As I argued in my post entitled “Towards a Theory of the Self-Organization of Objects“, the fact that objects are composed of other objects entails that every object is the result of a genesis. Objects can be simultaneously viewed as substances and as assemblages. As a substance objects are unities that have, within certain limits, conquered entropy for a time. They are organized and structured. As assemblages, objects are composed of other objects that are themselves independent substances that have, for a time, conquered entropy. How, then, do we get from these smaller scale objects to the larger scale object composed of these objects? What are the processes by which this genesis of a new object takes place?
Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of “double articulation” in the “Geology of Morals” plateau of A Thousand Plateaus provides a nice schematic framework for answering this question. The answer to this question will, of course, differ from domain to domain, but the basic framework will be the same. Double articulation refers to the processes by which an object is produced out of other objects. The fact that objects are produced out of other objects is one of the reasons why, in The Democracy of Objects and elsewhere, I refer to objects as “difference engines”. Objects draw on other objects to produce themselves and are thus of the order of an engine or a machine.
In “Materialist Politics” in Deleuze: History and Science, Manuel DeLanda provides an excellent summary of double articulation. There DeLanda writes,
In his work with Felix Guattari… he [sic.] gave us the concept of a process of double articulation through which geological, biological, and even social strata are formed. The first articulation concerns the materiality of a stratum: the selection of raw materials out of which it will be synthesized (such as carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur for biological strata) as well as the process of giving populations of these selected materials some statistical ordering. The second articulation concerns the expressivity of a stratum. (32)
The first articulation is what Deleuze and Guattari call “the plane of content“, while they refer to the second articulation as the “plane of expression“. Within the plane of content, the first articulation refers to the objects an object selects in its self-production or organization. The plane of expression, by contrast, refers to the powers and qualities that the new, larger scale object, comes to embody. Guattari, following Louis Hjemslev, gives us a nice diagram of double articulation in the diagram to the right above.
It will be noted that both content and expression have their own form and substance. I’ll have more to say about this in a moment, but for now it is sufficient to note that “substance” here refers to the way matters are transformed by getting caught up in the dynamics of our difference engines, while “form” refers to the manner in which these structured matters are organized in the assemblage. DeLanda provides a wonderful example to illustrate these points.
The synthesis of sedimentary rock proceeds by the sorting out of pebbles of different size and composition, an operation performed by rivers that transport and deposit the raw materials at the bottom of the ocean. The loose accumulations are then cemented together and transformed into layers of sedementary rock, that is, of an entity with emergent properties not present in the component pebbles. Then at a different scale, many of these emergent rocks accumulate on top of one another and are then folded by the clash of tectonic plates to produce a new emergent entity: a folded mountain range like the Himalayas or the Rocky Mountains… What really matters is not to confuse the two articulations with the distinction between form and substance, since each articulation operates through form and substance: the first selects only some materials, out of a wider set of possibilities, and gives them a statistical form; the second gives these loosely ordered materials a more stable form and produces a new, larger scale material entity… the first articulation is called “territorialization” and concerns formed materiality, the second one “coding” and deals with a material expressivity. (32 – 33)
It will be noted that two machines are at work in this process. The first machine consists of the rivers that sort pebbles of a particular size and deposit them in a particular place. This machine functions at the level of content. The second machine, functioning at the level of expression, consists of tectonic plates that fold and mutate the sedimented rock form mountains. The machines must be surveyed and explored in every region and it should be noted that they do not always function in this way. In this instance, we have external machines presiding over the selective and formative processes (rivers and tectonic plates). In other cases, such as a biological cell, the cell will itself be a selective machine that selects certain proteins and acids to produce itself. The machines will differ from instance to instance.
To express the generality of the model, DeLanda draws on Deleuze’s discussion of Foucault’s prison apparatus:
In his book on the subject Deleuze distinguishes the two articulations involved in the production of these social entities (prisons) this way:
Strata are historical formations, positivities or empiricities. As ‘sedimentary beds’ they are made from things and words, from seeing and speaking, from the visible and the sayable, from bands of visibility and fields of sayability, from contents and expressions. We borrow these terms from Hjemslev, but apply them to Foucault in a completely different way, since content is not to be confused here with a signified, nor expression with a signifier. Instead, it involves a new and very rigorous division. The content has both form and substance: for example, the form is prison and the substance is those that are locked up, the prisoners… The expression also has a form and a substance: for example, the form is penal law and the substance is ‘delinquecy’ in so far as it is the object of statements. Just as penal law as a form of expression defines a field of sayability (the statements of delinqucy), so prison as a form of content defines a place of visibility (‘panopticism’, that is to say, a place where at any moment one can see everything without being seen). (Foucault, 47)
Deleuze is here distinguishing the two articulations roughly along the lines of the non-discursive (territorialization) and the discursive (coding). Non-discursive practices of visual surveillance and monitoring, performed in buildings specifically designed to facilitate their routine execution, sort the raw materials (human bodies) into criminal, medical, or pedagogic categories; and discursive practices, like those of criminologists, doctors, or teachers who produce the categories and discourses in which they are embedded, consolidate those sorted materials giving prisons, hospitals, and schools a more stable form and identity. (36 – 37)
The prison is thus a two-sided machine, consisting of machines of content and machines of expression, that form matters in particular ways (human bodies and the people that work in the prison). The material configuration of the prison (content) forms human bodies in a variety of ways, while the expressive regime of the prison (juridical categories, policies, etc) code human bodies in particular ways.
Here it’s important to note that the matters that the prison machine or this difference engine forms are not themselves unformed. As objects in their own right they have a specific form and organization consisting of its own content and expression. From my discussions of Luhmann’s systems theory it will be recalled that 1) every system or object is premised on a distinction between system and environment, and 2) that the environment is always more complex than the system. There is never a point for point correspondence between system and environment. This entails that every system or object simplifies or distorts entities in its environment, only drawing on specific features of those systems or entities in its environment. Human beings always belong to the environment of the prison system. When the prison system selects a human being to form, it always reduces this human being in a variety of ways to form it into a specific entity (a prisoner), while the other features of the matter it selects to form into a substance withdraw.
It is here that we encounter the dimension of entropy that haunts every object. Because objects are always composed of other objects and because these other objects selected to produce another object always withdraw, systems or objects are always haunted by an internal entropy that they cannot master. This entropy is one of the ways in which objects are compelled to evolve and develop.