For many critics, Deleuze and Guattari’s political philosophy remains an enigma. Their language is often unfamiliar, confronting the reader with an apparently endless series of new terms: plateaus, order-words, segmentarity, becomings and nomadic war-machines, to mention only some of their neologisms. The difficulty of their thought is a result both of the proliferation of new concepts and of its form. A Thousand Plateaus (1987) is an avowedly experimental work which appears to lack coherent argument or structure of any kind. As the Introduction suggests, it is a rhizome book which grows in all directions. Its aim is not to represent the world but, through its specific form of conceptual deterritorialisation, to connect with movements of deterritorialisation in other social assemblages. The concept of ‘assemblage’ provides a kind of formal continuity to the book to the extent that the successive ‘plateaus’ both define and describe a series of assemblages: machinic assemblages of desire, collective assemblages of enunciation, territorial assemblages and so on. 1 The series is open ended. In each plateau, specific concepts are proposed in order to analyse the relevant content (language, desire, music, the social field) in terms of the assemblages which inhabit that field. While there is a degree of continuity across the different plateaus, there is also continuous conceptual variation: concepts recur, but always in different relations to other concepts such that their identity in turn is transformed. The book itself is a particular kind of assemblage of concepts and conceptual plateaus.
Yet Deleuze has always regarded his work with Guattari as philosophy in a very traditional sense of the word: ‘A philosophy is what Félix and I tried to produce in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, especially in A Thousand Plateaus, which is a long book putting forward many concepts’ (Deleuze 1995b:136). 2 In order to reconcile such description with the unorthodox content and style of this work, it is helpful to turn to the conception of philosophy outlined by Deleuze and Guattari in What Is Philosophy? (1994). At first glance, their definition of philosophy as the creation of concepts is uncontroversial: political philosophy provides many examples of conceptual invention, from Plato’s Republic to modern