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27. Micropolitics and Segmentarity


Yi-Jinkyung, Professor

Seoul National University of Technology


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The term ‘micropower’ or ‘micropolitics’ has become a widely used concept since Foucault used it in Discipline and Punish. Deleuze and Guattari also use the term micropolitics as a concept that sums up their problematique. Foucault stipulated his debt to Anti-Oedipus in Discipline and Punish and even wrote the preface to the English version of Anti-Oedipus. Foucault’s influence is markedly revealed in Deleuze/Guattari’s Kafka. The section dealing with ‘Micropolitics and Segmentarity’ in A Thousand Plateaus confirms this point again(TP 536-537: n10, n16, n25). This shook the conventional concept of power in politics from the ground up and opened up a new door of political analysis. At the same time, this is where the difference between Deleuze/Guattari and Foucault is most distinct.

As the proposition “Where there is power, there is resistance”(The History of Sexuality 1, 95) shows, Foucault’s thinking is based on the concepts of power and resistance. On the other hand, Deleuze/Guattari begins with the concepts of desire and power. Whereas Foucault rejects it, saying that the concept of desire is inseparable from lack or oppression, Deleuze/Guattari contrast their positions with Foucault’s, saying that “the assemblages seem fundamentally to be assemblages not of power but of desire,” and “the power seems to be a stratified dimension of the assemblage”(TP 531 n39). Foucault later gives the subtitle ‘The Use of Pleasure’ to his The History of Sexuality 2, saying that pleasure is better than desire. However, Deleuze/Guattari criticize it, saying that pleasure is reterritorialization as well as discharge to interrupt the immanent process(TP 154). This makes it clear why Deleuze/Guattari’s micropolitics should begin with the concept of desire.

For Deleuze/Guattari, desire is 'will' in Nietzsche's words, or more precisely, 'will to power.' Nietzsche emphasizes that our will is not unitary, but always-already plural. Even when eating some food, the desire to satisfy hunger, the desire to be attracted to the taste, and the desire not to get fat coexist at the same time. And even the desire for taste is also split toward various different tastes. Therefore, Deleuze/Guattari say that will, namely, desire is multiplicity in itself, and names it ‘schizoid’ because it heads in multiple directions at the same time. A flow open in all directions like the water on a flat surface, that is desire.

To put it in an ordinary language, power emerges when trying to give ‘order’ by controlling the flow open in all directions. Power is a component that gives controllable orders by articulating and stratifying the flow of desire. Conversely, desire is a flow before the control of power, a flow out of the control of power. When one says desire is revolutionary, it doesn’t mean that desire desires revolution. It means that desire is a flow open in all directions, before and regardless of the control of power.

However, desire and power are not just in opposing relation. That is because the desire stratified in a specific form and stuck in solid stability is exactly power. The desire for taste is originally open in all directions, but it is stratified according to the code of food culture to which one belongs. When remaining confined only in familiar foods and ‘favorite’ flavors in a stratified world of taste, that desire for taste becomes power: the power making one eat within a set frame by predetermining one’s body. It is by the workings of this power operating in the form of ‘preference’ and ‘desire’ that makes us look for only the foods one usually and always ate even when on an overseas travel. Of course, as Foucault points out, it’s not just ‘negative.’ That is because the power that governs the palate within the stratified taste leads to the production of better tastes and tastier foods, just as the body disciplined to study produces the ability to learn or concentrate. But even then, if one doesn’t have the desire to make something better, getting out of the present sense and the foods one makes now, one gets to be confined in a sterile repetition.

Desire becomes power by stratification, but it is also desire that leaks back and overflows from that power. What penetrates through the crevices of the tongue accustomed to the familiar tastes is the desire to cook in a new way by mixing the usual food with something different or the curiosity for a new taste that is unfamiliar but attractive. It will be stratified again and become power, but the desire will again draw a line of flight therein. There’s no separate desire and power that have the fixed nature of revolution and conservatism, but there’s only the field of immanence where deterritorialization and reterritorialization are repeated. The same is true of revolution and power. A revolution is possible only if it is based on a desire, not a sense of duty(AO 344). However, desire does not desire revolution only, even when it is revolutionary. When a revolution is successful, the desire that produced the revolution is stratified within the regime produced by the desire itself. It would be rather natural for the desire of the revolution to become the power to maintain the regime created by ‘that revolution.’ Therefore, after a revolution, another revolution must begin again. Revolution and power also exist in the field of immanence that implies ‘permanent revolution.’

There are two main ways to control the flow of desire. One is to cut a stria to control and utilize the flow of desire, just like digging a waterway, letting the water flow through a solid frame and using it for cultivation. The space where things flow along a specific stria is ‘The Striated,’ whereas the space that is open in all directions at the same time is ‘The Smooth’(TP 474). For example, the police forces the traffic flow, which flows according to the desire to move, to flow along the striated road and tries to confine the flow of protesting mass inside the ‘police line.’

The other is segmentarization. We can express the flow of something with a line, which, of course, is a curve in this case. A straight line is just a very limited case of curved line. A segment is a line cut by two endpoints. Segmentarization is an action of interrupting the flow of desire and its corresponding flows of activity, behavior, thinking and mass by clearly distinctive boundaries. When one is told to make sure whether it is work or rest, love or friendship, male or female, it is exactly the order-word of power that cuts in segments. ‘The binary segment’ that divides into two is not the only one. Division of labor is a way of segmentarizing by cutting the flow of labor. A school timetable controls students’ activities by dividing the time of the day into a series of segments. As such, when a flow is cut into sequential segments, those are called ‘linear segments’. There are also ‘circular segments’ when cut along radial lines, an example of which is the expansion of something from myself, to my neighbor, to my city, to my country, and to the world and the universe(TP 209).

What is important about the concept of segment is to cut the boundaries of both endpoints, which is called ‘segmentarity.’ Power works in such a way that it distinguishes, confirms and cuts. In a line of labor division, the segmentary power works through the task leader and colleagues right next to me who demand me to complete my task properly. In particular, it is at the points where the segmentarization of the flow begins and ends that power works most decisively. It is at the two endpoints of admission and graduation that the school’s power works most strongly, though the power also operates at the segmentary endpoints of semester and credit. Therefore, both endpoints where a flow is segmentarized are referred to as ‘power centers“(TP 218).

Here, the segmentatiry does not only belong to the one-dimensional line. When a segment with two endpoints expands two-dimensionally, it becomes a face with segmentarity. The face of a circular ring is obtained by rotating a segment, one end of it fixed. Tri-dimensional expansion of it makes a segmentary solid body. Nonetheless, the reason we treat it as a segmentary line is that, in the case of face or solid body, it is difficult to express the flow and show the importance of cut. Line is the most appropriate to think of the flow and cut diagrammatically with. This is why Deleuze/Guattari say “Schizoanalysis pertains only to lineaments running through groups as well as individuals.” “Practice actively participates in the drawing of the lines; it confronts the same dangers and the same variations as the lines[--‘emplacement’ in TP seems to be a mistranslation] do....Schizoanalysis frees the lines, which could equally be the lines of a life, a work of literature or art, or a society.”(TP 203-204).

Earlier, we talked about three types of segments, which are binary, circular, and linear, but more important than this are various types of segmentarities running through all of them. One is the line of molecular or supple segmentation, and the other is the line of molar or rigid segmentarity. There is one more type of line, which is the line of flight(TP 204).

The rigid segmentarity works in such a way that its segmentarization is distinct and calculation and prediction are possible. “Not only are the great molar aggregates segmented (States, institutions, classes), but so are people as elements of an aggregate, as are feelings as relations between people(TP 195). Because it acts equally on all of its elements, it is a segmentarity whose power to identify all is powerful. There are supple quantum flows out of this molar segment: students doing something ‘odd’ without doing what college or employment demands, people who look like men but wear women’s clothes, the clandestine who are seemingly normal but secret underground activists, etc. It should be said that they are also segmentarized because they have their own boundaries even though not distinct. However, they have supple segmentarities in that the cutting boundaries are obscure and the cutting method is supple.

Rigid segmentarity is referred to as molar segmentarity because it makes the criterion or method of cutting work equally on all of the elements belonging to it. “Men aren't supposed to cry”, ”this is a school, get out if you don’t want to take the test!“ The word ‘molar’ comes from gas dynamics, and 6.02x1023 molecules are contained in 1 mole. Because it is not possible to describe the gaseous state by dealing with the molecules one by one, the description is done as if the whole 6.02x1023 molecules are one, assuming that that number of molecules are homogeneous and move the same way. The unique property or movement of an individual molecule ends up being one of small deviation in the statistical mean indicative of molar identity.

There is a peculiar molecular motion that can’t be described with molar average, like Brownian motion. When a neighbor, which moves together infected by the movement deviating from the molar segmentarity, appears, a molecular movement that cannot be reduced to 'deviation' begins. Being infected and expanded from neighbor to neighbor, molecular lines get to be drawn. Of course, these molecular lines also have segmentarities. That is the case with segments such as Drag Queen and Drag King, Fem and Butch. Strict underground organization or secret organization is a case of a line of supple molecular segmentarity being hardened back into a line of molar segmentarity.

A creative line of flight is drawn when the molecular line deviates from the existing line of molar segmentarity and starts to create something new. That is the case when the number of people rejecting examinations increases and a new field of education is created. However, when such a movement fails due to a molar power or the constitutive ability to create something new is exhausted, the desire to deviate is likely to become a passion of anger or hatred for the existing world. When such a passion leads to the passions of despair and curse, the molecular line that was drawing a line of flight gets to draw the lines of destruction and death(TP 299). Deleuze/Guattari say Nazism is the case. It was an actualized nihilism, a war-machine aiming at war only, a suicidal State shouting “Hurrah for Death!”(TP 230) This kind of molecular fascism, which distinguishes itself from molar totalitarianism, is not limited to the Nazis or the neo-Nazis. Mass movements, where the passions of hatred proliferate and multiply, fall into this case. Even the movement that begins with quite legitimate anger against the present world gets to go such a path if it loses its creative contitutive ability and can’t escape from the passion of hatred.

The most common misconception with regard to segmentarity is the thought that the molar are collective and the molecular are individual. There are so many individuals with molar identities. The so-called ‘personality’ is usually within the molar segment. The molecular are ‘less than individual’ or ‘more than individual.’ Even though the world is dominated by money and exchange, there are desires for solidarity and ‘small’ acts of gift. When following the flow of something ‘below-individual’ in that it is temporary or partial, the individual gets to break away from the molar segment. Besides, an individual molecular breakaway becomes a molecular movement beyond the deviation within the molar segment when the neighbors infected by it are created and multiplied to the ‘above-individual.’ The molecular are not related to the deviation of individual departure but the flow of leaks and overflows from the rigid molar lattice.

Therefore, the molecular are not about the individual but rather about the mass(TP 213). A class is a molar group determined by statuses or functions in the relations of production, but the mass is a molecular aggregate formed by the gathering of those who are out of the place they belonged to. In other words, the mass is the flow of microscopic elements that interact with the neighbors and flow in various directions depending on the conditions. It is not limited to the political mass. There are the ‘monetary mass’(TP 220) that flows through the economic segments such as banks or corporate accounting units, and the trafic mass that is made up of cars flowing along the roads, and so on.

The molecular are microscopic, whereas the molar are macroscopic. The distinction between macropolitics and micropolitics corresponds to this. However, ‘’micropolitics’ isn’t the one that works in small areas of our daily life such as families or lovers, and the term ‘micro’ doesn’t just mean that things described by it are just small in scale or size. Micropolitics is the one targeted at the mass formed in a way of molecular infection. The mass is not small but big in scale and size. The reason the term ‘micro’ is used nonetheless is that micropolitics thinks of politics through the modes of movements of molecular elements of which every individual one can be said to be small, whereas macropolitics thinks of politics through determination like the interest of great aggregates such as classes or people.

What matters is the way of operation. The molecular aggregate of mass moves in the way of forming a flow by horizontal and molecular infection, whereas the molar aggregate like State or class moves as a single entity in the way of resonating with the order-word or criterion emitted from one center. From this point of view, Deleuuze/Guattari distinguish totalitarianism from fascism. Totalitarianism like Stalinism is molar in that individuals resonate with or obeying the operation of the State apparatus. On the other hand, fascism is molecular in that the collective will is formed and multiplied by molecular infection. Therefore, there is no mass movement in Stalinist totalitarianism. Fascism, on the other hand, is primarily a mass movement. Not only Nazism but all the movements that flow toward the black hole of destruction and death, being infected horizontally, are all micro-Fascism.

Therefore, it can’t be said that the molar are bad and the molecular good. When the molecular force works in a negative and destructive way, things are likely to become more disastrous because the whole mass exercises negative power. This is why it is said that the first error that the micropolitics should be wary of is “the belief that a little suppleness is enough to make things ‘better’”(TP 215). A molecular movement that draws the line of death like fascism ends up being worse than not starting. On the other hand, it is said that “molecular escapes and movements would be nothing if they did not return to the molar organizations”(TP 216-217). That is because after the flow of mass is gone, nothing is left and, in the end, the old power or past molar segments reappear. What is important is to transform the molecular line of flight into a new molar segmentarity even if a molecular breakaway starts again. To do that, of course, the power center must be able to follow the molecular flow outside of its own hand. It must be able to draw the power out of the zone of impotence(TP 226). This is why the ‘great’ Statesmen are only those who connect with this kind of flow and who emit quanta that get out of the black holes of destruction(TP 225).


translated by Jung Ki Lee


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