For many years I’ve been fascinated with Deleuze and Guattari’s triad of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and territory. Truth be told, when I first encountered these concepts I was repulsed. I found the language to be trendy and understood “deterritorialization” to refer to some romantic notion of “escape” from a territory. While there are indeed elements of this in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, the concept, I believe, is much more profound. For me, the concept was really driven home when, somewhere in A Thousand Plateaus, I came across Deleuze and Guattari’s remark that “a club is a deterritorialized branch.” The territory of a branch, is, of course, a tree. The branch serves the function of extending leaves across an area so as to capture sunlight. Perhaps the best definition of deterritorialization is the decontextualization of something or a theft of a bit of code that then resituates that thing elsewhere. Here “code” is to be understood as formed matter that serves a particular function. When code is stolen it is separated and isolated from its original milieu or territory, liberated from its original function, and then resituated in a new territory. When the branch is separated from the tree it becomes something else, it takes on different functions, such that it has been deterritorialized from its original territory (the function of gathering sunlight in the process of photosynthesis) and reterritorialized elsewhere (the function of warfare or violence). Deterritorialization thus proceeds through subtraction. As Deleuze and Guattari remark in their famous rhizome essay, deterritorialization “…begins by selecting or isolating…” (13).
Thus, for example, Deleuze and Guattari will write that “[t]he crocodile does not reproduce a tree trunk, any more than the chameleon reproduced the colors of its surroundings. The Pink Panther Imitates nothing, it reproduces nothing…” (11). What the crocodile and chameleon do is steal a bit of code– formed matter –the former stealing the texture of tree bark, the latter bits of color. Codes are always functional. The tree bark serves a particular function for the tree, the greenness of leaves serves a particular function for leaves or is a bi-product of functions like photosynthesis. In stealing a bit of code, quality is divorced from function and takes on a new function for these animals. There is not representation, resemblance, or imitation, but rather the formation of a new set of functions.
The concept of deterritorialization is already foreshadowed in The Logic of Sense. In The Logic of Sense Deleuze speaks of the mime in relation to the pure event and distinguishes the pure event from what happens. The event, as Deleuze understands it, is not what happens, but rather the sense that inheres in that which happens. The mime allows us to understand just what Deleuze might have in mind by the difference between the event and the happening. Everyone, of course, hates mimes, yet what is the mime if not the artist of the pure event? As the mime is buffeted by rain and wind, there is no wind, there is no umbrella, there is no rain. The mime deterritorializes the event from the happening, the action scheme, from its context or territory, turning into pure expression. The mime bears witness to the eternal possibility of deterritorialization or the possibility of stealing a bit of code from the context in which it exists. The mime does not imitate, but rather liberates a pure affect– capacity from acting and being acted upon –from its territory such that it might land in all sorts of new and different territories.
Here, I believe, we encounter the rationale behind Deleuze and Guattari’s endless insistence that “becoming-animal” animal is not an imitation of animals. If, in Anti-Oedipus, they are so troubled by Melanie Klein’s interpretation of Little Han’s “becoming-horse”, then this is because Klein perpetually tries to trace poor Han’s becoming-horse to the model of resemblance: first as a resemblance to horses and then as a resemblance to the paternal figure and the absence of castration. What Klein refuses to understand is Hans’s becoming-horse as a deterritorialization, and invention, that allows him to escape an intolerable situation and invent a new form of life for himself. Indeed, her interpretations actively interrupt and function to inhibit the formation of this new form of life.
In this connection, we encounter the root behind Deleuze and Guattari’s characterization of the unconscious as a theatre and the unconscious as a factory. In this context, the theatre is a milieu of representation that perpetually strives to trace the formations of the unconscious back to some model: the familial structure. Interpretations of the unconscious based on the model of theatre literally domesticate the formations of the unconscious, reterritorializing them on the family structure. One’s relationship to one’s boss becomes a relationship to one’s mother or father. By contrast, a factory is something that produces something other than itself. Deleuze and Guattari take Freud and Lacan seriously when they claim that the symptom is a solution to a problem. Their aim is to examine the manner in which the symptom, the formations of the unconscious, are inventive deterritorializations that strive to solve a particular deadlock of jouissance generating a new possibility of life and existence. Rather than inhibit the symptom by tracing it back to some sort of familial drama, they adopt a functional approach to the symptom, asking what sort of machine it is, what it is doing, how it functions and what new possibilities it offers for the agent. This is why they forbid the art of interpretation. “Do not interpret, do not seek a signified, do not ask what it means,” they say, “but rather ask what it does!”
And here too we might discern the nature of literature. Deleuze and Guattari heap endless scorn on the idea that literature and writing resemble the world or seek to model the world. Rather, for Deleuze and Guattari, literature is not simply about something, it is something. It is a machine that has, like the crocodile and the mime, deterritorialized certain elements of the world and that functions as a machine hooked into all sorts of other machines– physiological, affective, social, bureaucratic, etc. –functioning like a factory so as to produce certain effects. Like the mime literature releases pure events and separates them from their happening. It proceeds by selection and isolation. In proceeding in this way, like any good factory, it produces something new through subtraction and becomes an entity that itself acts in the world.