Territory and time

Deleuze and Guattari wrote a book called Anti-Œdipus in which they conceptualise the world as made up of flows, and they speak of a surface on which these flows are engraved, a surface which maps the relations between them: it is a recording surface. At another point they use different terminology: they describe the recording surface as a body without organs and the flows as the organs which connect over and across it; together they comprise a full body.

The inscription of the flows on the body, say Deleuze and Guattari, takes place in three stages. First the hand marks the flesh, and this, for them, is a visceral process: it is ‘tattooing, excising, incising, carving’. Then the voice cries out in response, and all the time the eye watches. Together this triad again form a full body — the body has organs, flows connect, the surface is marked. It inscribes, reacts, observes. And this full body itself is analogous to the socius, an abstract network which constantly composes and decomposes itself, all the while leaving traces. (It is also important to note at this point that the socius is linked to society: it is equally the relationships between people, and of people to things, and of things to other things.)

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Just as importantly, the act of inscription is a pre-condition of language and memory. Deleuze and Guattari wrote, ‘if one wants to call this inscription in naked flesh “writing” then it must be said that speech in fact presupposes writing’. That is to say that without the action of the hand on the body the voice does not cry out and there is no speech. ‘The first signs are the territorial signs that plant their flags in bodies’.

Plato introduced the concept that writing is made of two components. One is the graphic component (from the Greek graphein, or what Deleuze and Guattari call graphism when they speak of ‘writing in the largest sense of the term’); this is ‘inseparable from the eikastic component’, where eikastic is derived from the Greek eikṓn, meaning “image” or representation (from which comes our word “icon”). 

Skipping forward two and a half thousand years, in Anti-Œdipus Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between two forms of representation, which they call the territorial and the imperial. Territorial representation, they say, is made up of distinct elements: that of the mark (or inscription, or graphism) and that of the voice function separately. They are heterogenous as a picture and the words that describe it. In imperial representation the inscription becomes writing: the graphism aligns itself with the voice, and the words spoken are the words written. The eye does not see the images but reads words. (Have you ever tried to look at words without reading them?)

In his work Memory, History, Forgetting philosopher Paul Ricœur (1913-2005) narrates the precedent discussions of memory in Ancient Greek philosophy, ideas which have been carried down across the intervening two and a half thousand years, at times subsumed but ultimately preserved, first by the Romans and then in Byzantine writings before being taken up once more in the Renaissance. Ricœur recounts an illustration of memory offered up in an account of Socrates’ discussions. Imagine, Socrates said, a block of wax in which impressions are marked — stamped upon the surface as though with a signet ring. The memory remains as an impression on the surface, and is forgotten when it is erased or obliterated, after which it becomes unknown. The parallels to Deleuze and Guattari’s recording surface are striking.

Memories, says Plato, are written as words on the soul. These concepts foreshadow Deleuze and Guattari’s idea that writing is a precondition of not only language but also memory. 

The territory of the earth can be considered a recording surface. The traces of existence are etched upon it and it becomes a legend, mapping their interweaving tales. Traces of human existence are inscribed on the landscape — as paths and hedgerows, roads and buildings and townscapes and great cities, all caught up in their own history — and history ‘aspires to be a science of traces’.

This science of traces can be seen to function on three levels. The first, and most abstract level, is the level of reminding, of bringing to mind once again. These can be the subtlest of cues, ‘clues that guard against forgetting’, as simple as a knot in a handkerchief. The second level is that of reminiscing: of ‘making the past live again by evoking it together with others’. It is a communal, communicative activity. The third level is of recognition: we see something which is familiar and feel a connection to it, remember that we have seen it before.

As we think of reminders, reminiscences and recognition we can start to see that the act of inhabitation (Heidegger’s dwelling) ‘constitutes in this respect the strongest human tie between date and place […] the successive places we pass through serve as reminders of the episodes that have taken place there’. This applies not only to the events that we have personally experienced but equally to those of which we know — those which others have shared with us, directly or indirectly, through their own written or spoken reminiscences.

‘The most memorable places would not seem to be capable of exercising their memorial function if they were not also at notable sites at the intersection point of landscape and geography.’

So writes Ricœur. This would seem at first sight to be simple, and at second to be an over-simplification. We must delve a little deeper into the meanings, and the breadth, of the words he uses to understand the full scope of his meaning.

By “landscape” and “geography” we must assume he means not only a topographical landscape and geography but equally the human dimension. And when he speaks of “notable sites” we must consider the whole expansive realm of that which can be notable. Things — and places — can be notable on an individual or a social level; to particular communities or groups; for a long time or only briefly. It is a dimension that is profoundly individual and subjective, linked intrinsically to our memories of past events and the traces they have left upon the landscape. The inscription, Aristotle theorises, ‘is both things at once: it is itself and the representation of something else’. The ruins of a wall are both the stones, the grass growing over them and the disintegrating mortar, and a representation of the hill fort that once stood in their place and of which they were once a part.

So it is that the world is comprised of a territory, a recording surface over which all things flow and which all things mark. The marks form inscriptions, which come to be the basis of writing, speech and language, and the inscriptions are reminders carrying forth memories.