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…