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April 19, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Body without organs? War machine? Huh?

Robert Deuchars is a lecturer in the School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations.He talked to VBC 88.3’s Jonathan King about his upcoming lecture entitled ‘Nomad thought, global capital and the war machine in Deleuze and Guattari’.

Who are Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari?
Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) was one of France’s most influential 20th century philosophers. Influenced primarily by Spinoza and Nietzsche, he wrote a number of important works in philosophy, including books on Hume, Foucault, Nietzsche and Spinoza. He is most famous though for his collaborations with Felix Guattari (1930-1992), the radical psychotherapist and political activist. They co-authored Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, which were both best-sellers in France. Their final collaboration was in a book called What is Philosophy? Deleuze is considered a leading figure, along with Michel Foucault, in continental philosophy in the post-structuralist movement, although some critics place him in the postmodern camp, which is a basic misreading of his work. His engagement with the hard sciences and with complexity theory has meant that his ideas cut across many disciplines from cultural studies to political theory.

What do Deleuze and Guattari mean by ‘body without organs’, ‘war machine’ and ‘lines of flight’?
This would take pages to answer so here are some shorthand definitions. The body without organs means many things, but in its simplest form it is what Deleuze and Guattari call a “plane of consistency”. In that sense the earth itself is a body without organs upon which all experience is expressed. The body without organs is also a limit to the desiring function of all other “bodies”, whether they be humans all the way to rocks and trees. Deleuze and Guatarri do not consider the world the be comprised of stable entities, rather the world is made up of a series of flows, travelling at differential rates of speed and intensities. In a general sense then, the body without organs is a substratum of flows.

In a thousand plateaus the war machine is established by two inter-related axioms. The first is that “the war machine is exterior to the state apparatus” and, secondly, that “the war machine is the invention of the nomads (insofar as it is exterior to the state apparatus and distinct from the military institution)” and establish it in opposition to the apparatus of state power. However, the war machine has very little to do with war proper and is better understood as a radical type of thought that forms a central aspect of the Deleuzean politico-philosophical project. In other words, it is a war of becoming over being. The war machine potentially involves everyone, as it provides a radically different ontology for both the globalising tendencies of capitalist power and the various forms of resistance to that mechanism of power. The war machine is not, however, something instrinsically good, and Deleuze and Guattari point out that it can take malign forms. What is important in Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of many types of war machine is that they are all irreducibly social in nature. It is the social base of all war machines that enables the conceptual tension of the term ‘war machine’ itself to be appreciated. It is not only nomads that can form a war machine, but eventually the state itself can become something altogether different; a war machine formed by social formations that proceed to ‘take over’ the state apparatus itself, Nazi Germany for example.

‘Line of flight’ is a concept used by Deleuze to explain rhizomatic thinking and the creation of paths or journeys of escape from the apparatus of capture found in the state formation. The apparatus of the state is primarily concerned with coding and inscribing all bodies. Lines of flight are attempts at deterritorialisation, or to escape the striated space of the state and move into smooth space. Striated space is confined space, but very loosely smooth space are spaces of freedom, without instrinsic properties and without pre-defined direction. To take an everyday example, think of young people who skateboard on the road, or people who ride bikes over walls and street stairs. In these simple examples they are deterritorialising the striated space established by the apparatus of capture, appropriating it for creative ends and ‘becoming something altogether different’. In other words, they are creating the conditions for smooth space whereby free action has the potential to occur.

In terms of the question of students and the university, how do you think the body without organs, the war machine, and the creation of lines of flight are helpful?
The glib answer is resistance. However, that would depend on how the student body is constituted and what forms of expression it takes. As far as I am aware the student body here is highly coded, captured and individualised. However, the appearance of spaces in between the codification of the student body (nothing is ever completely captured) create the conditions or potentialities for war machines to emerge, and for lines of flight to be created. This does not suggest, however, advocating confrontation with the primary mechanisms of control i.e., law, institutions and contracts, but the active and affective expression of creative thinking and actions. Confrontation is situational so it would depend on the particularities of situations that may appear as unfair, oppressive, dominating and so on.

Very briefly, what is nomadism?
Deleuze sees in Nietzsche a type of experimental ‘nomadism’, a form of non-philosophy that escapes the confines of the philosophical discourse of his time. This discourse is firmly rooted in the outside or exterior to the philosophy of state or of sovereignty. It implies movement, speed, and unexpected irruptions and sets itself in opposition (although not binary) to the tired and worn effects of dialectics; in other words, the affirmation of chance, creation and most of all, in the eternal return. The dicethrow in Nietzsche confirms “Affirmation of the many. But all the parts, all the fragments are cast in one throw; all of chance, all at once.” This, in short, is the defining feature of the eternal return. In other words, what returns is not the same, but returning itself. Pure difference.

However, although Deleuze and Guattari argue that although the war machine originated with nomads, there is nothing especially important about them. At one level of thought nomads, say in the form of the early artisans or metallurgists, draw “a plane of consistency, a creative line of flight, a smooth place of displacement”. This is a war machine but of consequence only insofar as it demonstrates groups’ abilities to carve out space for themselves, rather than occupy the space created by a higher or pre-given ordering principle or process. This war machine forms the part of the Deleuzean critique of hylomorphism. In short, Deleuze states that “the primary determination of nomads is to occupy and hold smooth space; it is this aspect that determines them as nomad (essence)”.

This is one form of the war machine but not taking a revolutionary form, merely action to avoid the overcoding of the State apparatus. In this sense, many social formations have the potential to constitute a war machine, but one of relatively little importance when it comes to the consideration of active and effective resistance to the globalising tendencies of contemporary capitalism.

Robert will be speaking as part of Victoria Student Media’s lecture series ‘How do we make ourselves a student body without organs?’ this Thursday at 5.30pm at the Adam Art Gallery.


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  1. machine says:

    Great idea! Love seeing a creative mind work and gain success!!!!!! Hope it continues to grow!


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