Gilles Deleuze: Strata as Acts of Capture – Event, History, and Freedom


Today I read an interesting tale by Dale Bailey in his short story collection The Resurrection Man’s Legacy: And Other Stories introduced by Barry Malzburg; another science fiction writer I’ve always admired. The story in question takes the first part of that title and feeds into our feelings of death, loss, and the subtleties of the in between – the uncanny machines that can capture our desires or release them into life. As the young man recollecting the story tells us early on:

I am reminded of this now, for recollection, like archaeology, is a matter of sifting through ruins. Memory is frail and untrustworthy, tainted by desire; what evidence remains is fragmentary, shrouded in the mystery of the irretrievable past. You cannot recover history; you can only reconstruct it, build it anew from the shards that have survived, searching always for the seams between the strata, those places of demarcation between the city that was and the city that would be, between the self that you were and the self you have become.1

I want spoil the story which is about a young boy facing death and possibility, caught between the real past of his father’s death, and the present semblance of an android copy of his father. It’s much more than this too, a fable about control, the rights of robots: the control over our future creations, our ability to erase them, to wipe their minds blank when we’re done with them. A tale that makes you think through just what is it we want from these human like golems and homunculi we are creating as companion species. But I’ll leave the reader to ponder these ethical dilemmas.

Instead I’ll turn to the passage above to explicate something else this story reminded me of which pertains to Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of Strata and Seams. The key phrase here is the “seams between the strata”, which brings me back to A Thousand Plateaus where Deleuze and Guattari describe strata, saying:

Strata are Layers. Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strat are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. 2

Okay we know the etymology of strata comes from “stratum“:

“horizontal layer,” 1590s, from Modern Latin special use of Latin stratum “thing spread out, coverlet, beadspread, horse-blanket; pavement,” noun uses of neuter of stratus “prostrate, prone,” past participle of sternere “to spread out, lay down, stretch out,” from PIE *stre-to- “to stretch, extend,” from root *stere- “to spread, extend, stretch out”.

So that for D & G this sense of layering that spread out and capture intensities and singularities that come within their field of gravity. Some of the words within D & G’s statement need to be clarified: matters, intensities, singularities, molar aggregates, etc. We learn from the The Deleuze Dictionary that his concept of becoming is based on the co-imbrication of the virtual real and the actual real, the conception of the virtual is in terms of a differentiated flow of events, singularities and intensities. Meanwhile, the actual is understood as the differentiated realm of bodies, their mixtures, and states of affairs.3 (see Terminology Below)

History between the seams: The future that escapes capture

Returning to Bailey’s original tale “I am reminded of this now, for recollection, like archaeology, is a matter of sifting through ruins. Memory is frail and untrustworthy, tainted by desire; what evidence remains is fragmentary, shrouded in the mystery of the irretrievable past. You cannot recover history; you can only reconstruct it, build it anew from the shards that have survived, searching always for the seams between the strata, those places of demarcation between the city that was and the city that would be, between the self that you were and the self you have become.”

Bailey’s comparison of recollection with sifting through the ruins of an ancient archaeological dig begins to take on a certain logic. He’ll take the stock notion that our memories are always already tainted by our “desires” – our intentions and expectations, etc. That the past is like the fragments in an ancient ruin, fractured and irrevocably lost in decay and a sense of their disconnection with the life of the society that once inhabited these ruins.

But, then he’ll make a qualified statement that we cannot “recover history; you can only reconstruct it, build it anew from the shards that have survived, searching always for the seams between the strata, those places of demarcation between the city that was and the city that would be, between the self that you were and the self you have become”. Let’s take this apart slowly.

We know “recover” originally meant  “to regain consciousness,” from Anglo-French rekeverer (13c.), and Old French recovrer “come back, return; regain health; procure, get again” (11c.), from Medieval Latin recuperare “to recover”. While “reconstruct” means  “to restore (something) mentally”. So that this is a difference between the original image and its semblance, a return to a Platonic distinction. Metaphors dominate Plato’s remarks about the relation of particulars to Forms. Of special importance are the metaphors of image and original, copy and model, example and paradigm. The physical world and all of its constituents are, according to Plato, a copy or image of the Forms, and since all copies are dependent on the original, the physical world is dependent on Forms. In so far as Platonic Forms are not dependent on particulars, i.e., they are not immanent universals, the dependence is only ‘one way’. A second important metaphor from the Phaedo also suggests that particulars are dependent on Forms whereas Forms are not dependent on them. Particulars strive to be such as the Forms are and thus in comparison to Forms are imperfect or deficient. Forms, then, are independent, whereas particulars are dependent on Forms and thus deficient with respect to them. (Silverman, Allan, “Plato’s Middle Period Metaphysics and Epistemology“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.))

For Plato like many of our current holographic cosmologists our universe, world, and even ourselves are nothing but copies, images, shadows of Ideas that exist beyond our own realm and define, delimit, and project themselves onto what we perceive as reality. So that reality is a mere cinematic instantiation of these actual real forms upon a grid that is itself much like our Star Trek holodeck an illusory systems of false images, mere wisps of data blown on the winds of nothingness. Whether such a thing is true or not is obviously open to speculation. Materialism for centuries after Lucretius and his forbear Democritus spoke of matter and the void, while Plato never mentions the name of Democritus even once. So from the beginning Plato just emptied his mind of such notions of matter and voids and built up his own theory of forms, substance and forms interacting like shadows projected on a dark cave.

We might remember that “recollection” for Plato postulates that all knowledge that has ever been known and will ever be known is already preexistent in your memory; thus time is an illusion, merely the unfolding process of remembering everything. Such a recollection is known as anamnesia. In the Phaedo Socrates explains that recollection occurs “when a man sees or hears or in some other way perceives one thing and not only knows that thing but also thinks of another thing of which the knowledge is not the same but different . . .” (73c). Cebes in the Phaedo describes Socrates’ theory that learning is “recollection”. He mentions instances in which people can “recollect” answers to questions they did not previously appear to possess when this knowledge is elicited from them using the proper methods. Of course this will lead to Plato’s theory of forms. The process of recollection is initiated not just when we see imperfectly equal things, then, but when we see things that appear to be beautiful or good as well; experience of all such things inspires us to recollect the relevant Forms.  Moreover, if these Forms are never available to us in our sensory experience, we must have learned them even before we were capable of having such experience.

Seams or gaps between the strata

Continuing with this investigation we return to Bailey’s statement “seams between the strata”, which brings with it the notion that we might be able mentally to reconstruct history out of what has not been captured by the layers of “strata” – those memories, fragments, intensities that seem to drift between the strata lost in the seams or gaps of time.

Now we know the etymology of seam is from Old English seam “seam, suture, junction,” from Proto-Germanic *saumaz (cognates: Old Frisian sam “hem, seam,” Old Norse saumr, Middle Dutch som, Dutch zoom, Old High German soum, German Saum “hem”), from PIE root *syu- “to sew, to bind”. That in In structural geology, a suture is a joining together along a major fault zone, of separate terranes, tectonic units that have different plate tectonic, metamorphic and paleogeographic histories. The suture is often represented on the surface by an orogen or mountain range. The term was borrowed from surgery where it describes the sewing together of two pieces of tissue, but the sutures of the skull, where separate plates of bone have fused, may be a better metaphor.

So that the memories that suture together two strata or layers of our past, our history much like the sewing together or sutures of those demarcated lines between our skull’s fractured systems can be brought back, reconstructed, mentally inserted and appraised. In this sense Deleuze and Guattari describe the body without organs as being “permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad transitory particles. (p. 40).” So that what is being reconstructed and assembled is from that between state that Bailey in the final clause of his sentence describes as “demarcation between the city that was and the city that would be, between the self that you were and the self you have become.”

Deleuze and Guattari make a point that history is made by those who oppose it, not by those who insert themselves into it, or even reshape it. “This is not done for provocation but happens because the punctual system they found ready-made, or themselves invented, must have allowed this operation: free the line and the diagonal, draw the line instead of plotting a point, produce an imperceptible diagonal instead of clinging to an even elaborated or reformed vertical or horizontal. When this is done it always goes down in History but never comes from it. History may try to break its ties to memory; it may make the schemas of memory more elaborate, superpose and shift coordinates, emphasize connections, or deepen breaks. The dividing line passes not between history and memory but between punctual “history-memory” systems and diagonal or multilinear assemblages, which are in no way eternal: they have to do with becoming; they are a bit of becoming in the pure state; they are transhistorical. There is no act of creation that is not transhistorical and does not come up from behind or proceed by way of a liberated line.” (p. 296)

They’ll return to Nietzche’s notion of the “Untimely” as haecceity, becoming, the innocence of becoming (in other words of forgetting as opposed to memory, geography as opposed to history, the map as opposed to the tracing, the rhizome as opposed to arborescence). (p. 296) Which will lead them to this:

Creations are like mutant abstract lines that have detached themselves from the task of representing a world, precisely because they assemble a new type of reality that history can only recontain or relocate in punctual systems. (p. 296)

It’s this sense of escaping the contained, the history that is captured in the stratified layers, and reactivating the intensities and singularities in the seams or gaps between through a-semiotic graphs, and anti-representational systems of thought, or base materialism that releases the new creation into our world. A future unbound from the capture systems that would enslave it. This zone between where the unformed, unstable matters, and flows, free instensities and nomadic singularities arise that have not been captured by the systems or acts of capture of the Strata, this is what resolves itself into freedom and the transhistorical: the event that provides the difference that makes a difference. This is the body without organs that escapes the acts of capture – the layers of strata and systems of power; those singularities and intensities that live in the seams and gaps in-between, flowing below the surface of our histories punctual-systems, awaiting discovery and reactivation for our future projects. Maybe, in fact, the future itself is lying in wait within these seams like so many forgotten projects, awaiting those who will reactivate their intensities and singularities, release them into the world thereby awakening the possibility of change and becoming.



The plane of immanence reveals the ‘unthought’ in thought, and its absolute incompatibility with materialism only comes about when philosophers forget that thought and the constitution of matter have the fundamental ontological character of events, and instead identify ‘matter’ with Body, and ‘thought’ with Mind, in this way saddling themselves with an impasse that cannot be resolved because Mind and Body are said to possess mutually incompatible properties (‘ inert’ vs ‘active’, ‘material’ vs ‘spiritual’, and so forth). The ontology of events, by contrast, allows the material and immaterial to be interrelated and integrated in a ceaseless dynamism. (Deleuze Dictionary (pp. 161-162).


We know from Difference and Repetition that Deleuze looks for an “encounter,” a sensation that cannot be thought, that cannot find the empirical category under which an object can be recognized, and thus forces the “transcendent exercise” of the faculty of sensibility, when something can only be sensed.  Intensity is the characteristic of the encounter, and sets off the process of thinking, while virtuality is the characteristic of the Idea. That Deleuze will assign a transcendental status to the intensive: intensity, he argues, constitutes the genetic condition of extensive space. Intensive processes are themselves in turn structured by Ideas or multiplicities. Deleuze will draw upon the writings of the French writer Antonin Artaud and call this life of intensities-in-motion the “body without organs.” This primary order of language (pure Noise as a dimension of the body) constitutes a first type of nonsense. Ultimately in A Thousand Plateaus or planes of intensity — we begin to see the productive connections between immanently arrayed material systems without reference to an external governing source — and, Deleuze and Guattari develop a new materialism in which a politicized philosophy of difference joins forces with the sciences. (Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John, “Gilles Deleuze“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.))


Beneath the actual (any one state of a system), we find “impersonal individuations” or intensive morphogenetic processes that produce system states and beneath these we find “pre-individual singularities” (that is, the key elements in virtual fields, marking system thresholds that structure the intensive morphogenetic processes). We thus have to distinguish the intense “impersonal” field of individuation and its processes from the virtual “pre-individual” field of differential relations and singularities that make up an Idea or multiplicity. (Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John, “Gilles Deleuze“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.))

Life is both effected through relations, such that there is no individual or text in itself; at the same time, life is not reducible to effected or actual relations. There are singularities or ‘powers to relate’ that exceed what is already given. (Deleuze Dictionary, p. 3)


…molar (or ‘arborescent’, to use their equivalent term) designates structures and principles that are based on rigid stratifications or codings which leave no room for all that is flexible and contingent, the molecular which is the basis of micropolitics allows for connections that are local and singular. A molecular logic of production is basically self-organising or auto-poetic, whereas its molar counterpart finds its generating principle in some feature or entity that is external to what is being produced. (Deleuze Dictionary (p. 164).

Resonance and Redundancy:

Interspike interval patterns of brain stem neurons that project directly or indirectly to much of the neocortex interactively influence electroencephalographically-defined states of consciousness and modulate patterns of temporal-spatial coherence, `binding,’ in cortical field potential oscillations. Neurochemical classes of brain stem neurons manifest discriminable dynamical characteristics apart from the statistics of their firing rates. These sequences of interspike intervals are not well described by either harmonic functions or the Poisson statistics of renewal processes. We cast these patterns within the context of information bearing processes by using moment partitions and symbolic dynamics. We describe the expanding behavior of model and real brain stem neurons in relationship to states of resonance (the presence of complex singularities in the power spectrum with amplitudes related to the persistence of unstable fixed points in the nonexponential decay of correlations), synchronization (how closely the measure of maximal entropy comes to equaling the Sinai- Ruelle-Bowen area measure), and lexical redundancy (as repetitions of symbol subsequences). (ref, Brain)

  1. Bailey, Dale (2014-07-22). The Resurrection Man’s Legacy: And Other Stories (Kindle Locations 283-287). Open Road Media. Kindle Edition.
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. (p. 40) (Univ. Minn, 1987).
  3.   (2010-09-01). The Deleuze Dictionary Revised Edition (p. 132). Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.

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