Notes on: Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. ( 2004) A Thousand Plateaus.London: Continuum. Chapter 7 Year Zero: Faciality

Dave Harris


Faces are very interesting and unusual aspects of our bodies that have been given all sorts of cultural, artistic and social significance. They have a political role too.

NB Try also Guattari's discussion of faciality in The Machinic Unconscious ( written slightly earlier?) . Guattari is slightly easier without losing any of the ludicrous speculative quality that we have come to love.


I read this one next because I remembered something in Chapter 6 about having to extend some of the ideas in this chapter (which comes after chapter 6 though – witty innit?).

I grew seriously weary reading this though and I don’t recommend it to anyone really. There is a bit of an explanation in Dialogues. I also have a video in my series Deleuze for the Desperate (transcript here)  The gist, from what I can see, is that the face represents black holes and white walls, a signifying system that helps construct repressive identities:


Yes, the face has a great future, but only if it is destroyed, dismantled. On the road to the asignifying and asubjective. But so far we have explained nothing of what we sense. [How bleedin’ true!}

The move from the body-head system to the face system has nothing to do with an evolution or genetic stages. Nor with phenomenological positions. Nor with integrations of part-objects [as some Freudians think,like Klein] , or structural or structuring systems. Nor can there be any appeal to a preexisting subject, or one brought into existence, except by this machine specific to faciality. In the literature of the face, Sartre’s text on the look and Lacan’s on the mirror make the error of appealing to a form of subjectivity or humanity reflected in a phenomenological field or split in a structural field. The gaze is that secondary in relation to the gazeless eyes, to the black hole of faciality. The mirror is that secondary in relation to the white wall of faciality. Neither will we speak of a genetic axis, or the integration of part-objects [you just said that, mugs!] . Any approach based on stages in ontogenesis is arbitrary: it is thought that what is fastest is primary, or even serves as a foundation or springboard for what comes next. An approach based on part-objects is even Worse; it is the approach of a demented experimenter who flays, slices, and anatomizes everything in sight, and then proceeds to sew things randomly back together again. You can make any list of part-objects you want: hand, breast, mouth, eyes . . . It’s still Frankenstein. What we need to consider is not fundamentally organs without bodies, or the fragmented body; it is the body without organs, animated by various intensive movements that determine the nature and emplacement of the organs in question and make that body an organism, or even a system of strata of which the organism is only a part. It becomes apparent that the slowest of movements, or the last to occur or arrive, is not the least intense. And the fastest may already have converged with it, connected with it, in the disequilibrium of a non- synchronic development of strata that have different speeds and lack a sequence of stages but are nevertheless simultaneous. The question of the body is not one of part-objects but of differential speeds. (190).

There are wretched ‘theorems’ obsessively developed:

Theorems of Deterritorialization, or Machinic Propositions

First theorem: One never deterritorializes alone; there are always at least two terms, hand-use object, mouth-breast, face-landscape. And each of the two terms reterritorializes on the other. Reterritorialization must not be confused with a return to a primitive or older territoriality: it necessarily implies a set of artifices by which one element, itself deterritorialized, serves as a new territoriality for another, which has lost its territoriality as well. Thus there is an entire system of horizontal and complementary reterritorializations, between hand and tool, mouth and breast, face and landscape. Second theorem: The fastest of two elements or movements of deterritorialization is not necessarily the most intense or most deterritorialized. Intensity of deterritorialization must not be confused with speed of movement or development. The fastest can even connect its intensity to the slowest, which, as an intensity, does not come after the fastest but is simultaneously at work on a different stratum or plane (for example, the way the breast-mouth relation is guided from the start by a plane of faciality). Third theorem: It can even be concluded from this that the least deterritorialized reterritorializes on the most deterritorialized. This is where the second system of reterritorializations comes in, the vertical system running from bottom to top. This is the sense in which not only the mouth but also the breast, hand, the entire body, even the tool, are "facialized," As a general rule, relative deterritorializations (transcoding) reterritorialize on a deterritorialization that is in certain respects absolute (overcoding). We have seen that the deterritorialization of the head into a face is absolute but remains negative in that it passes from one stratum to another, from the stratum of the organism to those of signifiance and subjectification. The hand and breast reterritorialize on the face and in the landscape: they are facialized at the same time as they are landscapified. Even a use-object may come to be facialized you might say that a house, utensil, or object, an article of clothing, etc., is watching me, not because it resembles a face, but because it is taken up in the white wall/black hole process, because it connects to the abstract machine of facialization. The close—up in film pertains as much to a knife, cup, clock, or kettle as to a face or facial element, for example, Griffith’s "the kettle is watching me." Is it not fair to say, then, that there are close-ups in novels, as when Dickens writes the opening line of The Cricket on the Hearth: "The kettle began it . . ." and in painting, when a utensil becomes a face-landscape from within, or when a cup on a tablecloth or a teapot is facialized, in Bonnard, Vuillard? Fourth theorem: The abstract machine is therefore effectuated not only in the faces that produce it but also to varying degrees in body parts, clothes, and objects that it facializes following an order of reasons (rather than an organization of resemblances).


As for these potty little diagrams – you decide O Reader, because I cannot be arsed...


silly diagrams

[On mature reflection, and after several more readings,a later Dave returns to this... I think the obscurity of this chapter tells us a lot about D and G and their private language.  Many of the bizarre sentences that they deploy are really referring to particular metaphors or arguments found in various novels, or refer to their own or others' comments on paintings or pieces of music.  The only one I can personally track down refers to their citation of Proust, which is made explicit in the chapter, but well towards the end.  In the novel, frequent connections are made between social events or people and the landscape around the hometown which is recalled in memory.  This is not too obscure necessarily, and it reflects common observations about how someone has a typically French face or whatever.  As the narrators [for there are several] describe their memories, they connect faces to landscapes, sometimes to particular journeys through landscapes, and elements of landscape also have their own capacity to generate memories of people or of social events in their turn, by recalling a train journey through Normandy, for example.  All this is fully explicable, but referred to in a very condensed way, in sentences that just say the face or faciality is the same as the landscape or 'landscapity': if you were unaware of the allusion to Proust, it would seem just barmy, and you would be forced to pursue one of those poetic readings where our readers find their own connections from their own resources.

While I'm here, I think the face assumes so much importance because it is a refutation of Lacan on the phallus as a universal signifier.  I must say, I am on the side of D and G here because faces do contain two components, they argue, which makes them useful for binary forms of communication, whereas phalluses are only either there or not, and the sexual binary as the foundation for the social is reductive.  Incidentally, I think one or two other strange and fussy remarks about the processes of signification and the role of the signifier, in chapter 5, are also best read as an extension of the complaints about Lacan attributing too much significance to the signifier.

Doubtless there are all sorts of other allusions to people and their work that I have missed.  Some of these are indicated in the notes for each chapter, but considerable reading and scholarship must be required to get to all of them.  No doubt, it is the highly educated French professoriate that is the intended audience for this. Anyway, I managed to get a little more out of it...]

The date given is year zero, because an awful lot of emphasis on the face apparently started with Christianity.

Signifiance requires some sort of screen or white wall to project signs onto.  Subjectification, on the other hand, requires some concentration and limit -- a black hole.  Since these two processes are commonly mixed, we can see that a mechanism helps regulate them, a system that will have both the white wall and a black hole -- the face [that is, a very washed out face, with no other features].  In a concrete way, actual faces are also important in signification: there are 'specific faciality traits' (186) that help us signify for example by registering emotions or intentions.  We can see faces in this general way, although they are also important in the normal understandings of subjectivity and individuality.

 [Actual?] faces appear on the wall and in the black hole.  The light reflecting off them, or the shadows in them, are powerful forms of communication in film, so in a way, the white wall [screen] and dimensional areas of darkness are already there.  [I wonder if working with paranoid or catatonic patients also led G to emphasize the face as a form of expression?]  To further complicate matters [!], there are a number of combinations of black holes and white walls -- such as a number of black holes distributed on the wall, or a central place for the black hole, with the white wall reduced to a thread heading towards it [which explains those potty little diagrams I have complained about above].  In other words, there is 'an abstract machine of faciality' which produces actual  faces as white walls and black holes, as system.  We are warned 'do not expect the abstract machine to resemble what it produces, or will produce' (187).

[Lots of literary references to Kafka ensue, followed by references to ballet: the common theme seems to be mysterious bouncing balls as a-signifying.  These are also concrete aspects of the abstract faciality machine].  American psychology has always stressed the importance of the face, including the importance of face to face contact as in the 'four eye machine' (188) [specifically referenced in Guattari's version of TP].  [Some American theories are then reinterpreted in terms of white screens and black holes].

The system which gives us the face is not the same as the one giving the body, which is much more to do with volumes and cavities.  We should not see faces simply as heads.  The thing about the face is that it is a communicating surface [it is more visible and general?].  Heads are not necessarily communicating surfaces in this way, but should be seen as parts of the body.  Bodies communicate in a 'multidimensional, polyvocal corporeal code'.  The face replaces this with a code of its own [technically an overcoding, they say] [This replacement is going to be historically significant as we shall see].  It is possible to see the body as simply a surface penetrated by holes [following overcoding by faciality] , as in certain kinds focus on parts of the body, including fetishism, but this does not make it a communicator like the face.  And this expression of the body reflects a more 'unconscious and machinic operation' (189), which is not like the one producing the face.

The abstract machine that produces the face can also affect other parts of the body or even other objects [like balls as we saw].  Why should it produces faces in particular?  It is nothing to do with the characteristics of human beings because 'there is even something absolutely inhuman about the face'.  In fact looking at faces and how they communicate points to this inhuman element.  A political implication follows -- 'if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face', a typically bizarre way of saying we have to develop human potential away from repressive signifying systems that work with binaries, and we are to do this by following all the other wacky processes we know and love -- become animal, becoming imperceptible and so on.  Only then can we avoid 'glum face to face encounters' or tedious signifying subjectivities [a note refers to a passage in Henry Miller for guidance!].  We must become a BWO, heading for the 'asignifying and asubjective'[then the quote about how they have explained nothing of what they sense].

How did the facial system emerge?  It is nothing to do with evolution.  [Freudian] theories of part objects would not explain it nor will structuralism, and obviously, nor will some 'appeal to a preexisting subject'(190) [except ones produced by the faciality system itself] .  Abstract faciality precedes notions of the gaze, and the mirror stage in Lacan.  We should start instead with the BWO and its intensive movements that produce a role for particular organs.  It is 'speed' rather than sequence at/in which these organs emerge as part objects.  [And a kind of history of the development of human organs ensues, 191, phrased in terms of deterritorialization -the woman's breast is a deterritorialized mammary gland -- that is, it is found in an unusual place for a the normal not-upright mammal].  The face expresses a slower and more intense deterritorialization, possibly an absolute deterritorialization, no longer located on a head, and connected to signifiance and subjectification.

There is 'the correlate of great importance: the landscape', also considered as a deterritorialized world.  [This originates in Proust {my summary here} for my money as I argued, but] we can see the correlation in Christian education as well, which tries to spiritually control both face and landscape.  There are also connections in artistic especially architectural notions and in painting, and films treat 'the face primarily as a landscape'.  The two are often co-implicated in art [examples ensue from paintings or novels.  For those interested, our heroes define the novel as featuring 'the adventure of lost characters who no longer know their name, what they are looking for, or what they are doing, amnesiacs, ataxics, catatonics', and 'there is always a Christian education in the novel'(193)].

Then we get the wretched theorems as above.  Note that face - landscape here are two terms used in deterritorialization and its opposite.  The others seem to want to tidy up the importance of faciality against various psychological mechanisms.  Maybe the most importantbit is in Theorem 3 where faciality links the organism and significance in the process of domesticating the BwO?] The playful approach continues by saying that objects can be facialized, so that it is possible to say that a utensil is watching me -- this is not to be taken literally to imply that it has facial features, but that it is playing a part in the abstract process of facialized relations [in what way? I use it in my signifiance? It becomes a prop for my personhood? A status symbol? It binarizes my becomings? It can only be a metaphor really, surely?].

What produces this emphasis on faciality, or the operation of the abstract machine of faciality?  We can think of concrete cases, when the mother's face becomes important for the child, or the face of a loved one, or if the face of the leader becomes politically powerful, or film stars' faces become well known.  Behind the individuality of these cases lies the abstract organization of power and the ability to signify.  [Curiously, they argue that 'this is an affair not of ideology but of economy and the organization of power', 194 - so what do they mean by ideology here exactly?]. 

Naturally, they want to weasel about whether faces explain social power or require it (195), but they do offer us a kind of history, beginning with 'primitive societies', which do not have a facial system of semiotic, but rather one that operates through bodies and their territorialities, enabling direct connections between particular semiotic sequences [citing somebody called Lizot.  While they're at it, they challenge the universality of the incest taboo, and argue that it is a matter of appropriate kinds of incest which are connected with various other forms of prohibitions].  If there are disturbances to these semiotics, they take the form of 'becomings-animal, in particular with the help of drugs', leading to a particular kind of spirituality grounded in animals and the body.  This is to deny the assertion that such people lack culture, merely that their codes relate to bodies and their bodies might connect with souls.  Such '"primitives" may have the most human of heads, the most beautiful and most spiritual, but they have no face and need none'.

It follows that the face is not a universal system of communication, but is associated with 'the typical European', with 'White Man himself' (196), and with Christ who 'invented the facialization of the entire body and spread it everywhere'.  The face was then able to acquire and exercise 'the most general of functions: the function of biunivocalization or binarization'[talk about post hoc ergo propter hoc or some other phrase that suggests they came to this conclusion because they define the face as binary several pages before].  The face as a system produces both elements and choices. In the first case, any content is rendered as a binary, a dichotomy, an arborescence [later defined as a series of binaries], and these appear as stereotyped facial expressions in some cases - the stern judge, the noble child and so on.  The four-eye machine is another example.

When it comes to choices, these are still rendered as the basic yes/no type [followed by an awful lot of literary delirium and other bullshit about facial tics, submissive defendants and so on.  Sentences like 'The teacher has gone mad, but madness is a face conforming to the nth choice'].  The point is that nothing is rejected by the system, there is no outside, and no 'other' either, and this leads to a rather interesting argument about racism, which is not just a simple exclusion of someone who does not fit white categories, but rather someone who occupies a place already defined by the facialized system, for example as something 'increasingly eccentric and backward'…  'Racism never detects the particles of the other; it propagates waves of sameness until those who resist identification have been wiped out'(197). [In other words, this is the 'tyranny of the Same']. There is a positive side in that painting exploits 'all the resources of the Christ-face', including 'Christ-athlete at the fair, Christ-Mannerist queer, Christ-Negro'(198), and paradoxically, the 'Catholic code' produced all kinds of creativity in painting.

Of course, modern information theory sees communication as a series of signifying messages themselves made up of binary elements, which can take part in binary messages, with choices as a matter of a binary again.  All this depends on there being some wall or screen together with 'a central computing hole', however [which seems to be an additional function for the black hole].  In other words, the binary system must have already structured everything.  This has a political function again, because it protects the twin processes of signifiance and subjectification from any intrusion from the outside, any 'primitive polyvocality' or heterogeneity.  Everything must be translated, and this 'requires a single substance of expression', some common semiological screen.  Both this kind of totalized communication, and the necessary 'web of subjectivities' require a central eye.

'It is absurd to believe that language as such can convey a message'(199), since it depends on this prior organization.  [Pursuing the metaphor well past its sell by date] 'choices are guided by faces'.  [Being weaselly again] there is no direct correspondence between the binaries of the face and the binaries of language, 'but the former subtend the latter'[but this has just been asserted, of course].  What the faciality system does is to 'grid' the contents of communications.  Similarly, it does not just supplement signifiers and subjects, but 'is their condition of possibility'[another assertion, replacing solid transcendental argument].  [Having another go] 'facial redundancies are in redundancy with signifying and subjective redundancies'.  Similarly, 'faces choose their subjects', as the figures which programme signifiers [possibly a third kind of relation between faces and language?].

So the abstract machine of faciality is triggered in particular social formations ['and also landscape', as an afterthought, 200, with a reference to a French writer on the political significance of landscape].  The old systems of polyvocal coding collapsed at different times, and the new semiotic of signifiance and subjectification appeared, 'crushing' the old forms.  Communication now becomes 'superlinear' rather than multidimensional, although homonyms or ambiguities present short term problems.  The new linguistics 'can tolerate no polyvocality or rhizome traits', as we see with children who prefer play or dancing to reading and writing 'and will never be a good subject'.  Some of the old systems do remain 'in well defined enclosures'.

It is not just a matter of semiotic systems, since there are assemblages of power which 'impose signifiance and subjectification' as their characteristic forms of expression.  In particular, 'there is no signifiance without a despotic assemblage, no subjectification without an authoritarian assemblage'.  These assemblages make the new semiotic system all powerful.  For example, bodies are disciplined, reducing their communicative role, 'becomings-animal hounded out' [see what they did there?  Hounded!].  Organic strata are displaced by the structure of signifiance and subjectification relying on a single substance of expression, the faciality system.  {Asserted as a single foundational substance of expression now] [Feeling it time to inject new life into the tired old metaphor, they remind us why it is called facialization -- if you decode bodies, it implies overcoding by the face.  Landscape gets to trot out again -- here it organizes 'corporeal coordinates or milieus'(201)].

Clothed bodies take part in facialization, demonstrating for example 'buttons for black holes against the white wall of the material' [ try that on Paisley prints!] , and so do masks, which instead of concealing the face of and making it part of the body, now represent an abstract face.  This relation of the face to assemblages of power consolidates the argument that 'The face is a politics' [poor grammar? No -- philosophy!].

It is been argued before [probably in chapter 5] that signifiance and subjectification have different principles and regimes, the one irradiating out, and the other following a segmentary line, and, apparently, the first depending on generalized slavery, while the latter relies on 'authoritarian contract-proceeding'[or maybe the other way around - I have not read chapter 5 yet].

Neither begin with Christ, and there are non European versions.  For example authoritarian subjectification is demonstrated best in the history of the Jewish people [more in Ch. 5].  The mixture makes them imperialist - signifiance always implies subjectivity, and all subjectification has remnants of signifiers.  Similarly, all walls include holes, and all holes scraps of wall - apparently, this grounds the mixture of the two semiotics [well, weaselling seems to apply to both].  The nature of the mixtures can vary, however.  The advent of Christ and Europeanism is important because the mixture became a matter of 'total interpenetration'.  In other mixtures, one element might dominate, however.  We're going to depict this as more potty little diagrams of types of faces on 203.

In one cases, black holes move across walls and can multiply.  Circles can be drawn around these holes.  Eyes can be placed within them [carried away with their own visual metaphors], borders increase the surface over which holes slide ['operate' would be better], and indicate 'a force of capture'.  We can see this really clearly 'in popular Ethiopians scrolls representing demons'[of course!  I know them well!].  There is a certain redundancy of frequency in this multiplication of eyes, giving the impression that 'the despot or his representatives are everywhere'(203).  This implies implacable destiny.  Some close-ups in film indicate this, as when 'the hands of the clock foreshadow something'.  In another case, the white wall unravels and becomes a thread, one black hole dominates, and the landscape also becomes a thread.  These threads coil around the hole.  Our heroes take this to mean 'reflexive, passional, subjective destiny.  It is the maritime face or landscape'(204) [I still reckon this is an allusion to something,  not poetry].  Faces appear either in profile, or facing each other, or turn away for each other 'swept away by betrayal' [see potty diagrams above].  Here, a film close-up would indicate 'a scale of intensity', as faces get closer to the black hole [Eisenstein's close-ups showing developing emotions are cited]. 

Sometimes the two roles for the close-up can be combined.  Sometimes they have similar characteristics, because white walls and black holes always go together although one can dominate.  Similarly, all black holes seem to have different regions of intensity [which is what the borders do, perhaps].  The black hole is never in the eye, but the other way around.  To add to the sophistication [!], we need to remember that deserts can also be seas.  Apparently, we can identify the themes in certain paintings of Christ (205).

Then an example I can manage - Proust and how he makes 'the face, and landscape, painting, music, etc. resonate together'.  When Swann falls in love with Odette he is doing signifying, seeing her face as screens and holes, but connected to other things [like classical paintings -- this is how aesthetic gentleman fall in love: 'a face must "recall" a painting or a fragment of a painting' (206)].  Pieces of music do the same.  This whole effort of signifiance only leads to Swann's 'passional subjective moment', however [the idiot gets self-obsessed], and 'Odette's face races down a line hurtling towards a single black hole, that of Swann's Passion'.  The same goes with all the other little indexes, producing several borders.  Swann finally has a strange revealing moment when he becomes aware of his tendency to see the faces of real people in disaggregated fragments, and he also begins to understand the musical phrase.  The latter leads to 'a still more intense, asignifying, and asubjective line of pure musicality'[or in plain English, he sees the power of the music is autonomous, affecting him directly,  and not just as representing Odette].

Is this the only way to gain salvation, through art?  How did Proust the narrator escape the limits of his own early memories, 'the black hole of involuntary memory'?  [Deleuze's book talks of Proust developing a machinic grasp of time] How do you get out of a black hole and dismantle the face?  Generally we find no answers in French novels which are descriptive of crises, and also '"critical of life"' (207).  Salvation through art is still 'catholic salvation', the consolation of eternity.  Anglo American novels are different, though, where heroes are urged to break out, travel, journey to other civilisations or take drugs.  Even there, they know how tempting it is to lapse back to something fixed [literally a face in the piece quoted from a novel by Miller, 207].  This is a breakout in real life.  It is difficult to avoid powerful signifiers, however, and 'Christ himself botched' his escape.  It seems easier to fall back into inertia.

We can become animal or even become flower, or become imperceptible, even 'a becoming-hard now one with loving'[another phrase of Miller's apparently].  We need to look behind the eyes, using 'all the resources of art' (208) [I thought that was consolatory].  However 'it is through writing that you become animal, it is through colour that you become imperceptible, it is through music that you become hard and memoryless, simultaneously animal and imperceptible: in love'.  Art is only a tool, however and it should lead to real escape not to a refuge.  There is a definite danger of madness, as we see when schizos lose their sense of face, landscape or language.

Some faces show signs of struggle, between inadequately articulated faciality traits - this is what a facial tic can be, the face blocking a line of flight and reimposing organization.  Perhaps the best approach is to locate and understand your own black holes and white walls, and only then to construct a line of flight.  The usual health warnings follow: we can not just return to some more primitive stage [with a lot of delirious stuff making the same point about impossible returns, or living with the savages in Typee].  We cannot go back, the facial machine is an impasse and must be fought.  It is possible to develop 'lines of asignifiance' that deny signification and interpretation, but only on the wall of the signifier.  You have to enter black holes in order to try to find something nonsubjective but still living, including genuine love.  You have to encounter faciality traits to release them, to reconsider their connections with landscapes and other codes and to recombine them, just as painters once worked with the face of Christ but followed their own desires.  [DH] Lawrence offers some useful examples.

The abstract machine can be taken up in strata, where its deterritorializations are only relative, or if absolute then only negative.  However, sometimes it operates on a plane of consistency and acts as a diagram: deterritorialization leads to new possibilities [new kinds of faciality?] .  Similarly, although the faciality machine mostly forces things into systems of signifiance or subjectification, it can sometimes break through.  It does this by developing 'something like probe heads' (210).  The result can be defacialization: trees can turn into rhizomes, flows can become creative flight.  Strata will disappear, so will black holes and walls.  Redundant and limited connections between faciality, landscape, painting or music will disappear, and each faciality trait can form its own rhizome.  New connections can be creative, not 'simply evoked or recalled', reterritorialized.  Connections can appear like those between the wasp and the orchid [again].  Rhizomatic potential replaces arborescent possibility.

So.  Faces are inhuman, necessarily because they are produced by a machine and controlled by apparatuses of power.  There is no return to a more genuine primitive human head, because 'In truth, there are only inhumanities' (211) [so the mood swings back to pessimism after the optimism of the paragraph above].  Yet this inhumanity can be positive if it takes the form of the probe head, which can lead to new more positive deterritorializations, even 'strange new becomings, new polyvocalities': 'Become clandestine, makes rhizomes everywhere, for the wonder of a non human life to be created'.  Perhaps there are even more stages than primitive head, Christ-face and probe head?

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