Guattari and the Four Strata of Self

Four Strata of Self

Image and extract are taken from my article “Félix Guattari and urban cultural studies” published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies. You can access the full text here for free.

According to Guattari, the self is made up of four strata: 1) existential territories (T) such as the body proper and lived space; 2) stratified flows (F) some examples of which are representation, materiality, buildings, and constructed space; 3) incorporeal universes (U) which may include but are not limited to poetry, music, performance art, the plastic arts, graffiti, urban art and cinema; and 4) abstract machinic Phyla (Φ) which is a way of relating the other aforementioned heterogeneous components of self. I am at once my body proper (T), the built environment I inhabit (F), my creative ideas (U), and the relations between those three elements (Φ). In Guattari’s mapping of subjectivity, there is a continual interplay between content, that which is represented (an idea, a concept, a physical body, lived space), and its representation or expression (the fixed relations of language and reified capital in the form of buildings). To redirect the constant movement along the continuum between content, the upper and lower right quadrants, and expression, the lower left quadrant, toward the center at the point when both content and expression are indistinguishable has the potential to create change because this is the point at which order is short-circuited and new types of relationships invented. These are the points/moments of both rupture and creativity. Guattari explains in an interview with Wayne State University Distinguished Professor of French Charles J. Stivale: ‘These [points of indistinguishability between content and expression] are forms of intensity, forms of existence-position that construct time as they represent it, exactly like in art, forms that construct coordinates of existence at the same time as they live them’ (Guattari 1985). The process of creating is an activity whose goal is the process itself. It has no aim. Rather, it finds its own merit in itself instead of in predetermined relationships or in a final product. Thus, art as experimentation is a potential vehicle through which to create new ‘value systems that would escape the moral, psychological and social lamination of capitalist valorization, which is only centered on economic profit’ (Guattari 1996: 266).

Guattari, F. (1985), Pragmatic/Machinic: A Discussion with Félix Guattari Interviewed by Charles J. Stivale 19 March 1985 [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2012].

——— (1996), ‘Remaking Social Practices’, in G. Genosko (ed.), The Guattari Reader, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, pp. 262-272.