ANALYSIS—Deleuze & Guattari—The Material of History

In the process of parsing the section ‘1837: Of the Refrain’ (from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus1) in preparation for my essay, I think I’m seeing an interesting treatment of thought and life as material.

Towards the end of the section they discuss the three ‘ages’ (“assemblages enveloping different Machines, or different relations to the Machine” p. 382), the classical, romantic, and modern, which represent the processes of becoming that art (and history) demonstrates:

The essential relation is no longer matters-forms (or substances-attributes); neither is it the continuous development of form and continuous variation of matter. It is now a direct relation material-forces.. . . There is no longer a matter that finds its corresponding principle of intelligibility in form. It is now a question of elaborating a material charged with harnessing forces of a different order: the visual material must capture nonvisible forces. (p. 377)

. . . modern philosophy tends to elaborate a material of thought in order to capture forces that are not thinkable in themselves. That is Cosmos philosophy, after the manner of Nietzsche. (p. 377–8)

In order to do this the concept of consistency is developed, which is deterritorialisation, life:

[Life] . . . implies a gain in consistency, in other words, a surplus value (surplus value of destratification). (p. 370)

Life, this consistency, allows us to access ‘forces’:

It is no longer a question of imposing a form on a matter but of elaborating an increasingly rich and consistent material, the better to tap increasingly rich forces. (p. 363)

The problem is no longer that of the beginning, any more than it is that of a foundation-ground. It is now a problem of consistency or consolidation: how to consolidate the material, make it consistent, so that it can harness unthinkable, invisible, nonsonorous forces. (p. 378)

This leads to D&G’s suggestion that perception of these forces governs history:

The most we can say is that when forces appear as forces of the earth or of chaos, they are not grasped directly as forces but as reflected in relations between matter and form. Thus it is more a question of thresholds of perception, or thresholds of discernability belonging to given assemblages.. . . In this sense, all history is really the matter of perception, and what we make history with is matter of a becoming, not the subject matter of a story. (p. 382 – my emphasis)

NB D&G’s texts are incredibly dense and complex. I feel that I’m only scratching the surface of them at the moment and may well be misunderstanding or grossly misinterpreting them. But they’re very rewarding and I’ll continue to work at them.

  1. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987). 1837: Of the Refrain. In A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum, 1987, pp. 342-386.

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