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25. Regimes of signs or the semiotics

Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology

 

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A flow itself is a chaos in that it is always beyond our grasp. To live in a chaos, we stratify everything. It is through the articulation of the flow that strata are formed. According to Deleuze/Guattari, there are three important strata concerning our lives, which are the strata of signification, subjectification, and organization. In A Thousand Plateaus, ‘Postulates of Linguistics’ is related to signification, whereas ‘How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?’ is related to organization and ‘On Several Regimes of Signs’ is the plateaus about signification and subjectification. These three strata are the ones that become the foundations of life in that life is not possible without them, but they are the ones that besiege our life in that they make us live in accordance with the way of articulation proper to the strata. Therefore, if we want to create a different life, we should try the destratification movement from these three strata even if it would be a transition to another stratum. It should be added here that an abstract machine in the direction that deviates from the stratified articulation can operate in every stratum.

The semiotic is a concept aiming at Lacan’s ‘the symbolic,’ and is used almost equally to the regime of sign. As the word ‘regime’ literally means, the regime of sign is a concept to state that signs are organized into the regime where power operates. According to the theoretical conventional view after the ‘linguistic turn,’ we think and act in language in the always-already ordered system of meaning. This is because our thoughts are made with language and, to use language, we have to follow the already organized order of languages and the meanings and rules of signifiers. If we say ‘mamichu’ instead of ‘I love you’ to avoid this cliche, our listener can’t understand it. Therefore, we have to follow the signs, the established meanings and rules that we both know. Lacan calls this ‘the materiality of signifier.’ What this means is that signifiers have the material forces that constrain and enforce our thinking and action. To put it bluntly, we are in the ‘prison of language.’ That signs form a regime is to express that it is a system that exerts compelling forces like this.

However, this is all about the similarities that the concept of regimes of signs shares with the linguistic paradigm or Lacan’s concept of ‘the symbolic.’ First, the regime of sign is neither single nor universal unlike Lacan’s ‘the symbolic’ that assumes the singleness of langue or the universality of Oedipal rule. There are various types of regimes of signs, and are multiple or numerous regimes of signs even within one type. Furthermore, Deleuze/Guattari believe that there is not just one language, but are many(see Postulates of Linguistics). Second, the signification of signs doesn’t work only with signifiers. Incorporeal signs(expressions) work together with correlative bodies(contents), which are the vocal component of tone, corporeal components such as facial expression, gesture, rhythm, and dance, machinic components such as court and prison, states, cities, hunter forests, and nomadic steppes, Therefore, it is said that even when signification is dealt with, “it is impossible to attach any particular privilege to the form or regime of the ‘signifier’"(TP 111). Third, as we’ll see again later, becoming a ‘subject’ is not just through ‘imaginary identification’(Lacan) only. ”Tristan...Isolde...Tristan...Isolde...,“ Couples who get drawn into each other calling each other’s name are driven by passion to become subjectified.

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze/Guattari refer to four types of regimes of signs. They are 1) signifying regime led by signifiers that signify; 2) presignifying regime where ‘natural’ signs such as gesture, dance, and rhythm coexist and compete with vocal signs; 3) countersignifying regime that uses meaningless signs or works through the signs whose meanings were erased; 4) and postsignifying regime that starts by betraying the central signs of signification.

Signifying regime is said to have one general formula: “every sign refers to another sign, and only to another sign, ad infinitum.”(TP 112). Saussure stressed that the sign of language is arbitrary in that it is irrelevant to the referent. For example, You shouldn’t have to call that animal with very long ears ‘rabbit,’ and it is okay to call it ‘dura’ or ‘millong.’ However, once it begins to be called rabbit, from that time on you have to say ‘rabbit’ for it to be understood. It's even more so because signs are arbitrary. Therefore, signs become social rules and get to be compulsory. However, when someone who can’t understand English asks what a ‘rabbit’ is, you need to explain that it is ‘an animal with very long ears that runs around kicking the ground with its hind legs.’ But you will be asked again: what is ‘ear’; what is ‘long’; what are ‘hind legs,’ etc. ? Then you need to explain those signs with other signs. And then, those signs again with other signs... it is bound to go on with no end. There occurs an regressio in infinitum from sign to sign. This is what it means to say “The signifier is the sign in redundancy with the sign”(TP 112). It can be said that there exist chains of signs from signifier to signifier.

However, signifying signs don’t just stay in one langue. Even the same sign has different meanings depending on the chain of sign it belongs to and the sign it refers to. The meaning of the sign ‘rabbit,’ when it refers to the signs such as ‘turtle’ and ‘competition,’ is different from those when it refers to the signs such as ‘pharmaceutical company," ’skin,‘ ’sensitivity,‘ and ’experiment,‘ etc. The meaning of the word ’nation’ when it refers to the signs such as ‘biology,’ race,‘ and ’evolution,‘ is different from those when it refers to the signs such as ’imperialism,’ ‘colony,’ ‘invasion,’ and ‘liberation,’ etc. It is quite natural in that it is a regime where signs are signified through other signs.

When signifying sign through signs, there is always a privileged sign that directs the whole signification and determines the meaning of the chains of connected signs in general. They are, for example, ’nation’ when it is associated with nationalism, ‘phallus’ when related to psychoanalysis, and ‘life’ when it is a discourse about biology or ecology. All other related signs are holding the umbilical cord to this sign, and their meanings converge to it. The chains of signs which seems to be different but in fact similar draw concentric circles around this sign. Deleuze/Guattari call this privileged sign at the center of signification ‘the Signifier,’ ‘major signifier,’ and say that this corresponds to the face of the despot or that of God.

Although it has been said that a sign refers to another sign, such a referral always ends in the signifier of the despot ‘eventually.’ In psychoanalysis, for example, symptoms go through ‘trauma,’ and again ‘father,’ ‘mother,’ and ‘Oedipus,’ and finally refer to ‘Phallus’. Or they go through ‘mother’ and ‘lack’ and finally end in ‘Phallus’ that is the signifier of desire which fills in the lack. Even though one talks about ‘Other’ and the desire of other like Lacan, it ends up at the same point in the end. Conversely, whether it be Other, lack, Oedipus, or whatever, the meaning of the signs are ultimately one and they are all equivalents of ‘phallus.’ The same is true of the circle of signs centered on ’nation.‘ Whether it’s ‘nation,’ ‘history,’ ‘invasion,’ ‘mission,’ ‘oppression,’ or ‘liberation,’ these signs are all equivalents of the word ’ethnicity.‘(’nation.’) In this sense, signifying regime of signs is said to be the paranoid despotic regime in that all signs end up in only one sign(TP 112).

Of course, depending on the situation, new signs are added, switches over to another chain of signs, or new meanings are given. However, this is usually nothing more than the ‘interpretation’ of the privileged signifier at the center into a new sign(TP 114). These ‘priests’ of interpretation are the officials of the despotic signifier. This regime is ‘the regime of deception’ in that signs that look very different are, indeed, the substitutes of one sign. The successively added interpretation is nothing more than the addition of the concentric circles of signification within the regime of deception. The ‘substance’ that makes these signs that are meaningless in themselves form layers of chains and have signification work is the face of the despot. Signifiers are signified by the face. On the other hand, those who deviate from this signification are those who turn away from the face of the despot. The signifying regime gives these people the negative value of ‘condemned criminal’ or ‘scapegoat’(TP 117). Here, the one who turned his face becomes ‘the one whose face has been erased.’

The signs of the presignifying regime can be understood without explanations because they follow ‘natural’ codes such as gestures, rhythms, exclamations, screams, or pictograms, etc. The presignifying regime contrasts with the signifying regime in which signifiers refer to other signifiers to be signified. Although it is likely to be understood immediately when seen and heard, it is not just natural as it’s also culturally constructed. In addition, the senses of laughter, tear, and raising hand seem clear, but they have quite different senses depending on the situations and personalities. And, gestures to express anger can vary from person to person. The cannibalism of some "barbarians" has a symbolic sense, so it can be said to be a presignifying sign. However, the senses of this sign vary greatly depending on the tribe. Therefore, the presignifying sign has polivocity and heterogeneity. This is also to prevent any power takeover by the signifier(TP 117). That is because what looks similar can be different in the case of the presignifying regime unlike the signifying regime where even signs that look differeent are actually one.

The most commonly used sign in the countersignifying regime is the numerical sign(TP 118). In this case, the numerical sign is a number, but not a computable number with order and unit element. It is close to what is called ‘nominal number.’ That is the case with soccer player’s uniform numbers or the numbers used in the army such as 6th( Battalion, 8thDivision. This sign of the army is the State apparatus’s appropriation of the numerical organization of nomads where it is organized and named like groups of ten, groups of one hundred, or groups of one thousand, etc. This numerical sign is noncomputable, but not always so. This is because ten groups of ten make one group of one hundred, and we can count and compare the size like eight companies or two divisions. This kind of number can be said to be ‘numbering number,’ whereas the number that is accurately compared and calculated because it has a unit element is ‘numbered number.’ The numbered number originates from the tax technic of State apparatus, whereas the numbering number corresponds to the numerical organization of the war machine. This is suggested by the fact that the earliest texts remaining in the form of cuneiform are tax-related documents. The numbers of numbering numbers are signifiers in that they are arbitrary signs, but, on the other hand, they are counter-signifier in that they do not or refuse to refer to other signifiers. It is the cipher that shows this well. Cipher is the sign created to intentionally break off signification. Important in coding and decoding ciphers are indeed numbers, where addition and subtraction are meaningless.

The postsignifying regime works at the point where things an event deviating from the signifying regime happens. Stopping coming and going between concentric circles of signification being created by the priests of interpretation, turning the face away from the face of the despot at the center, and getting out of the signifying regime drawing a line of flight. Although this flight leads to expulsion and wandering, the fleer is bound to catch signifiers that provide new meanings. Subjectification takes place here. This is what it means to say “the postsignifying regime is defined by the procedure of subjectification”(TP 119). Here, Deleuze/Guattari draw in Althusser’s concept of interpellation(TP 130), but it should be noted that there are important differences. According to Althusser, Moses becomes the subject of the liberator of the Hebrews by answering the interpellation of God who calls him, which, however, means that he becomes the subject of the Subject of God at the same time. This concept, where the simultaneity of subjectification and subjection is emphasized, implies Lacan’s concept of subject where the place allotted by the symbolic order is imaginarily identified as one’s own. When Deleuze/Guattari said that the subjectification draws the repetitive trajectory of flight and subsumption, it can also be said that they accept this kind of ambiguity.

However, there’s no line of flight in the subjectification procedures of Lacan and Althusser. Because there will simply be the acceptance of the place allotted by Subject or Other, the subjectification thereof is a kind of misunderstanding or deception. On the other hand, Deleuze/Guattari’s subjectification starts from the line of flight that leaves the signifying regime of signs. Therefore, the subjectification hereof is not just misunderstanding or deception. Rather, it starts from the betrayal as opposed to the deception. In addition, Deleuze/Guattari emphasize the importance of passion in subjectification. Passion is the primary reason for betrayal or flight. For example, it is because of passion that Tristan, who is dispatched to pick up Isolde who is the future wife of his king, betrays the king and falls in love with Isolde. There appears a ‘love potion’ that makes one love the first person one sees, but, indeed, all crazy loves start with passion that gets one caught up in the person he or she first meets. For this reason, the potion is the expression of that passion. The subjectification that begins with passional flight in this way moves on to the path of subordinate subjectification, answering the call of another subject. The subject of love means the slave of love. The same goes for Moses. As he got to know that he is not an Egyptian, he killed the Egyptians and turned his back on the pharaoh with his Hebrew passion. It is while he was fleeing after making trouble and betraying the king under the impulse of passion that he answered the interpellation of God.

For this reason, contrasting the two, Deleuze/Guattari say that the signifying regime is ‘the regime of deception’ that hides the despot at its center with numerous signifiers or interpretations, whereas postsignifying regime is ‘the regime of betrayal’ that starts by turning its face away from the despot(TP 123). The subject is none other than the betrayer. However, this betrayal soon becomes a subject resonating with another subject who calls itself, which is a subordination to someone’s calling. Therefore, the postsignifying regime works in such a way that causes the resonance between frequencies, whereas the signifying regime operates in a way that engraves the frequencies of the signifying voice on ‘the white wall.’ This is what it means to say that ‘objective frequency’ and ‘subjective resonance’ are two redundancies corresponding to two regimes of signs(TP 132)

The maximum value of this subjective resonance is ‘cogito double’ overlapped by the equation of ‘thinking I = existing I.’ Tristan and Isolde are the ‘double of couple’ who are drawn into each other by calling each other despite obstacles and hesitations. The subjectification of interpellation of calling and answering proceeds through the resonance of different intensities attracted toward each other. The maximum of these resonances is the one that turns its back on everything and is only dragged toward each other. A couple’s black hole is created. Because it reaches the extreme of subjection, it is worse than not to flee.

So far, we talked about four types of regimes of signs. However, the regime of signs, in reality, is a hybrid regime where these different regimes of signs are mixed and work together. And one regime of signs could also be transformed into another corresponding regime of signs. All transformations taking a given semiotic into the presignifying regime may be called analogical transformations; those that take it into the signifying regime are symbolic; into the countersignifying regime, polemical or strategic; into the postsignifying regime, consciousness-related or mimetic. These are passes from one stratum to another. But unlike these transformations, there are transformations that destratify, which are ‘diagrammatic.’ It is taking regimes of signs or forms of expression to extract unformed signs-particles that are no longer formalized(TP 145).

 

 

 

 

 

 

translated by Jung Ki Lee

 

 

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