Machinic Reasons: Making Decisions with Deleuze and Guattari

One of the main difficulties I have with Deleuze and Guattari is that it is difficult for me to see how one might make decisions and evaluations within their philosophical outlook. I like to think of these evaluations and decisions in terms of boundaries, and I am convinced that a significant part of living well involves producing good boundaries and living well in and amongst these boundaries. We do this through disciplines, fidelities, and traditions, which are interwoven with and inextricable from experimentations, creativities, and rebellions. And it is along these lines where I am often baffled by Deleuze and Guattari: it is clear we can fail and we can make and do good or bad things, but I am rarely convinced that their philosophy of immanence gives us the tools to determine whether we are on track or how we can get back on track when we do realize that we are going a bad way. It is not fair to say that they advise us to simply follow our creative impulses; their analysis of the ways desire can be captured and misled is too subtle for that. But there does seem to be an optimism that desire will successfully find its own way, if we can free it from all systems of signification and teleology.

And that loses me. I do not know how anyone could even begin to free his or herself from destructive significations without disciplines, fidelities, and traditions. I don’t know what it means to think of desire (or creativity) if it has not been formed by habits cultivated in and with fidelities, disciplines, and traditions. And I suspect that if we do manage to free ourselves from all determinations and significations that we will find the freedom to do all things – to observe limits only as we please – to be little less oppressive.

Nevertheless, I am writing this post because I recently came across a passage that helped to fill in some of these “I do not knows.” During a discussion of becoming-imperceptible and a critique of drug use (which we are to evaluate as something that is not-so-good) they write:

“The vital assemblage, the life-assemblage, is theoretically or logically possible with all kinds of molecules, silicon, for example. But it so happens that this assemblage is not machinically possible with silicon: the abstract machine does not let it pass because it does not distribute zones of proximity that construct the plane of consistency. We shall see that machinic reasons are entirely different from logical reasons or possibilities. One does not conform to a model, one straddles the right horse. Drug users have not chosen the right molecule or the right horse. Drugs are too unwieldy to grasp the imperceptible and becomings-imperceptible; drug users believed that drugs would grant them the plane, when in fact the plane must distill its own drugs, remaining master of speeds and proximities.” – Deleuze and Guattari, 286

The first thing to notice here is that drug use is not the right choice; there is the possibility for decision and evaluation. Next, we can see that the basis for these decisions is machinic. Deleuze and Guattarie elsewhere advise us that the only question worth asking is: “how does it work?” Here they seem to be suggesting that our answers to this question – “it doesn’t really”; “it works great”; “inconsistently” – provide the reasoning for questions of evaluation and decision making. Third, we should observe that we misstep if we think of the plane of consistency/immanence as something that is. Rather, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the plane of consistency/immanence is constructed; it becomes. And this provides a path for thinking about what “work” might mean here, beyond the most literal of physical limitations: how does this action work to construct the plane of consistency? To which we may answer: “let’s find out.”

This does not answer all questions. Indeed, some might say that this merely defers my questions to the level of needing to determine what is (becomes?) the plane of consistency and what is (does?) not. But I think it does force the conversation to become a bit more nuanced and productive, because with machinic reasoning one can always answer this by asking: well, does it work?

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4 thoughts on “Machinic Reasons: Making Decisions with Deleuze and Guattari

  1. Do you think that D & G have a duty as philosophers to be prescriptive? They show that an event can occur from just about anywhere; this is the nature of the rhizome. Perhaps it is the very nature of analyzing rupture that they CANNOT be prescriptive. They do say that that we should practice piano because we do not know where our body without organs may form.

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    1. No, I don’t think they have a duty as philosophers to be prescriptive.

      However, I *do* find them to be prescriptive much of the time and that leads me to ask why and how questions. For example, to take apart your question, we are told to practice piano. Why? Because they body without organs may form in a becomings-piano (or something like that). That’s fine, but then why is the formation of this body without organs a good thing, something to strive after? Even more, if not all becomings are good (as they suggest), what makes it so that some are good and others not? One could respond by simply saying “try it and if you like it then that’s good,” but that sort of (subjective) nihilism is not in line with, for example, the quote about drug use in the main post.

      It may be true that much of *ATP* is more an analysis of the nature of the rhizome than a prescription of how to live, but whether the rhizome is good, bad, or neither surely tells us something about what it might mean to live well? What’s the point otherwise?

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  2. I think that working towards a BwO is simultaneously a working against the non-fascist life (as Foucault says). Practicing piano may be arbitrary, but it may also be a discipline which contributes to the formation of good boundaries, as opposed to fascist boundaries. And to answer your last question, “Does it work?”, would also have to answer the question “How does it work?” To be more precise: how does it work, in the sense that, does it relegate all productivity towards an aborescent hub that chops off anything that threatens it?

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  3. This is a good response. Do you find that the sort of how it works question you identify is present in the machinic reasons passage I quoted?

    I guess that the “reservation aspect” of my post would be pushing at the unasked half of your last question: “Does it relegate all productivity towards an aborescent hub that chops off anything that threatens it” *or*…? How and where do do we direct the second part of this question? If the answer is “towards rhizomes” then a) how do we determine what is rhizomatic (and that becoming rhizomatic is in fact a good thing – is it just evidently so?) and b) how do we direct our energies towards this goal without some forms of teleology. Their answer, I think, it that we don’t go towards something, but are always creating. That often seems both naive and to assume a certain unacknowledged significance. Even if it does not, where do we get and how do we build these good boundaries if not, in part, from teleology and fidelity – which is no more to say than a commitment to living well together? (Of course, the point of this post is to begin to answer this question with “machinic reasoning!” But for me this is just a beginning.)

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