Would you love a lobsterman?

I was going to write it all as a single essay on the 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’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. However, this proved to be a gargantuan task despite my previous familiarity with the plateau and relevant prior knowledge on, for example, geological processes. It’s not that it takes that much time really, but rather that some of the plateaus is just less self-explanatory than others, requiring the reader to weave in all kinds of concepts from elsewhere in the book and at times from other sources. Of course, some of the examples are a bit, well, out of my comfort zone. It’s not like I skipped biology in school, but let’s say it’s not my forte, especially when compared to geology, not to mention linguistics. Anyway, despite my prior plans, I opted to cut the essay, so this is the follow up to that essay on that plateau. As what I write is on landscape and discourse, it may seem that addressing this plateau is going off topic quite a bit, but I believe it helps to understand the plateau on the postulates of linguistics and the final parts of this plateau move to that territory more clearly. As much as I love geology and biology, I wouldn’t spend my time on explaining them unless it had some relevance to what I do.

As a refresher, it was established that reality, or the real, is both virtual and actual, intensive and extensive, all the time, not just at some point and then it’s all fixed. I recommend looking up ‘Difference and Repetition’ and having a closer look at pages 208 to 209 and 222, to get a rough idea of the real, virtual and actual, as well as intensities and extensities. I know that’s outside the book I’m examining, but I find those bits immensely helpful in understanding what’s on this plateau. We can also talk of the Ecumenon and the Planomenon, the formed and the unformed sides of matter, the stratified and the unstratified or destratified if something stratified becomes unstratified once more. It was also established that the strata, which you could also call layers, have layers. This is the point where double articulation comes into play, first choosing or deducting, from the unstable flow of particles or substances and imposes an order on it with connections and successions, giving the substance some form. It then, in the second part, gives them structure by making them functional and compact, fitting for the purpose if you will. So, from substance to form, then from form to substance. If you struggle with this, think of how sedimentation works, materials are swept away by a current, moving them downstream and eventually depositing them beyond the stream. They then solidify, becoming stone as time passes, only to be eroded and possible carried away by some stream in the distant future beyond your lifetime. It’s worth noting that it was also established that it’s not a simple molecular vs. molar categorization. It tends to be case, but it’s not strictly speaking so. In terms of content and expression, that they generously borrow from Louis Hjelmslev, an expression can be content for another expression, so Deleuze and Guattari aren’t simply talking of signifier and signified, masking them in other words. They are also not limiting this to linguistics or semiotics, but applying it beyond it, as evident from their use of it when discussing geology and biology.

Other concepts that were discussed last time are, notably, territory, deterritorialization and reterritorialization, code, decoding and (re)encoding. Lines of flight and milieus were also discussed, albeit none of these concepts are as central to the plateau as the strata, stratification and destrastification (or combustion). I’m not going to list all the terms included in the plateau here, otherwise I’m going to just reiterate my previous essay in its full extent.

I wrapped things up after explaining most of the plateau, at least how Deleuze and Guattari present it, in general. They actually do go into specifics at times before the final parts that I’m going to cover here, but that’s probably because, well, the book is not exactly your ordinary textbook with a linear arrangement, but typically all over the place and thus inconsistent in its presentation throughout the book. It’s provides quite the challenging reading to be honest, but you just have to keep going. If you don’t get everything, don’t worry, just keep reading. I think it’s supposed to open up that way, not by getting stuck in concepts at all times and starting to draft figures and graphs. Believe me, you’ll find that attempting such will just feel highly unsatisfactory. You’ll probably even feel an urge to ditch the book, throw it around in anger (assuming you have a hard copy), but you are probably approaching it in an unsatisfactory way if that happens. I’d say you are supposed to read the book sideways and let your thinking move in different ways, not attempting to contain it or push it to a certain direction.

Anyway, rehashing a sentence here, 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.

The first strata, the geological strata they (57) characterize as:

“[O]n these strata, content (form and substance) is molecular, and expression (form and substance) is molar.”

That should be easy to remember. They (57) add that these strata are somewhat simplistic:

“The difference between the two is primarily one of order of magnitude or scale. Resonance, or the communication occurring between the two independent orders, is what institutes the stratified system.”

They (57) elaborate this:

“The molecular content of that system has its own form corresponding to the distribution of elemental masses and the action of one molecule upon another; similarly, expression has a form manifesting the statistical aggregate and state of equilibrium existing on the macroscopic level. Expression is like an ‘operation of amplifying structuration carrying the active properties of the originally microphysical discontinuity to the macrophysical level.’”

Only to then exemplify this, followed by (57-58) pointing out that the expression may be impacted by other factors, various external forces, and there are various possible intermediate states between the molecular and the molar. On the geological stratum, they (57) exemplify it:

“[T]he crystalline stratum, and physicochemical strata, wherever the molar can be said to express microscopic molecular interactions (‘the crystal is the macroscopic expression of a microscopic structure’; the ‘crystalline form expresses certain atomic or molecular characteristics of the constituent chemical categories’).

Now, this is, as they (57-58) note, a simplistic example:

“Of course, this still leaves numerous possibilities, depending on the number and nature of the intermediate states, and also on the impact of exterior forces on the formation of expression. There may be a greater or lesser number of intermediate states between the molecular and the molar; there may be a greater or lesser number of exterior forces or organizing centers participating in the molar form.”

What’s with the attention to these intermediate states? Well, it’s because everything is in a flux. If there wasn’t anything intermediate, then anything would either be like this or like that, but not anything in between, which would entail a closed system as there would be no other options. Commenting this further, they (58) add:

“Doubtless, these two factors are in an inverse relation to each other and indicate limit-cases. For example, the molar form of expression may be of the ‘mold’ type, mobilizing a maximum of exterior forces; or it may be of the ‘modulation’ type, bringing into play only a minimum number of them. Even in the case of the mold, however, there are nearly instantaneous, interior intermediate states between the molecular content that assumes its own specific forms and the determinate molar expression of the outside by the form of the mold. Conversely, even when the multiplication and temporalization of the intermediate states testify to the endogenous character of the molar form (as with crystals), a minimum of exterior forces still intervene in each of the stages.”

So, in summary, they (57-58) point out that one should not be looking at things as self-contained blobs. There’s just more than meets the eye, regardless of how much something comes across as self-contained. They (58) therefore argue that:

“We must therefore say that the relative independence of content and expression, the real distinction between molecular content and molar expression with their respective forms, has a special status enjoying a certain amount of latitude between the limit-cases.”

Now, you might still be scratching your head on this. I think it’s worth reminding how there are intensities and extensities. Limiting our senses only to vision, for the sake of argument here, we see extensities, this and that, and come to think them as such, like this keyboard and this table that the keyboard rests on. Here I’m ignoring various intensities that may or may not have effect on these items, say, for example humidity and temperature. The table is mainly made out of wood, so pending how the finish on its done, it may be prone to absorbing humidity, which could eventually result in warping it, a highly undesirable outcome for a table mind you, at least in terms of its functionality as a table that is. The keyboard is mainly plastic, so it doesn’t have much effect on it, unless the internal components get severely affected by it. After all, electronics and water aren’t known to be the best of pals. We could also discuss how something, some blob, has an impact outside itself upon contact. Some would have more impact or potential impact, others less so. Highly relevant here, Deleuze and Guattari (58) warn that the distinction between content and expression is very real indeed, not just something we perceive to be there. In other words, the distinction is not merely phenomenal but in fact noumenal, as evident from their wording of it:

“There is a real distinction between content and expression because the corresponding forms are effectively distinct in the ‘thing’ itself, and not only in the mind of the observer.”

If you are unfamiliar with the terms, for your own benefit, do consult Immanuel Kant’s ‘Critique of Pure Reason’ and/or Deleuze’s ‘Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties’. For a brief, less formal look at this, look up Deleuze’s lectures on Kant under the title ‘Synthesis and Time’ (feel free to look it up, good stuff). The point is that the blobs are self-contained in the sense that they are separate from you and other entities, inasmuch as they are, of course, but not in the sense that they exist separate from everything else, including you, inasmuch as you have an impact on them, direct or indirect. It’s worth emphasizing that it’s all very real indeed, objectively so, if you want to use that word, not just merely up to you and your faculties, subjectively so. How we come to perceive things is, of course, still relevant, but Deleuze and Guattari (58) warn while phenomenal, it’s not just phenomenal, but also nounemal, regardless of how things appear to us phenomenally.

Right, now, they (58) characterize the organic stratum as particularly complex, having a ton of intermediary states, yet it retains the formal distinctions, as well as amplifies “the relation between the molecular and the molar[.]” This should be somewhat unsurprising, considering the code side to this. They (59) use the example of nucleic acids:

“The real distinction between content and expression, therefore, is not simply formal. It is strictly speaking real, and passes into the molecular, without regard to order of magnitude. It is between two classes of molecules, nucleic acids of expression and proteins of content, nucleic elements or nucleotides and protein elements or amino acids.”

As a result the, they (59) state:

“Both expression and content are now molecular and molar.”

So, unlike in the sedimentation example, it’s not as simple as pointing out to this as having to do with scale in some order of magnitude. So, in other words, they (59) continue:

“Expression involves nucleotides and nucleic acids as well as molecules that, in their substance and form, are entirely independent not only of molecules of content but of any directed action in the exterior milieu. Thus invariance is a characteristic of certain molecules and is not found exclusively on the molar scale. Conversely, proteins, in their substance and form of content, are equally independent of nucleotides: the only thing univocally determined is that one amino acid rather than another corresponds to a sequence of three nucleotides.”

The problem for me is that, as I’ve pointed out before, I’m not exactly a biologist, not to mention geneticist. It’s not that I don’t grasp the complexity of an organism, how it functions simultaneously on multiple levels or scales, some out of control, some in control of the organism, but I admit I’m simply too ignorant in understanding the details, at least for now. I keep thinking it has to do with the code. Right, if you get it, good, if not, it might be that I’m just no good at this. Anyway, they (59) summarize the organic stratum:

“In short, what is specific to [it] is this alignment of expression, this exhaustion or detachment of a line of expression, this reduction of form and substance of expression to a unidimensional line, guaranteeing their reciprocal independence from content without having to account for orders of magnitude.”

I think they manage to get the message across better when they (59-60) point out the key difference between the geological and organic strata:

“The new configuration of expression and content conditions not only the organism’s power to reproduce but also its power to deterritorialize or accelerate deterritorialization. The alignment of the code or linearity of the nucleic sequence in fact marks a threshold of deterritorialization of the ‘sign’ that gives it a new ability to be copied and makes the organism more deterritorialized than a crystal: only something deterritorialized is capable of reproducing itself.”

Indeed, when you think of it, rocks are not capable of deterritorializing and reterritorializing. Sure, they, for example granules of sand, get swept away by a stream of water and then end up elsewhere, going from one point in space to another point, and become part of something else, say, in the form of sandstone, but it’s not exactly up to the rocks to do that. If that happens, it happens. There is no code to the rocks that would enable them to do so, or rather, as Deleuze and Guattari aptly specify, accelerate it. Moreover, as they (60) point out, the geological strata are rather limited in this respect, considering that it is “only the accessible surface can reproduce itself, since it is the only deterritorializable part.” So, if you take the sand bank example, the only surface to become deterritorialized is the exposed side. It’s not like the granules of sand beyond the reach of the point of contact get swept away. On the organic stratum, an organism is much more exposed and detached, enabling it a greater capacity for deterritorialization. I probably did a bad job at explaining the organic stratum and I apologize for that. Maybe in the future I can devote more to understanding biology better or get someone else to open it up for me better. Anyway, I think I get it on a level that is helpful in general, so on to the third stratum.

Deleuze and Guattari (60) refer to the third stratum as the alloplastic stratum. They (60) note that while it is very much a human stratum, they don’t call it ‘homoplastic’ as its effects are not limited to humans. In other words, it’s not just about humans, but about humans in relation to the external world. With regards to content and expression, they (60) state:

“Form of expression becomes linguistic rather than genetic; in other words, it operates with symbols that are comprehensible, transmittable, and modifiable from outside.”

So, on this stratum, expression has, in a way, even more potential than on the organic stratum, not to mention on the geological stratum. Coding moves from a genetic code to linguistic coding. Starting from content, Deleuze and Guattari (60) state:

“What some call the properties of human beings – technology and language, tool and symbol, free hand and supple larynx, ‘gesture and speech’ – are in fact properties of this new distribution.”

Deleuze and Guattari (60-61) refer again to Leroi-Gourhan, as introduced in the previous essay, and point out that, for example, the human hand is not a mere organ, just there, swinging about, but also a coding, “a dynamic structuration, a dynamic formation (the manual form, or manual formal traits).” They (61) note that once extended to tools, the hand is not merely general form of content anymore and neither are the tools, for that matter. They go (61) go even further back with this:

“Not only is the hand a deterritorialized front paw; the hand thus freed is itself deterritorialized in relation to the grasping and locomotive hand of the monkey.”

They (61) add that the deterritorialization of front paws results in their reterritorialization as hands, as with monkeys, but it also result in the deterritorialization of rear paws into feet, another reterritorialization. In other words, as the front paws are freed to do other things, as hands as we know them, the rear paws must be adjusted accordingly to compensate for this change. They (61) then move on to discuss the speech related organs, stating that:

“The substance involved is fundamentally vocal substance, which brings into play various organic elements: not only the larynx, but the mouth and lips, and the overall motricity of the face.”

They (61) exemplify this by pointing out that mouth becomes deterritorialized and then reterritorialized to produce speech. It’s not just pie holes anymore. Moreover, they (61) add that part of the mouth becomes deterritorialized and reterritorialized as lips. They (62) provide an amusing characterization of this:

“What a curious deterritorialization, filling one’s mouth with words instead of food and noises.”

As a side note, they (61-62) also make note of how mammary glands, that’s the female mammary glands, become deterritorialized as breasts. I believe they only point this out due to the linkage to lips, the connection being the nursing period, but I’d say the reterritorialization plays an extended role, hence the supposed obsession in breasts rather than mammary glands. Anyway, getting back on track, they (62) connect two reterritorializations, that of the hand and that of the mouth, arguing that the free hand freed the vocal system to do more than to express one’s territory. They (62) provide another humorous statement:

“To articulate, to speak, is to speak softly. Everyone knows that lumberjacks rarely talk.”

This is probably overly humorous, yet they make a good point. Yelling does make speaking a bit tricky. They (62) then move on to language in general, stating that:

“Physiological, acoustic, and vocal substance are not the only things that undergo all these deterritorializations. The form of expression, as language, also crosses a threshold.”

As this is on the third stratum, they (62) compare it to the second stratum, the organic stratum:

“Vocal signs have temporal linearity, and it is this superlinearity that constitutes their specific deterritorialization and differentiates them from genetic linearity. Genetic linearity is above all spatial, even though its segments are constructed and reproduced in succession; thus at this level it does not require effective overcoding of any kind, only phenomena of end-to-end connection, local regulations, and partial interactions (overcoding takes place only at the level of integrations implying different orders of magnitude).”

Moreover, in reference to François Jacob, a biologist and geneticist, only indicated here as Jacob, probably because you, the reader, should know, obviously, they (62) contrast the linguistic code with genetic code:

“That is why Jacob is reluctant to compare the genetic code to a language; in fact, the genetic code has neither emitter, receiver, comprehension, nor translation, only redundancies and surplus values.”

After differentiating the codes, noting that, to me somewhat unsurprisingly that language requires an emitter and a receiver, how would you otherwise even have language, as well as comprehension, which sort of comes with it, Deleuze and Guattari (62) emphasize that what makes the alloplastic stratum different from the other strata is translation. In their words (62):

“The temporal linearity of language expression relates not only to a succession but to a formal synthesis of succession in which time constitutes a process of linear overcoding and engenders a phenomenon unknown on the other strata: translation, translatability, as opposed to the previous inductions and transductions.”

It may seem somewhat redundant to even state, but I think the linearity of language is worth emphasizing. You can try to express, narrate something, but even if you are doing it while it’s happening, for example doing a running commentary during a hockey game, you are, in their words, translating it. It’s worth noting that in their parlance (62) translation is not just as from one language to another but more broadly speaking, is the ability of the language to represent not only its own stratum but also the other strata. The players belong to the organic stratum as organisms and function in relation to other organisms. They also wear and use all kinds of gear made out of various materials in a stage made out of similar and/or dissimilar materials. They can be of organic or inorganic origin, the point being that just playing the game with all the gear requires more than what belongs to the organic stratum. Moreover, the game wouldn’t even be that game if it wasn’t for language, for the alloplastic stratum, which not only is necessary for there to be that game, but also for all the technology required to play that game. Me narrating what unfolds in front of my eyes is a shallow linear attempt to replicate it. Anyway, they (62) also differentiate how humans animals understand the external world, stating that for humans we speak of the Welt, whereas for animals its the Umwelt. The difference between humans and animals is further addressed on the plateau on the postulates of linguistics, so you better look there for further clarification. In short, as noted in the earlier essays, it was established that human language is more-than-communicative, i.e. humans can tell other humans not only of their first hand experiences but also of second hand experiences, what someone else told them. Anyway, back to this plateau, they (62) characterize the scientific world of humans as:

“[T]he translation of all of the flows, particles, codes, and territorialities of the other strata into a sufficiently deterritorialized system of signs, in other words, into an overcoding specific to language.”

This overcoding, which they also call superlinearity, for them (62) explains why in language the expression is independent of the content, as well why the form of expression is independent of the content, something which is not possible in the genetic code, for example “between RNA and DNA chains.” This bears relevance to a larger discussion whether language represents the world objectively. Well, it’s obvious that it doesn’t, at least not according to Deleuze and Guattari. It always necessitates translations and, as previously noted a number of times, following Brian Massumi in ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, “Translation is repetition with difference.” Deleuze and Guattari (62-63) make note of an opposite understanding of language:

“’Every semiology of a nonlinguistic system must use the medium of language… Language is the interpreter of all the other systems, linguistic and nonlinguistic.’”

Deleuze and Guattari (62-63) mark this as stated by someone else, yet there is no reference to anyone specific. Anyway, this is arguably a structuralist or a universalist account of language, language above all, as the centrally human and always getting in the way. They (63) further comment on this:

“This amounts to defining an abstract character of language and then saying that the other strata can share in that character only by being spoken in language. That is stating the obvious.”

After explaining the alloplastic stratum in contrast to the other strata, Deleuze and Guattari (63) make note of how it is particular to the stratum to extend from that stratum to the other strata:

“The third stratum sees the emergence of Machines that are fully a part of that stratum but at the same time rear up and stretch their pincers out in all directions at all the other strata.”

They (63) then wonder what it entails:

“Is this not like an intermediate state between the two states of the abstract Machine? – the state in which it remains enveloped in a corresponding stratum (ecumenon), and the state in which it develops in its own right on the destratified plane of consistency (planomenon).”

They (63) as this only to provide an answer themselves, pointing out that it only seems to be the case as it produces “an illusion exceeding all strata, even though the machine itself still belongs to a determinate stratum.” Hinting towards the plateau title then, but subtly reversed, they (63) argue that it is obviously an illusion, “the illusion constitutive of man (who does man think he is?)”, which derives “from the overcoding immanent to language itself.” That said, they (63) quickly add that:

“But what is not illusory are the new distributions between content and expression: technological content characterized by the hand-tool relation and, at a deeper level, tied to a social Machine and formations of power; symbolic expression characterized by face-language relations and, at a deeper level, tied to a semiotic Machine and regimes of signs.”

So, in other words, language is illusory in its reach, but its effects are nonetheless very real indeed. The alloplastic stratum is its own stratum, one among the others. It seems to stretch far beyond the reach of its pincers, but it doesn’t make the other strata go away, not at all, even if it seems to be the case. You can tell granules of sand that they are not eroded and then deposited somewhere else all you like, that it’s just a narrative, but that still occurs, regardless of whether that phenomenon is apparent to you or not. Conversely, there may well be certain things that happen, all the time, but we are simply not aware of them as those phenomena do not appear to us. This also applies to the organic stratum. What they are saying is that language seems to reach far and wide without causing them to be so and so. That doesn’t mean that language isn’t important, nor that it is then just simply contained in and among humans, hence calling it the alloplastic stratum rather than homoplastic stratum. If you think of it, stepping back a bit here, it would be quite antithetical of them, not to mention hilarious, to first explain all these things about geology and biology, only to state it’s all in your head, all subjective.

Moving on, to the relation and distinction between content and expression, one that was noted as not so complex on the geological stratum and complex on the organic stratum. They (64) start with a rather subjectivist concession:

“It’s all in the head.”

Haha, tricked you! Okay, no I didn’t, it’s a bit more complex than that, as they (64) continue:

“Yet never was a distinction more real.”

In other words, they (64) clarify:

“What we are trying to say is that there is indeed one exterior milieu for the entire stratum, permeating the entire stratum: the cerebral-nervous milieu.”

So, it’s in all in the head after all? Well, they (64) then further clarify this:

“It comes from the organic substratum, but of course that substratum does not merely play the role of a substratum or passive support. It is no less complex in organization. Rather, it constitutes the prehuman soup immersing us. Our hands and faces are immersed in it.”

It was noted earlier on in this essay that the hand-face pair comes from Leroi-Gourhan, also was briefly discussed in the previous essay on this plateau. Deleuze and Guattari (64) are still following him on this, stating that:

“In Leroi-Gourhan’s analyses of the constitution of these two poles in the soup – one of which depends on the actions of the face, the other on the hand – their correlation or relativity does not preclude a real distinction between them; quite the contrary, it entails one, as the reciprocal presupposition of two articulations, the manual articulation of content and the facial articulation of expression.”

Deleuze and Guattari (64) argue that “[t]he brain is a population, a set of tribes” that pushes us towards these two poles, the hand and the face. The former is related to content and the latter is related to expression, as noted above. Moreover, they (64) argue that this is not only merely a real distinction, “between molecules, things, or subjects” but also an essential distinction, “between attributes, genres of being, or irreducible categories: things and words”. Here I cannot help but to think of Foucault, probably because of the wording, things and words. That said, they (64) then note that the articulations are, in fact, double articulations:

“Yet we find that the most general of movements, the one by which each of the distinct articulations is already double in its own right, carries over onto this level; certain formal elements of content play the role of expression in relation to content proper, and certain formal elements of expression play the role of content in relation to expression proper.”

Relying on Leroi-Gourhan, they (64) exemplify this by noting that:

“In the first case, Leroi-Gourhan shows how the hand creates a whole world of symbols, a whole pluridimensional language, not to be confused with unilinear verbal language, which constitutes a radiating expression specific to content (he sees this as the origin of writing).”

I was going to note earlier on how there’s something missing, how hands can be used as language. That said, I wonder if Deleuze and Guattari are actually going beyond what is sign language. I think they are, or at least in the sense that using hands to language, in the verb sense of it, is not derived from verbal language, but rather originating from the hands, not the mouth. To be honest, I am not familiar or familiar enough with sign language, used in the singular to mark the language vs. languages debate (that tends to be ignored for reasons that have to do with regimes of truth, I assume), so I can’t comment whether that’s the case or not, nor what the situation is at the moment. I reckon the point here is that the hands have more potential in terms of language than we tend to think there is. If sign language is considered only as derivative of verbal language, then it doesn’t escape the linearity issue. Anyway, in ‘Gesture and Speech’, Leroi-Gourhan (192-195) argues that oral and visual language come from the same source, both having to do with expression, but writing, as we know it, is a reduction of the visual language or rather more specifically a substitute to it. In other words, visual language is not the same as writing, which is, in fact a derivative of verbal language. Leroi-Gourhan (195) argues that “[a]n image possesses a dimensional freedom which writing must always lack” whereas “[t]he invention of writing, through the device of linearity, completely subordinated graphic to phonetic expression[.]” Now, I think it’s worth pointing out that this should not be simply seen as opposition to writing, on anyone’s behalf. It would be a bit ironic if the authors were in staunch opposition of writing, having just written hundreds of pages on this and that. This applies to me as well. I reckon it’s more that if all language gets collapsed to speech and writing, it’s quite the reduction, frankly an unnecessary one.

Deleuze and Guattari (64) continue:

“The second case is clearly displayed in the double articulation specific to language itself, since phonemes form a radiating content specific to the expression of monemes as linear significant segments (it is only under these conditions that double articulation as a general characteristic of strata has the linguistic meaning Martinet attributes to it).”

The point here is that double articulation, as first introduced (or attributed) in linguistics as such by André Martinet, who Deleuze and Guattari simply assume the reader is familiar with (I sure was not) as there is no reference beyond his surname, is exactly what they state in this passage. Those who are interested and are not familiar with Martinet, this appears in ‘La double articulation linguistique’. In the Anglosphere, parallel to Martinet, Charles Hockett introduced something similar in ‘A Course in Modern Linguistics’. In his formulation, it is known as the duality of patterning. I reckon I was aware that on their on phonemes are just meaningless but once you throw them in to something, something more, which could be rather simple like the word cat, a moneme, those phonemes in combination with one another suddenly become meaningful. Now, it’s worth noting that Deleuze and Guattari extend the double articulation outside language, beyond the alloplastic stratum, but this just so that you know, in case you were wondering where this lobster business originates from.

Deleuze and Guattari (64) move on to discuss three issues, of which the first is that of the sign, “[u]nder what circumstances may we speak of signs?” They (65) distinguish three kinds of signs in what seems to be a rather Peircean classification: “indexes (territorial signs), symbols (deterritorialized signs), and icons (signs of reterritorialization).” There is no direct reference here, nor elsewhere for that matter, but it is pointed out in the notes (531) that this is indeed from Charles Sanders Peirce. However, it is emphasized in the notes (531) that they borrow from him, adapting his semiotics to their purposes, replacing the signifier-signified pairing with their concepts of territorialization, as indicated on the plateau that I’m investigating. It is also noted (531) that diagram is seen as having a special role, one that is irreducible to the icon or the symbol. Deleuze and Guattari (65) ponder the role of signs, whether they expand beyond the alloplastic stratum:

“Should we say that there are signs on all the strata, under the pretext that every stratum includes territorialities and movements of deterritorialization and reterritorialization?”

The answer to this is somewhat obvious, considering their prior statements regarding the status of language. Therefore their (65) answer is no:

“This kind of expansive method is very dangerous, because it lays the groundwork for or reinforces the imperialism of language, if only by relying on its function as universal translator or interpreter.”

They (65) emphasize this by stating that:

“It is obvious that there is no system of signs common to all strata[.]”

As also pointed out earlier, they (65) clarify that:

“Under these conditions, there is a semiotic system on the corresponding stratum because the abstract machine has precisely that fully erect posture that permits it to ‘write,’ in other words, to treat language and extract a regime of signs from it.”

What can be picked from here is the italicized part in particular. There’s whole another plateau on regimes of signs, but that’s a topic for other essays. Anyway, they (65) add that prior to this point, this development, the abstract machine does not write anything or recognize anything as a sign, beyond territorial animal signs, you know, those territorial pissings, posturings and noise, as discussed in the previous essay. Having established that language is confined to the alloplastic stratum, they (65) seem somewhat disinterested in language, but choose to tackle it because it for another reason, not because of “imperialism of language affecting all of the strata” but because the signifier is doing the same thing inside language, on that very stratum, “affecting all regimes of signs and the entire expanse of the strata upon which they are located.” Therefore, they (65) posit the issue in different words:

“The question here is not whether there are signs on every stratum but whether all signs are signifiers, whether all signs are endowed with signifiance, whether the semiotic of signs is necessarily linked to a semiology of the signifier.”

So, in other words, while they’d rather confine language to the third stratum, where it belongs, they do leave some wiggle room for animal signs. In that sense, yes, there are signs on other strata as well, so they opt to approach this from a different angle. They continue (65):

“Those who take this route may even be led to forgo the notion of the sign, for the primacy of the signifier over language guarantees the primacy of language over all of the strata even more effectively than the simple expansion of the sign in all directions.”

In this sense then, it’s not really whether territorial pissings and the like count or not. They (65) are more concerned with how the signifier-signified couple is even more formidable than the sign in expanding language into the other strata. They (65) add that this is, of course, a mere illusion, a posture, or should I say imposture, that makes it seem that language grips everything in its pincers. They (65) note that the issue is really with the signifier, not the sign, but that this word or that word, they are still talking about the same issue.

In order to address the issue better, they (66) elaborate the signifier-signified couple:

“It has been said that they are arbitrary; that they are as necessary to each other as the two sides of the same leaf; that they correspond term by term, or else globally; and that they are so ambivalent as to be indistinguishable.”

They (66) more or less point out that it’s understood in different ways, yet there is something common nonetheless:

“In any event, the signified is thought not to exist outside of its relationship with signifier, and the ultimate signified is the very existence of the signifier, extrapolated beyond the sign.”

Only to provide their (66) own view of the pair:

“There is only one thing that can be said about the signifier: it is Redundancy, it is the Redundant.”

Okay, do elaborate. And they do (66):

“Hence its incredible despotism, and its success. Theories of arbitrariness, necessity, term-by-term or global correspondence, and ambivalence serve the same cause: the reduction of expression to the signifier.”

Their (66) own view builds on Hjelmslev, on forms of content and forms expression that are relative, yet independent and distinct, as well as in reciprocal presupposition, as discussed in more detail in my previous essays. They (66) distinguish their own formulation from the signifier-signified couple:

“None of these characteristics applies to the signifier-signified relation, even though some seem to coincide with it partially and accidentally. Overall, these characteristics stand in radical opposition to the scenario of the signifier. A form of content is not a signified, any more than a form of expression is a signifier. This is true for all the strata, including those on which language plays a role.”

I think it’s worth emphasizing that they formulate this completely differently following Hjelmslev, not because it works well for their linguistics, but because it extends to all strata, as discussed at times in tiresome detail on geology and biology. In other words, what they do on this plateau is to show that everything, everything out there, everything more-than-human or other-than-human, is not simply bubbled in language. For them that would be quite the oversimplification, one that they (66) argue tends to be the case in linguistics. They (66) elaborate this:

“Signifier enthusiasts take an oversimplified situation as their implicit model: word and thing.”

Here have that pair again, as I noted earlier and pointed out that is makes me think of Foucault. Deleuze and Guattari (66) are actually well aware of this, hence the choice of words (and things). Anyway, they (66) continue:

“From the word they extract the signifier, and from the thing a signified in conformity with the word, and therefore subjugated to the signifier. They operate in a sphere interior to and homogeneous with language.”

They (66) choose to exemplify this via Foucault, who they note was not exactly concerned with this himself, so this is their lens on Foucault and their terminology. They (66) provide a rather lengthy example:

“Take a thing like the prison: the prison is a form, the ‘prison-form’; it is a form of content on a stratum and is related to other forms of content (school, barracks, hospital, factory).”

Now here we have the form of content locked. They (66) continue:

“This thing or form does not refer back to the word ‘prison’ but to entirely different words and concepts, such as ‘delinquent’ and ‘delinquency,’ which express a new way of classifying, stating, translating, and even committing criminal acts. ‘Delinquency’ is the form of expression in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content ‘prison.’”

Pay attention to the final bit, how delinquency, the form of expression, is in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content, that is the prison. It’s not one after the other, or the other way around, hence the reciprocal presupposition. In other words, as they (66) point out:

“Delinquency is in no way a signifier, even a juridical signifier, the signified of which would be the prison. That would flatten the entire analysis.”

Instead, they (66) argue:

“[T]he form of expression is reducible not to words but to a set of statements arising in the social field considered as a stratum (that is what a regime of signs is).”

Simply put, delinquency doesn’t signify prison, but rather consists of what I think Foucault would call a discursive formation. What comes to the form of content then, they (66-67) add:

“The form of content is reducible not to a thing but to a complex state of things as a formation of power (architecture, regimentation, etc.).”

Now, if my memory serves me, this is what Foucault would understand as a non-discursive formation, albeit, as I’ve discussed in some earlier essay, he never really addressed such in particular. It was only implied, something which Deleuze and Guattari make use of later on. Putting words to his mouth, or so to speak, they (67) characterize the two formations:

“We could say that there are two constantly intersecting multiplicities, ‘discursive multiplicities’ of expression and ‘nondiscursive multiplicities’ of content.”

I reckon they opt to use multiplicities instead of formation as formation probably comes across something solid and homogeneous, one thing, rather than a set of something heterogeneous. That said, if you think about it, formation is, in its own right, still quite apt, if it is thought like in the military when a group of soldiers form a formation. Now you might object to that, pointing out that it’s still a unit, which it is, even as a group of soldiers, but it’s worth noting that it’s unlikely that the soldiers are carbon copies of one another, despite the uniform appearance. If you’ve served, you’ll know for sure that people do not actually look alike in rank and file, which causes all kinds of issues unrelated to this essay. The rare exception might be some parade formations where they pick people of certain height to make the formation as uniform as possible. Anyway, getting back on track, they (67) make note of the complexity of it all, that both the form of expression, delinquency, and the form of content, prison, have their own content and expression. Hardly flat, eh? They (67) summarize:

“At most, along with other contents and expressions, they imply a shared state of the abstract Machine 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…). Fitting the two types of forms together, segments of content and segments of expression, requires a whole double-pincered, or rather double-headed, concrete assemblage taking their real distinction into account.”

Now, I’m not going to get stuck on abstract machines and diagrams. I’ve covered those a number of times already. Anyway, they (67) reiterate, for the umpteenth time now, that the distinction is not between signifiers or signifieds or words and things. Foucault (48) puts it nicely in the ‘Archaeology of Knowledge’:

“I would like to show that ‘discourses’, in the form in which they can be heard or read, are not, as one might expect, a mere intersection of things and words: an obscure web of things, and a manifest, visible, coloured chain of words; I would like to show that discourse is not a slender surface of contact, or confrontation, between a reality and a language (langue), the intrication of a lexicon and an experience[.]”

Instead, Foucault (49) argues that it is a matter of discursive practices that define the order of things, as in reference to a previous publication of his:

“’Words and things’ is the entirely serious title of a problem … that … reveals … [a] task that consists of not – of no longer – treating discourses as groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.”

That bit is actually one of my favorite bits by him, hence I keep citing it in order to point out that while discourse has to do with language, obviously, there is more to it than just language. Anyway, he (49) adds that:

“Of course, discourses are composed of signs; but what they do is more than use these signs to designate things. It is this more that renders them irreducible to the language (langue) and to speech. It is this ‘more’ that we must reveal and describe.”

Hence Deleuze and Guattari (67) state that:

“What should be opposed are distinct formalizations, in a state of unstable equilibrium or reciprocal presupposition.”

In other words, words have to do with things, but it’s not a simple this to that type of an arrangement, nor that it’s all just about words as words also have to do with words, just as things have to do with things. There is also a specific bit from Foucault included by Deleuze and Guattari (67), a bit that surely deserves more attention. In ‘The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences’, while examining ‘Las Meninas’, an intriguing oil painting by Diego Velázquez, Foucault (9) states:

“[T]he relation of language to painting is an infinite relation. It is not that words imperfect, or that, when confronted by the visible, they prove insuperably inadequate. Neither can be reduced to the other’s terms: it is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say. And it is in vain that we attempt to show, by the use of images, metaphors, or similes, what we are saying; the space where they achieve their splendour is not that deployed by our eyes but that defined by the sequential elements of syntax.”

I’d point out here that it’s not that saying what we see is pointless. It’s actually highly useful. That’s basically how writing works. It’s rather that it’s pointless to tell someone what I see in the company of that person, unless what I see, that is to say what appears to me does not appear to the other person. Why would I narrate what we both see? Anyway, the point is, of course, that what we say we see is not what we see. Conversely then, appealing to vision when speaking is strictly speaking not speaking anymore. I guess a blind person would be able to elaborate that bit more. Back to Deleuze and Guattari after this minor tangent, they (67) summarize this by asserting that:

“We are never signifier or signified. We are stratified.”

What is left of signs, after axing signifiers and signifieds, Deleuze and Guattari (67-68) posit:

“Signs are not signs of a thing; they are signs of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, they mark a certain threshold crossed in the course of these movements, and it is for this reason that the word should be retained[.]”

They (68) then point out that while they restrict the definition as done above, there is a regime of signs that is characterized by signifiance. They (68) clarify:

“[That regime] is not even the most interesting or modern or contemporary one, but [it] is perhaps only more pernicious, cancerous, and despotic than the others, and more steeped in illusion than they.”

Okay, do elaborate (68):

[In] a pyramidal image … content … becomes an economic base of production displaying all of the characteristics of the Abstract; the assemblages become the first story of a superstructure that, as such, is necessarily situated within a State apparatus; the regimes of signs and forms of expression become the second story of the superstructure, defined by ideology.”

What they are saying here is that there is no base-superstructure, but this is how it looks like if it is said that there is such. So, in other words, form of content and form of expression, in mutual presupposition, linked together by an abstract machine and regulated by assemblages, are flattened into base-superstructure. What about language then? They (68) go on to elaborate its position when flattened:

“[T]he great Despot decided that it should be reserved a special place, as the common good of the nation and the vehicle for information. Thus one misconstrues the nature of language, which exists only in heterogeneous regimes of signs, and rather than circulating information[, it] distributes contradictory orders. It misconstrues the nature of regimes of signs, which express organizations of power or assemblages and have nothing to do with ideology as the supposed expression of a content[.]”

Before I let them continue, I think it’s worth adding a bit I just left out, separated here for the sake of emphasis (68):

“[I]deology is a most execrable concept obscuring all of the effectively operating social machines.”

This is why I tend to cringe when I see something explained as having to do with ideology. It’s one of those concepts, like culture, or nature, that just gets thrown around. I know it’s hard to avoid and I’m sure I use it or have used it, mea culpa, despite my best efforts not to. Anyway, as Deleuze and Guattari (68) point out, all it does is obscure things. It’s really convenient, that’s for sure, but it’s just counterproductive as it flattens everything to a point of tautology. Right, so, as I interrupted the argument, I’ll let them (68-69) continue:

“It misconstrues the nature of organizations of power, which are in no way located within a State apparatus but rather are everywhere, effecting formalizations of content and expression, the segments of which they intertwine.”

Okay, I just have to interrupt this again, to point out that Foucault could have written that bit. Anyway, moving on, they (69) continue:

“[I]t misconstrues the nature of content, which is in no way economic ‘in the last instance,’ since there are as many directly economic signs or expressions as there are noneconomic contents. Nor can the status of social formations be analyzed by throwing some signifier into the base, or vice versa, or a bit of phallus or castration into political economy, or a bit of economics or politics into psychoanalysis.”

If you didn’t notice, not only did they have a go at Marxism, but also psychoanalysis, and neither redeems the other. That’s that for the second issue. Now on to the third issue which deals with how it all works. Deleuze and Guattari (69) are adamant to point out that the strata are not stages in which one is more primitive or developed, more or less organized than another, so that there’d be a shift from the geological stratum to the organic stratum and to the alloplastic stratum. In fact, they (69) point out that it can work in reverse, with, for example, human developments resulting in developments in the biological strata. Also, if you are thinking that they mean spheres, as in geosphere, biosphere or noosphere, like I did for a moment, they (69) add that’s also not the case as for them it’s all on the same sphere, the mechanosphere. What’s really relevant for them is the virtual and actual, both real, only the latter stratified, so, everything is in some way capable of having an effect on something else, even outside its strata, as they (69) point out. Think also of intensities and extensities again.

Making things even more complex, they (70) that the strata are complimentary to the plane of consistency, its “spin-offs”, defined in relation to it “by relative speeds of deterritorialization[.]” Conversely, they (70) state that the plane of consistency extracts from the strata variables that operate on the plane as its functions. So, they (70) are careful to point out that the plane of consistency, also known as the planomenon as mentioned earlier on already, “is in no way an undifferentiated aggregate of unformed matters, but neither is it a chaos of formed matters of every kind.” Moreover, to throw in another concept, they (70) note that abstract machine occupies the plane of consistency, yet it can also be enveloped on the strata “whose unity of composition it defines[.]” They (70) elaborate the plane of consistency:

“Continuum of intensities, combined emission of particles or signs-particles, conjunction of deterritorialized flows: these are the three factors proper to the plane of consistency; they are brought about by the abstract machine and are constitutive of destratification.”

They (70-71) wish to point out that this is not simply something random. Instead they (70-71) state:

“The abstract machine is not random; the continuities, emissions and combinations, and conjunctions do not occur in just any fashion.”

So, as they (70-71) point out, it’s not without rules, “rules of ‘plan(n)ing,’ of diagramming[.]” In a way, you could say that they are speaking of structuralism, but that’s not it. Then again, they are not saying that there is no structure either. It’s rather that the are structures or rules, but they are not rigid, hence the diagramming, and by not rigid I mean something that isn’t so permanently. In other words, you have those rules, which makes things work or end up in a certain way, more or less, but even those rules are subject to change, or at least they are not out of bounds for such to occur, even if such doesn’t occur that much, or that we’d know of anyway.

At this stage, Deleuze and Guattari are about done with the plateau, but go on for a bit, to make a fine distinction that I’ll include because at this point I was scratching my head about this. Anyway, they (71) warn not to confuse the abstract machine with a machinic assemblage. They (71) particularly adamant about this, clearly stating that the machinic assemblage is “something entirely different”, albeit “it is very closely connected with it.” After comparing it, they (71) elaborate it on its own terms:

“First, on a stratum, it performs the coadaptations of content and expression, ensures biunivocal relationships between segments of content and segments of expression, and guides the division of the stratum into epistrata and parastrata. Next, between strata, it ensures the relation to whatever serves as a substratum and brings about the corresponding changes in organization. Finally, it is in touch with the plane of consistency because it necessarily effectuates the abstract machine on a particular stratum, between strata, and in the relation between the strata and the plane.”

If this is confusing, it is because it is. The definition packs almost every concept they elaborated on this plateau to this point. Anyway it makes things happen, as you can see yourself. They (71) emphasize its functionality, pointing out that machinic assemblages are needed for something to come about on a stratum. It’s sort of an intermediary. I’d say a container, a carrier or a vessel, but that seems too specific. Would messenger be better? No, that’s too message specific. In itself, I think assemblage is an apt word for it as they (73) state it can pick a bit of this and that from the different strata. I guess link or relay might be fitting as well. Anyway, they (71) add that it is also needed for there to be a relation between the strata. In their (71) words, “machinic assemblages effectuate the abstract machine[.]” They (71) ponder this, only to answer themselves, not leaving you hanging:

“How does it effectuate it, with what adequation? Classify assemblages. What we call the mechanosphere is the set of all abstract machines and machinic assemblages outside the strata, on the strata, or between strata.”

After clarifying the machinic assemblages in contrast to abstract machines, to a certain extent that is as more definitions are bound to crop up on other plateaus, they (71-72) reiterate one the central arguments they make on this plateau, warning not to flatten everything they explained on this plateau to a single stratum or reducing it to a closed system or a binary, such as the “signifier and signified, base and superstructure, mind and matter.” The following two or so pages, which are also the final pages of the plateau, provide a recap of the plateau. I’d say it’s somewhat unlike them to do such, to provide a final bit to wrap things up instead of just abruptly ending just like they do with beginning, but hey, it’s not like they are trying to be consistent in the book, so whatever. I don’t think it’s worth summarizing their summary, which is actually fairly lucid by their standards. It is, however, packed with concepts, so actually reading through the plateau is more or less necessary. It might be rather perplexing otherwise.

To wrap things up myself, I think it’s worth saying that while I tried my best to open up the concepts, including some hopefully useful detours to some of the materials Deleuze and Guattari make use of, it’s hard to wrap your head around all the stuff they elaborate. That said, I wouldn’t get too hung up on not getting everything they explain as I pointed out in the beginning. In my own experience getting a bit of this and a bit of that from the plateaus is itself worth the read. Sometimes you need to return to the plateau at another time, perhaps after reading one of the other plateaus, and things sort of fall into place better. Other times you’ve read something else by someone else somewhere else and suddenly it occurs to you, some concept just opens up. I have to say that this is not exactly my personal favorite among the plateaus, but it does contain plenty of concepts. For a linguist it also helps to understand how for Deleuze and Guattari we are not just stuck in language. Referring to the human specific stratum as the alloplastic stratum instead of homoplastic or linguistic stratum is particularly telling of this. It’s a tough reading alright and I’m not exactly confident that at the moment I could explain it all to someone else in all its glory, but I think I took this as an exercise in coming to terms with their understanding of reality better, how all things linguistic are connected to the biological as well as the geological. I appreciate their boldness and bravery to cross disciplinary borders, not giving a damn about what others think of mixing geology, biology and linguistics. This is actually what bothers me at times, reading texts that are neatly confined to a certain discipline, functioning in isolation, you know, like a closed system, one that conveniently explains itself, often according to certain principles, say signifier-signified, upheld by the clergy who are in position to judge others who don’t play by the(ir) rules and bow down to their authority to the correct interpretation. Then again, what do sorcerers know of anything?


  • Deleuze, G. ([1978] c. 2000s). Kant: Synthesis and Time / 01 (M. McMahon, Trans.).
  • Deleuze, G. ([1963] 1984). Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties (H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, Trans.). London, United Kingdom: The Athlone Press.
  • Deleuze, G. ([1968] 1994). Difference and Repetition (P. Patton, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foucault, M. ([1969/1971] 1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language (A. M. Sheridan Smith and R. Swyer, Trans.). New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
  • Foucault, M. ([1966] 1994). The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York, NY: Vintage Books.
  • Hockett, C. (1958). A Course in Modern Linguistics. New York, NY: Macmillan.
  • Kant, I. ([1781/1787] 1998) Critique of Pure Reason (P. G. A. Wood, Ed.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
  • Leroi-Gourhan, A. ([1964] 1993). Gesture and Speech (A. Bostock Berger, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Martinet, A. (1949). La double articulation linguistique. Travaux du Cercle linguistique de Copenhague, 5, 3037.
  • Massumi, B. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
  • Velázquez, D. (1656). Las Meninas.