Grammar of the Machinic

Got my hands on a copy of Felix Guattari’s Molecular Revolution (see Charles Stivale’s comments here). It is an awesome book. I have sort of jumped in halfway as I need to write my paper for the CSAA conference (assuming it is accepted, not sure if it will be!) and get it out of the way so I can drop it into my thesis and get back to solid thesis writing.

My paper is really just going to tackle Deleuze and Guattari’s work and specifically my use of Deleuze and Guattari’s work for my thesis. Why I like Guattari’s book is that it reads like a book about method, where A Thousand Plateaus would be the result of applying this method (or the expression of the a-signifying D&G machine…). Apparently it is not the best translation, but that will never concern me.

The exact passage that best summarises, in part, the methodological approach that produced A Thousand Plateaus is:

“Denotation disappears in the face of the process described by Pierce as ‘diagrammatization’. The function of re-territorializing images, indexes and concepts is replaced by the operation of signs as the foundation for abstract machines and the simulation of physical machinic processes. This operation of signs, this work of diagrammatization, has become the necessary condition for the de-territorializing mutations that affect the fluxes of reality; no longer is there representation, but simulation, pre-production, or what one might call ‘transduction’. The stratum of signification disappears; no longer are there two levels and a system of double articulation; there is only a constant return to the continuum of machinic intensities based on a pluralism of articulations.” — Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, p. 95, italics added.

I have concerned myself with thinking through the political economy of the singular expressed by the plural articulation (‘Star Wars’ as a singular franchise-event, plural articulations and so on). Ok, so the tricky bit for Deleuzians is to remember that in A Thousand Plateaus D&G are writing about a semiotic system unlike any other. The key point to remember is that they are discussing a material semiotics; the semiotics of the machine. So when in The Logic of Sense Deleuze writes of ‘sense’ (or the ‘pure event’) subsisting in every denotation he is writing of a very human semiotic system and regime of meaning making. On the other hand, cultural commodities born of franchise-events, such as Star Wars, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Matrix and so on, are not so much denotations, but, as Guattari writes, “the foundation for abstract machines and the simulation of physical machinic processes.” They should not be thought of as constellations of meaning accessed via a demystified or counter-hegemonic consciousness or mode of engagement. They are blocks of affect and material triggers of action.

The methodology of machinic transduction strips the world of all but the most basic of human territorialisations and maps it according to the machinic expressions by which it emerges. It is not scientific, in the sense of various Marxists approaches have been accussed of failing to be, but is instead problematic. Can we think as the machine? Never. It is only ever going to be an anexact, yet rigorous mode of engagement.

As a side note, in Comments on Society of the Spectacle, Debord discusses this in terms of anaesthetists/resuscitators (30). His focus is the role of ‘self-proclaimed revolutionaries’ to be activated when needed by the spectacle: “He will essentially follow the language of the spectacle, for it is the only one he is familiar with; the one in which he learned to speak. No doubt he would like to be regarded as an enemy of its rhetoric; but he will use its syntax. This is one of the most important aspects of spectacular domination’s success” (31). The ‘language of the spectacle’ is structured according to the prevailing grammar of the machine.* The language of the spectacle includes all advertisements and other cultural paraphernalia; what I call the automotive cultural industry in the case of the system of automobility.

The problem I have with most of the literature on automobility and car culture assumes an overly basic humanistic perspective. Cars as objects of human desire and so on. The only devoutly human dimension to automobility is that we accept and assume the specifically techno-logics demanded of us by the system of automobility. When a car ‘runs out of fuel’ we give it more fuel. We drive on the correct side of the road and try to avoid occupying the same space-time coordinates of another road user. All these aspects and many more form the basis of an automobilised common sense. This basic low level common sense that we start learning from an early age when we are taught, at least in Australia, in the most basic way to fold the system of automobility into our collective consciousness, and thus become part of the machinic apparatus of automobility, when we are told to ‘look left, look right and look left again’. This singular act bestowes the ‘duration’ of the road with a particularly polarity or a-tension (as well as an attention to danger) by folding the intrinsic movement or duration of the ‘road’, as a machinic expression of automobility, into our very perception of the ‘road’, as a physical object constructed in various ways from gravel to concrete and asphalt. Any distinction between the two percepts is still organised around the specifically machinic and singular affects that define the ‘road’ as movement and, more importantly, as danger.

The constitution of this automobilised common sense, or ‘attension’ to danger and movement, defines the road safety industry’s role in the system of automobility. The basic axiom is: You move and stop when told or you are dead (or, more accurately, you are rendered properly machinic as a statistic). The road safety industry produces ecologies of movement, in which humans are but ‘road users’ and road safety diciplinarity is meant to serve as a buffer between the intrinsic inhumanity of the machinic apparatus of automobility and outright annihilation. So rather the ‘humanity of the car’ as Daniel Miller phrased it, the system of automobility as a machinic apparatus locates humans as being merely an exagerated aggregate of the automobile’s immune system or, at best, reproductive organs. Or to put it another way, do not think of the car as an extension of the human — pace pop-Freudian accounts — but the ‘road user’ (being a dividual, not an individual) as an organ of the automobile and system of automobility in general.

The grammar of the machine is necessarily inhuman. In the case of automobility it is expressed across a number of language registers from the nearly-human abstract technical language of automotive engineering to the nearly-machinic language of the pedestrian crossing’s red light/green light. The language of car enthusiasts is the abstract technical language of automotive engineering folded back into the properly human domain, that is, the domain concerned with specifically humanistic affects. The technical language of automotive engieering segments a section of the machinic phylum belonging to automobility. Enthusiasts take this segment and fetishize it with a human love. The docile commuter of automobility is the properly machinic sex organ. The structural homology between various sites of automobility is evidence of the singular machinic consistency of automobility. The car enthusiast reterritotialises automobility’s plane of consistency with human affects. Hence, ‘kickstart my heart’.

* Guattari briefly writes: “[T]he sign machines work, at least in part, directly on the material fluxes, whatever may be the ‘ideological’ system of the remaining part that functions in the sphere of representation. […] [T]here is no means of conceiving the conjunction of words and things other than by resorting to a system of machnic keys that ‘cross’ the various domains we are considering” (96). The ‘system of machinic keys’ is what I am calling the ‘grammar of the machinic’. Another way to imagine this is to remember what Deleuze writes in The Logic of Sense:

“Everything is singular, and thus both collective and private, particular and general, neither individual nor universal. Which war, for example, is not a private affair? Conversely, which wound is not inflicted by war and derived as a society as a whole? Which private event does not have all its coordinates, that is, all its impersonal social singularities?” — Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 152

The ‘impersonal social singularities’ can be the locus of organisation (‘attractors’ in science speak), but an organisation that is properly machinic, such as language or the system of automobility (unlike pure maths), will cuts across ‘words and things’ as ‘sense’. However, and excrutiatingly important, this ‘sense’ does not necessarily have to be human or even of language; all we understand is the necessarily human correlate of this ‘sense’. So, for example, the grammar of the machinic is exactly that which renders war (or ‘illegal immigrants’/refugees, IR reform/exploitation and so on) as a private affair. The ‘private affair’ is an expression of the machine that produces war as much as the machine that expresses ‘private affairs’ is producing war. As dividuals we are but ‘figural’ and machinic at the same time.

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