dialogues at greenwich: Reading Group Workshop 5 on Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Anti-Oedipus’

dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

29 November 2007

Reading Group Workshop 5 on Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘Anti-Oedipus’

Chapter 3. Savages, Barbarians and Civilised Men

This weeks reading group workshop continued to look at chapter three of ‘Anti-Oedipus.’ The presentation this week was given by Bruce McClure and began by highlighting the role of Louis Hjemslev in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and indeed in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. They draw from him a linguistics appropriate to the capitalist axiomatic, one that escapes all transcendence. It becomes a mobile apparatus of content and expression that can be applied to any situation. Marshall McLuhan’s role was also developed as something taken further in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. Expression becomes the content for another expression using McLuhan’s linguistic theory. They make use of his concern with communication media independently of its context and his slogan: ‘The medium is the message.’
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Bruce also considered the change from a surplus value of code to a surplus value of flux in Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the move from savage and despotic societies to capitalist ones. The surplus value of flux incorporates both unquantifiable aspects of labour and unquantifiable aspects of knowledge. Everything is flattened out and includes the accumulations of both goods and knowledge. The knowledge producers are rendered impotent because capitalism always creates a new axiom that makes knowledge productive for capital. It is the military-industrial complex and the state that act as the element of anti-production. This animates a double movement of deterritoralisation and reterritorialisation.

The presentation considered production as an abstract universality, an accumulation that goes beyond the human. Here a drive is immediately recuperated or objectified. In section 9, at page 254 in the new edition and 234 in the old edition, Deleuze and Guattari see science and technics as liberating flows of code. It was pointed out that knowledge capital is something that takes us to the work of thinkers like, Negri, Hardt, Balibar and Laclau. Knowledge capital has come to be seen as highly important in capitalism and as freer than previous forms of labour capital.

The discussion considered the negative and positive connotations of capitalism as it is presented in Anti-Oedipus. Is capitalism innovative by nature or is profitability key to whether innovation is interesting? Capitalism doubles desiring-production in the sense that it creates quantifiable flows that can meet just as desiring-production flows and breaks. One reading of Anti-Oedipus is to presents capital as a liberatory dynamic. We discussed why this reading looks viable. It was related to the notion among late 19th century Marxists that capitalism will do the revolution itself. This was the cause of Marx saying that he was not a Marxist. He was against the economic determinism that had come to characterise Marxism.

The next subject of discussion was the surplus value of flux. This is divided between human surplus value and machinic surplus value, with their relation operating as in the equation dy/dx. Machinic surplus value concerns technical machines and what can be said using science. Human surplus value concerns wages and is expended through consumer goods. These are two forms of money and are incommensurable. The selection criterion for technical machine is profitability and a technical machine only works by being profitable. The role of war was introduced as an instance of expenditure, burning off the energy of a society. This is something that can be achieved through advertising, militarism or imperialism.

At page 236 in the old edition, and page 257 in the new, we find Deleuze and Guattari using the example of Gregory Bateson. He leaves the human behind but this process is captured and used by the American military.

At page 235-236 flows of stupidity mirror knowledge as its anti-production, taking forward stupidity as the immanent limit of knowledge is ‘Difference and Repetition’.

At page 264 in the old edition (section 11 of chapter 3) Deleuze and Guattari discuss the notion that the family is outside the social field. This is a simulacra, an image of images that are in fact social. The privatization of the family moves away from immanence as ‘capitalism fills its field of immanence with images.’ Everyone is equal because everyone has a family, in other words, everyone is equally triangulated, equally lacking.

At page 265 in the old edition the notions of an ‘aggregate of departure’ and of an ‘aggregate of arrival’ are developed. The aggregate of arrival means that you always go home to a family but this private realm is only an image of social images. There is no freedom inside or outside and the private simply extends social repression. It was suggested that the Oedipal version of the family is less monstrous than the notion of family we find with mafia and gangster groups. This notion of the family is not contained, just as in savage societies Deleuze and Guattari see alliance as spreading filiation outwards. With Oedipus the family is contained or triangulated.

Turning to the savage society, we see that here surplus value is what allows alliance to occur. Deleuze and Guattari understand the process as beginning with an intensive filiation, something embryonic and unliveable, while this continues to unfold as extensive filiation and extensive alliance. It was suggested that ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ differs from ‘Anti-Oedipus’ in that it presents intensive alliance in the notion of becoming-other. This was related to the problem of a group subject, something that we found to come from Guattari’s work in previous sessions of this workshop. It is the problem of a group subject that can learn and respond in a differential way. Can there be an alliance that can develop and learn? It must not become a family again.

Reference was made to Guattari’s later notion of an auto-poetic group. We find something similar in Negri’s multitude, a unified body of the people. It is modelled upon a swarm. One response to this was that it is anthropocentric. Another was that it neglects the role of organisers in any political group. Anti-capitalist movements involve important people who direct things. Global movements have core networks of people who organise. There is a closed interior that manipulates an exterior, something involved, for example, in Trotsky’s democratic centralism. Retrenchment in a closed cell can provide the closed group behind public social centres. Knowledge is held in this closed group that is not held by those outside, making decisions issuing from this group seem incomprehensible.

We returned to the notion of an intensive alliance and asked what it would like, how would it work? Intensive filiation is described as a germinal influx. Incest must become a taboo so that filiation can spread outwards, become extended. Could intensive alliance have an interior? Becoming-animal involves returning to an intensive alliance, from extensive alliance or difference in extension to difference in intensity. The human-animal relation returns to intensity, refolds itself, in order to unfold itself differently in extension or in what the human and the animal can be or do. In the machine formed by the human and animal, in a case of becoming-other, new resources are drawn upon to realise humanity and animality in extension. These are the resources of the intensive alliance of humanity and animality. Reference was also made to ventilators and nebulisers. This involves a machine-human relationship where a new machine emerges that redefines that the human is or can do.

In the last paragraph of chapter three (p. 270-271 in the old edition) Deleuze and Guattari talk about autocritique. This seems to be the realisation that universal history is contingent or formed through accidents: ‘Universal history is nothing more than a theology if it does not seize control of its contingent, singular existence its irony, and its own critique.’ Is this to realise that things are only accidental? Or is it realising that accident is productive of laws that are necessary in psychoanalysis? Is it just that contingency should be recognised or should this produce something new? On the one hand it concerns the illegitimate use of the syntheses developed in chapters 1 and 2. Yet it also refers us to Deleuze and Guattari’s engagement with Reich and the notion that desire desires its own repression. Are accidents instantiations of this repressive moment that sets off illegitimate uses of the syntheses?

Reference was also made to the distinction between unconscious desires and preconscious interests. This seemed relevant to concerns with what collectivity can be if it is not based on class, something that Alain Badiou has been writing about. Rather than class interest, collectivity would be based on something prior to interests but which still marks out a collective group. For psychoanalysis preconscious interests seem to be what we haven’t noticed but can be brought into consciousness. The unconscious is unrecognisable but you can recognise its traces in the preconscious.

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