Studying Geophilosophy

The following is the result of a close reading of ’Of the Refrain’, a middle chapter from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. It is in this chapter that I believe the most thorough and detailed terminological outline of what they call Geophilosophy is given. The basic project is to draw a diagram that allows for a better understanding of the relationships between geophilosophical terms. I will mostly let the quotes to the heavy lifting. There is inevitably a process of selection in determining which quotes stand out as useful for the task and the copious marks I left on the pages of ATP hopefully brought the key passages forth. I believe this diagram stands up to the text, but it is the result of a singular reading.

After a series of chapters on language and linguistics, where the symbol, sign, signification and the ‘body without organs’ have been elucidated, territorialization comes into play along with the process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization on the surface of the earth. Rhythm and the wave-nature of existence integrates with the territory-making impulse, which produces assemblages of lived bodies in a complex process of motion with respect to their surroundings. Both the rhythm and the territory are like conditions from which social forms may develop and interact with each other: the geographic landscape is brought into consideration in an abstract way that identifies the background of artistic expressions, modes of thinking, and philosophical commonalities in their emergence – their coming-into-being. Geophilosophy is their attempt to dig into the conditions on the earth required for forming societies/assemblages and the complex processes they undergo, as well as the character of the their motifs and manners. What comes out of this study is a diagram that I believe is very helpful to understanding the importance of Geophilosophy for any project involving assembled masses of people.

In this story we begin in the middle, as Deleuze has always been fond of saying. Though the chapter must begin with an opening sentence, there is never any pure beginning free of forces that contort and influence one in this or that way. That said, D & G are describing a process in the form of a writing exercise as they are well aware, and this process, this story if you will, begins in the middle with the milieu. We actually begin with a little scene of a boy lost in the woods. With chaos creeping all around him, he sings a song for the sake of comfort and establishes what little order he can out of the chaos. In the beginning it seems there is only chaos and the rhythm of the song, maybe hummed or whistled or skipped to, to protect oneself from it.

“From chaos, Milieus and Rhythms are born. This is the concern of very ancient cosmogenies. Chaos is not without it sown directional components, which are its own ecstasies… Every milieu is vibratory, in other words, a block of space-time constituted by the periodic repetition of the component. Thus the living thing has the exterior milieu of materials, an interior milieu of composing elements and composed substances, an intermediary milieu of membranes and limits, and an annexed milieu of energy sources and actions-repetitions. Every milieu is coded, a code being defined by periodic repetition; but each code is in a perpetual state of transcoding or transduction… The notion of the milieu is not unitary… The milieus are open to chaos, which threatens them with exhaustion or intrusion. Rhythm is the milieus’ answer to chaos… Chaos is not the opposite of rhythm, but the milieu of all milieus. There is rhythm whenever there is transcoded passage form one milieu to another, a communication of milieus, coordination between heterogenous space-times.” (p.313)


“Meter, whether regular or not, assumes a coded form whose unit of measure may vary, but in a noncommunicating milieu, whereas rhythm is the Unequal or the Incommensurable that is always undergoing transcoding. Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical; it ties itself together in passing from one milieu to another… It changes direction.” (p.313)

Territory is introduced as an act, the process of territorialization affecting milieus by settling them, at least for a moment.

“The territory is in fact an act that affects milieus and rhythms, that “territorializes” them… There is territory precisely when milieu components cease to be directional, becoming dimensional instead, when they cease to be functional to become expressive. What defines the territory is the emergence of matters of expression (qualities)… It becomes expressive on the other hand, when it acquires a temporal constancy and a spatial range that make it a territorial, or rather territorializing, mark: a signature…
Territorialization is an act of rhythm that has become qualitative. The mark of a territory is dimensional, but it is not meter, it is a rhythm. It retains the most general characteristic of rhythm, which is to be inscribed on a different plane than that of its actions.” (p.314-315)


“What we wish to say is that there is a self-movement of expressive qualities. Expressiveness is not reducible to the immediate effects of an impulse triggering an action in a milieu: effects of that kind are subjective impressions or emotions rather than expressions…
In effect, expressive qualities or matters of expression enter shifting relations with one another that “express” the relation of the territory they draw to the interior milieu of impulses and exterior milieu of circumstances*. To express is not to depend upon; there is an autonomy of expression.” (p.317)

Every matter of expression is necessarily linked with a territory – the taking on of a territorial aspect of matter that then gains/makes an expression.

“The territory is first of all the critical distance between two beings of the same species: Mark your distance. What is mine is first of all my distance; I possess only distances. Don’t anybody touch me, I growl if anyone enters my territory, I put up placards. Critical distance is a relation based on meters of expression. It is a question of keeping at a distance the forces of chaos knocking at the door. Mannerism: the ethos is both abode and manner, homeland and style” (p. 319-320)

So, we have a relationship with milieu and territory… Now we get to an explicit appearance of the earth. After all, this is all about geophilosophy:

“… The territory groups all the forces of the different milieus together in a single sheaf constituted by the forces of the earth. The attribution of all the diffuse forces of the earth as receptacle or base takes place only at the deepest level of each territory… Moreover, although I extension the territory separates the interior forces of the earth from the exterior forces of chaos, the same does not occur in “intension,” in the dimension of depth, where the two types of forced clasp and are wed in a battle whose only criterion and stakes is the earth. There is always a place, a tree or grove, in the territory where all the forces come together in a hand-to-hand combat of energies. The earth is this close embrace.” (p.321)

Pause and let that sink in. After gaining dimension and losing direction (and expression over function) they posit a depth that is irreducible to graphic dimension, a special “intension” counter-posed to extension. I take extension to be continuous with the notion of the “external world” and the bare, objective world we subjects (with our new mind-space) contemplate or inquire into. The separation that extension makes between earth and chaos must be a direct result of the sectioning off of the ground in territorialization and the displacement of chaos into those “non-secured areas out there”. The earth as ground was the ground of chaos – chaos and panic were everywhere to be found on the earth – before the staking of one’s territory, before a domestication of extension. Or perhaps the earth is only constituted as this intense center located in at the very core of the territory upon the phenomenon of territorialization. Conntinuing on:

“This intense center is simultaneously inside the territory and outside several territories that converge on it at the end of an immense pilgrimage (hence the ambiguities of the “natal”). Inside or out, the territory is linked to this intense center, which is like the unknown homeland, terrestrial source of all forces friendly and hostile, where everything is decided.” (p.321)

Let it sink in even farther. The depth of intension is why the Earth should be placed below, but this is not a vertical downward. This demonstrates the limits of diagraming this idea of the earth in “intension” – a place that is at once the scene of battle, convergence, and decision. This is one of the great passages of Deleuze and Guattari’s writing that has kept me hung up for a number of months now. It is over fast and they move farther on down the diagram briskly, but what a claim! The intense place where all things are decided, the coming together of forces hostile and in serious deliberation: Earth. And there’s is a Geophilosophy.


“We always come back to this “moment”: the becoming-expressive of rhythm, the emergence of expressive proper qualities, the formation of matters of expression that develop into motifs and counterpoints. We therefore need a notion, even an apparently negative one, that can grasp this fictional or raw moment. The essential thing is the disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory…. It is because there is a disjunction between the territory and the code that the territory can indirectly induce new species.” (p.322) [my emphasis]

What is this necessary notion that appears negative, fictional, and raw? It is a tenuous motion that plays on the boundaries between margin and center. It does not change the coding of a species or alter the genes in a mutation, but it does change bodies with respect to their environment or territory. The fictional moment considered here is not a genetic mutation or deviancy from a norm, it is act of “differentiating” that the variations in territory prepares the way for the act of decoding.

“Biologists have stressed the importance of these determined margins, which are not to be confused with mutations, in other words, changes internal to the code: here, it is a question of duplicated genes or extra chromosomes that are not inside the genetic code, are free of function, and offer a free matter for variation.” (p.322)

The necessities of a sustaining life, the nourishment of the gene with its structurally sound code that only replicates or mutates, are not under examination but the expressions of the outer layers. With that base level of stable coding, the variations of the rest of the body in conjunction with its surrounding environment take on much more interesting and territorially specific traits.

What isn’t being mentioned here but is lurking like a giant elephant in the room is evolution. D & G are trying to emphasize the propensity for species to change, differentiate, and adapt to their environment without a “natural selection” as the operative concept but instead a transformative creation in concert with its territory and irreducible to mutation. The genes are kept the same, while the species morph into something else to fit with the critical distances included with the terrain features. “It is less a question of evolution than of passage, bridges and tunnels.” (p.322)


“The territory itself is a place of passage. The territory is the first assemblage, the first thing to constitute an assemblage; the assemblage is fundamentally territorial. But how could it not already be in the process of passing into something else, into other assemblages?” (p.323)

“The first question to be asked is what holds these territorializing marks, territorial motifs, and territorialized functions together in the same intra-assemblage. This is a question of consistency*: the “holding together” of heterogenous elements…
But another question seems to interrupt or cut across the first one. For in many cases, a territorialized, assembled function acquires enough independence to constitute a new assemblage, one that is more or less deterritorialized, en route to deterritorialization. There is no need to effectively leave the territory to go this route; but what just a minute ago was a constituted function in the assemblage has become the constituting element of another assemblage, the element of passage to another assemblage.” (p.324)



“It is no longer adequate to say that there is interassemblage, passage from a territorializes assemblage to another type of assemblage; rather, we should say that one leaves all assemblages behind, that one exceeds the capacities of any possible assemblage, entering another plane. In effect, there is no longer a milieu movement or a rhythm, nor a territorialized or territorializing movement or rhythm; there is something of the Cosmos in these more ample movements. The localization mechanisms are still extremely precise, but the localization has become cosmic. They are no longer territorializes forces bundled together as forces of the earth; they are the liberated or regained forces of a deterritorialized cosmos.” (p.326)


“This being the case, in considering the system as a whole we should speak less of automatism of a higher center than of coordination between centers, and of the cellular groupings or molecular populations that perform these couplings: there is no form of correct structure imposed from without or above but rather an articulation from within, as if oscillating molecules, oscillators, passed from one heterogeneous center to another, if only for the purpose of assuring the dominance of one among them. This obviously excludes any linear relation from one center to another, in favor of packets of relations steered by molecules: the interaction or coordination may be positive or negative (release or inhibition), but it is never direct, as in a linear relation or chemical reaction; it always occurs between molecules with at least two heads, and each center taken separately.” (p.328)

“Consolidation is not content to come after; it is creative. The fact is that the beginning always begins in-between, intermezzo. Consistency is the same as consolidation, it is the act that produces consolidated aggregates, of succession as well as of coexistence, be means of the three factors just mentioned: intercalated elements, intervals, and articulations of superposition.” (p.329)

“Consistency necessarily occurs between heterogeneities, not because it is the birth of differentiation, but because heterogeneities that were once content to coexist or succeed one another become bound up with one another through the “consolidation” of their coexistence and succession…
What we term machinic* is precisely the synthesis of heterogeneities as such. Inasmuch as these heterogeneities are matters of expression*, we say their synthesis itself, their consistency or capture, forms a properly machinic “statement” or “enunciation.”” (p.330-331)

Assemblage is not to be confused with machine: “That in fact is the distinction we would like to propose between machine and assemblage: a machine is like a set of cutting edges that insert themselves into the assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, and draw variations and mutations of it.” (p.333)

The Natal:

“The natal is the innate, but decoded; and it is the acquired, but territorialized. The natal is new figure assumed by the innate and the acquired in the territorial assemblage. The affect proper to the natal is the lied: to be forever lost, or refound, or aspiring to the unknown homeland. In the natal, the innate tends to be displaced…” (p.332)

The natal stretches from what happens in the intra-assemblage all the way to the center that has been projected outside; it cuts across all the interassemblages and reaches all the way to the gates of the Cosmos.”


Black Hole:

“Thus the black hole is a machine effect in assemblages and has a complex relation to their effects. It may be necessary for the release of innovative processes that they first fall into a catastrophic black hole: stases of inhibition are associated with the release of crossroads of behavior. On the other hand, when black holes resonate together or inhibitions conjugate and echo each other, instead of an opening onto consistency, we see a closure of the assemblage, as though it were deterritorialized in the void: young chaffinches. *Machines are always singular keys that open or close an assemblage, a territory*.” (p.334)


Life and Matter. Stratum and (de)stratification.

“The very words, “matters of expression,” imply that expression has a primary relation to matter. As matters of expression take on consistency they constitute semiotic* systems, but the *semiotic components are inseparable from *material components and are in exceptionally close contact with molecular levels. The whole question is thus whether or not the molar-molecular relation assumes a new figure here. If general, it has been possible to distinguish “molar-molecular” combinations that vary greatly depending on the direction followed. First, individual atoms can enter into probabilistic or statistical accumulations that tend to efface their individuality; this already happens on the level of the molecule, and then again in the molar aggregate… Second, it is clear that the distinction to be made is not between the individual and the statistical. In fact, it is always a question of populations; statistics concerns individual phenomena, and antistatistical individuality operates only in relation to molecular populations… Third, the intramolecular internal forces that give an aggregate its molar form can be of two types: they are either covalent, arborescent, mechanical, linear, localizable relations subject to chemical conditions of action and reaction or to linked reactions, or they are indirect, noncovalent, machinic and nonmechanical, superlinear, or nonlocalizable bonds operating by stereospecific discernment* or discrimination*, rather than by linkage.
… it is, in effect, a distinction between matter and life, or rather, since there is only one matter, between two states, two tendencies of atomic matter… Stating the distinction in the most general way, we could say that it is between stratified systems or systems of stratification on the one hand, and consistent, self-consistent aggregates on the other. But the point is that consistency, far from being restricted to complex life forms, fully pertains even to the most elementary atoms and particles.”

“There is a coded system of stratification whenever, horizontally, there are linear causalities between elements; and, vertically, hierarchies of order between groupings; and, holding it all together in depth, a succession of framing forms, each of which informs a substance and in turn serves as a substance for another form. These causalities, hierarchies, and framings constitute a stratum, as well as the passage from one stratum to another, and the stratified combinations of the molecular and the molar…
If we ask ourselves where life fits into this distinction, we see that it undoubtedly implies a gain in consistency, in other words, a surplus value (surplus value of destratification). …both at once: a particularly complex system of stratification and an aggregate of consistency that disrupts orders, forms, and substances. As we have seen, the loving thing performs a transcoding of milieus that can be considered both to constitute a stratum and to effect reverse causalities and transversally of destratification.” (p.335-336)


“We have gone from stratified milieus to territorial assemblages and simultaneously, from the forces of chaos, as broken down, coded, transcoded by the milieus, to the forces of the earth, as gathered into the assemblages. Then we went from territorial assemblages to interassemblages, to opening of assemblages along lines of deterritorialization; and simultaneously, the same from the in gathered forces of the earth to the deterritorialized, or rather deterritorializing, Cosmos.” (p.337)

By the geophilosophical process laid out in ’Of the Refrain’ we have been taken through Chaos, Earth, and Cosmos as resting places of a sort, or as concepts representative of certain limits reached in the flow of matter. Chaos is the scary prospect that must be warded off with the proper comforting rhythm. The empty disorder that one reaches when contemplation approaches chaos is the result of the totalizing “milieu of all milieus”. Earth is a depth that is irreducible to dimension, an “intension” that gathers all of the forces in a single place. The intensity of the moment or the event (so often expressed to qualify a particularly momentous past experience) is “the close embrace” of the Earth in its act of drawing forces and bodies together at the heart of the territory. Cosmos represents the perpetual motion of an assemblage undergoing deterritorialization, not yet closed upon inside the inescapable black hole. Opening onto the Cosmos is to remain in motion – even if just in expressive semiotic/aesthetic way – as a both stratified system of horizontal causalities, vertical hierarchies, and framing forms holding it together, and a destratifying action of passing. A nomadic machine on the move, but towards what? The Cosmos… still not there yet.

This becomes a bit easier when in the next part of the chapter, D & G fit these three different motifs into loose art history categories: Classical, Romantic, and Modern (for lack of a better term). This will be dealt with later. We have still not yet explained what they mean by ‘Refrain’.

Cleaned up a bit for the finale:



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