Conversion Disorder: 4

Deleuze and Guattari associate the “signifying regime” (and the “signifiance” that it effectuates) with what psychiatrists of the late-19th century called “ideational delusion.”  The exemplary form of ideational delusion is paranoia.  And what else can one be but paranoid caught up in a potentially infinite number of infinitely circular networks of signs?  Everything is a sign of a sign of my sweet old etcetera.

So we were told that the signifying regime constitutes infinite networks of signs that bend back on themselves and link up with other such networks to form circles within circles and chains of chains.  We were also told that within every such network is a signifier that stands as an “interpretation” (or “point de capiton”) that lends the network an organization, but also fuels its extension in an inhuman chattering without inherent limit of magnitude.  Interpretation: “Obama is a secret communist bent on instituting totalitarianism in America…” Take it away, Fox News!  “Well, the signs are everywhere: look at his contraception policy, or his yadayada yacketyack…”

There are two other important features to the signifying regime. The first is that this semiotic always refers to a pragmatic content or substance.  This substance is a “Face.”  In the signifying regime, the face stands at the center of the swirling networks of signs, as the mask of absolute meaning.  “When I passed by, they looked at me funny and I heard them laugh. Was that about me?  Do they know what I did last summer?  Did they hear about that naked picture I accidentally tweeted?”  DG insist on the inextricable entanglement of a regime of signs with a regime of bodies: expression and content are the two sides of a stratum. The face that besets the paranoiac gripped in her ideational delusion is always the face of a despot.  It is the face that gets off by withholding the absolute meaning it so chastely contains.  It is the face as a white wall upon which signifiance may tirelessly inscribe its signs of signs.

Thera Sanchez insists that before her affliction, everybody was happy to be around her.  She was a cheerleader; she cheered every day.  She was in art class.  She was in two art classes!  Before it happened, everything was fine, she was on a roll… Really?  She was perfectly content?  This seems a bit hard for me to believe.  High school can quite easily take on hellish dimensions even for the popular kids.  High school ably exemplifies the stratum of signifiance, where every face is a potential despot, ready to pass judgment, where every face receives and emits signs of signs of drama to the nth degree, where everyone is chasing the dragon of meaning from one sign to the next, where everyone struggles to occupy the place of the despot or of the interpreting priest.

The face of the despot is always accompanied by a double: the faceless body of the one who is judged, condemned, excluded.  This is the other feature of the signifying regime: the necessity of a scape-goat, of one who is loaded with “everything that resisted signifying signs, everything that eluded the referral from sign to sign through the different circles.”  The scape-goat is sent off into the desert, sent scrambling down a line of flight.  Thera Sanchez is taken out of school.  The scapegoat’s departure ensures the stratum of signifiance will not collapse or explode.  It is therefore a kind of venting mechanism.  The stratum of signifiance only allows for a relative deterritorialization of signs and of bodies.  The expulsion of the scapegoat thus prevents the absolute deterritorialization that would otherwise explode it.  But if its expulsion frees the scapegoat from the despotism of signifiance, introducing it to an absolute deterritorialization, something else is waiting for it out in the desert.  The black hole of subjectification, the postsignifying regime of signs…


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