Deleuze and Guattari: Two Meditations

Event Scenes

Editors’ Note: On the sad occasion of Gilles Deleuze’s death, we are publishing the following two meditations. Certainly one of the major theorists of the 20th century, Deleuze died at the very moment that his thought formed one of the leading intellectual vectors of our times. An untimely death in an untimely century.

Deleuze and Guattari: Two Meditations

I. White Walls/Black Holes

This is because the two groups (the schiz and the paranoiac) are like determinism and freedom in Kant’s philosophy: they indeed have the same “object” – and social production is never anything more than desiring-production and vice-versa – but they don’t share the same law, the same regime.

– Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

Machines everywhere. Desiring-machines, production-machines, abstract machines of faciality, organ-machines, energy-source machines. A fantastic density of machinic values that traverses the social field, and within which subjectivity most of all enters into a theatre of death decoded of its memories, deterritorialized of its means of reproduction, and decontextualized. The famous “body without organs” as the first citizen of the state of despotic capitalism. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari are not writers of technology. Their theory is a technology machine: writing without a body, for a theory machine where thought is brought under the regulatory sign of the “axiomatic.” Brains too are decoded, vision decontextualized, philosophy without a tradition for machinic bodies without organs. A sacrificial scene, therefore, where Deleuze and Guattari do what is most difficult: they translate writing into a degree zero point of implosion between signification and subjectification, between the social machine and the production machine. To enter the body of their texts is to initiate a fantastic psychological curvature of the dematerialization and decontexualization of one’s own missing body that labyrinthian point where we can no longer be certain that the mirrored images of paranoiac investment and schizophrenic irruptions, of the “white walls” of signification and the “black holes” of subjectification, are not the receding horizon of our own bleak destiny. For in the great western confessional tradition, from the Confessions of St. Augustine to the confessional subject of Rousseau, Deleuze and Guattari have also enacted in their writing an epochal confession for the age of the hyper-modern the confessional statement of “bodies without organs.” Here, the social machinery of desiring-production, having completed its consummatory feast, finally speaks. Not in an ordinary language but in the schiz language of a strange new world where images heat up and suddenly red-shift, where faces take flight from their heads, where the “smooth space” of the primitive nomads of the future clash with the “striated space” of despotic capitalism, and where time-binding technologies rebel against the reterritorializing codes of “space-binding” technologies. This is the confession of all the humanoids, of beings half flesh/half metal, who, speaking from within the closed, liquid textuality of technology, ruminate longingly, and romantically, on a past in their telematic future.

How could it be otherwise? In the brilliant theoretical confession of Deleuze and Guattari, the more epochal struggle of Nietzsche and Kant during the fading days of the nineteenth-century finally escapes the theatre of philosophical representation, becoming the fateful “regime of signs” within which everyday life of the twentieth century is experienced. Their great confession, the twin texts of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, is a historical record of the inscription of the Kantian code – the demonic language of “predicates of existence” – onto the materiality of the social field. Here, everything is a “predicate of existence”: no dialectic but the terrible simultaneity of “white walls/black holes”; a matter of “synthetic apperception” taking the materialist form of three syntheses of Anti-Oedipus: the “connective synthesis of production” (understanding), the “disjunctive synthesis of recording” (imagination), and the “conjunctive synthesis of consumption-consummation (reason).

Why should it be otherwise since it is Kant who understood best of all that the fatal division in modern experience – signification and subjectification – could only be resolved by mutating the “predicates of existence” into “conditions of preservation”: into, that is, the suppression of subjective signifiers and signified subjectivity by the decoded flows of reason. Which is to say that Kant’s “predicates of existence,” are Deleuze and Guattari’s “decoded flows” – what they describe so poetically as the gestural “markings” investing the body by desiring-production. Thus, for example, in Anti-Oedipus the three Kantian critiques, the Critiques of Pure Reason, Practical Reason, and Judgment, are materialized at the level of production, recording, and consumption. And if in Mille plateaux there could be a fateful doubling of “signification” and “subjectification” it is another way of coding “understanding” and the “imagination” with decoded reason as the immanent principle of doubling.

Deleuze and Guattari’s lasting contribution, therefore, is to have written a Kantian history of technological society – a theory of technological liberalism populated by “bodies without organs,” synthesized aesthetically by the changing tastes of the “abstract machine of faciality,” of musicality, of images, where there is no ding an sich, but the reduction of capitalism to the materialism of “axiomatic capitalism” – a mathematical operation. There is a ceaseless transformation of the “predicates of existence,” the deterritorialization and reterritorialization of codes, into autonomous conditions of social transformation.

If it be objected that Anti-Oedipus is really about the repressive agency of psychoanalysis, a political refusal of the tyranny of Oedipus, then it must also be said that this is also a “schizoanalysis” of the fateful vectoring of the consumption and desiring machines. And even this conjunction is a rewriting of the texts of Marx and Freud under the sign of the Kantian regulatory code: that is, the harmonization of production and desire as the end-point of the three “anti-oedipal” critiques.

And not uncritical texts, but just the opposite. Deleuze and Guattari are the world’s first systematic theorists of technological fascism. Foucault was correct only in part when he said of Deleuze and Guattari that they had written an ethics of resistance. For this is not just an ethics of resistance, but something more indefinable and valuable: a howling scream cut across the “white wall” of signification and through the “black hole” of dead subjectivity. In their theory machine, the fateful encounter of Kant and Nietzsche in the nineteenth century explodes across the social field in an indefinite series of reterritorializations. Not oedipalization as a psychic struggle between Mommy-Daddy-Me, but the return of Nietzsche’s “ascetic priest” to alter the direction of ressentiment. Not commodification, but the “decoded flows” of cynical power. Not corporeality, but “bodies without organs.” Not heads, but “abstract machines of faciality.” Not panoptic space, but perspectival simulacra. Not rhetoric, but the axiomatic regime of “Order-Words” as the basis of the rhetoric machine. And not the theatre of representational power, but a cynical and fully relational power that functions in the liquid language of “networking.”

In this confession, the dark shadow of Nietzsche is everywhere. Indeed, if Anti-Oedipus could speak so eloquently of On the Genealogy of Morals as the classic “ethnology” of schizoanalysis, it is because Deleuze and Guattari have thought deeply about Nietzsche’s cruel description of the “debt-creditor” relationship as the basis of the despotic state, and about oedipalization explained in the more dramatic sacrificial terms of the ascetic priest and revenge-seeking subjectivity. If later in A Thousand Plateaus, they could trace out a more subterranean tradition of “rhizomatic” resistance, from Spinoza to Artaud and Blanchot, it is only because they seek to materialize the dark, often unread, side of The Will to Power: that “dancing” side where Nietzsche anticipates Heidegger by speaking of “becoming” as the horizon of the recuperated life. Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, therefore, as an awesome, highly parodic, political encounter between the dematerialized reason of Kant and the ethics of impossibility of Nietzsche. Here, the political reality may be the seizure of the social world by the technical materialization of the Kantian Critiques in all of their axiomatic fury – from the possession of the face as a colonialized history of signification to the possession of the bodily organs by the consuming-machine. But it is within this terrible terrain of decoded flows, dematerialized bodies, and decontextualized desire that the image of Nietzsche suddenly appears: first as the truth-sayer of the nihilism that is oedipalization, and then as the beckoning gesture to the arborescent of “becoming human,” “becoming molar,” “becoming animal.”

II. Panic Doublings/Panic Materialism

The romantic mysticism of Spinoza’s ethics, with its seduction of becoming, is the panic principle which makes Deleuze and Guattari’s thought possible. Materialism in the new age, therefore, is all about panic doublings: the flight from the body with organs to the digital dreams of becoming speed, becoming slowness; and the fantastic valorization of the virtual self by the fear of falling back into corporeality, into the body with (dying) organs. The doubling, then, of a future of delusional desire and a past of fear as the “blink” at the disappearing centre of new age materialism. The language of panic doubling, therefore, recapitulates at a higher level of abstraction and generality the more classical discourse of liberalism. It is a political discourse of panic materialism which is not that dissimilar from the Lockean fear of death, and which motivated in turn its own search for the first of all the virtual selves: the bourgeois subject of the pursuit of happiness, property rights, and the avoidance of death. This time we are not present at the birth of the bourgeois subject, however, but in the more melancholy era of Locke, the bourgeois subject, of modernist doubling all in ruins. Yet, from the ruins of the bourgeois subject there stirs again in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought the first timid motions of an old siren-call – the reconstitution of the dynamic will to will of the post-bourgeois subject, the virtual subject, on the basis of the liquid doubling of fear (of immanence) and desire (of transcendence). What is this but the triumphant reassertion of the ideolect of the post-liberal subject, all the more persuasive for its transgressionary appeal? Consequently, a materialist theory that only works to confirm what it thought it was finally rupturing: that is, the idea of the impossibility of the materialist subject except as an optical afterimage of the hippie monism of romantic mysticism. What Nietzsche once described as the vicious “prejudices” which obscure the nihilism within.

Anyway, Why fear? and Why desire? No one is grimmer than Deleuze and Guattari on the colonization of subjectivity by despotic capitalism. Their works are about the tattooed body. About the “markings” of the body, its organs, its gestures, its language by a circulating power. Foucault might have ventured onto this terrain of a relational power, but it was only to immediately suppress his fatal insight by a turn to a theory of speech, to a “power without a sex,” to a language without roots. Not, though, for Deleuze and Guattari. Refusing the post-Cartesian inhibitions of the “language subordination” of post-structuralism, they went all the way by writing, that is, a schizo philosophy of the tattooed body. Tattooed not just on the outside (although that too), but on the inside: a signatured body written where semiology acquires corporeality, where the sign finally breathes, taking possession of the bodily organs it thought it was only denoting from afar.

To read Deleuze and Guattari’s writings on the tattooed body – and they have never written anything else – is really to finally understand Nietzsche: to be in the presence of the “ascetic priest” of On the Genealogy of Morals, ministering doses of sacrificial violence to the scapegoat-lust of the passive nihilists; to understand oedipalization, not as a psychoanalytical theory, but as an advanced and decompositive stage in the politics of ressentiment; to finally know cynical power as the dark infinity of schizoanalysis; and to recognize the masochism of Coldness and Cruelty as doppelganger to Nietzsche’s suicidal nihilists. To meditate, that is, on the tattooed body with its impossible doubling of fear and desire as the (already colonized) limits of subjectivity in virtual reality.

And it is to recognize as well the deep affinity between feminism and the rhizomatic perspective of Deleuze and Guattari. For what has feminist theory always been about if not a refusal of the grand metaphysics of Being, of the unitary male subject, of the phallocentric order of the Subject, Species, and Membership; in favor a world of “multiplicities,” of a dancing materiality of lines of flight and departure; of a world reenchanted by the language of desire? Not the old boring world of phallocentric oppositions, but liquid doublings where the body finally speaks, where alchemy is the rule, and where the terrestrial kingdom of grounded consciousness – the vegetative spatiality of the rhizomatic network – finally usurps abstract univocal perspective. Where, that is, a new language is articulated which is capable of addressing both the disappearance of women under the sign of despotic power – the material language of markings, of deterritorialization and dematerialization, of gestural signatures; and of inscribing a new feminist possibility the subject as “longitudes and latitudes, speeds and slownesses, moments of intensity.” The feminist subject, then, as an event-scene, living at the edge of the material body and virtual reality. Neither really pure corporeal denotation or perfect virtuality or desire; but both simultaneously. A “virtual feminism” which is a matter of decodings (the “multiplicities” in the relational world of the virtual self) and resignifications (the reenchantment of bodily desire). Does this mean, therefore, that virtual feminism is the first and leading subject of post-liberalism? or that the doubling of the body in virtual reality is the transgression which transforms the world of digital reality? Or might it mean simply that, as Deleuze and Guattari might insist, “virtual feminism” is also a “plateau”: a momentary line of arrival and departure for those womanly nomads in search of the body doubled?

These two meditations on the writing of Deleuze and Guattari were originally published in Arthur Kroker, The Posessed Individual. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.