What is Deleuze and Guattari's "abstract machine"?
March 27, 2007 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Explain Deleuze & Guattari's "abstract machine" in a way I can understand?

I've discussed it, I've read Massumi & other commentaries, I love the Capitalism & Schizophrenia books, but for the life of me I don't seem to be able to wrap my head around this term.

It's not the only one, of course, but it's very central to some parts of _Mille Plateaux_.
posted by Joseph Gurl to Religion & Philosophy (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
(Minor hijack: is there source material available on the net? This sounds like something I might like to gnaw on.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:44 PM on March 27, 2007

I do not think anyone fully knows the answer to this question, but I think I have something approaching the beginnings of a handle on it.

"A machine may be defined as a system of interruptions or breaks."
- Anti-Oedipus, p. 36

Here's what I think they're saying:
In traditional philosophy, you have subjects who interact with objects in some way, for example by perceiving them.
For Deleuze and Guattari, being a subject or an object no longer matters; the relationships are primary--hence the rhizome, which is not nodes plus roots but rather just roots. These relationships are related to "flows." Almost anything can be said to flow, but D&G focus on very particular and everyday flows: money, shit, air, milk.

A D&G machine is composed of smaller machines, each of which sits on a flow and interrupts it. Their examples are the anus, the mouth, and so on. Thus a human body is a classic D&G machine.

But every machine is a part of a system of machines, and between them they integrate every sort of flow. Therefore there can never be a starting point and an ending point for a process: the flow is simply transformed through the interruption, it cannot be said to have a "final cause," and any attempt to limit the flow--for instance, portraying desire as something originating with a subject and ending with an object--is a camouflage operation for the actually unlimited flow. Machines make it look like there are actually beginnings and endings in the flow, providing us with an illusion of production, consumption, et cetera. If we see past this property of machines, we can understand that we are never "molecular" or "nomadic" or whatever: we are only "becoming-molecular."

I think that this relates substantially to the main thrust of Deleuze and Guattari's work, which is the production of a tenable alternative to the power/knowledge world articulated by Foucault. For Foucault, a subject is always created and delimited by power. Thus, describing the subject as a system of machines that function as interruptions allows us to see past this illusionary subjectivity to the fluidity of flows.

Think of it in the light of Buckminster Fuller's statement that "God is a verb." You may also want to read Heraclitus.

I don't know if I'm correct, but hell, interpretosis always leads to goat anus.
posted by nasreddin at 8:50 PM on March 27, 2007 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This seems a pretty compact summation of the idea.

Although may just be more of the same gobbledygook that you find confounding in the first place. Massumi's formulation is I think a good one, with interpretation (= abstract machine) serving as a sort of impetus towards (textual, or by extension, social) production. This especially makes sense as the basic metaphor here, the model it's all structured on, is the book and the play of forces within it.
posted by Wolof at 9:05 PM on March 27, 2007

Durrr. My bad. For some reason, lacking a copy of Capitalism and Schizophrenia lying around, I thought you wanted D&G's idea of machines in general.

What I said applies pretty easily to this specific instance, though.
posted by nasreddin at 9:12 PM on March 27, 2007

Raymond Bellour suggested to me that the best way to use Deleuze was as a kind of tool kit; you grab what's useful to you at the time and what is impractical or seems obscure just stays in there for possible unpacking later. This, as one would expect, is a very Deleuzian reading.
posted by Wolof at 12:05 AM on March 28, 2007

Are there really no other Deleuzians about on this day?
posted by Wolof at 5:21 AM on March 28, 2007

Anti-Oedipus is what made me give up on French Continental Philosophy as an entity. I can never make much headway with it, and I often wonder whether it's even worth attempting to do so. Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, the essays, many of Deleuze's independent exegetical projects, even the last book What is Philosophy, all endeavor to create sense. These two books decided not to make sense, and worked as hard as possible to disrupt whatever sense you might arrive at.

That said: nasreddin's account is good, but what makes the machine abstract is a certain overarching interruption, right? It's the same thing that creates the fantasy of a body without organs: an attempt to create metaphysical categories, simple delineations, and hierarchized dichotomies that characterizes philosophy in general. In short, the abstract machine is a sort of necessary perversion of the machine metaphor. It's capitalism, colonialism, ontological supremacy, etc.

I think.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:07 AM on March 28, 2007

I'm continuously coming back to the ideas of D&G (as I understand them) in making sense of the no-self theory. While my understanding of their work is limited, it is enough to break through the notion of the Self. I'm always wanting to understand more of their concepts and appreciate this thread.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 8:55 AM on March 28, 2007

Response by poster: Well, that massumi link may help me a little.

I've read D&G for coming up on 10 years, and I've always taken Bellour's approach (naively, on my own, of course), but this one thing has been niggling at me. A sort of interruption of the flow of becoming-conversant in deleuze-thought, one might say heh
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:32 AM on March 29, 2007

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