Tuesday, June 4, 2024

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 10

Summary of Chapter 10: 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible …

This chapter, not surprisingly, focuses on their idea of becoming-, which could perhaps be best glossed as becoming-minor (because there is no becoming-major or becoming-molar). A related theme is the opposition between series and structure. The images are from Etruscan pottery depicting “wolfman” creatures (cf. Elliott 1995). The date links to a statement (in quotation marks) on page 237: “From 1730 to 1735, all we hear about are vampires;” no source is given for this quote, which, like several others in this chapter, is probably not a quote at all but a way of playing with voice and heteroglossia; at any rate no one on the internet seems able to find a source, though there are some attempts to substantiate the claim (e.g. Franks 2021).

The chapter is structured as a series of “Memories of a...” of varying lengths. The opening Memories of a Moviegoer uses the B movie “Willard” to introduce the concept of becoming-animal. The second, Memories of a Naturalist, introduces the important distinction between series and structure; D&G kindly provide an endnote at the end of this section (237n5) directing us to specific pages in The Savage Mind which are the basis of much of their thinking here, and also happen to give a much clearer introduction to the distinction, including a handy diagram in which L-S’s “system of totemism” corresponds to what D&G refer to as “structure,” and the “system of sacrifice” illustrates a “series” (Levi-Strauss 1966: 225). D&G trace this opposition back through western science to debates between Cuvier and Lamarck, etc.; in the 20th century structuralism “solves” this by privileging structure over series, while at the same time deriving the structure from two aligned series.

In Memories of a Bergsonian they discuss why this is not satisfactory:

We believe in the existence of very special becomings-animal traversing human beings and sweeping them away, affecting the animal no less than the human. ‘From 1730 to 1735, all we hear about are vampires.’ Structuralism clearly does not account for these becomings, since it is designed precisely to deny or at least denigrate their existence: a correspondence of relations does not add up to a becoming. (237)

“Becoming-woman,” “becoming-animal,” etc., are not matters of imitating or taking on the qualities of the entity that one is becoming (cf. the entry for “Becoming-Woman” in Bonta and Protevi). That would be following the pattern of structure a la totemism in L-S, and ultimately more of a trap than a becoming-minor (or “becoming-minoritarian” as they eventually put it). They will explain later why there is no “becoming-man;” here they introduce the idea of a “block of becoming,” [which brings to mind the Taoist idea of pu or the “uncarved block,” linking also to their concept of originary Chaos/the BwO]. This “block of becoming” seems more important than the entity or category that is becoming-, because that is really the minor term in an opposition, and the point is to destabilize the major term in relation to which that is subordinated.

Memories of a Sorcerer. Back in the previous section they invoked the “sorcerer” as a “more secret, more subterranean” alternative to the models of sacrifice and series (237). In this section they further explore “becoming-animal,” linking back to the concept of pack from the early chapters. They introduce the concept of “unnatural participation” (240) which is the link involved in becoming- (rather than similarity or imitation). They introduce three kinds of animals: Oedipal pets, the classicatory terms of the natural history of the State, and “demonic” animals of multiplicity, the pack or the swarm: “that is our way, fellow sorcerers” (241). They link these becomings to the war machine. The succeeding two Memories of a Sorcerer explore the concept in relation to themes such as the Unique, the Outsider, and bordering. Memories of a Theologian link to theological discourse, in particular Nicole Oresme, the Malleus Maleficarum, and Duns Scotus, originator of the concept of haecceity. Oresme is the originator of their terminology of varying “speeds,” “slownesses,” “latitude” and “longitude,” etc. The discussion of these concepts are linked to Spinoza, Nietzsche, and others through the three ensuing Memories of a Spinozist.

Memories of a Haecceity explores this concept deriving from Duns Scotus, the absolute thisness or uniqueness of a thing, or per D&G, of a becoming. For them this is important because haecceity is “a mode of individuation very different from that of a person, subject, thing, or substance” (261). Haeccieties do not form some background like substance: “it is the entire assemblage in its individuated aggregate that is a haecceity” (262). They return to some of their linguistic concepts, such as the idea that “a proper name does not indicate a subject” [because it indicates a haecceity] (264), indefinite articles, and they derive an argument from Blanchot against Benveniste’s theory of shifters; acc Blanchot, the third person indefinite (one, they) “ties the statement to a collective assemblage [which is a haecceity]... rather than to a subject of the enunciation” (265). Here as in other parts of the chapter, the story of Little Hans, one of Freud’s case studies, is used to show how psychoanalysis never understands becoming, because it is always trying to limit or contain becoming within its explanatory narrative.

In Memories of a Plan(e) Maker they distinguish two types of planes, or ways of thinking about planes. First, the plan(e) of organization or development, a “hidden structure” which “always concerns the development of forms and the formation of subjects.” Second, is the familiar plane of consistency.

You can see the difference between the following two types of propositions: (1) forms develop and subjects form as a function of a plan(e) that can only be inferred (the plan(e) of organization-development); (2) there are only speeds and slownesses between unformed elements, and affects between nonsubjectified powers, as a function of a plane that is necessarily given at the same time as that to which it gives rise (the plane of consistency or composition). (267-8)

In a footnote (542n48) they trace the concept of two planes, one of which is “denounced as the source of all illusions,” to Artaud’s writing on the peyote dance (which text also has plenty of stratification imagery; though Artaud seems not to have actually witnessed any such dance, and was experiencing the effects, not of peyote, but of withdrawal from heroin) (Artaud 1988: 379ff; Krutak 2014; Su 2013). This concept of two planes is, clearly, a typical shift in their terminology, away from any impression that the concepts of “plane” and “stratification” are opposing forces or tendencies:

The plane of organization or development effectively covers what we have called stratification: Forms and subjects, organs and functions, are “strata” or relations between strata. The plane of consistency or immanence, on the other hand, implies a destratification of all of Nature, by even the most artificial of means. (269-70)

Memories of a Molecule explores becoming-molecular; “all becomings are molecular” (as opposed to molar) (275). This is why there is no “becoming-man,” and even “becoming-woman” refers to not to the becoming of the molar entity “woman,” though they recognize this has a certain place in feminist struggle. They are not trying to deny that kind of [molar identity] politics (276), but rather to focus on a way of thinking that reverses the priority of the major and minor terms of the binaries that legitimate hierarchy. So, by focusing on “becoming-woman,”

We do not mean to say that a creation of this kind is the prerogative of the man, but on the contrary that the woman as a molar entity has to become-woman in order that the man also becomes- or can become-woman. (275-6)

This is about a derailing of the molar hierarchy at its core. They have in this section their famous reference to Robert De Niro “becoming-crab” in Taxi Driver (274) as an illustration of their distinction of becoming from “imitation” (which would be the structuralist/totemist thinking they are avoiding): “it is not a question of his imitating a crab; it is a question of making something that has to do with the crab enter into composition with the image, with the speed of the image.” They revisit the concept of “block of becoming” with that of the “girl,” “the becoming-woman of each sex” (277), part of their critique of psychoanalysis, and go on to discuss movement, the unconscious, etc.

Memories of the Secret covers secrets, paranoia, etc. Memories and Becomings, Points and Blocks goes into more detail on the reasons why there is no becoming-majoritarian, or “becoming-man.” Although, as a form of deterritorialization, becoming- can be and is marshalled for the molar order, their interest involves its role in deterritorializing said molar entities; “the subject in a becoming is always "man," but only when he enters a becoming-minoritarian that rends him from his major identity” (which they illustrate with the Miller novel Focus) (291). Becoming-minoritarian (as deterritorialization) is distinct from the status of being a minority, which is a molar reterritorialization that is used to uphold the majoritarian state; becoming-, rather, is about the breaking away from the molar or privileged term, such that becoming-woman, -child, -black, animal, etc. undermine the status of man, adult, white, human, and so on (both for those who hold that status, and for those who are defined against it (or more precisely, against whom, as Other, it is defined)). They define Memory as a sort of apparatus of capture [or recuperation], distinct from becoming, and discuss lines and points in their idea of a “punctual system,” as opposed to “multilineal systems;” this is explored through ideas of music derived in part from Pierre Boulez, who is the source of some of their terminology (“blocks,” “diagonals,” etc.).

Becoming-Music, the last section, explores their theory of music, which, along with art, has been a theme throughout the chapter. In particular, they illuminate the concept of becoming in relation to modern art’s relation to, and attempt to escape the domination of, faciality (discussed previously), and modern music’s attempt to get beyond the refrain (the subject of the next chapter). Naturally, “escape” and “get beyond” are a bit simplistic here, as D&G will of course articulate a much more complex relation. They end by appending four new “theorems” to their list of four from Chapter 7 (repeated here for convenience:

1. “One never deterritorializes alone,” there must be at least two terms, “hand-use object, mouth-breast, face-landscape ...” (174). This of course makes sense with all that we learned about deterritorialization in past chapters.

2. Deterritorialization has to do with intensity, not speed.

3. “the least deterritorialized reterritorializes on the most deterritorialized.”

4. “The abstract machine is therefore effectuated not only in the faces that produce it but also to varying degrees in body parts, clothes, and objects that it facializes...” (175).

The four new theorems:

5. “deterritorialization is always double, because it implies the coexistence of a major variable and a minor variable in simultaneous becoming” [e.g., man, woman; human, animal, etc.] (306).

6. “in non-symmetrical double deterritorialization it is possible to assign a deterritorializing force and a deterritorialized force, even if the same force switches from one value to the other depending on the “moment” or aspect considered; furthermore, it is the least deterritorialized element that always triggers the deterritorialization of the most deterritorializing element, which then reacts back upon it in full force” (306-7). (cf. theorem 3)

7. “the deterritorializing element has the relative role of expression, and the deterritorialized element the relative role of content (as evident in the arts); but not only does the content have nothing to do with an external subject or object, since it forms an asymmetrical block with the expression, but the deterritorialization carries the expression and the content to a proximity where the distinction between them ceases to be relevant, or where the deterritorialization creates their indiscernibility (example: the sound diagonal as the musical form of expression, and becomings-woman, -child, -animal as the contents proper to music, as refrains)” (307).

8. “one assemblage does not have the same forces or even speeds of deterritorialization as another; in each instance, the indices and coefficients must be calculated according to the block of becoming under consideration, and in relation to the mutations of an abstract machine”.

Artaud, Antonin (1988) Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Elliot, John (1995) “The Etruscan Wolfman in Myth and Ritual.” Etruscan Studies. 2(1):17-33.

Franks, Angela (2021) “Modernity's Feasting on Fluid Bodies and Empty Selves.” Church Life Journal. September 15, 2021. https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/modernitys-feasting-on-fluid-bodies-and-empty-selves/

Krutak, Lars (2014) “(Sur)real or Unreal? Antonin Artaud in the Sierra Tarahumara of Mexico” Journal of Surrealism and the Americas 8:1 (2014), 28-50.

Levi-Strauss, Claude (1966) The Savage Mind. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Su, Tsu-Chung (2013) “Artaud's Journey to Mexico and His Portrayals of the Land.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 14(5).

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