Lazzarato, Signs and Machines Outline, Intro-Chp 2

money is just paperHere is an outline of Maurizio Lazzarato’s Signs and Machines that includes his Intro, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2. It is here that he develops his essential distinction between signifying/asignifying linguistics and their subsequent subjectivites of social subjection/machinic enslavement. A better formatted version is available in the downloads section of this blog. Enjoy!




23 – 1. Social subjection and machinic enslavement

29 – 2. Human/machine vs humans/machinies

32 – 3. Egyptian megamachine

34 – 4. The functions of subjection

39 – Capital as a semiotic operator

43 – 1. The concept of “production”

49 – 2. Desire and production

52 – 3. The failure of “human capital”


57 – 1. The remains of structuralism: language without structure

66 – 2. Signifying semiologies

68 – i. The Political Function of Semiologies of Signification

72 – ii. Reference, Signification, Representation

80 – 3. Asignifying semiotics



I. “Crisis of Subjectivity” (7-8)

a. “economic miracle” of post-WW2 cap = subjectivity

b. co-extensive “subjective economy”

c. “today, the weakness of capitalism lies in the production of subjectivity”

ii. Neoliberalism is unique (b8 – t11)

a. extreme deterritorialization = no new production of subjectivity

b. entrepreneurial model perhaps exhaustion of recourse to pre-capitalist values

c. financial crisis reduces subject to debt (and not information/subjectivations)

d. subjection now just plunder / blame

e. Japan as example

iii. Available resources (m11- b13)

a. Old left / unions no longer useful

b. Various authors on rapport between production and subjectivity (Rifkin, Ranciere, Badiou)

c. D&G’s answer: social subjection and machinic enslavement (ME = others ignore)

iv. Subjectivity (b13-22)

a. Lazzarato combines social & mechanic systems

i. defines machine (14)

ii. defines social (14)

b. Union of micro-political (Guattari) and micro-physical (Foucault)

c. Subjective mutation (non-discursive) (16) ****

d. Critique of language and semiotics (17)

e. Enunciation as existential pragmatics

f. Political subjectivation, revolution (19-22)


23 – 1. Social subjection and machinic enslavement

a. D&G borrow Marx’s basic discovery: “production of wealth depends on abstract, unqualified, subjectivity activity” i. irreducible to the domain of either political or linguistic representation”

ii. wealth = intersection of social subjection & mechinic enslavement

b. social subjection = social division of labor

i. Foucault: governmentality of “subjects” whereby “domination issues from the subject themselves”

ii. Marx: capitalist = personified capital; worker = personified labor (25)

c. machinic enslavement = “desubjectivation” “mobilizing functional and operational, non-rep and asignifying”

i. not citizen, but gear, cog, component part of “business,” other assemblages.

ii. derived from cybernetics/automation, mode of control/regulation

iii. ME creates ‘dividuals’ as samples, data, markets, or banks (non-human)

iv. ME doesn’t use subject/object, word/things, nature/culture

d. “we no longer act nor even make use of something”

i. “we constitute mere inputs and outputs, a point of conjunction or disjunction in the economic, social, or communication processes run and governed by enslavement” (26)

ii. not intersubjective, just points of connection, junction, and disjunction of flows

iii. torn to pieces by the machine

iv. works through deterritorialization (into molecular components) (27-28)

e. capital not just a social relationship, a power relation

i. foucault on panopticon — creation of dissymmetry, disequal, difference (and operator doesn’t affect it)

ii. D&G on diagram

iii. “turn to subjective economy is not humanization”

iv. “the fact that in the current economy one speaks, communicates, and expresses oneself does not bring us back to the linguistic turn, to its logocentrism, and the intersubjectivity of speakers; it is indicative rather of a machine-centric world in which one speaks, communicates, and acts ‘assisted’ by all kinds of mechanical, thermodynamic, cybernetic, and computer machines.” (29)

29 – 2. Human/machine vs humans/machinies

a. ergonomics: example of subjection/enslavement

i. fully expunged of anthropocentrism

ii. not subjects/objects, just “ontologically ambiguous entities” (30)

b. machines, objects, signs = vectors of subject/enunciation

i. enable, solicit, prompt, encourage, or prohibit

ii. actions thoughts, affects, promotion of others (foucault: action on action)

c. different forces

i. pre-personal, pre-cognitive, and preverbal forces (perception, sense, affects, desire) (31)

ii. supra-personal forces (mechanic, linguistic, social, media, economic systems)

iii. domain = beyond the human (rights, citizens): science, economics, comm networks, etc

d. difference in type

i. subjection: transcendent models to which subjectivities conform

ii. enslavement: immanent process of becoming

iii. power of cap = union of the two

32 – 3. Egyptian megamachine

a. Megamachine (Mumford): humans as mere constituent parts

i. primarily social (not technological) – question of organization

ii. technical aspects are simple: ramp and lever

iii. incorporeal aspects: myths, fantasies, subjectivity

b. Capitalism revives the megamachine in the 16th century

i. switches focus to technical aspects

ii. “third age” of enslavement: cybernetic & informational machines

34 – 4. The functions of subjection

a. capitalism = technical & social instruments (decision-making, management, etc)

b. subjection

i. generates “persons” (worker, etc)

ii. constitution of characteristics of people: (cf Macpherson’s possessive individualism)

iii. general hierarchies:

1 – man (as species) /nature

2 – man / division of humanity (gender, race, age, etc)

c. subjection + molecular machine  (35)

i. between molecular / molar

ii.  = hierarchy & totalization (Durkheim)

iii. political action

iv subjection = deterritorialization

v. swipe at Ranciere & Badiou, claims they ignore subjections intersection with the machinic

vi. would improve Foucault

vii. Dividuals, Google, Marketing, etc.

viii. not repression / ideology – modulation (pre/supra-personal level)

39 – Capital as a semiotic operator

a. “flows of signs, as much as labor and money flows, are the conditions of ‘production.’

b. subjection/enslavement each entail distinct regimes of signs

i. subjection = signifying semiotics, aimed at consciousness and mobilizes representations

ii machinic = asignifying semiotics (stock market indices, currency, mathematical equations, diagrams, computer languages, national and corporate accounting, etc), does not involve consciousness, representation, and does not have subject as referent

c. signs / semiotics = heterogeneous and complementary logics

i. – machinic enslavement

– produce operations, induce action, and constitute input/output, junction/disjunction

ii. social subjections

– produce meaning, signification, interpretations, dicers, and representation

d. asignifying semiotics acts on things

i.  stock market indices, unemployment stats, etc

ii. not discourse, not narrative

iii. still basically dependent on signifying semiotics

iv. at the level of intrinsic function, circumvent language and social signification

e. flows of asignifying signs acts directly on material flows

i. act independently of their subjective signification

ii. act directly on the real

iii. operate alongside signification

iv. “sense without meaning”

v. evade many attempts to capture through social coding (laws, conventions, institutions)

f. asignifying semiotics appears depoliticized/depersonalized

i. automatic evaluation/measurement

ii. formal equivalence of asymmetrical spheres, done through integration

iii. financialization = intensification of differentials w/in this system

g. signifying semiologies / language = attempt to regulate, not how societies are really run anymore (42)

43 – 1. The concept of “production”

a. Marx says capital buys subjection: hours, availability, etc

b. Lazzarato says: capital buys subjections and the right to exploit a “complex” assemblage that include enslavement

i. enslavement

ii. transportation, urban models, media, entertainment, ways of perceiving and feeling, every semiotic systemc. convergence of three forms of production

i. Marx’s anthropocentric model

i. Anti-Oedipus’s expanded surplus value production (human, financial, & machinic surplus value)

ii. ATP’s mechanisms for capturing surplus value (rent, profits, taxes)

d. “multiplicity can be found everywhere in capitalism”

i. not just individuals / collective elements of human subjectivity

ii. objects, machines, protocols, human/non-human semiotics, affects, micro-social & pre-individual relations, supra-individual relations, etc.

iii. consequence: it is never an individual who thinks/creates, but an individual who does so in a network

iv. capital doesn’t simply extort time, it is a whole process of exploiting subjection/enslavement nexus

v. ultimately: “in its current configuration, capitalist production is nothing other than an assemblage of assemblages, a process of processes, that is, a network of assemblages or processes” (46)

e. analysis of various levels

i. TV example from ATP later take up by Stiegler (46-47)

ii. welfare-state / insurance & labor market

iii. financial system of investor/debtor

49 – 2. Desire and production

a. Subjection’s binaries vs. Machinic flexible segmentarity

i. employed/unemployed, etc of subjection

ii. “children work infant of TVs, and at the day-care with toys…etc”

iii. means that workplace must be expanded to non-salaried activities

b. Deleuze’s principle of unvocity dictates non-separation, just one subjective economy

i. not an ideological superstructure

ii. production not a matter of econ (contra Ranciere and Badiou)

iii. production = “the process of singularization and the production of new modes of subjectivation whose basis is desire” (51)

iv. desire is machinic, not human (but capitalism is not rationalization/calculation)

52 – 3. The failure of “human capital”

a. Capitalism runs on the integration of desire (as an “economy of possibilities”) through the figure of the entrepreneur

i. soft critique of ‘cognitive capitalism’

ii. argues instead for the primacy of desire

b. Current crisis

i. current crisis = failure in production of entrepreneurial subject

ii. crisis has led to abandonments of narratives of freedom, innovation, creativity, knowledge society

iii. new subjectivity = willingness to submit (to super-ego)


1. Unnamed intro:

a. subjectivity today is produces like a washing machine

i. crisis since 1970s = crisis in production of subjectivity

ii. crisis cannot be explained by technical, economic, or political processes (56)

b. Pitfalls to avoid when theorizing subjectivity (4)

i. structuralist impasse, which reduces subjectivity to effect of signifying operations

1- ethological

2- fantasmic

3- economic

4- aesthetic

5- physical systems

6- existential territories

7- incorporeal universes

ii. phenomenology/psychoanalysis “intersubjective driven”

1- reduces the fact of subjectivity to drives, affects, intra-subjective apparatuses, and relations

2- doesn’t account for technical and social machines that modulate/format subjectivity

iii. sociological pitfall, suggests individualism/holism

1- not individual or collective agents

2- production is individual, extra-personal, and precedes the person (not just Giddens)

iv. “complex of infrastructures,” that pose a dominant layer to that commands another

1- base/superstructure

2- instinct/psyche

3- syntax/language

57 – 1. The remains of structuralism: language without structure

a. Role of language today

i. structuralism’s dead

ii. ideas form structuralism are still alive

b. series of theorists politicized language:

i. those who borrow from Aristotle(“man = language;” “man = political”)

1- Virno – public sphere

2- Ranciere – equality of logos (58)

3- Butler (through Arendt) – humans become political through language

4- Agamben – language and human nature

5- non-Aristotle: German “specificity of language,” Pascal Michon

c. reading of each theorists

i. Lacan’s influence

1- subject = effect of language (59)

2- unconscious = structured like language

3- functions = metaphor and metonymy

4- Butler’s amendment: denies “law of the father,” signifier is a performative instead

ii. Ranciere

1- language as origin of society (“the ‘social’ is in fact constituted by a series of discursive acts…”)

2- language constitutes new productive forces

iii. ML’s own theory: subjectivity, enunciation, production

1- move from subject to subjectivity = enunciation not speakers/listeners (60)

2- enunciation = “complex assemblage of individual, bodies, material and social machines, semiotic, mathematic, and scientific machines, etc, which are the true sources of enunciation.”

3- ex: sign machines of money, economics, science, technology, art, etc

4- bypass language, significations, and representation

iv. Pasolini, new “post-human world”

1- second industrial revolution

2- “substitution of languages of infrastructures for the language of superstructures”

3- 1st rev: linguistics models that dominate/unify society are models of cultural superstructures

4- ex: law, literature, education, religion

5- effect of 2nd industrial rev = “languages of ‘productions-consumption’,” “degradation of the word” (61)

6- effect reiterated: center/unify language “no longer the universities, but the factories”

a. “interregional and international” language of the future

b. a “signing” language of “a world unified by industry and technocracy”

c. “a communication of men no longer men”

7- opposite claims than those of the linguistic turn

8- Arendt again

v. Guattari, asignifying semiotics

1- map (“languages of infrastructures,” modes of machine-centric subj/enunciation)

a. separate subjectivity from subject, individual, and human

b. extract power of enunciation from human

2- subjectivity equivalent to living/material assemblages

a. consider focal points / vectors of subjectivation

b. go beyond consciousness, sense, and language

3- autopoietic power (power of self-production) = all machines

a. all have capacity to develop rules/modes of expression (against Varela)

b. language = not at the center, and may “slow down or prohibit any semiotic proliferation” (63)

c. panpyschism

vi. “The point of view of things themselves”

1- Authors: Benjamin, Pasolini, Kemperer

2- Cinema can disclose reality with representation or linguistic mediation

3- Another, the ready-made (as example of ‘any object whatsoever’) (64)

4- Not a higher order of alienation (as some Marxists would have it)

5- Hjelmslev gloss (65)

a. Expressionism not dependent on content (contra marxism)

b. Content not the product of expression (contra structuralism)

c. Subjectivity not result of linguistic, communicational, or socioeconomic forces

6- enunciation: “expressive instance” that occurs “by the middle”

a. ground not discursive

b. ground = existential

66 – 2. Signifying semiologies

a. Signifying Semiologies

i. signifying semiologies and asignifying semiotics interact

ii. asignifying semiotics (Pasolini’s “languages of infrastructures”) includes language as one-of-many cases

b. Different types of semiotics (67)

i. ‘natural’ a-semiotic encodings (DNA)

ii. signifying semiologies (pre-signifying, gestural, ritual, productive, corporeal, musical, etc)

iii. asignifying semiotics (post-signifying)

c. How each layer operates

i. natural a-semiotic encoding is not an autonomous stratus, form is conveyed by the material itself (e.g. rock)

ii. coding begins with life, as the transmission of codes allows “form” to separate from “content”

iii. humans have asignifying semiotics & signifying semiologies, where transmission is complex

a. allows for autonomous syntax & strata of expression

b. in semiologies of signification: expression/content connection is interpretation, reference, signification

68 – i. The Political Function of Semiologies of Signification

a. language is first political (before it is linguistic/semantic)

i. establishing language stabilizes the social field otherwise disrupted by capitalist deterritorialization

ii. constitution of linguistic exchange (and distinct/individuated speakers) = economic exchange

b. capitalism has a particular type of signifying semiotic machine = overdoes all other semiotics

i. its function is to administer/guide/adjust/control production & subjectivity

ii. works through general equivalent of expression and vector of subjectivation centered on the individual

c. comparison between symbolic semiotics of “primitive societies” vs. the imperialism/despotism of language (69)

i. capitalism requires symbolic semiotics to be hierarchized and subordinated to language

ii. previously did not need distinct speaker/hearer, b/c message is carried via bodies, sounds, mimicry, posture

iii. trans-individual still exists in cap, just on the margins as madness, infancy, artistic creation, etc

iv. symbolic semiologies = multiplicity of strata/substances of expression (gestural, ritual, productive, musical)

v. signification semiology = two strata (signifier/signified)

vi symbolic = each autonomous (no hierarch/dependency)

vii signification = hierarch through formalization of expression (signifier), done through a social assemblage

d. character of language

i. what’s more primary, language or other semiotic systems? (70)

1- Benveniste says language is primary b/c “they could not be decipher without recourse to language”

2- Guattari says the opposite, “just b/c you take plane form US to Europe, wouldn’t say that the continents depend on aviation”

ii. Generalized exchange isn’t purely economic

1- signification relies on invariance for a national language

2- yet words/sentences only really mean in a micro-political context

3- capitalism demands compatibility of a certain expressive economy (71)

4- semiotic assembly begins at birth

72 – ii. Reference, Signification, Representation

a. the “semiotic triangle: reference, signification, representation”

b. reference

i. reference denote a reality

ii. invariance is the effect reducing the polyvalence and multi-referentiality of symbolic semiotics

iii. in “neo-capitalism” (Pasolini), the impoverishment of expression (73)

1-  communicative exactness works on the inside of language

2- evolves toward “signaletic” efficiency of applied sciences

c. signification’s two axes = linguistic means for structuring, mapping, establishing meanings

i. syntagmatic axis of selection, conforming to grammatical order

ii. paradigmatic axis of composition (of sentences), and significance

iii. 19th century capitalism brings about grammar and syntax to police language (74)

d. representation

i. symbol/real distinction of Kantian philosophy

ii. makes signs “powerless” in that they don’t “act directly on the real” (b/c they’re mediated)

iii “primitives are realists” (75)

e. dominant significations (sex, gender, class)

i. produces at the intersection of the two-fold formalization process

1- linguistic machine that automates expressions, interpretations, responses by the system

2- formation of power producing signifieds

ii. closure/formalization of language is a political mechanism (76)

1- conserves the system to keep it from going out of control

2- unable to account for pragmatics

iii. “personologization” that individualizes language (77)

1- tears “I” away from the world

2- “i” is an effect of subject submitting to the linguistic machine

3- even infra personal and extrapersonal elements are stuck to personologization

4- primitive society’s “I am jaguar” not possible b/c of exclusive disjunctions that prevent becomings (78)

5- “guilt” / body

f. Pasolini was interested in 19C study of language

80 – 3. Asignifying semiotics

a. asignifying not molar

i. not distinct, not individuated, not subj/obj, not sign/thing, not prod/rep

ii. are: stock listings, currencies, corporate accounting, national budget, computer languages, mathematics, scientific functions, equations, semiotics of art/music

iii. “slip past” significations/representations

iv. more abstract mode of semiotization than language

b. analysis of asignifying semiotics: “concept of the machine” (81)

i. not human-nature distinct (or nature/culture, subject/object, etc)

ii. not human-tool (AC: as Stiegler might put it cf. Deleuze on Leroi-Gourhan)

iii. ‘machine is not mechanism’ G once said

iv. AC: inversion of McLuhan – not machine as extension of man, but rather, man as extension of machine

c. Machine is simultaneously actual/virtual, material/semiotic

i. semiotic: diagram

ii. material: technique

iii. actual: synchronic assemblage (82)

iv. virtual: diachronic intersections of the past machine/machines to come

v. examples: factory, public institutions (media, welfare state), art

d. Varela

i. allopoietic machines, which produce something other than themselves

ii. autopoietic machines, generate/determine their own organization (replacing their own component parts)

iii. L (following G) argues that Varela separates man from machine, a mistake that can be corrected, making humans “ipso facto autopoietic”

e. humans-machines

i. first move: depart from mechanistic thesis of “structural unity of the machine”

ii. second move: depart from vitalist thesis of “specific, personal unity of the living organism”

iii. end: multiplicities (83)

iv. relation: affect, not instrumental

f. argument w/ Heidegger (and thus Stiegler) on the technical object (AC: cf. ATP on technical object/milieu)

i. “the ontological barrier between subject and object [is] established by social subjection”

ii. that barrier is “continually blurred not because of language but because of asignifying semiotics”

g. asignification and the human

i. asig = “non-human” (84)

ii. asigifying is not pre-signifying (of the “primitive”), which is still anthropocentric

iii. asignifying “move beyond even the semiotic register”

1- no longer about signs (no sign/referent split, e.g. the Saussurian Bar, Lacan)

2- ex: theoretical physics, ontology no longer relevant

h. power signs / sign-points / impotentized signs

i. impotentized = semiotic efficiency afforded by symbolic mediation

ii. ex: money (85)

1- impotentized sign when exchange value, means of payment, “mediation between equivalents”

2- power signs when money as capital, money as credit (no equivalent, rep nothing, only future exploit)

iii. sign-points, both 1- semiotically, and 2- material intervention

iv. ex: microchip, sign flows acting directly on material components (polarities of iron oxide particles -> binary)

v. power signs produce a reality that does not currently exist (AC: similar to ideology) (86)

i. operations of asig = “diagrammatic”

i. diagram is a semiotic system and a mode of writing

ii. taken from Peirce (images and diagrams, “icons of relation”)

iii. G categorizes diagrams as operational, not representational

j. Others on the diagram

i. Latour: breaks through the “ontological iron curtain” (Sausserian Bar, Lacan on the Real) (87)

ii. Foucault’s Panopticon as diagram (that “autmatizes and disindividualizes power” through “dcissymetry, disequilibrium, and difference’)

k. Operations of Diagram (such as equations, designs, graphs, apparatuses, machines)

i. accelerate / slow down; destruct / stabilize processes of de-terr than language has difficulty grasping

ii. “speak,” “express themselves,” “communicate” with “real” stuff

iii. operate on a whole number of stratum: atomic, biological, chemical, economic, aesthetic (88)

iv. “productive of Being,” and “discursivity”

v. “see,” “hear,” “smell,” “record,” “order,” “transcribe,” etc

vi. analogy to human subjectivity’s non-linguistic components – nonverbals, affects, temporalities, intensities, movements, speeds, interpersonal relations, beyond self, etc

l. Machine’s “action on the real” requires artificiality (of subjectivity / consciousness)

i. humans are relays w/in machines

ii. without humans, machines would be “aphasic” (disorder that creates word salad)

iii. implication: asignifying semiotics constitute focal points of enunciation and vectors of subjectivation

iv. capitalism = exploits of these conjunctions

v. effect = partial subjectivity/consciousness w/in assemblage (89)

vi. ex: driving a car,

vii. guided by car’s machinic assemblage, subj/consc are but a relay in its complex set of processes

viii. subj/consc as crucial feedback loops, but only a small part of the whole machinic operations

m. Others:

i. machinic enslavement = multiplicity of modes of subjectivation, consciousness, unscoiusness, realities, modes of existence, languages, semiotics systems (90)

ii. Badiou/Rancière, no asig, diagrammatics… “without machines” – miss the essence of capitalism

iii. cognitive capitalism, still anthropocentric (and forget to invert McLuhan)

iv. machines in marx (91)

v. extended example of machines in daily life (91-93)

vi. final call to action (93-4)


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