dialogues at greenwich: Reading Group Workshop 2 on Deleuze and Guattari's 'Anti-Oedipus'

dialogues at greenwich

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

13 November 2007

Reading Group Workshop 2 on Deleuze and Guattari's 'Anti-Oedipus'

Chapter 2. Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family, Sections 1-5
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The notes below are complicated by the fact that members of the group are using different editions of 'Anti-Oedipus'. The page numbers referred to as 'old edition' are found in the edition published in 1984 by the Athlone Press and then Continuum. Those labelled 'new edition' are from Continuum's new compact edition of 2004. What follows is taken from my notes and is in many ways incomplete. Those who were present are very welcome to add to the notes by commenting on this post or e-mailing additional points to volcaniclines[at]hotmail.com Please also feel free, whether or not you attended this workshop, to question or discuss the points raised by posting a comment.
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This weeks session began with a presentation on the themes of this weeks text by Edward Willatt. The presentation began with the notion that Oedipus is dogma (page 51, old edition). Deleuze and Guattari describe the 'Oedipus structure as [a] system of positions and functions' (page 52, old edition). It has the role of 'distributing in a given domain desire, its object, and the law.' It thus marks out a space of action but for Deleuze and Guattari this is hopeless. The object of desire is inadequate, dogmatic activity is frantic and then runs out of energy. The psychoanalytic cure is endless and becomes banal. The 'frantic Oedipalisation' practiced turns into a loss of energy because the object or limit is not the 'body without organs' but the complete objects and global persons projected by psychoanalysis.

At page 53 Deleuze and Guattari argue for a desire that is not reduced to its products in order to think the marking out of spaces of activity that are not at all hopeless. These spaces must not be marked by a dogmatic subject and object. The structures and persons of psychoanalysis are products while machines are 'the Real in itself.'

At page 54 we see Deleuze and Guattari argue that Freud had discovered a liberated understanding of desire, making it the domain of three syntheses. However, they argue that Freud did not maintain the immanence of syntheses to desire. The terms of desire, the marking out of the field of its activity, were not immanent to desiring-production. It is important to note that the thinker to whom they turn for the criteria of immanent synthesis is Kant. In his Critique of Pure Reason Kant sought to formulate three syntheses to deal with appearances that we are modelled on the 'thing in itself.' His critique of dogmatism was a prelude to his elaboration of three syntheses. For Kant dogmatic metaphysics is a theatre as it is for Deleuze and Guattari, it produces hopeless characters. For Kant we find dogmatists and sceptics, for Deleuze and Guattari neurotics and paranoiacs, to name just two. Just as Oedipus is set up above the flows and break-flows of desiring-production, so the 'thing in itself' is set up above appearances and their immanent syntheses. Kant's concern with appearances rather than the 'thing in itself' seems to connect productively with Deleuze and Guattari's concern with partial objects rather than complete objects.

In the second section of chapter two (entitled 'Three Texts of Freud') Deleuze and Guattari write that psychoanalysis '...measures the unconscious against myth...' (page 57, old edition) Time finds its model and measure in a myth space. This means that the roles and functions time is able to mark out in space become monotonous. Everything is decided in advance by myth and this limits the energy of activity, ensuring that it is always exhausted and never continuous. Deleuze and Guattari again move from Freud to Kant when they seek a non-mythical conception of time. We see this in Deleuze's 'On Four Poetic Formulas Which Might Summarise the Kantian Philosophy' (to be found in 'Essays Critical and Clinical'). Here Deleuze writes of how Oedipus was '...urged on by his wandering as a derived movement.' In contrast 'Hamlet is the first hero who needed time in order to act, ...' He adds that 'The Critique of Pure Reason is the book of Hamlet, the prince of the north.' Now time is not defined by succession. Things are successive in different times but 'simultaneous in the same time, they subsist in an indeterminate time.' (p. 28-29) This means that in time we find the scope of the first synthesis of desiring-production in a 'time out of joint' or time without a mythical space as its model. The whole of time can be drawn upon.

At page 59 Deleuze and Guattari sketch an illegitimate use of the second synthesis (the synthesis of disjunction). Here the marking out of a space of activity is recorded but this use of synthesis can be legitimate or illegitimate. Psychoanalysis is said to make castration the 'common lot' of the two sexes. It is something lacking in both that distributes lack in both series. It means that 'you are girl or boy!' This is an exclusive use of disjunction, any attempt to mark out roles once and for all so that people can only seek to come to terms with these roles.

On page 65 we see Deleuze and Guattari subjecting Freud himself to analysis, diagnosing him as a dogmatist as we see Kant doing to his contemporaries. They see Freud at the end of his life realising that something is wrong with psychoanalysis. 'The cure tends to be more and more interminable!' All energy has gone out of the practice because it is dogmatic, it does not have the object that is the real source of all energy (the body without organs). In seeking to account for the energetics of machinic thought and practice, a continuous energy, Deleuze and Guattari point to '...a type of resistance that is nonlocalizable. It would seem that certain subjects have such a viscous libido, or on the contrary a liquid one, that nothing succeeds in “taking hold.”'

The third section of chapter two ('The Connective Synthesis of Production') puts forward the notion that '...the sole problem is always one of allocation on a scale of intensities that assigns the positions and use of each thing, each being, or each scene...' (p. 68). This is a concern with a matter full of intensities that mark out things, beings and scenes. It is not a theatre modelled in advance by myth but rather a factory of production.

At page 72 the 'body without organs' is presented as a third term that '...reinjects producing into the product, extends the connections of machines, and serves as a surface of recording.' Deleuze and Guattari's concern that there is nothing behind production is developed here. It is this lack of organs that provokes production to be productive. We can see Kant's influence here if we consider his concern with zero degree intensity in the 'Anticipations of Perception' in the 'Critique of Pure Reason'. This mechanism seems to be put to work here in order to think desiring-production, to find in the movement between intensities the continuous production of things, beings and scenes. For Kant it is zero degree intensity that is behind the continuity of different degrees of intensity. It prevents appearances from expressing a 'thing in itself.' Whatever Deleuze and Guattari's distaste for Kant's ends may be their concern with his mechanisms is clear. We see them not asking what Kant's system means but how it works.

The fourth section of chapter two is entitled 'The Disjunctive Synthesis of Recording.' Here Deleuze and Guattari are concerned with how the connections that mark of a space of activity are lived. At page 75-76 (old edition) they write that 'This time it is a matter of the maximum conditions under which persons are differentiated. Hence the importance of the Kantian definition that posits God as the a priori principle of the disjunctive syllogism, so that all things derive from it because of restriction of larger reality...' What is important for Kant is that the Idea of God is not a cognition, a unity of the understanding, but a unity of reason that operates in the advance of cognition. Like the 'body without organs' it does not resemble what is organised but has an ongoing role in how things become organised and disorganised. This 'larger reality', this Idea of what the synthesis of disjunction can do, does not do the work of synthesis. It is an Idea of the widest and continuous use of inclusive disjunction rather than of exclusive disjunctions marked out in advance and waiting to be discovered. The latter conception would for Kant be the 'thing in itself' and for Deleuze and Guattari complete objects and global persons. What things, being and scenes become through disjunctions is left open because this totality is not already synthesised and because the energy contained in this Idea is a divine energy.

At page 78 Deleuze and Guattari explore the exclamation 'I am' – the series of intensive states that makes up the passive self who is subject to the activity of synthesis.

Section five of chapter two, 'The Conjunctive Synthesis of Consumption-Consummation', seeks to account for a residual subject of machines. Deleuze and Guattari develop the nature of the passive self: 'It is a matter of relationships of intensities through which the subject passes on the body without organs, a process that engages him in becomings, rises and falls, migrations and displacements.' (p. 84, old edition) This third synthesis of desiring-production differs from Kant's third synthesis in the Critique of Pure Reason. In the latter the active subject, the transcendental unity of apperception, corresponds to the object=x. For Deleuze and Guattari the active subject and object=x is the 'body without organs'. It is compared to R. D. Laing's voyage of initiation, something described as a transcendental experience. It is an experience of being subject to productive syntheses, being passive in the face of synthesis. Deleuze and Guattari elaborate this as '...a series of emotions and feelings as a consummation and consumption of intensive quantities, that form the material for subsequent hallucinations and deliriums.' (page 84, old edition)

At age 97 Deleuze and Guattari write that 'Structures exist in the immediate impossible real.' This reflects their concern to find the desiring-machines at work in any thing, being or scene. The 'I am...' is the residue or surplus value of the machine.

At page 104 Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between preconscious investment, made according to the interests of opposing classes, and unconscious investments, made according to positions of desire and uses of synthesis. Interests are defined as being those of the subject, the individual or collective who desires. For the unconscious these things that 'I am' are not marked out in advance and so interests are not given in advance. This connects with the contemporary debates over the collectivity that is possible given the apparent decline of class identity. What is collectivity after class? Perhaps Guattari's analysis of the group, discussed later in the session and reported below, can respond to this pressing question.

At page 105 we find desire elaborated as what which 'flows and runs', this is how we know that it is present in immediate reality. It carries us along 'toward lethal destinations.' This raises the question of the value of the activity that desire produces or accounts for. Peter Hallward's reading of Deleuze ('Out of This World', Verso, 2006) questions the value of the activity that he accounts for – it is contemplative (in)activity. Deleuze himself, in the 'Dialogues' chapter 3, cautions that desire must not account only for festival-like activity. This reflects the un-livable nature of desiring-production but also how it is a regulative ideal, in a Kantian sense, that makes constructive activity possible. Deleuze and Guattari seem to focus upon affective encounters so as to keep in play an account of the activity of subjects in relation to objects.

At the end of section five, on page 106 (old edition), Deleuze and Guattari provide a method for reading a text. Searching for what is signified or for a signifier is to be avoided. To read a text is to make productive use of a literary machine which is '...a montage of desiring-machines...' They envisage '...a schizoid exercise that extracts from the text its revolutionary force.' We see here that Derrida is inverted. Rather the world as text we have the world as a continuum of machines and the text as another machine. It does not talk about the world and is not representative of the world. However, its own production must be singular enough to exemplify the world's productive activity or the way the world works (desiring-production as such).

The discussion began by questioning the Kantian reading of Anti-Oedipus that the presentation had put forward. The arguments had been that 'Kant works!' and as a result Deleuze and Guattari hold their noses and overcome all the 'northern fog' so as to make use of Kant's mechanisms. Their reading of Kant is about use rather than meaning. Thus Kant's 'object=x' and zero degree intensity are mechanisms for Deleuze and Guattari's use. To consider what they meant for Kant is to fail to extract the 'revolutionary potential' from his work.

Reference was made to something that separates Kant from Deleuze and Guattari. The compulsion to construct an understanding, a signifier, and the mechanics of signification are important for Kant. Deleuze and Guattari consider how we can avoid trying to understand in order to be able to encounter affects. It was suggested that Kant's concern is to control the metaphysical urge, this desire, rather than to realise it productively. It was argued that this is quite a different approach to Deleuze and Guattari's concern to account for how desire desires its own repression.

Deleuze and Guattari's argument against splitting reality between ideal and material, between signifying and Real levels, was discussed.

The concern with group fantasy at page 62 (new edition) was discussed. It was argued that this shows Guattari's input. For him all subjectivity is collective. He analysed differences within group activity. The critical question was then put: what is the agency behind this group activity? The passive subject and its continuation runs through Guattari's work. Who enunciates in collective assemblages of enunciation? Should we look for agency or an agent? Why does the group ever get out of bed? Is there a collective machine? Who acts? Who selects? Who does? These critical questions are often put to Deleuze. It was noted that group fantasy only has drives as its subject (p. 63 new edition). Agency or selection, it was argued, is here a post-representational image of thought. Choices occur to the passive subject. The group is a zone of clearance protected from symbolic attachments so that choices can occur to this passive subject – the exclamation 'it is' or 'I am' is the occurrence of choice through encounters in a field that is not marked out in advance by the symbolic.

It was also pointed out that Sartre is used by Guattari in his analysis of group fantasy. Reference was made to Deleuze's preface to Guattari's 'Psychoanalysis and Transversality' (translated as 'Three Group-Related Problems' in 'Desert Islands and Other Texts', Semiotext(e), 2004, p. 193-203). It shows Deleuze's engagement with the re-formed subjectivity that runs throughout 'Anti-Oedipus'. It was explained that for Guattari a 'subject-group' folds out into the world while a 'subjugated-group' infolds by internalising resentment. It is always caught in the dynamics of internalisation and externalisation.

Reference was made to Deleuze's earlier notion of larval subjectivity, suggesting that it was a space of clearance while Ideas were a grouping, as we see in the notion of revolutionary Ideas developed in 'Difference and Repetition.' An unconditioned or undetermined zone is created and this is what Ideas are. They are dark precursors.

It was also noted that in 'Difference and Repetition' the term machine is used and we have here contemplative machines and contracting machines. However, Deleuze did not previously have notion of a group that he came to embrace from Guattari's work. Perhaps the shift from machine to assemblage and from simulacra to rhizome also show Guattari's influence.

It was suggested that Deleuze and Guattari are trying to break open a space where things can work differently. They present a strategic polemic, heavily engaged with the intellectual forces in France at the time in which they are writing.

Critical concerns were raised over the value of rejecting Oedipus, a specific concept, unless it is clear that we can avoid all concepts. If a lack of all concepts (schizophrenia as process) is un-livable then why give up the stability of Oedipus?
Is Oedipus not better than the fascism that for Deleuze and Guattari is a normative and natural state? Do Deleuze and Guattari argue in favour of a specific social organisation or of the endless re-organisation of society that nevertheless is stable enough to sustain organised life (a social body with organs drawing upon the 'body without organs')? The value and potential of their critique was called into question.


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