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A Thousand Plateaus

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Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis

Finally finished A Thousand Plateaus (actually I skipped a 100 pages in the middle). This is intense postmodern critical theory, much more complicated than anything Foucault has written. In the Intrdoduction, the authors write that each chapter doesn’t necessarily have to be read in order, reinforcing the feeling that each goes in its own (schizophrenic) direction. On the whole, you can discern a method to the whole piece, as it evolves from discussing psychology, language, and interpretation to more concretely political concepts like the state and the war machine.

Before getting to the overtly political issues, Plateaus reads as if someone opened up all the possibilities of perception to one’s mind, emphasizing that all events and objects in the world can be viewed differently depending on one’s spatial position and the assemblage of linguistic signs (semiotic) that assign meaning to observations. In such a world without fixity and in constant flux, what we should strive to be is a ‘body without organs’, and always maintain the ability to renegotiate our internal structure (organs) to the reality we perceive. The BwO is a “connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities. You have constructed own little machine, ready when needed to be plugged into other collective machines.” (p. 161) In interactive situations, to maintain this fluidity requires constantly being able to change one’s face, or ‘faciality’. The shifting combinations of black holes on white screens (orifices on the pristine face of Christ) form locations of resonance that connect the realities of interacting persons (we observe each other’s face to understand how other faces perceive us and their surroundings, whether their expressions indicate anger, satisfaction, etc). And like the BwO, we should strive to have an ever-changing face:

“To the point that if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facializations, to become imperceptible, to become clandestine, not by returning to animality, nor even by returning to the head, but by quite spritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings that get past the wall and get out of the black hoels, that make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face…” (p. 171)

The overtly political elements are interwoven throughout the text, but are fully expressed towards the end of the book in chapters discussing the war machine, the state’s apparatus of capture, and smooth and striated space. These sections make clear Deleuze and Guattari’s affinity for the Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun, whose Muqaddimah charts a universal history of Arab civilization. The state itself is juxtaposed against a war machine it attempts to appropriate for its own policy, in the form of military institutions. However, the war machine is always external to the state and outside its sovereignty, and has to be continutiously controlled by the state lest it becomes self-perpetuating, and takes over the policies of the state only to reproduce itself and block the development of states by keeping societies segmented and divided. (p. 355) These actual segmentations between social groups represent striated spaces that set the boundaries of smooth or ‘nomad’ spaces. “One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space.” (p. 385) The state works against an insurgent war machine that is “revived…a new nomadic potential” develops with each act of mobilization by nomads (p. 386). At the same time, the state “reimpart[s] a war machine that takes charge of the aim, appropriates the States, and assumes increasingly wider political functions” (p. 421). Therefore, we can invert the Clausewitzian relationship between war and politics and say that politics is the extension of war, a global war machine created by capitalism that politically constitutes states with the knowledge and linguistic signifiers to smooth and striate space (p. 421), and give new territorial representations to otherwise deterritorialized locations in space.

This discussion of space is especially interesting in a military context given that IDF Brigadier General Shimon Naveh has incorporated the smooth-striated space concept to describe a new tactical approach in attacking insurgent threats, commonly known as ‘walking through walls’ (see this article, and these couple posts). Naveh had misappropriated Deleuze and Guattari to think about space only in a physical sense: by walking through walls to kill an enemy, soldiers are smoothing out otherwise striated (physical) space. However, these tactics only serve to reproduce the social stratum that separates ‘Israelis’ from ‘Palestinians’, as well as the war machine that makes necessary the use of violence against subjects that are outside the state. In other words, a strategy of ‘walking though walls’ has the social effect creating hostile perceptions of threat between the IDF and its adversaries, just as indiscriminately using airpower can erode political support for military action. If the attempted smoothing of space is not accomplished by the state simultaneously appropriating (and controlling) the war machine, it will ultimately weaken, if not destroy the state.

If we take the smooth-striated model and adapt to social space, we can begin to see how insurgents and counterinsurgents compete to shape space, and attempt to turn the war machine against their adversary. Insurgents deliberately use violence while embedded within civilian population, baiting states to strike and cause collateral damage (witness the current Gaza war). Insurgents in this example try to use the war machine of the state to destroy its own political will to continue fighting. At the same time, collateral damage only recreates the communal identity of insurgents among the civilian population. Conversely, if insurgents use violence against the civilian population as a means of establishing their political authority, the state can mobilize its war machine ‘in defense’ of the civilian population. Thus, the state creates a shared identity, a smooth space of common action and cooperation that excludes insurgents whose uncontrolled war machine destroys their claim to authority. Thus, the state’s (or insurgent’s) ability to ‘capture’ war machines relies upon the inability of adversaries to ‘capture’ their own, and instead are consumed by it.

On the whole, A Thousand Plateaus speaks to the vastly complex and infinite range of possibilities taken by human societies. In exploring the theme of relativity regarding social actors (a Body without Organs recomposes its internal structure with what it encounters externally) speaks to social scientific approaches that emphasize a philosophy of science similar to quantum mechanics as opposed to Newtonian physics, yet it concerns itself with ideational elements instead of purely material ones. This is the same ontological stance that provides the foundation of John Boyd’s postmodern theory of strategy. Destruction and creation are themes of both Boyd and Deleuze/Guattari, and a greater (and more accurate) application of critical theory to war can illustrate how social entities themselves (in terms of both their boundaries and perhaps the structural-functional composition of their internal parts) are created and destroyed in war. Indeed, this process itself often determines victory and defeat.

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Written by stephenpampinella

January 5, 2009 at 11:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. [...] 10, 2009 Lots of paper writing and reading lately, some summaries are posted at the Antilibrary blog. Related to a comment I made to Lexington about [...]

    Meh « Stephen Pampinella

    January 10, 2009 at 9:06 pm

  2. great…interesting book

    IndonesiaLanscape

    December 21, 2010 at 10:27 am


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