Notes on: Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. ( 2004) A Thousand Plateaus.London: Continuum. Chapter 3 10,000BC 'The Geology of Morals [geddit?] (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)

Dave Harris

Here are some notes I made after rereading this section.  In between the two readings, I had read an awful lot of other stuff, including Guattari's The Machinic Consciousness, which explains rather better some of the themes here, especially in the section on faciality and the weird sci-fi stuff about signs-particles. Maybe I am just getting more tolerant of bullshit?

This section starts off with a literary device of making 'Professor Challenger' lead off about the importance of geological metaphors.  This is obviously meant to parody conventional academics, but it is a useful persona for Deleuze and Guattari to adopt as well, since Challenger is going to be challenged for the offhand way in which he makes references to all sorts of fields in which is not a specialist—geology, anthropology [the Dogon again], and Hjelmslev's linguistics.  Obviously some critics have made spiky remarks about this assumed expertise, and had even demanded to know what specialism Challenger actually lays claim to.  It's a good job it's him and not them!

The use of the geological metaphor obviously is going to turn on the notion of strata.  We can see a stratum is facing two ways—towards the more rigidly formed layers of rock above, and to the less formed material waiting to be processed into rock below [cf sign regimes facing towards the social strata in one dimension, and towards the plane of consistency in another, in the next Plateau] .  This helps develop the concept of 'double articulation'.  [We also introduce the remark that because everything is doubly articulated, 'God is a Lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind' 45]. We have met this term already in a semiotic sense, where it refers to the same terms being articulated in different discourses, as in the British sense of seeing 'youth' as articulated in discourse about generation, but also one about social class.  Here, double articulation means two stages in the formation of matter.  In the first stage, items are collected together, and loosely articulated as it were, and in the second stage, a more rigid structure is imposed on this loose collection.

We cannot actually explain this in the conventional terms of form and matter, but have to turn to the linguistic terms developed by Hjelmslev, who refers to content and expression, and argues that both have characteristic forms. Expression here also takes on a meaning derived from Spinoza as in 'To express is always to sing the Glory of god.  Every stratum is a judgment of god; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even Rivers, every stratified thing on earth' (49).  Things or content are articulated first before expression. Deleuze and Guattari don't bother to replace god in this sentence, of course, but rely on us knowing that Spinoza actually meant substance expressing itself in various stages, through modes and so on [see Deleuze's commentary here], and this enables us to work both ways, from deduction from substance, and induction of substance, to use the old terms.

Using Hjelmslev's terms means we can get extremely abstract, and see double articulation as working at all levels, both molecular and molar.  There are the usual weasels so that the distinction between content and expression are real, unlike the tautological links between form and substance, but they also arise only from articulation, and first and second articulations themselves are relative—it is always double articulation of content and expression.  There are also intermediate states between them.  The distinction between them is only conventional, for Hjelmslev, and we always find content and expression together We find them in biology, where a certain chains of molecules act as messengers [compare with 'components of passage' in Machinic Unconscious].

The plane of consistency determines what varies and what does not, including the actual molecules and their relations between them.  We understand this better in biochemistry in terms of energy, bonds [and thresholds]. We understand this through the work of a 19th century writer Saint-Hilaire, with his key notion of how molecules are assembled and aggregated as a result of various flows or fluids.  This apparently illustrates a single and consistent process of composition between the different levels, 'a single machine embedded in the stratum' (51), with no separation between inorganic and vital matter.  Apparently, he debated this with Cuvier, and Challenger illustrates the debate 'in puppet theatre style' [that is not as  a proper debate] [you cannot parody this really.  I will continue my discussion through the medium of mime].  Apparently, the point is to explain the differences in forms in terms of folding, literally how molecules fold together to produce separate vertebra, but the folding itself depends on particular chemical milieu [thank god I read DeLanda before this].  As a result, we can talk about an abstract animal, realized in various ways [the opponents are allowed to debate this model in various ways, including denying that folding explains the diversity of types].  When we apply the argument to Darwin and evolutionism it gets even more complex and 'endlessly proliferating' (53).  We have to see types as expressed in populations, packs or species, and development taking place in terms of different speeds and coefficients [god bless Delanda again], dynamic equilibria between relatively independent species, where particular realizations of multiplicities appear.  These are explanations for consistency among diversity on the 'organic stratum'. 

So there is a plane of consistency that produces the first level of articulation, and the 'substratum'[differently organized, not inferior in any sense] acts as 'an exterior milieu', although this is not really exterior [!].  Things develop just as crystals form on the basis of seeds, the latter being relatively exterior to the form, but then becoming interior.  Another example is the 'prebiotic soup' which gets catalyzed.  A membrane separates subsequent elements from the soup.  [We are working towards the idea of a machinic nucleus].  'a single abstract machine…  Enveloped by the stratum…  Constitutes its unity' (56).

On actual strata, this tends to be mixed with intermediate layers, and flows traverse the assemblage.  Intermediate layers themselves act as milieu and can be termed 'epistrata'.  They act to affect change and introduce gradations, and construct centres and peripheries in interaction.  This makes it difficult to radically separate organic from non organic elements [the whole point of this biological digression, just like the discussion of ethology in Guattari].  There is another possibility when organisms turn to foreign materials as 'annexed or associated milieu' (57) which have their own sources of energy, as in respiration.  This requires some sort of discernment to select a suitable material, and this goes on at molecular levels as well as molar ones—even the tick can perceive the sweat of a passing animal and then decide to drop on to it.  Another example of double articulation is apparent here [initial perceptions are collected, stage 1, and the result is a new relationship between the tick and the host, stage 2]. 

We can pursue the issue of not separating organisms from their associated milieu, seeing them together as 'a structuration'—the spider web is as important in morphogenesis as the spider.  However, the milieu can be more flexible—the form is more tightly coded [nevertheless, 'milieus always act, through selection, on entire organisms' (58)].  Milieus can act as epistrata, but also 'parastrata'[which looks like producing parallel forms].  We find concrete machines operating on epistrata and parastrata.  We can use these terms to rework Darwinism. [Somehow], parastrata embody or 'envelop' [more flexible?]  codes for forms, and can generate new ones, and hence new forms.  They also provide the potential for decoding.  Together this produces '"genetic drift"' (59) and it is that produces mutations.  All depends on the 'surplus value of code'.  This also explains becomings-animal [in the context of biology here].  These surpluses are found in the multiplicity or rhizomes, which generate epi- and  parastrata [I am going to call both 'substrata'] .

Formed substances however relate to territorialities and the various movements of de and reterritorialization on epistrata.  Deterritorialization goes in 'nomadic waves'(60) from centre to periphery and back again, and generally, epistrata become more and more deterritorialized, less stable, better able to cross thresholds including those between strata.  Some sub atomic particles are particularly good at deterritorializing, but some chemical substances themselves have been crucial, especially sulfur and carbon.  Deterritorialization, for example towards the outside, is always accompanied by reterritorialization, towards the inside in this case [and the examples are the circulation of components in embryology].  These processes are important in explaining what was impossible before in evolution—communication between species.  Coding and territoriality are both dynamic factors.

Codes are more random in their effects, territory determines subsequent selection, although sometimes modifications can produce a certain deterritorialization.  Together, these produce 'territorial signs (indexes)' (61), applying to the demarcation of zones [ ecological niches?] and subspecies.  This subdivision is also associated with the 'line of flight', which, in this case, will 'enable the animal to regain its associated milieu when danger appears'.  Another kind of line of flight arises, however, when the associated milieu is threatened from the outside, forcing animals to seek other territories: that in turn requires an animal to be 'leaning on its interior milieus like fragile crutches'.  This is how fish left the sea, carrying their own interior water as amniotic fluid. 

All territorialities have these lines of flight, as potential moments of de(re)territorialization.  Thus strata and the substrata are constantly shifting on the plane of composition, moving either through decoding or territorial drift.  Strata are being constantly undermined from within as well as without.  There are heterogeneous speeds, territorializations, and blocks.  There are also the possibilities of 'absolute deterritorialization, an absolute line of flight, absolute drift' (62), which rework the whole plane of consistency.  These can be produced by 'mad physical particles', or by deterritorialization forces crossing a threshold [and some might fall into black holes].  All planes of consistencies have their relatively unformed edges.  Abstract machines can either be captured by stratifications and remain on the plane of consistency, or they can develop in such a way as to extend or change the plane of consistency.

It is not just a matter of accelerated speed, as in rapid development, but more a matter of composition, how many substrata and how well articulated they are, the extent to which singularities are generated [and excellent bullshit, re-rendering what they have just said, as if lines and segments were somehow empirically observable and not fictions—this will depend on whether there is a 'nondecomposable, nonsegmentary line drawing a metastratum of the plane of consistency' (63)].  Ultimately, absolute deterritorialization is generated on the body without organs, itself the 'absolutely deterritorialized', and this persists after stratification—so absolute deterritorialization is primary, and it is the strata that are secondary.  The issue is how stratification occurs in the first place.  Abstract machines both stratify and maintain deterritorialization as a matter of 'two different states of intensities'.

By this time, we are told, the specialists have left the lecture in disgust -- too inflexible no doubt.  Challenger decides to address computers or to deal with axioms [no nasty controversial empirical analyses requiring specialized knowledge]. Variations between strata themselves also depend on their internal components and how they are articulated.  Some strata have molecular content, form and substance, but molar expression, form and substance.  Resonance occurs between them ['the communication occurring between the two independent orders'(64)] to produce a stratified system.  Here, expression amplifies structuration forces and carries them to the macro level.  This is the sort of system already described with crystals or geology, but even here, there are several [?] possible intermediate states, and exterior forces.  We might consider molar forms as being moulds, 'mobilising a maximum of exterior forces', or modulations, with minimal exterior forces.  Even these operations will have intermediate states though.  Exterior forces are always involved if only at a minimum, so the link between content and expression can only be a relative distinction.

We can use 'all the subtleties of medieval Scholasticism and theology' (65) [oh good --more Spinoza?] to explain the relations between content and expression.  They are only separated in the most thing-like phenomena, but not in theory.  We can also distinguish different kinds of formal distinctions, in scale, in terms of the effects of formal reason, between particular forms of things [which are still the same thing].  However, when looking at organic examples, the relation between molecular and molar becomes dominant, in biology and in chemistry. We understood expression first as a matter of aggregation until molecules pass thresholds but there are other forms, where expression becomes autonomous, and the distinction between content and expression therefore becomes real.  This can arise from a 'nucleic sequence' (66), and concerns the relation between two classes of molecules, like nucleic acids and proteins.  This relation exists at the molecular and molar level, and is not just a matter of aggregation, rather a move in the 'direction of flat multiplicities'[ and I think the argument is that some molecules just do expression, independently of content].  We therefore have a linear form of expression, a derivative form, irrespective of magnitude.

Apparently, this is important in the power of the organism to reproduce and also to de/reterritorialize.  First, there is a deterritorialization of the code into a linear form, and lines can be more readily copied.  Further deterritorialization is necessary for organic reproduction.  If we combine this with the distinction between the molar and molecular discussed above, we can explain the development of intermediate substrata.  Communication can take the shape of a 'set of inductions from layer to layer and state to state' with 'subjugation to three dimensionality'. This  is a form of territoriality, and will obviously limit reproducibility, as with crystalline growth.  Organic growth is not so easily territorialized, and all of its layers can be linked by communication.  Here we are talking about 'transductions', transformations of the layers as 'the amplification of the resonance between the molecular and molar'(67), not dependent on a linear code.

Other strata can develop forms of content that are '"alloplastic"', where something in the external world has an effect.  This is a form of linguistics, involving comprehensible symbols.  Human properties are also derived from these expressions, and did not initiate them [the examples turn on a French analysis of how the ability to couple hands and tools, or faces and language produced new human contents.  Here, the hand operates as a digital code, and is able to produce its own characteristic 'manual form'.  The tool extends this capacity, and can generate products which can further extend the operation of tools].  Tools and products 'are organized into parastrata and epistrata' (68), and this helps humans pass a threshold of deterritorialization, since their hands are freed from the more territorial functions of paws.  Other organs can be deterritorialized as well, and so can the milieu, as when the steppe is more deterritorialized than the forest.  Other reterritorializations then ensued [the foot becomes the major organ of locomotion].  These interlocking processes could be mapped on a plane of consistency.

Language also appears initially as a set of formal traits, essentially vocal substances, but also nonverbal ones including the face.  Mouths are deterritorialized snouts, lips are deterritorialized mouths, breasts the same for mammary glands.  The steppe supplied exterior pressures for selection, for example requiring less loud utterances than does the forest [then a classic bit: 'To articulate, to speak, is to speak softly.  Everyone knows that lumberjacks rarely talk' {they do sing though}.  There is a note to accompany this major insight, but it is about monkeys not lumberjacks].  Verbal signs are linear and this helps them become more deterritorialized and autonomous, unlike the genetic code which is much more limited.  Language is superlinear [can be repeated and include redundancies?], and this helps us to overcode and also to translate, representing all the other strata as in scientific conceptions of the world, and linking the strata.  However, we should not allow linguists to develop 'imperialist pretensions on behalf of language'—it is a matter of the organization of the substrata and their tremendous powers of 'immanence' that mark human language, but 'all human movements, even the most violent, imply translations'(70).

So we now have different forms of content and expression with humans, to include technological content and semiotic expression.  The technological social machine can be exploited once humans develop hands and tools [it 'preexists' humans].  Human expression can now develop as an entire 'semiotic collective machine', 'regimes of signs' again with nonhuman components.  Power relations and linguistic structures determined and select usages and communications, so humans extend the reach of machines.  However, we can still understand this as another 'intermediate state between the two states of the abstract machine' [that is, not fully abstract, a subset, not universal, not natural].  Human beings suffer from an illusion that their language is the same as the machine, [as in 'who does man think he is?'], because they can overcode, but they still operate with technological expression, formations of power, symbolic expressions, 'characterized by face - language relations', (71) and the operation of a more abstract semiotic machine.  Human language is autonomous only because of the particular characteristics of the substrata that form it.  The human world is also likely to be populated by different strata, different regimes of signs and different formations of power [so that we can allow for political autonomy?].

Thinking of implications for current human dilemmas [and current debates about brains], it is clear that the 'cerebral- nervous milieu' is a common exterior milieu, stemming from the organic substratum.  But there is no simple determinism.  That substratum 'constitutes the prehuman soup immersing us', producing hands and faces as two poles [apparently used by a French commentator, Leroi-Gourhan, LG, as a major development and distinction to explain humanity—he has been used in the above discussion as well].  There are therefore two types of articulation, manual and facial, but these are linked reciprocally.  However, this distinction has become very important in culture, says LG, including providing the basis for divisions between categories like things and words.  The particular articulations help us connect content and expression again in different ways.  Hands create 'pluridimensional symbols', and these are the basis of writing, while faces, or at least voices, produce phonemes as 'linear significant segments'(72). 

['Challenger wanted to go faster and faster, no one was left, but he went on anyway'!] He wanted to further develop the notion of the animal elements in human beings.  The first problem is what is a sign—there might be 'indexes (territorial signs, symbols (deterritorialized signs), and icons (signs of reterritorialization)'.  We have to acknowledge that signs exist on all the strata, while resisting linguistic imperialism: there is no universal system of signs, 'not even in the form of semiotic "chora"'[with a note referring to Kristeva].  Signs implies some categorical difference between forms of expression and forms of content, but it is only real once we reach the semiotic level [maybe].  Until then, abstract machines do not actually write, nor generate deterritorialized signs.  However at the semiotic level signs can also be treated as particles, something real.

It seems wise to reserve the term 'sign' for the semiotic level, but here, we have to avoid linguistic imperialism, especially in the form of the domination of the signifier, where all signs becomes signifiers, and 'all signs are endowed with signifiance' (73).  This is an illusion arising from a particular notion of the abstract machine, and has the happy illusion of making the signifier connect with all the other strata in a generalized way [ denying pre-human communication].  The conventional approach sees the signified as not autonomous from the signifier, and this permits significant redundancy, 'Hence its incredible despotism'.  All expression is reduced to the signifier, yet this assumes a constant relation between content and expression, and ignores distinctive relations. 

Advocates of the signifier take the relation between words and things as the essential one.  Foucault has offered us a way to criticize this: a thing like a prison is a form of content [social practices?] related to other forms of content like schools, and it relates not just to the word 'prison', but to a lot of other concepts such as delinquency.  Delinquency should not be seen as another mere signifier, however, but a form of expression, 'a set of statements arising in the social field considered as a stratum', while the content is not just the thing, but 'a complex state of things as a formation of power (architecture, regimentation, etc.)'.  We could argue instead that there are 'discursive multiplicities of expression', and 'non discursive multiplicities of content' intersecting together.  Prisons also have specific forms of content and expression, which are not found in the notion of delinquency, and delinquency also achieves autonomous content.  We can understand the relation as 'the shared state of the abstract machine, acting not at all as a signifier, but as a kind of diagram' (74), and that also produces schools, barracks, hospitals and so on.  Content and expression here are fitted together in a concrete assemblage, a whole 'organization articulating formations of power and regimes of signs' (75), operating on the molecular level as disciplinary power.  There is no one overall signifier for institutions, even schools, but rather 'two distinct formalizations in reciprocal presupposition and constituting a double pincer[ continuing the stuff about God is a lobster etc] : the formalization of expression in the reading and writing lesson [in schools] (with its own relative contents), and the formalization of content in the lesson of things (with their own relative expressions)'.  Social life is not just a matter of signifier and signified, but stratification.

So we can argue that there are forms of expression without signs as in the genetic code.  Signs only appear in particular circumstances as subsets of language, particular 'real usages or functions of language'.  Signs do not indicate the presence of the thing, but rather arise from 'deterritorialization and reterritorialization',  when certain thresholds are crossed – so we can even talk about animal signs.  Signs need not be signifiers.  Signifiers and the notion of signifiance are again only subsets of possible regimes.  There can be 'asemiotic expressions', without signs, and asignifying signs or regimes. Signifiance is not necessarily even the most interesting regime, although it is more imperialist ['cancerous…  and more steeped in illusion'] (76).

Nor can we reduce everything to base and superstructure, say by seeing [economic] content as primary.  Expression does not just reflect content, not even if we allow it to be relatively independent or reactive.  Contents and expressions develop their own formalizations, and these can interact, but they are both parts of an abstract machine and related by machinic assemblages.  It is not just a relation of conventional abstraction.  Nor are assemblages just superstructures [to get more explicitly Marxist], with regimes of signs as another tier, ideology.  Language is more heterogeneous and contradictory.  Particular forms are not ideology: '(ideology is a most execrable concept obscuring all of the effectively operating social machines)'.  Power is not located in the state and is everywhere, wherever we find formalizations of content and expression and their relations.  Nor can content be exclusively reduced to the economic, or to some dominant signifier like the phallus.

We also have to avoid the notion of some sort of evolution between the strata.  But the different combinations of content and expression are not stages.  Nor can we conveniently defined spheres like the biosphere—there is only 'the same Mechanosphere' (77).  All strata are organized even the substrata, and are not separated by degrees of organization.  The more organized can also serve as a base for the development of other strata, as when technical phenomena help to provide the basis for the development of new bacteria.  Strata communicate in a way which is not preordained.

On the plane of consistency, semiotic components of all kinds are found, chemical, electronic, genetic and so on, and some systems emerged like wasps and orchids.  We should not consider these elements as metaphoric, because 'all that consists is Real'.  On the plane of consistency, there are no extensive differences including those between content and expression: these emerge only with strata.  But how can we apply general names outside of strata and territories?  There is no dualism between these and the plane of consistency, however, especially as strata are just thickenings of planes of consistency.  The abstract machine constitutes both plane and strata simultaneously, and forces on the plane carry with them some sort of memory from strata.  However, the plane of consistency can be understood as a series of 'continuums of intensity' extracted from the forms and substances.  And the plane or machine 'emits and combines particles-signs'[pretty much borrowed from Machinic Unconscious here, and pretty well incomprehensible without reading it?], including asignifying signs, and this is the source of deterritorialization.  In this way, concrete indexes become 'absolute values' [very abstracted ones that can be reapplied and/or overcoded?].  Intensive forces are congealed into  discontinuous forms and substances ['conjunction'].  Destratification is clearly also involved.  The processes are not random, but nor are they governed by external rules.

So abstract machines produce 'different simultaneous states', but they also produce 'a concrete machinic assemblage', again on the plane of consistency.  These developments can remain on the plane, or take place within a stratum which envelops the abstract machine.  However, machinic assemblages are different.  They operate on strata to link segments of contents and expression, to produce substrata of both types, and put into relation substratum and stratum.  They also have to stay 'in touch with the plane of consistency'[definitional arguments here, merely rephrasing what earlier discussions have alluded to, only in obsessive detail—must be Guattari's bit].  Assemblages are more localized, and articulate elements of a stratum or relate swtrata, or produce an organism [weird anthropological and mythological examples involving Dogon and Amazons, 79].  Assemblages unify elements, and permit a connection between 'states of force and regimes of signs'.  Overall they 'effectuate the abstract machine', but how does this actually happen in the Mechanosphere? We know it's got nothing to do with all the usual binaries like signifier/signified, or base/superstructure, mind/matter.  Apart from being reductive, this would close off the possibilities of destratification. 

[At this stage, Challenger was clearly cracking up, we are told, but he felt the need to summarize].  We have to work with notions like the BWO 'or the destratified Plane of Consistency; the Matter of the Plane, that which occurs on the body or plane (singular, nonsegmented multiplicities composed of intensive continuums, emissions of particles-signs, or conjunctions of flows); and the abstract Machine, or abstract Machines insofar as they construct the body or draw that plane or "diagram" what occurs (lines of flight or absolute deterritorializations)' (80).  Then we have to consider strata in a system, how they form matter, distinguish between expression and content and their units, 'for example, signs and particles', and operate with territories and their changes.  We have to see that they set up double articulations, including the construction of segmentary multiplicities.  Although things like content and expression are distinct, they intermingle in machinic assemblages.  This actually varies however from stratum to stratum, and it is this that produces the 'real [actualized?] distinction between content and expression'.  Further, there are distinctions according to orders of magnitude, the type of resonances at work [such as induction], the differences between formal and real distinctions, the nature of linearities of expression [induction and transduction], and the development of superlinear expressions like human language which permit translations.

The stratum can become a substratum for another stratum.  The degree of unity of composition is defined by milieu, elements and traits.  They can be subdivided into parastrata and epistrata as above there, and these are also strata in their own right.  A machinic assemblage relates the strata, and also contents and expressions on each stratum [must do or else we could not explain real objects and clusters]   A single assemblage can 'borrow from different strata' (81), and display different amounts of disorder.  However, because machinic assemblages also have to relate to planes of consistency [they have to for reasons of philosophic consistency here]  and behind them, abstract machines, they are also metastrata.  Abstract machines can be enveloped in strata, or work on the plane of consistency, performing destratification, and combining these two produces a specific effectuation of the abstract machine.  Since machinic assemblages do all these wonderful things, 'they rotate in all directions, like beacons'.

Apparently, 'only later would all of this take on concrete meaning'.  Challenger seems to have cracked up entirely, but then 'panic is creation'.  He retreated towards the plane of consistency, trying to slip into an assemblage, to reach the 'Mechanosphere or rhizosphere'(82) [with an ending quote from HP Lovecraft!].

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