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I planned to write either on article that I’m working on, or an old text written by Félix Guattari, but I never managed to get where I wanted with that article (you know, editing a bit of this and a bit of that, adding, removing, as if it actually changed anything, except for Reviewer #2 who we all know to be darling, let’s put it that way) and I ended up on a major tangent while on that second text (I did manage to make notes on the whole text though). Anyway, so, this essay will be that tangent.

So, the old text is called ‘Machine and Structure’. It appears in at least two different complications of Guattari’s work: ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’ and ‘Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971’. It was published in a journal 1972, but, according to the notes included in the latter compilation, it was planned as a lecture that was to be given in 1969. That means that this text, essay, article or lecture, I’m not sure what it should be called, gives us insight to Guattari’s thinking at the time he was working with Gilles Deleuze.

This is, apparently, also the text that is known to have caused a fallout between Guattari and his former mentor, Jacques Lacan, which, in turn, led Guattari to work with Deleuze. I remember reading about this and, perhaps, I’ve even mentioned this in the past, but I’ll let Janell Watson explain this. She (39, 189) covers this episode in her book ‘Guattari’s Diagrammatic Thought: Writing Between Lacan and Deleuze’, noting that there are (at least) two versions of this story.

According to the first version, Lacan wanted to publish the text in his own journal, ‘Scilicet’, but, well, just never did, so it ended up in Jean-Pierre Faye’s journal, ‘Change’, instead. According to the second version, Roland Barthes wanted the text to be published in his journal, ‘Communications’, but Lacan wanted it to be published in his journal, which prompted Guattari to pull the article from ‘Communications’, despite having agreed to publish it there, only for it to be never published by Lacan and then ending up published in ‘Change’.

What’s common between the two versions is that Lacan wanted the text to be published in his journal, but then just didn’t bother to publish it, which, I reckon, angered Guattari. The gist of that episode is that Guattari started working with Deleuze, because one way or another Deleuze ended up reading it, as pointed out by Watson (189).

If aren’t into Guattari but would like to understand what he means by structure and, more importantly, by machine, you’ll like this text because, unlike many of his other texts, it’s fairly straight forward. Sure, it’s difficult to read, as you’d guess with anything written by Guattari, on his own or in collaboration with Deleuze, but it’s alright if you just focus on it and make some notes while at it. Deleuze (21) mentions this text in preface for the latter compilation, noting that it is a particularly important text alongside another text, which, to be honest, is hilariously difficult to read, not because Guattari has gone all the way to make it hard to read, but because it’s basically a collection of excerpts, so that, well, technically, it’s not really a text at all but rather some 27 pages of his notes.

That other text is called ‘From One Sign to the Other (excerpts)’. It’s like reading someone’s train of thought. It’s kind of like how I work, how my essays must appear to some of you who happen to read these, but, well, let’s say that if you find my train of thought difficult to follow, you probably shouldn’t even try to read that text. I’ve tried to get through it, but I need more runs at it to make more sense of it. Maybe someday. We’ll see.

It might actually be more fruitful to try to find the original as, according to Watson (26), it is supposed to be longer. The translated version that I have access to is only a partial reproduction, which explains why it’s listed as dealing with excerpts. There might also be some fresh translation of it out there, somewhere, but, as I pointed out already, we’ll see.

It’s actually kind of funny, now that I’m teaching a basic writing course. I mean, in academic writing you are expected to cater to your reader, to make it so that everything is, supposedly, as clear as possible and that your train of thought is easy to follow, which, in my opinion, does have its merits, no doubt about that, but it can and often does end up pampering and infantilizing the reader, as if the reader couldn’t figure out stuff on its own.

Deleuze comments on this matter in ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’, a text I’ve mentioned a couple of times in the past, noting that there are two ways of going about this. He (7-8) uses the example of reading, stating that there are two ways of reading. The first one he (7) refers to as the perverse or depraved ways of going about it:

“[Y]ou … see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the book like a box contained in the first or containing it.”

He (7-8) adds to this that this results in a never-ending search for its meaning:

“And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and so on.”

Now you might be thinking, ha, gotcha, you idiot, that’s exactly what you are doing when you write these essays. Ooooh! Saucy! I do like your attitude, but no. That’s not what I’m doing, at all, nor what Deleuze did in his own books on other people’s works, like the ones on Baruch Spinoza, Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust. Yes, it’s commentary, but I’m under no illusion that I have the answers that you might seek, that I know for sure what any of the people whose works I’ve commented on actually meant with this and/or that, whatever that may be. They are my takes, and you should always take them as such. If you find them useful, well, great, good for you, and if you don’t, well, that’s too bad, not good for you. Plus, I really, really recommend that you go through the effort of reading the originals. I don’t seek to mislead you. It’s not my plan to provide you with some take that’s not even close to the original, just to fuck with you. Nah. It’s rather that I’m not the arbiter of truth. I’m not even its messenger. I try my best. I try to give you what I find important and/or interesting in some text, in its original form, if possible, to have that transparency, with my commentary of it. That’s exactly why I have these block quotes, which are sometimes, I know, I know, don’t think I don’t know, painfully long.

This leads me to the second way of going about it. Deleuze (8) explains it:

“[Y]ou see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is ‘Does it work, and how does it work?’”

That’s the way I go about writing and reading, the cherry-picking fucker that I may appear to be because of it. Now, you might be wondering what I mean by that, like, isn’t cherry-picking something frowned upon, something that I shouldn’t be doing. Well, yes, you are not supposed to be cherry-picking, aka quote-mining, when you write something academic, nor in argumentation in general, but do note that I didn’t write that I do that, but rather that I may appear to be doing that, even though I’m not doing that. But why do I then appear to be doing that, even though I’m not? Well, to connect this to the first compilation mentioned in this essay, to its introduction, to be precise, it’s rather that I do whatever I please, whatever I come to desire, without hesitation, without giving a fuck about on whose fields I roam. That’s what Deleuze and Guattari do and advocate for, as do I. David Cooper (1) explains this well in the introduction to that compilation:

“[I]n the tradition of Guattari and Deleuze there can be no compartmentalization of disciplines: philosophy, politics, structuralist linguistics, psychoanalysis (or rather its undoing), micro-sociology – all frontiers are violated but violated on principle.”

Exactly! There’s nothing whimsical, nor spiteful about that roaming. It’s like roaming, for the sake of roaming. I don’t know. Perhaps I shouldn’t even call it roaming, because it’s typically understood as lacking a purpose, whereas this has a purpose. It is principled, as pointed out by Cooper (1). It’s like moving for the sake of moving, being in movement, which, I guess, is not actually being but becoming.

Cooper (1-2) notes that this approach has its roots in French academics where most of the heavy hitters where familiar with at least two different fields or disciplines, while also acknowledging that such combos can either work really well or really poorly. I’d say that it can work well because you aren’t confided, because you no longer see the world in this or that light, but in this and that light. It can, of course, also work really poorly. That’s what happens when you don’t take your reading seriously, when you don’t put in the hours. Anyway, he (2) moves on to further comment what I already anticipated, as I was reading this introduction:

“The word [transversality], however, also connotes an intellectual mobility across discipline boundaries and above all the establishment of a continuum through theory, practice and militant action.”

That’s transversality for you. That’s what Deleuze and Guattari (499) mean by “streaming, spiraling, zigzagging” and “snaking”, as mentioned in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’. He (2) also adds that it would be misguided to think that Guattari’s work (and I guess, by proxy, Deleuze’s work) is somehow against theory. Well, I’d say it is actually anti-theoretical, but only in the sense that it’s against treating theory as something separate from practice, as something pre-existing that we ponder about. Cooper (2-3) also points this out, albeit in slightly different manner, noting that, for Guattari, theory is about creativity, about the act of creation, not of what I’d call discovery.

Cooper (3) also explains how this works for Guattari:

“In this writing, individuals, groups and ‘the society’ are not denied, but the desiring machines operate in the spaces between these ‘entities’. Guattari’s writing itself issues from this sort of interspace and is directed back again into these ‘spaces between’, which are the spaces where things are agencées.”

I agree with his (3) take on Guattari’s writing, albeit with some reservations. I think this is a pretty good summary, but I also think it risks making it appear that the entities are given, even though they are not. To be clear, each entity consists of other entities that can be understood as its parts and also act as a part of some other entity, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (42) in ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’:

“We believe only in totalities that are peripheral. And if 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.”

They (42) also explain this in, perhaps, less difficult manner, noting that it’s not like we have some original unity of a number of pieces, like a puzzle, that we are set up to complete after finding all the pieces. There is no origin, nor a goal, only pieces, and we can do whatever we want with those pieces, fit them together in this and/or that way. That’s creativity for you. The totality or the unity of whatever it is that we are dealing with is always immanent. To be fair, Cooper (3) does acknowledge this:

“Then, by a curious but comprehensible logic, the writing itself becomes agencement.”

He (3) also notes that the difficult thing with Guattari’s work is that you have to let go of taking things for granted as Guattari is all about coming up “[h]ow to re-think what thought might be.” Related to this, he (3) also notes that reading Guattari’s works is difficult because he uses a lot of terms that people are unlikely to be familiar with, but that doesn’t mean that he “is guilty of stylistic perversity”:

“As with Deleuze his totally explicit aim is to destructure a consciousness and a rationality over-sure of itself and thus too easy prey to subtle, and not so subtle, dogmatisms.”

Cooper (4) finishes his summary of Guattari’s work and the way he does it, that transversality, or nomadism, as it is also known as, by explaining why we might want to go along with it, despite all the work that we must put into it, despite all the difficulty that we must face in doing so:

“If we choose to follow Félix Guattari in his nomadism through regions of ambiguity it is because we glimpse from very early on an eminently rewarding clarity that emerges through this highly original writing.”

I agree. Guattari’s writing isn’t at all difficult to read once you get into it. Is it easy? No. It’s not easy. It’s also much more difficult than most things you’ve encountered before, because it is so original, as Cooper (4) points out, but once you let go of that requirement that the writer must cater to you as a reader, holding your hand, making sure that you are taken good care of every step of the way, it’s not that difficult. Once you get it, you get it and it’ll be clear to you, kind of like, how to put it better, intuitively.

It might also be that what you are reading just isn’t for you, at least not in that moment. That’s the point Deleuze makes when he (8) adds that:

“How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book.”

Yeah, if it isn’t working, don’t try to force it to work because it doesn’t work that way. He (8) continues:

“This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or it doesn’t.”

So, yeah, don’t waste your time, reading, not to mention annotating, interpreting and/or questioning what you’ve read if there’s nothing to it, if it just isn’t coming across. He (8) has still something to add:

“There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It’s like plugging in to an electric circuit.”

Indeed, it’s that plugging in, that connection that you form with what you read. That’s exactly what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they state that something is a machine. Deleuze (8) summarizes this:

“This second way of reading’s quite different from the first, because it relates a book directly to what’s Outside.”

Note how this is in stark contrast what he (7) pointed out earlier on, how in the first way of reading you look at what’s in what you read, how you limit it to that, just that, or to it and what other texts it is linked to, in a series, to discover the meaning contained in it. As you can see, this second way of reading something emphasizes the connection that you make with what you read, there and then, without anything else to it. That’s why it either works or it doesn’t. That’s why it’s so simple. He (8) elaborates this by adding that:

“A book is a little cog in much more complicated external machinery. Writing is one flow among others, with no special place in relation to the others, that comes into relations of current, countercurrent, and eddy with other flows—flows of shit, sperm, words, action, eroticism, money, politics, and so on.”

So, what he wants to emphasize here is that there is nothing special about writing and reading. That doesn’t mean that it is pointless to write and read. No, no. It’s rather that there’s much more to life than just writing and reading, like shitting, ejaculating, speaking, doing, eroticizing (is that even a word? it is now!), buying and selling, taking part in politics and what not, as he (8) points out. If that makes no sense to you, well, too bad, but let’s see if his (8) example is of any help:

“Take Bloom, writing in the sand with one hand and masturbating with the other: what’s the relation between those two flows?”

That’s a good question, to which I don’t know the answer. What’s the point of that James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ reference? I don’t know and I take it that neither do you. Why is Leopold Bloom having a wank? Why is he writing? How are these two things connected? Is he writing about whatever pushed him to have a wank? Is he writing about the wanking? So many questions, not a lot of answers, but that’s the charm of it. It’s up to you to make sense of it, because there’s nothing inherent about wanking and writing that connects them to one another, no inherent meaning to be discovered.

Deleuze provides another example. He (8) states that he and Guattari wrote ‘Anti-Oedipus’ because there was a certain outside, a certain readership of young people that they sought to make a connection with through the book. The title ought to tell it to you, that it’s an anti-oedipal book. It is countercurrent that connects to a current. That book wouldn’t exist without that coupling. There wouldn’t be schizoanalysis without psychoanalysis.

He (8-9) summarizes what the deal with the second way of reading is:

“This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a flow meeting with other flows, one machine among others, as a series of experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do with book, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other things, absolutely anything … is reading with love.”

Note how he emphasizes that these connections that we make with texts are not just with other texts, but with, well, anything. It’s not that the connections between texts, i.e., intertextuality, isn’t important, but rather that’s not all there is to it. There are many connections between texts, yes, but there are also many connections to what’s outside texts. If that seems familiar, it’s because it is. That’s pragmatics for you.

As that may seem a bit obscure, he (9) exemplifies what he means by such connections. For him (9), it’s not about what the text is or what it means, in itself, as that’s the first way of reading a book, a futile endeavor, but what you do with it. In other words, the text works on you as you read it. It changes you to some extent, which alters how you connect with other texts and, well, with anything, unless it doesn’t, of course, in which case you move on to reading or doing something else instead. That’s the point Deleuze wants to make.

Anyway, so, that’s the end of that tangent that I ended up on because I started reading and making notes of ‘Machine and Structure’, while also teaching a writing course, being connected to that text, as well as texts related to writing, and the encounters I had in class. I started out somewhere, with some goal, yes, but I ended up somewhere else, zigzagging all over the place while at it, and I’m glad I did.


  • Cooper, D. (1984). Introduction. In F. Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (R. Sheed, Trans.) (pp. 1–4). Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
  • Deleuze, G. ([1990] 1995). Letter to a Harsh Critic. In G. Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972–1990 (M. Joughin, Trans.) (pp. 4–12). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1972] 1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Seem and H. R. Lane, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ([1980] 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Guattari, F. ([1972] 1984). Machine and Structure (R. Sheed, Trans.). In F. Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (R. Sheed, Trans.) (pp. 111–119). Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.
  • Guattari, F. ([1972] 2015). From One Sign to the Other (excerpts). In F. Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971 (A. Hodges, Trans.) (pp. 179–205). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
  • Guattari, F. ([1972] 2015). Machine and Structure (R. Sheed, Trans.). In F. Guattari, Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971 (A. Hodges, Trans.) (pp. 318–329). Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e).
  • Joyce, J. ([1918–1920] 1922). Ulysses. Paris, France: Shakespeare and Company.
  • Watson, J. (2009). Guattari’s Diagrammatic Thought: Writing Between Lacan and Deleuze. London, United Kingdom: Continuum.