Deleuze and Interrupted Machines

What is a machine? Deleuze and Guattari in anti-oedipus come up with a suprising definition:

“A machine may be defined as a system of interruptions or breaks (coupures). .. Every machine, in the first place, is related to a continual material flow (hylË) that it cuts into.” (p. 36)

I can think of two ways to interpret this.

1. We can define a machine by its breakdown. A machine is utilitarian and thus is evident when it breaks down and stops serving a purpose. Then the transparency of the machine becomes evident – it doesn’t work and is thus no longer a machine (working.) Thus an organ that breaks down becomes evident in its machineness – its service to a goal. (By comparison to desiring machine D&G set up the “body without organs” or the “corps”.)

2. The machine is defined by its manipulation of a flow. The interruption or capacity to stop and start a flow is the most basic form of manipulation. All other interruptions come from the breaking of a flow into parts or segments. The interruption is the basic move in analysis – the breaking down of the continuous into components for synthesis into something new – in other words manipulation or interactivity.

By the first interpretation, it is the breakdown that defines the machine. We know them as things that always breakdown, fail, irritate, and need tending. The computer, by this metric, is the ultimate machine, since it never really works transparently.

“In desiring-machines everything functions at the same time, but amid hiatuses and ruptures, breakdowns and failures, stalling and short circuits, distances and fragmentations, within a sum that never succeeds in bringing its various parts together so as to form a whole. That is because the breaks in the process are productive, and are reassemblies in and of themselves. Disjunctions, by the very fact that they are disjunctions, are inclusive.” (p. 42)

By the second interpretation, interruption is a fundamental act of analysis and machining. It is also one of the signs of interactivity.

Deleuze and Guattari: an introduction tries to make some sense of this book.

Deleuze, Gilles, and FÈlix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.