Karl Marx views society through the lens of dialectics in which social fields are organized according to the binary opposition base/superstructure or the material/the symbolic. For Marx, economic changes produce transformations in the fields of art, philosophy, morality, science and religion, and not vice versa. Deleuze and Guattari’s social fields (which they refer to as assemblages) also consist of material modifications and symbolic metamorphoses. However, there are several key differences. First, Deleuze and Guattari exchange the terms “base” and “superstructure” for “content” and “expression.” Second, they disagree with Marx that the material moving forces of society are the tools of production. For Deleuze and Guattari, the “intermingling of bodies in a society” (A Thousand Plateaus 90) takes precedence over tools and goods. Borrowing from the Stoics, Deleuze and Guattari understand content to be the actions and passions of bodies “using the word ‘body’ in the broadest sense, as applying to any formed content” (86). Third, they challenge Marx’s contention that the relation between content and expression is dialectical. Instead, Deleuze and Guattari argue that there is a “continual passage from one to the other” (87) made possible by the independence of each form. The independence of content and expression does not mean that there is no relation between the two, just that the relation is not causal. The Stoic notion that the expressed of statements “apply to bodies, and only to bodies” (86) is what links expression to content. In other words, expression can only relate to content and nothing else. Fourth, the form of expression cannot be reduced to a linguistic system in which linguistic factors are treated as constants and considered independently of nonlinguistic factors because, according to Deleuze and Guattari, “if the external pragmatics of nonlinguistic factors must be taken into consideration, it is because linguistics itself is inseparable from an internal pragmatics involving its own factors” (italics in original, 91). That is, if the notion that language as system of constants is called into question, it is impossible to distinguish the variables of expression from the variables of content.
What does that mean for us? Creativity in real time can move bodies to action. Living the image, as Spanish activist Leónidas Martín would say, can disrupt the capitalist system. In this highly entertaining video (in English), Leónidas Martín describes several examples of creative activism in Barcelona that have linked content and expression with material and social consequences.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.