The Machinic Phylum and Non-Organic Life Engines

Life, organic or otherwise, comes from the intensive processes of a space Manuel DeLanda refers to as the machinic phylum in his essay Non-Organic Life. His use of this term comes from the philosophy of Gilles Delueze, including Delueze’s collaborations with Felix Guattari. Delueze and Guattari tend to not use any one term when referring to their concepts, instead, like the concepts they are talking about, they fluidly interchange several different words depending on the circumstances. In the case of the machinic phylum, Delueze and Guattari also use terms such as the Body without Organs (BwO), Plane of Immanence and Plane of Consistency. DeLanda in turn, also uses the term Intensive Spatium in his book Intensive Science, Virtual Philosophy. Each of these words is like a different gateway to the same concept, thus by virtue of each term we can gain a better understanding of the concept.

The machinic phylum is a broad group of “abstract machines” that drive processes of becoming. Becoming is the engine of space-time. It is the act of emergence, the act of evolution, the process of being driven by abstract machines. For DeLanda, Delueze & Guattari there is no just being there is only becoming. Everything is changing; this is to say objects in this world exist far from static equilibrium. These machines have several requirements for their definition. They must be concrete, abstract, and universal. To be concrete, the abstract machine must be able to be “found” in world around this. In this way, Delueze’s philosophy can be said to be empirical. To be abstract, the machinic process must be constructed as a pre-individual. This means that the process must exist without the intervention of specific context. DeLanda’s example of oscillators in Non-Organic Life is an example. The mechanics of the process exist without the need to bring up specific chemical reactions. The machine is said to drive all chemical oscillators, even though the actualization of the process will differ in each specific historical circumstance. Finally, the intensive engine is said to be universal in that it exist across a wide range of actualized processes. By being concrete, abstract and universal, abstract machines are said to be immanent in the material world. They arise from the differences between objects and behaviors. They can be thought to drive differentiation and be driven by difference. Because of the fact that abstract machines are inherent (immanent) in the world, this outlook is said to be materialist. It is through the processes of material and energetic flows (difference) that becoming (emergence) happens.

2 thoughts on “The Machinic Phylum and Non-Organic Life Engines”


    I am fond of Deleuze and Quattari’s open use of terms and language and regards to the machinic phylum, would prefer to throw a little more emphasis on organic metaphors. A machine, therefore, is more organism than the other way around. Our systems and machines are still quite primitive compared to the squirming majesty of the human body, for instance.

    In 1993 I and a band of experimentalists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (Kevin Pyle, Anna Hurwitz, Megan Raddant, Robert Elmes, Michael Henry, Yvette Helin, Fred Valentine, Jeff Gompertz, Colin Crane, Richard Duckworth, Jessica Nissen, David Brody, Dan McKereghan plus over 100 others) threw a large interdisciplinary warehouse event/party called Organism. Using a system I called web jamming, we cultivated a large bionic system and (given its absorption by the international press via Newsweek, Wired, Domus, Die Zeit, etc.) a new metaphor/meme for machinic phylum. As per Wigglism, this and any metaphor is cultivated through group participation. All viewpoints/phenomena are alive and tend to aggregate into heterogeneous living systems.

    The Brooklyn Organism lives!

  2. Ebon,

    Thanks for your comment. I always love an lively discussion. Your right that ‘Organism’ is a more provocative term than ‘Machinic.’ However, De Landa’s point is that there is a certain life to non-organic systems and a that the behaviors of what we often call organic is hardly a clear line. The term machinic isn’t used in the sense of the mechanical contraptions that liter our lives, but as an abstract way of describing the behaviors that lie behind the complex systems that make up both the organic and the non-organic. In fact, the machinic is put directly in contrast to mechanical systems.

    Deleuze often uses the terms abstract, concrete and universal as qualifications for something being machinic. By abstract, the machinic must be virtual or existing as a real thing having actual consequences in the world but lacking in actuality itself. This is just to say that the machinic is a becoming, a system that is constantly evolving. To be concrete, the machinic must have specific examples in the world. It must be tied to a real phenomenon, though it isn’t the actual phenomenon itself. Finally, to be universal, the machinic must apply to many different becomings or phenomenons. The machinic’s actual consequences will be different in each case, but the underlying behavior of the driving intensities are often the same, this is all the machinic is.

    So to get back to your point, Ebon. Though the organic is a fascinating concept and it carries with it a deep and rich history in architecture, philosophy and the arts, it is just one set of becomings of a much larger and richer set of concepts that Delueze sometimes calls abstract machines. These machines exist in what Delueze refers to as the Machinic Phylum, which is the intensive space that links and mixes the abstract machines, creating the complex becomings that we term the complex systems.

    So I would argue that it is less about the organic versus the machinic, one could use any number of terms to describe the concept, but more about the underlying idea of an abstract, concrete and universal behavior that differentiates itself to become an actual thing in the world.

    I would be interested to know who you use the concept of the organism in your work and how you contrast it to such ideas as mechanics [not the machinic, :)].

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