Like a Thought

‘Introduction: Like a Thought’, p.xiii-xxxix, in:
Massumi, Brian. (Ed.), 2002. A shock to thought: expression after Deleuze and Guattari. Routledge, London ; New York.
Expression conjures up the image of a self-governing, reflective individual whose inner life can be conveyed at will to a public composed of similarly sovereign individuals – rational atoms of human experience in voluntary segregation, usefully sharing thoughts and experiences. In a word: ‘communication’.
Communicational models of expression share many assumptions.
All of these assumptions have been severely tested by structuralist, poststructuralist, postmodern, postpostmodern thought. Communication has long since fallen on hard times and with it, expression.

From a Deleuze-Guattarian perspective these three approaches [communicational model/ideology critique/postmodernism], for all their differences, have too much in common philosophically. What they share is an attachment to a concept of determination predicated, in one way or another, despite any protestations to the contrary, on conformity and correspondence.
One of the reasons Deleuze and Guattari find the basic communicational model questionable is that it assumes a world of already-defined things for the mirroring. Expression’s potential is strait-jacketed by this pre-definition.
The wilful absurdism of postmodernisms of the Baudrillardian kind took off from signification. The simulation they celebrated is an unmooring of the conditions of truth from the true and the false: from designation.
Both parody and irony covertly conserve the true.
Ultimately, the postmodern absurdity is to retain the true in order, repeatedly, to lampoon it by bracketing its objective anchoring.
The ideological approach in in many ways closer to Deleuze and Guattari’s approach than either the communicational or postmodern, in spite of their frequent criticisms of it.
Ideology critique focuses on the ‘what might be’. Its preoccupation is change.
Mediation steals centre stage from conformity and correspondence.
The problem for Deleuze and Guattari is that conformity and correspondence sneak back in through the back door.
That is the ideological proposition: that a subject is made to be in conformity with the system that produced it, such that the subject reproduces the system.
The fundamental mystification consists in making the subject’s adhesion to the system appear as a choice. Mystified, the subject must be trained to truly express the system it has unwittingly been reproducing. That is the role of critique.
The subject does not express the system. It is an expression of the system.
Conscious critique seems an unloaded weapon in the face of relentless acting out of powers of conformity  on the preconscious level of habitus.
If productions is reproduction, then life is trapped in a vicious circle: that of the systemic repetition of its own formation (wholesale or in self-interested part).
[…] Deleuze and Guattari agree that the subject is in a sense spoken by extra-linguistic forces of expression, and that this impersonal speaking is not a matter of choice.  But they do not see anything ‘hidden’ to uncover, nor are they willing to reduce the expressing individual to an instantiation of the system.
From their perspective, the force of expression and the linguistically formed exercises of power it often fuels are painfully evident. The force of expression, however, strikes the body first, directly and unmediatedly. It passes transformatively through the flesh before being instantiated in subject-positions subsumed by a system of power.
Its immediate effect is a differing. It must be made a reproduction. The body, fresh in the throes of expression, incarnates not an already-formed system but a modification – a change. Expression is an event.
Deleuze and Guattari argue that every use of language carries a performative force, if only because it presupposes a conventional context of intelligibility, and that conventional girding brings pressure to bear toward a certain manner of response.
Every utterance is an ‘order-word’ in the sense that it moulds, subtly or directly, the potential actions of its addressees.
The performative relation of the expression to its content is not representational. The performative is a speech act which modifies the target body’s own potential for action: it is an action on an action.
The reciprocal actions of content and expression have to pass a gap of non-resemblance which breaks not only the symmetry between content and expression assumed by the communicational model, but also the polarity on which ideological models’ dialectical method is based.
There is no essential connection between delinquency as form of expression and prison as form of content. There is no logical or teleological reason why that particular articulation had to be. Its power was the articulation of a thousand tiny performative struggles peppered throughout the social field. The connection was made, and it was made collectively, under the control of no individual subject.
They [established forms of content and expression] shed functions, like so many seeds in search of new soil, or like branches for the grafting. It is of their cobbled-together nature to do so: to disseminate. And it is the inconsistent nature of their of their sheddings to mutate as they disseminate. This mutational dissemination of transplantable functions is an instance of what Deleuze and Guattari call a ‘deterritorialization’.
The articulatory sheddings are functions without the determinate functioning they will come to have: in a state of potential.
What determines how they recombine and settle into an actual functioning as part of a new articulation or ‘regime of signs’? Deleuze and Guattari call the orchestrator of expression the ‘abstract machine’.
The machine is abstract because the asignifying signs with which it concerns itself lack determinate form or actual content definition. Though abstract, they are not unreal. They are in transport. They constitute the dynamic ‘matter’ of expression.
When they settle into rearticulation, they become ‘substances: formed, functional elements of either content (a prisoner, for example) or expression (a phenome perhaps).
Deleuze and Guattari’s matter of expression correlates with Hjelmselv’s ‘purport’ (for which the French translation is matière).
[Purport] has no existence, only dynamic potential.
Hjelmsev emphasises the arbitrary nature of this process.
From a Deleuzo-Guattarian perspective, it would be better to say that the actual content of expression – what effectively comes to be signified, manifested, designated; its ‘object’ – emerges from expressive potential through a process of the capture of that potential, and that this emergence into being-determinate necessarily crosses a zone of systemic indeterminacy by virtue of which the whole affair is tinged with a passing element of chance.
To the logical ring of the arbitrary, Deleuze and Guattari respond with a contingent tinge to the emergent.
The ‘collective assemblage of enunciation’ is the prong of the abstract machine that settles asignifying signs back into a functional form of expression (the ‘machinic assemblage of bodies’ is the prong that does the same for content).
Expression is not in a language-using mind, or in a speaking subject vis à vis its objects. Nor is it rooted in an individual body. It is not even in a particular institution, because it is precisely the institutional system that is in flux. Expression is abroad in the world – where the potential is for what may become.
It was a moral precept of a certain era that one must ‘own’ one’s enunciative position. An imperative was issued to speak responsibly from personal experience. But if expression is abroad in the world, it is not fundamentally ownable.
Expression is always on the move, always engrossed in its own course, over-spilling individual experience, nomadically evading responsibility. It is self-transporting, serially across experiences.
Expression’s self-movement is a continual stretch. Expression is tensile.
There is indeed an ethics of expression, which Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge and accept as a central problem. They insist on the term ‘ethics’, as opposed to morality, because the problem in their eyes is not  in any primary fashion that of personal responsibility. It is a basically pragmatic question of how one performatively contributes to the stretch of expression in the world – or conversely prolongs its capture. This is fundamentally a creative problem.
Where expression stretches, potential determinately emerges into something new. Expression’s tensing is by nature creative. Its passing brings into definite being. It is ontogenetic.  To tend the stretch of expression, to foster and inflect it rather than trying to own it, is to enter the stream, contributing to its probings: this is co-creative, an aesthetic endeavour.
It is also an aesthetic endeavour, since it is to ally oneself with change: for an ethic of emergence.
Pragmatically, an ethics of expression involves producing ‘atypical expressions’.
‘Agrammaticality’ brings out the tensile dimension of language by stretching its elements beyond the limit of their known forms and conventional functions. The atypical expression pulls language into direct contact with its own futurity.
A recursive futurity is one of the ways Deleuze and Guattari talk about the virtual. It is a crucial element of their theory of expression that ethico-aesthetic practices of expression can directly access virtual forces.
Bearing in mind the performative dimension of expression, the ‘atypical expression’ could as well be a gesture, operating on systematizations of non-verbal expression.
More challengingly, it could address the hinge between non-verbal and verbal expression, experimenting with the limits not only of a certain form of expression, but with the very nature of the content-expression articulation itself: how bodies and words couple and struggle; whether or in what circumstances they might pass into each other, as in expression’s performative passing into content; how their mutual immanence must be lived, experienced most directly and intensely.
If the agrammatical verbal expression is an ontogenetic cry, then the gestural atypical expression is its accompanying dance.
There is no entity to expression. There is no super-subject behind its movement.
Its emerging into words and things is always an event before it is a designation, manifestation, or signification propositionally and provisionally attached to a subject.
While there is no form of forms, there is the event of events: a coming to pass through comings to be; the world as becoming.
By ‘production of subjectivity’ Guattari does not only mean the actual subjects that emerge in to ontogenetic net articulating content and expression, determining their potential. He also means that the movement of expression is itself subjective, in the sense that it is self-moving and has determinate effects. It is an agency, only without an agent: a subjectless subjectivity. The ‘production of subjectivity’ is also the self-production of expression’s momentum.
[citing Nietzsche on lightning]
The event is everything. There is no subject before or behind it whose deed it would be. It is an autonomous doing. Before the flash there is only potential, in a continuum of instensity: a field  of charged particles. The triggering of the charge is a movement immanent to the field of potential, but which it plays out the consequences of its own intensity.
The movement involves the field in its entirety. It is non-local, belonging directly to the dynamic relation between a myriad of charged particles.
Expression is always fundamentally of a relation, not a subject. In the expression, process and product are one.
On top of everything, the flash can also be captured. All is not yet done and culminated if, for example, the movement is caught by a human eye. Having passed into that perception, the flash is a product separate from its process. It has passed from an autonomous expression into the content of a body and a life. Its now perceptual intensity (immanent to the neuronal field of potential of the brain) may seed, for example, a myth.
All that expression is not, it has become. Creative to the last: so generously creative is expression that it agree to its own conversion. It allows its process to be prolonged into a qualitatively different mode of operation. It flows into rhetorical captivity, possession by a form of content and a form of expression in narcissistic reflection.
The capture of the ‘narcissistic’ rhetorical structure culminates the mythopoeic process. This second culmination, in the anti-flash of manifested resemblance, is also in fact productive, in a weak (homologous) way. It produces rhetorical figures. These readily form relays among themselves which settle into conventional circuits of association (structural propositions) constituting a self-reproducing system (for example, an oral or literary tradition.)
Lightning’s capture has contributed to the addition of an organisational level to the world. The initial ontogenesis, its continuation in mythopoiesis, and its second coming to an end in rhetorical poiesis are interlocking ‘strata’ of expression.
Expression’s impulse travels through the chain, creatively changing form along the way, passing between content and expression as it crosses the gaps between the strata.
Deleuze and Guattari’s ethics favours affirming expression, across all its meanderings, up to and including its annulment.
How can the stratified system be deterritorialised – made to pass into an ‘intermediate state’ between its established contents and their ordered expressions so that it crosses back over into a zone of systemic indeterminacy, re-tingeing with chance?
This is the entirely pragmatic question of how to perform an atypical expression capable of diverting the process into rebecoming.
What every propositional system puts the squeeze on is the singular.
An occurrence always presents chance-inflected variations, ‘accidents’ not exhibited by other occurrences with which a propositional system might be tempted to group it according to its order of resemblances, confronted with these ungroupable aspects, the system can only apprehend them negatively, as anomalies. As anomalies, they can be systematically brushed aside as insignificant.
This event is its own everything, its own happening, a singularity.
The singular is exactly as it happens. Other events may follow. Its happening may prove to have been the first in a series of occurrences carrying what may well be considered, under systemic comparison, the ‘same’ accidents. These cease retrospectively to be anomalies, becoming identifiable traits.
On the basis of the shared properties lately assigned to them, the series of occcurences can now be grouped together as belonging to a type: a new type (a new form of content for the propositional system’s forms of expression). The event has passed from the status of a singularity to that of  particular instance of a general type: a member of a collection.
Paradoxically, this means that with the singular appears the potential of a collection to come. Another way of putting it would be to say that the singular includes a prospective generality.
Now it can be seen that the atypical expression is doubly intense. It also prospectively envelops a series.
Deleuze and Guattari use the exemplary nature of singular expression to argue that even the most ostensibly personal expression may be directly political, in that it envelops a personal collective.
The atypical expression emits the potential for an unlimited series of further (collective) expressions by individuals who will retrospectively be assigned by a propositional system of capture to membership in a group (psychosocial type, class, ethnicity, nation).
A complementary order of conventional performative expressions will help manage this new form of content. The force of collective, expressive emergence will be streamed into stratified functions of power.
Unless: the collectivity in the making resists pick-up by an established stratum, insisting on defining its own traits, in a self-capture of its own anomaly. In this case, they will retain a shade of the unclassifiable and a margin of unpredictability in the yes (or net) of existing systems of reference, no matter how hard those systems try fully to contain them.
The collection will appear as what it is, a multiplicity in flux, an expressive ‘movement’ or ‘orientation’ still under formation (especially if the collective learns to creatively shed its traits as confidently as it cultivates them).
The singular’s conditions of anomaly are counter-conditions of absurdity, but in an entirely different way than the postmodern. They are absurd not because they produce an excess of signification, but because what they produce is, as potential, in excess of it.
Deleuze’s logic of seriality and potential is what allows him to make sense of asignifying expression.
In turn, it is the idea of asignifying expression that allows him to argue that speech and gesture can be literally (or is it literarily?) creative: ontogenetic; adding to reality.
There is no tabula rasa  of expression. It always take place in a cluttered world. Its field of emergence is strewn with the after-effects of events past, already formed subjects and objects and the two-pronged systems of capture (of content and expression, of bodies and words) regulating their interaction: nets aplenty.
In order to potentialize a new type, the atypical expression must evade these already established articulations.
The evasive in-betweenness of expression’s emerging-into and continuing through a cluttered world is why it is never ‘autonomous’ in the sense of being a separate entity. Only a process is autonomous. A process is by nature relational, from its first strike to its recharging for more.
The only autonomy is of unfolding relation. A corollary to this principle is: only an autonomy can be captured.
The continuation of expression across experiences means that it is too big to fit the contours of an individual human body. Its moving-through envelops the sky-like immensity of its field conditions of emergence, and the numberless collectivity of a people to come.
There are any number of non-human strata in the world, with their own ‘perceptual’ mechanisms: means for picking up a charge of potential aflow in the world and capturing it in a stratum-forming self-production or reproduction.
Many of these non-human formations are in fact integrated in the human body. A ray of light passing into the human eye strikes on the level of physics. Its impulse passes through many an interlocking level, from the physical to the chemical to the biological.
On each level, it produces a dedicated effect that is captured as a content, and around which certain functions alimenting the self-regulating system will come to resolve.
[Discussion of Deleuze, Leibniz and molar / molecular perception]
To convey the expressive potential ‘faithfully’ (with sufficient, creative absurdity) the body must transmit the reality of the shock. It’s a torture, a multi-level, interlocking, self-magnifying torture. The body is wracked.
Habit is the body’s defence against shocks of expression. It ‘recognises’ every arriving perception it can as being ‘like’ an impulse the body has already integrated as a functional life content. It contains potential with resemblance. Any number of singular bodily events will automatically  be grouped together, soliciting the same type of response.
[footnote on Deleuze’s conception of habit  as being of the productive, physiological capacities of the flesh]
The resemblance is this redundancy of response: it is in on the level of the event’s effect. In other words, it is a produced resemblance – of the body’s elicited actions to each other – rather than a formal likeness between the ‘stimulus’ and the response.
Thinking is of potential. The wrackings of the thinking body mimic the excess of potential it hosts.
To live ‘like’ a thought: in operative identity with emergent expression. Thought does not reflect the real. It is real. It has a reality on a par with the world’s becoming.
Determination is necessary for the theory of expression: its problem is how determinate beings, or being-determinate, serially emerges.
Conditions of emergence are an existential opening for determinations to come. This means that their mode of reality follows a different logic from that of the constituted beings to which it gives rise, with their reproductions and closed operational loops.
A transcendental empiricism takes it to heart that formation and form, the emerging and the emerged, pertain to different modes of reality, even if they both belong to the same reality (there being only one world).
Potential, it says, is no mere ‘possibility’. Traditionally in philosophy, it is said that there is no difference between a determinate being and its possibility, other than existence.
Between potential and being determinate, on the other hand, there is all the difference in the world: coming to be. Ultimately, what is bracketed by possibility is becoming.
The actual existence of the thing is irrelevant because whether it happens to exist or not there is still a correspondence between the content of the idea that may be had of it, and the form it would have were it to be.
Deleuze and Guattari do not wish to bracket reality in thought. They want to open bodies to the reality of thought. This requires operating in the element of potential.
What makes a singularity unique – fully and only its own event – is an accident only from the perspective of the already-operating type-casting collector mechanisms to which it gives pause.
From the point of view of emergence, on the other hand, the ‘accidents’ are a necessity.  They are precisely what make the event an expression of potential. They are its openness to being otherwise; to becoming.