Power, Knowledge, Self-Reference: Guattari’s Triad

DCF 1.0

“Machines,” wrote Gilles Deleuze in his examination of Foucault’s thought, “are always social before being technical. Or, rather, there is a human technology before which exists before a material technology.”i With this simple statement, the entirety of processes in development of Western civilization – achieving a truly global, or even cosmological reach with the accelerations of neoliberal capitalism – is revealed for what it is: a machinic order. Marx had situated labor, or more properly the relationship between labor and the modes of production, as the base for social organization; here, we can see that this is incorrect. Deleuze’s understanding of the machine does extend beyond the purely technical, and into the array of social and power relations that are tangled within it, but it becomes essential to acknowledge that the technical precedes the varying modes of labor. What emerges from this picture is, therefore, a feedback loop, with the human and its social environment on one side, and the machinic on the other. The human and the social feed into the machine, setting its conditions, using its knowledge for its cultivation and its organizations of power for its application; the machinic, in turn, reshapes the consistency of the human and the social, the way it understands its subjective processes, the way in which it communicates, and the means through which power is organized and deployed.

This process is brought out into full clarity in one of Felix Guattari’s most enigmatic texts, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, which had been published in French in 1989 and was only recently translated fully into English. As I’ve been diving into the complexities of machinic evolution as a part of my ongoing project with Steve Hickman over at Noir Realism, I recently returned to the Schizoanalytic Cartographies with its unique perspective into machinery, subjectivity, and power.

The Cartographies are unique to their time period; unlike Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Guattari seems to exhibit a certain degree of technological utopianism, though he does insist that technology alone is not emancipatory. Following that it is within the social ferment that the machine arises from, the agency needed to change cannot from technics, but shifting the conditions of the social through both molecular and large-scale “revolutions.” But, Guattari insists, the matter is complicated by precisely the higher and higher degrees that the machinc is interwoven into the direct tapestry of everyday life. Machines are the “hyperdeveloped and hyperconcentrated forms of certain aspects of human subjectivity”ii As such, he writes, there are two key characteristics of the feedback loop looked at above: 1) “current informatic and communication machines… contribute to the preparation of (individual and/or collective) Assemblages of enunciation; and 2) “all machinic systems… are… the support for the proto-subjective processes… characterize[d] in terms of modular subjectivity.” Context is key here: by the end of the 80s, as the book was being written, a succession of world-shifting information technologies had entered the marketplace – the personal computer, the early stages of the internet, the French Minitel system, portable camcorders, VHS, cell phones, fax machines, answering machines, cable television… Far from the closed, insulated world that had marked earlier machinic paradigms, these dispersed and miniaturized technologies were both accessible on a mass scale and contributed to an acceleration in the speed of information transmission. The individual subjectivity, situated at intersections of flows that are being augmented at a lightening-fast rate, becomes modular, flexible and rearrangeable. Guattari, in these opening pages, wears the hat of the futurist and looks for the people to come, the people that will be both the produced and the producers of this epoch-shift.

Three years after Schizoanalytic Cartographies was published, Deleuze wrote his own “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” a small text that returns to the notion of this modular mode of being. Whereas Foucault’s Disciplinary Society had been exemplified by series of enclosures, rendered here as molds that shape the subjectivity, the Control Society has dissolved these forms into modulations – a “self-deforming cast that will continuously change from one moment to the other, or like a sieve whose mesh will transmute from point to point.”iii Clearly, Deleuze lacks the optimism about the “people to come” that Guattari’s solo texts often exude, a point driven home by his suggestion that perhaps future forms of resistance will require methods of “non-communication,” a stark contrast to Guattari’s ongoing interest in communication technology and “post-media” paradigms. Regardless, Guattari does indeed see that the emergent mechanosphere is not emerging from the outside of capitalism. Especially in a world where capitalist production has gone global (precisely due to the evolution of machines), all the possible subjectivities that have emerged, are emerging, and will emerge are the byproducts of our contemporary cultural-economic-technical systems. To illustrate this, Guattari develops a triad of coordinates that elaborate this precise problem:

  1. Power, as both external discipline and internal self-management
  2. Knowledge, particularly in the forms of science, technology, and economics
  3. Self-reference, or subjectivity as a process relating to both the individual and the group (the social)

These coordinates, or the “voice/pathways,” as they are referred to in the text, are forever mixing, dancing in strange ballets that new rise to new and un-expectant mutations. Furthermore, he digs into the Body without Organs of each point in this triangle:

  1. Power → the Earth itself and the populations living atop it, as a territorialized entity.
  2. Knowledge → Capital, as a deterritorializing agent
  3. Self-reference → Processuality, as a flow that is ongoing and related to dynamics between the territorialized Earth and the deterritorializing Capital

Furthermore, each of these BwOs can be fixed to certain stages in capitalist development and their corresponding societies; what Guattari is attempting to illustrate here is that while each mode is displaced by machinic evolution, mixing flows and the shifting codes and overcodes of power, the base forms continue onward, written directly into the heart of the system:

  1. Power → The Age of European Christianity (the Foucauldian Sovereign Society)
  2. Knowledge → The Age of capitalist deterritorialization of knowledge and techniques (the Foucauldian Disciplinary Society)
  3. The age of planetary computation (the Deleuzian Control Society)

More notes to follow as I move through the text…

iGilles Deleuze Foucault University of Minnesota Press, 1988, pg. 34

iiFelix Guattari Schizoanalytic Cartographies Continuum, 2013 (English translation), pg. 2

iiiGilles Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control” October, Vol. 59 (Winter, 1992), pg. 4

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7 Responses to Power, Knowledge, Self-Reference: Guattari’s Triad

  1. noir-realism says:

    Reblogged this on noir realism and commented:
    Edmund Berger of Deterritorial Investigation Unit has a great post on a little understood aspect o Guattari’s thought, explication his Schizoanalytic Cartographies.

  2. stuartelden says:

    Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    The beginning of a useful discussion of Guattari on Foucault and cartographies…

  3. Norwich MA student says:

    nice post, who made the sculpture ?

  4. arranjames says:

    Currently trying to make a study of Guattari & your posts are incredibly helpful & useful. Looking forward to what you & Craig’s project produces.

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