Of Danger and Zones

I decided to split my close reading of ‘1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity’, one of the plateaus in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, only to leave out about the final seven pages or so. If you didn’t read the two essays, one more on all things fascism and the other on all things … excluding the fascism on that plateau, then this will be sort of a summary of the two. Now, to be honest, I don’t do that, rehash old materials for the sake of it. This is only because Deleuze and Guattari do that themselves, more or less, in the final pages of the plateau.

Deleuze and Guattari (224) reiterate core parts of the plateau, starting with center or focal points of power. They (224) state that power centers obviously involve rigid segments. They (224) note that they can be public or private, makes little difference, and then list some, including military, religious and educational institutions. They (224) reiterate what was covered early on, that molar segments can have one or more centers of power, adding that having more than one is not contradictory to centralization that is often linked to the molar. So, in recap, as I pointed out in a previous essay, think of a centralized state, such as Finland, which has multiple tiers of government. The state is not the one and only, even if it is the one on top or center. There are regional and local entities. I say entities because the regional element is not particularly strong, albeit there is a push towards such. Anyway, disregarding the regional level, at least for time being, there are municipalities on the local level. They are not mere puppets of the state as they do enjoy certain degree of autonomy over their affairs. That said, they are, nevertheless, subordinate to the authority of the state. They are, of course, mutually exclusive on the same tier of government, but that’s the point Deleuze and Guattari (224) make here as “the common central point is not where all the other points melt together, but instead acts as a point of resonance on the horizon, behind all the other points.” In other words, as they (224) point out, the state is a resonance chamber for the various centers, not one big center. Of course we could point to other examples, say, Ireland, which, if my memory serves me is similar to Finland in this regard yet the municipalities are considerably weaker than in Finland. I bring this up just to point out that this is not a cookie cutter mold. There are always certain differences between how states are organized. Anyway, Deleuze and Guattari (224) emphasize that this, the argument made about having multiple centers, is valid even in totalitarian states. They (224) elaborate that it only increases the internal reach within the state and couples “‘resonance with a ‘forced movement.’” As a final note on this, they (224) add that no matter how centralized the state is, it doesn’t flatten everything, meaning that it doesn’t manage to fully “eradicate the distinctiveness of the centers, segments, and circles.” In summary, they (224) state something rather obvious, that “centralization is always hierarchical”, yet crucially adding that “hierarchy is always segmentary.”

Deleuze and Guattari (224) remind the reader that power centers are also molecular, not only molar, and exercise “power on a micrological fabric in which it exists only as diffuse, dispersed, geared down, miniaturized, perpetually displaced, acting by fine segmentation, working in detail and in the details of detail.” It was already hinted at by the two when they mentioned the power of the army, the church and the school on the molar level, but on the molecular level they (224) attribute this to “Foucault’s analysis of ‘disciplines’ or micropowers”, including but not limited to schools, army barracks, factories and hospitals. If you are familiar with Michel Foucault’s work as exemplified in, for example, ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’ then this should be easy to grasp. I assume you are familiar with his work so I don’t really need to explain how discipline works. If you aren’t familiar with his work, well, what can I say, other than do yourself a favor and grab one of his books on this topic. Deleuze and Guattari (225) also call this a microtexture:

“The microtextures – not masochism – are what explain how the oppressed can take an active role in oppression: the workers of the rich nations actively participate in the exploitation of the Third World, the arming of dictatorships, and the pollution of the atmosphere.”

Again, if you haven’t read Foucault, this will not only not make sense but it will also likely anger you; how dare they they blame the workers for the exploitation of other workers elsewhere in the world. It’s the rich who should be to blame for such. Again, what can I say, other than read Foucault. To make this more contemporary, not that exploitation of the so called Third World, arming of dictatorships or the issue of pollution have ceased to be pertinent issues in general (check, check, check), as I pointed out in the previous essay, the workers in the West, well, are they even working class anymore? Of course people may feel like they are mere workers, in a constant struggle against the bosses who want to squeeze everything out of them for next to nothing, yet they make up the mass that buy those smartphones (and other gadgets) made somewhere distant by whatever subsidiary that happens to be the one to land the contract to make them for the lowest cost, meaning that those workers barely make any money. Okay, they make some money, but something tells me they make way less money than what I did when I did such assembly work over a decade ago. The salary cost that went into a phone was next to nothing back then and we are talking about salaries in a rich country. Now, I’m not better in this regard, even though I don’t own a smartphone. I’m under no illusion that I am. Of course that doesn’t mean that just because I’m under no illusion of such that I disregard it either. I just know that I’m not exactly a saint when it comes to consumption, even though I’m the type of person who buys a pair shoes only when the ones in use no longer separate my feet from the ground. Anyway, the point they are making, via Foucault, is that, given how discipline works by becoming autodiscipline (no longer requiring to be disciplined by someone else), people end up participating in oppressing others while being oppressed themselves (by themselves actually, mind you). Deleuze addresses this in specific in a short text titled ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ but I think I should not go on a tangent here, but opt to write about it separately. I have referred to it, here and there in my essays, but it could use a closer look (but not here).

Back to Deleuze and Guattari (225) who state that the texture is the third aspect of power centers. So, you have the molar and the molecular, the “line of overcoding with rigid segments and the ultimate quantum line”, as they (225) rephrase them, and in between the two is the texture, continuously going back and forth between the two, on one hand forcing the quantum line to segment and on the other hand pushing “the flows and quanta to escape from the segmented line.” They (225) emphasize that the purpose of power centers is to do the former, yet in their impotence the latter also occurs. They (225) make a hilarious remark how this works in practice, pointing out that mediocre statesmen “extract glory from their shortsightedness, and power from their impotence, because it confirms that there is no choice.” In stark contrast, they (225) add, great statesmen “connect with flows, like pilot-signs or particles-signs, and who emit quanta that get out of the black holes”, take lines of flight, that is to say draw them, sound them out, follow them and forge ahead of them, even if it may end up detrimental to them or even in their downfall. That said, they (226) elaborate that these people do not, no matter how great statesmen they are, ever control the flow, no one does. They (226) are particularly clear on this:

“If an image of the master or an idea of the State is projected outward to the limits of the universe, as if something had domination over flows as well as segments, and in the same manner, the result is a fictitious and ridiculous representation.”

I’ve stated this before in reference to Deleuze and Guattari (and so have they) and others. It’s silly to think there’s a global conspiracy, some fat cats out there to get you. If only, if only. If only it was as simple as good vs. evil, oppressed vs. the oppressors. The real problem is that no one specific is to blame, hence the earlier remark about workers oppressing others while being oppressed themselves. Instead, Deleuze and Guattari (226) argue that:

“We have seen, on the contrary, that segments (classes, for example) form at the conjunction of masses and deterritorialized flows and that the most deterritorialized flow determines the dominant segment; thus the dollar segment dominates currency, the bourgeoisie dominates capitalism, etc.”

What governs it all then, all this segmentarity? They (226) state that it is an abstract machine. Power centers then, they (226) add, govern “the assemblages that effectuate that abstract machine”, “adapt[ing] variations in mass and flow to the segments of the rigid line, as a function of a dominant segment and dominated segments.” In other words, power centers are in charge, but only sort of, not exactly, hence they (226) note that all kinds of perverse inventions may end up entering the adaptations. They (226) exemplify this with banking, the same example used earlier on. In summary, they (226) state banking as a center of power deals with the flow of capital, finance or credit, which it converts into actual money that can be used to purchase goods, this or that. Capital is tricky in this sense. It means very little unless it can be understood as something that can be converted into something tangible, which they (226) note is, somewhat ironically, itself segmented. As they (226) note, again, the center of power is in control, but only sort of, segmenting the flow, yet being unable to actually control it, hence the impotence. Shifting the molecular into molar, one to one, is just impossible. Going back from the specific to the general, they (226-227) summarize how centers of power operate in aspects or zones, regardless of what the power center in question happens to be. The first zone is (227):

“always defined by the State apparatus, which is the assemblage that effectuates the abstract machine of molar overcoding[.]”

The second zone is (227):

“defined in the molecular fabric immersing this assemblage[.]”

The third zone is defined (227):

“by the abstract machine of mutation, flows, and quanta.”

They (226-227) state that the first zone is the zone of power, that of segmenting a solid rigid line, assembled or effectuated according to the diagram of the abstract machine of overcoding. This is the molar level of things, the segmented line. The third zone is clearly the opposite end here, not a zone of power, but a zone of impotence if contrasted with the first zone, as they (226-227) make it apparent. It is of impotence because the flow can only be partially converted and never fully controlled. This is the molecular side of things, the quantum flow. Nested between the two is the second zone, earlier on listed as the third aspect (only because it gets covered last), the microtexture, the micrological or molecular fabric, the fine segmentation, the interface of segmentation and flow, causing the flow to segment and the segment to leak into flow. After providing this summary, which is a sort of a summary of a summary, they (227) warn not to think these aspects, zones or lines as being bad or good, not even in comparison to one another. Instead, they (227) propose that we look at how they work and what the dangers of each lines are.

In summary of the dangers, Deleuze and Guattari (227) list four distinct dangers related to the lines: fear, clarity, power and disgust. Fear has a lot to do with segmentation, how things are organized in molar fashion, resulting arborescences, binaries, centers and resonances. It is the system of overcoding, desiring being dominated by a system. They (227) characterize it aptly as:

“The more rigid the segmentarity, the more reassuring it is for us. That is what fear is, and how it makes us retreat into the first line.”

In other words, simply put, our insecurities force us to seek security in molar organization of life in all of its areas. It provides a solid foundation so that we need not worry. There are no what ifs when everything is set the way it is, forever and always. No need to think for yourself, it’s all in place. The second danger is clarity which Deleuze and Guattari (227-228) characterize as marked by “attain[ing] a visual and sonorous microperceptions”, making us able to see all the holes, gaps, voids, fringes, encroachments, overlaps and migrations in the molar structure that previously, think of the conditions of fear, seemed full, solid and clear cut into neat compact segments. They (228) characterize this microperception as “[e]verything ha[ving] the clarity of a microscope.” They (228) point out that while it may seem like it functions to present dangers, I’d say those of fear in particular, this kind of clarity also a danger in itself. They (228) clarify the danger as having to do with being situated on the second line. They (228) specify that the danger is that molar rigidity becomes imbued on a molecular level, running the risk of reproducing the rigid in miniature. In their (228) words:

“One deterritorializes, massifies, but only in order to knot and annul the mass movements and movements of deterritorialization, to invent all kinds of marginal reterritorializations even worse than the others.”

Remember how on this plateau they keep stating the most deterritorialized is the one that ends up reterritorializing and everything else gets arranged according to that logic. So if you think top-down is bad and in contrast bottom-up is good, not to mention inherently so, you may not have understood how the mass can end up reorganizing everything. It’s not to say that grassroots movements are somehow inherently bad either. That’s not what they are after here. Instead they are stating that bottom-up movement can result in a top-down system, one that is worse that the previous top-down systems. Earlier on on this plateau they use the example of how fascism is a molecular phenomenon, which can then result in putting into place a totalitarian molar state. The totalitarian state can then not only do all those bad things we associate with totalitarian states, but also gain unprecedented traction for it by having a mass of people who resonate with the state. Here they (228) also point to an alternative outcome, stating that instead of becoming centralized, crystallizing into a totalitarian state, everyone becomes a totalitarian in their own right. They (228) summarize that the danger is then that everyone is afraid of everything while knowing it all in perfect clarity; people become “self-appointed judge[s], disperser[s] of justice, policem[e]n, the neighbourhood SS m[e]n.” In contrast to fear then, they (228) indicate that clarity is not about resorting to security to protect us from our insecurities, thus escaping fear, but about being engulfed in those insecurities to the extent that we put in place our own personal organization not unlike that of a totalitarian state.

Power is the third danger they list. They (228-229) elaborate it as having to do with simultaneously operating on both lines, the ones already marked by either fear or clarity. In other words, it operates everywhere, on the molar and the molecular levels. They (229) bring up impotence again, noting that it is impotence that makes power dangerous, not power itself. As they explain (229), the point here is, more or less, to clarify how power is imbued everywhere, how the ones exercising power in a power relation use it to stop others from doing something, “to trap and stabilize the mutation machine in the overcoding machine.” They (229) specify that the real danger of this has to do with containing the overcoding machine within the assemblage that effectuates it, i.e. limiting the machine to operating according to the parameters of the assemblage, not the other way around. They (229) clarify that when this happens, the system is totalitarian, functioning as a closed vessel or autarky, having cut off the potential to mutate and now existing only for itself. The boundaries are set as permanently fixed and, well, it only follows that everything posing danger to the closed system must be curbed accordingly. All the pipes must be continuously monitored for any potential leaks.

Disgust is the fourth danger listed by Deleuze and Guattari. This is arguably the hardest to grasp of these dangers as it doesn’t pertain to what was discussed previously on the plateau. It’s for sure the least lucid of the four. They (229) state that it has to do with the lines themselves in general, not really involving the issue of flow vs. segmentation or deterritorialization vs. reterritorialization. They (229) note this danger as having to do with the lines themselves “emanat[ing] a strange despair” which is “like an odor of death and immolation, a state of war from which one returns broken[.]” As this may seem unnecessarily … poetic …, they (229) clarify it as taking a line of flight, as in, say, going to a war, only to return from it broken and empty, as they mention. Of course the example doesn’t have to be war. You could equally substitute it with any kind of mission, something you want to accomplish. The point being, as they (229) make clear, that one should connect with other lines, “each time augmenting its valence” instead of turning to nothingness. They (229-230) exemplify this with the war machine, which, unlike the label might make you think of it as, is not actually about waging war. Instead, they (229-230) state that it is the machine that springs about mutations, emitting quanta of deterritorialization, setting up mutant flows. I believe we could speak of it as the mutation machine, but in this context they use war machine. Nevertheless, they (230) add that under a state system it is reigned in for a specific purpose, to function as what we know as the military. In other words, the war machine is a machine that brings about change, but when its restrained and set to be sedentary, just in case, it loses its ability to bring about mutations, its potential for change. When that happens, they (230) clarify, in its limited capacity the machine can only have war as its object and thus its only line of flight is destruction. They (230) also note that this can happen not only when a state appropriates the war machine for its own purposes but also when the war machine becomes the state itself. This is a bit of a murky passage in the text, but luckily they (230) clarify it in the next passage by pointing out that this is a movement from molecular fascism to a molar totalitarian state. In other words, as they (230) point out, this is not a movement in which the military becomes the state, as in the case of military dictatorships because the military is already part of the state, now only pushing the state to totalitarianism. Therefore they (230) state that a totalitarian state that builds on a fascist mass is arguably not marked by what one might expect, totalitarianism, but by a suicidal tendency because the war machine that became the state now only has one goal, one line of flight, to destroy and abolish. They (230-231) comment that it becomes desirable, not heroic, to die if it involves the death of others. Simply put, everything becomes geared towards war, for the sake of war, and even the notion of potentially losing war further gears war, as they (231, 538) characterize it.

As I pointed out in the final bits of the previous essay, the last pages of this plateau act more like a summary and conclusion than carrying on extending the text. It’s a breeze to read these pages, quite enjoyable really, even though the topic is by no means light. The plateau is well worth the reading because it deals with all things state and society, yet not ignoring the people. The final pages are arguably the best reading though, pending you are familiar with the concepts they use. As a side note, if you are still puzzled by the title of the plateau, you clearly haven’t read it.


  • Deleuze, G. ([1990] 1992). Postscript on the Societies of Control. October, 59, 3–7.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Foucault, M. ([1975] 1995). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York, NY: Vintage Books.