Machinic Univocity

by Beth Metcalf


In order to understand the machinic univocity of Deleuze, we should understand that he bases it on the univocity he sees in Spinoza.  In ‘Expressionism in Philosophy’ (p. 110-1), Deleuze describes two triads he finds in Spinoza.  In the first triad of Substance, Substance expresses itself in the attributes.  Each attribute is an expression.  An essence of Substance is expressed.  Within this triad, there is ontologically one Substance (unformed matter) which is qualitative multiplicity of substances (all really distinct).  That is, Substance is one quantity for all attributes.  But there is one quality of substance for each attribute.  Qualified substances are really distinct, not numerically or quantitatively distinct.


Then, the first triad of Substance descends into the attributes and communicates its essence to modes in a second modal triad.  Each real distinction of qualified substance, in the attributes, can be actualized into a modal-substance (formed matter).  But within a given modal-numerical distinction of formed substance, there is no real distinction.  Therefore, in the second triad, each attribute expresses itself, modes are expressions, and a modification of substance is expressed.   (EiP90) The attribute is a common form in both triads.  Attributes, taken collectively, constitute the essence of Substance in the first triad.  Attributes, taken distributively, contain the essences of modes in the second triad.


Therefore, (EiP62) we distinguish in an expression what is expressed from what is designated.  The expressed sense or essence does not exist outside its expression, but it is attributed to that which is designated.  Therefore, in the first triad, we distinguish in the expression (the attributes) what is expressed (the essence or sense) and attribute it to that which expresses itself (Substance).  In the second triad, we distinguish in the expression (the modes) what is expressed (the modification of substance) and attribute it to that which expresses itself (the attributes as the form common to Substance and modes differing in attribute).


(EiP334-5) Deleuze again describes these two triads he finds in Spinoza.  “Within the triad of substance God expresses himself in his attributes, the attributes expressing the unlimited qualities that constitute his essence.  In the modal triad God re-expresses himself, or the attributes in their turn express themselves: they express themselves in modes, modes expressing modifications as modifications of substance constituting the same world through every attribute.  This constant triadic character means that the concept of expression cannot be referred either to causality within Being, or to representation in ideas, but goes beyond both, which are seen to be particular cases of expression.  For with the dyad of cause and effect, or that of idea and object, there is always associated a third term that transposes one dyad into the other……In short, what is expressed everywhere intervenes as a third term that transforms dualities.  Beyond real causality, beyond ideal representation, what is expressed is discovered as a third term that makes distinctions infinitely more real and identity infinitely better thought.  What is expressed is sense: deeper than the relation of causality, deeper than the relation of representation….”


I take these Spinozist triads to be the same triads that Deleuze and Guattari use in describing their own machinic univocity in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.  Just as Spinoza’s first triad distinguishes in an expression (attribute) what is expressed (an essence or qualified substance) and what is designated (ontologically single Substance); so do Deleuze and Guattari in their first triad, distinguish in an expression (diagrammatic abstract machine), what is expressed (a qualified substance on a ‘plane of consistency’) from the designated (ontologically single ‘Body without Organs).  The ‘abstract machine’ is, like Spinoza’s ‘attributes’, the form common to both triads.  Their ‘abstract machine’ is a form common to the qualified Body without Organs on a plane of consistency and the modal assemblages in a stratum.  Each abstract machine constitutes the essence of a plane of consistency and contains the essence of a modal assemblage.


Just as Spinoza’s second triad distinguishes in an expression (a modal connection in whatever attribute) what is expressed (a single modification for modes differing in attribute) from what is designated (the form common to a qualified substance and modes); so do Deleuze and Guattari in their second triad, distinguish in the modal expression (assemblages of ‘content’ and ‘expression’) the expressed (a stratum of formed substances) from the designated (abstract machine common to a plane of consistency and a modal assemblage).  Just as Spinoza’s modes in different attributes express a single modification, so do Deleuze and Guattari find a single concrete assemblage (of formed substance) in every real distinction of ‘content’ and ‘expression’.  And, just as Spinoza’s ‘powers’ cut across all modes, so do ‘machinic assemblages’ (‘form of content’) and ‘assemblages of enunciation’ (‘form of expression’) cut across all assemblages.


Deleuze and Guattari (‘A Thousand Plateaus’ 253-6) describe Spinoza’s elementary forces.  They are real but they have no form or substance.  These elements of unformed matter are not infinitely divisible.  They are ‘inseparable’ singularities, because when they do separate, they change quality.  Each degree of intensity is part of an individual which may be part of another individual and another.  There are therefore intensive degrees, each composed of relations of speed, slowness, movement, and rest.  The ‘abstract machine’ is the intersection of all forms and the machine of all functions on the plane of consistency.  The ontologically One Substance expresses in one sense all modifications that differ in quality.  There is not a unity of substances (formed matters), but an infinite variety of modifications.


(‘Difference & Repetition’ 222) “Every intensity is E – E’, where E itself refers to an e – e’, and e to e – e’ etc.: each intensity is already a coupling (in which each element of the couple refers in turn to couples of elements of another order), thereby revealing the properly qualitative content of quantity.”  Each flow is already an intensive coupling.  (‘Anti-Oedipus’ p.6)  There is a first connective synthesis of production where every “object” presupposes the continuity of a flow and every flow presupposes the fragmentation of an object.  With this first synthesis, the Desiring-Machine is a flow producing machine which is always interrupted by another flow producing machine.  Each flow interrupts the other.  And, since every object is ‘inseparable’, in interrupting each other’s flow, each object changes in intensive quantity, thereby changing quality.  (Isn’t this the ontological parallelism Deleuze finds in Spinoza?  See my article ‘Parallelism and the Syntheses’)


(AO 12) But when the productive connections pass from the machines (the second, modal triad) to the Body without Organs (the first triad of Substance), we have the distributions of the second disjunctive synthesis.  Machines are points of disjunction on the Body without Organs.  The disjunctive synthesis of recording overlaps the connective synthesis of production.  (Isn’t this the epistemological parallelism Deleuze finds in Spinoza?)


(AO 16)  Then Deleuze and Gauattari describe a third conjunctive synthesis of consumption.  This is the Eternal Return where a subject, without any fixed identity, wanders over the Body without Organs.  Any intensity can come into conjunction with any other.  The dissolved subject consumes a residue of an outside, creating a new inside.


Therefore, (AO p. 36-7) Deleuze and Guattari define ‘machine’ as a system of interruptions.  Every machine is related to another machine whose flow cuts into its own.  This changes the intensity and, therefore, the nature of the machine.  Therefore, any such interruption in a flow does not disrupt continuity.  Rather it conditions continuity.  Every machine, then, is immediately production, distribution, and consumption.  These are the ‘three syntheses’ of connection, disjunction, and conjunction.  They are immediately one desiring-machine on the Body without Organs.  This is the immanence of Spinoza’s machinic univocity.


Therefore, univocity is a machine on a deterritorialized plane of unformed matter, nomadic singularities, and intensive flows.  Deleuze’s is Spinozist univocity of one Substance of unformed matter.  On this plane is the immediacy of connective, disjunctive, and conjunctive intensive flows.  Upon this plane there are also thickenings of stratification that give form to matter.  This is Spinoza’s modifications of Substance actualized in modal substances of formed matter.  But there also are constant movements of destratification and deterritorialization that keep the flows open.  The danger, from Deleuze-Spinoza’s point of view, is that this stratification will form blockages imprisoning one form of matter into a rigid system.


In ‘Anti-Oedipus’ p.326-7, Deleuze and Guattari tell us that ‘partial objects’ and the ‘Body without Organs’ are the two material elements of desiring-machines.  Partial objects are the multiplicities of the Body without Organs.  The Body without Organs is the raw material of partial objects.  The Body without Organs is ontologically one matter that fills space to degrees of intensity.  The Body without Organs, then, is Spinoza’s One Substance of unformed matter.  The partial objects are Spinoza’s ultimate attributes that qualify Substances of real distinction (which cannot exclude or oppose each other).  I believe that we can put this into the terminology used by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’.  The ‘Body without Organs’ is a term used in ATP.  It is Spinoza’s Substance of unformed matter.  But the ‘partial objects’ are the intensive features of the abstract machine in flows of parallel coupling, in the second triad.  These attributes are also the diagrammatic features of the abstract machine on a plane of consistency, in the first triad.  We are told that there is a “relation of continuity” between the Body without Organs and the abstract machine.  This relation of continuity is the ‘Plane of Consistency’.  The plane of consistency is the relation of continuous variation between the Body without Organs and the abstract machine (a plateau of variation, or a variety).


Whereas there is a distinction between content and expression in the strata, on the plane of consistency there is no such distinction.  There is no form or substance on the plane of consistency which would be necessary for that distinction.  The abstract machine as cutting edges of deterritorialization, is the placing-in-continuity on the plane of consistency.  Each abstract machine is a “plateau” of continuous variation.  Content and expression become indiscernible in a single deterritorialized flow of continuous variation.  On the plane of consistency, the abstract machine (planomenon) constitutes the essence of the Body without Organs (just as Spinoza’s ‘attributes’ constitutes the essence of Substance in the first triad). 


The abstract machine is also the diagrammatic function that distributes (as movements of speed and slowness) intensive couplings in series of content and expression.  There is real distinction and reciprocal presupposition of content and expression in the strata (the plane of formed substances).  On this plane of organization/development, the abstract machine (ecumenon) implies or contains the essences of assemblages (just as Spinoza’s ‘attributes’ imply or contain the essences of the modes in the second triad). Therefore, the abstract machine is the empty form that nomadically distributes singularity. That singularity is Spinoza’s ‘common form’ that constitutes a unity of composition (a qualified substance) on the plane of consistency and contains the modal essence of an assemblage in the strata.


Strata are thickenings on the Body without Organs.  A given stratum consists of forms and substances that are not really distinct.  A stratum has a diversity of formed substances, but diversity is not the real distinction of disparate difference.  An assemblage stakes out a territory of diversity within each stratum.  Each stratum, then, is determined by the real distinction of an assemblage (content and expression).  This makes each stratum really distinct from any other (or substrata change nature with each new layer of actualization).  But within a given stratum, there is no real distinction.


Inside the strata, content and expression have reciprocal presupposition, piecemeal insertions, and they are realy different from other strata.  Aren’t the assemblages of content and expression the variables of the first connective synthesis?  But within assemblages, content becomes a pragmatic system (machinic assemblage) and expression becomes a semiotic system (assemblage of enunciation).  Now assemblages are no longer confined to strata.  Now, expression becomes ‘incorporeal transformation’ that attributes an expression to a content.  Isn’t this new assemblage that which, outside the strata, co-adapts ‘form of content’ and ‘form of expression’ in the second synthesis?  That is, isn’t the ‘machinic assemblage’ Spinoza’s ‘ontological parallelism’ that becomes the new content for a new expression in ‘epistemological parallelism’ of the second synthesis?  (See my article ‘Parallelism and the Syntheses’.)


In the first synthesis, the assemblage is the double articulation of content and expression inside the strata.  But there is also the disjunction of ‘form of content’ and ‘form of expression’ that cuts across all the strata.  This is the speech act of ‘incorporeal transformation’ which can be compared to what Deleuze describes as Spinoza’s two powers of the second synthesis.  The incorporeal transformation does not represent, but it is the expression that intervenes into contents to slow them down or speed them up.


Deleuze and Guattari speak of the ‘abstract machine’ and the ‘machinic assemblage’ which, they tell us (ATP 71), are closely connected but entirely different.  The machinic assemblage “effectuates” the abstract machine by reaching its pincers out to all other parts of the machine.  An abstract machine draws a line of continuous variation on a plane of consistency.  The machinic assemblage effectuates the abstract machine by coadapting relations between segments of content and expression on a stratum.  The machinic assemblage is composed of states of forces (form of content) and regimes of signs (form of expression) across all strata.  The machinic assemblage also divides epistrata (development of substances) from parastrata (organization of forms) on a stratum.  Between strata, the machinic assemblage relates substrata and corresponding changes in organization.  The machinic assemblage touches the plane of consistency effectuating an abstract machine on a stratum and between strata.  (ATP73) “Machinic assemblages are simultaneously located at the intersection of the contents and expression on each stratum, and at the intersection of all the strata with the plane of consistency.  They rotate in all directions, like beacons.”  The machinic assemblage effectuates changes in intensive degree of the abstract machine (the common form of the essences of substance and modes), and it thereby changes the nature of the plane of consistency and the actualizations of the assemblages.


The machinic assemblage effectuates the abstract machine as developed on a plane of consistency or enveloped in strata.  Each time an abstract machine constitutes an essence of qualitatively distinct consistency, it is also the form that implies the essence of a modal assemblage.  A plane of consistency and a modal assemblage share a common form each time.  The abstract machine is effectuated across machinic assemblages, and as intensive quantity changes in degree, the qualitative nature of the machine changes immediately in ontologically one Substance. 


So, the machinic assemblage reaches out its pincers into all parts of the machine.  As the variation of the machinic assemblage changes in degree of intensity, it effectuates changes in the variety or the nature of the abstract machine.  The machinic assemblage (which changes the intensive degree of variation) effectuates the abstract machine (variety) as it is developed on the plane of consistency and enveloped in a stratum.  The machinic assemblage concretely effectuates the changing intensive and diagrammatic features of an abstract machine.  It effects all the double articulations within and between the strata.  And, outside the strata, the transversal crosses all assemblages.  Machinic assemblages territorialize, deterritorialize, and reterritorialize the strata.  The first two syntheses are actualizations of territorialization and reterritorialization cutting across all territories. 


The assemblage has a territorial side which stabilizes it in actualizations.  There is also a deterritorializing side of cutting edges which carry the assemblage away.  The abstract machine operates inside concrete assemblages.  It is the cutting edges of decoding and deterritoriization.  But also, the abstract machine opens territorial assemblages onto cosmic becomings of the third synthesis of conjunction.  This is the absolute deterritorialization of counter-actualization.  The function, or diagram, of the ‘abstract machine’, draws the cutting edges of absolute deterritorialization and opens the ‘assemblages’ onto another type of assemblage (unformed matter and nonformal function) of cosmic ‘becomings’.  Deleuze and Guattari write (ATP 69)  “….if we consider the plane of consistency we note that the most disparate of things and signs move upon it: a semiotic fragment rubs shoulders with a chemical interaction, an electron crashes into a language, a black hole captures a genetic message, a crystallization produces a passion, the wasp and the orchid cross a letter….There is no “like” here, we are not saying “like an electron,” “like and interaction,” etc.  The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real….The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distance.  It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural.  It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.”  Beneath the strata, the abstract machine constructs continuums of variation on a plane of consistency.  This is neither a “black night” of undifferentiated unformed matter, nor is it a “white night” of chaotic formed matter.  Planes of consistency are really distinct differentiatations of unformed matter, ontologically one. 

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