Friday, November 17, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 7

Review of Chapter 7: Year Zero: Faciality

In chapter 5, the concept of faciality had briefly been discussed in relation to the two RoSs, signifiance and subjectification. That chapter had also identified those two RoSs, along with the body or organism, as the three “principal strata binding human beings.” The main point in this chapter is to explore faciality as an abstract machine operating in the mixed semiotic (signifiance/subjectification) of modernity, and their relation to the third stratum of the body, which is subordinated. The year refers to the founding of the Anno Domini calendar based on the presumed death of Jesus (though of course, that would have started with a year one; perhaps the zero could be taken to refer to some kind of lack or black hole at the heart of the system, a zero inside the one, but they don’t explore this.)

This chapter gets a lot of mixed reactions from readers; Dave Harris, for instance, confesses, “I grew seriously weary reading this though and I don’t recommend it to anyone really,” and yet still managed to write not one but two fairly lengthy expositions.

The face is a “white wall/black hole” system, in which the white wall corresponds to signifiance and the black hole to subjectification. They note that “the wall could just as well be black, and the hole white” (169), but later on they identify the white wall/black hole system explicitly with racism and the imperialist world order. The face is not natural, it is something that has overcoded the body/head and covers the head like a hood. The face is more powerful than the gaze, which is secondary.

They delineate four “Theorems of Deterritorialization, or Machinic Propositions:”

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. Reterritorialization is not a return to the past; this will become an important point later on.

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).

Faciality is linked to imperialism and racism; it is formed through “the collapse of all the heterogeneous, polyvocal, primitive semiotics” into the modern capitalist mixed semiotic of signifiance and subjectification (180), in the course of which the body (as the third of the three principal strata) is “decoded.” Faciality works similarly to (or can be viewed as a corollary to) the Althusserian notion of interpellation: this is explored through limit-faces, representing the despotic and authoritarian aspects of faciality. They draw on a number of literary, psychological, and artistic sources in making these distinctions, but a key source appears to be the art historian Jean Paris, whose work has not been translated into English. Drawing on Paris, they give as an exemplar of the despotic face that of the judgmental, Zeus-like Christ Pantocrator staring down from Byzantine church ceilings – “with the black hole of the eyes against a gold background, all depth projected forward;” for the authoritarian or pastoral face, that of Christ calling his disciples in a Duccio painting, “faces that cross glances and turn away from each other, seen half-turned or in profile...” (184-5). The despotic face thus commands, puts you in a state of submission; the authoritarian face, in contrast, draws you into a narrative that is also that of the loved one (etc.) as point of subjectification (as discussed in chapter 5), the narrative of loss and redemption, betrayal and hope, etc., of the modern subject. “This authoritarian face is in profile and spins toward the black hole,” (184) which could identify the black hole with the vanishing point in the Renaissance image. Numerous other links are made, of the despotic face with the proliferation of eyes in magic images, the role of closeups in the films of Griffith and Eisenstein, and the way objects are used in a way akin to that of film closeups in literature; liberal helpings of Henry Miller and Proust; as well as the Arthurian romances of Percival, and of Tristan and Isolde, mediated, it seems, through the works of Wagner.

The face, in their account, is not a natural or inevitable, nor even a truly human [but rather an uncanny] phenomenon; it is tied to the origin of the modern state and subject, and to racism, the history of imperialism, and the capitalist world order. How, then, to escape its power?

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 spiritual and special becomings-animal, by strange true becomings that get past the wall and get out of the black holes, that make faciality traits themselves finally elude the organization of the face... (171)

They warn that this is not about a return to the past; you cannot escape modernity by going back to the pre-modern condition of “primitive heads” (before the separation of the face from the head and body). The escape is not backward, but forward:

Only across the wall of the signifier can you run lines of asignifiance that void all memory, all return, all possible signification and interpretation. Only in the black hole of subjective consciousness and passion do you discover the transformed, heated, captured particles you must relaunch for a nonsubjective, living love in which each party connects with unknown tracts in the other without entering or conquering them, in which the lines composed are broken lines. (189)

The point is to try to make use of the abstract machine of faciality, to get out of the trap of arborescence and relative and negative absolute deterritorializations (which it regularly produces) to positive absolute deterritorializations (which it sometimes produces, or is capable of producing). There have been references throughout the chapter to a bouncing ball, from a Kafka short story, which as Dave Harris points out, stands for a complete lack of significance or interpretability; they also point to failed attempts to break through the wall (of signifiance), much like those failed attempts at creating a BwO in the previous chapter; Christ himself is an example, having “bounced off the wall” instead of making it through (187). Successful attempts to break through the wall, in contrast, transform into “probe-heads” (têtes chercheuses, “guidance devices”), that destroy strata, binaries, etc. to attain the plane of consistency. They then end nevertheless with a question (191): “Must we leave it at that, three states and no more: primitive heads, Christ-face, and probe-heads?"

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