A Thousand Machines is a recent book written by Austrian Philosopher Gerald Raunig and published in the beautiful series of semiotext(e) (The Coming Insurrection, The Agony of Power, Introduction to Civil War etc.) distributed by the MIT Press.
The title is an obvious reference to A Thousand Plateaus and their War Machine elaborated by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and intend to question this notion of machine with a Marxist approach.
What appears to me as the main thesis of this concise and important book is the dialogue of Deleuze and Guattari’s definition that consider a machine as an assemblage and Marx’s reading of a system like Capitalism as non transcendental.
Nowadays, it is almost normal for Westerners to be critical of capitalism, however, this criticism is always directed towards one or several persons that would impose a transcendental goal to the system. This vision of capitalism has the advantage for them to virtually exclude them from the system and therefore to consider as sufficient their critical action. Of course, such exclusion is an illusion because capitalism is inherently an immanent system, an assemblage, a machine. As Michel Foucault demonstrated, capitalism does not reproduce the Middle Age’s scheme of sovereignty, based principally on a continuous state of war, that was considering human lives as a consumable good by the transcendental power. Instead of that, capitalism manages and control lives in order to maintain an extraction of work production on a continuous basis.
In order to explain the difference of this immanent assemblage and a transcendental machine, Gerald Raunig uses the two examples of the machine of the Penal Colony by Franz Kafka and the love machine of the Supermale by Alfred Jarry. In order to fully understand the following excerpt, I have to explain what those two machines are about.
In the Penal Colony is a short story written by Kafka in 1919 that introduces an execution machine that kills the condemn person by writing with blades the nature of his crime on his torso. Its inventor is also the executioner who is so obsessively proud of his invention that he eventually die by using the machine on himself in order to show it to the narrator.
The Supermale is a science fiction novel written by Alfred Jarry in 1902. The supermale, here, is a man that is able to accomplish a very important amount of intercourse, even during a frenetic race between a team of cyclists and a train. The supermale ends up being killed by the machine he makes love with.
In those two stories, G.Raunig insists on the fact that the human is merely a raw material for the machine rather than being part of it. They can thus being envisioned as our erroneous representation of capitalism. According to him, the machine that describes the reality of this system if the assemblage human+bike that would explain his fascination for stolen dismembered bicycles In fact, the book starts on a short ellaboration about Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman which has for plot, the repetitive theft of bicycles.
The “transcendental” abstract machine, which remains isolated at the level of the outline, which does not succeed in conjoining with concrete concatenations, is only a special case. Lethal machines like the legislative-executive machine in Kafka’s Penal Colony or the love machine in Jarry’s Supermale, no matter how complex they may be, are “dead” machines because they lack socio-political concatenations: the machine that carves the judgment into the delinquent in the Penal Colony, pronouncing the judgment go-like directly in the body, establishes an unmediated relationship between bodies and signes, but after the death of the former commander, whose law it had obeyed, it has no link to social machines. Its case is similar to the love machine, which falls in love the “supermale” then turns around and kills the lover: the machine actually built to propel the “supermale” to enhance love performances, takes on lethally high voltage and breaks off every concrete concatenation. The “supermale” dies like the officer in the Penal Colony in the machine, not as its component, one of its gears, but as its raw material. And yet the union of the mechanized human and humanizing technical machine persists at the stage of a one-dimensional exchange relationship in “transcendental” abstraction. For machines, which like the judgment pronouncing-executing machine in the Penal Colony and the loving-killing machine in Supermale cannot extend and expand in a montage, the logical end is self-demontage, self-destruction.
Gerald Raunig. A Thousand Machines. Cambridge: The MIT Press 2010. p107