diagram

Instead of transcendence, immanence; instead of determination by the economic base, the abstract machine; instead of hegemony, the diagram.

“The diagram,” Deleuze argues in his book on Foucault, “acts as a non-unifying immanent cause that is coextensive with the whole social field: the abstract machine is like the cause of the concrete assemblages that execute its relations; and these relations between forces take place ‘not above’ but within the very tissue of the assemblages they produce” (Foucault 37).

“Of course,” then, “this has nothing to do with a transcendent idea or with an ideological superstructure, or even with an economic infrastructure, which is already qualified by its substance and defined by its form and use” (36-37).

The diagram is abstract (an “abstract machine”) because it precedes the distinction between form and substance, “between content and expression, between a discursive formation and a non-discursive formation” (34). Such distinctions are only a consequence of the abstract machine’s realization (though surely what’s meant is “actualization”?) in concrete social orders: “it is here that two forms of realization diverge or become differentiated: a form of expression and a form of content, a discursive and a non-discursive form, the form of the visible and the form of the articulable” (38; emphasis in original).

One cannot hope to explain one element of this bifurcation by the other–to explain discursive formations by resorting to some material ground, or to explain the material by reference to discursive strategies. It is the cause of the bifurcation itself, and its distinctive delineation in any given society, that has first to be explained.

For there is nothing ahistorical about the abstract machine. “The history of forms, the archive, is doubled by an evolution of forces, the diagram” (43). Hence Deleuze can argue that “there are as many diagrams as there are social fields in history” (34) and “every society has its diagram(s)” (35): the diagram of “modern disciplinarian societies” differs from that of “the ancient sovereign societies” (34); the society of control (not named as such here) corresponds to yet another diagram. From theatre to factory to…

Then there are also “intermediary diagrams, in which we shift from one society to another [. . .]. This is because the diagram is highly unstable or fluid, continually churning up matter and functions in a way likely to create change” (35).

It’s not entirely clear here how Deleuze envisages the process of change. There’s something rather functionalist about his account. Here, at least, there’s no conception of agency or constituent power. But he does describe the notion of a gap within which change might be engineered.

For it’s precisely because institutions do not determine statements (though “any institution implies the existence of statements” [9]) and statements do not determine institutions (though, reciprocally, “statements refer back to an institutional milieu” [9]), in other words it’s precisely because we can throw out the concepts of either determination or even overdetermination, that we can attend to the non-coincidence between discourse and the non-discursive as a site of possibility or potential.

For every society will be defined by the “gap or disjunction” that opens up “between the visible and the articulable,” the “‘non-place’ [. . .] where the informal diagram is swallowed up and becomes embodied instead in two different directions that are necessarily divergent and irreducible” (38). Every society, in short, is defined by the “crack” that traverses it and “that determines how the abstract machine performs” (38). And this crack enables us to see that “there is no diagram that does not also include, besides the points which it connects up, certain relatively free points, points of creativity, change and resistance” (44).

But again, a posthegemonic understanding of social order must first grapple with the “common, immanent cause which works informally” and analyze the ways in which “every mechanism is a mushy measure of the visible and the articulable” (38) before then explaining how the two come to appear so radically separated, one determining the other, to conjure up (inter alia) the deus ex machina of hegemony.

[Meanwhile, I wonder about the “Diagram Poems” of Douglas Oliver.]

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