Notes for Felix Guattari “Machinic Heterogenesis”

Key concepts: allopoiesis, autopoiesis, autopoeitic nexus, domains of alterification, machinism, technics.

Related theorists: .


Treat machines prior to technics by recognizing extreme human social and cultural span bestiary accompanying any artifact that is part of any technological system, as he gives with the key and lock better understood through integration of functions; both mechanistic and vitalist conceptions insufficient.

Nice twist of assimilating machine into living or living into machine.

(13) Although machines are usually treated as a subheading of “technics,” I have long thought that it was the problematic of technics that remained dependent on the questions posed by machines. “Machinism” is an object of fascination, sometimes of delirium. There exists a whole historical “bestiary” of things relating to machines. . . . While mechanistic conceptions of the machine rob it of anything that can differentiate it from a simple construction partes extra partes, vitalist conceptions assimilate it to living beings, unless the living beings are assimilated to the machine.

Material assemblage basic type of machine, including material, energy, semiotic, social components; good definition of technological machine.

(14) The first type of machine that comes to mind is that of material assemblages [dispositifs], put together artificially by the human hand and by the intermediary of other machines, according to diagrammatic schemas whose end is the production of effects, of products, or of particular services.

While technological objects always dependent upon ensemble, abstract human vitality built into machines engender mutant forms of thought imbricating humans and machines; musical filiation.

(14-15) In the context of such a functional ensemble, which henceforth will be qualified as machinic ordering [agencement machinique], the utensils, the instruments, the simplest tools, and, as we shall see, the slightest structured parts of a machinery will acquire the status of a protomachine. . . . As Leroi Gourhan pointed out, the technological object is nothing outside of the technological ensemble to which it belongs. . . . In order to acquire more and more life, machines require more and more abstract human vitality as they make their way along their evolutive phyla. Thus, conception by computer—expert systems and artificial intelligence—gives us back at least as much as it takes away from thought, because in the final analysis it only subtracts intertial schemas. Computer-assisted forms of thought are thus mutant and arise from other kinds of music, from other universes of reference.

Machinic semiologies exist beyond repetition of forms, mimesis, and other discursive phenomena, leading to why Lacan should be rejected.

May be describing transition from human to machine thought Kittler notes; machinistic autopoiesis has its own contours and singularity for being indefinitely reproducible among other characteristics different from concerns of embodied humans and material artifacts.

(15) It is thus impossible to refuse human thought its part in the essence of machinism. But how long can we continue to characterize the thought put to work here as human? Doesn't technicoscientific thought emerge from a certain type of mental and semiotic mechanism. . . . They postulated a general translatability able to signify all forms of discursivity. But in doing that, did they not miss the mark of a machinistic autopoiesis that does not derive from repetition of from mimesis of significations and their figures of expression, but that is linked instead to the emergence of meaning and of effects that are no less singular for being indefinitely reproducible?

Ontological Reconversions

Apparent critique of pattern randomness so dear to Hayles as still retaining biochauvanism.

Desire of abolition haunting machine as if flip side of death drive therefore according to psychoanalysis founding subjectivity and conscious awareness; however, that is the human view, acknowledging signifying articulation cast in human terms even if by software cannot grasp what matters to machines or even the basic forms of their thoughts.

Unit operations of machine ontology escape discursive binary couples, for machine cognition involves phenomena of radically different temporal orders of magnitude than ordinary conscious human intelligence in this era of embodiment.

(15-16) This autopoeitic nexus of the machine is what wrests it from structure. Structural retroactions, their input and output, are called upon to function according to a principle of eternal return; they are inhabited by a desire for eternity. The machine, on the contrary, is haunted by a desire for abolition. . . . The signifying articulation that looms above them—in its superb indifference and neutrality—is unable to impose itself upon machine intensities as a relation of immanence. In other words, it cannot preside over what constitutes the nondiscursive and self-enunciating nexus of the machine. The diverse modalities of machine autopoiesis essentially escape from signifying mediation and refuse to admit to any general syntax describing the procedures of deterritorialization. No binary couple such as being/entity [etre/etant], being/nothingness, being/other can claim to be the “binary digit” of ontology.

Autopoietic Nexus

Autopoietic nexus better describes institutions resembling technical machines that transcend allopoiesis of material systems.

(17) It seems to me, however, that autopoiesis deserves to be rethought in relation to entities that are evolutive and collective, and that sustain diverse kinds of relations of alterity, rather than being implacably closed in upon themselves. Thus institutions, like technical machines, which, in appearance, depend on allopoiesis, become ipso facto autopoietic when they are seen in the framework of machinic orderings that they constitute along with human beings.

Machine can arise by generations but evolutive lineages rhizomatic, heterochronic datings, although they may appear to tell a unified story buttressing unconscious assumption of technological determinism opposite of rhizomatic; great quote connecting blocks to dust epistemologies that evolutive rhizomes traverse technical civilizations by blocks.

(17) The phylogenetic evolution of machinism can be construed, at a first level, in the fact that machines arise by “generations”; they supersede each other as they become obsolete. . . . Evolutive lineages present themselves as rhizomes; datings are not synchronic but heterochronic. For example, the industrial ascendancy of steam engines took place centuries after the Chinese empire had used them as children's toys. In fact, these evolutive rhizomes traverse technical civilizations by blocks.

Renewal of technology workforce may be failing, stupefying assumption.

Varela machinic autopoiesis reflects unity liberal humanist subject; diagrammatic virtualities necessitate more collective machinism, preparing embodiment of machine cognition in built environment.

(18) At the same time, maintenance of the consistency of machinic ordering requires that the quotient of human gesture and intelligence that figures in its composition must also be renewed. . . . The reproducibility of machines is thus not a pure, programmed repetition. . . . On the occasion of these phases of transformation into diagrams, into abstract and disincarnated machines, the “soul supplement” of the machine nexus is granted its difference relative to simple material agglomerate. A pile of stones is not a machine, whereas a wall is already a static protomachine, manfiesting virtual polarities, an inside and an outside, a high and a low, a right and a left. These diagrammatic virtualities lead us away from Varela's characterization of machinic autopoiesis as unitary individuation, without input or output, and prompts us to emphasize a more collective machinism, without delimited unity and whose autonomy meshes with diverse bases for alterity.

Two types of form characterized by heterogeneous ontological textures are materialized forms and diagrammatic forms; the former meet criteria within standard deviations incarnated in profile functions F(L) and F(K), the latter define field of valid combinations of lock and key, representing the formal threshold, integral function.

(19) This deterritorializing distance and this loss of singularity must be attributed to a stronger smoothing out of the materials constitutive of the technical machine. . . . Two types of form, characterized by heterogeneous ontological textures, are at work here: 1. Materialized forms, which are contingent, concrete, and discrete, forms whose singularity is closed on itself, incarnated in profile F(L) of the lock and profile F(K) of the key. . . . 2. Diagrammatic, “formal” forms, subsumed by this standard deviation, which are presented as a continuum including the whole gamut of profiles F(K) and F(L) compatible with the effective unlatching of the lock.

Example of having machinic value while falling within ranges again more easily conceived in programmed examples than physical objects.

(19) This integral, “infinitary” form doubles and smooths out the contingent forms F(K) and F(L), which have machinic value only to the extent that they belong to it.

Technical components embody forms like money and electronic components.

Formal threshold phenomenon recurs at every level yielding more nuanced machinery than analog limitations.

(20) This phenomenon of formal threshold will recur at every level of intra- and extramachinic relations, particularly with the existence of spare parts. The components of technical machines are thus like the coins of a formal money, a similarity that has become even more manifest because computers have been used both to conceive and to execute such machines.

Pierce diagram as autopoietic machine, suggesting ontologically heterogeneous modes of subjectivity versus univocal subjectivity of literal literary humanist subject; connect to Tanaka-Ishii.

(20) Pierce's diagram is in effect conceptualized as an autopoietic machine, thus not only granting it a functional consistency and a material consistency, but also requiring it to deploy its various registers of alterity that remove what I call the machinic nexus from a closed identity based on simple structural revelations. The subjectivity of the machine is set up in universes of virtuality that everywhere exceed its existential territoriality. . . . There does not exist, for the various machine registers, a univocal subjectivity based on rupture, lack, and suture, but rather, ontologically heterogeneous modes of subjectivity, constellations of incorporeal universes of reference that take a position of a particular enunciator in domains of multiple alterity that it would be better to call domains of “alterification.”

Alterity of scale connect to alien temporalities, also fractal relations.

(21) Another form of alterity has been taken up only very indirectly, one we could call the alterity of scale, or fractal alterity, which sets up a play of systematic correspondence among machines belonging to different levels.

Example of Legba fetish reinforces Latour claim that we know less about our local technological milieu than tiny populations of alien, archaic societies, which are better equipped than hegemonic subjectivities to grasp multivalence of alterity.

(21) Archaic societies are better armed than white, male, capitalistic subjectivities to map this multivalence of alterity. In this regard I would refer the reader to the expose by Marc Auge showing the heterogeneous registers to which the Legba fetish in the Arfican Fon society refers.

Heidegger commercial airplane sitting on runway epitomizing unveiling enframed domain of truth nonetheless a unique technical object that has a rich narrative history; much plainer and more appropriate example than also complex Chun programmed visions are electronic devices.

Interesting claim that machines speak to each other before addressing humans, in everyday normalcy amongst themselves and singular and precarious occurrences with humans (blips, errors, and so on).

(22) In the context of a reductionist modernity, it is up to us to rediscover that a specific constellation of reference universes corresponds to each emergence of a machinic crossroads, and that from that constellation a nonhuman enunciation is instituted. . . . Technical machines are founded at the crossroads of the most complex and the most heterogeneous enunciative components. Heidegger, who well understood that it was not only a means, came to consider technics as a mode of unveiling of the domain of truth. He took the example of a commercial airplane waiting on a runway: the visible object hides “what it is and the way in which it is.” . . . But does this “ground” of the machine really reside in an “already there,” in the guise of eternal truths, revealed to the being of man? Machines speak to machines before speaking to man, and the ontological domains that they reveal and secrets are, at each occurrence, singular and precarious.

Lack of reverence toward Lacanian signifier as originating from lingusitic structuralism therefore synonymous with linear discursivity, ontological guarantee only in movement from symbol to symbol, missing basic facets of operation of heterogeneous machines: what does this criticism do to every theory of computation that leans on mappings between technological and Lacanian terms.

(23) Why this lack of reverence toward the Lacanian conception of the signifier? It is precisely because this theorization, coming out of linguistic structuralism, does not get us out of structure, and prohibits us from entering the real world of the machine. The structuralist signifier is always synonymous with linear discursivity. From one symbol to another, the subjective effect emerges with no other ontological guarantee. As against that, heterogeneous machines, such as those envisioned in our schizoanalytic perspective, yield no standard being orchestrated by a universal temporalization.

Sign-points asignifying semiotic figures grasping at work code performs, while also constituting various types of code (see Berry), in ways not captured by more limited layers of linear discursivity reducing to lifeless external marks.

(23-24) The signs of asignifying semiotic machines are “sign-points.” Partly they are of a semiotic order, partly they intervene directly in a series of material machinic processes (for example, the code number of a credit card that makes a cash machine work).

Secreting more than significations, such as starting and stopping orders, setting into being ontological universes well describes nature of code; compare to musical and poetic examples.

(24) Asignifying semiotic figures do not secrete only significations. They issue starting and stopping orders and, above all, they provoke the “setting into being” of ontological universes.

Fractal machines traverse substantial scales.

(24) It is the notion of scale that we should expand upon here in order to think fractal symmetries in terms of ontology. Substantial scales are traversed by fractal machines.

Limits of biosphere and mecanosphere clinging to planet making angle of constitution of our galaxy, for which existence elsewhere apprehended virtually by reference to other autopoietic machines: compare to Lyotard inhuman.

Existential machines constituting cognition in alien scales as another thought experiment, and sustain their own semiotic expression as in Bogost objects.

(25) The biosphere and the mecanosphere, clinging to this planet, bring into focus a spatial, temporal, and energetic point of view. They make up an angle of constitution of our galaxy. Outside this particularized point of view, the rest of the universe exists—in the sense that we apprehend existence here below—only through the virtuality of the existence of other autopoietic machines at the heart of other biomecanospheres sprinkled about the cosmos. . . . Let us imagine an autopoietic object whose particles might be built on the basis of our galaxies. Or, in the opposite sense, a cognitivity constituting itself on the scale of quarks. Another panorama, another ontological consistency. The mecanosphere appropriates and actualizes configurations that exist among an infinity of others in fields of virtuality. Existential machines are on the same level as being in intrinsic multiplicity. They are not mediated by transcendent signifiers subsumed by a univocal ontological foundation. They are themselves their own material of semiotic expression. . . . Existence if not dialectic. It is not representable. It is hardly even livable!

Ritornello function of pure intensive repetition again sounds like something software objects commonly perform.

(26) The “mecanism” of this reversal of being consists in the fact that certain discursive segments of the machine begin to play a game that is no longer only functional or significational, but assumes an existentializing function of pure intensive repetition, what I have elsewhere called a ritornello function.

Guattari, Felix. “Machinic Heterogenesis.” Trans. James Creech. Rethinking Technologies. Eds. Verena Andermatt Conley. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993. 13-26. Print.