plateau three: the geology of morals
a [tentative] summary by jesse colin jackson
In the first three chapters we have two different kinds of argument. Chapters One and Two present an ethical alternative: we prefer rhizomatic to arborescent structures and systems; we prefer packs to masses. Chapter Three, however, even though its title indicates it is about morals, does not seem to present such an ethical alternative. It describes what is, not what ought to be. That chapter tells us simply how life is articulated, structured, formed, etc.
It was over. Only later would all of this take on concrete meaning.
Plateau Three: The Geology of Morals, is constituted within the framing narrative of a lecture by Professor Challenger, and consists of five major divisions: a general theory of stratification (pp. 40-45), the unity and diversity of a stratum relative to substances and forms (pp. 45-57), the variation between strata relative to content and expression (pp. 57-64), three remaining problems within Challenger’s formulation (64-72), and finally, a summary and recapitulation (72-74) (Protevi).
Let us begin at the end, as Hardt recommends. “Each stratum is a double articulation of content and expression, both of which are really distinct and in a state of reciprocal presupposition.” (Deleuze 72) Distinctions between strata are of three types: differences of content and expression, differences of form and substance within content and expression, and differences in relative movements and associated states of territorialization. Strata are divisible into parastrata (irreducible forms and associated mileu) and epistrata (layered substances and intermediary milieus). Machinic assemblages regulate relations between strata, borrowing contents and expressions from each connected stratum as necessary, and effectuating the abstract machine upon which all strata lie: the plane of consistency. “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.” (73)
Michael Hardt interprets this chapter as “three specific challenges to structuralism: the correspondence between words and things; the relation between base and superstructure; and the division between matter and mind. In short, words don't correspond to things. Rather, forms of expression and forms of content intersect through their equal participation in an abstract machine.” (2) Deleuze and Guattari object to the structuralist social metaphor and its false dichotomy between an economic base of content and superstructural institutions of expression: both content and expression form parallel parts of a double articulation, pointing towards the abstract machine via the interstratum vehicle of the machinic assemblage. As such, Deleuze and Guattari also object to any ordinate/subordinate relationship between the signified and the signifier: again, these constructs are only one of many substances and forms of content and expression, and they operate in parallel. Deleuze and Guattari establish (within Professor Challenger’s biological framework) that life is organized through this double articulation on all levels, from geological formations to cell chemistry. “If we then accept the claim from Anti-Oedipus that there is no difference of nature between the human and the nonhuman, between the biological and the social, that all life (mineral, animal, vegetable) functions along the same lines, then human society too must be organized according to the double articulation.” (5)
Manuel De Landa further explores these case studies in geology and biology that serve to test the applicability of the double articulated strata model. “Sedimentary rocks, species and social classes (and other institutionalized hierarchies) are all historical constructions, the product of definite structure-generating processes which take as their starting point a heterogeneous collection of raw materials (pebbles, genes, roles), homogenize them through a sorting operation and then give the resulting uniform groupings a more permanent state through some form of consolidation. Hence, while some elements remain different (for example only human institutions, and perhaps, biological species, involve a hierarchy of command) others stay the same: the articulation of homogenous components into higher-scale entities.” (6) The distinctions between stratum are made concrete by example, as are their characteristic differences in content and expression, and within these, substance and form. For example, in the double articulation of geology, sedimentation (content) contains both pebbles (substance) and uniform layers (form), while consolidation (expression) contains both new couplings between pebbles (substance) and an entirely new entity, sedimentary rock (form). Strata can then grouped to become a higher scale entity, a mountain, a new stratum subject to further double articulation (4-5), or divided into lower scale entities, such as rocks (parastrata) or rock-piles (epistrata), but it can never be entirely separated from the associated milieus of its constitution and its experience. In human groupings, the double articulation consists of social segragation, followed by ideological imposition: “to transform a loose accumulation of traditional roles (and criteria of access to those roles) into a social class, the latter needs to become consolidated via theological and legal codification.” (6)
More generally, Antonio Negri synthesizes some of the ideas begun in this Plateau: “Machines, the reality constructed by capitalism, are not phantasms of modernity after which life can run unscathed - they are, on the contrary, the concrete forms according to which life organizes itself, the world transforms itself, and the material connections within which subjectivity is produced.” How can we engage with the abstract machine? Is there another structure that permits us to escape our strata, and access to the plane of consistency, without participating in a machinic assemblage? “He whispered something else: it is by headlong flight that things progress and signs proliferate. Panic is creation.” (Deleuze 73)
De Landa, Manuel. The Geology of Morals: A Neo-Materialist Interpretation. http://www.t0.or.at/delanda/geology.htm
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizoprenia. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Hardt, Michael. Notes on 1000 Plateaus. http://www.duke.edu/~hardt/mp1.htm
Protevi, John. ATP3: Geology of Morals Outline. http://www.protevi.com/john/DG/ATP3.html
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Labels: A Thousand Plateaus