Tag Archives: Signifiance

Conversion Disorder: 7

Last entry I suggested that from a schizoanalytic perspective “conversion disorder” would refer to the conversion of a body into a particular organism or a concrete individual into a particular subject.  In this sense, conversion means “stratification,” or the process by which unformed matter is captured and “condensed” into formed substances.  There is another sense a schizoanalyst could lend to “conversion disorder”: that is, the conversion of an ideational delusion into an active delusion, the conversion of signifiance into subjectification.  Here “conversion” means “translation,” and refers to the capacity of one semiotic to overcode or exapt the expressions of another.

An example.  In the “regime of signs” plateau, DG state that the ancient Israelites exemplify the workings of the postsignifying regime and the procedure of subjectification.  The point of subjectification is rather more complex than DG explicitly state, so let me try to lard their sketch.  First there is a “double betrayal” on the human scale: the Egyptians betray the Israelities (i.e. betray their original hospitality in the time of Joseph and his brothers) and then the Israelites betray the Egyptians back (insofar as a slave revolt can be considered a betrayal!). The exodus from Egypt amounts to an absolute deterritorialization.  DG portray this “double turning away” in terms of signifiance and subjectification: the “interpretational and paranoid delusion” of the Pharoah against the “most passional and least interpretive delusion” of Moses…

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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…

Conversion Disorder: 3

The “outbreak” brings into focus (for me, at least) what Deleuze and Guattari called “strata” in A Thousand Plateaus.  According to the duo’s account, there are many different kinds of “strata,” physical, chemical, organic, alloplastic.  But they cite three as especially important to consider: the organism, signifiance and subjectification.

The “organism” is a body organized (or “formalized”) in a particular way.  Signifiance and subjectification refer to specific organizations of linguistic signs into formal “regimes.”  As I understand it, signifiance is the primary effect of a regime of signs that DG refer to as the “signifying regime.”  Subjectification would then be the primary effect of what they call a “postsignifying regime of signs.”

Regimes of signs never exist in isolation, but always in relative mixtures.  If DG spend a great deal of time on these two regimes in particular, it is because the two are the most prominent regimes of our social and political situation.  When I first ran across the story of conversion disorder, I immediately read it in terms of these two strata.  Well, it may be that one could add the third stratum to the mix too, so as to constitute an assemblage in its entirety. The “ticking” organism that has befallen the young girls as the pragmatic “content” to the mixed “expressions” of signifiance and subjectification.  At the same time, it would be necessary to think of this assemblage as a “haeccity,” that is, as a unique and unrepeatable event that has emerged out of a larger one: the Le Roy assemblage as a sign of the subtending assemblage of late capitalist control society?  That’s the tentative hypothesis to be fooled around with for a while until boredom pushes me elsewhere.

Signifiance refers to the infinite deferral of meaning in the perpetual relay from one sign to another.  Signifiance means that “all signs are signs of signs.”  This is the basic structuralist and deconstructionist understanding of language.  (It is important to note that DG refuse the universalization of this understanding: the signifying regime is only one among many that coexist with it or are still to come.)  In any case, signifiance relates that the dragon of meaning perpetually flies down the signifying chain and we perpetually chase after it.  Meaning remains forever incomplete.  In the signifying regime, then, the sign is no longer opposed to a simple referent.  It has become “deterritorialized.”  And in this deterritorialization, the sign has split into two parts: the signifier and the signified.  In attempting to pin down and actualize a “signified,” one moves from signifier to signifier.  This movement bends into a circle: the signs form an infinite network which is infinitely circular.

This network is by no means amorphous.  Why not?  Because something else happens in signifiance: one signifier can stand as the signified, and this signifier then effectuates the organization of the network.  Hence the second aspect of the signifying regime involves interpretation.  But the act of interpreting, the act of selecting a signifier to stand as the signified (Lacan called this special signifier the “point de capiton”) only ensures the continuation of the movement.  “The signified constantly reimparts signifier, recharges it or produces more of it.”

To cut things short.  In the case of the story that concerns us, we see signifiance (or our stratification in signifiance) in the competing interpretations of the event’s significance.  What is the signified of the event that has befallen the girls of Le Roy?  According to the local doctor in charge of the case, and according to the psychiatrist on the Today Show, what the event signifies is “conversion disorder.”  One dissenting doctor has another opinion.  He’s convinced the event signifies “PANDAS” (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections).  What is noteworthy about this latter doctor is the following.  He says that it wouldn’t matter if tests for Streptococcal infections were to come up negative; he’s still convinced it is PANDAS.  In both cases, we have a signifier that functions as a point around which to organize a semiotic network.  And in both cases, the interpretation does little more than allow for the reimpartation of signifying chains.  Put less technically: the interpretations buffer the disease that William Burroughs called “the Yacks.”  The whole event helps bring into focus the stratum of signifiance by virtue of how much chattering it has caused.  The interpretations do not silence the yacks.  They only fuel them further.

On the Today Show, the girl stated that she wanted answers.  That was inaccurate.  For she is getting answers aplenty, but none of them are dissipating the organism that has befallen her.  Indeed she said that she’s grown worse since she started seeing various psychologists and psychiatrists.  What she’s asking for is something different than answers.  She wants to expunge and destroy her ticking organism.  Instead she is being shunted from one circle of hell to the next, from the Today Show to Fox News, etc…