Molar, Moral, Molecular: Genealogy to Geology

Andrew Lopez

"Even God desists from being a Being who compares worlds and chooses the richest compossible. He becomes Process, a process that at once affirms incompossibilities and passes through them. The play of the world has changed in a unique way, because now it has become the play that diverges."
—Gilles Deleuze, The Fold

[1] Nietzsche encourages everyone to become more scientific. "[E]veryone should now study at least one science from the bottom up: then he will know what method means and how important is the utmost circumspection." [1] Nietzsche means by this to lessen the fanatical fire and flame of our invidiously triumphant superstitions, opinions, and convictions. For all of these triumphs, marked by their pious familiarization of all that is strange, hold a snapshot to the heart as if it assured eternal verity: original error of the philosopher. So rather than further immerse ourselves in this "proud, deceptive consciousness, far from the coils of the intestines, the quick currents of the blood stream, and the involved tremors of the fibers," [2] we will sketch the movement from genealogy to geology in an attempt to displace the all-too-human framework that has delivered us to the door of global climate collapse. [3]

[2] In the same breath that he speaks of the study of science, Nietzsche also mentions the importance of method. And "[i]t is at the level of method that the question of Nietzsche's revolutionary character is raised." [4] His genealogical method brings to light the details and accidents of the "evolution" (his quotes) of a thing, exposing its meaninglessness in a profusion of lost events. Descending to capture the singular markings of a thing's emergence, permitting the dissociation of the self in search of its subindividual elements, genealogy opens us to a perpetual disintegration of the body in history. Effective history looks most closely at what is nearest: the body, the nervous system, nutrition, digestion, energy, uncovering events in an unending power play that is like a carnival of masks and monkeys. [5]

[3] After the essence-unraveling effects of genealogy, one wonders what impetus would push analysis further, to penetrate the submolecular layer. Contrary, perhaps, to what some are putting forth under the name of heretical Nietzsche studies, [6] it is Nietzsche himself who bids us move on: "Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves." [7] This unusual lesson—through which one must learn not only to love one's enemies, but also to be able to hate one's friends—leads back to the earth. [8] And it must be coupled with the encouragement to study at least one science. Betrayal as ultimate faith, leading back to the earth, helps us to grasp that force that is in genealogy more than genealogy, in Nietzsche more than Nietzsche. [9] Just as "Nietzsche founded geophilosophy," [10] so Deleuze and Guattari (D&G) advance the geology of morals. [11] "Transversal communications between different lines scramble the genealogical trees. Always look for the molecular, or even submolecular, particle with which we are allied. We evolve more from our polymorphous and rhizomatic flus than from hereditary diseases, or diseases that have their own line of descent. The rhizome is an antigenealogy." [12]

[4] Today, reading Nietzsche closely gives way to the movement from genealogy to geology, in what comes to constitute a geophilosophy, a conceptually radiant schizoanalysis whose concrescence is effectuated by its ever-more-abstract capture of chaosmic lines transfixing the earth. [13] But this chaosmic capture is more like the edge of a razor cutting into the absolutely new than it is a passage from one preestablished form to another. [14] Do not connect the dots. Divergent series trace bifurcating paths: changing captures: chaosmos. [15] At once at once or rather or rather, close reading drives between lines of text, right through the book and the earth, to feel out connections with natural articulations, vibrations, multiplicity. [16] The earth "is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad transitory particles." [17] Whereas genealogy gets caught up in lineages, the multiple is translated by a method that follows the variation of flows, foldings, and the deterritorialization of convergences constitutive of strata. [18]

[5] Strata are not limited to the geological register. Although "stratification" was first discovered in geology, D&G's displacement of the term via its application in biological and other domains is a reworking of its otherwise orthodox amenability to strictly stratified systems and linear models, enabling new linkings and re-linkings in thought. [19] Following the sedimentation and folding of matter, this displacement denotes a virtuoso ontological demonstration commensurate with the transformations of life and society, in parallel with the transformations of nonlinear science. Like stratification, the concepts of the rhizome, the fold, and the nomadic address the affective connections and continuities between objects, entities, bodies otherwise treated as separate, serial, lineal. [20]

[6] Where there were questionable connections there are now undeniable relations. "We are not dealing here with more or less vague analogies, but with an investigation of the conditions for the proper use of our conceptual means of expression." [21] If we continue to deny the reality of transversal communications, "if we remain attached to the idea that such things are separate [i.e. the concerns of geology and those of other domains] and that we are all specialists who should remain in our respective corners working on our individual studies, then we will soon witness in our world explosions that will elude the comprehension of politicians and social scientists alike." [22] We must call into question the division of fields of study in order to deepen them and make them worthy of their objects.

[7] Stratification occurs as capture, giving form to matters, imprisoning intensities, locking singularities into systems of resonance. D&G say strata are judgments of God. Because matter is the same on all the strata, we can get from one form on an in/organic stratum to another by means of folding. [23] The irreducibility of folding is testified to by the variety of in/organic types, for the organism or rock is a stratum, for example, "but the earth constantly eludes that judgment, flees and becomes destratified, deterritorialized." [24] Witness this interminable itinerancy in folding. Neither signifier nor signified, and beyond linear evolution, "[t]he materials furnished by a substratum are no doubt simpler than the compounds of a stratum, but their level of organization in the substratum is no lower than that of the stratum." (25) Caverns inside caverns, Earth systems emerge, and processes abound. Speaking of God's judgment, good and evil do not figure in the focus on strata. Do not misconstrue the nature of this enterprise. Regimes of signs express organizations of power that are everywhere, like particle flows, destined to deterritorialize.

[8] All borders now testify to the variable stream of traffic between supposedly incompossible worlds. "The boundaries which insure the evolution of separate identities begin to collapse and a machinic mode of evolution comes into play." [26] "For the traditional hierarchical relationship of things that remain essentially the same over time, [D&G] substitute the rhizome (that is, the random collection or assembly of heterogeneous elements without hierarchical order—a multiplicity that is a horizontal combination of phenomena that have only a temporary character due [to] their changing contextual relationships)." [27] Leibniz, his monads, and the Baroque, figures that recur throughout D&G's work, can be understood as a transition from the stable and discrete phenomena of the classical epoch to one in which "bifurcations, divergences, incompossibilities, and discord belong to the same motley world." [28]

[9] Accounts of scientific change of this sort complicate the presuppositions of traditional epistemologies, whence we become nomads. [29] Monads to nomads, chaosmos means immutable Being breaks into and is broken into by endless bifurcations captured on an infinite fringe: becoming. [30] "The diagnosis of becomings in every passing present is what Nietzsche assigned." [31] Here we are considering stratification, geology, the geological time scale. "At the beginning of the 20th century, standard geology books gave the age of the Earth as one million years. By the 1920s, the estimate increased to 500 million years. It is now recognized to be well over four billion years." [32] Geology, the science of a changing earth, is itself of course ever changing. [33] It was not until 1860 that the first serious estimation of the age of the Earth was made. [34] By the 1880s, Nietzsche was warning of the discomfiting implications of the onset of this sort of impending scientific consciousness: "Perhaps the past is still essentially undiscovered!" [35]

[10] Earth time transduces everything: "the hardest rocks become soft and fluid matter on the geological time scale of millions of years." [36] The fluid continuity characteristic of the connectivity of D&G's rhizome proceeds right across coincident lineages without regard: transversality. "Historical time is trivial compared to the age of the Earth." [37] Not only are all animals becoming molecular, but they are also run through by a permanent gale of particles such as those blown outwards from the sun. "A fiber stretches from a human to an animal, from a human or an animal to molecules, from molecules to particles, and so on to the imperceptible." [38] Understanding must probe beneath the crust, even if this means driving the intelligence to turn back against itself, all the way to a final narrowing wherein it can be reconnected with its conditions of possibility. Every composite "must always be divided according to its natural articulations, that is, into elements which differ in kind." [39] Geophilosophy concerns itself with the elements from which we come. The ground is anything but stable.


[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All-Too-Human, in The Portable Nietzsche (New York: Viking, 1968), trans. Walter Kaufmann , p. 64.

[2] Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense, in The Portable Nietzsche, p. 44.

[3] The revolutionary potential of Nietzsche's encouragement to study a science from the bottom up finds powerful reiteration in Wolff-Michael Roth and Angela Calabrese Barton's volume Rethinking Scientific Literacy (New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2004). As far as the all-too-human is concerned, Nietzsche is well known for saying that man is something that must be overcome, lest he perish of his own jaundiced values (cf. The Portable Nietzsche, p. 149). Now, the connection between Nietzsche's all-too-human and the present onset of global climate collapse can be considered in the context of the recent catastrophic declines in bee populations. Pat Thomas suggests that our effort to understand what is being called Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) should "examine the myriad ways we have exploited [bees] and corrupted their natural behavior for our own convenience" (Pat Thomas, Ecologist, June 2007, p. 30). Like others, Thomas cites the increasingly well-known and apocalyptic view espoused by Albert Einstein: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man." Here, the ultimate expression of the all-too-human resounds in ecocidal form with the extinguishing of bees, plants, animals, and human kind alike (i.e. global climate collapse). Which is what seems to prompt Chuck Dyke's rhetorical question: "how can it ever be misanthropic to understand the human place in the world?" (Chuck Dyke and Yrjo Haila, eds., How Nature Speaks: The Dynamics of the Human Ecological Condition [Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006], p. 299).

[4] Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953—1974 (Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e), 2004), ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taormina, p. 256.

[5] Most of this paragraph is a synthesis of a number of points made by Michel Foucault on the influence of Nietzsche's genealogical method. See Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History," in The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon, 1984), ed. Paul Rabinow, trans. D. F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, pp. 76-100.

[6] This is a reference to a symposium, Heretical Nietzsche Studies, held at Temple University, 7 April 2006. Simplifying broadly, the general thrust of the symposium was that one must steer away from Nietzsche in order to effectuate radical political transformation. Ironically, such a belief is already inherently Nietzschean.

[7] Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, p. 190. See also pp. 19 and 121 #22.

[8] Nietzsche says "Remain faithful to the earth, my brothers, with the power of your virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve the meaning of the earth. Thus I beg and beseech you. Do not let them fly away from earthly things and beat their wings against eternal walls. Alas, there has always been so much virtue that has flown away. Lead back to the earth [...]. [G]o away from me and resist Zarathustra! [...] The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies, he must also be able to hate his friends. [...] Beware lest a statue slay you." Thus Spoke Zarathustra, in The Portable Nietzsche, pp. 188-190.

[9] Cf. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 96, 99. In his forward to Deleuze's Nietzsche and Philosophy, Michael Hardt says that "Deleuze is indeed true to Nietzsche's thought, perhaps even more so than Nietzsche himself was" (Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy [New York: Columbia University Press, 2006], p. xiii).

[10] Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? p. 102.

[11] "The Geology of Morals," which appears to be a play on Nietzsche's well-known Genealogy of Morals, is the third chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. See note 12.

[12] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (Minneapolis: Minnesota, 1987), trans. Brian Massumi, p. 11.

[13] Our "ever-more-abstract" is inspired by Deleuze and Guattari's "not abstract enough." See Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), pp. 5, 178; Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 7, 141. Similarly, Bernard Cache says "it is possible for us to find the path toward a new form of abstraction in [...] recent scientific developments" (Cache, Earth Moves [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1995], p. 49). For another reference here, one could consult Hans Christian von Baeyer on the strangeness of the quantum field: "its outrageous abstraction is not an impediment to its usefulness" (Von Baeyer, Information: the New Language of Science [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003], p. 39). Concerning radical political transformations, as hit upon in note 6 above, it is perhaps not impertinent to point out this passage from the preface of a well known geological text: "Geology has come to have an increasing role in land-use planning; ecological and environmental protection; conservation of soil, water, energy, and other earth resources; and protection from natural disasters, such as landslides, floods, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes." Ira S. Allison and Donald F. Palmer. Geology: The Science of a Changing Earth, 7th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1980). In this regard, Felix Guattari's The Three Ecologies is central.

[14] Cf. Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? p. 96. The point to be made here, philosophically, is that things endure, there are durations, movement, becomings, all the way to the point where every quality is change, itself now a substance, unfolding in accordance with no ready-made plan, but cutting incessantly and necessarily into the unknown. See Henri Bergson's Creative Evolution for a fuller discussion. Perhaps Brian Massumi has developed this line of thinking more thoroughly than any other academic at work today, escorting it into truly breathtaking territory: radical empiricism steps to tango (ontological choreography).

[15] Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (Minneapolis: Minnesota, 1993), trans. Tom Conley, pp. 81, 137.

[16] In his recent book on Deleuze, Peter Hallward argues that "Deleuze's work on literature [...] has nothing to do with textual criticism or commentary, deconstructive or otherwise, since what matters is only what can be created, experimented or lived through the text" (Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation [London: Verso, 2006], p. 128). Likewise, Hallward suggests that Deleuze's entire philosophy, and here one wonders if Hallward intends for this to apply equally to Felix Guattari's work, "breaks irrevocably" from the critical tradition (pp. 72, 134). This deserves at least a brief, parenthetical response, here in this footnote. Let's consider Hallward's remarks in three parts: 1) Deleuze's work has nothing to do with textual criticism or commentary, 2) instead of textual criticism or commentary, Deleuze's work is concerned with what may be lived through a text, 3) breaking from the critical tradition is worthy of criticism. First of all, Deleuze's vast erudition and scholarly treatment of a great many texts is clearly worthy of the status of 'textual commentary,' at the absolute least. Secondly, we might be able to rethink Hallward's distinction between textual criticism or commentary, on the one hand, and what he calls living through a text, on the other. If this distinction does not hold up, then it is not clear how someone could actually offer a textual criticism that is not at the same time a living through the text, or vice-versa, which seems to confound Hallward's argument. Consider Brian Massumi's analysis of reading: "The analog process of reading translates [...] code into figures of speech enveloping figures of thought, taken in its restrictive sense of conscious reflection. There is no thought that is not accompanied by a physical sensation of effort or agitation (if only a knitting of the brows, a pursing of the lips, or a quickening of heartbeat)" (Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual, pp. 138-9). Here, with our attention momentarily trained on the physiology of reading, we see that the distinction between textual commentary and living through a text does not do much more than trigger a perchance sucking of the teeth. Lastly, one can even consider what it might be like to question the critical tradition itself, and any submissive children it may have fostered: "Critique, the need for critique, for krinein [judging] and crisis (Krisis) has a history. The deconstruction of this history, like that of the question, of the question-form in general, cannot therefore be simply 'critical' in either the Kantian or the Marxian senses of the term, although at the time when I am doing this 'other thing,' I also want to stay faithful to these legacies. A faithful heir should also interrogate the inheritance, shouldn't he?" (Derrida, Paper Machine [Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005], p. 139).

[17] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 40.

[18] Bernard Cache offers an exemplary application of the fold concept throughout his work Earth Moves, where deterritorializations are engaged in terms of "inflection," "intervals," and as "surfaces of variable curvature."

[19] Mark Bonta and John Protevi, Deleuze and Geophilosophy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004), pp. 14-15. Along similar lines, in The Three Ecologies (London: Athlone Press, 2000), Felix Guattari opposes process to system or structure, p. 44. See also Chuck Dyke's "Primer on Thinking Dynamically about the Human Ecological Condition," in How Nature Speaks, pp. 279-301, for a brief discussion of the limitations of linear models.

[20] Cf. Felicity J. Colman, in Adrian Parr, ed., The Deleuze Dictionary (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), s.v. "Rhizome," p. 231: "Ordered lineages of bodies and ideas [...] are considered as forms of 'arborescent thought', and this metaphor of a tree-like structure that orders epistemologies and forms historical frames and homogenous schemata, is invoked to describe everything that rhizomatic thought is not."

[21] Niels Bohr, Atomic Physics and Human Knowledge (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1958), p. 2.

[22] Felix Guattari, Chaosophy (New York: Semiotext(e), 1995), p. 82. See also Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, p. 41. More generally, this idea pervades the entirety of Guattari's work and can be found functioning in basically everything that he says. Maybe we can consider Colony Collapse Disorder, as mentioned above in note 3, as one such "explosion" eluding the comprehension of commentators.

[23] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 45-49.

[24] Ibid., p. 40. See also p. 423.

(25) Ibid., p. 49. Cf. Chuck Dyke, How Nature Speaks, pp. 72, 76.

[26] From Ansell Pearson's Germinal Life, p.188. Cited in Robert Mugerauer's "Deleuze and Guattari's Return to Science as a Basis for Environmental Philosophy," in Bruce V. Foltz and Robert Frodeman, eds., Rethinking Nature: Essays in Environmental Philosophy (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2004), p. 194.

[27] Mugerauer, in Foltz and Frodeman, Rethinking Nature, p. 195.

[28] Deleuze, The Fold, p. 81.

[29] Ibid. p. 137. Cf. Bernard Cache, Earth Moves, pp. 34, 41.

[30] In the fourth chapter of his Creative Evolution (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1998), Henri Bergson does an excellent job sketching out the false-problems that stem from our traditional conception of immutable Being. As Deleuze and Guattari say, "Philosophy does not so much evolve and pass through degrees of subject and object as haunt a structure of Being" (What is Philosophy? p. 95).

[31] Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? p. 113.

[32] James Trefil, Ed. Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (New York: Routledge, 2001), s.v. "Geological Time Scale," p. 225.

[33] Ira S. Allison and Donald F. Palmer, Geology: The Science of a Changing Earth, 7th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1980).

[34] Martin Redfern, The Earth: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 23.

[35] In regards to science, then, Nietzsche encourages its pursuit and warns of its implications. Embrace this complication in order to more closely follow his method. As this paper attempts to suggest, his method's geneaological stakes give rise to the process philosophy that faithfully betrays them. For the Nietzsche quote: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (New York: Vintage, 1974), trans. Walter Kaufmann, p. 104.

[36] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Columbia, 1994), trans. Paul Patton, p. 2.

[37] Martin Redfern, The Earth, p. 22.

[38] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 249.

[39] Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism (New York: Zone Books, 1988), p.22.