Desiring-Machines

In Anti-Oedipus (1972), Deleuze & Guattari write,

Desiring-machines are binary machines, obeying a binary law or set of rules governing associations: one machine is always coupled with another. The productive synthesis, the production of production, is inherently connective in nature: “and . . .” “and then . . .” This is because there is always a flow-producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast-the mouth). And because the first machine is in turn connected to another whose flow it interrupts or partially drains off, the binary series is linear in every direction. Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented.

p. 5

This is very much like Michel Serres‘ concept of the parasite. The parasite interrupts, and there is linear, irreversible progression of parasites, with the last parasite in line deriving the greatest benefit. The parasite parasitizes reproduction (because production is always reproduction). Parasites not only interrupt flows, they redirect.

In terms if social systems theory, one system (a system can be called a machine) parasitizes another system. For example, an organization parasitizes the psychic systems or time of its workers, redirecting that resource toward the reproduction of the organization. You might say that there is no parasitism here if the workers are being compensated monetarily or otherwise; however, the exchange is not truly equitable or balanced. Money and psychic energy (or the worker’s time) are not equivalent. The only way for an exchange to be truly balanced would to trade the same things (or things can perform the same function), as in exchanging five pennies for a nickel. Then we might turn around and trade the nickel for the pennies–the exchange is reversible. But it has to be the same exchange medium (money in this case) and the same value.

So why do systems engage in inequitable exchanges? The short answer is because they have to; machines aren’t self-sufficient. But, on a deeper level, the interruption/redirection is treated, by Serres, as information.

New information is added to the flow of energy. Relatively less organized energy might be transformed into more organized energy. This seems to be what it means to add information. The transformed energy is used for a more specific purpose; that is to say, the parasite selects one use from among multiple possibilities. When a dairy farmer extracts milk from cows, the milk can then be used for particular purposes–and at the same time, other potential purposes are eliminated forever. The cow’s milk might have gone directly into the mouth of a calf, but once it is put to some other use it cannot be given to the calf. Of course, the milk might be fed to the calf, but only before it is put to some other, probably more profitable use. Once the milk is consumed somewhere, it can’t also be given to the calf. The process is irreversible.

Once an organization uses my time for some task, I can’t then reclaim that time and use it for something else. The time is gone, and money can’t being it back. The clock cannot be turned back. Mechanistic metaphors, like the balance and the clock that can be turned back, don’t work for complex systems.

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