Some notes on : Deleuze G and Guattari F (2004) [1987] A Thousand Plateaus, London: Continuum.

This book is unreadable.  The authors have made it unreadable deliberately, because they are arguing throughout that we need new ways of conceiving of the world which break out of conventions, conventional classifications, celebrate multiplicity and making creative connections.  They say that’s what they’re doing here: for example, they have apparently been criticised for quoting lots of literary references, but they say they’ve got to plug their arguments into something, so they might as well just show us what they’ve been making connections with.

I must say it makes more sense after long hours of reading other works by Deleuze (and Guattari) and commentaries and codifications (like Buchanan on the rhizome here) , but whoever thinks this is a suitable starting point for students is a sadist. The discussions in Dialogues is a bit better (or maybe I did more work before I got there. It was written between Anti Oedipus and ThouPLat, apparently, and it also has the brave Claire Parnet as a contributor, who is able to bring Deleuze down to earth now and then

There is a reasonably clear discussion of what they are on about, and an explanation of what the 'delirious' style is trying to do in a subsequent discussion -- here.

Manuel DeLanda has been very helpful to me in explaining some of the other things that Deleuze is plugged into, new developments in maths and biology especially, and his series of video lectures is well worth attention -- here.  Sorry to any mathematicians or biologists reading this but this is my gloss:

For example 'multiplicity' has a mathematical meaning -- points located on however many dimensions on a topographical space -- which I had not grasped. Folding is a topographical operation, involving distorting shapes into new shapes, preserving quantities and connectivitities. Singularities describe particular points. Those multiplicities comprise whole planes of immanence and they can be joined together by following paths on the plane. Humans and horses are singularities on the abstract plane [of being?] and the way you become animal for DeLanda is to remove the particularities of human, revert to the plane and trace a path to the particularity of 'horse'. Anyway,the importance of speeds, flows and intensities also derives from mathematical attempts to specify the dimensions of topographical space as opposed to Euclidian.

All this is fine except that

1.       It makes the book particularly inaccessible, since it is often written in what is literally a private language, according to personal goals which often seem to be developing obsessional classifications, sometimes based on someone else’s argument, sometimes to develop an argument with someone else.  That someone else is often not specified or referenced. By any standards the 'evidence' for some of the points is very flimsy.

2.       Of course, fellow members of the elite band of French academics who were making their mark in the 1960s  will follow much of this, and doubtless enjoy it.  They were also struggling to break free of conventional ways of thought, in ‘state philosophy’ as the introduction puts it.  Foucault (in Power/Knowledge) says there was a need to break with Freudianism, Marxism, and structuralism in particular, in order to write about new and interesting things.  However, the point made by Bourdieu about Barthes might be relevant too—this was a way of building a career outside of the normal conventional routes to academic success.  I also like Bourdieu’s comment that lofty discourses covering a range of different disciplines can often only operate with 'approximate borrowings'.

I think this only matters when people who did not belong to that context, who know nothing about it, and who have never suffered by having conventional analysis imposed on them are somehow persuaded to read this stuff.  Poor teacher trainees and researchers apparently need to read Deleuze.  What chance have they got?  In my view, as I said in my comments on Anti Oedipus, they will be forced to develop a kind of homelier version of this philosophical speculation.  There will be reduced to the terms of ‘progressive’ education.  I have tried to suggest what might happen in my innocent summaries of the bits I have read.

Generally, though, I intend to take the authors’ advice literally and not read this as a book, but consider it more as a record playing in the background [oh for the dear dead days of vinyl!].  I will just skip some tracks I don’t like, I will stop listening carefully if the cat needs to be left out, I’ll go back and listen to bits until I get impatient with them.

OK, so I made some notes of varying lengths on some 'plateaus' ( I still call them chapters, just to annoy deleuzians). I did this with varying enthusiasm and varying insight. I went off and read other stuff before returning in some cases to these notes. I did not read the chapters in order, but I list them in order. Over to you

Chapter 1  Introduction: Rhizome. Useful for spelling out the philosophical/mathematical notion of a rhizome. Humble plant root it is not. Note that the rhizome occurs in other chapters too, like Chs. 4 or 10. I was struggling with this though, and it shows. It really anticipates much of the discussion to come and it is baffling if you meet the terms for the first time. Read it as a conclusion.

Chapter 2 1914: One or Several Wolves. This is a far better introduction. We get graspable (just)  summaries of D's&G's  criticisms of Freud as partial ( in both senses) abstractions from a much more machinic (virtual) conscious made of various assemblages. En route, we hear about multiplicities, the body without organs, and becoming. Sometimes the style is wild'n'wacky and typically over the top, so you get used to that too. There is even a bit about proper names and collective enunciations. There is an example of short story by Kafka (Jackals and Arabs) which can be used to test out deleuzian readings for yourself. Above all, the chapter is fairly short.

Chapter 3 10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?). Pseudy nom-de-plume 'Professor Challenger' bears the narrative (and takes the blame). An extended discussion of strata (geological and metaphorical) leads to an introduction to Hjelmslev (who does a lot of work later -- eg in Ch.4),and argues that, in a certain way, strata and other things, express themselves.

Chapter 4 November 20, 1923 Postulates of Linguistics. My notes say either this is more transparent or I am getting used to incomprehensible bullshit. It is a discussion of 'order words' and indirect discourse,and again takes the 'transcendental' line to suggest that other approaches to linguistics deal only with narrow abstractions from a much wider 'machinic' or virtual collections of assemblages.

Chapter 5 587 BC--AD 70: On Several Regimes of Signs. Introduces the terms signifiance [NB not significance] and subjectification to explain the (limited) creative powers of 'individuals' in despotic and authoritarian regimes. Reference to Althusser on the subject. Lots of critical discussion about Saussurian linguistics. Ends with an argument for the 'Abstract-Real', ie the virtual, to explain linguistic variations and differences between 'sign regimes'.

Chapter 6 November 28 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs? Lots of different definitions and arguments, all as examples of approaches that might be transcendentally/deductively overcome to get a machinic version (only hinted at in the end)? Particularly dense and self-referential (I have tried to clarify by including some additional notes eg on Artaud's play). Must be very mystifying unless you have already read some Deleuze,or better still DeLanda on modern embryology so you can get the bits about the BWO as an egg. Reading 1960s texts like those written by Castenada will also help.

Chapter 7 Year Zero: Faciality. Strange work on 'the face' as a disciplining mechanism for communication, reducing sentences to binaries. Their counter to Lacan's emphasis on the phallus?  Together with Ch 11, this is D&G discussing the political and social limits on linguistic creativity. Guattari's discussion in Machinic Unconscious is slightly clearer. Helps if you have read Proust (or my summary here)

 Chapter 8 1874: Three Novellas or "What Happened?" A discussion of 3 novellas (one of them The Crackup by F Scott Fitzgerald, also discussed elsewhere eg Logic of Sense). The discussion turns into an account of three different sorts of 'lines' in literature and life, including line of flight. Terms like 'becoming imperceptible' are introduced. The usual dangers are outlined.

Chapter 9 1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity This is the most 'political' chapter, analyzing power in terms of constructing segmented lines. Happily, all that is opposed by abstract machines producing mutation and flow. An abstract functionalism lurks here and there. The chapter warns that apparent escapes often reproduce micro powers, and ends with a rousing warning about lines of flight and war machines becoming fascist (presumably explaining the date).

Chapter 10 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible. The discussion builds on the much more comprehensible one in Logic of Sense. This is a popular term, but the actual chapter is interminable, so 2 sets of notes are available, one much longer than the other. Definitely NOT just about kids developing through play, although there are a couple of sentences about them. About the way things are connected at the virtual level, meaning that fixed categories and simple connections like causals are inadequate,whether developing classifications, using language,or describing reality. Free-wheeling discussion with weird examples. Ludicrous mess around the discussion of haecceity (about 1/3 way in) ending in contradiction covered by bullshit and waffle --e.g. Little Hans is not a real subject at all, just the Proper Name of a becoming-horse. A discussion on method ensues via the wretched plan(e)s -- again the implications are pursued obsessively and  mystified.

Chapter 11 1837: Of the Refrain. The refrain is another way to preserve order against chaos. A long discussion of dodgy  ethology shows that animals can develop refrains too, which are not just learned or determined by the environment -- we need a virtual assemblage to grasp the possibilities again. Discusses 'the Dividual'.

Chapter 12 1227: Treatise on Nomadology:- The War Machine. Very long indeed, and probably the most dubious in terms of basing arguments on 'evidence' gathered from French anthropology and general histories ( and literature, of course). All this is used to generate really windy generalizations followed by the inevitable 'clarifications' and backpedalling. Nomadic peoples and concepts are creative (eg they deterritorialize)  but State apparatuses try to domesticate them with 'bad' deterritorialization and reterritorialization, and this helps us see what happens to the war machine itself. Variants can be traced to assemblages and machinic phyla etc. Metals are the mode of thought of the artisan [!]. Royal science is the model of normal thought.

Chapter 13 7000 BC: Apparatus of Capture. Long again. Continues ch 12 with lost of historical examples leading to a proliferation of possible mechanisms of capture and resistance and their interactions. Social assemblages are needed for analysis, not modes of production. Ends with a long discussion of convergences and tensions, almost 'crises', in 'axiomatic' capitalism, with an optimistic politics that cites Negri and Italian autonomism based on minoritarianism.

Chapter 14 1440: The Smooth and the Striated. This begins easily enough with what looks like a pretty straightforward metaphor  -- smooth spaces permit multiplicities to operate relatively unconstrained by lines or strata and thus allow rhizomatic growth. Also discussed in ch 12. However, we find that in most cases the smooth is mixed with the striated. Subsequent discussion to clarify the two in principle leads to some interesting ontology and discussion of the multiplicity, and mathematics [with which I struggled].  Some applications include textiles, music, work in capitalism [with a good discussion of Marx] and nomadic art.  Includes the much less-well discussed 'holey space' (on holes see Ch 7 as well).

Chapter 15 Conclusion: Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines. Picks out the main points for them. Far from helpful -- even denser than the main parts. They seem to be trying to make the different bits cohere -- fit rhizomes to smooth spaces etc. It is like an obsessive structure for a sci-fi novel. Where things don't fit we have to invent new cases -- new types of abstract machine, for example.  In the process, it becomes clear that some chapters are used to make generalizations in a dubious way - - what we know [which is based on one source anyway] about birds and grass stems has some major significance for the operation of expressions etc. Hjemslev is used as some organizing classificatory principles which flicker on and off.

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