Friday, March 15, 2024

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 9

Summary of Chapter 9: 1933: Micropolitics and Segmentarity

In this chapter, D&G expand upon the Foucauldian concept of micropolitics, and quite significantly transform the anthropological concept of political segmentarity. As Eugene Holland emphasizes in his chapter of A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy, the chapter draws heavily on, and adapts, the terminology from the preceeding chapter on lines (Holland 2018). The year 1933 refers to the date the Nazi party took power in Germany. The image for the chapter is Fernand Léger’s Men in the City of 1919.

They begin by delineating three kinds of segmentation: binary (into dualisms), circular (into circles, or rather [centers and peripheries], and linear (along lines, “of which each segment represents an episode or ‘proceeding’” (209)). Naturally, these three types overlap and are “bound up” with one another. They note the origin of the concept of political segmentarity in anthropology (the key text they cite is African Political Systems), but they are expanding this beyond the non-state tribal form to any kind of human society, including and particularly states: “The classical opposition between segmentarity and centralization hardly seems relevant” (209-10). [After all, the metaphor of “centralization” invokes the “circular” type of segmentarity they have just defined]. Modern states thus work as much through segmentarity as do pre- or non-state societies, the only difference being that the state works through [or most noticeably through] rigid, rather than supple, segmentation.

They then discuss how “primitive” supple and “modern” rigid segmentarity work through each of the three kinds of segmentation, relating this back to concepts such as faciality from the previous chapter.; they summarize three “principal differences” between rigid and supple segmentarity:

1. “In the rigid mode, binary segmentarity stands on its own and is governed by great machines of direct binarization, whereas, in the other mode, binaries result from ‘multiplicities of n dimensions’” (212).

2. In their discussion of circular segmentation, they argue that with the state’s rigid segmentarity the circles become “concentric,” and importantly they resonate with each other; there is still a diversity of power centers, but they resonate together to create centrality/State power (as an effect, thus, of segmentation, rather than its opposite; Foucault’s “disciplinary archipelago” might be relevant here), whereas in primitive societies supple segmentarity had inhibited such centralization (cf. Evans-Pritchard, Clastres, etc.).

3. “Finally, linear segmentarity [as it becomes more rigid] feeds into a machine of overcoding that constitutes more geometrico homogeneous space and extracts segments that are determinate as to their substance, form, and relations.”

They tie this to their much earlier distinction between the two distinct processes of arborification (rigid segmentarity) and rhizomaticity (supple segmentation), and reiterate that the codes and territorialities of primitive societies act to prevent resonance, while rigid state societies replace these with overcoding and “specific reterritorialization” (213).

Nevertheless, they insist, it is not enough to distinguish between centralization and segmentation, nor between supple and rigid segmentarity, as these all exist in all kinds of states, with “nuclei of rigidity or arborification” in pre-state societies, and supple segmentation forming a “fabric” in state societies that makes rigid segmentation, in fact, possible. They now relate the two segmentarities to their molar (rigid) vs. molecular (supple) distinction, both distinct and inseparable; “every politics is simultaneously a macropolitics and a micropolitics.” Molar/macro aggregates are based on a molecular/micro flow, in the case of the macro binary division of male and female sexes, on “a thousand tiny sexes;” in the case of social classes, on the much more amorphous and molten movement of masses. “Mass” is irreducible to “class,” because formed by supple rather than rigid segmentation, although classes [as molar categories and sets of relations] do form out of masses by crystallizing them; masses in turn are “constantly flowing or leaking from classes.”

They discuss their particular theory of fascism, and distinguish it from the totalitarian state, per se. “Doubtless, fascism invented the concept of the [macropolitical, molar] totalitarian State, but there is no reason to define fascism by a concept of its own devising” (214). Not only are there non-fascist totalitarian states, but fascism itself pre-existed the totalitarian state, created it (in 1933) out of its network of pre-existing, micropolitical, molecular organization. [Their stance on Fascism seems to draw largely on the work of Jean-Pierre Faye, known better in English for the stupidly reductionist “horseshoe theory.”] The “cancerous” molecular flow of microfascism is much more dangerous than the totalitarian state, which is why the capitalist states were willing to side with Stalinist Russia against Hitler. The parable of fascism allows D&G to ask (215) “the global question: Why does desire desire its own repression, how can it desire its own repression?” This cannot be explained away as some [unmündig] submission by the masses, masochistic [death drive], nor ideological credulity:

Desire is never separable from complex assemblages that necessarily tie into molecular levels, from microformations already shaping postures, attitudes, perceptions, expectations, semiotic systems, etc. Desire is never an undifferentiated instinctual energy, but itself results from a highly developed, engineered setup rich in interactions: a whole supple segmentarity that processes molecular energies and potentially gives desire a fascist determination.

This micro-level of desire as flow is one reason why even if you are “antifascist on a molar level, you might “not even see the fascist inside you,” i.e., how fascist/[reactionary] stances, etc., can persist inside progressive movements (e.g., how patriarchy, homophobia, and racism can manifest within class movements, racism or transphobia within feminist or sexual liberation movements, and so on [although calling all of these inequalities “fascism” still seems overly simplistic to me]).

Their point in calling out the molecular aspect of fascism is, once again, to point out that the state is not just some macro/molar entity, opposed to some kind of anarchistic, free-flowing, and inherently liberatory desire. They delineate four errors which should be avoided when thinking about molecular supple segmentarity:

1. Axiological, the expectation that a little more suppleness will necessarily be good; but supple segmentarity can be fascistic.

2. Psychological, the assumption that the molecular is just a matter of the imagination or personal psyche, and thus not really important; however, it is every bit as real as the molar.

3. [Size], the molecular is not really “smaller” than the molar, though it works on a smaller scale; both are equally coextensive with the social field. [Though one would think the molecular in fact penetrates further, goes beyond what the molar can envision or grasp?]

4. Fourth, there is not some incommensurability or inability to interact due to the radical difference in scale, the molar and molecular are constantly interacting and influencing each other.

They discuss the interrelationships of molar and molecular, the stronger the molar organization, the more dependent it is on molecularization. They counter the Marxist concept of society as being defined by contradictions, saying this applies only at a molar level; at the molecular level, it is defined by lines of flight. To the molar segmented line, they pair the molecular quantum flow, with a “power center” that links them and effects “relative adaptations and conversions … between the line and the flow” (217). [In other words centralized power is not about molar per se, but about a relationship between molar, rigid segmentarity, and supple molecular quantum flows]. They discuss capitalism and banking in terms of this rigid control up to a point, dependent on what is actually not controlled; “That is why power centers are defined much more by what escapes them or by their impotence than by their zone of power.” They reference Foucault’s “microphysics of power” from D&P.

They use this terminology to discuss religion, states and warfare, and the debate between Tardean and Durkheiman sociologies. They provide a historical account from the Middle Ages through the emergence of capitalism, as the flow of various masses, introducing the concepts of connection (“the way in which decoded and deterritorialized flows boost one another, accelerate their shared escape, and augment or stoke their quanta” (220) and conjugation (the “relative stoppage” of flows, “like a point of accumulation that plugs or seals the lines of flight, performs a general reterritorialization, and brings the flows under the dominance of a single flow capable of overcoding them”). Through connections, then, different flows amplify and extend each other, effecting deterritorialization; through conjugations, these flows are brought under the control of, and made use of, by the State, capitalism, etc. They note that (in Chapter 7) they had already established that the most deterritorialized element is the one on which reterritorialization takes place; in the formation of capitalism this is the bourgeoisie (as mass, not as class). They discuss further the relationship between mass and class and include a footnote (537n20) detailing how their usage differs from the traditional mass/class distinction.

They tie into their tripartite typology of lines from Chapter 8:

1. “a relatively supple line of interlaced codes and territorialities; that is why we started with so-called primitive segmentarity, in which the social space is constituted by territorial and lineal segmentations” (222);

2. “a rigid line, which brings about a dualist organization of segments, a concentricity of circles in resonance, and generalized overcoding; here, the social space implies a State apparatus. This system is different from the primitive system precisely because overcoding is not a stronger code, but a specific procedure different from that of codes (similarly, reterritorialization is not an added territory, but takes place in a different space than that of territories, namely, overcoded geometrical space);”

3. “one or several lines of flight, marked by quanta and defined by decoding and deterritorialization (there is always something like a war machine functioning on these lines).”

It should not be taken from this ordering that “primitive” supple segmentarity is originary or first, and the others come after in some kind of historical development; rather, each could be seen as primary, or better, all as simultaneous and present in all kinds of societies, though interacting differently. [Cf. the argument made by Clastres, etc. that “pre-State” societies are in fact militantly anti-Statist, already organized to prevent the emergence of the State as a mutation of their own social organization.]

They illustrate the entanglement of the three kinds of lines by discussing three aspects of “power centers,” aka “focal points of power.” First, power centers in the form of army, church, state, etc., work through resonance rather than some kind of absolute centralization. Centralization is always relative and dependent on segmentation (as the “focal point” is where lines cross and entangle, and thus not distinct from segmentarity). There are always other power centers which have relative resonance; overcoding brings one line to the fore, gives one power center more resonance. “Thus centralization is always more hierarchical, but hierarchy is always segmentary” (224).

Second, power centers are not just molar but also molecular, that is, they work through micropolitical, interpersonal relations. In an institution, not only the power exerted by the schoolmaster, warden, etc., but that by the best student, dunce, janitor, etc. displays that these roles all have both molar and molecular sides. Foucault’s D&P is again referenced for the concept of “focuses of instability;” [in which passage, F is discussing how micro-powers work on the body of the prisoner/student/solder/subject, and arguing against the repressive hypothesis or the [modal] social contract for his agonistic view of power relations]. “... [M]olar segments are necessarily immersed in the molecular soup that nourishes them and makes their outlines waver” (225).

The third aspect of power centers is as mediators or translators, between quantum flows and rigid segmentation. This in-between is also where the “micro-texture” of micropolitical interactions takes place. Power centers translate quantum flows into rigid segments, this is their “power and their impotence” [cf. Foucault on “conduct”] because they are not the source of power, but a means of its transmission or conjugation. The example is given of capitalists, banks using the money-form to capture flows of desire, etc. They list three “aspects or zones” of every central power (226):

1) “its zone of power, relating to the segments of a solid rigid line;”

2) “its zone of indiscernability, relating to its diffusion throughout a microphysical fabric;” and

3) “its zone of impotence, relating to the flows and quanta it can only convert without being able to control or define.”

Once again, they emphasize that “We cannot say that one of these three lines is bad and another good” (227), because each has its dangers; they discuss four dangers, Fear, Clarity, Power, and Disgust. Fear is fear of flight, causing us to flee from the line of flight to the rigidity of the rigid line. Their description of Clarity is reminiscent of a drug or fever-induced vision of ultimate certainty; it exists, however, in the line of supple segmentarity and is linked to microfascism. “Instead of the great paranoid fear, we are trapped in a thousand little monomanias, self-evident truths, and clarities that gush from every black hole and no longer form a system, but only rumble and buzz, blinding lights giving any and everybody the mission of self-appointed judge. dispenser of justice, policeman, neighborhood SS man” (228). [I feel the distinction between Fear and Clarity is linked to that between the Despotic and Authoritarian faces/subjectifications].

The third danger is Power or totalitarianism, which takes place on both the rigid and supple lines at once:

Every man of power jumps from one line to the other, alternating between a petty and a lofty style, the rogue's style and the grandiloquent style, drugstore demagoguery and the imperialism of the high-ranking government man. But this whole chain and web of power is immersed in a world of mutant flows that eludes them. It is precisely its impotence that makes power so dangerous. The man of power will always want to stop the lines of flight, and to this end to trap and stabilize the mutation machine in the overcoding machine. But he can do so only by creating a void, in other words, by first stabilizing the overcoding machine itself by containing it within the local assemblage charged with effectuating it, in short, by giving the assemblage the dimensions of the machine. This is what takes place in the artificial conditions of totalitarianism or the “closed vessel.” (229)

The fourth line of flight, Disgust or despair, is when the line of flight leads to pure destruction (cf. Chapter 6). They emphasize that this is not a “death drive,” because they do not believe in “drives” underlying desire. Rather, like war, it is a mutation in the war machine; the war machine in itself “in no way has war as its object,” because its origin is not in the State but in nomadic societies opposed to the State. [Holland points out that more felicitous names for “war machine” could be “mutation machine” or “metamorphosis machine” (Holland 2018, p. 162).] They promise to return later to the relation between “war machines” and “war.” The end with a discussion of the “paradox of fascism” and its distinction from totalitarianism, which is the ultimately centralized State apparatus.

Fascism, on the other hand, involves a war machine. When fascism builds itself a totalitarian State, it is not in the sense of a State army taking power, but of a war machine taking over the State. A bizarre remark by Virilio puts us on the trail: in fascism, the State is far less totalitarian than it is suicidal. There is in fascism a realized nihilism. (230)

As evidence that fascism boils down to a kind of suicidal nihilism, they cite Hitler’s “Telegram 71” ordering the destruction of German infrastructure (and thus mass suffering for the German people) rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the allies. “A war machine that no longer had anything but war as its object and would rather annihilate its own servants than stop the destruction. All the dangers of the other lines pale by comparison" (231).

Holland, Eugene W. (2018). “Micropolitics and Segmentarity.” In Henry Somers-Hall, Jeffrey A. Bell, and James Williams, eds., A Thousand Plateaus and Philosophy. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.

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