Issue 3/2013 - Apparate Maschinen

Desiring failing machines

Anne Querrien and Anne Sauvagnargues

Failure is at the very heart of innovation, its driver. In the work of the engineer, the assemblage of technical elements to produce a specific effect goes on by attempts and error until a satisfying solution is found. In dreams different assemblages of images are repeated as the unconscious lets the conscious rest. Both processes can be very long, indeed all lifelong. Desiring machines push and pull here and there the works of engineers and dreamers, leading to a new conception of machines, invented by Félix Guattari1 and rewritten by Gilles Deleuze in Anti-Oedipus2.
Machines are no longer taken as technical tools, separate from nature as well as from human abilities, but refer to operating processes in cultures, in which technics, culture and nature are to be considered together. A tool is no longer considered apart from its technical surroundings. Surely, a nail involves a hammer, two devices that have by the way to be produced by other tools. No nail can exist without a hammer, and the hand that uses it, and the wall or the surface in which the nail is pinned. The whole apparatus of social relationships between work and social network, including a transformation of “nature”, is pinnedonto this wall too. A technical machine involves therefore what Guattari calls a social machine, in which technics takes place as part of a machinic assemblage. So that it is impossible to understand technics separately from social and political environment : technics is firstly social. On the other hand, social creativity has to be taken as a historical process, that is not isolated from its natural milieu.

Desiring machines seem to be everywhere at hand and always seem to surround the human being. Literature and movies show us interesting interactions between humans and machines. In 2001 Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick (1968), suddenly the two astronauts begin to lose confidence in HAL the computer mainframe in charge of their travel. They ask him the question they should not have asked: Can you be wrong? When he cannot answer that question, the rules that existed between them are suddenly released and disappear. The Odyssey becomes a nightmare taking them back to the time when humans were still monkeys.

Another example can be found in the novel from Kafka: In the penal colony3. An officeris reassigned to inscribe the law with a huge printing apparatuson the bodies of the prisoners. When the sentence has been executed on the whole penal colony, the officer is the only one who remains by the machine. He decides to print the law onto his own body too. But the machine goes out of control, explodes and breaks up into pieces.

Closer to our own experiences, in the movie The working class goes to heaven (a 1971 film, directed by Elio Petri) the typical working class guy works so hard, confusing his love for his machine and that for his wife's body, until his movements become too fast, and he loses a finger. Once he is healthyagain, he finds another social machine to welcome. He joins the trade-union, takes part in a strike, and drops out of his previously normal life.

A certain moment in the film is particularly memorable: when the desiring relationship between man and machine reaches its climax of speed and proximity, the machine is so fast that the entire system takes a turn in another direction. Machines are not able to change direction by themselves: it is humans who care for them or determine their path. Desire is inherent to the machines conduct, as the human user programs or deprograms their behaviour.

Guattari's concept of desiring machines

Before Félix Guattari wrote Anti-Oedipus with Gilles Deleuze , he worked in the psychiatric clinics of La Borde, managed by his friend Jean Oury. As a member of various student political circles in Paris, Guattari was asked by Oury to promote the openness in intellectual terms of the hospital, and to organise meetings of left-wing militants and lectures with social sciences specialists. Oury himself was very interested in Lacan, and because of Lacan, in linguistics, and anthropology. Oury's goal was to make the clinic a friendly place for mental ill, who came from either a peasants or student milieu. The clinic was thought of as a structure able to produce this well being, in which all the different elements of the hospital, the services, should be organized in relation to each other, as in the myths analysis by Lévi-Strauss4. If something goes wrong in one element, something needs to be corrected in another. But the structure should be self-contained.

Guattari held the view that the clinic should not be considered as analogous to the structure of language structure, and that the unconscious is not structured like a language. If it was, the psychiatrists would be the only specialists in this language, and the patients would not have access to hospital. Guattari proposed another concept: the clinic should be considered as a factory, in which health or well-being of the patients is an important product, but not the only one, because a lot of other products may be realised in common by the patients and staff working together. All services of the clinic are desiring elements with their own needs, their own rhythms, and the managing of the clinic must be thought of as the articulation between all these desiring machines, at the individual level, at the group level, at the services level, at the whole community level. So La Borde became a complex system of groups of different size and roles; synthesized in two institutions: the grid, on which all staff were registered with work to do at an allotted time after individual negotiation, and the group of groups in which anybody, either the residents (patients),doctors, nurses or educators, could ask for a change in the global organization of the overall structure.

This new concept of the institutional organization was accompanied by a new concept of the unconscious, at both the individual and the collective levels. Desire in a place of life or work is not present from the beginning, either it would be an order, a subjection; it arises through breaks, or ruptures in the histories of the groups, ruptures that make senseonly in their repetition. Desire is a repeated shift from normality. This unconscious desire has to be spoken in a lateral collective space to cease making difficulties for the group and therefore to be integrated into its own trajectory.

In a psychiatric hospital for instance the administrative management works generally to its own reproduction, in a very repetitive manner, and with a profound inability to hear either desires or requests coming from the inside, or perceive social transformations taking place outside. However, there are certain symptoms that indicate the institution is not moving in the right direction. So by defining a place, a space and a time where symptoms can be spoken and discussed by everybody, including the patients, is a step towards a recover of subjectivity in the institution. The interpretation is not given by the authorities but by anybody in the circle, which interrupts the normal flow of conversation by a speech addressed more directly to the audience. This is exactly transversality5, another line of significations coming to the surface. And it is very important for the administration to be able to listen without any prejudice. That is the key with which they can re-open their institution, to make it breathe and live. Therein they will have to recognise the desiring machines that are at work in their institution.

Transversality in an institution or a group means that all levels from the bottom to the top are connected, and therefore you can open the eyes of all those involvedto what is happening there. Generally the closing of the eyes is made by the management of the institution who give their orders, and all those who will not obey are threatened with eviction. On the other hand, if the bottom ignore the top, its pressures will not have any other consequences than harming themselves. The hypothesis of Guattari is that the degree of transversality in the management has the greatest influence on the institution as a whole. To change an institution, a transversal line must be drawn by a subject-group creating its relation to society, to finance, to university, and to the culture. The subject will not be explicit, but will become apparent only in the initiatives to be taken, like the opening of a restaurant, or a theater, or in other common activities. It will appear also through objects of modernity, generally not spoken of in the institution like television, washing machines, music theatres, internet access and everything that rejects the institution through its regulations, in order to make the outside present, and thusmobilise the attention of the patients.

After the encounter with Gilles Deleuze

What is amazing in Deleuze’s conception of series is that heterogeneous series come closer and closer to each other by just those actions that constitutes their difference and also their attraction. This differentiating and attracting element is for Guattari a machine, something which is not exchanging elements to keep an equilibrium, but attracting elements in the same move, in a common desquilibrium, far from the stability of the structure6.

History arises due to the change of machines, which replace each other with a completely new configuration of elements. The subject is located next to the machine, causing the change of the structure, but it is alienated to the structure. The history of ruptures and of revolutions must be studied through machines. In the machines lives an unconscious subject, making disruptions in everyday-life. Working in large factories, with a continuous mechanized process, acts as an unconscious process, controlled by micro imaginary elements in the dream and in the brain. In this work the subject is no longer master of what it does, what it produces; it has to maintain its place to earn its salary, to be a part of the process, and this process remains unconscious. The machinery of modern capitalism and the machinery of modern subjectivity, described by historians and novelists, are very close to each other. The machinery is now the very heart of desire, of the social movement.

Over the alienated fields, discoveries in science or art act as war machines, producing a completely different configuration of the whole picture, ignoring the names of the researchers or musicians or painters who have created them and thus authorizing a new age of the machine and the society. This new age is revealed in the people as a new common subjectivity, whose origin nobody knows. This is a mechanical effect, a repetition of singularity in each individual. The structure, the relationship between elements of the existing system, will resist the machine, by something that Guattari calls the ratio of anti-production. In these anti-production ratios can be seen all working-class social relations as they try to maintain the old state of labour relations. In the dream production the small object, stressed by Lacan, acts as a machinic scheme, preventing dreams from repeating themselves in an equilibrated structural system. However, this means that dreams do not represent the individual but show in his or her universe the path of the unconscious, the presence of the machine. In groups the plurality of this individual makes the search for the common reach a point nearer the unconscious dimension of the period.

But this search needs to be aware of the machinic unconscious desire leading all members of the group and they can go in the same direction even if they seem quite different.
Groups like individuals are guided primarily by fantasy, and the imagination, which can lead them in many directions. If the group is unable to recognize themselves as a group, as a multiplicity, they will tend to an abstract unit, and prohibit most actions of its members, which is equivalent to the death instinct. The identification of the group with a collective individual, ignoring differences inside, ignoring the group’s drive, will lead to a representative position of the group, an immobilisation of the inner desire. One such group appears as a fortress against their inner dream machine, against the connection between the inner and outer elements. Representative groups appear mostly in conflict against each other, taking antagonistic positions, from which the situation appears deadlocked.

At many times in history desire is often expressed in the construction of differentiating machines in different social universes. Anti production from the structural tried to stop the revolution from awakening. The subjective revolutionary incision is hidden under the imagery figures of antiproduction to combat antiproduction structures. All of this obviously depends on the existing balance of power.. When the revolutionary impulse and the revolutionary incision are powerful enough, something happens. But everybody can see that structures are most of the time imposing impotence, are burying desiring machines under bureaucratic and sadistic regulations. Revolution happens when a space of meaning is opened, in which a machine represents subjectivity to another machine, and makes an immediate operative alliance with it. But this will happen outside language alone, namely in action.
Revolution can no longer relate to the nation state, when all economic consumption and all cultural processes are becoming increasingly international. As Guattari wrote, the process of national struggles for independence were just over. To-day you can see how the World Wide Web fulfills some of the criteria of a desiringmachine, but the creation of public speech usually only audible to neighboring places, in national spaces, where the same language is spoken, and people can gather together in a short time. But the desiring machine that drives all these people is their common use of new communication technologies, their experience of equality and the experience of creation of common interests. It is not to be equated with the ownership structure of property of the media systems and the laws of the nation state. This may produce a terrible noise and cause great difficulties for people, but they cannot stop the desiring machine which sustains them.

The letters sent by Guattari to Deleuze during the writing of Anti-Œdipus, and published in France in 2004 with the title Ecrits pour l’Anti-Œdipe, stress the contrast between the machinic, both collective and individual, unconscious and the Lacanian strictly individual, packed in language, and in signification games7. Guattari’s analysis focuses on environments, on periods, on moments, on collective scenes, in which the individual subjects, work with him as patients or members of the hospital or of any its working groups, can play different roles, but is never at the centre; he or she is always an observer, actor and desiring simultaneously, andalways has his or ego split by the schizoanalytic effect of power. Then what can be observed is how the individual machinery is involved or not in the collective scenery, and perhaps how something can be changed in the image. The observations focus on physical movements, on noises, on non-meaningful details. For Guattari statements are related to the social position of the speaker, and has generally no more significance than the representation of this position; overall they provide only meager information. Information about the unconscious is brought by what cannot be waited for, that cuts to normality.

The machinic unconscious

The world springs from the unconscious force of deterritorialisation, of conversion of all matter contained in the river: flows of particles, flows of liquids such as water, lakes and rivers, flow of gases, currents of air that we all breath, without which we could not live. Mankind has been able to discover this omnipresence of the river, to connect with some of these streams to use them in the form of machinery. Thus has been produced a flow of machines, follow each other with a sequential approach of continuous improvement, as the philosopher Gilbert Simondon has outlined. But humanity has always been divided into those that relate power from this power of the machines, and those who are subjected to this power. Mankind has subjected most of its members to the service of the social machine. Guattari calls this reterritorialization, which faces deterritorialisation of the strength of the social order.

But this anti-production, the production of existential territories by reterritorialization, destroys partly the effects of deterritorialization. It does not prevent deterritorialization, as this is the very movement of nature itself, which can be seen at the smallest possible level, or on the contrary at the biggest infinite level, namely the expansion of the universe. Humanity is in the middle, and thus hasthe incredible ability to connect consciously, and unconsciously even more, to form a bond with this deterritorialisation, thereby creatingnew objects and new subjectivities. This machinic unconscious allows us to think that something different is possible, and to act in that direction, either together, or alone.

But psychoanalysis, philosophy, political and social sciences are afraid of this movement for the future is unknown and has yet to be explored, it must be created. All of these disciplines use their energy to hoodwink us that thefuture cannot be different from the past, they focuson reterritorialising the future onto the past, in refolding mankind on itself. Only with the figure of the Christ, a little space was allowed to think that human beings were capable of doing something. But capitalism now occupies this space with a worldwide structure based on the conversion of everything into the same signifier, money; a conversion in which psychoanalysis plays its role, because it teaches you how to benefit from mastering psychoanalytic language.

For Guattari deterritorialisation is a movement of abstraction, but not inside language, inside the matter itself, inside space, inside forms, the movement of the difference depicted by Deleuze in Difference and repetition. This movement can be seen only through details, through tiny movements of the surface of things, movements which become greater or on the contrary disappear, with psychotic patients. Building as other human activities is a communal activity, in which language must be used in an operational form, emerging at the very points where abstraction, or deterritorialisation, hits a concrete situation. That is the connection inscribed in the actual but driven by the virtual.

This connexion points will exist on several phylums, in several fields of activities. To bring them into relationship with each other will make a kind of actual net, a rhizome, which will be different for each subject, tracing what now is called your profile in social networks. A little book called Rhizome, issued by Deleuze and Guattari in 1976, became the first chapter of A Thousand of plateaus and claims that signs cannot be considered as linguistically significant or, considered as human carriers of meaning, but has to be understood as a connection of heterogenous fields of material codes, biological DNA, social semiotics and unconscious desire machines. The rhizome for an individual, for a group, maps in the relations with other individuals, other objects of activities in an active way. A rhizome is completely singular, related to one subject, and never achieved, nor submitted by any imperative of expansion or reduction of the field of relations. It is like a road map which would be drawn under your feet as you go. A map very near to those drawn by Fernand Deligny with autistic children or depicted by Borges8.

These individual parts of the rhizome are all related to parts of the rhizomes of other individuals, they are signs of an unconscious activity, deterritorialisation or reterritorialisation, linking individuals to each other, or separating them. The plurality of history is inscribed, with a specific intensity on some items, in the rhizome of each invidivual. The rhizome is what appears consciously to the individual and to the psychoanalyst, and what can be changed perhaps to improve the connection with the disposition related to the social machine. This reconnection lies in what in ordinary psychoanalysis should be regarded as an acting out: changing the reality which was spoken during the psychoanalytic-patient interaction. For psychoanalysts, changes takes place too fast in our society and the role of psychoanalysis should be to slow everything by wrapping it in blankets of language. For Guattari changes must be followed at different paths, convenient each for each rhizome. These paths have unequal development conditions,sometimes they are interrupted and will split into new configurations. A large differentiation must take place within the unconscious modeling, so that everyone can find their freedom.

Try, fail and try

Unconscious machines are connected to automatic processors, that permeate our lives more and more. But there is still a place for choice, for decision and evaluation, and this place needs to be extended by the schizoanalytic process. And in this process one has to become conscious that automatic process are not so automatic as they seem, that automatic process can fail when one of their conditions of work disappears or is no longer possible. Desiring machines themselves change their connections while working and may fail, if their conditions of work are no longer respected. And the subject will never be able to repair them, so they work exactly as before; he or she has to make new connections.
These connections may be easy to make, when the disruption was not so large, and can be easily spoken. But when connections are not so easy, other attempts have to be made to reconnect the rebel unconscious machine, to bring to visibility or to sound the new universe emerging. To-day medical drugs are quite able to reduce rebellious unconscious machines to tolerable behaviours. In the past, drugs were the faithful companion of artists who have tried using these machines to create something.
Must we call thisaesthetic machinery as war machines? Perhaps if they come together in a movement that spreads a certain artistic approach at the same time,, telling others that they have become obsolete. The nomadic war machine is occupying the whole space in which it extends; a new currant in art or in science is able to do the same, to reinterpret the whole field. But no individual is able to do it, and those who presume to claims that he is doing it will be overtaken by the movement,like the pretenders to the throne in Ithaca.



1 Guattari, Machine and Structure (1969) in Psychanalyse et Transversalité, Paris: Maspéro, 1972.
2 Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, Paris: Minuit, 1972, New York: 1977, 1983.
3 Kafka, In the Penal Colony, written in 1914 and first published in 1919.
4 Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Mythologiques, 4 volumes, Paris: Plon, 1964 -1971.
5 Guattari, Félix, Pierre, La transversalité, Psychothérapie institutionnelle, n° 1, 1965, reprint in Psychanalyse et Transversalité, Paris, Maspéro, 1972.
6 Prigogine and Stengers, Order Out of Chaos, University of Michigan: Bantam Books, 1984.
7 Guarrati, The Anti-Oedipus Papers, Paris: 2004, New York: Semiotext(e) 2006.
8 Deligny, Fernand, Œuvres, Paris, Edition l’Arachnéen, 2007.