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D&G 3: Virtual Object

The circulation between corporeal bodies and BWOs is made possible by the human capacity to negotiate its ecology by means of part objects.  Part objects were introduced in object relations psychology to explain individual interaction with the world, learned through nurturing.  One's manner of conduct as an adult is learned through introjection and manipulation of objects of earliest experience (beginning with the body).  D&G's common example of a rhizome in this context is the primary part object relation--mother's breast to infant's mouth, forming a complex dynamic among need, desire, and demand.  The infant perceives only the relevant part providing gratification.  The castration complex originated in this way, the penis/phallus imagined as detachable, like other parts and products (milk, feces). This detachability, associated with the functioning of the body, makes organs "writable."  Lacan changed the definition (the object only partially represents its function), and adds to the inventory of part objects phoneme, gaze, voice, and the nothing.  The part object is folded in Lacan's notion of the object-cause-of-desire, the objet petite a (the little other, object @), manifesting a hybrid mode of "thing" (das Ding) relevant to electracy.  D&G gather the family of such objects into the Idea of virtual objects, including Winnicott's transitional objects:  things that are extimate, relating topologically the inner and outer environments that configure the Unconscious, supplying the logos of concrete and abstract assemblages.  It is worth remembering that this modal object functions metaphysically within the libidinal economy of electracy, expressing an ontology of jouissance, working transversally or holistic to produce cosmos out of chaos through rhythm (patterning).  This ontology captures the way in which desire (libido) is an energy that saturates every plane or plateau of the world, beyond Freud's notion of sublimation. 

            Agamben's shorthand for these composite objects is "fetish" (invoking usage by Marx, Freud, and avant-garde arts), to remind us that actual things encountered in experience may include a dynamic virtual dimension (a libidinal investment).  The function of virtual objects is rhizomatic, relational, having the power of a strange attractor in complexity.  The rhizome relation that replace dialectics in chaosmosis conjoins two divergent heterogeneous asymmetrical vectorial series, producing a collapse into assemblage.  Virtual objects organize space, time, and cause, through patternings formed by pure (aesthetic) differentiation and repetition.  D&G refer to these patterns as existential refrains, referring to ethology as a relay:  the way birds make multiple uses of a blade of grass--courting, nesting, marking territory--is a relay for understanding human use of virtual objects to de/territorialize an ecology.  D&G in any case are not bound by the strict definitions of their sources and affiliates, but appropriate terms for their own purposes.  The Idea of a virtual object is a composite.

            How do certain semiotic segments achieve their autonomy, start to work for themselves and to secrete new fields of reference? It is from such a rupture that an existential singularization correlative to the genesis of new coefficients of freedom will become possible.  This detachment of an ethico-aesthetic "partial object" from the field of dominant significations corresponds both to the promotion of a mutant desire and to the achievement of a certain disinterestedness.  Here I would like to establish a bridge between the concept of a partial object (object "a" as theorized by Lacan) that marks the autonomisation of the components of unconscious subjectivity, and the subjective autonomisation relative to the aesthetic object. At this point we rediscover a problematic highlighted by Mikhail Bakhtin in his first theoretical essay of 1924:  the function of enunciative appropriation of aesthetic form by the autonomisation of cognitive or ethical content and the realization of this content in an aesthetic object -- what I will call a partial enunciator.  I am attempting to draw the psychoanalytic partial object that is adjacent to the body-- the point of coupling of the drive-- towards a partial enunciation. The expansion of the notion of partial object, to which Lacan contributed with the inclusion of the gaze and the voice in the object "a", needs to be followed up.  This entails expanding the category to cover the full range of nuclei of subjective autonomisations relative to group subjects, and to instances of the production of subjectivity (machinic, ecological, architectural, religious, etc).  Guattari, Chaosmosis, 13-14.

            Guattari develops in this functionality of the virtual object nothing less than an electrate group enunciation, distinct from but a new media equivalent of the linguistic practices of alphabetic writing and literate metaphysics.  The insight is that an existential refrain is a hybrid of virtual object with modernist aesthetic object, integrated with the ethological economy of lived experience.  Here is the event of epiphany that is a relay for Appiphany:  the Stiftung or foundational event of the Sensible Idea theorized by Merleau-Ponty.  The two vectorial series form a rhizome through a chance encounter when, in a flash, a match between an internal and external object triggers (catalyzes) a deterritorialization, a new trajectory of Becoming.  Guattari theorizes the revelation as catalysis (encounter as catalyst). 

This poetic-existential catalysis that we find at work in the midst of scriptural, vocal, musical or plastic discursivities engage quasi-synchronically the enunciative crystallisation of the creator, the interpreter and the admirer of the work of art, like analyst and patient.  Its efficiency lies in its capacity to promote active, processual ruptures within semiotically structured, significational and denotative networks, where it will put emergent subjectivity to work. When it is effectively triggered in a given enunciative area--that is, situated in a historical and eco-political perspective--such an analytico-poetic function establishes itself as a mutant nucleus of auto-referentiality and auto-valorisation.  This is why we must always consider it in two ways:  1. as a molecular rupture,  an imperceptible bifurcation, capable of overthrowing the framework of dominant redundancies, the organization of the "already classified" or, if one prefers, the classical order. 2. in the way that it selects certain segments of these very chains of redundancy, to confer on them the a-signifying existential function I have just evoked, thereby "refraining" them and producing virulent, partial fragments of enunciation operating as "shifters" of subjectivation.  The quality of the base material matters little here, as one can see in repetitive music or Butoh dance, which, as Marcel Duchamp would have wished are turned entirely towards "the spectator."  What does matter is the mutant rhythmic impetus of a temporalisation able to hold together the heterogeneous components of a new existential edifice.  (Chaosmosis, 19-20).

            The value of this proposal from the point of view of electracy, associating the virtual object as the shifter vehicle, cannot be overstated.  Here is the electrate equivalent of the position of "I" in literacy, designed to support the position of collective singularity, or group subject, capable of receiving the (with the help of the apparatus) Unconscious thought.  This innovation is the rationale for a rethinking of the transcendental subject proposed by Benjamin and Agamben for coming philosophy.


See Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis:  An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis, Power Publications, 1995 (French publication 1992).