This is continuation to the previous essay, in which I focus on stratification. I did my best to avoid mentioning assemblages and abstract machines in that essay. Why? Well, to be clear, they are relevant to stratification, but I thought it would make more sense to discuss that first and then move on to assemblages and abstract machines.

It’s quite a ride to start pondering how the entire world is constituted, how it is formed and reformed, and how it seems to stable. The thing is that stratification is bewildering, because, well, the world is bewildering, even though it appears to us a given. What I want to do in this essay is to explain what Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari get out of Louis Hjelmslev’s work and how they expand upon it.

I’ll cover assemblages first, then move on to abstract machines. I’ll then move on to regimes. But before I do that, I’ll provide another cheat sheet. I’ll also provide a quick note on how certain concepts can be understood distinct, yet also as interchangeable.

Cheat sheet

Assemblage = machine, concrete, machinic and enunciative or semiotic multiplicity, establishes connections between n-number of elements (D&G, G), socio-desiring apparatus (D&G)

Machinic assemblage (of desire, of bodies) = assemblage of content (G), machine assemblage of effectuation (D&P), state of affairs (G), machine of content (G), desiring-machine, part-objects, interpenetrating machinic multiplicity, n-number of elements, acts on material flows, libidinal and unconscious (D&G)

Machinic assemblage (in relation to strata) = surface of stratification, between two strata (interstratum), regulates the relations between strata (stratum and substratum), performs coadaptations of content and expression on a stratum, ensures biunivocal relationship between content segments and expression segments, brings out changes in the organization of strata, divides strata into epistrata and parastrata, effectuates an abstract machine, linked to the plane of consistency (matter), acts as metastratum, fits together variables and unites them in composition (D&G)

Mechanosphere = set of all machinic assemblages and abstract machines on strata, outside strata and between strata (D&G)

Collective assemblage of enunciation (or semiotization) = collective agents of enunciation (D&G), assemblage of expression (G), state of signs (G), social machine (D&G), machine of expression = linguistic/semiotic multiplicity, indirect discourse, n-number of elements, acts on linguistic/semiotic flows (D&G, G)

Regime = form that is specific to the anthropomorphic stratum (D&G)

Regime of bodies = form of content that is specific to the anthropomorphic stratum, pragmatic system, formation of power (D&G), abstract machinic phylum (G)

Machinic phylum = phylogenetic line, technological lineage, constellation of singularities (D&G)

Regime of signs = form of expression that is specific to the anthropomorphic stratum, semiotic system, semiotic machine, semiotic, formation of statements, regime of statements (D&G), regime of enunciation (G), incorporeal universe (G), universe of reference (G)

Signifying regime of signs = ideational form of expression marked by signifiance (signification, symbolism), interpretation, circularity, deferral of meaning, despotism, imperialism, paranoia, clericality, redundancy of frequency and faciality (white wall) (D&G)

Postsignifying regime of signs = passional form of expression marked by subjectification (black hole), linearity, procedurality, segmentation, activity, emotionality, grievances, monomania, authority, prophetism and non-faciality (D&G)

Mixed regime of signs = in actuality all regimes are mixed, the dominant mixed regime combines signifying and postsignifying elements (D&G)

Abstract machine = abstract, enveloped in strata, developed on the plane of consistency (matter), defines unity of composition (Ecumenon) and forces of attraction/prehension of strata (D&G), solidarity of forms (G), diagram (Foucault)

Multiplicity = one and many, part and whole (Spinoza, D&G), a quantity (Spinoza)

Plane of consistency / structuration / immanence = matter (Hjelmslev, D&G), substance (Spinoza)

Ecumenon = unity of composition of strata (D&G)

Planomenon = plane of consistency, rhizosphere (D&G)

Biunivocal = two from one, two voices that are one, two voices from one source, one term defines the other (hence two voices, one source) (D&G)

Binary = has two parts, a pair, typically indicated as 0 and 1, already established (D&G), phallic yes/no (G)

Conceptual person = not an actual person, not a mere character, the type of person that functions in a certain way (D&G)

Interchangeability of concepts

There are certain concepts that are, strictly speaking, distinct, but they can, nonetheless, be used interchangeably. These are the forms, the strata, the regimes, and the assemblages. In my view, they are interchangeable when one focuses solely on the anthropomorphic stratum, but they are not interchangeable when one takes into account all the strata, the inorganic, the organic and the anthropomorphic strata, at the same time.

This has to do with how regimes and assemblages are only relevant to the anthropomorphic stratum as that’s the only stratum that has semiotic components. The inorganic and the organic strata do not have semiotic components. Further distinction between the concepts are needed when these two strata are taken into account. You cannot refer their forms as regimes, nor state that they involve assemblages, unless, of course, you indicate that wish to focus solely on the machinic assemblages.

To be practical, this is not really an issue. It’s useful to know how they are all distinct, how they all function in relation to one another, but it’s not really necessary. As long as you understand that neither content, nor expression are static collections, of things and words, you should be fine. Just keep in mind that that they are relatively fixed yet subject to change. So, feel free to think of them in terms of metastability or homeostasis.

Things to keep in mind

Before I get on with things, I think it’s worth reminding that there are three strata: the inorganic stratum (non-living, non-semiotic), the organic stratum (living, non-semiotic) and the anthropomorphic stratum (semiotic). We humans are on the anthropomorphic stratum. I mean the stratum is literally named after humans. This is not to say that we do not rely on the other strata, as we most certainly do. We are all forms of life and constantly deal with other forms of life. We also constantly deal with the non-living forms as well. Keep in mind that we are sustained by water, which is an inorganic compound, and our feet are supported by other inorganic compounds. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean by immersion in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’.

While that should be fairly easy to keep in mind, how we are all stratified, as Deleuze and Guattari (67) point out, it is easy to get confused by the way they use the word stratum in the book. It shouldn’t take much to realize that the inorganic stratum functions as the substratum (the layer below) for the organic stratum (this layer), which, in turn, functions as the substratum (the layer below) for the anthropomorphic stratum (this layer), so that the substratum provide support for the stratum, affecting it, while also recognizing that what happens on the epistratum (the layer on top) may also affect the stratum below it (that layer), as summarized by the two (69). In other words, it should not be hard to grasp that there are layers upon layers that affect one another, acting both ways.

What is not, however, easy to keep in mind is that the strata (layers) are not mere stacks, neatly arranged as stratum (layer) on another stratum (layer), but that the strata may have different physical dimensions. Each new stratum (layer) on top of a previous stratum (layer), i.e., epistratum, may have different physical dimensions. There are also parastrata which further complicate this otherwise still fairly neat arrangement. The thing about the abutting parastrata is that they fragment the continuity of the strata, marking discontinuities and breakages, as they (52, 61) point out.

This is worth keeping in mind because the process of stratification involves strata and because strata are not simply continuous, neither vertically (pressures from the bottom and the top, from the substratum and epistratum, result in “superposed degrees”), nor horizontally (fragmented parastrata result in “abutting forms”), the epistrata and the parastrata act as their own autonomous strata, as specified by them (63). This may seem unnecessarily complicated and I’d say that it is, at least sort of, but this is, nonetheless, relevant because it leads to the discussion of multiple forms that exist at the same time. They (63) exemplify this with how human populations can themselves be stratified, both in terms of content and in terms of expression. They (63) introduce additional terms here, formations of power (content) and regimes of signs (expression) that are relevant to other discussions that pertain to what happens on the anthropomorphic stratum.

The difficulty arises from the fact that Deleuze and Guattari may refer to the three strata or to the strata within these strata. When they refer to the three strata or one of them, as a stratum, they are using the word in the narrow sense. When they refer to the strata without specifying it, without indicating that they are referring to those three strata or to one of them, they are using the word in the broad sense.

I don’t think this is explained that well in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, but this is, however, mentioned in Guattari’s notes, as mentioned in the previous essays. He mentions this in ‘Hjelmslev and Immanence’, ‘Of Both Types of Break’ and in ‘Planes of Consistency’, as included in ‘The Anti-Œdipus Papers’. When used in the broad sense, they pertain to what Hjelmslev (165-167) refers as strata, to the formed matters of content and expressions and to the forms of content and expression, and to classes of strata when grouped together as formed matters and forms, in his article ‘La stratification du langage’. Guattari (201, 204-205, 220, 278, 284-285) refers to them in this sense in his notes as panels and panels of consistency, as well as panels of consistency strata when, I think, he wishes to indicate or emphasize how the panels are on the two planes (content and expression) that make up each of the three strata, as used in the narrow sense. He (220) is pretty clear on this, considering that he notes that “one panel = one stratum”.

If you ask me, this is a bit shit, but it is up to you to keep tabs on what they mean when they use the word in a narrow sense or in a broad sense. And yes, I’m giving them shit for that. It’s well deserved. I don’t know why they dropped referring to the layers within the layers as panels, to differentiate them from the layers that have two planes, content and expression. I couldn’t find any discussion by others on this, so I honestly can’t say much more about that. I think I’d have to familiarize myself with the contexts much better to make sense why they dropped it. Anyway, I can understand the appeal of talking about layers and then adding to it that even the layers have layers, I get that, because it’s like a composite of a composite or a compound of a compound, but it is tough to keep tabs on what they mean in each instance.

Also, keep in mind Hjelmslevian terms (matter/purport/matter-meaning, substance/formed matter, form, plane, sign-function/function), as well as the Saussurean terms (signifier, signified). It’s tough to make much sense of Deleuze and Guattari’s work without them. Okay, you might do just fine without them, but I’d say that having an understanding of how all that works does allow you to get more out of their work.

There is a minor terminological hitch that I also want to mention. Deleuze and Guattari (41, 44, 53, 61, 72, 141) generally refer to Hjelmslev’s substance as formed matter. That said, while that’s generally the case, they (43) do mention that, for Hjelmslev, content is formed matter, whereas expression is functional structure. This is somewhat confusing, but it does make sense when you consider in connection to double articulation. In other words, from the point of view of expression, content appears as formed matter and, from the point of view of content, expression appears as that which gives it functional structure. How so? Well, this is difficult to explain, but, as discussed in the previous essay, content is what’s already there, what has to be there for the there to be expression, as there can be no contentless expression and as matter always appears to us a formed, according to this or that form, and, conversely, nothing appears to us without it being expressed in some way as there is no expressionless content.

They (60-61) exemplify this with human hands and tools as extensions of human hands. Hands involve both formed matter and form as they are indeed organs, parts of our bodies that are organized in a certain way. Tools are the same way, formed matter that operate in a certain way, according to a certain form. What’s already there, the content, the hands and the tools, can produce all kinds of products, expressions, which also have their own formed matters and forms. Now, of course, hands and tools are themselves products (expressions), as even they have been produced (expressed), as there can be no content for some expression without that content being an expression of some other content and so on and so forth.

Anyway, the point here is that we are always dealing with the formation of matter according to a certain form, that’s the content, which is defined in terms of some functional functional structure, that’s the expression. We have something, some content, which we turn into something else, to some expression, and, obviously, what we want it to be, that expression, imposes upon the content. It is to be that expression and not some other expression, in must be structured in some way and not in some other way, which, of course, imposes certain limitations, some invariance to variation, as they (43) point out. Now, also rather obviously, as content is always, in itself, some expression of some content, there are always some limitations to the subsequent expressions. It’s not fixed, no, but it’s not whimsical either. It’s open ended, but it does have it’s limitations at any given moment.

I think it’s also worth mentioning, more as a side note, that I don’t actually have anything against any of the cornerstones of linguistics. There’s value to all that, but it’s just something that doesn’t get me excited. It’s so boring, so stuck in time, so disconnected from reality. That’s why I prefer pragmatics. It’s the same with structuralism. It is so stuck. That’s exactly why I prefer post-structuralism, anything that seeks to go beyond structuralism, to account not only for the structure, but how that structure comes to being and how it also keeps changing, inasmuch as it does, of course.

Notes on translation

While explaining how the world works, in terms of stratification, I landed on some dictionary definitions. The noun ‘stratum’ led me to the noun ‘formation’, which has some juicy examples. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, formation (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.), the word used by Michel Foucault, can be understood fairly generally and fairly plainly as a process:

“The action or process of forming; a putting or coming into form; creation, production.”

Or as what is formed (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The thing formed.”

Which is why it is, in my opinion, such a handy word. It can be understood as the process and the product, at the same time. In addition, it covers the way in which that product is produced, how that formation is formed (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The manner in which a thing is formed with respect to the disposition of its parts; formal structure, conformation.”

So, not only does formation cover the process of formation and what is formed in that process, it also covers the way in which what is formed is formed. There are, however, also some other ways we can use this word. For example, a formation can pertain to a certain order of things (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“An arrangement or disposition of troops.”

And (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The orderly disposition of a number of aircraft in flight.”

At this point it is worth noting how words ‘arrangement’, ‘orderly’ and ‘disposition’ crop up in these examples. Moving on to some concrete examples, this time in geology (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The term formation is not always used to express a deposite consisting only of a single stratum […] it is also commonly used to designate a series of […] strata, which being intimately associated, and containing the same description of organic remains, are thence […] considered to be of contemporaneous formation.”

And (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The term ‘formation’ […] expresses […] any assemblage of rocks which have some character in common, whether of origin, age, or composition.”

I don’t know how Massumi came up with the word ‘assemblage’ as a suitable translation for what Deleuze and Guattari call ‘agencement’ in ‘Mille plateaux’, the French original, but taking into consideration that a well-known English dictionary exemplifies the word ‘formation’ with ‘assemblage’, something tells me this cannot be a mere coincidence. As you can see for yourself, the word ‘assemblage’ is mentioned in the context of geology, which, in turn, pertains to various formations and stratifications or strata.

For those who are interested, the first example is from the third edition of ‘Outlines of Mineralogy and Geology’ by William Phillips. The second example is from ‘The Student’s Elements of Geology’ by Charles Lyell. You can find both online quite easily, at least some edition, as they’ve been out of copyright since … well basically ever since they were published as copyrights are typically only relevant from … let’s say … the 1950s to the 1970s onward, depending on the jurisdiction. The word ‘assemblage’ crops up frequently in the latter book. It is also used once the former book, albeit only once.

Formation also pertains to biology and ecology (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“A community formed by groups of plants which have adapted themselves to similar climatic conditions.”

And, relevant to how I mentioned that a stratum cannot be like a sheet of paper, having no substratum, a sheet of paper is, nonetheless, in itself, stratified (OED, s.v. “formation”, n.):

“The disposition of fibres in a sheet of paper.”

Of course, it is not stratified like rock formations, like layers of sandstone, for example, but it is, nonetheless, stratified. This is what Deleuze and Guattari (41-21) mean when they differentiate the physicochemical stratum from the organic stratum. The physicochemical stratum, what I’d rather call the inorganic stratum, is one of the three major strata discussed by them (502). It is thought to include the geological and crystalline strata. The organic stratum is also one of the three major strata discussed by them (502). Long story short, the inorganic stratum is marked by folding, whereas the organic stratum is marked by infolding. A sheet of paper may seem like a homogeneous sheet of material, but, in fact, it consists of countless microscopic fibers, typically cellulose fibers, that are pressed together, kind of like felt, so that the paper is held together by the fibers that lock on to one another by curling or coiling, i.e., by infolding.

Not strata

What are assemblages? Are they the same as the strata? Well, I’d say they are, but, then again, they aren’t. The complex three level or layer setup of stratification that I also illustrated in the previous essay, where I left off, setting it all up for this essay, might be enough to explain it all, but I think assemblages and abstract machines are needed to make sense of what happens on the anthropomorphic stratum.

To give you a hint why assemblages are needed in addition to stratification, to accompany it, to complement it, Deleuze and Guattari (3-4) state provocatively in the introduction to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that not having them would be like “fabricat[ing] a beneficent God to explain geological movements.” Simply put, they need something to explain the process, how it happens, immanently, from within, there and then, and why it is that we have these strata. This is why they can’t attribute it some otherworldly entity that just makes it happen.

To give you a clearer answer, Deleuze and Guattari (503) point out in that “[a]ssemblages are already different from strata.” So, the short answer is that assemblages are not the same as strata. That said, “[t]hey are produced in the strata” and “belong to the strata”, as they (503-504) go on to specify.

As you may have already noticed and as you’ll probably come to notice if you already haven’t noticed, the great difficulty here is that the concepts, forms, strata and assemblages seem to be the same thing, and, in some sense, they are, but they are, nonetheless, distinct from one another. It’s like saying yes, they are, only to point out that no, strictly speaking, they are not, at the same time.

It’ll be grand

You’ll probably do just fine, stating that they are the same thing, no problem. For example, if you define the forms like Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov (22) do in ‘Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of Language’ as “the relational network that defines units” or as “the combinatorial relationships among units” you are pretty close to what Deleuze and Guattari (22-23, 68, 71, 73) define as assemblages as their emphasis is not so much on the matter, but on how that matter is formed, how it is segmented, how it “acts on semiotic flows, material flows, and social flows simultaneously”, how it “establishes connections” and how it “regulate[s] their relations” by “plac[ing] their segments in relation”, “in conformity with the preceding divisions.” I don’t know about you, but I think there is clear similarity, an underlying emphasis on the order of things as opposed to the things that are ordered, even though, of course, the things that are in this or that order are also important as without them there’d be nothing to put into this or that order, nothing to connect or disconnect, nothing to regulate. They (73) also point out that they “fit together variables of a stratum as a function of its unity”, which seems to me a lot like what Hjelmslev’s form does to matter, considering that matter is nonsensical to us without form. Form is needed for the matter to appear to us as formed matter, hence Hjemslev’s emphasis on the form, as explained in the previous essay.

I’d say that you’ll also do just fine with what approach you take, if you only deal with the anthropomorphic stratum, at the level of the denotative semiotic, at the level of ordinary language, as Hjelmslev calls it. For example, I managed to do just fine in the previous essay! That said, if you go beyond it, to take the inorganic and the organic strata into account, you’ll probably want to specify why assemblages are not, strictly speaking, the same as the forms. In other words, when you introduce more and more variables to the mix, when things go beyond a certain threshold of complexity in your investigations, you’ll want that specificity.

Out of time, out of space

You’ll probably also won’t have the time, nor the space to explain what distinguishes these concepts from one another. No one is going to listen to you for long enough, even though that’s exactly what’s needed. No one is going to let you write that long texts, even though that’s also exactly what’s needed.

If you are doing some presentation, which is typically, what, some 15 to 20 minutes, you’ll need to cut some corners. Like I spent an hour on just Hjelmslev and that wasn’t all there is to his work. I only explained some of it, not all of it. Plus, I reckon that I only managed to explain some of what I intended to explain, so that only some of that got across to my viewers/listeners.

It’s the same in writing. You won’t have the pages to do that in an academic article, nor in a book chapter. I hoped that I could shed light on this issue in the summary part of my thesis, but nah, that didn’t really work out. It ended up being conflated. There just wasn’t room for that as I had to explain all kinds of stuff that I had already explained in the articles, basically repeating it in paraphrasis.

I had like 30 pages for the concepts, which may seem like a lot, but it’s all I had to cover discourse, society, education, space and landscape, which, to be honest, just isn’t enough. Oh, and I did get shit for that, even though, it’s not really my fault that had to make things work in 29 pages out of some 90 pages, which was already 10 pages over the recommended maximum of 80 pages, because, except for the six-page conclusion, that other 55 pages had to be recycled from the articles. The format or, dare I say, the form, of the summary part makes it so that most of it is just mind-numbing repetition.

To give you an idea of the scale of the issue, my previous essay was 47 pages, with 1.15 line spacing, which is, I’d say, more than double what you can include in your average academic text, and, you know what, I didn’t even cover the assemblages in that essay. If I change the line spacing to 1.5, to match the summary part of my thesis, that’s 63 pages, which over twice the pages I used to explain a boatload of concepts. Okay, to be fair, I do take liberties with my essays, go on tangents and rant about things, adding up pages, so the comparison isn’t that straight forward. But, even if I’d cut a couple of pages, I’d still be way over the limits of ‘proper’ academic texts.

So, yeah, you’ll end up cutting corners, even when writing. Plus, you’ll probably be asked to cut even more corners because, in my experience, that’s how the editorial process works, one compromise after another. That’s why I have this, whatever this is, without any limits, except the limits of understanding. I mean, I do fuck up occasionally.

Why go to great lengths to explain things?

But what’s the difficulty? Why do I need pages and pages to explain a couple of concepts and what the differences are between them? Well, the difficulty or, rather, the tremendous difficulty (and believe me, it is tremendous) has to do with not knowing where to start. What I mean is that what I’d like to cover in publications (which is exactly what I’m trying to do in these two essays) is very hard for me to explain.

Why is it so hard to explain? Because it’s so hard to make sense of the concepts, because you can’t just have one as your starting point, as that something from which the others unfold. Instead, it’s like you have to understand them all at once. The problem is that writing is linear. You have to present the concepts one after another, which makes it seem like they appear in that order, even though none of it really makes any sense unless you can grasp them all at once.

So, imagine me, rolling my eyes, wondering how on earth to I get the message across that assemblages do involve these components, these content and expression figuræ (figures), which makes them the forms, as we can only understand matter through them, as Hjelmslev would put it, but, at the same time, they are not reducible to these forms, because they are what makes matter appear to us as formed matter through the forms, yet, importantly, we cannot understand them without the forms, as they are, indeed, what makes matter appear to us as formed matter. Then I also need to account for the abstract machines, which explain why assemblages do what they do, the way they do it, to the extent that they do, in relation to the forms, which, in turn, are tied to matter and formed matter, without making it seem like they are just another word for some ultimate cause, a transcendent entity, a deity that makes it all happen. That means that I can’t privilege the abstract machines either, which complicates how I explain the assemblages. They don’t make a whole lot of sense without the abstract machines, but the abstract machines don’t make a whole lot of sense without them either. Now, if you thought that’s it, well, no. You still need to explain the regimes of bodies and the regimes of signs and, possibly the machinic phylum. Sooooooo…

To give you a short answer, the tremendous difficulty of explaining all this has to do with immanence, how everything happens simultaneously, in relation to everything else, as opposed to this happening first, then that, etc. Conversely, it has to do with avoiding transcendence, refraining from relying on certain concepts, such as nature, culture, humanity, ideology, structure, economy, or the like, as contemporary substitutes for the supposed Will of God in order to ground your arguments.

If you know me, you know that I can have none of that. That’s just something I’m not willing to compromise on. It’s just you saying that things are the way they are because you say so, while making it appear as if it isn’t you saying so.

There is, of course, a certain charm to that. I get that. You got to admit that it is quite handy that you can skip all the conceptual work, what is generally referred to as theory, and just replace it with transcendence. That allows you to explain the states of affairs, let’s say why something happened or why people are like this and/or like that, by saying it’s natural, cultural, human, ideological, structural, economic, or the like, and thus also justify it, why it has to be so, why it is good that it is so.

That said, the problem is that it’s like explaining that, all that, by saying that God willed it, as I already pointed out. So, imagine my dismay, mixed with a degree of amusement, when I read an academic text that doesn’t explain its conceptual framework and, instead, relies on such abstractions. Like I’ve read articles and book chapters that mention ideology like at least a dozen times, so that it’s clearly central to how things are explained, yet the concept is never explained.

I think Guattari manages to summarize why explaining things in great detail is not only useful, but, in fact, necessary, when he (197-198) states in ‘The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis’ that “any principle idea must be held suspect” and that “[n]othing is ever given.” He (198) elaborates his own principles, as he should, according to his own principles, adding that:

“Theoretical elaboration is so much more necessary and must be ever more audacious to the degree that the … assemblage will have taken stock of its essentially precarious nature.”


I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, in a previous essay, but I’ll mention it again, because it’s totally worth it. Alfred North Whitehead (20) explains this issue particularly well in his book ‘Process and Reality’:

“It is a complete mistake to ask how [a] concrete particular fact can be built up out of universals.”

Why? Because (20):

“The answer is, ‘In no way’”

As he (20) points, we need to do the exact opposite:

“[T]o explain the emergence of the more abstract things from the more concrete things.”

So, yeah, don’t state something like this thing happened, whatever it is (feel free to come up with an example), because it was natural, part of their culture, only human, ideologically motivated, socially structured, driven by the economy, because you aren’t saying anything.

Deleuze (vii) addresses this in the ‘Preface to the English Language Edition’ of ‘Dialogues’:

“I have always felt that I am an empiricist, that is, a pluralist. But what does this equivalence between empiricism and pluralism mean? It derives from the two characteristics by which Whitehead defined empiricism: the abstract does not explain, but must itself be explained; and the aim is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced (creativeness).”

He (vii) explains what this means in practice, how it is that we evaluate or analyze something:

“Empiricism starts with … analysing the states of things, in such a way that non-pre-existing concepts can be extracted from them. States of things are neither unities nor totalities, but multiplicities. It is not just that there are several states of things (each one of which would be yet another); nor that each state of things is itself multiple (which would simply be to indicate its resistance to unification). The essential thing, from the point of view of empiricism, is the noun multiplicity, which designates a set of lines or dimensions which are irreducible to one another. Every ‘thing’ is made up this way.”

I’ll skip the thing about multiplicities here, not because I disagree with him on that, but because I’ll return to it shortly. Anyway, the point here is that you simply start from something, extracting/abstracting one from the multiplicity, then another, then another, to better understand it and the others, the one and the multiple, as well as the multiplicity, without ever confusing the one and the multiple with multiplicity. This is why Deleuze and Guattari (21) state in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that:

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

Instead, as they (21) go on to add:

“It is … [that] from which the One is always subtracted (n – 1).”

The point here is that you start from the multiplicity. You subtract something from it. That’s what extracting or abstracting means. You get one out of it. When you have more than one, you have multiple. But multiple is not multiplicity. Like they (43) point out in ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, a multiplicity is not like a puzzle that consist of neatly defined pieces that have matching edges, nor like a statue that is are in pieces, just waiting for someone to find the pieces and glue them “back together to create a unity that is precisely the same as the original unity.” This is not to say that there are no totalities, nor unities, as there clearly are, hello, but the unity or the totality of whatever it is that we are dealing with is not a primordial, an eternal nor a final unity or totality, but a particular totality or unity, “a whole of these particular parts” or “a unity of all these particular parts”, a fabrication of its own, as they (42) point out.

That said, what usually happens in analysis is the exact opposite, as I pointed out. Deleuze (vii) elaborates on this in the preface:

“In so-called rationalist philosophies, the abstract is given the task of explaining, and it is the abstract that is realized in the concrete. One starts with abstractions such as the One, the Whole, the Subject, and one looks for the process by which they are embodied in the world which they make conform to their requirements.”

In other words, people are in the habit of presupposing something, whatever that may be, let’s say a culture or an ideology, only to find it manifested in reality. To be clear, it is not that you cannot explain things that way. Of course you can, but you cannot take them for granted. You need to realize that they are abstractions, something that has been abstracted from the multiplicity. They are products, fabrications, tied to the conditions of their production or fabrication. So, for example, I could say that the Finnish flag that I can sometimes see from my window is an embodiment, a manifestation or a materialization of Finnish culture, but, in order to state that, we do need to explain what Finnish culture or Finnishness consists of, what particular parts are united in it, and how it has been fabricated, how those parts have come together. Long story short, Finnish culture or Finnishness is a mere figment of imagination, something that people have fabricated for their own convenience, to better their own interests, to fulfil their ow goals.

This is exactly what Deleuze (vii) means when he states that “the aim is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced”. Finland has not always been, nor has Finnishness. So, the Finnish flag does not embody, manifest or materialize some eternal Finnishness, but rather partakes in the production or fabrication of Finnishness by embodying, manifesting or materializing what people consider as constitutive of Finnishness.

The gist of this is that if you explain this with that, you better be able to explain how that came to being before you use it to explain this. When you are pushed to do that, you’ll be doing what Deleuze (vii) calls empiricism. This is why I prefer discourse and discourse analysis, instead of culture and cultural analysis or ideology and ideological analysis. Sure, discourse can also end up being used to explain things without ever explaining it. It’s just prefer it because it isn’t an everyday word, something that would often crop up in the media. Anyway, I prefer it because you’ll be tasked to not, no longer, “treating discourses as groups of signs”, as “signifying elements referring to contents”, i.e., treating something as a representation, “but as practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak”, as explained by Foucault (49) in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Discourse on Language’.

It is this idea of discourse as a practice pertaining to the formation of objects, as opposed to treating it as linguistic means of representing them, that prevents you from explaining things through abstractions and, instead, makes you focus on what Foucault (38) calls the rules of formation or the conditions of existence, also including “coexistence, maintenance, modification, and disappearance”. So, the Finnish flag isn’t interesting, nor important, because it embodies, manifests or materializes Finnish culture, that is to say represents it in some way, but because it is a certain historical formation that exists under certain conditions, coexisting with other historical formations, as maintained in order to make sure that the conditions of its existence are met, until it is, perhaps, modified, to this and/or that extent, and, eventually, disappears. In other words, its embodiment, manifestation or materialization is part and parcel of the discourse of Finnishness as a practice. That’s what makes it interesting.

Transforming and mutating structures

But what are assemblages then? Guattari (415) provides a general definition of an assemblage in ‘Glossary of Schizo-Analysis’, as included in ‘The Anti-Œdipus Papers’:

“[T]his notion is larger than structure, system, form, process, etc. An assemblage contains heterogeneous elements, on a biological, social, machinic, gnoseological, or imaginary order.”

While he doesn’t provide us with much to work with here, at least he provides us a negative definition, what it is not, followed by a positive definition of what it contains. While I’m not a big fan of defining something by explaining what it is not (plus note how he leaves it open as to what it is not!), at least this helps us to understand that it’s not a structure, a system, nor a process. It’s also not a form. What I get from this is that it is not something merely static, nor dynamic.

To link this to Hjelmslev, I’d say that it is, or it involves a system and a process, as well as the forms, so that there is a structure and the forms, but even they are constantly subject to change, not just the figuræ (figures) picked from the matter. If you ask me, Hjelmslev’s own take does contain all this, so that when we are dealing with the forms, they cover what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages. That said, it’s all more like implied in his works, so I can see why they’d want to be more explicit about how all that happens, how the system and the process work, how the forms impose on the matter, and how not only the matter is subject to constant change, being constantly (re)formed, but also how the forms, what Ducrot and Todorov (22) call the “combinatorial relationships among units”, are also subject to constant change.

Anyway, Guattari (415) adds to this that:

“In schizo-analytic theory of the unconscious, assemblage is employed in response to the Freudian ‘complex.’”

The problem with this is that, well, unless you are familiar with psychoanalysis and his views on it, both Freudian and Lacanian, this doesn’t help you much, if at all.

Individuals and Groups

Guattari addresses assemblages in ‘Institution Intervention’, as included in ‘Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977–1985’. While does not provide a definition for the concept in this interview, he is pushed to explain the origins of the concept and the motivations behind coming up with it.

In this interview, Guattari is asked to explain his interest in groups and individuals, to which he (48) responds by stating that he does not, no longer, wish to deal with groups or individuals. Instead, he (48) prefers assemblages instead because it does not take the group, nor the individual as a starting point:

“I would prefer to start from a much more inclusive, perhaps vague, notion of assemblage.”

What is worth emphasizing here is that he acknowledges the vagueness of the concept. But why would he prefer a vague concept, as opposed to something precise like individual or group? The answer is that he (48-49) wants to challenge these as starting points:

“Who is speaking? Who is intervening? What assemblage of enunciation makes something real?”

In other words, he is asking to think who really speaks when someone speaks and who really does something when someone does something. Is it the individual or group of individuals? In his view, it is not. He (49) continues:

“Assemblage is not just speech, subject and signifier; it’s the tangling up of a thousand components such that reality and history are what they are, so that it’s not exclusively in relation to the economy of micro-groups or macro-groups that we can understand this type of process.”

So, instead of dealing with people, be it as individuals or as groups of individuals, he is advocating for a more inclusive view of the world. He (49) rephrases all this:

“Quite different in this from the category of the group, this notion of assemblage leads us to contemplate problems in their entirety, and to take into account social mutations, subjective transformations, semantic slidings, everything that touches on
perceptions, sentiments and ideas.”

He (49) exemplifies this with pirate radio stations. They are not run professionally. They do have people working in such capacity, but the pirate stations do not simply function like radio stations among radio stations. In his (49):

“Let’s return to the example of the free radios: who is speaking in this assemblage? The radio hosts? It’s not clear… It perhaps betrays, first of all, a collective sense of being ‘fed up’ with official media…”

To paraphrase this, people do not start a pirate radio station to be a radio station. Yes, even pirate radio stations have hosts, he is not challenging that. Instead, what is interesting about this is that something appears to speak through the people who are the hosts of these pirate radio stations. This is the collectivity of expression. In fact, people ended up starting such radio stations because it is, as if, something pushed them to do so. They must desire it.

He (49) goes on to add to this that one must also take into consideration what else is there, not just the people involved. To be clear, you would not have pirate radio stations without the relevant technology. Moreover, that technology must be accessible to be people, as he (49) points out. In this example, it is the miniaturization of the radio equipment that is particularly important.

I think it is worth emphasizing how adamant he is about forgoing privileging the individual and/or the group as a starting point. He (49) is very clear on this:

“We cannot attribute responsibility for a statement (énoncé) to any social transformation, group or individual, in the sense in which we usually understand it.”

He (49-50) clarifies this, noting that this is not just about taking the context into account, as generally done in pragmatics (of this time, anyway). In his (49) view, one needs to take into account, for example, power relationships and hierarchies, i.e., who is superior/inferior to whom in what kind of relationship, as well as the technological developments and the mutations of various means of expression, such as computers.

The motivation behind the concept clearly has to do with avoiding simplistic explanations to various phenomena. He (50) notes, for example, various ailments, such as anorexia, anxiety and stuttering, tend to be attributed to something specific that causes them, let’s say psychological issues, family issues or issues at school. He (50) acknowledges that, in each case, it could well be that it is about this or that which has resulted in a certain ailment. However, he (50-51) reckons that it would be better, much more productive, to address everything that could play a role in all this. As expressed by him (50):

“Maybe all of this is at stake at the same time, but not in simply any order or to the same degree.”

In other words, there are many components that need to be taken into account. Some may be more important than others, yes, but no component should get priority just because. Assemblages are about this, taking a broader look at the situation, not just the people involved. People are still important, but they are no longer privileged as such.

To provide another example, he (52-53) addresses family relations. He (52-53) argues that dealing with family, which is a group of people consting of a number of individuals, only in terms of the family, the group, paying attention to the interactions between in the individuals is extremely limiting and thus misguided. Those interactions are, of course, important, but that’s not all, as he (52-53) points out. One must also take other components consideration, such as “age group, social environment, socioeconomic conditions and considerations of salary, urban issues, and, above all, invidual singularities”, as he (53) goes on to add. In addition, one must consider how it is all machinic, i.e., how it all works, and, conversely, what in the assemblage does not work, what is blocked or inhibited, as he (53) points out.

He (53) also notes that, by being somewhat vague, assemblages forgo the notion of generality or universality as they are always particular, specific to a certain situation. In his (53) words:

“I prefer to speak of a ‘machinic kernel’ instead of speaking about structure, system, complex, etc… in order to emphasize that no general formula, no psycho-sociological, structural or systematic recipe … can give us access to this kind of phenomenon.”

So, for him (53), assemblages avoid these pitfalls:

“Only the putting into place of an assemblage that is specific and singular in its enunciation, allows for the possibility of a practice that will serve both analysis and change.”

In summary, I’d say that he (and Deleuze) came up with assemblages because of the vagueness of it all. You can kind of explain what they are, but to make sense of them, you always need to explain them as pertaining to a particular situation. Sure, they have components, which work in certain ways, some being more important than others, but that does not tell you much. You have to fill in the gaps yourself.


To provide you another definition, assemblages are multiplicities, as Deleuze and Guattari (4, 8, 17) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. But what are multiplicities? They are parts and wholes at the same time, without any fixed unity or totality, as explained by the two (42) in ‘Anti-Oedipus’:

“It is only the category of multiplicity, used as a substantive and going beyond both the One and the many, beyond the predicative relation of the One and the many, that can account for desiring-production: desiring-production is pure multiplicity, that is to say, an affirmation that is irreducible to any sort of unity.”

To be clear, there is a unity or totality of a whole, but not the whole, as they (42) go on to note:

“[I]f we discover such a totality alongside various separate parts, it is a whole of these particular parts but does not totalize them; it is a unity of all of these particular parts but does not unify them; rather, it is added to them as a new part fabricated separately.”

To which they (43) also add that:

“[T]he Whole itself is a product, produced as nothing more than a part alongside other parts, which it neither unifies nor totalizes”

This is also how Baruch Spinoza defines parts and wholes in his ‘Ethics’. For him (95-96), bodies (used here in the broadest sense) can compose into another body (that has previously not existed), into a composite body, and, conversely, decompose into other bodies, which may then, again, compose into another composite body. These bodies are parts of a whole, but that whole is a composite of those parts, which themselves may also be composite bodies. That’s multiplicity for you.

It can go on and on, on and on, expanding its connections, becoming ever more complex as more and more dimensions added to it, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (8) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, as clearly based on Spinoza (96). He (96-97) exemplifies this with the human body, noting that it is a composite body (a quantity), a whole, composed of a number (a quantity) of bodies, parts, which, in turn, are composite bodies (a quantity), wholes, composed of a number (a quantity) of bodies, parts, and so on, and so forth, hence the complexity involved.

We can, of course, address each composite body, treat it as this or that, as one of this or that, for the sake of utility, but that is then just about that, about utility, as explained by Spinoza (284) in his letter to Lodewijk Meyer, as included in ‘Life, Correspondence, and Ethics’ and further discussed in the previous essay. This allows us to make sense of multiplicity (n), focusing on one (a number) dimension of the multiplicity (n-1), pinpointing a particular unity or totality (n-1), which is great, but it does come at the cost of reducing that multiplicity (n) into something which it is not (n-1), because one (a number) is never given, but subtracted from the multiplicity (n-1), as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (6, 8). In short, multiplicity is n, one is n-1, and multiple is n-1 multiplied. This is the point that Spinoza (285) makes about quantities and numbers as images of quantities in his letter to Meyer, as discussed in the previous essay.

If we take this to its logical conclusion, as we should, it is possible to conceive everything as a multiplicity, a whole consisting of infinite dimensions, as explained by Spinoza (96) in his ‘Ethics’. That is Spinoza’s substance, Hjelmslev’s purport (meaning, sense, matter or matter-meaning) and Deleuze and Guattari’s plane of consistency, plane of immanence, plane of composition or body without organs. We could even say that all this is just an elaborate way of how the world is composed, immanently, without a beneficent entity that makes it happen from the outside, as hinted by Deleuze and Guattari (3-4) in the introduction of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

They (253-254) further comment on this, noting that, in their view of Spinoza, the elements that there are have no form, nor function, so that they are, at the same time, abstract and real. What they (254) wish to emphasize here is that they are not “finite elements still endowed with form”, such as atoms, and that they are not “indefinitely divisible”, even though bodies can be composed and decomposed indefinitely, as already explained. How does that work then? Well, it is like that because there is no body or an element, whatever you want to call it, that is the smallest element that has a certain form, like an atom, or indefinitely divisible, like splitting that atom to protons, neutron, and electrons, and then splitting them again, and so on, and so forth. Instead, what you have is a multiplicity of “infinitely small, ultimate parts of an actual infinity, laid out on the same plane of consistency or composition”, as they (254) point out. Does this mean that we can’t split something indefinitely? Well, no. They aren’t saying that. We can always halve a given number, let’s say a two, so that we have two ones, which we can then halve and so on and so forth, no problem, but that’s not what they are after here. That would be mistaking the image of quantities with quantities.

The two sides

It is worth noting that assemblages always have two sides, content and expression, which, in turn, become “a pragmatic system”, a regime of bodies, and “a semiotic system, a [regime of signs]”, as they (504) go on to add. In other words, there are non-semiotic and semiotic multiplicities or, to be more accurate, multiplicities are both non-semiotic and semiotic.

On the side of content, they are machinic assemblages. To clarify things, machinic assemblages are also referred to as “machinic assemblages of desire”, as “libidinal assemblage[s]” and as “assemblage[s] of bodies”, as mentioned by the two (22, 37, 140, 399). On the side of expression, they are collective assemblages of enunciation. Similarly, the assemblages of enunciation are also referred to as collective assemblages of enunciation or semiotization, as done by Guattari (191) in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’.

There is an emphasis on the anthropomorphic stratum because it is the only semiotic stratum of the three strata. The inorganic and the organic strata are non-semiotic. If you didn’t already register it, one side of the assemblages pertain to enunciation, i.e., language, or semiotization, i.e., semiotics, which explains why assemblages are tied to the anthropomorphic stratum. Then again, the anthropomorphic stratum is immersed in the other two strata that function as its substrata. This means that assemblages pertain not only to the anthropomorphic stratum but also to the inorganic and organic strata, which is why the other side of assemblages is non-semiotic.

To contextualize the discussion of assemblages and abstract machines, firstly, think of the simplest configuration, of Hjelmslev’s denotative semiotic, then expand on it to think of Hjelmslev’s connotative semiotic. The denotative semiotic is too limited for the discussion of assemblages and abstract machines, but it does give you a rough cut. On one hand, you have the material side, the content plane, and, on the other hand, you have semiotic side, expression plane. To further simplify this, think of things (content) and words (expression). Now, expand on that, so that the semiotic side (expression plane) is doubled, like in Hjelmslev’s connotative semiotic. This allows you to retain that simple setup, so that, yes, we have things (content) and words (expression), so that we are not stuck in language, but that’s not all there is to this. Instead, we now have things (content) and words (expression) on the expression plane, as well as words (expression as content for expression) on words (expression) on the content plane. This is why Deleuze and Guattari (76-77) state language is, first and foremost, about indirect discourse, about narrative, about hearsay, going “from saying to saying.” At the same time, keep in mind that the things have not gone anywhere. Don’t be fooled by this new element (words on words, expression as content for expression). It is important but it does not negate the things (content plane). Now, to give things (content) their fair shake, double the things (content) as well, so that the content plane is not only content (things) for an expression (words) like in the denotative semiotic, but so also content (things) for an expression on the content plane (things). As explained by them (67), the form of content has its “own relative expressions” and the form of expression has “its own relative contents”. Simply put, to put you in the right mindset for what’s to come, double the content plane and the expression plane, so that each plane is doubled in its own right. It would look something like this (I):

If this confuses you, another way to think of this is to start with the connotative semiotic, then take into consideration how the content side of the denotative semiotic, those (material) things, come from the non-semiotic levels, as Hjelmslev would explain it, from the organic and inorganic strata, as Deleuze and Guattari would explain it. In short, keep in mind that both the content plane and the expression plane are always doubled. I’m well aware that it is tremendously tough to conceptualize the world this way, to think that reality is constantly in the making, things coming and going, and words being the same way, coming and going, but that is exactly what they are after with assemblages.

Reciprocity or mutual presupposition

But why do assemblages always have two sides? Why are they semiotic and non-semiotic at the same time? Ah, well, this is because “there is a collective assemblage of enunciation, a machinic assemblage of desire, one inside the other”, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (23). But why are they inside one another instead of one being before the other? To give you a better answer, this has to do with reciprocity of content and expression, as discussed in the previous essay and pointed out numerous times by Deleuze and Guattari (44, 45, 57, 59, 64, 66-67, 72, 87, 90-91, 108-109, 140, 146, 147, 180, 213, 503-504) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. You simply cannot have one without the other. They are always solidary, never appearing in isolation, as explained by Hjelmslev (30) in ‘Prolegomena to a Theory of Language’.

Why is it important to keep in mind that assemblages have two sides? It is important to keep in mind because it is so, so easy to ignore the other. Firstly, one may lapse into naïve realism, thinking that content and expression correspond or conform to one another, which they never do, as emphasized by Deleuze and Guattari (44, 66-67, 86, 108). Secondly, one may also lapse into linguistic or semiotic imperialism, to what Deleuze and Guattari (62-63, 65, 143, 180-182, 229) refer to as the imperialism of the signifier, making it all about language or signs. In other words, one must resist collapsing one into the other, siding either with content or expression.

I’d say that linguists and semioticians are prone to siding with expression, for obvious reasons, because that is what interests them. That is problematic as it may result in thinking and/or coming across as if we are stuck in language or in a sign system. Others are prone to siding with content, thinking that words are just words for things. Siding with content is unsurprising, considering that it is unlikely that most people will end up reading anything that has to do with linguistics and/or semiotics.

The link

Okay, so, now that it has been established assemblages are not same as strata, and that they have two sides, what are they then? What do assemblages bring to the table that stratification doesn’t? Well, to cut to the chase, assemblages are the active components in all this, what regulates the form of content and the form of expression on the anthropomorphic stratum, which, in turn, define how matter is formed on the content and expression planes, as explained by them (68).

Of course, by all logic, assemblages do also pertain to the inorganic and organic strata, but only non-semiotically. That means that, on their own, they are regulated by machinic assemblages. The point here is, however, that as we make sense of things semiotically, largely through language, Deleuze and Guattari opt to focus mainly on the anthropomorphic stratum in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

Ian Buchanan (34) provides a similar explanation in his book ‘Assemblage Theory and Method’, noting that an assemblage is a function that has these two dimensions, the form of content and the form of expression. To be more accurate, it is what links the two forms together, binding them together, allowing them to interact and communicate with one another, as specified by him (34). Deleuze and Guattari (57) refer to this interaction or communication as resonance.

The gist of this is that assemblages are necessary for stratification, for there to be strata, or, as I just explained it in Hjelmslevian terms through Deleuze and Guattari (57, 68), for matter to be formed into formed matter according to the forms, which come to resonate with one another. Therefore, as explained by Buchanan (47), “[a]ssemblages are not defined by their components” but rather “by what they produce, and they produce, ultimately, are the complex forms”, the “objects that populate contemporary society.” However, this is not to say that they do not comprise of those forms, form of content and form of expression, as acknowledge by Buchanan (33) and explained by Deleuze and Guattari (88).

This might be tough to grasp but think of Hjelmslev again. He (172) explicitly addresses this in ‘La stratification du langage’, stating that the distinction between form and formed matter is an auxiliary distinction that we make in order to comprehend how we make sense of matter through form. In other words, matter only appears to us as formed matter through form.  It is also worth noting that while there is a clear emphasis on form, there is no formed matter without form. Matter always appears to us in this or that form, which is why assemblages don’t have components of their own, something separate from what they produce, or, rather, from the production itself.


The problem with resonance is that Deleuze and Guattari keep referring to it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, but they don’t really provide a clear-cut definition for it, as noted by Buchanan (34). Long story short, there always needs to be something that resonates with something else, which means that there are at least two events, one event that links the forms together, followed by another event that resonates with the first event, i.e., an echo, resumption or resonance that crosses over from the expression plane, being the second articulation, to the content plane, being the first articulation, as indicated by Deleuze (170) in ‘The Logic of Sense’ and further elaborated by Buchanan (34). Now, as both the content plane and the expression plane are doubled, articulated twice, each having its own content and expression, the resonance occurs not only between content and expression planes, but also within them, so that there are always several events that are linked at the same time, as acknowledged by Buchanan (34-35, 43). To make more sense of this, I need to explain abstract machines, but everything in due time.

More notes on translation

The problem with assemblages is that it is a translation from agencements. The English translation may fool you to think of them as something static, like mere arrangements, collections, gatherings, or layouts (OED, s.v. “assemblage”, n.), whereas the French original is supposed to be more dynamic. It’s not that assemblages don’t pertain to how things are, to certain arrangements or certain orders of things, as they do, but rather that there’s more to them. If I got this right, ‘agencement’ is a noun formed from the verb ‘agencer’, which, to my understanding, translates to English as ‘to arrange’ or ‘to lay out’. Éric Alliez and Andrew Goffey (10-11) further elaborate this as the editors of ‘The Guattari Effect’:

“Although the French agencement is something that might be said of the way in which elements on the page of a magazine are put together, of a palette of colours or of the arrangement of furniture in a room, in the use that Deleuze and Guattari make of it, it also conveys an active sense of agency as being what some or other entity does, a precious indicator of the constructivist horizon within which it operates.

Simply put, the emphasis is not so much on what this and/or that agencement is but rather on what it does. The problem with assemblage is that pushes you think the other way, to focus on what something is rather than what it does, as Alliez and Goffey (11) go on to add:

 “The term [assemblage] does not really convey this crucial nuance of agency[.]”

This is not to say that assemblage is a poor translation. It does have its merits, as acknowledged by them (11):

“[I]t does capture the function of synthesis of disparate elements rather well – the irreducible bricolage of being[.]”

Guattari (150) makes note of this issue in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’, warning not to think an assemblage as something that just happens to interact with other something else that happens to be there:

“Concrete assemblages, at least their machinic nuclei, are thus far from simply being the seat of external interactions which they passively undergo.”

The point he (150) wants to make here is that they are constantly (re)assembled, not only because this interacts with that, because the outside changes them, but because what the assemblages consist of, all the elements or components, interact with themselves, to the extent that they do, of course, because the inside changes them:

“In fact, all the intermediate combinations between situations dominated by statistical series and self-regulated assemblages are conceivable and, inside the same assemblage, can be confronted with antagonistic machinic options.”

I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of how everything is a composite for Spinoza, as already explained.

Buchanan (3) also weighs in on this in ‘Assemblage Theory and Method’, noting that this is not, however, all there is to this, and wonders what good does it do to think of assemblages in this reduced way:

“[I]if any and every kind of collection of things is an assemblage, then what advantage is there in using this term and not some other term, or indeed no term at all?”

He (3) answers his own question, noting that if there is some advantage involved, then it amounts to saying that:

“[T]he concept serves only to say either that everything is more organized than it appears, or, on the contrary, that everything is ultimately less organized than it appears.”

The problem with this is that it’s basically much ado about nothing, as he (3) points out. It’s like … what about it? Some things are more complex than we think they are, whereas some other things are simpler than we think they are. That isn’t saying much. This is why Guattari (191) states in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’ that:

“In paraphrasing a famous phrase, we will proclaim: ‘assemblages are not things.’”

What he means by this is that we cannot take those things for granted. Instead, we need to analyze what makes those things, for example “[a] social fact, a fact of behavior, a psychic fact”, those things in the first place, i.e., how they are composed, why they are composed in this and/or that way, as opposed to some other way, and how they are connected to another another in the entire mechanosphere, as noted by Guattari (191-192). To explain what mechanosphere means here, it’s about what he (192) refers to as machinic enslavement, how everything, yes, everything, is connected to everything else, directly on indirectly, via other entities, as certain compositions, as defined by the abstract machines:

“Every living being, every process of enunciation, every psychic instance, and every social formation is necessarily connected (machinically enslaved) to a crossroads-point between, on the one hand, its particular position on the objective phylum of concrete machines and, on the other, the attachment of its formula of existence on the plane of consistency of abstract machines.”

To which he (192) then adds that not only are the concrete assemblages connected to one another, being machinic assemblages of desire, but also to the abstract machines, so that you have this two-way definition where the concrete assemblages make no sense without the abstract machines, nor the abstract machines without the concrete assemblages:

“It falls upon the machinic nuclei to integrate these two types of connection in such a way that the most abstract machines succeed in discovering the means of their manifestation and the most material machines for their metabolization and, eventually, their semiotization.”

Alliez and Goffey (11) acknowledge that translation is always a tricky affair and we shouldn’t go after the translators just because we don’t like their translations. After all, as expressed by Massumi (16) in his guidebook to the collaborations of Deleuze and Guattari, ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari’, translation is always a creative endeavor as “[t]translation is repetition with a difference”, as is paraphrasing, as I’ve pointed out in some of my essays. Therefore, to be positive, translation can lead all kinds of felicitous or fortunate misprisions, as Alliez and Goffey (11) point out. It can, however, also lead to all kinds of infelicitous or unfortunate misprisions, as is the case with assemblage, as they (11) also point out:

“Certainly, the translation of agencement as assemblage can also lend itself to the quasi-scientific orthodoxy of a social philosophy of assemblages[.]”

They (11) clarify this:

[Assemblage] thus comes to name an invariant characteristic of a state of affairs – a development that allows the habitual prerogatives of the subject-predicate logic, with predicates as attributes rather than events …, to be re-asserted easily[.]”

To unpack this, what’s unfortunate about this, the problem here is that assemblage risks ending up being reduced to an adjective, as noted by Buchanan (387) in his article ‘Assemblage Theory and Its Discontents’, to something that merely complements something else, as noted by Alliez and Goffey (11).

Arrangements and compositions

I’d say that it’s helpful to think of assemblages as musical arrangements, as compositions, as discussed in Spinozist terms in the previous essay. It’s helpful because, as musical arrangements or compositions, they pertain to how things are arranged or composed, to the parts and the wholes, and to how they play out, in real time. Buchanan (383) seems to agree with me:

“It could also be thought in terms of a ‘musical arrangement’, which is a way of adapting an abstract plan of music to a particular performer and performance. Arrangement is in many ways my preferred translation for these reasons.”

He (383) prefers arrangement, but I’d say that I prefer composition, albeit for the same reasons. It also allows us to treat everything, on both sides, as compositions, as composites, as composed and composing, and, conversely, decomposed and decomposing, so that “[w]e may easily proceed thus to infinity, and conceive the whole of nature as one individual, whose parts, that is, all bodies, vary in infinite ways, without any change in the individual as a whole”, so that there is a constant process of (re)composition, (re)constitution or (re)arrangement, as explained by Spinoza (83, 95-96) in his ‘Ethics’. This allows us to avoid conceiving assemblage as a static situation, as an aggregate, as a complex network of objects, rather than as an ongoing process, as also noted by Buchanan (383, 385, 388).

This is why Deleuze and Guattari (504) hint in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that assemblages have to do with double articulation, which formalizes content and expression, “turning matters into physically or semiotically formed substances and functions into forms of expression and content.” Another way of expressing this would be to point out how assemblages are not the same as the strata, but they are, nonetheless, crucial to them or, rather, crucial to the ongoing process of stratification. Simply put, they are “the productive intersection of … form[s] of content (actions, bodies and things) and … form[s] of expression (affects, words and ideas)”, as summarized by Buchanan (390).

The new relation

This pushes us to think of assemblages (OED, s.v. “assemblage”, n.) not as a noun, but as a verb, as assembling (OED, s.v. “assemble”, v.1). Deleuze and Guattari (24) do mention this when they point out that nomads are in movement but do not so much move as assemble. That said, thinking it as merely synonymous with double articulation or stratification isn’t strictly speaking accurate. There is still something missing, which is why they (504) state that “[t]here is a new relation between content and expression that was not yet present in the strata:”

“[T]he statements or expressions express incorporeal transformations that are ‘attributed’ as such (properties) to bodies or contents.”

This is what Deleuze (19-21, 39-40) also states in ‘The Logic of Sense’, as explained in the previous essay. This is where sense appears, at the intersection of content and expression, while retaining content and expression as distinct from one another. This is what I meant when I stated in the previous essay that Hjelmslev’s purport is, on one hand, about matter, but also, on the other hand, about meaning or sense. In short, this is how it is no just about matter, nor about meaning, but about matter-meaning or matter-sense.

In ‘The Machinic Unconscious’, Guattari differentiates his own view, and, I guess, Deleuze’s view, from Hjelmslev’s view on sense, agreeing with him, but also disagreeing with him. He (218) argues that the problem with the way Hjelmslev defines sense is that it remains “entirely dependent upon form”, being a mere “amorphous mass” just “waiting for “an external formalist that would come to animate it.” For him (218), sense is machinic, “a sort of short-circuit between abstract machines encysted in reality”, i.e., in those stratifications, and “abstract machines detached from the plane of consistency”. The way I see it, he (218) wants to distance himself from Hjelmslev’s reliance on linguistics, going all in with the functions and functives. He (526) mentions this issue alongside Deleuze in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.

Buchanan (390) exemplifies this with how we may treat a sunset (form of content) as beautiful (form of expression) or melancholic (form of expression), there being this “array of colors produced by the diffraction of light” (form of content), those reds, yellows and blues that blend into one another (form of content), and a feeling or sense of beauty (form of expression) or melancholy (form of expression), but there is nothing about sunsets that causes us see them in those ways, nor is there anything about the concepts beauty or melancholy that cause us to see them in those ways. That said, we do often apprehend sunsets in those ways, as beautiful or melancholic, and this is exactly how an assemblage functions as “the productive intersection of a form content”, in this case the sunset, “and a form of expression”, in this case beauty or melancholy.

Anyway, when we focus solely on double articulation, on how both content and expression are segmented, or on stratification, on how everything is always stratified to this or that extent and, conversely, destratified to this or that extent, we haven’t explained what happens between content and expression in terms of meaning or sense. In the words used by Deleuze and Guattari (504):

“In the strata, expressions do not form signs, nor contents pragmata, so this autonomous zone of incorporeal transformations expressed by the former and attributed to the latter does not appear.”

That’s where assemblages come into play, as also noted by Buchanan (390). That said, it is worth noting that strata are still necessary for all this. There needs to be matter for there to be meaning, hence the earlier formulation as matter-meaning. In their (504) words:

“Assemblages belong to the strata to the extent that the distinction between content and expression still holds for them.”

In other words, assemblages take Deleuze and Guattari beyond stratification. If we simplify things, assemblages are forms, on one side, the form of content and, on the other side, the form of expression. In Hjelmslev’s terms, they are the forms as it is the form that regulates how matter is formed, how it appears to us as formed matter, and it is only through form that we can make sense of matter, as he (172) points out in ‘La stratification du langage’. Therefore, to be more accurate, to reiterate an earlier point about agency, assemblages are the active components that regulate the forms of content and the forms of expression, which, in turn, define how matter is formed on the content and expression planes, as explained by them (68).

In relation to double articulation, assemblages are what regulate it, what takes place within a stratum, defining what is segmented and how it is segmented on both planes and how the planes link up with one another, as they (71) point out. In relation to stratification, assemblages not only regulate what takes place within a stratum, but also how strata function as substrata and how strata are divided vertically and horizontally into epistrata and parastrata, as they (71) go on to add. They are also connected to the plane of consistency (matter) through abstract machines, which come to operate within a stratum and outside it, as added by them (71).

The gist of this is that assemblages are tied to the strata and at times appear to be defined more or less the same way as the strata, but assemblages are rather what’s needed for there to be double articulation of the strata, i.e., for the process of stratification and, conversely, for the process of destratification.

Desiring machines

I’ve mentioned this before, but, anyway, I’d say part of the problem, why assemblages are often understood as these static arrangements, collections, gatherings, or layouts, is linked to a change in terminology. Deleuze and Guattari switched from referring to them as desiring machines in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ to referring to them as assemblages in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. As mentioned by Massumi (82) in his guidebook to their work, they gave up referring to them as desiring machines because desire made people think it is about them, about their desires, that it is about something subjective, which, to be clear, it isn’t.

If you only read ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ and, perhaps, gloss over the certain parts, you may miss how important desire is in all this. It is much more important in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, but I’d say it is still important in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. It is easy to overlook, partly because there is that shift in terminology and partly because there is also a shift in focus. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’d say that ‘Anti-Oedipus’ deals almost exclusive with desire, whereas, in contrast, ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ is all over the place. That said, while it is easy to overlook it, they (154) do address it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, defining it as “a process of production without reference to any exterior agency”, not to be confused or conflated with a subjective conception of desire as “a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it.” They (531) also specify that assemblages are assemblages of desire, as “desire is always assembled). In addition, it is worth emphasizing that they (22-23, 35, 154, 157, 399) explicitly refer to the content side of assemblages as “machinic assemblages of desire” and as “compositions of desire” that pertain to “particles of desire.” They (154) also refer to the body without organs, the BwO, as “the field of immanence of desire”, as “the plane of consistency specific to desire”. In other words, while I realize that it is possible to overlook desire in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, you can’t really say it isn’t there, nor that it isn’t important to their conception assemblages, because it is there and because it is important to their conception of assemblages.

Buchanan addresses how people do end up overlooking desire in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. He (5) reckons in ‘Assemblage Theory and Method’ that much of contemporary work that claims to build on Deleuze and Guattari’s work, directly or indirectly, sharing a lineage with it, has little do with it. In his (5) words:

“The first and most important casualty has been the connection to the concept of desire. All references to and considerations of desire are consciously excluded from discussion as either unnecessary or simply too messy.”

To be fair, I cannot comment the reasons for the exclusion of desire from discussion, as I simply don’t know why it is or isn’t addressed. Based on my own experience, I’d say that it is indeed viewed as unnecessary, kind of like why would you even mention it, how is it relevant to something that isn’t concerned with subjective desires, or too messy, pertaining to subjective desires, even though it does not pertain to subjective desires, as already noted. I’ve had to make sure that I don’t even mention it, not even in passing, not even in other contexts, because people keep thinking that it’s about them, about their subjective desires, even though it’s not.

I remember a particular case where I had put a lot of effort in explaining faciality and landscapity, in painstaking detail, as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, while also expanding on it by providing examples from existing literature on landscapes. I noted how we come to desire what we are accustomed to, what’s around us, not because we have to, but because we do. This angered a reviewer, who clearly didn’t understand that point, despite it being in line with everything that was stated in that conceptual framework. I was accused of colonialism, erasing some identities while taking others for granted. In other words, the reviewer thought that I should have involved people, asked them what they think of this and/or that, that is to say what they want, what they desire, because otherwise I don’t address their desires. Now, pay attention to how I didn’t state that we desire what’s around us, but that we come to desire what’s around us. It may seem like I expressed what I got accused of, but nah ah, far from it. Instead, I expressed something completely different. I thought that this was particularly perplexing, considering that I had established the autonomy of individuals as illusory before that. I do, however, understand that knee-jerk reaction. It’s in line with what Deleuze and Guattari (130) state about the issue in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

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

In other words, people who aren’t familiar with Deleuze and Guattari’s way of thinking are only likely to lash out against it because it’s simply easier reject anything that challenges their views on autonomy, who they think they are, than to reassess them, to even consider that their views of themselves might be illusory, mere images of themselves, mere figments of their imagination, not to mention to accept that that’s not how it is. In fact, this type of doubled subject is bound to act this way, to desire his or her own repression, because it is what sustains that sense of autonomy and control, as they (130, 215) point out. It’s a vicious circle.

Anyway, treating desire as detachable from assemblages is problematic. It results in treating them as something separate, as explained by Buchanan (5):

“[A]ssemblage is treated as a stand-alone concept, which it isn’t[.]”

And something static, as also noted by him (5, emphasis added):

“Assemblages are thereby reduced to [mere] apparatuses, which is precisely not what Deleuze and Guattari intended (they constantly caution us against taking a mechanistic view of things).”

He (5) also reckons that they are reduced or flattened to just one side of assemblages:

“[A]ssemblage is treated as though it consists of only one kind of component, namely the machinic, which is similarly wrong-headed.”

I can’t comment on this, whether this is the case or not, because I’m not familiar enough with this. I can, however, add to this that this can happen the other way around, so that assemblages end up being reduced to the linguistic or the semiotic side, as I’ve noted in a previous essay. I think that I’ve encountered the opposite of what he (5) has observed because I’m more familiar with linguistics and semiotics, as opposed to whatever it is that he is more familiar with.


 To get to the point, I think Inna Semetsky (446) summarizes the importance of desire particularly well in her article ‘Deleuze as a Philosopher of Education: Affective Knowledge/Effective Learning’:

“Desire is a positive, active, and creative force[.]”

In fact, I’d say that desire is not just a creative force, but the creative force, as it is that which “‘produces reality’ in the guise of new objects of knowledge for the subject of experience, for which novel concepts are to be invented, as she (446) points out. In other words, without desire there is no stratification, no double articulation. Buchanan (38) seems to agree with her:

“This is not the desire of individuals, or even of groups of individuals. It lacks all such specificity. It is desire in general. Desire as it flows through all of us, that is simultaneously more than us, and ‘us’ at our constitutive core. It is desire conceived as plenitude not lack.”

So, to be clear, desire is always, first and foremost, something positive, not something negative, as he (38) goes on to add:

“It is a formulation of desire that needs to be understood in terms of the things it is capable of creating, and not … as a drive towards objects it can never obtain.”

It is relevant to assemblages, as also noted by him (38):

“Desire creates by creating assemblages.”

The problem is that we tend to forget this and then take the assemblages for granted, which, in turn, results in understanding desire as something negative instead of something positive, as he (38) also points out:

“These assemblages may become so ‘naturalized’ that we forget they are assemblages and mistake them for the primary functioning of desire, as is the case with Freud’s Oedipal complex and Lacan’s notion of lack.”

I’m going to spare you from Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. If you are interested in all that, how that ends up happening, ‘Anti-Oedipus’ is the book for you. In plain terms, desire is what makes things happen in the first place. It’s affirmative. It’s not a lack of something, whatever it may be, be it a subject or an object. So, if I fancy someone, it’s not because I’ve chosen to fancy that person, nor because I need to fancy that person to fill some lack. It’s because I’ve come to desire that person. Why have I come to desire that person? Well, because that’s how desire works. I’m just, sort of, how to put it, drawn to that person. It can, of course, end up being negative, as I’ve already pointed out.

We should not, however, stray to thinking that assemblages are just about desire. No, no. That is just one side of assemblages. They are also about belief, about the collective assemblages of enunciation, as Deleuze and Guattari (219) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. I’d say that you don’t really get this by reading ‘Anti-Oedipus’. It’s sort of there, as there are some mentions of “collective agents of enunciation” and form of expression juxtaposed with form of content by the two (64, 134, 242, 265, 270, 353, 370), but that side isn’t been fleshed out in that book. So, don’t go thinking that assemblages are the same as desiring machines. That’s just part of the story.

Deleuze and Parnet (70) also mention this in ‘Dialogues’, noting that an assemblages have “as it were, two faces, or at least two heads” or, as Deleuze and Guattari (291) mention this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ “the two aspects of every assemblage”. They (70) elaborate the first face, head or aspect:

“There are states of things, states of bodies (bodies interpenetrate, mix together, transmit affects to one another).”

Followed by elaborating the second face, head or aspect (70-71):

“There are … also utterances, regimes of utterances: signs are organized in a new way, new formulations appear, a new style for new gestures (the emblems which individualize the knight, the formulas of oaths, the systems of ‘declarations’, even of love, etc.).”

To which they (71) add that:

“Utterances are not part of ideology, there is no ideology[.]”

As a side note, this why ideology is on my list of words not to use. I will return to that later, but I’ll let them (71) continue:

“[U]tterances, no less than states of things, are components and cog-wheels in an assemblage.”

And, to be clear, they (71) go on to add that:

“Utterances are not content to describe corresponding state of things: these are rather, as it were, two non-parallel formalizations, the formalization of expression and the formalization of content, such that one never does what one says, one never says one what does, although one is not lying, one is deceiving or being deceived, one is only assembling signs and bodies as heterogeneous components of the same machine.”

Note here how they mention they are not parallel, which has to do with that lack of correspondence or conformity that I mentioned in the previous essay. I’ll return to this, again, later on. Note also how they indicate that they are the components of both faces, heads or aspects, which we might also call sides, are, in fact, components of the same machine. You don’t have, strictly speaking, two machines or assemblages, but rather two sides of machines or assemblages. Anyway, they (71) continue:

“The only unity derives from the fact that one and the same function, one and the same ‘functive’, is expressed of the utterance and the attribute of the sate of body: an event that stretches out or contracts, a becoming in the infinitive.”

Here you should make note of the unity being a matter of function or functive, which you are already familiar with if you read the previous essay. So, to clarify the terminology used in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, they (71) note that:

“In an indissoluble way an assemblage is both machine assemblage of effectuation and collective assemblage of enunciation.”

And, to be clear, they (71) specify that:

“In enunciation, in the production of utterances, there is no subject, but always collective agents: and in what the utterance speaks of there are no objects, but machinic states. They are like the variables of the function, which constantly interlace their values or their segments.”

The point here really is that you can indeed find Deleuze and Guattari discuss the semiotic side of assemblages already in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, but it is not well fleshed out in it. What’s here to also take is that, strictly speaking, objects are figments of our imagination, unless we understand objects as part-wholes or composites, which are, in my view, machinic states or desiring-machines.

Deleuze and Parnet (71) exemplify how assemblages have these two sides that function in relation to one another with the works of Kafka:

“If there is a Kafkaesque world, it is certainly not that of the strange and the absurd, but a world in which the most extreme juridicial formalization of utterances (questions and answers, objections, pleading, summing up, reasoned judgement, verdict), coexists with the most intense machinic formalization, the machinization of states of things and bodies (ship-machine, hotel-machine, circus-machine, castle-machine, lawsuit-machine). One and the same K-function, with its collective agents and bodily passions, Desire.”


I just explained desire and desiring machines, but I didn’t explain machines. Guattari (417) explains machines and what is machinic in the ‘Glossary of Schizo-Analysis’. Firstly, machinic is not the same as mechanic. A machine is not a mechanism. A mechanism is mechanic. It is a whole consisting of parts that function in a certain way, as intended. It is relative closed, in the sense that those parts are supposed to work that way and just that way, albeit it is, of course, possible that there is some malfunction, that the mechanism doesn’t work as intended. In contrast, a machine is open ended. It is, of course, similar to mechanism in the same way that it does function, but the way it functions is subject to change. So, in a sense, what makes a machine what it is, what makes it machinic, is that it does function, but it also doesn’t function. Sometimes it doesn, sometimes it doesn’t.

It is also worth noting that machines what they are is that they are always connected to other machines, coupled or connected to one another, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (1) in ‘Anti-Oedipus’. This is why Guattari (417-418) states that machines never function in isolation.

It’s highly important to realize that a machine is not something that is merely non-living, although, I’d say, that that’s exactly we tend to think about it. For example, when someone calls someone else a machine, we think of that person as non-human, as a robot or a mechanical device that just keeps on going (OED, s.v. “machine”, n.):

“A living being considered to move or act automatically or mechanically, rather than of its own volition; esp. a person who acts mechanically or unthinkingly, as from habit or obedience; a person who acts with mechanical precision or efficiency.”

In that figurative use, we actually mean (OED, s.v. “machine”, n.):

“A complex device, consisting of a number of interrelated parts, each having a definite function, together applying, using, or generating mechanical or (later) electrical power to perform a certain kind of work[.]”

It’s not this sense of a machine that Deleuze and Guattari are after. Instead, they use it in a different sense (OED, s.v. “machine”, n.):

“A structure regarded as functioning as an independent body, without mechanical involvement.”

And (OED, s.v. “machine”, n.):

“A living body, esp. the human body considered in general or individually.”

This does not, however, mean that all machines are living. Some of them are and some of them aren’t. The point here is that they do not function as mechanisms, mechanically.

To exemplify this, Guattari (417-418) provides a list of various machines, stating that “[a] technical machine” can, for example, be found “in a factory”, where it “interacts with a social machine, a training machine, a research machine,  a commercial machine, etc.” In ‘Anti-Oedipus’, Deleuze and Guattari (1) provide a provocative example, but with the added twist that differentiates a machine from a mechanism:

“The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing machine[.]”

In other words, a machine can have different functions, serving different ends. The mouth is for breathing, eating, talking, and, in the case of the anorexic, or, rather, the bulimic, it is also for defecating. What else it could be? A drinking machine, a smoking machine, an inhaling machine, a biting machine, a sucking machine, a kissing machine. In each case the machine is, of course, coupled to some other machine.

It is also worth emphasizing that, for them (38), unlike a mechanism, a machine not only functions when it is coupled, like the mouth does whatever it does in relation to something else, but also when it doesn’t function, when it is interrupted, when it breaks down. There is always some flow involved, for example, air, food, sound, vomit, drink, smoke, gas, erm. Whatever it is that you bit, suck or kiss, but it needs to be cut off at some point, otherwise it’s just never ending. In this context, they (38) provide another provocative example, stating that the anus is “like a ham-slicing machine”, portioning the flow of shit by cutting it off.

Anyway, as machines are connected to one another, minimally one producing the flow, the other regulating it, cutting it off at some point, “every machine is a machine of a machine”, as they (38) point out. Moreover, as already mentioned, albeit only in passing, a machine can function as the machine that produces the flow and as a machine the breaks the flow, as they (38) go on to add. For example, the anus machine regulates the flow of the intestine machine, which, in turn, regulates the flow of the stomach machine, which, in turn, regulates the flow of the mouth machine, which, in turn regulates the flow of the nipple machine, and so on, and so forth, as explained by them (38).

As a side note, I can’t help but to think how this reminds me of double articulation, how there is always an articulation, followed by another articulation, which is then followed by another articulation. It also makes the think of how content is always content for an expression, which, in turn, can double as content for another expression, and so on, and so forth. Then there’s Hjelmslev’s functions and functives, how a function can double as a functive for a function.

The buzz

I wouldn’t say that the concept of assemblage is particularly popular, overall, but it does have certain buzz to it. It is enigmatic, which makes attractive. It’s certainly not a popular concept in linguistics, nor in semiotics. Okay, maybe it is used by some in semiotics, but I still would say that it’s popular in these circles. I wouldn’t say it’s popular in geography either, albeit some do use it. What I’m willing to say is that there are some who use the concept, but that’s a small minority. It might be gaining traction, but I’d say it’s still only used by a small minority of researchers.

Buchanan comments on how the concept is gaining popularity in various fields or disciplines in ‘Assemblage Theory and Its Discontents’. The problem for him (387) is not that it is used, that’s just fine, but that it is used in ways that are stunted in comparison to the ‘original’. George Marcus and Erkan Saka also comment on how the concept is gaining more and more traction. They (102) note in their article ‘Assemblage’ that the concept is used to refer to objective material or social conditions, structures, and relationships among sites and between things, and/or subjective experience and states of cognition about society and culture in the making. They (103-104) add that it is also used to mediate the two. To be frank, I’m not even sure what they mean by all that, unless they simply mean that it is used to expand on the objective and the subjective, and to bridge the gap between them, which, I’d say, it isn’t about, at all. Then again, I guess their elaboration is only fitting, considering how they (103) go on to point out that there is hardly any conceptual rigor in what they’ve come across utilizing the concept of assemblage.

I think that Alliez and Goffey, the editors of the ‘The Guattari Effect’, manage to aptly summarize the underlying issue with how assemblages are utilized by many academics when they (4) state in the introduction that there is always this risk of turning terms into mere keywords. In other words, the problem is that it risks ending up being part of the nomenclature, something that you mention, indeed, like a keyword, to gain acceptance of the nomenklatura, which, in this case, is not the party elite but the academic elite, those who define what can be said and done and, conversely, what cannot be said and done in a certain field or discipline.

None of this is not to say you can’t define assemblages the way you see fit. Of course you can. By all means. Feel free. In fact, that’s exactly what Deleuze and Guattari would say. Then again, as pointed out by Deleuze (6) in ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’, as included in ‘Negotiations’, I’d say that when you rework someone else’s concepts, when you provide your take on them, they should still be identifiable as that someone else’s concepts, as if they were that someone else’s children:

“It was really important for it to be [the author’s] own child, because the author had to actually say all I had [the author] saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed.”

The point here is that when you have a child with someone, the child is indeed going to look like you, but not only like you. There will be traits traceable to that other person. To be honest, I’d say that I’m a bit more liberal with this. I don’t mind if people take other people’s concepts and rework them into something completely different, assuming that it is made clear to everyone that while the term has a certain origin, a certain parent, if you will, it is not used in the same way, for whatever reasons there may be for such changes. I like when people use concepts, I like the rigor involved, but I also expect people to explain them before they use them, so that they aren’t used as mere givens, like I’ve stated a number of times in the past. I think Buchanan (6) summarizes my view on this quite aptly in ‘Assemblage Theory and Method’ when he states that the problem is not assemblage as a concept, as defined by Deleuze and Guattari, but rather that how it has become a mere image of the concept, “the image of the assemblage”, in the works of others.

In ‘Assemblage Theory and Its Discontents’, Buchanan (382-384) summarizes the ways in which assemblages are used by many academics. The gist of his summary is that assemblage is typically fielded to address complexity. To be fair, I’d say that it is fitting to use it that way. Then again, yet it isn’t. There is a risk of thinking that assemblages are just about how this and/or that thing works in connection to something else, as if there were these cogs and wheels of a machine that make it work in a mechanical fashion, as pointed out by Buchanan (384). Too much is taken for granted. Too little is explained. It’s like providing a simple take, while claiming to address complexity. If you want to address complexity, you should explain all that complexity. Anyway, as already discussed, the problem is that it’s all static without desire, what we could also refer to as Spinoza’s conatus (striving, capacity to act and be acted upon) or Friedrich Nietzsche’s will to power.

Buchanan (3, 12-13) goes as far as to argue that what had happened to their concept of desiring machines, thought of as pertaining to subjective desires, has now happened to assemblages, as they are reduced into objective states of affairs, into all kinds of collections of things, whatever they may be. I agree with him. I’m often puzzled by how much there is talk of assemblages in some text, be it an article, a book chapter or a whole book, but I’m not really getting anything beyond a reference to a ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ and some simplified definition from some other publication, which then, in all likelihood, takes it from some other publication, and so on, and so forth.

The novelty

To be clear, this is something that puzzles me in general as this is not limited to just their work. There is this odd idea of taking it for granted that others have improved upon the originals. That is, of course, possible, but there is no guarantee that it is the case. I’m often not convinced that there’s any improvement over the ‘original’. In fact, I often find myself thinking that this is just worse than the ‘original’. To be frank, I’m often puzzled by what I read, because the writers don’t seem to be familiar with the ‘originals’ that they claim to build on, directly or indirectly. Sometimes I even wonder if this has anything to do with the ‘original’.

To be fair, I can’t be sure if that’s the case though. It’s often hard to assess whether someone is familiar with the ‘originals’ or not because, in my experience, anything conceptual or theoretical, whatever you want to call it, tends to be the first thing that gets cut in the editorial process of publishing. We might get some mentions of some concepts, but we are left to ponder whether what’s mentioned makes sense in that context, whatever that may be. I’d say that there is a lack of appreciation for such groundwork, which then forces the writers to condense what should, in my opinion, be fleshed out.

I’m sure this also applies to my work. I generally like to go through the concepts, to explain things in detail, but then others want to get rid of it, thinking it’s unnecessary. There is a certain expectation of familiarity with the concepts in this and/or that field or discipline, which allows you to get away with just mentioning things. Fair enough, but that’s still hardly ideal because that leaves things open. We don’t really get to know whether the writer is familiar with the ‘originals’ or not. Maybe, maybe not.

Then there are those who don’t even want such conceptual work to be included, because it is viewed as showing off, name dropping and/or riding on the coattails of famous authors. All of that is, of course, entirely possible, but this is exactly why I think it is necessary that concepts are discussed in length instead of being merely mentioned, being simplified, or even left out due to their complexity. I’ve had to simplify things, explaining them in ways that I’d prefer not to.

In the past I would have preferred to explain somethings in Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance but had to explain them in Foucauldian parlance and/or in a hybrid parlance, mixing the two, because while Foucault’s work might not be familiar to all, it is, nonetheless, more familiar to at least some, unlike the work of Deleuze and/or Guattari. I was okay with this because I knew what I was talking about, because I knew that those Foucauldian concepts, non-discursive (visibilities) and discursive formations (statements) and diagram, match the Deleuzo-Guattari concepts, forms of content and expression, machinic assemblages and collective assemblages of enunciation, and abstract machines, as explained by Deleuze (31, 33-34, 47-49) in his commentary of Foucault’s work published as ‘Foucault’ and Deleuze and Guattari (531) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. That said, I would have preferred to explain things only in Deleuzo-Guattarian parlance, then, perhaps in Foucauldian parlance, because I think it would have been better that way, more accurate and, more importantly, truer to the works of Foucault and to the works of Deleuze and Guattari.

For example, it’s not all all clear that abstract machines are diagrams. I mean they are, but they aren’t, depending on whose definitions we rely on. They are in the Foucauldian sense and they are and aren’t in the Deleuzo-Guattarian sense, and they aren’t in the Guattarian sense, at least not in the strict sense. Guattari (356) points this out in the notes section of ‘The Machinic Unconscious’, noting that the way he works with diagrams is helpful, but, nonetheless, fails to capture complexity of abstract machines. I believe this is what Massumi means when, in his guidebook, he (17-18) differentiates between a de facto diagram, i.e., the abstract machine, and a formal diagram, i.e., the elaboration of the abstract machine, you know, like a literal diagram that you use to make sense of whatever it is that you are dealing with. Anyway, while I might be wrong about that, the point is, nonetheless, that even the most complex diagram is unable to match the complexity of an abstract machine, as pointed out by Guattari (356). Then again, if you ask me, I don’t think it makes much difference which term you use, as long as you realize that a diagram (and, believe me, Guattari loves his diagrams) that is used to illustrate how something functions is not, in itself, how the world works.

As not that many people are familiar with the works of Deleuze and/or Guattari, I think it is necessary that I explain how things work in detail. I’m sure I could do that and I’m sure I could have done that in the past, but so far that hasn’t happened. For me, the problem is not that I can’t explain all that, that I don’t understand the concepts, but rather that there simply isn’t enough room to explain what I want to explain. For example, the previous essay ended up being some 47 pages long and that’s just going through a number of concepts and commenting on them. That’s longer than most journal articles and book chapters. So, imagine my frustration when someone tells me that I’m not being thorough enough or that my work is too dense, not to mention that I appear to be name dropping or coattail riding. I’m like, well, you know what, I’d have some 47 pages just to properly explain some of these concepts, but something tells me that there isn’t going to be room for such rigorous work. We can’t have people raise the bar, now can we? Anyway, in the past that has meant that I have had to make Foucault get the message across. Poor Foucault, having to stand in for Deleuze and Guattari! Maybe in the future I don’t have to make him do that. I mean it is a bit shitty of me to do that!

I believe this is something also affects others, so I’m a bit hesitant to state that they aren’t familiar with the ‘originals’ when I assess their work. It might simply be that they know what’s what, but just aren’t allowed to show it. The problem with that is we can’t know if someone knowns what’s what or not, whether they are spot on or just only appear to be. Maybe, maybe not.

This is exactly why I recommend that you read the ‘originals’, just as I did in the previous essay and have occasionally done in the past as well. Sometimes you find great commentaries that are very true to the originals and provide good examples, which is great, but I still recommend reading the ‘originals’. If my commentaries, musings and riffs are of any use to you, great, but I’d still read the ‘originals’. And I most certainly wouldn’t cite any of this shit. I mean, come on, this is basically just a pile of notes.

I don’t claim to know it all and I’m pretty sure that I’ve fucked up something, mangled some concepts, simplified many things that I shouldn’t have simplified, used terms or concepts that I don’t like using but ended up having to use to get the point across, and what not, even in my published work, but hey, that’s life for you. There’s nothing easy about Deleuze and Guattari’s work, nor about Foucault’s work, nor in most things that I read, but that difficulty has yet to stop me. If you are afraid of making mistakes, you might as well quit.

Abstract machines

So far, I’ve tried my best not to mention abstract machines, but it’s kind of hard not to mention it because they keep appearing alongside assemblages in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. But what are they then? What is their role in all this?

Guattari provides a concise definition of an abstract machine in ‘Lines of Flight: For Another World of Possibilities’ when he (118) states that it is the “solidarity of forms” that “constitutes substances of expression and content.” In other words, in Hjelmslev’s parlance, it’s the sign-function or, in short, function that has two terminals that he also calls functives, the form of content and the form of expression, which are then appear as the substance or formed matter of content and expression respectively, as manifested in them.

Right, to explain their relation to assemblages, they operate within them, within the forms and formed matters, as Deleuze and Guattari (510-511) point out. This happens when an abstract machine is “enveloped by the stratum and constitutes its unity”, as explained by them (50). An abstract machine can, however, also operate on the plane of consistency, as they (50) go on to add. In other words, abstract machines can have two modes of existence or states of intensities, either within the strata (Ecumenon) or on the plane of consistency (Planomenon), either locked to the strata, defining their unity of composition, acting as their immanent cause, as noted by Deleuze (37) in ‘Foucault’, or existing outside them, cutting across them, while also constructing continuums of intensity, emitting and combining (material) particles and sign particles, and conjugates flows on the plane of consistency, drawing it, acting as its diagram, as Deleuze and Guattari (56-57, 63, 67, 70-71, 73) point out.

Guattari (121) notes in ‘Lines of Flight’ that they, what I assume to mean him and Deleuze, opted to call these machines abstract, i.e., abstract machines, because when they are on the plane of consistency, there is only one plane, that plane of consistency, not two planes, the content plane and the expression plane. In his (121) words:

“At this level, the distinction between semiotic machines and their referents ceases to be pertinent, and it is that which motivates our use of the expression ‘abstract machine’. Machines here are no longer either material or semiotic. ”

To which he (121) adds that:

“They are machines of pure potentiality. Not empty potentiality, because they do not start out from nothing, but from the points of potentialisation of machinic assemblages, considered at a given point of the machinic phylum, in a given historical context.”

As well as that (121-122):

“Machines are abstract in that they extract the points of connection between lines of destratification. They establish the univocity of possible connects, where the strata seemed to have to maintain separations eternally. With abstract machines and their plane of consistency, ruptures between the strata are brought to light and a passage for the most deterritorialized energy is made possible.”

What he (121-122) is saying is what he also says alongside Deleuze as well, how the abstract machines compose and decompose, stratify and destratify, defining how the strata are composed, as already noted.

To make more sense of that, on needs to understand the relation between abstract machines and the strata. What is it like? The simplest answer that Deleuze and Guattari (68) provide is that while the segments of form of content and the form expression “constantly intertwine” and “embed themselves in one another”, without becoming or collapsing to the other, maintaining that distinction, it “is accomplished by the abstract machine from which the two forms derive”. To reiterate an earlier point, the role of the assemblages is to regulate the two forms, as they (68) point out. However, as the abstract machine also operates on the plane of consistency, it accomplishes not only stratification but also destratification, as they (70) point out.

Guattari (166) specifies the relation between abstract machines and the strata in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“[F]or abstract machines the strata are simply the provisional residues of processes of deterritorialization[.]”

This is because if we don’t examine some stratum in isolation, but in connection to other strata and the assemblages, we must acknowledge that they are always in the making, or so to speak, as he (166) points out:

“[B]eing nothing by themselves from a substantial point of view, in order to be manifested, the former are continuously constrained to be stratified and destratified[.]”

That said, this should not be understood as reducing into homogeneous matter that appears to us in this and/or that form, as he (166) goes on to add:

“[W]ithout … remaining in a powerless face-to-face of the matter-form type.”

He (167) differentiates abstract machines from the strata also by noting that the former are what define the latter:

“[T]he system of abstract machines constitutes an active limit, a productive limit beyond the most deterritorialized strata and on this side of nothingness as the end of every process.”

In other words, abstract machines define what counts as a stratum, when a stratum is a stratum.

Guattari provides further definitions in ‘Lines of Flight’. He (122) states that they are metastable, not concrete, sort of like nothing, have no materiality, and therefore no mass either, nor energy of their own, nor memory. Instead, according to him (122), they are:

“They are nothing but the infinitesimal, super-deterritorialised indication of a possible crystallisation between states of things and states of signs.”

This ties us back to the previous point about being the sign-function or function, that connects the two functives, the form of content and the form of expression that, in turn, appear to us as manifested in substances or formed matters of content and expression respectively. Anyway, he (122) has more to say:

“It is this metaphor that leads us to speak, with regard to the diagrammatic effect, of a putting to work of sign-particles: the abstract machine is ‘charged’ either with signification or with existence, depending on whether it is fixed and disempowered in a semiological substance or it is inscribed on the machinic plane of consistency by the process of diagrammatisation.”

Here he (122) is making note of two outcomes. The first one is closed and results in signification. There is some destratification (deterritorialization), followed by (re)stratification (reterritorialization), biunivocalization, and overcoding (previous code is coded over). This results in representation. The second one is open and avoids the trappings of signification, subjectification (which I will explain soon enough) and faciality/landscapity (which,as a side note, is where signification and subjectification meet, ending up reinforcing one another). This is basically a reiteration of the earlier point of how an abstract machine can be locked to the strata or cut across them.

Which has priority, abstract machines or assemblages? Well, that’s a tough one. Deleuze and Guattari (71, 73) point out that it is the machinic assemblages that effectuate the abstract machines. Then again, later on, they (91, 100) state that abstract machines are the diagrams of the assemblages and that they are complementary to the assemblages of enunciation and present in one another. So, in a way, it is the abstract machines that make the assemblages do their bidding, as they (100) point out, acting as their immanent cause, so, if you ask me, it is by no means clear which has priority.

Now that I think of it, abstract machines seem to be defined by the two (100) a lot like Spinoza’s essences, what Deleuze (192) refers to as modal essences, particular or singular, in ‘Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza’, considering that an “abstract machine is always singular, designated by the proper name of a group or individual[.]” In contrast, to stay on this take for a moment longer, I’d say that assemblages pertain to Spinoza’s modifications of substance, to the existence of modes or modal existence, as Deleuze (201) refers to it in that book. This would be in line with Spinoza, considering that his modes are always compositions or composites. This is also why Deleuze and Guattari (100) go on to add that “the assemblage[s] of enunciation [are] always collective, in the individual as in the group” and to exemplify this with how Lenin was the abstract machine and the Bolsheviks were the collective assemblage of enunciation. In Spinozist terms, we could say Lenin was the modal essence of Bolshevism and the Bolsheviks were its modal existence.

As a reminder, abstract machines are not to be confused with abstractions, nor with some “structural invarants of transcendental stratifications or abstractions” as noted by Guattari (166) in The Machinic Unconscious’. He (167) warns not to reduce them into pure logic and matter into pure logical matter, as, I think, that would indeed reduce them into something like abstractions according to which everything is formed. He (167) also warns to think of them as something that’s just in our heads, or so to speak, as some “affair of psychological instances” that depends on “sciences of culture, ideologies or teachings”. Why? Because all that depend on the abstract machines, not vice versa. He (167) refers to how this all works as pertaining to “politics of desire”, “a transhuman, transsexual, transcosmic politics”, which takes place “‘before’ objects and subjects have been specified.” To be clear, the abstract machines do also function ‘after’ objects and subjects have been specified as they are not reducible to some initial stage in history after which everything is set in place, as emphasized by him (166).

As a final note on abstract machines, I think it’s worth clarifying the terminology a bit more. As already mentioned, Deleuze and Guattari use the term desiring machines in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, whereas in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ they use the term assemblages because people kept thinking of desire as something subjective, as noted by Massumi (82) in his guidebook to their work. I think it’s also worth reiterating the point that they don’t really deal with the semiotic side of desiring machines or assemblages in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, whereas in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that side gets a lot of attention. My take is that desiring machines of ‘Anti-Oedipus’ are indeed the assemblages of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, I won’t argue with Massumi (82) on that, but, in my view, they add an extra term, the abstract machine, which is what makes it all come together, acting as the immanent cause, defining how the assemblages regulate stratification and destratification of matter, as already mentioned. I’d say that Deleuze and Guattari separate the abstract machine from the desiring machines or assemblages, because it helps them to better explain what a machine is, as they (510-511) do in the conclusion to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“Contrary to the strata, and the assemblages considered under their other aspects, abstract machines know nothing of forms and substances. This is what makes them abstract, and also defines the concept of the machine in the strict sense.”

While this might not be crucial to understanding the difference between desiring machines or assemblages and abstract machines, it does explain how they always understand a machine as not just as bit of this and that, but as how that this and that come together to function in a certain way, as a certain machine, which, in turn, is connected to other machines that, in turn, connected to other machines, as better explained by the two in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and by Guattari in his ‘Glossary of Schizo-Analysis’. In other words, the abstract machine is what defines how the assemblages are not just aggregates of a bit of this and that, but how they are connected to one another, functioning as a machine that is then connected to other machine, as clearly explained by Guattari (417-418) in his glossary:

“Machines, in the widest sense, i.e., not just technical machines but theoretical, social esthetic, etc., machines, never function in isolation, but by aggregates or assemblages.”

And, as exemplified by him (418), in case you struggle to get the point:

“A technical machine, for example, in a factory, interacts with a social machine, a training machine, a research machine, a commercial machine, etc.”

To add something to that, I’d say that we can also think of a factory as a machine itself, as a production machine, if you will. It of course consists of all these machines mentioned by him, as its parts or cogs and wheels, to use the terms they (216, 255) use in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, which in turn consist of other machines, their parts or cogs and wheels. In addition, the factory as a machine is connected to other machines, such as trucks, trains and planes, what we might also refer to as transportation or logistics machines, that, in turn, are connected to other machines, such as other factories or stores, which would be something like retail machines.

I guess one could think of assemblages as the parts of a whole, those cogs and wheels, of a machine, or as the contents and the expressions, fair enough, fine by me, as I pointed out early on in this essay. The problem is, however, that without the abstract machine, without understanding its role in it all, it is easy to think of the assemblages as static aggregates of a bit of this and that. In other words, the abstract machines are needed to make sense of how it is that we have certain assemblages in the first place and how they then determine the rules according to which matter is formed in a certain way, appearing to us a formed matter. If they are not addressed, if you do not understand their role, it is easy to end up thinking of assemblages as mere collections of things. Simply put, it is only likely that you will struggle to explain how things change, if you do not address the abstract machines, which provides that machinic aspect to it all.


The collectivity of the assemblages does not pertain to actual peoples or societies but to multiplicities, as pointed out by the two (37). There are, of course, actual peoples, actual societies, in the mix, but they belong to the machinic side of assemblages. I think Guattari (55) explains this better in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“[W]e shall speak of collective assemblages of enunciation even if only one individual expresses himself, because he or she will be considered a non-totalizable intensive multiplicity[.]”

I created this subheading just to make this clear. This is something that people don’t seem to get. They are not interested in the individual. They are interested in what makes the individual an individual. They are therefore not interested in the individual, whoever that happens to be, not even themselves, really, but in individuation. So if you think about agency, i.e., the question of who, which is often highly relevant in research, much more than what, you should think of it in terms of assemblages. Here it is where the French original, agencement, is much more apt than the English translation, assemblage, because it retains that agency, what takes place.

This point made by Guattari (55) is also why Deleuze and Guattari (76-77) state language is, first and foremost, about indirect discourse, about narrative, about hearsay, going “from saying to saying.” You do not start from the individual, nor investigate what the individual thinks and/or does, but from individuation, what makes the individual and what makes that individual think and/or do whatever it is that individual thinks and/or does.

So, in practice, the individual is just a terminal, an end point, that you take into account, either on its own or among other individuals, i.e., as a member of a group, in order to investigate how that individual is composed, how that group is composed of individuals and what keeps them together, composed like that. There is, strictly speaking, nothing individual about that, but that’s all intentional.

This is something that I’ve had to deal with in feedback, taking shit for not caring about people, i.e., for not taking their views into account, incorporating it into my research in order to contrast my views with their views, to provide not only the so called ‘etic’ but also the ‘emic’ perspective, which puzzles me greatly, considering that I’m, basically, not at all interested in the views of the individuals, not because these views aren’t important, to those individuals, but because I’m interested in what makes them views things the way they do and/or act the way they do. This is exactly what Deleuze and Guattari point out.

Elizabeth St. Pierre (1082) explains this well in one of her articles, ‘Deleuze and Guattari’s language for new empirical inquiry’:

“Both Deleuze and Guattari were opposed to mainstream, positivist, structural linguistics because of its scientism, its rules, its claim that language is hard-wired in the brain, its focus on competence/ non-competence, its methodological individualism grounded in the individual speaking subject, and so on.”

Or, in short, as she (1082) goes on to summarize that:

“For them, language does not originate from an individual human subject (the grammatical subject, the ‘I,’ the subject of the statement) but from collective assemblages of enunciation.”

This is also the case with Foucault, as also noted by her (1082):

“[He], too, was not interested in speaking subjects, in their conscious and unconscious activity, in trying to ferret out their intentions, determine what they mean, and so on, but in discourse, ‘in what is given to the speaking subject,’ what Foucault called the ‘silent murmuring, the inexhaustible speech that animates from within the voice one hears’[.]”

I can vouch for this. If you read Foucault, or, well, any authors typically dubbed as post-structuralists, for example Jacques Derrida, there is this lack of interest in the individual, not because the individual’s views aren’t important to the individual, as I already pointed out, but because they are not of interest to them, for the reasons already discussed.

St. Pierre (1082) lets Jean-Jacques Lecercle (200) explain this, as cited from his book ‘Deleuze and Language’:

“The detailed study of an everyday discussion or telephone conversation yields trivial and uninteresting results, for such everyday exchanges are fully functional from the point of view of communication, and more often than not irenic. And they do have a point, to be reached and negotiated as swiftly and economically as possible[.] … But there is hardly any novelty involved, even if (especially if?) the conversation becomes personal and garrulous.”

Indeed. It’s like so, a conversation has a purpose, what about it? He (200) continues:

“As a result, we have a series of utterances without interest …, a static talking machine[.]”

The point he (200) makes is that conversations tend to follow a certain pattern, so that there isn’t much that is interesting about them. He (200) emphasizes this point by noting that in a lot of cases you could automate the conversation, like when using an ATM, selecting some generic answer to some generic question, like would you like to take out money, yes or no, if yes, how much, 20, 50, 100, 200 or some other sum, if some other sum, type in the sum.

Why is it like that? Well, because language is, first and foremost, about indirect discourse, as Deleuze and Guattari (76-77) point out. In their (84) words:

“Language in its entirety is indirect discourse. Indirect discourse in no way supposes direct discourse; rather, the latter is extracted from the former, to the extent that the operations of signifiance and proceedings of subjectification in an assemblage are distributed, attributed, and assigned, or that the variables of the assemblage enter into constant relations, however temporarily.”

And (84):

“[T]he collective assemblage is always like the murmur from which I take my proper name, the constellation of voices, concordant or not, from which I draw my voice.”

And that (84):

“My direct discourse is still the free indirect discourse running through me, coming from other worlds or other planets.”

This means that, conversely, for them (84):

“Direct discourse is a detached fragment of a mass and is born of the dismemberment of the collective assemblage[.]”

Therefore, and to bridge this bit to the next, to the different regimes, they (84) state that:

“I always depend on a molecular assemblage of enunciation that is not given in my conscious mind, any more than it depends solely on my apparent social determinations, which combine many heterogeneous regimes of signs.”

But before jump to it, it’s worth noting that this indirectness of discourse and what it entails, a series of what they (84), following a number of Stoics, call incorporeal transformations and, also, order-words (in the dual sense that you make someone do something, like ‘that’s an order!’, and that by doing that you put things into order, i.e., create an order of things), is very similar to what is known as Speech Act Theory, which focuses on how it is that we do things with words. As they (85) point out:

“The language-function is the transmission of order-words, and order-words relate to assemblages, just as assemblages relate to the incorporeal transformations constituting the variables of the function.”

So, to differentiate the two, order-words are the language-function, the speech act, if you will, which, in turn, cause or, rather, may cause incorporeal transformations which depend on, on one hand, the machinic assemblages of desire and, on the other hand, the collective assemblages of enunciation, which regulate the forms of content and expression respectively, as defined by the relevant abstract machines. That’s why, for them (85):

“Linguistics is nothing without a pragmatics (semiotic or political) to define the effectuation of the condition of possibility of language and the usage of linguistic elements.”

This is also why I’m not interested in what linguistics typically has to offer and why I’m interested in pragmatics. Anyway, I’m veering off. Speech Act Theory is a topic for another essay.

Regime, regimen, regiment

I’ve already mentioned regimes of bodies and regimes of signs, noting that Deleuze and Guattari also refer to them as pragmatic systems and semiotic systems. But what are regimes? They also use this in the ‘Anti-Oedipus’. Their translators (31) note that it is a word that they have chosen retain from the French original because it can be used in several senses in relation to different machines or assemblages, as they are known in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“The word regime has a number of different meanings in French, including: regimen or form of government; a set of laws, rules, or regulations; rate of flow, as of a current; rate or speed of operation, as of a motor or engine.”

If you look up the word in a dictionary, it is clear that it’s a highly flexible word. In general, it (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.) is tied to ruling:

“A method or system of rule, governance, or control; a system of organization; a way of doing things, esp. one having widespread influence or prevalence.”

Or to the group of people who rule (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.):

“A particular ruling group, government, or administration, esp. an authoritarian one.”

As you can see, it has to do with social order and politics, which appear on the expression plane. That said, it (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.) also extends to dealing with bodies, on the content plane:

“The condition or character of a watercourse with regard to the pattern of flow and the transport of sediment, and the possibility of equilibrium between erosion and deposition.”

This is actually quite fortunate, considering how Deleuze and Guattari explain the workings inorganic stratum with transportation of sediment, which, of course, also involve erosion and deposition. Other definitions include (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.):

“The pattern of rainfall in a region as regards amounts and distribution. Also: the relationship between incoming and outgoing water in a natural system.”

And (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.):

“The set of physical conditions and influences to which a system is subject or by which it is maintained.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “regime”, n.):

“[T]the regulation of aspects of life that affect a person’s health or welfare[.] … [A] particular course of diet, exercise, medication, etc., prescribed or adopted for the restoration or preservation of health.”

That’s not as apt as the regimes that pertain to bodies of water, but it’s still interesting how this is applicable to the organic stratum.

Regime is also related to regimen (OED, s.v. “regimen”, n.), which is used in similar fashion, and regiment (OED, s.v. “regiment”, n.), which has been used in similar fashion but is now used in the military context:

“A large body of troops, under the command of a superior officer; esp. such a body forming a permanent unit of an army or military force, and usually consisting of several companies, troops, or battalions (now usually two or more battalions).”

What I like about this is how it deals with a body of certain size composed of other bodies smaller than itself, while the same body can also compose another body larger than itself. It (OED, s.v. “regiment”, n.) can also use in other contexts:

“[A] large number of people or things likened to, or considered to resemble, a body of troops, esp. in being numerous, highly organized, or uniform in appearance or character.”

And, as it was used in the 1600s and the 1700s (OED, s.v. “regiment”, n.):

“A number of things or individuals considered as forming a body or group; a class or kind.”

It can also be used as a verb, which makes them even more flexible. It’s still mainly used in the military context (OED, s.v. “regiment”, v.):

“To form (a fighting force, etc.) into a regiment or regiments.”

But, it (OED, s.v. “regiment”, v.) also extends to other uses:

“To bring or put (a group of things) into some definite order or system; to organize or systematize, esp. strictly or rigidly.”

And (OED, s.v. “regiment”, v.):

“To form (a group of people) into an organized group or body; to organize (a person or group), esp. according to a strict order or system; to cause to conform to such a system; to regulate, control.”

So, yeah, I can see why Deleuze and Guattari may have thought that regime is an apt word to use to explain how bodies and signs are governed, organized, regulated, distributed, conditioned, formed, composed, grouped, ordered, or controlled, how movement or what they also like to call flow is restricted in order to control things.


The regimes of bodies are constituted by the machinic assemblages, on the content plane, and the regimes of signs are constituted by the collective assemblages of enunciation, on the expression plane, as Deleuze and Guattari (63) point out. This means the regimes are not the same as assemblages, nor are they the strata, except, in a sense, that’s what they are, as they (504) go on to point out.

This is the painful bit that I warned about early on in this essay, how they (504) use the word stratum and strata for the inorganic, the organic and the anthropomorphic strata, what they (502) also call the three major strata, but also for the strata within the strata, like when you have parastrata and epistrata that can be understood as strata in their own right. They (63) do this in order to make room for multiple regimes:

“On both sides, the epistrata and parastrata, the superposed degrees and abutting forms, attain more than ever before the status of autonomous strata in their own right. In cases where we can discern two different regimes of signs or two different formations of power, we shall say that they are in fact two different strata in human populations.”

In my opinion, this is pretty clunky, but what can you do. This is on them. At times they (140) also indicate that, in a sense, regimes are the assemblages:

“This is the sense in which regimes of signs are assemblages of enunciation[.]”

Okay, to be fair, I can see why they argue that you can understand the regimes as assemblages, and strata, ‘in a sense’, that is to say in ‘the broad sense’, to ‘paraphrase’ them (140, 504), considering how formed matter of content, form of content and formed matter of expression and form of expression are all strata according to Hjelmslev (165-167) in ‘La stratification du langage’. So, if you indicate that the regimes are the same as the assemblages, the strata and/or the forms (and I guess, by extension, the formed matters as well, considering that they are also strata; then again they only appear through the forms…), you are both correct and incorrect at the same time, because it depends whether you are discussing things in the broad sense or in the narrow sense, as they (504) point out.

Anyway, moving on. They distinguish (504) the regimes from the others by stating that they are what prevents the assemblages from being locked into the major strata. In their (504) words:

“The reason that the assemblage is not confined to the [major] strata is that expression in it becomes a semiotic system, a regime of signs, and content becomes a pragmatic system, actions and passions.”

In other words, there’s this crossover between the two. It’s the incorporeal transformation that crosses over from the expression side to the content side, so that an expression is always attributed to a body, as they (504) point out. This is what they (504) call the new relation. It’s ‘new’ because it’s only relevant to the anthropomorphic stratum. Humans haven’t been around that long, so, it is ‘new’ in that sense. The inorganic stratum and the organic stratum have been around much longer, which makes them ‘old’.

The gist of this is that the regimes only appear when we are dealing with the anthropomorphic stratum, as they (504) point out, and we might as well refer to its form of content and form of expression as regime of bodies and regime of signs. Why is that? Well, as the regimes are constituted by the assemblages, which are not only machinic, but also semiotic, they are only relevant to the anthropomorphic stratum as the inorganic stratum and the organic stratum are not semiotic. That’s why. There’s a really confusing at the end of the book where they (504) state that:

“But this does not mean that they do not permeate all of the strata, and overspill each of them.”

This is confusing because, strictly speaking, they (504) should be stating that “they do not permeate all of the strata, and overspill each of them”, because, earlier on, they (63) state that it is “an illusion exceeding all strata[.]” I actually had to go back to earlier essay of mine and add that bit on illusion there, to be clear about it, because, it’s important to realize that semiotics pertains only to the anthropomorphic stratum. Of course, that doesn’t mean that expressions aren’t important. They are. It’s rather that the transformations that it is capable of are incorporeal, not corporeal. No matter what we say is going to transform anything inorganic or organic as only bodies are capable of altering other bodies.

Anyway, they (66-67) exemplify how the forms are to be understood as regimes:

“[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). 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, to be clear, we can still say that a certain word is a form of expression and that a certain thing is a form of content, that they are certain formations, but the point is that we can’t understand them, that word and that thing, without other words and things, without sets of statements and sets of things. In addition, we have things that pertain not only to other things and words that pertain to other words, as two distinct sets, but also words that pertain to things and things that pertain to words, as relative sets, as they (67) go on to add. To make sense of that, they (66) exemplify that with Foucault’s analysis of ‘prison’ as a form of content and ‘delinquency’ as a form of expression:

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

In other words, the thing known as ‘prison’ is not a given. It only makes sense to us in terms of ‘delinquency’, how it is that the society comes to deal with it’s ‘delinquents’, people who are not deemed fit according to societal norms. They (66) continue:

“’Delinquency’ is the form of expression in reciprocal presupposition with the form of content ‘prison.’”

This simply means that ‘prison’ as a form of content makes little sense without ‘delinquency’ as a form of expression and vice versa. You can’t have one without the other. You one to explain the other. They (67) add to this that:

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

To which they (67) quicky add that:

“There are two distinct formalizations in reciprocal presupposition and constituting a double-pincer: the formalization of expression … (with its own relative contents), and the formalization of content … with [its] own relative expressions).”

This is basically the gist of the previous essay. Everything, both the content and the expression, is articulated or segmented twice, hence the double-pincer. They (67) exemplify this by adding that:

“[T]he prison as a form of content has a relative expression all its own; there are all kinds of statements specific to it that do not necessarily coincide with the statements of delinquency.”

And (67):

“[D]elinquency as a form of expression has an autonomous content all its own, since delinquency expresses not only a new way of evaluating crimes but a new way of committing them.”

This is because (67):

“Form of content and form of expression, prison and delinquency: each has its own history, microhistory, segments.”

What’s relevant here is how they function in relation to one another, as discussed in the previous essay. In their (67) words:

“At most, along with other contents and expressions, they imply a shared state of the abstract [m]achine acting not at all as a signifier but as a kind of diagram.”

It is the abstract machine that defines how the assemblages regulate and co-adapt the forms of content and the forms of expression., i.e., the regimes of bodies and the regimes of signs. Now, the cool thing here is that this is doubled, so that both the content and the expression have their own content and expression, as discussed in the previous essay and illustrated earlier on in this essay.

To give you another example, to illustrate that I’m not just full of hot air, aping their work, think of a ‘pedestrian crossing’. It is a form of content. It is related to other forms of content, such as various ‘other road markings’ and ‘road signs’. There is, however, no corresponding form of expression known as ‘pedestrian crossing’. In fact, there is no correspondence between the forms, as established in the previous essay. Instead, there is a form of expression known as ‘road safety’. That form of expression, ‘road safety’, does, of course, link up with other forms of content, such as those ‘other road markings’ and ‘road signs’, as well as ‘vehicles’ and ‘pedestrians’, but the point is that you need content for there to be some expression, as also established in the previous essay. Similarly, ‘pedestrian crossing’ has other forms of expression that it is related to, such as ‘aesthetics’ (why it is typically in the form of a zebra pattern), ‘environmentalism’ (why certain paint materials are used) and ‘economy’ (why certain paint materials are used, why it might be left unpainted), just as ‘road safety’ has related forms of expression, such as general ‘health and safety’ (why we need road safety) and ‘transportation’ (why we need vehicles).

It’s the same with the ‘Finnish flag’ that I mentioned. It’s a form of content, whereas ‘Finnishness’ is a form of expression. We can think of it as an embodiment, manifestation or materialization of ‘Finnishness’ yes, but, still the ‘Finnish flag’. Why? Because it is a ‘flag’, a form of content, among other ‘flags’, among other forms of content, and it is distinguishable from, let’s say, ‘banners’, which are also forms of content. It is certainly a ‘national flag’, but there still isn’t a corresponding form expression for that either, any more than there is for the ‘Finnish flag’. It’s related to ‘nationalism’, but that form of expression cannot be reduced to a national flag either. If you know your history, you know that ‘flags’ have been used well before ‘nationalism’. That said, it’s also worth noting that in the case of Finland and, I guess, in many other cases, their ‘nationalism’ came first and the ‘flag’ came later. To be clear, it’s the with just ‘flag’. There is no corresponding ‘flagness’ as a form of expression to ‘flag’ as a form of content. Then again, you would not have this or that ‘national flag’, such as the ‘Finnish flag’, without ‘nationalism’. Also, in some cases a specific ‘nationalism’ can be sparked by someone coming up with they think to be ‘national flag’. In addition, ‘national flags’ are forms of content that are certainly relevant to ‘nationalism’, not only to how it is created in some circumstances, as I pointed out, but also to how it is maintained as a form of expression.

In summary, what matter is not just things and words, content and expression, but also things in relation to other things and words in relation to other words, which was, pretty much, the gist of the previous essay. As Hjelmslev (30) points out in the ‘Prolegomena’:

“An expression is expression only by virtue of being an expression of a content, and a content is content only by virtue of being a content of an expression.”

And (30):

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

Now, add to this how content and expression can double up as the other, so that it has its own relative contents or expressions, you not only have things and words, things in relation to things and words in relation to words, but also things in relation to other words and words in relation to other words, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (67). What this means is that when we address a form of content or a form of expression, we must never do it in isolation. We must always assess both at the same time. In addition, we must also not only address a form of content or a form of expression in relation to one another, but also in relation to other forms of content and expressions, i.e., forms of content in relation to other forms of content and forms of expression in relation to other forms of expression, as well as forms of content in relation to other forms expressions and forms of expressions in relation to other forms of content. That formulation may seem a complicated and, I guess, in a sense, it is, but it’s not really that complicated. Sure, it far from simple, given it’s not like a word just corresponds to a thing, but it’s not like you have to take into account everything either, because not everything is connected to everything at any given moment.

Anyway, to get back on track here, while the focus is clearly on the anthropomorphic stratum, none this means that the regimes are not relevant to the inorganic stratum, nor to the organic stratum, as we can only make sense of them semiotically, through the anthropomorphic stratum., as they (504) point out.

In summary, all you got to do is to keep in that we are dealing with the anthropomorphic stratum whenever they bring up the regimes. Think of them as the form of content and the form of expression of that stratum as it’s what’s immediately relevant to us humans. The other two strata are still relevant, yes, but only as substrata of that stratum, as discussed in the previous essay.

Regimes of truth

While I am at it, before I move on specify the regimes, I’d like to add that this is how I think of what Foucault (131) refers to as régimes of truth in ‘Truth and Power’, as included in ‘Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977’:

“Each society has its régime of truth, its ‘general politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse which it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true and false statements, the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

What is important about this concept that it takes into account both sides, what Deleuze and Guattari (66-67, 108, 504) call the regimes of bodies (pragmatic systems, formations of power) and the regimes of signs (semiotic systems, formations of statements). Foucault (112) refers to these as régimes of power and régimes of discourse or statements. The gist of this is that truth is always dependent on these regimes, which intersect, crossing over to one another, but not being reducible to either. He (112-113) exemplifies this with how the régimes of power is inseparable from the régimes of discourse:

“At this level it’s not so much a matter of knowing what external power imposes itself on science, as of what effects of power circulate among scientific statements, what constitutes, as it were, their internal regime of power, and how and why at certain moments that regime undergoes a global modification.”

The point he makes here is that the bodies that act, that exercise power, are not separate from the bodies involved in the creation of knowledge. Of course, this can be the case, in the sense that others seek to impose on their work, but that’s not what he wants to emphasize here. Guattari (70) states the same in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“’Specialized’ passions, those of artists and scientists, but also all passions, must not be separated from the actions and productions of public life.”

He (70) exemplifies this:

“That a scientist, for example, goes insane and/or falls in love and/or becomes perverse will play a part in his research.”

Just the fact that the human body is constantly affected by other bodies, both simple and complex, that, for example, can make the scientist go insane, fall in love, become perverted, which, in turn, may affect the research, to this or that degree, depending various other conditions, of course. While what Guattari (70) points out may seem trivial, as it pertains to “‘[f]eeling,’, private life, and interiority”, it’s helpful because it makes it clear that exercises of power are mundane, occurring between bodies all the time. It’s not just about the state and its institutions, the police and the military keeping you in check by force, nor about bosses, teachers or parents teaching you to know your place. It’s about any position from which one body acts upon another body in another position, causing a corporeal transformation or an incorporeal transformation, by doing something or expressing something.

Regimes of bodies

What Deleuze and Guattari call regimes of bodies are mentioned in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ only here and there. They aren’t elaborated to the extent that they elaborate the different and mixed regimes of signs. They (63), however, mention that they are formations of power or power formations. They (90) provide some examples of such “interminglings of bodies”, such as “an alimentary regime”, i.e., how it is that bodies are nourished, one feeding off of another, decomposing it in order to compose oneself or to retain that composition, and “a sexual regime”, i.e., how bodies come together for sexual purposes, possibly resulting in the composition of another body. They (90) also exemplify these with various inventions, how, for example, “the stirrup entails a new man-horse symbiosis”, which, in turn, “entails new weapons and new instruments.”

This is related to what they (355) call the machinic phylum. It’s what appears to move “through elements, orders, forms and [formed matter], the molar and the molecular, freeing matter and tapping forces.”

To explain what they mean by the molar and the molecular, they are not, strictly speaking about scale, like the macro and the micro, nor about size, like the big and the small. Although that’s often how things are, but they are really about consistency, how stratified (fixed or rigid) something is or, conversely, destratified (fluid or loose) something is, as explained by Guattari (47-48) in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’. Another way of explaining those would be to examine to what extent something is a composite or a consolidation, how composed/decomposed or consolidated/unconsolidated it is, to use other terms discussed in the previous essay, as they (336) also point out in this context.

This is going to be a bit of a whammy, but what they (336) have to say about this is worth mentioning because it explains how things compose and decompose or consolidate and deconsolidate, to the extent that they do, of course:

“What holds all the components together are transversals, and the transversal itself is only a component that has taken upon itself the specialized vector of deterritorialization. In effect, what holds an assemblage together is not the play of framing forms or linear causalities but, actually or potentially, its most deterritorialized component, a cutting edge of deterritorialization.”

Now, I’m not going to explain all the concepts they throw at you here, but the point is that, perhaps, somewhat counter-intuitively, what holds things together is that they move, at whatever speed it is that they move. If they didn’t move, then, they’d never meet. Also, if they’d all move, at the same speed, they’d never meet. We’d be stuck with some sort of simple entities. Territoriality, how territorialized (i.e., settled, fixed to a bounded area), deterritorialized (i.e., on the move, going outside that territory) or reterritorialized (i.e., resettled, having been on the move, fixed again to a bounded area) something is, is just another way of explaining the role of movement in all this.

Anyway, a machinic phylum is “a phylogentic line” and “a technological lineage”, as specified by the two (348, 406), kind of like the genetics of things, if you will, as odd as that may seem. It’s about (406):

“[A] constellation of singularities, prolongable by certain operations, which converge, and make the operations converge, upon one or several assignable traits of expression.”

Therefore, we recognize a machinic phylum, or, in short, just a phylum, “[i]f the singularities or operations diverge, in different materials or in the same material”, as distinguishable from another phylum, as they (406) go on to specify. They (406) exemplify this with how the iron sword is the descendant of the dagger, sharing the same function, being both capable piercing weapons, but the steel saber is the descendant of the knife, being both capable cutting weapons. Therefore, they (406) state that:

“Each phylum has its own singularities and operations, its own qualities and traits, which determine the relation of desire to the technical element (the affects the saber ‘has’ are not the same as those of the sword).”

The point here is that each phylum is marked by its function, what whatever it is that we are dealing with can do. That’s a pretty Spinozist way of explaining what it is that makes this body this and not that body. So, basically, the phylum of the dagger and the iron sword has a certain capacity to act, to pierce a body, whereas the phylum of the knife and the steel saber has different capacity to act, to cut a body. We could and, I think, should, add here that they are also marked by their capacity to be acted upon by other bodies, to give this the proper Spinozist take. What I mean is that the dagger and the iron sword are piercing weapons, not because they have pointy ends, which, of course, they do, making them most suitable to be used as piercing weapons, but also because, to my knowledge, iron doesn’t retain its cutting edge (what a coincidence, right? cutting edge! cutting edge of deterritorialization!) that well, whereas steel does. In other words, when you hit an armored body or another weapon, let’s say a sword, with a sword, in attempt to cut the body, it is affected the by that other body, which causes damage to it. That damage will then alter its capacity to act on other bodies. Iron is brittle, so it’s not great for cutting, unlike steel. Of course, the curvature of the knife and the steel saber also count, but you should get the point, how it is about the capacity of the body to act and be acted upon.

Now, of course, if you examine a number of phyla, you can trace them back to a single phylum, which is the machinic phylum, as they (406) go on to explain:

“But it is always possible to situate the analysis on the level of singularities that are prolongable from one phylum to another, and to tie the two phyla together. At the limit, there is a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum, ideally continuous: the flow of matter-movement, the flow of matter in continuous variation, conveying singularities and traits of expression.”

The point here is to understand that while amorphous, matter isn’t inert. It flows. It moves. The machinic phylum is a handy way of explaining that, how we get from this to this and not to that, and how that composition/decomposition or consolidation/deconsolidation, whatever it is that we are dealing with, is not random, nor whimsical. This explains how, like with Spinoza, we have these composites, ones which consist of many, which, in turn, consist of many, and so on, and so forth, and how they are connected to one another, in a flow or a lineage that we can cut up to distinct flows or lineages.

Could you do without dealing with the machinic phylum in order to understand what’s been covered so far? Yeah, I’d say so, especially if you are familiar with how this is explained in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, how machinic assemblages are, in fact, desiring machines. Then again, it does help you to understand the other concepts and how they fit together, especially if you haven’t read ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and have managed not to notice how the machinic assemblages are also referred to as machinic assemblages of desire in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. They like to do this, to explain the same thing or, at least, what I take to be the same thing (not that I can be entirely sure about it, whether it carries the same sense, because sense isn’t something that we can put to words) in different ways, so that people of different backgrounds can find their way into their thought. So, yeah, the machinic phylum might be just that which works for you to make sense of the underlying movement, the flow of matter, whereas someone else might make sense of that from their discussion of desire.

You could fault them for making you read all that, to make you jump through all those hoops, sure, as opposed to giving you precise definitions, one after another, in a linear sequence, but, yeah, well, that’s the exact opposite of what they are trying to achieve in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. Instead of holding your hand, guiding you, or, worse, telling you what’s what, they are trying to make you think, to think for yourself, to make you to figure out things, on your own, the way you see fit.

I try my best to explain the concepts, to make sense of them, for my own benefit, as well as to benefit of anyone who reads this and, perhaps, finds it of value, while also realizing that it is not an easy task, that I might fail, here and there, because the material I’m working with is difficult to comprehend, not because Deleuze and Guattari want to waste their readers’ precious time, but because that’s the point, to make their readers think.

Regimes of signs

While Deleuze and Guattari don’t spend that much time on discussing the regimes of bodies, they do that with the regimes of signs. In fact, they dedicate a whole plateau (a chapter) on these regimes. They (111) kick off by providing a definition:

“We call any specific formalization of expression a regime of signs, at least when the expression is linguistic. A regime of signs constitutes a semiotic system.”

So, as already discussed, a form of expression is a regime of signs, a semiotic system, when we are dealing with the anthropomorphic stratum. This is further evident from what they (111) add next:

“But it appears difficult to analyze semiotic systems in themselves: there is always a form of content that is simultaneously inseparable from and independent of the form of expression, and the two forms pertain to assemblages that are not principally linguistic.”

As you can see, a regime of signs is a form of expression, as contrasted with the form of content. The other important thing here is that this reiterates Hjelmslev point about how there can be no expression without content. That said, they (111) go on to add:

“However, one can proceed as though the formalization of expression were autonomous and self-sufficient.”

It’s not indicated here, but this has to do with the aforementioned illusion, how regimes of signs may appear to permeate all the major strata, going beyond the anthropomorphic stratum, spilling all over the other two major strata. They (111) specify this by stating that this does not have to do with language or semiotics, in general, but with a certain regime of signs, a certain semiotic system. In other words, not all regimes of signs or semiotic systems involve such imposture. Earlier on they (63) state that:

“This is, obviously, the illusion constitutive of man (who does man think he is?). This illusion derives from the overcoding immanent to language itself.”

Only to quickly backpedal on that (65):

“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.”

In other words, it’s not an illusion that pertains to language, or any other semiotic mode, for that matter, but an illusion that pertains to a certain regime. Therefore the illusion has to do with how people come to think of language, how they come to systematize it, hence the other moniker, semiotic system. They (65) further clarify this:

“This terminological discussion would be entirely without interest if it did not bring us to yet another danger: not the imperialism of language affecting all of the strata, but the imperialism of the signifier affecting language itself, affecting all regimes of signs and the entire expanse of the strata upon which they are located.”

This means that it’s not about language, as such, as already pointed out, but about signifiance (i.e., signification, but they prefer to use signifiance), hence their rejection of Saussurean semiology, in favor of Hjelmslevian stratification. They (523) comment on this choice this in the notes:

“That is why we consider Hjelmslev, despite his own reservations and vacillations, to be the only linguist to have actually broken with the signifier and the signified. Many other linguists seem to make this break deliberately and without reservations, but retain the implicit presuppositions of the signifier.”

Anyway, this issue of signifiance is the crux of their discussion of sign regimes. They (65) explain why it is so central to them:

“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 other words, it’s central to them, to their discussion of sign regimes, because that illusion allows one to pose in a certain way, as if one was direct contact with the world, as they (65) go on to add:

“What we are saying is that the illusion specific to this posture of the abstract [m]achine, the illusion that one can grasp and shuffle all the strata between one’s pincers, can be better secured through the erection of the signifier than through the extension of the sign (thanks to signifiance, language can claim to be in direct contact with the strata without having to go through the supposed signs on each one).”

They (66) then move on to acknowledge how, of course, there are many ways that people have conceived this, but what they want to point out, unlike others, is that signifiance is marked by redundancy, by the redundancy of the signifier, which, in their words, explain “its incredible despotism and its success.” They (66) specify this:

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

They (66) do not, of course, agree with any of this because it is, indeed, highly reductive:

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

That reduction is, of course, why it is so successful. Who wouldn’t like things to be that simple? I mean, it’s a lot less work to just go with that, instead writing tens of pages, like I’ve done, now for the second time, in order to explain how complex the world is, before you examine anything in practice. I put a lot of effort into what I like to call a conceptual framework, what others would call theory, only to get feedback where someone wonders how that’s relevant to what I examine. I mean, well, how is it not relevant? I basically explain how the world works, under such and such conditions, followed by providing real life examples of it. It’s not easy to understand, true, but the thing is that the world isn’t simple. When you are dealing with complexity, try to make sense of that complexity. Don’t reduce it just because you can’t be bothered to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t simplify it just because you couldn’t be arsed to do a better job. Don’t skip things just because they are inconvenient to you.

Anyway, that’s the point they (66) make here, followed by examples drawn from Foucault’s work, what I’ve already covered in this essay. They (67) then clarify what actually happens among the signifier enthusiasts and reject that take:

“[W]e should never oppose words to things that supposedly correspond to them, nor signifiers to signifieds that are supposedly in conformity with them.”

In other words, it’s not as simple as modeling it as words and things, nor as simple as words, images of things and things, i.e., the signifier, signified and the referent, according to what Guattari (336) refers to as the semiological triangle in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’. There is no correspondence between the two and neither is reducible to the other, as they (67) point out by invoking what Foucault (9) states in ‘The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences’ (unspecified translation of the 1966 original):

“[I]t is in vain that we say what we see; what we see never resides in what we say.”

Indeed, what we see is what we see and what we say is what we say. This is not to say that it is pointless to say what you see, for example, when on the phone and someone is trying to help you to fix something, or what you’ve seen, for example, when others weren’t there to see it, but you are still, technically, just saying, not saying what you see or saw. Plus, wouldn’t you actually prefer to show what it is that you are fixing to that other person, in person or through some medium, like in a video call, or have those people with you to see what it is that they’d otherwise miss. I think it’s worth including what Foucault (9) add to this:

“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 their sequential elements of syntax.”

So, yeah, it’s the same the other way around. Like if you have a really good joke, just tell the joke. It’s not like it’s going to get any better by attempting to show it, because what makes it good is that it is told.

Deleuze and Guattari’s rejection of Saussurean semiology does not, however, mean that they aren’t keenly aware of the centrality of signifiance. It’s rather that it only pertains to one regime among others. In their (68) words:

“Just as signs designate only a certain formalization of expression in a determinate group of strata, signifiance itself designates only one specific regime among a number of regimes existing in that particular formalization.”

Simply put, signifiance marks only one regime of signs, which they (112, 121) generally refer to as the despotic regime of signs and as the signifying regime of signs. They (vi, 112, 116, 124) occasionally refer to it as the imperial despotic regime, despotic paranoid regime (or paranoid despotic regime) and signifying despotic regime. In addition, they (180-181, 385, 436) also refer to the related form as a despotic formation and to the related assemblage as a despotic assemblage.

The signifying regime of signs

In summary, the signifying regime of signs, also known as the despotic or imperial regime of signs is marked by signifiance, imperialism or despotism, as well as paranoia. They (117) list eight aspects or principles that define this form of expression. I’ll go through them, one by one, followed by explaining the related formed matter of expression.

But before I do that, it’s worth noting what’s meant by despotism or imperialism in this context. Think of an autocrat, a dictator, a despot, a king, a pharaoh, a czar, or an emperor (or the like). That person is the only person who matters. That person is obviously not a deity, a god, but that person might as well be. No one else matters. That person who is effectively the center of the universe. That’s why they (114) refer to that person as a despot-god. I’d say that it’s a matter of personal preference what to call that conceptual person, as they refer to such in ‘What Is Philosophy?’, but I prefer the emperor, so that the domain is the empire and the type of behavior exhibited is imperialism (or impiricism, to poke fun at logical empiricism, aka logical positivism). The thing with the emperor is that their domain must continuously expand, to prevent others from challenging the emperor’s rule, not now, but in the future. The emperor also needs what I like to call functionaries, what they (114) call bureaucrats. These are the kind of people who serve the emperor, those who offer their services to the emperor, to make managing the domain less of a chore for the emperor, in exchange for a cozy life in the court, one emperor after another. They (114) also refer to these conceptual personae as priests as they are the who one’s who claim the right to interpret the will of the emperor, kind of like how priests tell you that they know what this and/or that god wants.

So, there are eight aspects or principles. First, there is an endless deferral of meaning. It goes from one sign to an another, ad infinitum. The chain of signification is endless. Second, the chain is circular. Third, the deferral goes from one circle to another. Fourth, the circles keep expanding. Fifth, the deferral is stopped by what they call the supreme signifier or the despotic signifier. It functions as the limit of the system, setting the bounds, indicating the lack and the excess. Sixth, the form of signifier (form of expression) has its corresponding substance (formed matter), the face. Seven, excess is prohibited. Going being the limit of the system is not allowed. Eight, there’s what they call a “universal deception.”

They (112-117) further elaborate these principles. Importantly, they note that it doesn’t have much to do with signs, but with signifiance. To put this in Peircean terms, as mentioned elsewhere by the two (55, 65, 142), when it’s all about symbols (deterritorialized signs), as opposed to indexes (territorial signs) and icons (reterritorialized signs), all you get is signifier-signifier redundancy. As this is a tough part to explain, I’ll let them (112) do that:

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

My take is that the problem has to do with relegation denotation, i.e., ordinary language to connotation or, at least, it would seem to be the case, judging by what they (112) go on to add:

“Not much attention is paid to indexes, in other words, the territorial states of things constituting the designatable. Not much attention is paid to icons, that is, operations of reterritorialization constituting the signifiable. Thus the sign has already attained a high degree of relative deterritorialization; it is thought of as a symbol in a constant movement of referral from sign to sign.”

Or, to put it more bluntly, to emphasise the redundancy (112):

“The signifier is the sign in redundancy with the sign. All signs are signs of signs.”

So, in other words, this or that, whatever it may be, is not thought of as a sign of something, but as a sign of a sign, of a sign of a sign, and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. Except that it’s not really a sign of a sign, but a signifier of a signifier, as they (114) go on to add:

“The ultimate signified is therefore the signifier itself, in its redundancy or ‘excess.’”

So that you are basically running in circles, as they (114) point out:

“[I]interpretation is carried to infinity and never encounters anything to interpret that is not already itself an interpretation.”

In other words, the signified is really just another signifier or, conversely, the signifier ends up being the signified for a signifier, which, in turn ends up being a signified for a signifier. In their (114) words:

“The signified constantly reimparts signifier, recharges it or produces more of it.”

They (112) indicate why it is that the signifier ends up back on another signifier:

“It is this amorphous continuum that for the moment plays the role of the ‘signified,’ but it continually glides beneath the signifier, for which it serves only as a medium or wall: the specific forms of all contents dissolve in it.”

Now, that amorphous continuum is, of course, matter itself, Saussure’s substance, which is Hjelmslev’s matter (or purport), as discussed in more detail in the previous essay. Unless I’m mistaken, the problem here is that you can never know, as it’s “an unanalyzed entity”, as Hjelmslev (31) points out in ‘Prolegomena’. In other words, the problem is that you are not making any sense as the sign-function is missing. You going in circles on the expression plane. I think it’s helpful to compare the two, as done by Guattari (73) in ‘The Role of the Signifier in the Institution’, as included in ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’, as something like this (II):

The thing here is that with Saussure, you are stuck in the substances and forms (which is why I greyed out matter), in the dark grey boxes, whereas with Hjelmslev that’s not the case (III):

Then again, I think this is still not accurate. If we use Hjelmslev’s terms, for the sake of consistency, the problem has to do with fixating on how the expression plane can double as having its own content and expression planes, as discussed in the previous essay. So it’s something like this (IV):

Again, I greyed out matter, but now also the content plane is greyed out. I think this is what Deleuze and Guattari (112) mean when they state that denotation gets subordinated by connotation or, to put it another way, when indexes and icons, i.e., what gets attributed on the content plane, crossing over from the expression plane in the act of expression (as that’s always needed), in the act of forming the substance of expression (formed matter of expression), are largely ignored in favor of symbols. To be present this like Guattari (73) does, using ellipses, it looks like this (V):

Now, the problem with this presentation (slightly modified from Guattari’s presentation) is that it focuses solely on the semiotically formed matter. I don’t think it’s that helpful to compare Saussure’s scheme and Hjelmslev’s scheme like this because with Hjelmslev’s you need to indicate whether we are dealing with a denotative semiotic, a connotative semiotic or a metasemiotic, whereas with Saussure you don’t have this further distinction. So, I reckon this should look something like this (VI):

Now, if we take the extra step, to give the content plane it’s fair shake, to focus on it like Deleuze and Guattari do, to take into account different levels mentioned, but not discussed by Hjelmslev, this should look something like this (VII):

What I wanted to do here is to show how Deleuze and Guattari expand on Hjelmslev, to take into account the a-semiotic (non-semiotic) inorganic and organic strata, which form the a-semiotic (non-semiotic) content plane of the semiotic anthropomorphic stratum, which, in turn, has an expression plane that doubles up to have its own semiotic content and expression planes. I think this also helps to understand the issue they take with the Saussurean scheme. As you can see, the problem is that it is like a crippled version of Hjelmslev’s denotative semiotic, with the twist at, in a way, it is more like a crippled version of Hjelmslev’s connotative semiotic which ends up ignoring denotation, so that you only get connotations. It’s also worth noting that the a-semiotic (non-semiotic) encodings only pertain to the organic stratum, as it has to do with genetic code that, unlike language, is unable to inscribe itself elsewhere, so, strictly speaking, I should further specify the a-semiotic content plane. With this presentation you may be fooled to think that the inorganic stratum has such encodings, even though it doesn’t.

Guattari goes way deeper than this in ‘The Role of the Signifier in the Institution’ and his other work, so I’m not entirely sure about whether my illustrations are correct, but they’ll do, for now. The problem with these illustrations, like with the illustrations of the previous essay, is that you can’t neatly separate the strata from one another. Just think of yourself, you are inorganic, organic, and anthropomorphic at the same time. You aren’t first inorganic, like the water in you, then organic, as an organism, then anthropomorphic, as a semiotic being. We’ll see if I manage to go through all that, write something on that and, possibly, do some reformulations if necessary.

Anyway, to get on track here, they (112) go on:

“The atmospherization or mundanization of contents. Contents are abstracted. This is the situation Levi-Strauss describes: the world begins to signify before anyone knows what it signifies; the signified is given without being known.”

Now, I had a closer look at this, because why not and that’s indeed what Claude Lévi-Strauss (60-61) points out in his ‘Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss’:

“It is as if humankind had suddenly acquired an immense domain and the detailed plan of that domain, along with ta notion of the reciprocal relationship of domain and plan; but had spent millennia learning which specific symbols of the plan represented the different aspects of the domain. The universe signified long before people began to know what it signified; no doubt that goes without saying. But, from the foregoing analysis, it also emerges that from the beginning, the universe signified the totality of what humankind can expect to know about it. What people call the progress of the human mind and, in any case, the progress of scientific knowledge, could only have bee and can only ever be constituted out of processes of correcting and recutting of patterns, regrouping, defining relationships of belong and discovering new resources, inside a totality which is close and complementary to itself.”

So, to put it bluntly, Lévi-Strauss is saying that all we know is based on what we have discovered and that all we can know is for us to discover. This is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they state that the contents are made mundane. It’s all there, supposedly, just waiting to be abstracted into knowledge by our brightest boffins. Also, to humor you for a moment, I can only image Derrida reading that bit, with a tear in his eye, not from sadness, but from not being able to contain his laughter. I think it’s only apt that they (112) follow this with some humor:

“Your wife looked at you with a funny expression. And this morning the mailman handed you a letter from the IRS and crossed his fingers. Then you stepped in a pile of dog shit. You saw two sticks on the sidewalk positioned like the hands of a watch. They were whispering behind your back when you arrived at the office. It doesn’t matter what it means, it’s still signifying.”

At this point Derrida needs a handkerchief to wipe away those tears of joy. Anyway, the point is that none of that means anything. There’s nothing to uncover. There is nothing inherent to any of that. Anyway, to get back on track here, they (112) add that this results in an odd combination of “strange impotence and uncertainly” mixed with the mightiness of “the signifier that constitutes the chain.” They (112) exemplify this with how paranoid people behave:

“The paranoiac shares this impotence of the deterritorialized sign assailing him from every direction in the gliding atmosphere, but that only gives him better access to the superpower of the signifier, through the royal feeling of wrath, as master of the network spreading through the atmosphere.”

A good example of this is a despot or an emperor, hence the despotism or imperialism of this regime. There’s always this desire to know what happens in the court, mixed with a belief that someone is scheming to get to the throne, which results in paranoia. In their (112) words:

“[T]hey are attacking me and making me suffer, but I can guess what they’re up to, I’m one step ahead of them, I’ve always known, I have power even in my impotence. ‘I’ll get them.’”

How this regime combines signifiance, despotism/imperialism, culminating in a negative feedback loop, in a vicious circle, is aptly summarized by the two (113):

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

Of course, it goes without saying that we no longer live under the rule of autocrats, except in a couple of countries. Priests, or seers, as they (114) also refer to the functionaries of the autocrats, also aren’t parts of our lives. They aren’t needed. That said, this isn’t about autocrats, about some byzantine rulers and their courtiers. The autocrats might be gone, but the functionaries of this system have just switched over from serving the autocrats to serving the (re)public. They (114) point to psychoanalysts as the modern priests:

“The discovery of the psychoanalyst-priests … was that interpretation had to be subordinated to signifiance, to the point that the signifier would impart no signified without the signified reimporting signifier in its turn.”

To give you a bit of context, this is a very … I’d say … 1960s and 1970s French example. Their first book, ‘Anti-Oedipus’, is directed against psychoanalysis. The point is that the analysts are hardly helping people because they have to come back for more. The analysis doesn’t lead anywhere, because, in this regime, an interpretation is always an interpretation of an interpretation, which is also an interpretation of an interpretation, and so on, and so forth. There is no end to that practice, which is why it is such a lucrative business. ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ is not really about psychoanalysis, nor railing against it like they do in ‘Anti-Oedipus’, but they (114) do occasionally get carried away:

“Actually, there is no longer even any need to interpret, but that is because the best interpretation, the weightiest and most radical one, is an eminently significant silence.”

This point is about how the analyst isn’t an interlocutor, someone who the analysand, the person undergoing the psychoanalysis, works with to get through his or her issues. Instead, the analyst remains silent, like in many American series and movies, only guiding the patient, only asking questions like, ‘how do you feel about it?’, avoiding any analysis of the person undergoing the analysis by stating things like ‘no, this is not about me, this is about you, how do you feel about it?’ In their (114) words:

“It is well known that although psychoanalysts have ceased to speak, they interpret even more, or better yet, fuel interpretation on the part of the subject, who jumps from one circle of hell to the next.”

Of course, this is not just about psychoanalysis, just as it isn’t about priests or seers of foregone eras. All these people are functionally the same, even though they are not actually the same. They all act the same way, subordinating interpretation to signifiance (i.e., signification) as they (114) point out. To add insult to the injury, hacking away at psychoanalysis, they (114) note quite insightfully that:

“In truth, signifiance and interpretosis are the two diseases of the earth or the skin, in other words, humankind’s fundamental neurosis.”

As you can see, it’s not about the people, as such. It’s not about actual people. It’s about the way people think. That’s the problem with this regime. It doesn’t go anywhere. Nothing ever gets done, which is, of course, highly fortunate to people who claim to know the solution to it. There’s certainly no shortage of people who’ll be more than happy to fix you, part by part, for a price. You have actual health care professionals, including psychiatrists, of all stripes, who at least probably do it in hopes of helping people, but you also have all kinds snake oil sellers and self-help peddlers, people who write books like ‘10 ways to achieve happiness’, offer energy healing, or hold seminars on ‘how to make it in life’. Guattari (89) elaborates on this in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“The promotion of a strong ego by the traditional psychoanalysts, each in his or her own way, illustrates such a politics of the enslavement of subjectivity to the imperatives of social control and the normalization of collective labor power.”

Later on he (196) explains the allure of this arrangement:

“What a relief, albeit somewhat cowardly, to meet someone who deems you, against all appearances, to have an inexhaustible unconscious wealth while everything around you—society, family, your own resignation—appears to have conspired to empty you of all desire, of all hope of changing your life!”

In other words, this has its charm, no doubt about it, considering that it is implied that you don’t have to be this way, but it is because of the way things are, against you, and then proposed that there is a fix to this, if only and as long as you willing to pay for it, as he (196) goes on to add:

“A service like that is priceless, and one understands very well why psychoanalysts are paid so much!”

He (257) also comments on this ‘Molecular Revolution and Class Struggle’, as included in ‘Molecular Revolution’, noting that itts like getting your fix, your hit:

“[I]t works, one must admit. Psychoanalysis works very well, which is why it is so dangerous. It is the capitalist opium par excellence.”

For him (257), it’s having a problem that you can’t fix by yourself (even though, I know, and he knows it as well, it is you who is doing the fixing):

“Don’t worry about society! Your desire is our affair – we’ll give it a free run secretly, here on the couch.”

The cruelty of this is in the fact that these sessions are not supposed to end. The problem will never really get fixed. Why? Because if everyone is, deep down, a pervert, a social deviant, they’ll need someone to whom they can talk about their perversions, for a price, of course. Let’s not focus on the society, what is considered normal and what is considered abnormal. Let’s just focus on that perversion that you have, okay? This is why he (313) states, alongside Deleuze, in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ that:

“[T]he whole of psychoanalysis is an immernse perversion, a drug, a radical break with reality, starting with the reality of desire; it is narcissism, a monstrous autism: the characteristic autism and the intrinsic perversion of the machine of capital.”

This is about psychoanalysts, but this applies anyone who relies on similar subject centered approach. It doesn’t matter who it is, nor what it’s called. It’s all the same. The label just keeps changing. The point is that the doubled subject is itself the problem and by not addressing the problem or, rather, by refusing to address the problem, you are part of the problem. If you are not aware of this problem, okay, fair enough, but when you are aware of it, like when Deleuze and/or Guattari explain it to you, that’s no longer cool. You are then choosing to be part of the problem, probably because it suits you, probably because it fattens your wallet.

Faciality in the signifying regime

I think that’s enough of this, so it’s time to move on from this regime as a form of expression to its related formed matter of expression. Guattari’s (42) comment about the necessity of formed matter in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’ is highly relevant to this point, how we matter, yes, and how me make sense of it through form, yes, yet, oddly enough we need formed matter to make any sense of this:

“This should quite naturally lead us to only consider the existence of forms insofar as they are expressed or enacted by particular substances.”

He (209) also briefly comments on this in his notes, in ‘Hjelmslev and Immanence’, noting that:

“Ultimately, it’s as if questions[,] for example, the question of accents (in the sense of ‘having an accent’)[,] take on signification (you can say they ‘drawl’ down South!).”

He (75) offers another example in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“[S]uch and such a manner of speaking will spark the feeling that we are dealing with someone of ‘good intentions,’ a foreigner, or even someone strange, odd, or dangerous.”

Simply put, the focus is on forms, as emphasized by Hjelmslev (172) in ‘La stratification du langage’, yet, oddly enough, none of it is relevant without the formed matters of expressions, without the actual acts of expression, as pointed out by Guattari (42) in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’. When it comes to linguistic expression, these expressions are tied to the way we manipulate air, using our lungs, our throat and our mouth, including our tongue and our teeth. That’s all well and good but we don’t see that happening. What we see instead is the movement of the face. Deleuze and Guattari (115) clarify this:

“The voice emanates from the face; that is why, however fundamentally important the writing machine is in the imperial bureaucracy, what is written retains an oral or nonbook character. The face is the Icon proper to the signifying regime, the reterritorialization internal to the system.”

Here they once again weave in their take of Peircean semiotics, as icon is, indeed, the reterritorialized sign for them (65, 142). It has to do with the “operations of reterritorialization constituting the signifiable”, as defined by them (112). It is worth keeping in mind that it is not an index, a territorial sign, but an icon, a reterritorialized sign. Why? Because they (115) really want to emphasize how it is the symbol, the deterritorialized sign, is reterritorialized elsewhere:

“The signifier reterritorializes on the face. The face is what gives the signifier substance[.]”

In other words, for the face to be an icon, something that is reterritorialized, i.e., territorialized again, settled, it has to deterritorialized, on the move, in order to end up that way. Guattari (75) also mentions this in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’:

“A voice is always related to a real, imaginary, or composite face…”

He (75) also mentions that is has a certain function:

“There always exists a time in the ordination of social space when the dimensions of the face intervents to delimit what is legitimate from what is not.”

So, the way this works might look something like this (VIII):

I greyed out the content plane here to emphasize how this regime is largely fixed on the expression plane. Anyway, to get to the point, to explain why the face is so important in this regime, they (115) add that:

“[I]t is what fuels interpretation, and it is what changes, changes traits, when interpretation reimparts signifier to its substance. Look, his expression changed.”

Now, if you’ve kept in mind that in this regime the only person who matters is the emperor, you’ll realize that it is the emperor’s face that we are dealing with here, as they (115) go on to specify:

“The despot-god has never hidden his face, far from it: he makes himself one, or even several. The mask does not hide the face, it is the face.”

The job of the priests, seers or functionaries is to “administer[] the face of the god”, as they (115) point out. That’s why they could also be called administrators. They are the people who specialize in telling other people how things are.

The pandemic special

Speaking of masks, to go on a tangent here, now that people have been wearing them for a year, give or take, or over a year, it’s interesting how it changes encounters with people. It’s like people don’t have a face, in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari define it in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. You have to pay much more attention to what’s being said than the person saying it because you can’t see the movements of the face. It’s an odd undoing of the face. I think Deleuze and Guattari would be delighted by it, not because it has completely undone the face, no, no, but because it has shifted the way encounter other people. They might not have foreseen people wearing masks to the extent that people now do, but they (115) do acknowledge what might happen if that were to be the case, as it is:

“[W]hen the face is effaced, when the faciality traits disappear, we can be sure that we have entered another regime, other zones infinitely muter and more imperceptible where subterranean becomings-animal occur, becomings-molecular, nocturnal deterritorializations over-spilling the limits of the signifying system.”

I’d say that wearing a mask has had this effect. You might not be familiar with what they mean by all that subterranean, as their lingo is quite specific to them, but the thing is that when we no longer see the face, its traits and its subtle movements, all that we are accustomed to when we see people, especially the people we often deal with, it is, as if, these people are not, no longer the same people, but some creatures, some faceless entities that accompany us. That is, however, exactly what’s so interesting about this.

It’s a matter of identity to people, which is why having your face covered bothers people, especially in the west. It’s not really the health aspect of it that annoys people. It’s not like with, let’s say, shoes that have the function of protecting your feet from, let’s be honest, glass and dog shit. People wouldn’t object to shoes like they do with masks. It is, as if, they all the sudden entered a new world in which they no longer know who they are, who anyone is. That’s exactly what Deleuze and Guattari (115) mean why they say that “we can be sure that we have entered another regime”.

Guattari (340) also comments on this in the notes section of ‘The Machinic Unconscious’, noting that “all significations are modified when ‘psychotics’ fail to recognize their own faces.” I think this also happens when you have people with dementia, how they refuse to believe that they are talking to a familiar person, for example their own child, even though the voice is familiar to them. They believe that the person is an imposter, someone who is mimicking the voice, because they no longer remember the face of the person. I might be wrong about that, as I’m just riffing here. Maybe it’s not about dementia, but about some other impairment that prevents them from recognizing faces. Then again, that doesn’t change what I’m after here with this comment.

A covered face is, I’d say, almost menacing to them. I have taken up the habit of wearing what I’ve been taught to call a shemagh (a square cotton scarf, also known as keffiyeh, but it has many names) over my face. Unlike a surgical mask that dangles over your mouth and nose, covering your face to this or that extent, depending on the physical proportions of the mask and your head, the shemagh will cover your entire face up to your nose when its folded diagonally. As much as people stare at one another, for not wearing mask indoors, or wearing it incorrectly, dangling it over their chin, or the like, the shemagh also attract a number of stares. I don’t think it’s about the scarf being associated with the Middle East, where it is just a common multipurpose headgear, not specifically a mask, so I don’t get any xenophobic vibes from wearing it over my face. I’d say it has to do with how it effaces my face, how it renders me, or, rather, what others think of as me, imperceptible to them. It is the fact that I am a faceless nobody that bothers them.

Guattari (76) explains this in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’, what happens when the face is rendered imperceptible:

“[E]ither the person’s foundation is this face-voice or nonsense, either the massive and global acceptance of the ego and its dominant personological coordinates or the ‘end of it all’ and the abolition of every socius.”

This is why he (76) refers to the formation of identity, what counts as a person, as defined “in a fundamentally Manichean way”, which is a fancy way of saying that either you are with us, i.e., the good, or against us, i.e., the evil. What’s interesting here is not that what people think of your face, whether they like it or not, but that it’s deemed evil to not have a face. He (89) returns to this point, adding that:

“Everything that evokes a non-subjected desire within the dominant faciality is suspicious and threatening for an order founded on the preservation of its limits, the status quo, and the blockage of everything that could be developed outside of the norms of the system.”

In other words, it has nothing to do with good and evil, as we are, in fact, always operating beyond good and evil, as Nietzsche would put it, but with making sure the existing order of things remains the same.

It’s worth noting that, like Deleuze and Guattari (115) point out, a mask can, however, be, in itself, a face. Guattari also comments on faces and masks in ‘The Machinic Unconscious’. He (81) emphasizes this point, how masks are, in fact, faces that people put on, just like faces are faces that people put on, as opposed to having one. That means that there is no true face under a mask, just waiting for us uncover, as he (81) points out, as a face is, in itself a mask, which is, in itself a face, in the sense that they define it.

To my understanding, most traditional masks like ceremonial masks and theater masks, have functioned this way, like putting on a face, whereas protective masks simply cover the face, obscuring it, not because obscuring it is the point, but rather because the protection ends up obscuring it. There are all kinds of medical masks, such as oxygen masks, burn masks and surgical masks, and protective masks, such as gas masks and dust masks, that aren’t designed to obscure the face, but to protect in certain circumstances. Then there are masks such as hockey goalie masks that are intended to protect the goalie face, which is why they are often monocolor, white or black. They can, however, also function like a face. I’ve even seen, perhaps even photographed (I can’t remember, I’ve taken too many photos, I’d have to check) a goalie wearing a modern goalie mask painted to look like it was an old school goalie mask that hugs the face of a goalie, complete with a look of ears and hair that can be seen from the sides and the top of the mask.

I’d say it’s a different story when you wrap your head in cloth, like with a shemagh. It’s similar to other protective masks, and it is, in fact, typically used to cover to protect the face and the rest of the head from the elements, but it obscures even more than the modern protective masks. It’s sort of an anti-face. How so? Well, in addition to obscuring the face, so that you can only see the eyes, it doesn’t function as a face that covers the face. I guess you could make it so that it would function that way, but, at least traditionally, they only feature geometric patterns. I guess one could attribute that to Islamic aniconism, how you are not allowed to depict humans, inasmuch as it results in idolatry, which is pretty much the case when it comes to this regime, I mean, hello, despot-god, but I reckon the simplicity has to do with the way they are produced. It is, nonetheless, rather fitting that something attributed to (yes, attributed to, as often used by them, but not limited to them, as, to my knowledge, the origin of this piece of cloth is unclear) nomads, or to be more specific, the Bedouins, who operate in an opposing regime of signs (I’ll get to it, eventually).

The gaze and the face

Anyway, to get back on track, to connect this to a related matter, they (115) acknowledge how gaze functions as a means of control. That said, unlike many others, they (115) give primacy to face, emphasizing that gaze is nothing without the face. They (115) exemplify this:

“He looked at me queerly, he knitted his brow, what did I do to make him change expression?”

It’s indeed the face that appears to be doing the looking, not the eyes. Sure, you don’t look at anything without eyes, granted, but what’s an evil eye anyway? I’d say that it’s the brow, the cheek and the upper lip do the job instead. They (115) provide another example:

“I have her picture in front of me, it’s as if she were watching me … Surveillance by the face, as Strindberg said.”

So, the question is not that whether or we are watched, as we are, they (171) do agree with Jacques Lacan and Jean-Paul Sartre on that one, but rather who watches us? Who is this? Whose face is this? In their (171) words:

The gaze is but secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality. The mirror is but secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality.”

Note how they are not saying that the gaze doesn’t play a role, as Sartre (259) explains it in ‘Being and Nothingness’, and as Lacan (84, 105-106) explains it in ‘Of the Gaze as Object Petit a’, as included in ‘The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis’, as it certainly does, but it is, merely to faciality. In other words, yes, you do need eyes, but to make sense of the gaze and its apparent reciprocity, how it is that others look at you or may look at you, in this or that way, just as you do the same, how you look at them, in this or that way, you still need the face. Like they (115) point out, it’s the face that is doing the gazing. It’s the face that looks at you and the face that looks at them. The thing is that the face is not a given. Instead, it’s part and parcel of this regime. It’s a product of this regime, its hallmark.

To further explain how the face is specific to this regime, think of blind people. To my understanding, they can understand people just fine without interpretating people’s faces. You don’t need a knitted brow to realize that someone is angry. You can hear it in their voice. This is, of course, not to say that they make sense of the world just like people who can see. They clearly make sense it in a different way. It’s just to point out the lack of necessity of the face when it comes to language. To use a an everyday example, as most people who might encounter this essay probably aren’t blind, think of the radio, podcasts or talking over the phone. You might listen to someone speak but never ever see that person’s face, yet you have no trouble understanding it.

The face and the negated face

They (115-116) juxtapose the face of the emperor with the face of “the condemned man”, which you might think of as something like an anti-face, in the sense that losing one’s face means that you no longer have a face, but it’s not really like that. That’s because the face of that man, sorry, person, is defined negatively, as something that has been negated by someone who has a face. The point they (115-116) make here is rather that the regime has its limits. Going beyond those limits is not tolerated. Also, it’s not enough that the person who transgresses these boundaries is punished in some way, which could be anything, ranging from humiliation to torture, from imprisonment to exile, and culminating in death. The person needs to be made an example. Others need to know what happens when you go beyond those limits. At the same time, the person needs to be made to look like a victim of his or her own aberrant desires, so that people get the idea that the limits are for their own good. It’s much easier to scapegoat than it is to address any underlying issues.

It’s like now that we got rid of Mike, who was clearly to blame for all this, we just need to wash our hands, to get rid of Mike’s tainted blood, and get back to normal. Sure, that’ll work. Or maybe, just maybe, Mike was after something, so he had to go. Maybe someone who wanted him gone, let’s say John, came up with something that made him look bad, which helped John to convince others that Mike, the whistleblower of this figment of my imagination, was up to no good.

Anyway, they (116) summarize how scapegoating works in this regime:

“In the signifying regime, the scapegoat represents a new form of increasing entropy in the system of signs: it is charged with everything that was ‘bad’ in a given period, that is, everything that resisted signifying signs, everything that eluded the referral from sign to sign through the different circles; it also assumes everything that was unable to recharge the signifier at its center and carries off everything that spills beyond the outermost circle.”

Now, of course, nothing about this has to be bloody. No one needs to be tortured, have their eyes gouged out in some byzantine fashion, or burnt at the stake. These days that person would be merely excluded from the community by ruining his or her reputation, so that there is a record, formal or informal, of the person’s supposed aberrant behavior or transgressions against the community. In many cases it’s very subtle. You might not even know that you’ve been excluded.

It’s already been mentioned but I guess it’s worth reiterating that this regime is alive and well and its deceptive as ever, giving you the impression that this is how it is, for real, even thought it’s merely a system among other systems, a system in which nothing ever gets done, as they (113) point out. In their (116-117) words:

“The photo, faciality, redundancy, signifiance, and interpretation are at work everywhere. The dreary world of the signifier; its archaism with an always contemporary function; its essential deception, connoting all of its aspects; its profound antics.”

Sure, you could just state that none of this applies these days, that it’s only applicable in a foregone world where one man (or woman, but typically a man) sat on the throne, claiming to be god or acting on behalf of god, which is the same thing, really, surrounded by priests or bureaucrats who offer their services to him (or her), helping to manage the realm, explaining to the masses what it is that the emperor (or empress) wants, but that’s not the case. They (116) acknowledge that it is where you find this regime, where it is most distinct:

“The complete system, then, consists of the paranoid face or body of the despot-god in the signifying center of the temple; the interpreting priests who continually recharge the signified in the temple, transforming it into signifier; the hysterical crowd of people outside, clumped in tight circles, who jump from one circle to another; the faceless, depressive scapegoat emanating from the center, chosen, treated, and adorned by the priests, cutting across the circles in its headlong flight into the desert.”

Only to add that you don’t have to go through dusty tomes to come across it (116):

“This … is applicable … to all subjected, arborescent, hierarchical, centered groups: political parties, literary movements, psychoanalytic associations, families, conjugal units, etc.”

I’d like to add here that the academic circles are no exception here, as I’ve pointed out a number of times in my past essays. I won’t rant about this, but I think it is worth acknowledging. You get these schools of thought. For example, ethnography seems to be the thing to do these days. In the past it was, for example, structuralism. I don’t mind that people work in this or that way, fair play to them, if they are willing to explain why it is that they do what they do, the way they do, what it builds on, what are its cornerstones, and why it is something that they’d recommend to others, without presupposing that they are right. In my experience, you just rarely see such conceptual rigor. Why? Because it’s a lot of work. It’s just easier to do whatever happens to be fashionable. Claire Parnet (25-26) reckons in ‘A Conversation: What is it? What is it for?’, as included in ‘Dialogues’, that you won’t find a field or a discipline where this isn’t the case, followed by explaining why it’s such an issue:

“[A] school [of thought] is already terrible: there is always a pope, manifestos, representatives, declarations of avant-gardeism, tribunals, excommunications, impudent political volte-faces, etc.”

Yeah, that does seem familiar. I’ve experienced that and so have others. They just don’t want to be vocal about it, because, well, they might get excluded. I don’t worry about that. I’ve been excluded for such a long time already. I’m pretty certain that I’m excluded, that I’m in the margins, so the threat of exclusion and marginalization is amusing. It’s kinda hard to be put on trial by the priests for heresy when you aren’t part of the church, or so to speak. Accuse me, as you like, and I’m like ‘heresy’? Where? Where can I learn more of this ‘heresy’ you speak of?

The postsignifying regime of signs

Now, if you think the signifying regime is ‘bad’, well, you are in for a treat, once it gets combined with another regime, which it does. This other regime is what Deleuze and Guattari (119) refer to as the postsignifying regime of signs. They (121) call it the passional, the subjective or the authoritarian regime. I’ll clarify what they mean by all these extra terms, but I’ll first address why they call the regime postsignifying.

They (120) juxtapose the postsignifying regime with the signifying regime. The latter is centered, circular, radial and radiant, as well as ideational. It’s sort of all encompassing. There is clear emphasis on signifiers and symbols, to put this in both the Saussurean and the Peircean terms. The former is linear, serial, procedural, and segmented, as well as active and emotional. For them (120), the most important thing about it is that “it operates by the linear and temporal succession of finite proceedings, rather than by the simultaneity of circles in unlimited expansion.” It can often appear as “querulousness”, as behavior marked by ill-tempered discontent or grievance, as they (122) point out, which isn’t about having one’s concerns addressed but about that temper itself. That temper, that passional disposition, is what makes it segmented, going from one proceeding to another, as they (128) go on to add. There is, for them (128), this “[f]undamental segmentarity: one proceeding must end (and its termination must be marked) before another begins, to enable another to begin.” So, in a way, it is similar to the signifying regime in that it doesn’t lead anywhere, but for a different reason. There is always something, some grievance to be addressed, even when you think that things are now settled.

Right, they (121) distinguish the postsignifying regime from the signifying regime by noting that the former builds on going beyond the latter, i.e., on escaping it. In other words, this is the regime for those people who manage to make it out. Moreover, it’s the regime for the people who want out. These people do not defy the existing signifying regime. They are not trying to change the system. They don’t pose a much of a threat to it. Instead, they are willing to take their wrongthink elsewhere. It’s like embracing it, on your own terms. That means that there’s no negation, no need to scapegoat. Mike is willing to go. This is all positive. Mike might even be gone already. In other words, this regime is postsignifying because it has gone beyond (post) signifiance (i.e., signification).

Why is this regime passional? Why do they refer to it as such? They (121-121) provide an answer to this by, once again, juxtaposing this regime as passional with the signifying regime that they also refer to as paranoid. Unlike the emperor who is paranoid, always vigilant, so as to avoid, let’s say, falling victim to gravity cancer, the aggrieved person is passional. In other words, it is very subject centered. The person who is aggrieved always makes it about him- or herself. It’s me, me and me. The way it imposes oneself the ‘I’ on others also makes it very authoritarian.

They (120-121) exemplify this regime with monomaniacs, i.e., people seem to be just fine but who, in fact, obsess over one thing, whatever that may be, possibly a person, due to the way it may culminate in passional seeking of redress. They (120-121) also juxtapose it with the paranoiacs, i.e., people who seem to be insane, but, in fact, do just fine, which is why you tend to find them among the nobility and, more contemporarily, among the bourgeoisie. They don’t really bother anyone with their delusions, except themselves, which is why they are not deemed problematic. It’s all in their head, well contained, or so to speak. In stark contrast, the monomaniacs tend to be either peasants or workers, i.e., the downtrodden, so you tend to have this class distinction as well, as they (121) point out. Of course, this is not always the case, as they (121) go on to add. That said, when you think of it, it’s hardly surprising that those who stand to lose exhibit paranoia, constantly worrying over something, whereas those who have little to lose don’t. Conversely, I don’t think that it’s that surprising that the downtrodden appear to be just fine, being accustomed to hard life, but then may suddenly snap, commit arson, murder or engage in some sort of debauchery, as also noted by them (121, 127, 529). I guess this is also why they (120-121) poke fun at psychiatry, for dealing with two kinds of “delusions without intellectual diminishment”, for “mistaking the sane for mad and the mad for sane” on the basis of whether they live up to the expectations of the society and uphold its norms. In their (121) words:

“[P]sychiatrists were alternately in the position of on the one hand pleading for tolerance and understanding, underscoring the uselessness of confinement, appealing for open-door asylums[.]”

In other words, when you have people who appear to be insane, we are supposed to be tolerant. This plea for tolerance and understanding hasn’t gone anywhere. You’ll find this in the media. You also find it on social media. There are all these campaigns for mental health. I’ll comment on this, but I’ll let them (121) finish first:

“[O]n the other [hand, they were] arguing for stepped-up surveillance and special high-security asylums, stricter measures necessitated by the fact that the mad seemed not to be.”

Now, the point here is not to be dismissive. I’m not trying to be asshole here, to kick people when they are down. No, no.  It’s rather to emphasize the social origins of all this. The first type of delusion, paranoia, is tied to the signifying regime. It’s all about the futility of interpretation understood as the search for the linguistic meaning. The second type of delusion, passional monomania, is tied to the postsignifying regime. It’s not about the search for the linguistic meaning. It’s about a sense of being slighted. So, the point here is that they both come with the territory, or so to speak. Like I pointed out, it’s hardly surprising that you end up paranoid if you’ve got it all, if you only have something to lose, and that when people treat you badly, for a long, long time, you end up harboring a grudge against people, obsessing over that, which then may flare up suddenly. Can these be fixed with psychiatry? I don’t know, but I doubt it, considering that they are the products of certain regimes. It’s like mistaking a feature for a bug. Plus it’s like asking those who are part and parcel of the regime to change the regime. I think it would be more fruitful to assess the regimes, to explain how they work, and, perhaps, to change the regime.

Non-faciality in the postsignifying regime

Deleuze and Guattari (122) also exemplify the postsignifying regime with the history of the Jewish people, going all the way back to Moses. I could paraphrase all that, to contrast with what I’ve already covered about this regime, but to get somewhere, I think it’s more useful to jump to the part where they address how faciality works in this regime.

Right, in summary, they (123) explain that unlike in the signifying regime, in which the face is central, full frontal, radiant, always visible, in the postsignifying regime it is averted, not once, but twice. Simply put, the face is not central in this regime. It’s averted twice because it’s about looking past people. If we think of this in terms of the gaze, there needs to be that reciprocity, but there isn’t. Instead, both look away. In their (123) example, it is the Jewish God that looks away and the person who also looks away in fear of God. It’s now up to that person to make things happen, on his or her own, hence the centrality of the subject in this regime, as noted by the two (128).

They (123) also note that unlike in the signifying regime where the priests or the seers administer the face of the despot-god, the emperor, the postsignifying regime has prophets as its conceptual personae. These prophets have no face to interpret, nor would they even dare to look at the face. In their (123) words:

“This is very different from the system of rigging or deception animating the face of the signifier, the interpretation of the seer and the displacements of the subject. It is the regime of betrayal, universal betrayal, in which the true man never ceases to betray God just as God betrays man, with the wrath of God defining the new positivity.”

If you mind the religious context, what’s worth picking from here is that there is no deception here, only betrayal. That betrayal is, however, not a negative thing in this regime. No, no. It is, in fact, a positive thing here, as they (123-124) go on to elaborate. In their (123) words:

“[T] he prophet, unlike the seer-priest, is fundamentally a traitor[.]”

To which they (124) quickly add that:

“Unlike the seer, the prophet interprets nothing: his delusion is active rather than ideational or imaginative, his relation to God is passional and authoritative rather than despotic and signifying; he anticipates and detects the powers … of the future rather than applying past and present powers[.]”

So, to summarize the difference between the priests or the seers and the prophets, the former claim to know what’s what, being trained to do that, whereas the prophet doesn’t claim to know to what’s what, because the prophet simply knows what’s what, without any appeal to anything. I mean that’s pretty much the dictionary definition of a prophet (OED, s.v. “prophet”, n.):

“A divinely inspired person[.]”

And (OED, s.v. “prophet”, n.):

“A divinely inspired interpreter, revealer, or teacher of the will or thought of God or of a god; a person who speaks, or is regarded as speaking, for or in the name of God or a god.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “prophet”, n.):

“More generally: a prominent proponent of or spokesperson for a particular cause, movement, principle, etc.; a visionary leader or representative.”

Whereas a priest is something very different (OED, s.v. “priest”, n.):

“A person whose office is to perform public religious functions.”

And (OED, s.v. “priest”, n.):

“A person deputed to offer sacrifice; a minister of the altar.”

As well as (OED, s.v. “priest”, n.):

“A person whose function is likened to that of a priest[.]”

I skipped the details pertaining to the various denominations as that’s beside the point. What matters is that a prophet doesn’t need anyone else, whereas the priest is someone who holds an office, an administrator, as appointed by others or inherited from one’s predecessors. So, Mike knows what’s what and doesn’t need his colleagues, so he goes his own way. I realize that explaining the difference between the two might be unnecessary, but I think this helps to understand why Deleuze and Guattari aren’t too fond of what they call priests.

I’m going to skip over their (124-125) their ancient Greek example, the story of Oedipus, and their (125-126) examples pertaining to Christian heresies, just like I did with their (122) example drawn from Franz Kafka’s work, not because they aren’t interesting, but because this essay is never going to end otherwise. I think their (126-127) example pertaining to how texts are read in these regimes is more insightful and easier to grasp in the context of priests and prophets.

Anyway, so, they (126) note that in the signifying regime texts are read by scribes and priests, what we might also contemporarily call experts, people who lay claim to interpretation. The text is deemed to mirror someone saying something out loud, so going through the text is like interpreting the face, as they (126-127) point out. In stark contrast, in the postsignifying regime texts appear to speak for themselves and interpretation is replaced by what we might nowadays call a literal interpretation, “a pure and literal recitation forbidding the slightest change, addition, or commentary” or a textual, but, importantly, non-contextual, interpretation in which the interpretation is bound to what’s in the text itself, as stated by them (127). Alternatively, the text can be understood as directly accessible to the reader, what, I guess, might be understood as a subjective take, one which dispenses with the interpretations, as well as the recitals, as they (127) go on to add. The texts they (127) exemplify this with are, of course, holy or sacred texts, such as the Bible and the Quran, but that’s beside the point for them, because, in effect, any text can function in these ways, so that, something as atheistic as Marx’s ‘Capital’ is, effectively, a Bible in this regime, as they (127) point out.

Points of subjectification in the postsignifying regime

There are plenty of other examples to go with, many of which I simply skipped. I could choose something else, but I think it’s worth bringing up René Descartes in all this. The point is still the same, so I won’t go through their (128) example, but his influence cannot be understated, considering how influential western thought is. As they (129) point out, the cogito is everywhere and not just in people, but also in things. How so? Well, because what matter is not the subject, but rather what makes the person a subject, what they (129) call the point of subjectification, which can be anything. They (129) exemplify this with how one’s relation to food can come to define oneself as a certain subject in this regime:

“[A]norexics do not confront death but save themselves by betraying food, which is equally a traitor since it is suspected of containing larvae, worms, and microbes[.]”

And it can also be about what one wears:

“A dress, an article of underwear, a shoe are points of subjectification for a fetishist.”

The point of subjectification can, of course, be a person, but, as pointed out by them (129), there is this reductiveness to it. So, for example, when you find someone attractive, it’s actually hard to explain what it is about that person, what makes that person so attractive, probably because it’s that person, as a singularity, that you find attractive, but you are, nonetheless, tempted to reduce that attraction to some feature, some part of their body, for example, as they (129) point out.

They (129) then add a particularly important point about this regime. In short, the point of subjectification can be imposed upon people. That’s how standards work. That’s what norms are. In their (129) words:

“The various forms of education or ‘normalization’ imposed upon an individual consist in making him or her change points of subjectification, always moving toward a higher, nobler one in closer conformity with the supposed ideal.”

These standards or norms could be anything and it doesn’t really matter what they are. For example, these days the ideal body of a woman seems to be more on the plump side as opposed to the skinny side, but so that women are expected to work out for a big ass. Now, this is not a judgement. Big ass, small ass, medium ass, all fine by me. They are just variations of ass. Anyway, the idea is not to do squats in order to have the muscles to lift things, but to look good. It’s not about the legs, the quads, the hams and the calves. It’s just about the ass. The ass is the point of subjectification. I remember a time when that would have been frowned upon, when skinny, borderline anorexic women were valorized. Oh, and no, I’m not saying that’s any better. Being skinny is just another point of subjectification.

They (129) explain how this works, step by step. Firstly (129):

“[F]rom the point of subjectification issues a subject of enunciation, as a function of a mental reality determined by that point.”

So, you have that point of subjectification, whatever that may be. Then you have the subject of enunciation, that’s you, you as the speaker. Secondly (129):

“Then from the subject of enunciation issues a subject of the statement, in other words, a subject bound to statements in conformity with a dominant reality (of which the mental reality just mentioned is a part, even when it seems to oppose it).”

This simply means that you end up referring to yourself as the subject of the statement, saying the ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘myself’, you as the person spoken about. In other words, you have this doubling of the subject as both the speaker and as the person spoken about. This is already a bit messed up, but it doesn’t have to be. It just happens to be that way in this regime. It’s not like you should start avoiding all first-person pronouns. That’s not the point. Anyway, thirdly (129):

“What is important … is the constitution, the doubling of the two subjects, and the recoiling of one into the other, of the subject of enunciation into the subject of the statement[.]”

So, basically, you end up believing in yourself, which is, well, not yourself, but what you’ve been taught to valorize, whatever this and/or that point of subjectification is. That said, it’s still like buying into your own BS, like drinking your own Kool-Aid. They (129) explain this is less crude terms:

“The subject of the statement has become the ‘respondent’ or guarantor of the subject of enunciation, through a kind of reductive echolalia, in a biunivocal relation.”

In other words, it’s like you in your statements end up defining you, even though it’s you whose statements they are. You dumbass. They (129) then add to this:

“This relation, this recoiling, is also that of mental reality into the dominant reality. There is always an appeal to a dominant reality that functions from within[.]”

Indeed, it’s you, all along. It’s you telling yourself who you are, what to be like, and then going with it, to obey yourself. It is that strange, as they (130) point out:

“A strange invention: as if in one form the doubled subject were the cause of the statements of which, in its other form, it itself is a part.”

It is, indeed, rather paradoxical, as pointed out by them (130):

“This is the paradox of the legislator-subject replacing the signifying despot: the more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself!”

This is exactly why, when taken to the extreme, the psychoanalyst can just make the analysand do all the work and why it’s such a lucrative business for the analyst. It’s you analyzing you, wondering if you are you, if you meet the criteria of being you, set by you, as they (130) add to this:

“You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery is invented, namely, being slave to oneself, or to pure ‘reason,’ the Cogito. Is there anything more passional than pure reason? Is there a colder, more extreme, more self-interested passion than the Cogito?”

I’ve pointed out this in a previous essay already, but that’s like a Katy Perry song, ‘Hot N Cold’, in a nutshell. Why? Well, “’cause you’re hot then cold, you’re yes then you’re no, you’re in then you’re out, you’re up then you’re down, you’re wrong when it’s right”; “and you over-think”; “got a case of love bipolar, stuck on a roller coaster, and I can’t get off this ride” (and, yes, FYI, I did listen the song, again, just because, well, why not). If this seems too highfalutin to you, the song is about indecisiveness, just as the doubled subject is, setting up something to follow, it doesn’t matter what it is, and going with it, until you come up with something else, and going with it, even if that contradicts with whatever you went with earlier.

Incidentally, this led me to a clip from ‘The Interview’, a film directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, in which James Franco’s character, a journalist, interviews Randall Park’s character, a fictitious version of Kim-Jong-un, who is caught having Katy Perry’s music ready to play in his personal tank, what looks like a T-55. There is moment where the dictator asks the American journalist whether “margaritas are gay because they are so sweet”, only for the journalist to reply with a question, “Did someone tell you that, that margaritas are gay?”, followed by an answer “If liking Katy Perry and drinking margaritas is gay, who wants to be straight? Boring! Margaritas are great! And whoever planted that in your head is crazy!” Get it? And no, it’s not about liking or not liking Katy Perry or margaritas, but about thinking that you should or shouldn’t like them. The point is, as Franco’s character puts it, that you are crazy for subjecting yourself to such statements.

Now, to be clear, this is not just about you acting on yourself, as a doubled subject. The point of subjectification is still important. So, in a way, it’s not only you who is crazy for subjecting yourself to such statements. It’s also the others who do the same, who determine those points of subjectification that are imposed on others, as pointed out by Franco’s character. In other words, there is this dual doubling of the subject, as consciousness, to the subject of enunciation and the subject of the statement which recoil into one another, and as love-passion, love as passion, locking on to this and/or that point of subjectification, often another person (but it could be any formed matter), which also recoils back to the subject, as they (131-132) point out. I was going to write first as … and then as … but I don’t think you can say one is before the other. I’d say it’s rather a constant interplay of how one is situated by others and how one situates oneself in relation to them. So it’s not just what you say, nor what they say, but what you say and they say, what everyone says, to the extent that they say.

To explain that in more simple terms, one does not start as a subject. One becomes a subject. One is subjectified. One undergoes subjectification. In other words, one does not become a subject alone. Relevant to this, they (130) acknowledge that this functions more or less like what Louis Althusser (174) refers to as interpellation in ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, as included in ‘Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays’. They (130) are in agreement with him that it has to do with how a subject position is imposed on someone by someone else. That said, they disagree with him on that it has to do with ideology, because, for them, it’s just one of those naughty Will of God substitutes. Instead, they (130) summarize that:

“[S]ubjectification as a regime of signs or a form of expression is tied to an assemblage, in other words, an organization of power that is already fully functioning in the economy, rather than superposing itself upon contents or relations between contents determined as real in the last instance.”

Or to put it another way, as they (130) do:

“Subjectification is simply one such assemblage and designates a formalization of expression or a regime of signs rather than a condition internal to language.”

The point here, in both instances, is that you start from subjectification, which is tied an assemblage, which is, as already discussed, both machinic (corporeal) and semiotic (incorporeal), and marks a certain form of expression or regime of signs. In other words, as they (130) point out:

“This is not … a question of a linguistic operation, for a subject is never the condition of possibility of language or the cause of the statement: there is no subject, only collective assemblages of enunciation.”

Or, in more simple terms, to the point, as they (130) also explain it:

“[T]he You, which can doubtless designate the person one is addressing, but more importantly, a point of subjectification on the basis of which each of us is constituted as a subject.”

This is the point about interpellation, how it is not you, that’s to say you as the ‘I’, the self, that makes it so that you are you, but the others. It is they who make you who you are. That said, it is also you, who makes you who you are. There is this dual capacity, that dual doubling, as they (131) point out.

Oh, and I’d say that it’s one thing to be interpellated, being hailed, by someone else, and another thing to interpellate yourself. To use Althusser’s (174) example, let’s say that a police officer hails you in order to get your attention. You respond to it by turning to the police. You recognize that hail. You are interpellated. The thing here is not that you recognize that you are guilty of something. Maybe you are. Maybe you aren’t. It’s rather that the police officer imposes a certain subject position on you. It is implied that you are guilty of something, regardless of whether you are or aren’t. Now, of course, the police offer might hail you for another reason, let’s say to get to get a statement, because you witnessed something. That hail would then likely be different and it would be expressed in a different way. That said, even in that case you are still expected to recognize that hail and answer from that position imposed on you by the other party. Anyway, the thing is that you can also do this on yourself, which what Deleuze and Guattari (131) point out.

This doubling or doubled doubling has certain consequences. As explained by Deleuze and Guattari (129-130), this means that:

“There is no longer even a need for a transcendent center of power; power is instead immanent and melds with the ‘real,’ operating through normalization.”

In other words, there’s no longer a need for someone, some emperor and/or his bureaucrats to tell you who you are, what you are. Why? Because now that’s on you. Now you are doing it on yourself and on others, who, also do it on themselves and on others, to this and/or that extent, of course.

If you want to see, yes, see, how this works, check out Bo Burnham’s ‘White Woman’s Instagram’. The song works just fine, but it being about Instagram, it doesn’t do justice to the video version of it. You could even mute it and it would still work. It’s riddled with points of subjectification for one to passionately attach to and it’s all about defining oneself as this and/or that, as a doubled subject. It’s so, so, so derivative, but that’s exactly the point. He gets it. I was going to write about it, but, well, didn’t get around to doing that. Maybe later. Maybe.

To contrast the postsignifying regime with the signifying regime, to use terms applicable to both, they (132-133) also call this doubled doubling “a redundancy of consciousness and love” or, to be more precise, a subjective resonance. The point they (133) make here is that the subject reinforces itself in relation to itself when it finds itself referring to itself and when it recognizes itself relative to others. The subject is redundant when it is self-conscious, thinking of itself as the ‘I’, as the self, and the same with the others, because it doesn’t need to do that. That said, it’s tempting to do that because it does resonate with oneself.

Anyway, back to the point of subjectification, which, as they (129) point out, can be anything. That’s why they (130) add to that there is one point which is par excellence: capital. Indeed, if you fixate on capital, you fixate on anything due to the way it can be exchange to virtually anything.

To go full circle, they (130-131) return to their first example that pertains to psychiatry, in this case specifically in the form of psychoanalysis. In summary, the analyst functions “as an ideal point of subjectification” so that the analysand can grapple on to it, instead of his or her old neurotic or disturbing points. The problem with this arrangement is that it doesn’t lead anywhere, not because it’s going in circles, like in the signifying regime, but because it’s a segmented line, one session after another, one proceeding after another.

Mixing things up

Deleuze and Guattari keep mentioning in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that one is always dealing with a mixed regime of signs, which, I’d say is also reflected in their own analysis of these regimes. It is often hard to disentangle what’s part of the signifying regime and what’s part of the postsignifiyng regime because their examples tend to involve elements from different regimes. They are, of course, well aware of this, which is why they (119) state that:

“There are many regimes of signs. Our own list is arbitrarily limited.”

It is also important to realize that all their examples are drawn from mixed regimes, which is why they (119) wish to emphasize that none of the regimes that they cover originate in these or those people, in this or that era, in this or that part of the world:

“There is no reason to identify a regime or a semiotic system with a people or historical moment. There is such mixture within the same period or the same people that we can say no more than that a given people, language, or period assures the relative dominance of a certain regime. Perhaps all semiotics are mixed and not only combine with various forms of content but also combine different regimes of signs.”

They (119) specify this by noting that:

“Semiotic systems depend on assemblages, and it is the assemblages that determine that a given people, period, or language, and even a given style, fashion, pathology, or minuscule event in a limited situation, can assure the predominance of one semiotic or another.”

In other words, while they draw their examples from actual people, from actual events that took place in certain geographic location and at a certain point in history, it is not the people and what we associate with them that determine the regimes, but rather that the regimes define them. This is why their examples may seem random, like all over the place. As they (119) point out, they need examples from a wide variety of domains to make sense of the regimes.

The mixed semiotic that they (138) address in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ mainly combines elements from the signifying regime and the postsignifying regime, forming “a sticky mixture” of signifiance, interpretation and subjectification. There is a double redundancy of frequency and resonance, as they (133) point out. The first redundancy pertains to signifiance and interpretation, which forms “a kind of a ‘a wall’ on which signs are inscribed, in relation to one another and in relation to the signifier”, what they (133, 167) also call, in short, a white wall. The second redundancy pertains to subjectification, to the aforementioned subjective resonance, which, in turn, forms what they (133) call a black hole that attracts consciousness and passion in which they resonate.

The problem with the mixed regime is that these two regimes seem to reinforce one another and their worst parts. Both are highly tempting regimes on their own, but when they mix, they make it very hard to move on to other regimes. In other words, when you are in that mixed regime, it’s very hard to think that there is anything else, that there are other ways of making sense of the world and living your life. As they (138) point out:

“[I]t is easy to believe that you are outside them when you are in fact still secreting them. People sometimes denounce interpretation yet show so signifying a face that they simultaneously impose interpretation upon the subject, which continues to nourish itself on it in order to survive.”

And to link this to the discussion of stratification in this essay and in the previous essay, they (138) add that:

“A highly stratified semiotic is difficult to get away from.”

The face

There is a whole plateau, a whole chapter, dedicated to this mixing of these two regimes in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. It’s not worth going through in detail, because I’ve covered it in the past, and because I keep returning to it so often anyway, but it is worth noting that it pertains to faciality and, by extension, to landscapity, which is why I keep returning to it. Anyway, it is here that they (167) explain how the two regimes come together to form the face as the white wall / black hole system, which is another way of saying the face as we know it, as distinguished from the face in the signifying regime of signs where it is just this white wall, having these inscriptions (like wrinkles on the emperor’s face) that someone interprets (the priests that look at the emperor’s face).

They (167) repeat some of the earlier points, noting how the face functions as a guide to make sense of what someone says, whether that person seems, for example, angry, hesitant or attentive. They (168) specify this by noting that:

“[One] does not speak a general language but one whose signifying traits are indexed to specific faciality traits.”

This is the earlier point about how signifiers take over the head. Once the head is marked by the face, redundancy of frequency kicks in, as they (168) go on to add:

“Faces are not basically individual; they define zones of frequency or probability, delimit a field that neutralizes in advance any expressions or connections unamenable to the appropriate significations.”

In other words, the face guides interpretation, so that there is this or that probability that the person means this or that, but not something else, based on frequency, how common or rare some trait is in relation to other traits. This is, however, nothing that hasn’t been covered in this essay already. This is how the face works in the signifying regime. What’s added to this by the postsignifying regime is the emphasis on the subject, the redundancy of resonance. In their (168) words:

“[T]he form of subjectivity, whether consciousness or passion, would remain absolutely empty if faces did not form loci of resonance that select the sensed or mental reality and make it conform in advance to a dominant reality.”

In other words, as one is not a subject to begin with, as one isn’t a subject alone, the face functions as the default point of subjectification in this mixed regime. Anyway, when these two redundancies are brought together, what you have is double redundancy, that of frequency and resonance. In fact, this is all the face is according to them (168), just redundancy. But what does that mean? What is the function of the face?

So far, I’ve mentioned faciality a couple of times, without mentioning that, for them (168), it is an abstract machine. This means that, strictly speaking faces are produced by the abstract machine of faciality, by that white wall / the black hole system, as they (168) point out. It’s just that speaking of the face is much easier than it is to speak of the abstract machine of faciality. In their (168) words:

“Thus the black hole/white wall system is, to begin with, not a face but the abstract machine that produces faces according to the changeable combinations of its cogwheels.”

Nothing about this is, however, random, as they (169) go on to add:

“Nevertheless, the abstract machine can be effectuated in other things besides faces, but not in any order, and not without the necessary foundation (raisons).”

I’ll explain what they mean by it being effectuated in other thing besides faces shortly, but I want to explain the logic behind this double redundancy first. Anyway, to make more sense of this, they (170) make note of something that may seem rather obvious:

“The face is a surface: facial traits, lines, wrinkles; long face, square face, triangular face; the face is a map[.]”

They (176) state that faciality has a very general function, to biunivocalize or binarize. They (177) ask you to think of this black hole / white wall system like “a central computer” that has involves forming facial units or elementary faces that are in biunivocal relation with one another, the one vs. the other, the preferable vs. the un-preferable, the desirable vs. the undesirable, followed choosing these units to combine them into actual, “concrete individualized faces”. These units are in a biunivocal relation with one another are, for example, man/woman, rich/poor, adult/child, leader/subject, teacher/student, boss/worker, police/citizen, judge/accused, as listed by them (177). This means that, for them (177), you don’t have a face to begin with, but rather that you come to assume one or, “slide into one”. You don’t select your face, the face selects you.

The problem with this is that each concrete and individualized face is then assessed according to whether it is deemed passable or not, yes or no, on the basis of the elementary faces or facial units that it is constructed of, hence binarism that follows the initial biunivocalization, as they (177) point out. The gist of this is that ‘yes’ means something that is accepted in the system and ‘no’ means that it is rejected in the system. These are then assessed case by case, one unit at a time and the outcome depends on what is deemed passable and what is not. In other words, it exhibits linearity and segmentarity of the postsignifying regime. So, to use their (177) example, the first assessment is whether it’s the face of a man, ‘no’, not a man, the second assessment is whether it’s the face of a woman, ‘no’, not a woman either, and the third assessment is whether it’s the face of a transvestite, ‘yes’, a transvestite. Of course, we could go beyond that, to continue the assessment, and, I think, nowadays that would happen, although, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how that would continue procedurally or if transvestism would be superseded by something else. It might not have continued when they wrote this book, but it would now, because the signifying regime involves continuous expansion, as they (177) point by stating that “[t]he white wall is always expanding”, while “the black hole functions repeatedly.”

The gist of this is that the system rejects “faces that do not conform, or seem suspicious”, so that the initial preferred or desirable unit is the norm or the standard and, conversely, what is deemed non-preferred or undesirable is deviance from the norm or the standard, as explained by them (177). For that distinction, you only need the binary choice between the biunivocalized pair. That said, the following choices define the level of deviance from the norm or the standard, as they (177) go on to add. This means that, for example, while the face of a woman and the face of a transvestite are both deviant faces, the face of a woman is deemed less deviant than the face of the transvestite. Therefore, this is not just about deviance, yes or no, but also about the tolerance, how much deviance from the norm or the standard is tolerated, as they (177) point out. Now, of course, it’s still worth keeping in mind that tolerance is not the same as acceptance. In this example, the face of a woman is still seen as deviant, as something non-preferred or undesirable, as substandard, in comparison to the norm or the standard, the preferable or desirable face of the man.

There are other examples, but going through them, one by one, is pointless because they all function the same way. It also doesn’t matter what the norm or the standard is. It could be anything. It could be woman/man and we’d still be having this discussion. This is why they (177-178) state that the role of the abstract machine of faciality is to set the grid according to which what’s what is to be judged, and to judge it all accordingly, to be a general “deviance detector”. They (178) indicate that the standard or the norm is Jesus Christ, no, not actual historical Jesus Christ, but the common pictorial depiction of Jesus Christ as this “your average ordinary White Man” that probably doesn’t even look like he looked. I mean to be that pale, in that part of the world. I doubt it, unless he could turn water not only to wine but also to sunscreen or sunblock.

For them (178), this is exactly how racism works. It’s notably that their definition of racism differs from how racism is generally understood as presupposing that there are races. They (178) really want to emphasize that racism doesn’t function that way:

“European racism as the white man’s claim has never operated by exclusion, or by the designation of someone as Other: it is instead in primitive societies that the stranger is grasped as an ‘other.’”

To my understanding, this has to do with avoiding giving precedence to identity over difference, so that it’s not used as a starting point, so that difference is not merely what’s between this and/or that. I think this also has to do with how you have a multiplicity, n, from which you substract, n-1, followed by multiplying one to get to multiple and doing whatever it is that you do with them. In other words, it’s not about the One vs. the Other, but, I guess, about Othering, how others are imagined and depicted as others without actually being others. Anyway, that’s my take. I’m unwilling to say its theirs. They (178) continue:

“Racism operates by the determination of degrees of deviance in relation to the White-Man face, which endeavors to integrate nonconforming traits into increasingly eccentric and backward waves, sometimes tolerating them at given places under given conditions … , sometimes erasing them[.]”

What I want to emphasize here is that there is this standard, this norm, which could be anything, yes, but it’s also a fairly malleable standard or norm. At times it is transformed, this or that much, depending on the conditions. That said, it’s still a standard or a norm, according to which everything is judged, as they (178) go on to add:

“From the viewpoint of racism, there is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be.”

Racism could, of course, be swapped with, for example, sexism here. It wouldn’t be as simple as man or woman, as already pointed out, nor as simple as heterosexuality vs. homosexuality. The standard or the norm is man, so that the supposed crime of women, for example, is that they are not like men, that they are not as strong as men or as rational as men, to use very clichéd examples of how women are often deemed to be inferior to men. The standard or the norm is heterosexuality, so that the supposed crime of homosexuality is not to involve a man and a woman.

This is not really about racism, nor about sexism, but about norms and standards. The problem for them (178) is not that faciality pertains to detecting deviance, checking what resonates and what doesn’t, although that’s part of it, but rather that it is also about setting that standard or norm according to which deviance is detected and judged accordingly. It’s about “propagat[ing] waves of sameness until those who resist identification have been wiped out”, as they (178) point out. That’s the point about frequency, how, for example, whiteness is deemed to be the norm, the standard, due to its commonality in certain parts of the world. The choice is then between conformity, abiding by the norms, not deviating from the standard, or allowing oneself to be identified as deviating from the standard to a certain degree in this and/or that regard, as explained by them (178).

Other regimes

Deleuze and Guattari also cover two other regimes of signs, the presignifying regime of signs and countersignifying regime of signs. The former is what they (117-118) also refer to as “the so-called primitive” regime, not because there is anything primitive about it, at least not in any negative sense, but because supposedly primitive peoples, including hunter nomads, tend to exhibit elements of this regime. In summary (117-118, 135), this regime is marked by segmentarity and polyvocality. It wards off centralization, giving too much control to anyone. Its diffuse and collective. The latter is what they (118) consider to be best exhibited by pastoral nomads. In summary (118), this regime is marked by arithmetic and enumeration, organizing by “tens, fifties, hundreds, thousands, etc.” They call it countersignifying regime because it works against the signifying regime. It’s arguably very loosely organized, but there is some organization to it, those numbers, as otherwise it wouldn’t be a regime. I’d say it’s also their preferred regime, because it is so loosely organized, but this essay is not about that regime. It’s also my preferred regime, which is why I probably appear more or less unhinged to some people.

What else is there?

I think there is still a lot more to this. For example, I barely mentioned the other two regimes and I didn’t cover how the regimes come to mix, what the processes are like. I also skipped most of the stuff that pertains to linguistics. That’s all very interesting and worth reading, but it just doesn’t fit one essay, especially when you are trying to be at least somewhat organized, as opposed to all over the place, which is my preferred approach in these essays. I’m also quite sure that I forgot something, either completely or just forgot to continue on this and/or that, leaving it sort of halfway there. It happens.

I’ve also been going through Guattari’s works, but we’ll see if that’ll be something that I’ll write on. Some of it overlaps with this, so I don’t think I’ll end up writing about that. It’s mind-numbing to read and write about the same stuff, over, and over again. There’s already a ton of overlap in this essay. I’m not fond of it, but what can you do. Deleuze and Guattari are kind of hard to pin down without explaining some of the stuff again and again in different contexts. There’s a lot of the same, which then isn’t the same when you do a closer reading. That said, I think there’s still plenty of interesting stuff to read and write about. I think I should do a Foucauldian take of this at some point, but we’ll see.

What the catch?

Did I learn anything while writing this? Was it worth it? Well, I don’t think I learned a lot, because it’s not like I hadn’t already gone through much of what’s included in this essay. That said, I think I managed to get a better idea of some of the concepts, so this was not in vain. I also think I managed to weave something of my own, to riff with some ideas, so there’s that. Experimenting with things on the spot is always fun.

I think I learned more while writing the first essay. I’m tempted to state that none of what I covered in this essay adds anything to that essay, that Hjelmslev’s net or stratification is all you need to make sense of the world, but, then again, I think that in that case I’d be projecting my own views and the views of others on his work. I reckon I’d filling in the gaps with the work of others, wherever he doesn’t really explain things or leaves you hanging. So, no, when I think about what Deleuze and Guattari have to offer to someone interested in Hjelmslev’s work, I think they add quite a bit to it. For example, I think they do a better job at explaining the content plane. Hjelmslev doesn’t really go beyond the anthropomorphic stratum, which is fine if that’s all you are interested in, but if really want to anything beyond it into account, you won’t find much of that in Hjelmslev’s works, at least not in the works that I covered.

I also think what I covered in this essay helps to appreciate how one should not only focus on the forms of content or the forms of expressions, but both at the same time. To be more specific, I think it helps to appreciate how it’s not just about the two either, but about how they are related to one another. In other words, to use more terms used by Hjemslev, I think Deleuze and Guattari make you appreciate how you these two functives appear only in connection to another, in solidarity, which means that the focus should not be so much on these functives, as isolated from one another, but rather on the function, how these two function in relation to one another. It’s that interface or intersection that’s interesting. Assemblages add to this in the sense that they push you think of how this works, how it’s something that has happenes, happens and keeps happening, in this or that arrangement or composition, as opposed to thinking that there are these fixed sets or collections of words and things. I guess another way of saying that would be that the forms are fine, but you should understand that even the forms themselves are subject to change, not just the matter that they form according to the forms. Abstract machines or diagrams, add to this, pushing to focus on that interface or intersection between the two forms and the two sides of the assemblages that order, connect and regulate them. In other words, it’s kind of hard to make sense of it all without taking it into account.

The next essay probably won’t be related to this, but I might drop in to do some fixes, like I usually do. These texts tend to be works in progress, even after they are completed. I’m sure there are typos and other little kinks. I might also add something, if I realize that I forgot something, like I did with the previous essay. It probably won’t be anything major as if it is major, I’d rather explain it in some future essay, as opposed to burying somewhere here. Plus it’s such a pain to start editing a long text, to do any proper rework. It’s just not worth it.


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