▶TR :: Trans-machine Express!

Everything is a machine. We are here to convey expressive thoughts traversing all those machines. Expecting their reaching to numerous unknown machines, we hope to assume the role of making them unfold outward and be folded inward by the outside.

  Machine and Machinism


Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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Ever since they co-wrote Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze/Guattari refers to anything that has a body as a 'machine'. Commonly represented by the word ‘machine’ are things like a computer, engine, clock, and hammer. etc. Yes, these are all machines. On the contrary, what they referred to by the word ‘machine’ should be said to be the opposite of this kind of representation. This is because they describe things like breast, mouth, and anus as machines. “The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine, an anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing machine (asthma attacks).”(Anti-Oedipus(AO), 1)

In the conventional notion, the machine is a concept opposite to the living thing, organism. It is against that notion to say that the breast and the mouth are machines because they belong to the body of a living thing. Therefore, the machine they refer to is very different from the conventional concept of machine. They refer to anything with a body, whether living or non-living, as a machine. But a machine is not isolated but always connected to another one, and it becomes a different machine depending on the modality of the connection. In Anti-Oedipus, they define the machine this way: "Desiring-machines are binary machines, obeying a binary law or set of rules governing associations: one machine is always coupled with another....There is always a flow-producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast-the mouth)."(AO 5)

The term 'binary machine' means that all machines operate in couples with other neighboring machines. The breast and the mouth are the cases. The mother's breast is a machine that produces the milk flow, and the baby's mouth is a machine that connects to the mother's breast to interrupt and draw off the milk flow. The mother and the baby are not important here. The same can also be said for the coupling of a nursing bottle and a mouth, and that of sheep's milk and a little goat's mouth. Regardless of which organism they belong to, the milk and the mouth connect and operate in this way. However, this is not the only way the mouth-machine operates. When the mouth vomits milk, the mouth becomes not an eating-machine but an excreting-machine. It is converted into an anus-machine that interrupts and draws off the flow of excreta. The mouth-machine is converted into a speaking-machine when it interrupts and draws off the air flow to make a sound of crying or speak.

In a nutshell, all 'things that operate by connecting binarily to interrupt and draw off a certain flow' are machines. The same body or thing becomes a different machine when the neighboring machine connected to it or the flow interrupted and drawn off changes. For example, the mouth becomes an eating-machine when it connects to the esophagus to interrupt and draw off the flow of food, but when it connects to the respiratory tract to interrupt and draw off the air flow, it becomes a speaking-machine. All machines are ‘binary machines’ because they always operate by connecting with neighboring machines binarily.

It is desire that decides which machine to connect to and which flow to interrupt and draw off. According to the decision of desire, the machine produces the object of desire and interrupts and draws off it. In other words, when the desire produces the object, the machine that produces the object is also produced. The desire to eat leads the mouth to become an eating-machine, and the mouth becomes a speaking-machine by the desire to speak. The reason that these are named 'machines' is to emphasize the fact that everything 'operates' in a certain way and 'produces' a certain result. The world of desire is not the theater stage which represents dream or fantasy like Freud’s ‘Oedipus’ discourse but the factory that produces physical outcome(AO, 24).

Machines are all 'desiring-machines.' One could annotate this concept according to the style of Expression in Philosophy: Spinoza: The machine is the expression of the desire, and the flow of the desire expresses itself with different machines; The production ability of the desire on each occasion is expressed by the machines. However, Anti-Oedipus stays away from it for the reason that the idealistic concept of 'expression' is insufficient(AO 6). The concept of sign expressing sense seems to be considered as a contemplative concept that can't contain the production which operates and changes the body. This is probably the reason that they pronounce the 'materialist' psychiatry which puts 'production' at the forefront(AO. 22).

However, if the machine is defined like this, you may ask back if machines not belonging to living things, such as engines or clocks, are excluded from the concept of machine conversely. But we have to say ‘No!’. The engine becomes a mobile-machine when connected to the wheel, but it becomes a water-pumping-machine when connected to the pump. The mobile-machine is both the product of the desire to move faster and at the same time the machine that produces that desire. The desire to control the distribution of the water is at operation in the water-pumping machine. Machines connect and operate crossing the boundary between living things and non-living things. Again, it should be remembered that ‘desire’ here doesn't mean the desire of human or organism(see ‘desire and production’). As Kafka shows, the janitor-machine connects with the gate-machine and interrupts and draws off the flow of human traffic. These two machines are binary machines that are connected and operated by one desire.

On the contrary, one might think that language or proposition can also be a machine. However, language or proposition is a sign that expresses or converts the state of a machine, not a machine. Machines are distinguished from the incorporeal in that they have the corporeal attribute. Even a great idea or a wonderful imagination, without gaining the corporeality of the book, fails to become a machine that produces something repeatedlyㅡ‘mechanically’ㅡand perishes. Even an excellent technical idea can’t become a machine in reality until it acquires corporeality. The idea of flying with wings has existed since ancient times. But it was nothing but a daydream until the ability to corporeally embody it emerged. Conceptual art, which emphasizes the importance of idea, would have remained a mere personal fantasy if there were no performances to enact it or corporeal devices to record and display it.

The same goes for the sentences that commands obedience to a law or precept. No matter how strong the command is, without a physical device or a machine to enforce it with, the legal provisions are no more than a bunch of words. It's often said that information pattern is everything, but without the physical devices that record and process the flow of information, it's really nothing. Without mechanical devices that convert all information into binary numbers and process them, information patterns could not have been as important as they are today. Of course, thought, idea, law, or information is powerful and has the ability to convert the machine. But it is operable only when the relevant mechanical factor with corporeality is available. This is why machines that operate and produce are important. In short, whatever does not have corporeality, no matter how important it is, is not a ‘machine’ by itself. It doesn’t have the power to operate repeatedly and produce something, unlike a machine. This is probably why Deleuze/Guattari stay away from even the concept of expression for the reason that it is idealistic and take the position of the materialism of machine.

Additionally, the proposition that all machines are binary and that the machine producing the flow and the machine interrupting and drawing off the flow are linearly connected is modified later. When Deleuze/Guattari say about the innovation caused by the assemblage of horse-stirrup-horseman(A Thousand Plateaus(TP, 399) or by that of man-horse-bow invented by nomads(TP 404), machines are neither binary nor linear. It is also difficult to distinguish the machine producing the flow and the one interrupting and drawing off. Therefore, they grasp machines as things connecting in one assemblage and operating together with; so the minimum operating unit is an assemblage(Dialogues, 51). This means that the same thing or person becomes a different machine when the assemblage changes.

What this concept of machine primarily aims at is the concept of ‘organ’ paired with ‘organism.’ The lung is a respiratory organ, and the stomach is a digestive organ. An organism is an organic whole, and the organs are the tools that perform the functions such as respiration and circulation, etc. to sustain life. In other words, the concept of organ implies the fixed place and function assigned to each organ and the command to perform the assigned function for the organic whole. The theory of social organism proposed by Spencer illustrates the sense of this command very well. According to that theory, the caste or status system, which allocates the roles of organs such as the head, arm, and leg of the social-organism to the respective status group and fixes life to it, is in accord with the nature of life. The same goes for substantializing communities such as the state and the family and emphasizing the roles of citizens and children.

Deleuze/Guattari, like Artaud, are declaring war on the organs 'to be done with the judgment of God' that determines their fates(TP 150). They use the concept of 'machine' to emphasize the virtuality that escapes the fate as organ and operates differently. This is why they use the concept of 'partial object' in Anti-Oedipus. The partial object doesn't assume the whole of an organism and is paired with the partial desire that doesn't know mother nor me. For Freud, those are the breast as the object of the mouth and dung as the object of the anus. Expanding the partiality of the body against the organic whole, Deleuze/Guattari say every part of the body is a machine that has its partial object. The reason that they bothered to use the concept of 'machine' for part of an organism or a body was to replace the concept of 'organ.'

As the concept of machine crosses the boundaries between living thing and non-living thing, organism and machine, it now has the transversal ability to deconstruct the long-standing confrontation between 'mechanism' and 'vitalism.' The 17th and 18th centuries represented by Newton were the era of physics, the era of mechanism that tried to explicate everything with mechanical principles. On the other hand, the 19th century represented by Cuvier and Darwin was the age of biology, the age of vitalism that granted substantial privilege to life. It was in this context that organism was equalized with living thing and the term 'organic matter' as opposed to ‘inorganic matter’ was coined. However, advances in genetics showed that the genetic phenomena at the center of life consist of mechanical processes. Jacques Monod who, with François Jacob, expiscated the operation of regulatory gene says "with the globular protein we already have. at the molecular level, a veritable machine” (AO 289).

Thereby, both the individual unity of living beings claimed by vitalism and the structural unity of machines assumed by mechanism are blown up (AO 284). This is because both operate together with others, and don't have the independent organic unity. It should be said that there's only mechanical consistency that changes depending on the connecting neighbor. Cells as machines operating chemically and protein-machines operating at subcellular microscopic level make it possible to see everything as a machine. There are living things that operate mechanically and machines that operate together with others like living things. Thereby, the distinctions that divide the artificial and the natural, culture and nature, machine and nature, and thing and living thing all disappear. "There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines....(AO 2).

We need to break with the old concept of machine under which the machine only moves in a fixed pattern according to a set procedure and the command from the outside. Just as a cell is a machine that operates chemically or physically, a physical machine also operates flexibly escaping its solid shape. Now that cybernetics and artificial intelligence are rapidly advancing these days, it would be easier to accept this. The concept of partial object is no longer needed(TP 256). Because implied in the concept of partial object is the notion of fixed nature, which is the chronic disease of psychoanalysis, it is not enough to be the concept of machine that changes depending on the connecting neighbor. What is important is the fact that everything, living thing or thing, operates with the neighboring machines; it becomes a different machine depending on its relationship with the neighboring machines, that is, according to the assemblage it belongs to; The machine or thing also have active effect on humans or other organisms as much as organisms have active effect on the machine; though every machine operates in a stabilized pattern, the operating mode of that pattern is variable.

They call this position ‘machinism’ in contrast to the old ‘mechanism’. According to this position, anything with a body that operates by connecting to others and interrupting and drawing off a certain flow beyond the confrontations between living thing and non-living thing, nature and culture, and nature and machine, etc. is a machine. Rather, everything that exists is a machine. That’s because it’s clear that everything operates in connection with the neighboring others whether we know it or not. ”.Everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines--all of them connected to those of his body. The continual whirr of machines.”(AO 2)

Everything is a machine. Deleuze/Guattari call this viewpoint ‘universal machinism’, It is “a plane of consistency occupied by an immense abstract machine comprising an infinite number of assemblages”(TP 256). Here, the concept of machine includes all beings with a body. In that sense, this concept of machinism has the same extension as Spinoza’s universal naturalism, which takes the position that machines, factories, cities, and all artifacts all belong to nature.



translated by Jung Ki Lee

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