Refrain in the Expressive Territory

That a mistake in the sonorous melodies which permeate our immediate environments would bring about a chaos, destroying itself and our self, is testament to the quality of our musicianship—we have not yet destroyed our selves, to the best of our knowledge, despite the best of our efforts.

Without the rhythm and meter imbedded in our every day, what force then would drive us forth? What action or moment in our existence is without its consequential musicality? From the cosmological to the quantum, nothing is without rhythm and melody working together in refrain, and by it, Deleuze and Guattari hold that the milieu, the territory, the assemblage is formed, organized.  In their book, A Thousand Plateaus, the emergence of these space-time delineations are traced in a sort of chronologic, if still rhizomatic, manner.

Rhythms make up melodies and melodies make up rhythms.  Chaos subverts the milieu and the milieu subverts chaos.   “The refrain is rhythm and melody that have become territorialized because they have become expressive—and have become expressive because they are territorializing.  We are not going in circles,” (TP 317).

This act of reflexive expression brings up an interesting point: how is this form of territorializing expression related to that of artistic expression?  The song is a bird’s demarcation.  Its functionality is related to its expressiveness, and it’s expressiveness to its territory, its milieu that is the makeup of its territory.  What is a song to a man? And on what terms does expression become art?

At the least, we can say that man, today, treats his expression as art when it is a conscious exploration of the power he can exert over these refrains, rhythms and melodies in medium.  For not often do we encounter the work of man’s art that has been unconsciously born.  Even in the case of the artist as vessel, there’s still a decidedly overt and conscious decision in the recording of the expression, in whatever form or composition it may be.

Without the artistic expression of this sense: be it the Klee or Vertov or Wagner or Joyce, how could we have come to identify the expressive nature inherent in the rhythm, melody, refrain of the territorializing milieu?  Even von Uexkull could not have seen the motif of nature as music without first knowing nature and music.  Music as nature.

The rhizomatic idea permeates the entire process.



Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, Minn.; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.


One Response to “Refrain in the Expressive Territory”

  1. i’m a british poet struggling to finish a ‘feminist epic’ and currently working on a translation of carolee schneemann’s ABC cards where ‘arenas’ and ‘space’ are integral to their narrative. your parallel with the refrain and birdsong as ways of marking territory bring to mind the use of ‘i sing’ in epic; an opening which i use in some of the poems. this by way of thanks for your interesting blog.

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