In this post I want to use the different accents that Delueze and Guattari give to the notion of transversality at different times in their respective solo and co-authored texts . A good grip on the notion of transversality is essential to understanding Deleuze’s conception of the event. As most readers would know one of the big things I have been working on for my dissertation is a conception of the event that is suitable for Cultural Studies.
Very basically, I posit that for Deleuze transversality is an ontological distributionor movement between the virtual and actual. For Guattari the concept emerged from his institutional psychoanalytic work. ‘Institutional’ in this context is of course a pun, for Guattari worked within an institution, but the institution itself, or more specifically the various subjectivities enabled by the clinical institution were incorporated into therapeutic/psychoanalytic practice in a transversal manner. The bridge here is actually to a large degree Guattari’s work. Deleuze once described himself as an innocent (or something like that) of his generation of philsophers because he naively presented concepts in their raw state while others were working with the same problems in much more sophisiticated ways. Well I suggest that Guattari was working with the similar problems in much more practical ways. Cultural Studies, or at least the version I do, is much more practical than ‘philosophy’.
Foucault also had a concept of ‘transversality’ he used as an archival tool. Guattari makes mention of the difference of the Foucaultian notion in Molecular Revolutions and Foucault’s comments on his method in Society Must Be Defended regarding his consideration of it in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of a ‘minor science’ I think justifies the connection. I will also use my reading of Foucault’s notion as a coounter example to Guattari’s notion. Both Foucault and Guattari’s respective notions are extremely practical ways of using transversality compared to Deleuze’s philosophical concept. Between Deleuze’s anexact yet rigorous conception of transversality and Guattari and Foucault’s respective applications there is something of a gap, or at least the illusion of a gap, that is very productive.
The gap is between two tendencies that exist on either end of the spectrum of onto-epistemological expression. On one side transversality is the ‘nomadic distribution’ of singularities across the virtual and actual dimensions of reality as a multiplicity. This would be forever now invoked as the ‘rhizome’, but I suggest one forgets the concept of the ‘rhizome’ because it makes it too easy to think reality in only the actual aspects even while imagining one is accounting for the virtual, and hence too easy to forget the dynamic processes of individuation (the relevance of Sinthome’s post). Not simply that a group of some description if a multitiplicity, of course it is, but that an individual is also simply a multitiplity, which he, she or it is, but that the individual and the group are both transversality aligned according to a distribution of singularities across the event, as the event. This was precisely my problem, and why I thought there was a ‘problem of scale’ regarding the event, when in fact there is no such problem if the tranversal dimension of the event is taken into account.
On the other side transversality is a concrete manifestation in the institution (psychoanalytic clinic) or the archive. In both cases it may not exist at all but has to be evoked or deployed. Transversality is a bomb; it is a weapon, and sometimes a tool. In the institution it problematises subjectivity (as an event); in the archive it problematises the historical event. The institution and the archive are different simply because in both cases there is a variation in the interplay of difference and repetition. Transversality in the institution opens up a space of potentiality by differentially repeating the expectations that come with institutional subjectivities. It is not a wild release of desire, but a sober modulation of subjectivities in motion or the elements of subjectivity, that is to say the partial objects that enter into dynamic relations as the event of subjuectivity.
In Chaomosis Guattari writes:
When we speak of abstract machines, by “abstract” we can also understand “extract” in the sense of extracting. They are montages capable of relating all the heterogeneous levels that they traverse and that we have just enumerated. The abstract machine is transversal to them, and it is this abstract machine that will or will not give these levels an existence, an efficiency, a power of ontological auto-affirmation. The different components are swept up and reshaped by a sort of dynamism. Such a functional ensemble will hereafter be described as a machinic assemblage. The term assemblage does not imply any notion of bond, passage, or anastomosis between its components. It is an assemblage of possible fields, of virtual as much as constituted elements, without any notion of generic or species’ relation. In this context, utensils, instruments, the most basic tools and the least structured pieces of a machine acquire the status of a proto-machine.