or a river to carry it somewhere to be deposited. Now, once again, I’m purposely ignoring other rock forming and deforming processes, but that’s just for the sake of brevity. Deleuze and Guattari offer other examples, but I’ll use this as it was used previously already. It’s worth noting, as they (54) do, that deterritorialization is not a negative, but “a perfectly positive power” with degrees and thresholds, always relative and complemented by reterritorialization. This is the case in sedimentation and the formation of sedimentary rock, deterritorialization followed by eventual reterritorialization, only to be followed by deterritorialization and so on and so on.

With the regards to the former, the parastrata, they (54) point out:

“[F]orms depend on codes in the parastrata and plunge into processes of decoding or drift and that degrees themselves are caught up in movements of intensive territorialization and reterritorialization.”

So, as they pointed out a page ago (53), the two are not the same, yet they are inseparable:

“[T]he epistrata are just as inseparable from the movements that constitute them as the parastrata are from their processes.”

Moreover, they (54) further characterize this linkage, pointing out that “[t]there is no simple correspondence between codes and territorialities … and decodings and deterritorializations[.]” Instead, they (54) add, “a code may be a deterritorialization and a reterritorialization a decoding.” In other words, it’s all a big happy mess, separate, but linked, distinct, but intertwined, or as they (54) put it more neatly:

“Wide gaps separate code and territoriality. The two factors nevertheless have the same ‘subject’ in a stratum: it is populations that are deterritorialized and reterritorialized, and also coded and decoded. In addition, these factors communicate or interlace in the milieus.”

They (54) summarize that changes in the code may have an effect on the milieu of exteriority, which, in turn, may have an effect on the interior milieus and the compatibility between the two, which then affects whether or not the changes become popular. They (54) add that deterritorializations and reterritorializations do not cause changes by themselves, but instead determine the selection of changes. The following bit, I admit, is a bit over my head, at least at the moment, so I’ll divert here for a bit. Deleuze and Guattari (54) refer to milieus of interiority and exteriority, or interior and exterior milieus, but, at least for me, perhaps because I’m not familiar enough with the topic, they are not well defined. No that it’s that surprising, you are sort of supposed to figure things out yourself. Anyway, earlier on they (51) refer to them, at least implicitly, in reference to von Uexküll and then, later on in the same plateau, the name André Leroi-Gourhan pops up. The latter (333-334) addresses milieus in ‘Milieu et techniques’:

“Les valeurs de milieu extérieur et de milieu interéur sont claires. Par le premier terme, on saisit d’abord tout ce qui matériellement entoure l’homme: milieu géologique, climatique, animal et végétal. Il faut, avec modalités que nous dégagerons, étendre la définition aux témoins matériels et aux idées qui peuvent proviner d’autres groupes humains.”

This translates to something along the lines of that the exterior milieu is to be understood as to everything material that surrounds a human, be it geological, climatic, animal or plant milieu, extending to ideas from other groups of humans. As my translation is likely shoddy, I’ll let Bernard Stiegler (57) express this instead, as stated in ‘Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epithemeus’:

“With this concept of exterior milieu ‘is first apprehended everything materially surrounding the human: the geographical, climactic, animal and vegetable milieu. The definition must be … extended to the material signs and ideas which may come from other human groups[.]’”

To be honest, if that’s it, I don’t think I struggled with the exterior, but rather the interior, so what about that? Leroi-Gourhan (334) continues:

“Parle second terme, on saisit, non pas ce qui est propre à l’homme nu et naissant, mais à chaque moment du temps, dans une masse humaine circonscrite (le plus souvent incomplètement), ce qui constitue le capital intellectuel de cette masse, c’est-à-dire un bain extrêmement complexe de traditions mentales.”

Now, this is a bit trickier, I’ll just refer to the Stiegler (57) translation:

“With the concept of interior milieu ‘is apprehended not what is proper to naked humans at birth, but, at each moment in time, in a (most often incomplete) circumscribed human mass, that which constitutes its intellectual capital, that is an extremely complex pool of mental traditions.”

As my French is next to none, Stiegler (57) adds, in reference to Leroi-Gourhan (334):

“The interior milieu is social memory, the shared past, that which is called ‘culture.’ It is a nongenetic memory, which is exterior to the living organism qua individual, supported by the nonzoological collective organization of objects, but which functions and evolves as a quasi-biological milieu whose analysis reveals ‘used products, reserves, internal secretions, hormones issuing from other cells of the same organism, vitamins of external origin[.]’”

So, in summary, as noted by Stiegler (57), the exterior milieu is the inert material environment surrounding the individual and the internal milieu is, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, if not misleadingly, what is socially outside the individual, the social memory.

Now, where was I before that necessary tangent? Right, back to Deleuze and Guattari. Now that we have the exterior and the interior milieus clarified, at least I think we do, it’s time to reiterate them in terms of territorialization better. They (54) note that deterritorialization is a positive power, with different degrees of it and different thresholds that need to be passed. Those thresholds they (54) hint as the epistrata, earlier on (50) defined as outgrowths, intermediaries or intermediary states. It was also noted earlier on that there needs to be reterritorialization for something to eventually deterritorialize, as also pointed here by the two (54). With regards to the interior and the exterior milieus then, they (54) clarify:

“An organism that is deterritorialized in relation to the exterior necessarily reterritorializes on its interior milieus.”

They (54) exemplify this by stating that:

“A given presumed fragment of embryo is deterritorialized when it changes thresholds or gradients, but is assigned a new role by the new surroundings.”

They (54) then move to speak of intensities, something that also gets discussed quite a bit by the two, here and there:

“Every voyage is intensive, and occurs in relation to thresholds of intensity between which it evolves or that it crosses. One travels by intensity; displacements and spatial figures depend on intensive thresholds of nomadic deterritorialization (and thus on differential relations) that simultaneously define complementary, sedentary reterritorializations.”

Okay, but now we need to grasp what are intensities. I did cover this in a previous essay, but here we go again. In ‘Difference and Repetition’, Deleuze (222) distinguishes intensities from extensities, i.e. how things are perceived as extensive, as the condition of the apparition of extensities. He (222) lists some examples, such as temperature, pressure and tension. This ought to help make sense of what was just provided in the quote above. They (54) then move this to the level of stratum:

“Every stratum operates this way: by grasping in its pincers a maximum number of intensities or intensive particles over which it spreads its forms and substances, constituting determinate gradients and thresholds of resonance (deterritorialization on a stratum always occurs in relation to a complementary reterritorialization).”

Again, they (54) assert that deterritorialization is accompanied by reterritorialization, but it’s not just about extensities moving about, leaving a territory and then forming another outside the originating or previous territory. You also have to keep the intensities in mind, as well as how those pincers work, the double articulation. To go back to the start, to the very beginning of this essay, you need matter for that form to have formed matter. If you think this is complex and quite the jumble, it is because it is. You have to keep a lot in mind at the same time. As pointed out earlier in paraphrase, they (54) are quite clear on this, marked by this passage:

“As long as preestablished forms were compared to predetermined degrees, all one could do was affirm their irreducibility, and there was no way of judging possible communication between the two factors.”

It should be quite evident that Deleuze and Guattari are far from being content on using preestablished forms, starting from multiple places at once, involving intensities and extensities, territorializations and codings, as well as the double articulation. Anyway, after that lengthy back and forth, back and forth, it’s time to move on to something new, to better explain how coding is relevant in all this. They (54-55) do this by returning to the associated milieus:

“Perceptions and actions in an associated milieu, even those on a molecular level, construct or produce territorial signs (indexes).”

If it helps with the terms, think about the tick example where the tick perceives sweat and acts by dropping on to the animal. Anyway, they (55) continue:

“This is especially true of an animal world, which is constituted, marked off by signs that divide it into zones (of shelter, hunting, neutrality, etc.), mobilize special organs, and correspond to fragments of code; this is so even at the margin of decoding inherent in the code.”

Now, by code they don’t mean language, that is human language, which it, of course, could be, but broadly speaking anything that functions as a marker of zones. The special organ could be a gland used for this purpose, emitting certain scent, or, well, just territorial pissings. That said, in the ‘Abécédaire’, on ‘A is for Animal’, Deleuze further clarifies this:

“How an animal marks its territory, everyone knows, everyone always invokes stories of anal glands, of urine, of … with which it marks the borders of its territory.”

Only to add that:

“But it’s a lot more than that: what intervenes in marking a territory is also a series of postures, for example, lowering oneself / lifting oneself up; a series of colors, baboons … for example, the color of buttocks of baboons that they display at the border of territories … Color, song …, posture: these are the three determinants of art: I mean, color and lines – animal postures are sometimes veritable lines – color, line, song – that’s art in its pure state.”

It’s worth going back, just a bit, to reiterate that territorialization has not only to do with the exterior milieu but also the interior milieu, so it’s not strictly speaking only about some pissings on some trees or baboons flashing their behinds. I’m not even sure if baboons do that to mark certain area instead of it having some social group aspect to it, but that’s then the interior milieu, as discussed by Leroi-Gourhan (334). I might still be off with that as I’m hardly a baboon expert. I was actually thinking of grouses myself. If I’m correct, they tend to do quite a bit of posturing, appearing big and making a lot of noise with their wings for a relatively small bird. I believe bird singing also has to do with territoriality, at least to some degree. For color, it seems that it plays some part with robins, but I’m hardly an expert. Anyway, this detour was just so to point out that the code is not just about certain types of signs, but all kinds of signs that have something to do with territoriality.

Deleuze and Guattari (55) further explain the territorial signs or indexes:

“[They] are inseparable from a double movement. Since the associated milieu always confronts a milieu of exteriority with which the animal is engaged and in which it takes necessary risks, a line of flight must be preserved to enable the animal to regain its associated milieu when danger appears[.] … A second kind of line of flight arises when the associated milieu is rocked by blows from the exterior, forcing the animal to abandon it and strike up an association with new portions of exteriority, this time leaning on its interior milieus like fragile crutches.”

Here we encounter the line of flight, which, to me isn’t that tricky. It’s about finding a way. The translator, Brian Massumi (xvi), explains this in the notes on the translation, stating that a line is drawn, created, opening up new avenues, and that flight has to do with “fleeing or eluding, but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing” and has nothing to do with the actual act of flying, aside it being movement, I’d add. If you are put to flight, you are to run away, flee, retreat or the like, not exactly fly, unless that’s relevant to the context. Anyway, a line of flight isn’t all negative. It can be, but it’s not necessarily so. I might be wrong, but for the first part I think of cornering a dog, because they probably try to avoid that as its disadvantageous. Anyway, they (55) use the example of bulls in an arena. The second part is a bit more, erm., or rather less here and now example:

“When the seas dried, the primitive Fish left its associated milieu to explore land, forced to ‘stand on its own legs,’ now carrying water only on the inside, in the amniotic membranes protecting the embryo.”

It’s not exactly your everyday example, like the one on bulls, but it does actually hit home. They (55) clarify their position on territories, stating that they necessitate the movements, the lines of flight, deterritorializations and reterritorializations. They (55) refer back to sedimentation, noting that there’d be nothing to be posited if something wasn’t swept away somewhere else, upstream. Of course those deposits also became deposited once. So, as they (55) note, there’s always movement and drift, all intersecting in the milieus. Nothing is ever fixed, strictly speaking, as they (55) summarize:

“[T]he epistrata and parastrata are continually moving, sliding, shifting, and changing on the Ecumenon or unity of composition of a stratum; some are swept away by lines of flight and movements of deterritorialization, others by processes of decoding or drift, but they all communicate at the intersection of the milieus.”

On a broad scale then, on the level of the strata, they (55) add:

“The strata are continually being shaken by phenomena of cracking and rupture, either at the level of the substrata that furnish the materials (a prebiotic soup, a prechemical soup …), at the level of the accumulating epistrata, or at the level of the abutting parastrata: everywhere there arise simultaneous accelerations and blockages, comparative speeds, differences in deterritorialization creating relative fields of reterritorialization.”

The territorial concepts, territory, deterritorialization and reterritorialization, were defined earlier on in this essay. Deleuze and Guattari (55) warn not to confuse relative and absolute deterritorializations or lines of flight, clarifying that the former is desirable as its “stratic or interstratic” whereas the latter is destratic, involving combustion. Perhaps it’s off to summarize them as stating that the latter is undesirable. It’s rather that while turning towards the destratified plane of consistency can be useful, I wouldn’t recommend attempting to stay there, considering that it is “the state of unformed matter” as stated by Deleuze and Guattari (55-56). They (56) provide an example, the speed of sound:

“[T]he acceleration of relative deterritorializations reaches the sound barrier: if the particles bounce off this wall, or allow themselves to be captured by black holes, they fall back onto the strata, into the strata’s relations and milieus; but if they cross the barrier they reach the unformed, destratified element of the plane of consistency.”

Now, this is easy to take as just as a mere matter of speed, but they (56) note that going from relative to absolute is not just a mere matter of acceleration, even if at times that may be the case. On the contrary, they (56) argue that absolute deterritorialization may occur through “slowness or delay.” Moreover, skipping a lengthy conceptual explanation and summarizing the two (56), the key here is stratification; the plane of consistency is unformed, hence it’s not stratified. So, when something becomes absolutely deterritorialized, it’s no longer formed, no longer stratified, as it has been combusted, as they (55) point out. Conversely, when absolute deterritorialization becomes relative, it becomes stratified, residual, as they (56) insist. So, in summary, you have the destratified and the stratified, the virtual and the actual as stated by Deleuze (208-209) in ‘Difference and Repetition’. Deleuze and Guattari (56-57) demonstrate how the are, in relation to one another:

“There is a perpetual immanence of absolute deterritorialization within relative deterritorialization; and the machinic assemblages between strata that regulate the differential relations and relative movements also have cutting edges of deterritorialization oriented toward the absolute. The plane of consistency is always immanent to the strata; the two states of the abstract machine always coexist as two different states of intensities.”

So, it’s worth emphasizing that the two, the absolute and the relative, the virtual and the actual, the intensive and the extensive are not in opposition of one another. They word here is the immanence that is perpetual. Changes may occur at any given moment, pending the criteria are met and the threshold is crossed.

After explaining the core concepts, all having something to do with strata, territory and milieu, Deleuze and Guattari go on to elaborate three different strata: the geological stratum (57), the organic stratum (58) and the alloplastic or linguistic stratum (60). I think this is a good point to wrap up things, leaving the elaboration of strata for a following essay.


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