Mille Plateaux: 4,5,6

     D&G write in the preface to the book that the various chapters or

plateaus are relatively independent and can be read in any order, but I

think that is really misleading.  It is true that this book does not

have the relentless linearity of AO where the results of each part were

taken up systematically and developed in the next.  In MP, however,

there is nonetheless a progressive construction of the argument in

which concepts (such as rhizome or double articulation) are elaborated

in one plateau are then built on and taken for granted in the next. 

Each plateau is not really sufficient and self-contained but rather

refers to more general arguments that are presented by the book as a

whole.  There is something, though, that's different about the book,

but rather than saying that each plateau can be read on its own, I'm

tempted to say that none of the plateaus can be understood before

having read the whole book.

     This is I think how I got myself into trouble last week with

chapter 3, the Geology of Morals.  I was frustrated by the biological

discourse because I saw no point for ethical intervention in it, no

space for politics or pragmatics.  I think now I was asked too much of

that chapter on its own.  There are points of political intervention in

biology, but perhaps not in that chapter, perhaps not in year 10,000

bc.  I have to find the political moment in other plateaus and read

chapter 3 in their light.  What is experimentation in biology?  How can

we discover variation, passage, and deterritorialization in biology? 

This would not be experimentation to discover how things are, but

experiment to make them how we want them to be -- perhaps not discovery

then but invention.  The only example I can think of are contemporary

body artists such as Stelarc who change their own bodies either

externally with plastic surgery or internally, changing how the stomach

works.  One then ought to ask how that is political, but that is a

matter for another time.



     Chapters 4, 5, and 6 are all conducted on an explicitly political

terrain.  I want to ask first of all in what way these sections are

political and what is meant by politics.  One of the preconditions and

really one of the bases for the arguments about linguistics and

semiology in the first two of these chapters is that language is not

the model for all structures and organizations (as structuralism or

some currents in structuralism would have it) but rather that the

question of language is merely a subset of the larger question of

regimes of signs, the question of semiotics.  I don't think it's best

to understand what a regime of signs or what semiotics is by starting

from language and then expanding or extrapolating.  It is better rather

to start on a completely different track.  I would say as a first

approximation that a regime of signs is a society.  Consider, for

example, the ancient history of the Jews around the period of the

destruction of the temple that D&G present.  "There is a Jewish

specificity, immediately affirmed in a semiotic system.  This semiotic,

however is no less mixed than any other.  On the one hand, it is

intimately related to the countersignifying regime of the nomads" (p.

122), the Jews the wandering people, but "on the other hand, it has an

essential relation to the signifying semiotic" (pp. 122-23) by which

the Jews dream or reestablishing an imperial society, and finally,

perhaps most importantly it is characterized by a specific

postsignifying, passional regime.  Now this mixed regime of signs, this

mixed semiotic, is nothing other than ancient Jewish society.  It is

not that this regime is also social (just as sociolinguists like Labov

will argue that language is also social or that it necessarily relates

to society).  No this regime is society itself; society is nothing

other than this regime of signs.  (Or I guess we would have to say that

society is also a regime of bodies, a physical system that is distinct

from the sign system, but let's leave that question aside for the

moment.)  Once we cast the question of language in the larger and

proper framework of a regime of signs, then, and once we recognize a

regime of signs as a society, it is clear a priori that this is a

political terrain, simply in the sense that all questions are

immediately questions of the polis, of the social field.  "For language

is a political affair before it is an affair for linguistics; even the

evaluation of degrees of grammaticality is a political matter" (139-


     Being a political matter, however, simply in the sense of referring

to or having social consequences, doesn't yet really grasp what I mean

by political here.  Last week I talked rather vaguely about ethics in

order to refer to the possibility of alternatives and action.  Perhaps

rather than ethics I should talk about pragmatics.  This is the opening

in these chapters toward political action.  "Pragmatics is a politics

of language," (82) or perhaps more generally, pragmatics is a politics

of semiotics.  What do they means by political here?  How does one do

politics in D&G's universe?  It is of course a practical matter, but I

would argue that the first thing one needs is criteria for political

action, and that is what D&G provide.  You can recognize when D&G are

proposing criteria for political action when they start talking about

usage or particular two different usages for something.  The difference

between major and minor is perhaps the clearest criterion we get in

these chapters.  "'Major' and 'minor' do not qualify two different

languages but rather two usages or functions of language" (104).  The

major usage of language insists on language's unity and uniformity, on

the fixity of its constants.  The minor usage operates a reduction of

constants and proliferates variations of the language.  "The major and

minor modes are two different treatments of language one of which

consists in extracting constants from it, the other in placing it in

continuous variation" (106).  Maybe we should even distinguish here

between the majority usage of language that is the dominant

standard, the minority usage that also poses a standard but a

subordinated one, a stable ghetto language, and finally a minoritarian

usage that poses no standard but only variation, that deterritorializes

the major language.  According to this understanding all great authors

invent a minor language, or more properly, they make minoritarian usage

of the language.  In the beautiful expression of Proust that D&G cite,

every great book is written in a kind of foreign language.  This minor

language or minor literature is more or less the center of D&G's little

book about Kafka.

     We should also cast this difference on a larger plane, not just as

two usages of language, two ways of speaking or writing, but as usages

of society, two ways of living.  The major or majority way of living

refers to the standard of the society, to the "adult-white-

heterosexual-European-male" (105) as D&G say.  The minor or minority

refers then to nonstandard ways of living.  The difference between

majority and minority has nothing to do with numbers, because in fact

the minorities are most often larger in number.  It is probably not

wrong to say that the difference is not one of number but of power,

that the difference between the majority and the minority is a power

difference, but D&G rather refer directly to the social standard or

constant as the mark of the majority.  The minority way of living,

then, would refer to a subordinate system, or a subsystem -- one,

however, that still maintains a standard.  I think it would be accurate

to link this to our notion of subculture (and it would be interesting

to situate the question of subculture developed in British cultural

studies in this context -- I'm thinking specifically of Dick Hebdige's

book).  Finally, minoritarian is something different: "we must

distinguish between: the majoritarian as a constant and homogeneous

system; minorities as subsystems; and the minoritarian as a potential,

creative and created, becoming" (105-06).  It might be true (I wonder

about this) that the minorities as subsystems or subcultures would have

more access to a minoritarian becoming than those closer to the

dominant standard: Kafka as a Czech Jew writing in German was perhaps

in a better position than Goethe to deterritorialize the German

language, to invent it as a foreign language.  This might be an

interesting point at which to link this to Hebdige's notion of

subcultures and their creativity.

     The minoritarian usage, then, is not simply the usage that is

proper to subordinated populations.  It is defined rather by its

creativity.  In fact, the minoritarian is the only source of creativity

or production among these three.  The majority usage just repeats the

dominant standards, and the minority usage repeats the subordinated

standards.  There is no majority or even minority becoming, because

they are both stuck in homogeneous repetitions.  Only the minoritarian

usage is a becoming; and it is only a becoming. 

     Back in the context of D&G's order-words, we should recognize that

there are two usages of order-words.  The major usage of them is as

commandments or orders -- "You will do this, you will not do that" --

each of which, according to D&G, is a little death sentence.  The major

usage of order words is always a verdict.  But of course that is not

the only usage possible: "the order-word is also something else,

inseparably connected: it is like a warning cry or a message to flee"

(107).  The minoritarian usage of order-words is part of a line of


     We have seen these lines of flight posed as the political

alternative before, but what interests me here is that flight or escape

is not enough.  "In the order-word life must answer the answer of

death, not by fleeing, but by making flight act and create," by

transforming "the compositions of order into components of passage"

(110).  Flight must be creative.  It must not only be the refusal of

the major usage, the refusal of the standard, the norm, the law, but a

creation of an alternative.  In other words, flight cannot be just

flight -- that would be negative and empty.  Flight must be positive and

creative: constituent flight.  Now, when I say constituent we can't

just mean the constitution of an new order, new norms, a new majority. 

As D&G say in the passage I just cited, it involves a transformation of

"the compositions of order into components of passage."  The passage is

what I'm calling constituent flight.  Another way of approaching this

is to say that D&G are proposing not a new order nor a new standard,

but rather a new usage, or maybe a new way of life, a new mode of life. 

So this is my answer to the question about what does politics means

here in its most summary form: alternative usage, passage, constituent


     Parenthetically, I want to address in the context of this

discussion of minoritarian politics D&G's easily irritating use of the

term "becoming-woman."  (You might recall the term becoming-woman used

earlier in AO in the context of President Schreber, who was becoming a

woman.)  The term is used here principally to illustrate the fact that

minoritarian usages are creative and majoritarian are not, or in other

words, that minoritarian usages are becomings.  "There is no becoming-

majoritarian; majority is never becoming.  All becoming is

minoritarian.  Women, regardless of their numbers, are a minority,

definable as a state or subset; but they create only by making possible

a becoming over which they do not have ownership, into which they

themselves must enter; this is a becoming-woman affecting all of

humankind, men and women both" (106).  Men are the majority and women

the minority even if there are more women than men because the standard

is defined in terms of Man.  Women/minority is thus a state or a

subset, which is itself not creative nor subversive.  What is creative

is not the fact of being a minority but rather a minoritarian usage, a

becoming.  Becoming-woman a process, a becoming that has woman as the

endpoint, it is not a process of becoming more feminine so as to reach

the final ideal identity.  (And in this sense President Schreber's

becoming-woman insofar as he was simply changing sex is misleading). 

Becoming-woman doesn't have an identity as its endpoint nor really any

endpoint whatsoever, but rather it is a deviation or flight from the

standard of Man that creates an alternative, a passage.  In this sense,

it is D&G's way of naming a feminist practice, a feminist usage.  [I

should note that there have been several interesting debates about this

term "becoming-woman" in D&G.  Alice Jardine and Rosi Braidotti have

written against D&G's usage of it and Camilla Griggers has tried to

develop it into a useful feminist concept.]

     I want to open one other parenthetical note about minoritarian

politics that arises from the passage I cited about becoming woman. 

They said that this becoming-woman affects all of humankind, men and

women alike.  D&G said from the beginning that major and minor do not

have to do with number, in the sense that the majority might refer to a

smaller number of people and the minority a larger number.  Once we

consider them as two political usages, though, majoritarian and

minoritarian, they do have to do with number in a reversed and absolute

way.  "But at this point, everything is reversed.  For the majority,

insofar as it is analytically included in the abstract standard, is

never anybody, it is always Nobody ... whereas the minority is the

becoming of everybody, one's potential becoming to the extent that one

deviates from the model.  There is a majoritarian "fact," but it is the

analytic fact of Nobody, as opposed to the becoming-minoritarian of

everybody" (105).  "Continuous variation constitutes the becoming-

minoritarian of everybody, as opposed ot the majoritarian Fact of

Nobody.  Becoming-majoritarian as the universal figure of consciousness

is called autonomy" (106).  I'm interested in the collective dimension

of this explanation, which qualifies what might have sometimes seemed

like very individualistic notions of flight.  Minoritarian politics is

not only collective, however, it is universal or at least potentially

universal.  It is potentially the politics of everyone. 



     I'm still trying to work out D&G's usage of abstraction, largely

around their analyses of abstract machines.  Frequently in common

situations one might be criticized for being too abstract, particularly

in political discussions.  I often get this response.  The reasoning is

that the abstract is assumed to pertain to the ideal realm and in

contrast the practical always involves a minimum of abstraction, it is

concrete.  D&G, however, maintain the role of the abstract in practical

politics.  The first level of explanation for this is that they

consider the abstract not ideal but virtual.  The importance of this

shift for us now is that is the position of the two conceptions with

respect to reality.  The ideal is opposed to the real but the virtual

is not.  The virtual is opposed to the actual, but it is completely

real.  (For those of you familiar with Marx, I think his discussion of

the "real abstraction" is very close to this.)  But staying within the

D&G framework, the best way to approach understanding this concept of

virtuality is to begin by thinking about what is not actual -- or

better, what is not actuel in the sense of the French word as either

spatially present or temporally present.  The virtual is what is

inactual but real.  Deleuze's favorite example for this is memory in

Proust: a memory is real but not actual.  So, then, an abstract machine

or diagram is virtual and completely real even if it is not actual. 

(Remember that the Foucault's understanding of the Panopticon is as a

diagram.  The panopticon is virtual, real but not actual.)  The

question, then, if we are going to insist that this level of

abstraction is how does this virtual, abstract machine relate to what

is actual, to what is here and now.  "Defined diagrammatically in this

way, an abstract machine is neither an infrastructure that is

determining in the last instance nor a transcendental Idea that is

determining in the supreme instance.  Rather, it plays a piloting role. 

The diagrammatic or abstract machine does not function to represent,

even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come,

a new type of reality.  Thus when it constitutes points of creation or

potentiality it does not stand outside history but is instead always

"prior to" history.  Everything escapes, everything creates -- never

along but through an abstract machine that produces continuums of

intensity, effects conjunctions of deterritorialization, and extracts

expressions and contents" (142).  The response, then, to the person who

tells you you are being too abstract in a political discussion, is that

on the contrary we are never abstract enough.  Political action flows

from or through the abstract machine which is entirely inactual.  The

abstract machine is prior, or, in other words, as I argued a few weeks

ago, it is productive.  I'm still a bit unclear about this "piloting"

role or about the kind of determination exercised by the abstract

machine, but I hope that will become clear in some other week.


The Masochist

     I think this question of abstraction and politics is also central

in the project to make for yourself a body without organs.  (There is,

of course, a rather close relation between abstract machine, plane of

consistency, and body without organs.)  Now, we have to ask two

questions about this "abstract" or "virtual" project to make a body

without organs: how to do it, but first of all why do it?  D&G answer

the why question in terms of desire.  The body without organs is the

field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency proper to desire

(where desire is defined as a process of production, without reference

to any external instance, such as lack that would crush it or pleasure

that could bring it to an end).  (NB that Deleuze's criticisms of

Foucault and his use of pleasure in the letter from a few weeks ago are

taken up again verbatim here and in a footnote.)  So the BwO is the

field where desire can produce freely without end.  We might say also

that the BwO is the field where intensities can best appear and grow. 

The BwO is itself of zero intensity but it is the proper medium for

intensities.  I would say, then, translating it into another language,

that we should make a body without organs in order to increase our

power to act and think and to increase our power to be affected.  D&G

really only focus on the second half, on the power to be affected, the

heightened intensities. 

     The masochist construction of a BwO is a good example of the

increase of our power to be affected.  The masochist is not really

interested in pain.  Pain is merely a means: "the masochist uses

suffering as a way of constitution a body without organs and bringing

forth a plane of consistency of desire" (155).  "The masochist

constructs an entire assemblage that simultaneously draws and fills the

filed of immanence of desire; he constitutes a body without organs or

plane of consistency using himself, the horse, and the mistress" (156). 

D&G then cite a case in which a masochist plans how he wants his

partner to ride and kick him with her boots in order to have an intense

on him to leave an imprint on his body.  "Legs are still organs, but

the boots now only determine a zone of intensity as an imprint or zone

on a BwO" (156).  The masochist makes a BwO in order to increase his or

her power to be affected, in order to nurture zones of intensity.  But

in these terms this can seem a completely unpolitical and individual

practice.  I would say that in order to conceive the program to

construct a body without organs as a political practice the other

aspect must be emphasized -- that corresponding to the increase in our

power to be affected is an increase in our power to act and think. 

Here the example of the masochist might not be sufficient, and I would

like to come up with something more adequate.  We need to think of a

way to link this conception of making a BwO with the universality and

creativity of the notion of a minoritarian becoming that they proposed

in the linguistics chapter.