In Plateau 14 of A Thousand Plateaus, dated 1440 and titled “The Smooth and the Striated,” Deleuze and Guattari posit two types of space – the smooth and the striated – which act as processes that resist a strict binary or dialectic and “exist only in mixture” (474), each one continually being translated and transversed into/by the other. The relationship between the smooth and the striated elucidates the nature of space, its thought and creation, as well as the process of subject formation and individuation that occurs in and through space. While each type of space can be distinguished and studied separately via de jure abstraction, the inextricable linkage of the two concepts constitutes an important element of assemblage.
Assemblages are tetravalent, Deleuze and Guattari write elsewhere, with two sides – one of material bodies, the other of semiotic expressions – both of which are constantly being pulled in two directions – one toward a molar stabilization of striation, or an articulation of a code with a milieu, and simultaneously toward its dissolution or mutation through smooth and molecular decoding or deterritorialization that detaches and unhinges the code from its milieu. Relative deterritorialization is counterbalanced and offset by reterritorialization through a back-and-forth process, but in absolute deterritorialization, the assemblage dissipates along with the subject position it enables. The destruction of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project, for example, acts as absolute deterritorialization of space, if it is considered the end of high modernist architecture as a means for constituting an oppressive space of the subject, or as relative deterritorialization, if the tenacity of the state and other urban renewal schemes maintain similar spatial demarcations and class distinctions.
In addition, space traversed can be measured and studied only after it has been striated, a provisional separation or closure of a part from its durational whole, constituted by smooth space. The former process is necessary to operate in an everyday fashion, to provide equivalences of exchange and communication, while the latter reminds us of the spatiotemporal duration of which our selective perception only affords a small portion at any time. Deleuze and Guattari write, “Nothing is ever done with: smooth space allows itself to be striated, and striated space reimparts a smooth space, with potentially very different values, scope, and signs. Perhaps we must say that all progress is made by and in striated space, but all becoming occurs in smooth space” (486).
To exemplify these relations and the inextricable linkages of the smooth and the striated, Deleuze and Guattari create models. The “technological model” addresses the division between intensive and extensive space, embodiment, the subject’s relationship to clothes and shelter, how she segregates herself from, or forms an assemblage with, the environment. Here, the creation of fabrics and activities such as quilting and weaving constitute technology as a process that imbricates humans, tools and matter (e.g. woman-needle-fabric).
Striated space is given a function, which is imparted to/on a subject, while smooth space allows subjects to distribute themselves within and throughout space. In striated space, clothes separate the body from its surroundings, and houses demarcate a boundary between interior and exterior. That is, the striated annexes and segregates through immobile shelter. Smooth strategies, on the other hand, integrate interior and exterior, emphasize the journey and act to filter the environment. Nomadic clothes and tents alike, often made of felt (a smooth material according to D&G), are constructed for constant assembly, disassembly, adaptation and movement along heterogeneous trajectories.
The musical model introduces rational and irrational breaks, which delimit and striate individual modules. The absence of breaks, on the other hand, constitutes the openness of smooth space. The speed of space – metric in the striated and differential in the smooth – is more affirmative here than in Virilio’s work. The maritime model introduces the distinction between static points of striation and the lines (of flight) afforded by the smooth. Mappings, grids and navigational tools allow the previously open nature of the sea as pure affect, intensities and velocities to be measured and homogenized into quantitative, empirical units.
Finally, the aesthetic model of nomadic art distinguishes close-range, haptic, smooth perception from long-range, optical, striated perception. Striated space affords a context or background against which space emerges and is made discernible, while smooth space allows us to make connections, deterritorialize and decodify space, challenging the landmarks and monuments, the commercial and metric boundaries, that mark state power.
Despite some differences, this visual milieu conjures Michel de Certeau’s two views of the city: one extensive and idealized from atop a skyscraper viewing deck, seeking a totalized and static image of the city; the other created at street level by pedestrians “writing” the city via movement and intensities. Through Certeau we can also begin to add a third spatial dimension to the smooth and striated, which remain two-dimensional in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. They bracket the topic of volume, never to return to it, remaining instead in the realm of points, lines and vectors.
While Deleuze and Guattari’s focus on ongoing processes is distinct from Foucault’s epistemic breaks, the latter’s medieval space of localization constitutes a striated version of space, which is made smooth by Galileo’s construction of infinite space. Foucault’s descriptions of the heterogeneous space inside of which we live, defined as “an ensemble of relations that define emplacements that are irreducible to each other and absolutely nonsuperposable” (178), bears some resemblance to Deleuze and Guattari’s assemblages. Most importantly, Foucault’s “other spaces” or “different spaces,” which can be studied only via contestation, or heterotopology, reflect processes similar to the deterritorializing nature of smooth space.
Deleuze and Guattari contrast the sea and the rural with the cosmopolitan city, which arises only in the wake of striation, but as a center of innovation and invention reimparts the smooth through conditions of the new rarely found at sea or in the countryside. Beyond high culture, this smoothing process can be found in makeshift emplacements of, for example, shantytowns and self-organizing sprawl. Similarly, Foucault, who finds some continuing relevance of institutional spaces (house, school, prison, office, hospital, etc.), directs his primary attention to this space of the outside.
The construction of subjects, society and history is revealed through now obsolete crisis heterotopias, heterotopias of deviation, such as asylums, prisons and nursing homes, as well as gardens, museums, libraries, festivals, sleazy motels and cemeteries. Heterotopias reveal our changing historical and spatial relationship with, and attitudes toward, age, sickness, crime, death and sex. These spaces make us all potential nomads, constantly deterritorializing space and creating the world anew through experience, rather than rationalist monads who contain an entire pre-existing world within us.