Notes for Tauel Harper “Smash the Strata! A Programme for Techno-Political (r)revolution”

Key concepts: anarchy, assemblage, capture, deterritorialization, lines of flight, ossification, smooth, space, striated.


Related theorists: Deleuze, Guattari.

Chapter 7 of Deleuze and New Technology, actual title uses trademark symbol.

Revolutionary connections in 1000 Plateaus based on flight and flow seems contrary to distopia invoked at end of Postscript.

(125) [quoting 1000 Plateaus] Every struggle is a function of all these undecidable propositions and constructs revolutionary connections in opposition to the conjugation of the axiomatic.
(125) Technology is latent with the possibility of developing a new mode of techno-politics capable of redressing the instrumental abuses of modern politics. . . . Against a tradition of repression and discipline, they propose a programme of flight and flow.
What I suggest here is the Deleuze and Guattari present technological development as fundamentally conducive to the emancipation of flows of desire.

Urstaat survives by cybernetic machine operations resisting ossification.

(125-126) In such a fluid world where the desire for ressentiment urges individuals to cling on to what security they can, against the security and discipline of a benevolent Urstaat Deleuze and Guattari offer a vision of embracing anarchy. . . . They suggest that even as flows of capital perpetuate the withering of the state as we know it, our Oedipal tendency is to feel this as lack and imagine a new General; the state is dead, long live the Urstaat.

Joke with ossification, complicate with point that Deleuze says next to nothing explicitly about new media or computer technology.

(126) The argument presented here is that new forms of technology such as the Internet and virtual reality might facilitate a rhizomatic reterritorialization of the incumbent Urstaat. . . . More simply put, the fact that technology is continually developed by capital suggests that technology inherently deterritorializes and resists the ossification that otherwise poses a problem for political systems. Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of the importance of machines in determining the flows of desire makes them ideal theorists for exploring the political possibilities of technological development.

Smooth assemblages give rise to technologies of flight, striated of capture; goal is a vision of Deleuzian micropolitics that will be wrapped in the example of open source software development communities, operating in midst of nihilist entropy.

(126-127) The basic Deleuzian principle to be explored here is the idea that 'smooth' assemblages give rise to technologies of flight, whilst striated assemblages construct technologies of capture. . . . The idea here is not to present a new axiom of development but rather to illustrate ways in which technological development, in all its nihilist entropy, opens up possibilities for a Deleuzian vision of micropolitics.

The Deleuzian Process of Technological Development

Deterritorialization starting point for technological development.

(127) According to Deleuze and Guattari the starting point for technological development can be understood as deterritorialization. It is deterritorialization which releases flows of desire which may either be reterritorialized, or give rise to lines of flight; and both of these moments have creative potential. . . . Technology is the tangible evidence of a deterritorializing assemblage.

Avoiding dialectics a philosophical approach, as it opens experimentation, as does advancing into new territories prior to formation of discourse about them, for example McGann playing with deformations in context of poeisis as theory, and theorist-practitioners of digital humanities.

(127) What Deleuze and Guattari's theories gain in terms of avoiding dialectics is openness in regard to encouraging influences and connections – a willingness to experiment with creative subjects, even if they violate the imagined glory of a sacred whole.

Striated and Smooth Spaces: States and Communities

Deleuze and Guattari terms: smooth, plane of intensity, rhizomatic, assemblage, capture, striated.

(128) A smooth space can be understood to be a 'plane of intensity' that presents multiple rhizomatic connections. Opposed to this plane of intensity is the striated space of the assemblage of capture, of which the state serves as a paradigmatic model.

Tie to examples of electronic voting explored by Berry and Bogost.

(128) A striated space of the state assemblage is most readily interpreted in the arborescent system of government which it legitimates. . . . The technology of voting captures the flow of political expression and the abstract machine of representation channels it into the state assemblage.
(129) In conditions where technology is captured by the state, the technological assemblage under the piloting role of the state is directed towards enhancing the striations of the existing strata.

Itinerant rhizome community membership ties to social media, ease of assembly, connecting, disconnecting, recycling, multitasking distractedness; interesting to differentiate itinerant and arbitrary, invoking Arendt.

(129) In opposition to the state, the smooth, nomadic space of the political assemblage can be conceived as community. Compared to the state, a community is a rhizome. . . . So long as it remains molecular, rhizomatic, it remains smooth; in a sense it remains smooth entirely because community membership is itinerant rather than arbitrary. The multiplicity of possible connections, networks and interfaces is precisely what makes such models of organization emancipatory.
(130) Thus, Deleuzian theory encourages us to escape the idea of technological determinism and reinsert the influence of desiring-production into history. This aspect of Deleuzian theory is witnessed in the formula n-1, which describes the ever present possibility of becoming-other within a rhizome.

Apply role of philosophy to identify smooth spaces in technology by encouraging and practicing free, open source programming, considering code depth, acknowledging partial objects, versus interface surface, mandating their fault forms of becoming, as smooth versus striated space: another case where computer technology meaningfully embodies complex philosophical concepts; also what goes into Digital Dissertation Depository.

(131) As designers we can also make the rather obtuse observation that at the basis of emancipatory technology lies a 'smooth space' of assemblage, and at the basis of captive technology lies a 'striated space' of assemblage. Behind the former is an acknowledgement of difference, multiplicity and partial objects; behind the latter is gravitation towards the objective that mandates a particular form of becoming. As theorists of techno-politics we can follow Deleuze and Guattari's notion that the role of philosophy is to identify the smooth spaces that can establish the becoming of 'new earths and new peoples' (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 108).
(131) With this in mind, I would like to suggest that open-source computer programming presents an embodiment of the process of rhizomatic becoming, where multitudes can conspire to produce a program which is never total and never complete. If we remember the rhizomatic formula n-1, never forming a totality and always being open to exchange, the Deleuzian framework offers an amazing promise of opportunities for collaboration in both technological and political development.

Techno-Politics as a Line of Flight
(132) The most contentious point here is that the capitalist state is pushing against a limit which it cannot expand upon using the state assemblage.

Democracy in market assemblages now seeks legitimacy forfeited by the state.

(133) What makes the market particularly interesting as a new assemblage for desiring-production is that the market presents itself as a theoretically smooth space and seeks to court the legitimacy forfeited by the state.

Free, open source software development communities exemplify Deleuzian assemblages.

(133) The previously described move from state economy to market economies can be understood as the initial act of state deterritorialization. Subsequently our desiring-production is reterritorialized as a false choice between private companies.
(134) Hence, the primary focus of capital in undermining state-political power is the
development of communities as assemblages.
(135) Further, the communicative methods necessary for meaningful political organization may well be developed by market research.

Prominence of docile control by ICT, digital media; feather in Castells critique of the putative non-locality of markets and corporations.

(135) The culmination of the market spreading over the entire earth as through it were a smooth space has been the increasing prominence of information and communication technologies as the market's assemblage.
(136) Certainly, the 'publics' created on the Internet are more reflective of the contemporary material political conditions within which dividuals find themselves.

Acts of computer programming embody deterritorialization, and communities rhizomatically flourish desiring-production; always deterritorialization because never complete; living program of n-1 (Campbell-Kelly; Holland).

(136-137) Finally, there is every reason to believe that the act of computer programming provides an ideal outlet for the desiring-production generated through the passive synthesis of connection. Or rather, the processes of deterritorialization evidenced in the open-source software creation are replete with opportunities to develop lines of flight and acts of becoming. Computer programming is always a process of deterritorialization – it never accepts a totality, it proceeds through alpha, beta and gamma models in a continual process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization which obeys no General and is based upon a point of intersection of multiple assemblages. Open-source and collective experimental methods make such collaboration a living programme of n-1. . . . The continual reflexivity of open-source software enables communities to constitute themselves as acts of desiring-production.

Still assumes operating on Internet, which has its forms of capture.

(137) The lack of materiality means the open-source-designed communicative communities can proliferate to reflect every community that has a political will – be they virtual or real.

Access to coding practices needs education to be effective, in addition to basic Internet access, for example Arendt dream of political utopia is another one realized through computer technology as it has emerged in the midst of global capitalism; goes beyond Feenberg democratic rationalizations, inviting challenge for established open-source efforts like D3 to maintain openness of project formation, management, direction as well as eventual creation of software that may only ever work beneath the surface of the depository, not releasing code for other purposes, but that is fine provided the depository resembles a smooth assemblage, and the source code is GPL.

(137) I suggest that the conditions for a techno-political revolution spring from rhizomatic communication technologies providing universal access to coding practices. . . . What I have in mind is an open-source movement of reterritorialization, where the technical language is constantly becoming-open, where its body without organs remains the open functioning of the space, and where a community is possible which makes the most of the desiring-production generated through the synthesis of connection.

The Dangers

Dangers of fear, clarity, power and disgust from One Thousand Plateaus set stage for not only justification but emancipatory freedom to do things beyond overdetermination by these dangers via floss.

(138) Before concluding that what remains before us is the inevitable development of an emancipatory techno-political programme, we would do well to remind ourselves of the four dangers – fear, clarity, power and the great disgust (Deleuze and Guattari 2004b: 250-5).

Is the American two-party system an example of fear maintaining striations, now challenged from the right by unlimited campaign spending?

(138) Fear is understood to be gravitation towards the safety of the known, the tendency towards Nietzschean ressentiment. . . . The idea that the current democratic assemblage is fulfilling political will has not been tenable for the last fifty years. It is fear that maintains this assemblage and, by implication, its striations.

Danger of technical plutocracy as clarity, for example Microsoft and now Apple.

(138) The danger with clarity is that we see things too well and in place of clinging to the known for fear of the unknown, we cling to our own lines of flight with absolute faith and thus come to dominate rhizomatic engagements. . . . Amongst the viral effects of this danger is a technical plutocracy, which spreads its influence throughout all the communities it encounters by virtue of its paternal affectations.

Danger of power is being wary of nomads becoming generals when an open-source project gets a large funding boost or is absorbed by a corporation (Ubuntu, MySQL).

(139) The danger of power is that it manipulates the line of flight and the original striation in an attempt to capture the line and increase power by inculcating other assemblages. . . . In a sense, we need to be wary of the nomads who would be Generals. . . . Any over-reliance upon technology is liable to create striations within the community that supports that technology. We must avoid the temptation to network control and resurrect the Urstaat.

Danger of disgust evident in DMCA, Trusted Computing, and other docile forms of Nazi IBM-assisted atrocities, resembling death drive; was cyberpunk era result of eventual nihilism due to lack of connectivity made possible by later Internet technologies, or how about Derrida archive fever or Bogost simulation fever?

(139) The great disgust involves the fear that lines of flight, with their entropic nature, are continuously invoking a passion for abolition that may become an end in itself. In terms of technology I believe this suggests inbuilt obsolescence, fashion or taste as absolute deterritorialization. . . . The goal is not a victory of nihilism but to allow legitimacy and action to once again be constituted through an assemblage that is immanent to our own desiring-production.

Argument against fear, which is fed by dangers of clarity, power and disgust, suggesting change occurs by evolution or revolution, but FLOSS provokes the latter; leaves unanswered how good streams will originate, which Berry addresses via digital Bildung.

(139-140) While the latter three dangers of techno-politics have been enunciated strongly by contemporary theorists, these elaborations only serve to endorse the first danger of fear. This is an argument against fear. . . . What makes me optimistic that technology may give rise to smooth spaces of assemblage is the continual deterritorialization which accompanies technological development. As long as the deterritorialization takes place, systems will leak, reterritorializations will be incomplete, and lines of flight will develop.
(140) The decoding power of capitalism unleashes flows which give rise to new connections for desiring-production. I would like to suggest that if we are witnessing an absolute deterritorialization of the state, then the smooth space of community presents an alternative positive space within which to develop the roles of the state. And if we are witnessing a relative deterritorialization of the state, this process has given rise to lines of flight that are equally positive. To take up an outdated idiom, technologies will proceed through either evolution or revolution.


Harper, Tauel. “Smash the Strata! A Programme for Techno-Political (r)revolution.” Deleuze and New Technology. Eds. David Savat and Mark Poster. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005. 125-140. Print.