Viewed from one angle objects are machines. It should never be forgotten that objects are not objectified. No, objects are objectile. They are trajectories that dynamically unfold across time and space that never sit still long enough to be mere clumps awaiting actions. Substances don’t await action, they are action. Their being consists in their activity and their becoming.
As such, all objects, following Deleuze and Guattari, are factories. The term “machine” is both a noun and a verb. Both significations are true of every object: every object is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, a machine is “A device consisting of fixed and moving parts that modifies mechanical energy and transmits it in a more useful form.” While in the right ball-park, the dictionary’s definition– which is itself a machine –is somewhat imprecise. It properly captures the sense in which a machine draws from something else (in this case mechanical energy) and transforms that from which it draws, but it is far too restrictive, far to concrete, to capture the abstract essence of machines, objects, or substances. A machine is an entity that draws from something else and transforms it, full stop. That something else from which an entity draws can be mechanical energy, chemical energy, atomic energy, other energies yet unknown, other objects, protons, persons, words, thoughts, animals, microbes, and so on. There will be no limit, in principle, to what a machine can draw on. Moreover, the transformations produced out of that from which a machine or substance draws will be as varied as the machines that that populate the pluriverse.
It is because machines or entities always draw from something else that Deleuze and Guattari will argue that all machines are binary machines in Anti-Oedipus. Every machine will be two. There will always be one or more machines from which a substance draws that are the source of a flow. This is not a “lava lampy metaphysics”, a valorization of flows for the sake of flows, but rather a principle of all factories: A factory must draw from something to run, to work, to continue. A spinning wheel is merely dormant, merely a dark object, without the foot of a man or woman to propel it. The foot provides a flow from which the spinning wheel draws in constituting its action. A spinning wheel is thus a machine attached to another machine. There is the spinning wheel as a machine and then the foot as a machine.
It will be noted that the relation of the one machine to the other is partial. The spinning wheel does not relate to the entirety of the person that provides the foot flow, but only selects the foot flow from the other machine to which it is attached. This, then, is the other half of the binary nature of machines: the machine that draws a flow from another machine is selective. No machine selects all flows available in the environment from which they draw, nor do they select all of the flows available from the machine they select and draw a flow. Rather, machines only select some machines from the environment in which they exist and only some flows of the machine to which they couple. This is on sense in which it can be said– if the term remains useful –that objects “withdraw” from one another. Objects only ever encounter one another as partial flows, never as complete entities.
Yet what happens when the spinning wheel draws a flow from another machine such as a foot? Does that flow remain unchanged? As we’ve seen, the term “machine” is both a noun and a verb. A machine both is something and does something. “To machine” is a verb. Thus, viewed from another angle, a substance, object, or machine is an engine. Engines do not merely draw flows into themselves, but rather transform the flow they draw.
As the foot flow passes through the wheels of the spinning wheel upon which it draws, it transforms this flow, making it into something else. In truth, the spinning wheel machine is not coupled to just one flow. It draws from the foot flow, a wool flow, and hand flows. As Deleuze and Guattari observe, each of these flows are coded. Here a code is not something that is already there in the flows, but rather is the activity of the machine as it produces something out of the flows from which it draws and to which it is coupled. To code is to produce. Machines thus machine flows, transforming them into something. In coding the flows from which a machine draws the machine forms those flows. However, we must resist the urge to conclude that these flows are first unformed and then formed. It is not that machines form unformed flows, for there is no such thing as an unformatted being or substance. Rather, it is that in engineering flows the machine trans-forms flows. This, then, would be a second signification of withdrawal. Insofar as every machine or substance trans-forms flows, coding them, forming them into something else, no machine encounters the flows of another machine as it originally was. There is contact between machines without there being a preservation of what is cont(r)acted in its original form.
Insofar as to code is to produce, something is produced in the process of engineering. Sometimes the product of engineering will be the machine itself. Organic bodies, for example, produce their own cells and organs out of food and other flows. Yet in engineering or machining these parts or elements, it is not simply the parts and elements that are produced, but also the way in which they are related or organized.
However, the production of these elements and relations is not a one-time event, but is a continuous and ongoing process. If this is so then it is because machines are always beset from within and without by entropy. Entropy is not merely the tendency of systems towards heat death, but is more profoundly the measure of order within a machine. The more improbable relations between elements or parts within a machine the higher its degree of order, while the more probable the location of elements within a system the higher its degree of entropy. Organic bodies must constantly work to maintain improbability, and this is because they are buffeted by flows from without that threaten to disorganize their relations (poisons, highly charged cosmic particles, predators, etc) and because they can always be detached from the flows they require to maintain their organization (hunger, thirst, capital, labor). Yet every organism is also threatened from within, for what these machines produce in producing their parts and elements are other machines. Each cell of a body and each organ is itself a little machine engineering its own flows and these little machines often have their own aims and agendas. The cells and organs always threaten to rebel. And what is aging if not a rebellion of those machines that replicate DNA refusing to reproduce strains in the ordained manner?
At any rate, organic machines are machines that both produce themselves and that produce other machines (parts) and their relations that make up that body. This is a work that continues throughout the life of the machine as long as it manages to stave off entropy such that development cannot be treated as a stage that is at some point complete, but rather such that development is the entire life of the objectile. Organic machines will come in a variety of forms. Thus institutions and groups are no less organic machines producing themselves, their subsidiary machines, and relations among these machines, than a zebra, spotted owl, or Yersinia pestis bacterium. Like a meat grinder, an activist group, for example, draws flows from its environment (people, snippets of communication), trans-forms them, and constitutes them as organs and activists with a particular organization. The person drawn into these machines is only selectively related to and undergoes a process of formatting or coding that, if successful, transforms these machines. For the matters drawn into a machine are never purely passive but always contain elements that cannot be integrated, that are resistant, and that themselves contribute to the aleatory development of the machine. Entropy is not purely a negative phenomenon, but introduces differences into the withdrawn solipsism of the machine leading those machines to develop in unexpected ways. Corn grown at sea level is different than corn grown in the mountains due to the differences contributed by flows in each of these respective environments.
It is for this reason that all engines are also difference engines. Machines also produce excess that is taken up by other machines and that perturbs these other machines in a variety of unexpected ways. As such, machines are always causing other machines to differ from themselves and are perpetually upsetting the algorithms of coding that machines deploy in seeking to code other flows.