Category Archives: Žižek

Žižek keeps his promise…

Well, he told us it’d really happen, and here it is.  I seem to remember one commentator actually suggesting that the ‘always-to-be-published’ status of Žižek’s big Hegel book was somehow an essential part of the structure of his rhetorical style or some such, but it seems s/he was getting carried away (in a Baudrillardesque manner…).

Jameson on Deleuze and Guattari

I’ve just read an interesting paper by Fredric Jameson on Deleuze and Guattari’s Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and I thought I’d just give some comments and highlight some important ideas from it.  The paper, ‘Deleuze and Dualism’, comes from Jameson’s recent collection Valences of the Dialectic (London: Verso, 2010) and addresses a wide range of themes and issues, but the essence of the paper is a discussion of the place of Marxism in Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Marxism as (a) problematic

The first thing to note is Jameson’s view of the status of Marxism here.  Marxism, Jameson tells us, is a problematic (190).  Thus, Jameson’s concern is

to determine to what degree the thought of Deleuze [and Guattari, given that Jameson's primary concern is with their co-authored works] moves within and endorses that problematic; or, the other way round, to what degree the problematic of Deleuze [and Guattari] includes the Marxian problematic and endorses Marxian problems and questions as urgent ones within its own field of inquiry. (190)

Marxism then is a certain distibution and orientation of problems, questions and concerns; it is the interconnection and interpenetration of this Marxian problematic field and the Deleuzo-Guattarian problematic field that Jameson is concerned to articulate.  Perhaps this dynamic/problematic way of understanding ideas and ideologies isn’t terribly original by this point (no small thanks due to the impact of Deleuze and Guattari’s joint and solo work), but it bears repetition.  Where it seems to remain controversial is in its (Deleuzean) foregrounding of the problematic over solutions and the process of solution.  Perhaps all great ideas, at least philosophical ideas, are openings onto fields of problems more than they are solutions to pre-existing problems.

Jameson sees the interweaving of Marxist and Deleuzo-Guattarian problematics happening in Deleuze and Guattari’s problematisation of any compartmentalisation of thinking into mutually insulated areas of inquiry (the psychological, the social, the political, the economic etc.).  Whereas ‘bourgeois’ thought operates under the ideological pretense of the separability of these different areas and their autonomous investigability, Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘schizoanalytic’ thinking refuses to acknowledge the originary legitimacy of such isolations.  Where the ‘bourgeois’, ‘liberal’ trend that Jameson identifies involves

the repression of [Marxist] problems themselves and the disappearance of inquiries that seek to position the logic of social life today (commodification) and the novel operation of a globalizing finance capital within the description we are called upon to make of aesthetic production, the functioning of ideology, and the role of intellectuals and their conceptual innovations[,]

Deleuze and Guattari’s work

displays a prodigious polymorphous coding in which desire restlessly invests across the boundaries; indeed, in which the libidinal cannot be confined to the narrower realm that bourgeois thought calls subjectivity or psychology (or even psychoanalysis), but shows how the social is also a tissue of phantasms, and the narrowly libidinal itself a web of social and political representations. (190)

I agree with Jameson that this sort of problematisation of the compartmentalisation of thinking is at least one important feature of the Marxist problematic: it is essential to Marx’s approach that the social, the political, the historical, the ideological and the economic be problematically interwoven in a complex network of interdetermination.  Even if we take an orthodox Marxist view on the economic ‘base’ as the key determinant of historical process, it is nonetheless the case that for Marx economic relations are social relations, and thus that the relationship between the economic and the social is more complex that one of mere unidirectional determination.  If Deleuze and Guattari have a distinctive contribution to make to this problematic, Jameson is quite right to identify it as lying in their working of the notions of desire and libido into this conceptual complex.  That is to say, their contribution is to see the dynamic, problematic interactions of economic, political, social, historical, libidinal etc. forces as the productive unconscious itself.  The unconscious isn’t some inner realm, but the great heaving productivity (virtuality?) of social reality itself.


Another point of interest in Jameson’s paper is his discussion of the relation of Capitalism and Schizophrenia to good old fashioned Marxist Ideologiekritik.  Deleuze and Guattari say some fairly critical things regarding the concept of ‘ideology’ in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, essentially because they regard the traditional concept of ideology as bound up with a problematic of representation which they are concerned to critique.  That is, ideology is, for them, a concept which belongs to a problematic concerned with the subjective distortion of some otherwise unaffected objective reality, and such a straightforward gap between the subjective and the objective is inimical to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘materialism’, their peculiar multiplicitous monism.  However, Jameson sees a Deleuzo-Guattari alternative to the critique of ideology in what the authors term ‘noology’: ‘the study of images of thought and their historicity’ (TP, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987,  376; quoted by Jameson at 192).  To what extent is noology fulfilling the role of Ideologiekritik in Deleuze and Guattari’s work?

The notion of an ‘image of thought’ is a nuanced and complex one, which Deleuze develops throughout the course of his solo work and which he and Guattari continue to transform right through the course of their collaborative ventures.  To give a rather impoverished summary, an image of thought is, for present purposes, a set of assumptions regarding what it is to think, and consequently what it is possible and/or legitimate to think about and how.  As such, the concept of an image of thought is close to that of an ideology in the functional role it plays in Deleuze and Guattari’s system.

What is more problematic – and this is something Deleuze and Guattari continually wrestle with – is whether and how we could treat of the pathological connotations of the traditional Marxist concept of ideology (as false consciousness) within the framework of noology.  In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze is concerned to push thinking away from ‘image’, to try to think without image.  Similarly, in Anti-Oedipus, where notions of Oedipalisation and neuroticisation take the place of representation simpliciter,  there is a push towards something like a ‘pure’ thinking, without ‘image’ (Oedipus), in the form of the ‘schizo-process’ (schizophrenia as process).  In their later works, however, Deleuze and Guattari come to problematise these earlier conceptions, treating an image of thought as something inescapable, a precondition of any thinking whatsoever; what is at stake is not a pure thought without image, but a change in how thought relates to its image.[1]

Whether or not Deleuze and Guattari can articulate an account of the pathological character of the image of thought or of particular images of thought will depend on the way in which that concept’s development plays out in their work.  But it seems to me not to be terribly important to capture this dimension.  This has been one of Slavoj Žižek’s key contributions to the Marxist problematic: to conceptualise ideology as distortion, but a necessary structural distortion the alternative to which is only another distortion.  In fact, the notion of distortion here makes sense only against the background of an explicitly imaginary ideal of an undistorted access to social reality.  In Žižek’s work, this constitutive ‘distortion’ of social reality is due to the dialectical relation between subject and object, whereby the subject’s perspective is itself a constitutive part of the object.  As such, the subject’s ‘change of perspective’ regarding the object is in fact a change in the object itself, and social reality is constituted from the tension of the various objective perspectives and their shifting interactions.  (These themes are addressed most clearly and thoroughly in The Parallax View.)  That Žižek sees himself as revitalising a traditional concept of ideology whilst Deleuze and Guattari see themselves as transcending the notion is perhaps only a cosmetic difference: as Jameson notes (190), both are concerned to problematise the distinction between subjectivity and objectivity that lies at the root of more traditional concepts of ideology, and which conditions the epistemological conception of Ideologiekritik which accompanies it.

Given, then, that Deleuze and Guattari can offer us a functioning alternative to the critique of ideology, but without any particularly satisfactory account of the pathological character of ideology or even of particular ideologies, how are we to think about the political dimension of their work?  Essentially, I think this normative element is something of a blind spot in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, and it may be necessary to turn to other sources to resolve it.  Between them, Alain Badiou and Žižek have plausibly defended the view that we are required here to make recourse to the notion of a decision on the undecidable.  That is, nothing in the situation will ultimately justify the decision made, since the objective constitution of the situation is inseparable from the ideological position of the choosing subject.  Hence, this depathologisation of the concept of ideology requires us to understand political orientation decisionistically, as the choosing wholesale of an entire world.  Whether this is an interesting consequence, a worrying symptom or a reductio is an issue I’ll leave for another occasion.

The hors-classe as revolutionary agent

One final issue to make some comments on: A key way, Jameson notes (197), in which Deleuze and Guattari transform the Marxist problematic (or perhaps exit it) is in their identification of the agencies of revolution and emancipation from capitalist social relations not with the working class or any other class for that matter, but precisely with what Jameson terms the hors-classe, i.e. those who fall outside of the hierarchies and class structures of social reality altogether (schizophrenics, minorities, experimenters with the limits of experience…).  Jameson seems to see this development cautiously as a positive one, ‘perhaps more congenial to the current climate of identity politics at the same time that it clings to an older political value of subversion and contestation in order to rewrite it and give it a new theoretical justification’ (197).  But I have some worries about this deviation from the Marxist problematic of resistance from within the system.

The crux of the Marxist task of identifying agencies of resistance is to identify groups exploited by capitalist social relations but who, in virtue of their very exploitation, are in a position to control the means of production (whether that be industrial production or some other form of social production).  It is this ambiguity in the structure of exploitation, whereby power is put in the hands of the exploited precisely in order to exploit them, that lies at the heart of a Marxist conception of resistance.  The worry is of course that Deleuze and Guattari’s extra-systemic agent lacks the necessary involvement in capitalist social relations to be in a position to do the capitalism harm, to reconfigure social relations.  This issue is at the heart of the ongoing debate between anarchists and Marxists regarding the relationship between anti-capitalism and the state.  Whilst I don’t want to decide this issue here, I’ve yet to hear anything too persuasive said by anarchists against the Marxist on this issue, so comments are welcome!

[1] The first chapter of Miguel de Beistegui’s Immanence: Deleuze and Philosophy contains an illuminating discussion of the concept of the image of thought and its role in Deleuze’s philosophy.

Revolutionary politics, materialism and the transcendental in Deleuze and Guattari’s L’Anti-Œdipe

[I wrote this essay for my MA in Continental Philosophy at the University of Warwick, around Easter '10.  I've posted it here without any editing, so the format might be a bit stilted and formal for a blog post.  I posted already some of my thoughts on these themes, so it might be worth reading this post in conjunction with my earlier post on neurotic and psychotic subtraction.]

In the first volume of their Capitalisme et schizophrénie series, L’Anti-Œdipe, Deleuze and Guattari give an account of the way in which certain ‘idealist’ transcendental configurations obfuscate the real, ‘materialist’ transcendental which underlies them.  Given this critique of a certain sort of ‘transcendental idealism’, Deleuze and Guattari give a characterisation of the basic mechanism of revolutionary political activity.  In the present essay, I want to elucidate this critique and its ensuing political realisation.  But I also want to criticise Deleuze and Guattari’s political extrapolation from their critical and ontological considerations.  It is my contention that there is a more productive understanding of revolutionary political activity compatible with their ontological framework and its attendant conceptual apparatus.

Before we begin in earnest, I will briefly outline the structure the essay will take.  Firstly, I will give an outline of the examples of ideal transcendental with which Deleuze and Guattari are primarily concerned in L’Anti-Œdipe, namely ‘Oedipal’ psychoanalysis and capitalism.  I will then go on to outline Deleuze and Guattari’s own transcendental materialism, and the materialist reworking of the notion of the transcendental which is central to it.  Having laid out this ontological schema, I will sketch the way in which Deleuze and Guattari envisage revolutionary political activity in the light of these ontological considerations.  Finally, I will offer some critical reflections on this political vision and suggest another way in which revolutionary politics can be understood, making use of Deleuze and Guattari’s powerful conceptual resources.

* * *

Deleuze and Guattari relate their project in the first volume of Capitalisme et schizophrénie to Kant’s critical-transcendental philosophy:

In what he termed the critical revolution, Kant intended to discover criteria immanent to understanding [la connaissance] so as to distinguish the legitimate and the illegitimate uses of the syntheses of consciousness.  In the name of transcendental philosophy (immanence of criteria), he therefore denounced the transcendent use of the syntheses such as it appeared in metaphysics.  We are compelled to say likewise that psychoanalysis has its metaphysics, namely Oedipus.  And that a revolution, this time materialist, can proceed only by way of a critique of Oedipus, by denouncing the illegitimate use of the syntheses of the unconscious such as it appears in Oedipal psychoanalysis, so as to rediscover a transcendental unconscious defined by the immanence of its criteria, and a corresponding practice of schizoanalysis.


In this presentation of their thought as a materialist reworking of transcendental philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari distance their position from certain ‘transcendent’ and ‘metaphysical’, what they will ultimately term ‘idealist’, transcendentalisms.  The two central ‘idealisms’ that Deleuze and Guattari criticise are ‘Oedipal psychoanalysis’ and capitalism.  Both capitalism and Oedipal psychoanalysis put in place an ideal transcendental framework, thus predetermining the possibilities of certain real, material processes (namely, social production and psychic production respectively, although Deleuze and Guattari will ultimately reject the ontological originarity of this distinction).  I will briefly outline their criticisms of each in order to clarify the sort of ideal predetermination of material processes which their transcendental materialism will seek to critique.

By ‘Oedipal psychoanalysis’, Deleuze and Guattari mean to indicate psychoanalytic theory and practice governed by a certain procedure of reduction, that is, the reduction of desire to the stages and dramas of the Oedipus complex:

For, in fact, from the moment that we are placed within Oedipus, from the moments we are measured according to Oedipus, the hand is dealt [le tour est joué], and the only authentic relation, which was of production, is abolished.  The great discovery of psychoanalysis was that of desiring production [production désirante], of the productions of the unconscious.  But, with Oedipus, this discovery was quickly obscured by a new idealism: for the unconscious as factory was substituted a classical theater; for the units [unités] of production of the unconscious was substituted representation; for the productive unconscious was substituted an unconscious which was capable of nothing but expressing itself (in the myth, the tragedy, the dream…).


Psychoanalysis, having discovered this productivity of unconscious desire, or unconscious desire as production (what Deleuze and Guattari term ‘desiring production [production désirante]’), subsequently buries this discovery by incorporating it into the theoretical framework of the Oedipus complex, thus restricting its productivity to a certain fixed set of possibilities:

The psychoanalyst no longer asks: “What are your desiring machines to you? [Qu’est-ce que c’est, tes machines désirantes à toi?]”, but screams, “Answer daddy-mommy [papa-maman] when I speak to you!” [...] So all desiring production is crushed, reduced to [rabattue sur] parental images, [...] totalized in Oedipus [....] Oedipus thus now becomes for us the touchstone of the logic [of psychoanalysis].


Against this ‘oedipalisation’ of desire, Deleuze and Guattari seeks to bring to light ‘the absolutely an-Oedipal character of desiring production’ (53/48).  The problem here is not simply that Oedipal psychoanalysis understands desiring production as Oedipal when it is in fact ‘an-Oedipal’, but that Oedipus takes on the function of a transcendental ideal.

The idealism of Oedipus consists in its displacement of the real transcendental ground[2] of material psychical production by an ideal.  Oedipal psychoanalysis takes a transcendent structure – an image, a representation – and treats it as transcendental; it mistakes one of the ideal products of the real transcendental for the transcendental itself.  This displacement generates a certain kind of transcendental framework, namely, a transcendental orientated around representation and meaning: ‘The whole of desiring production is crushed, subjected to the demands of representation, to the dreary games of the representative and the represented in representation’ (63/61).  The concern becomes how the unconscious expresses the Oedipal ideal, how Oedipus expresses itself through the productions of the unconscious.  Expression is construed as the originary role of the unconscious; the unconscious is construed as originarily a site of meaning and representation. Against this transcendental status of representation, Deleuze and Guattari’s transcendental materialism treats the transcendental as the process of production of reality itself, as we will see below.

* * *

Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari state, ‘is never a cause: Oedipus depends on a previous social investment of a certain type, capable of falling back on [se rabattre sur] family determinations’ (211/195).  This precondition of Oedipal transcendental idealism is capitalism.  Let us turn, then, to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of capitalism, the other key idealist transcendentalism of L’Anti-Œdipe.

In the image of Oedipus we find ‘a disfiguration of the repressed [défiguration du refoulé]’ (204/189), this latter repressed being desiring production itself in its full, transcendental productivity:

The Oedipus complex, oedipalisation [l’œdipianisation], is [...] the result of this double operation.  It is in the same movement that repressive [répressive] social production is replaced by the repressing [refoulante] family, and that the latter gives a displaced image of desiring production which represents the repressed [le refoulé] as incestuous familial drives [pulsions].


Social repression is internalised or ‘privatised’ as familial repression, and Oedipus is generated as a distorted image of that which is repressed.  This social repression is enacted – the material transcendental of desiring production is appropriated and obscured – by capital acting as an idealist transcendental.  How does capital so function?

Capitalism is a complex social formation (or ‘socius’), insofar as it   courts its own demise whilst utilising this very risk as the mechanism of its unprecedented creativity and adaptability.  Unlike previous social formations, capitalism does not substantively predetermine the unfolding of social processes:

[Capitalism] is born in effect of the encounter of two sorts of flow [flux], decoded flows of production under the form of money-capital, decoded flows of labor [travail] under the form of the “free worker [travailleur libre]”.  Hence, contrary to previous social machines, the capitalist machine is incapable of providing a code that applies to the whole of the social field.


Instead of such coding, capitalism institutes an ‘axiomatic’ – money – which renders all processes of social production quantifiable within the same system of exchange and accumulation:

For the very idea of a code, [capitalism] substituted in money an axiomatic of abstract quantities which go ever further in the movement of the deterritorialisation of the socius.


Coding is a pre-capitalist mode of idealist transcendental.  A code, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense, is a certain set of signifiers which condition social production; within a given pre-capitalist social formation, a process of social production is possible (or rather, permitted) only insofar as it is coded, and ultimately comes to express or represent the code itself.  Things are done ‘in the name of’ the tribe, ‘in the name of’ the king.  Coded processes operate within the confines of expressing the code as the binding principle of the social formation.  Under capitalism, social processes are decoded, and hence ‘autonomous’: the worker works, in a sense, for himself, in that he sells his own labour; likewise money ideally flows without constraint through the free market, able to be invested in whatever enterprise one sees fit.  Yet this dissolution of pre-capitalist transcendental coding, this ‘deterritorialisation’, is accompanied by a new idealist transcendental in the form of capital.  This transcendental function of capital allows for a ‘reterritorialisation’ of production, and thus a re-containment of the free productivity of transcendental desiring production.  ‘The more the capitalist machine deterritorializes, decoding and axiomatizing flows in order to extract surplus value, the more its ancillary apparatuses, bureaucracies and the police, do their utmost to reterritorialize, absorbing a growing share of surplus value’ (42/37).

Capital acts as a transcendental within the capitalist social formation in that it appears as the source and governing principle of social production.  Capitalist social production is conditioned by capital, insofar as its purpose is to facilitate the accumulation of capital through the production of surplus value.  This transcendental position of capital is idealist insofar as the transcendental role of capital obfuscates the more originary transcendental role of material production in producing capital.  While capital is ultimately a product, it ‘appears as [production’s] natural or divine presupposition’:

It falls back on [se rabat sur] all production, constituting a surface where the forces and agents of production are distributed, thereby appropriating the surplus product [le surproduit] and attributing to itself the whole and the parts of the process, which seem now to emanate from it as from a quasi-cause.


Money, the medium in which production and labour are allowed to flow ‘freely’, is ideal, at least in its axiomatic function, insofar as money is the commodity which represents value as such in a capitalist context.[3] Hence, as with Oedipus, capital is an ideal product which comes to appear as ‘quasi-cause’ of that material process which has produced it.  Against this idealism, Deleuze and Guattari’s transcendental materialism takes material production as the transcendental process wherein capital is constituted.  I move on now to consider that transcendental materialism directly.

* * *

It has already been intimated that so-called ‘desiring production’ occupies the position of a material transcendental for Deleuze and Guattari.  Desiring production is a process of material genesis; more precisely, it is the process of material reality’s self-constitution:

If desire produces, it produces the real.  If desire is a producer, it can be such only in reality, and of reality.  Desire is the set of passive syntheses that engineer [machinent] partial objects, flows and bodies, and that function as the units of production.  The ensuing real is the result of the passive syntheses of desire as auto-production of the unconscious.


Deleuze and Guattari speak here of desiring production as both the ‘auto-production of the unconscious’ and as the auto-production in and of reality.  This peculiar identification of the desiring unconscious as the material transcendental of the real is not an idealism, in the sense of an identification of the real with the psychical.  Rather, the unconscious is understood in L’Anti-Œdipe, as well as in Deleuze’s previous work, not in terms of an extra-conscious mentality, but as a material productive field more ontologically originary than consciousness (where the latter is understood in terms of intentionality, representation and Sinngebung).[4] At the level of this material field, mentality and matter, mind and world, are ‘coextensive’:

[M]an and nature are not like two terms one confronting the other, even taken in a relation of causation, comprehension or expression (cause-effect, subject-object, etc.), but one and the same essential reality of producer and product.  Production as process overflows all ideal categories and forms a cycle which is related to desire as immanent principle.


In this ‘coextension of man and nature’ there is ‘a circular movement by which the unconscious, always remaining subject, produces and reproduces itself’ (128/118).  This notion of the unconscious as the subject of its own production and reproduction has been elucidated by Ray Brassier in terms of

an illuminating analogy between the Hegelian and Deleuzoguattarian critiques of representational subjectivism: in both instances, it is not the philosophical subject who represents the real, but the real that thinks itself by means of the philosophical subject.  The crucial difference being this: for Hegel, matter is internally animated by mind [....] But for Deleuze & Guattari, mind is a transcendent abstraction from matter, and the categorial distinction between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ collapsed within the neutral univocity of an all-encompassing mechanosphere [i.e. the field of desiring production] [....]

(Brassier 2001, pp. 58-9)

Brassier brings out helpfully here the way in which Deleuze and Guattari take the concepts of mind and matter – more generally, the ideal and the material – involved in any ontological mind/matter dualism to be abstractions from a richer notion of matter: the material field of desiring production, the transcendental unconscious.

So much for Deleuze and Guattari’s peculiar use of the concept of ‘the unconscious’.  What are we to make of their talk of a transcendental which is productive?  Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of the productive transcendental unconscious reworks the concept of the transcendental in terms not of prescription by ideal forms or categories but of genesis.  Joe Hughes[5] provides a succinct formulation of this genetic reworking of the transcendental:

The Kantian transcendental is formal and conditioning.  It contains the forms of possible experience, and [...] these forms are ‘expressed’ in an empirical consciousness.  Insofar as these forms are pregiven outside of a genesis, formalism is an idealism. [...] Genesis doesn’t presuppose ideal forms.  It actually produces them at the same time that it produces a subject and the representations which fascinate that subject.  The transcendental in Deleuze is the site of genesis of form rather than a set of pure and pregiven forms.

(Hughes 2008, p. 56)

Transcendental production is productive of the ideal and formal structures of constituted reality; these structures are not pregiven as determinants of how reality can unfold.  (This will prove crucial to the political implications of Deleuze and Guattari’s transcendental materialism.)

We have clarified Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the transcendental desiring unconscious as productive, but what of its being productive both of and in reality?  This is the immanence of the transcendental upon which Deleuze and Guattari so insist.  In the Kantian context, there is a sense in which the transcendental is transcendent, insofar as the transcendental subject and the transcendental object are ‘outside’ the empirical reality they co-constitute.  But essential to Deleuze and Guattari’s reworking of the transcendental is the ‘absolutisation of immanence’;[6] ultimately, everything occurs on a single ontological plane.

Miguel de Beistegui gives a clear formulation of this peculiar immanence of the transcendental in Deleuze’s (and by extrapolation Deleuze and Guattari’s) thought:

There is no longer a ground, a subjectivity, a thinking thing, qualitatively different from the real itself, and to which the real would be given.  There is only the real, which is univocal.  And if philosophy continues to identify a transcendental horizon of the real, that horizon is entirely immanent to it – immanent, and yet somehow in excess of it. [...] This excess is not a transcendence, since it is or unfolds only in the explication of the actual itself.

(de Beistegui 2004, p. 329)

So, as de Beistegui elucidates, in their notion of material production as transcendental, Deleuze and Guattari do not posit anything over and above the real itself, understood as material.  Yet insofar as it is a perpetual process of production this real is in excess of itself; there is a certain distance within the real between pre-individual matter and individuated, (more or less) stable objects.  The relation between these two aspects of the real, to quote de Beistegui once again, is one of ‘production through differentiation’ (2004, p. 330).  In L’Anti-Œdipe, the term for this ‘differentiation’ is ‘deterritorialisation’.  Deterritorialisation is the proliferation of differences within a situation through the dis- and re-organisation of its fragmentary parts.  Through deterritorialisation, reality overcomes its existing coordinates, is disorganised and reconfigured.  This is the productivity of the real, its immanent transcendental horizon, which is constrained and channelled by ideal transcendentals into an expressive mode, bound to repeat endlessly the ideal forms which constrain it.  This is the productivity Deleuze and Guattari mean to identify and – in their new materialist critical revolution – to free and facilitate.

* * *

How does all this bear on politics?  The first thing to say is that politics is a material process.  This much is clear from Deleuze and Guattari’s claim that reality consists in a field of material processes.  Thus, given Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of the ideal prescription of material processes, we can identify as the primary political consequence of their transcendental materialism a critique of any ideal prescription of real politics.  But we should add the important further specification that, for Deleuze and Guattari, the revolutionary political process is desiring production itself; revolution resides in the free activity of desiring production:

Despite what certain revolutionaries think, desire is in its essence revolutionary [...] and no society can tolerate a position of true desire without its structures of exploitation, servitude and hierarchy being compromised. [...] Desire doesn’t “want” revolution, it is revolutionary by itself and as though involuntarily, in wanting what it wants.


As such, revolutionary political activity – of which Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘schizoanalysis’ is intended to make psychoanalytic practice an integral part – is to be understood as the maximisation of the deterritorialising tendencies of capitalism, pushing them to their limit: the decomposition of the ‘socius’ itself.  Free desiring production, as revolutionary, is that tendency within capitalism which takes capitalism beyond itself, beyond any ideal predetermination of social production:

[...] desiring production is at the limit of social production; decoded flows, at the limit of codes and territorialities; the body without organs, at the limit of the socius.  We will speak of absolute limit every time schizo-flows pass through the wall, scramble all the codes and deterritorialize the socius: the body without organs is the deterritorialized socius, wilderness where the decoded flows of desire run free, end of the world, apocalypse.


The limit of any social composition whatsoever, then, is this ‘body without organs’, that is, a space of social production generative of its own form, without forms imposed upon it as ideals fully constituted outside social production itself.

Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that the body without organs is not a stable state that can be perpetually maintained.  Every deterritorialisation is accompanied by a reterritorialisation:

[...] there is no deterritorialization of the flows of schizophrenic desire that is not accompanied by global or local re-territorializations, which always reconstitute shores of representation.


Thus, the political drive of their transcendental materialism is not that of maintaining a deterritorialised socius; a space constituted as deterritorialised is not maintainable.  Rather, it is the perpetuation of the process of deterritorialisation, the perpetual pushing of social production to its limits, which Deleuze and Guattari identify as the materialist revolutionary endeavour.  ‘We’ll never go far enough in deterritorialization’ (458/417), in the cultivation of the productivity of desiring production against the prescription of its limits by ideal structures.

* * *

Should we follow Deleuze and Guattari in identifying the revolutionary gesture as that of refusing to prescribe in already constituted ideals the limits of material productivity?  Is revolutionary politics a matter of maximising the creativity of capitalism, understood as the limit point of any social formation whatsoever?  In giving an answer to this question, it is important to take account of the reasons why Deleuze and Guattari see their resistance of ideal prescription as revolutionary.

Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of deterritorialisation – the decomposition of ideal structures of transcendental prescription – as revolutionary derives from their identification of such ideal transcendental forms as repressive.  For Deleuze and Guattari, the mechanism of (psychic and social) repression is the institution of an ideal transcendental framework.  This is the case insofar as ‘[p]roduction as process overflows all ideal categories’ (10/5), so that the institution of ideal categories as transcendentally prescriptive of material production requires a reduction of the latter, along with an accompanying distortion of desiring production’s real creative powers.  Given the necessity of the reduction of material production in order for it to be contained by ideal categories, therefore, ideal prescription limits what material production can do, and it is in this very basic sense of limiting what material processes can do that ideal prescription is repressive.

But is this notion of repression, and thus Deleuze and Guattari’s accompanying notion of revolution, too simplistic?  In Deleuze and Guattari’s work there seems to be an appreciation of freedom understood as autonomy, that is, self-determination, which is an essential part of the Kantian and Marxist legacies to which they are crucially indebted.  Their advocacy of a promulgation of the immanence of the transcendental, and along with it a disruption of the transcendental use of structures transcendent of material production, is their attempt to do justice to this self-determinative characterisation of freedom.  However, Deleuze and Guattari – writing shortly after the notorious events of May ’68 – did not anticipate the precise way in which the emancipatory demands of the late ’60s and early ’70s would come in the subsequent decades to be re-appropriated by capitalism, thus rendering Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of self-determinative freedom problematic.  Slavoj Žižek’s work has been important in acutely highlighting the ways in which the understanding of self-determination as the maximal removal of limits on free creativity has been all too easily appropriated by capitalism in constructing a new repressive configuration.  ‘Permissiveness’ – plausibly a key achievement of the deterritorialisation of previously dominant conservative dogmas undertaken by the various political struggles for ‘equality’ and ‘liberty’ of the ’60s and ’70s – has come to function as a new mechanism of control.[7]

While such a re-appropriation – reterritorialisation – of the products of deterritorialisation is precisely the sort of manoeuvre Deleuze and Guattari suggest, in L’Anti-Œdipe, tends to occur, the unanticipated shift is the way in which deterritorialisation itself, the proliferation of free creativity against constricting territorialities, has been appropriated by contemporary capitalism as a repressive mechanism.  Deterritorialisation has come to be a repressive mechanism insofar as the decomposition of any fixed, constituted social position undermines attempts to ‘get a grip’ on the site of any emancipatory struggle.  As Peter Hallward has remarked in a recent discussion of Deleuze and politics:

In my experience, if you talk to people who are engaged in labour struggles – for example trying to organise a group of immigrant workers in California – or to people who are fighting to strengthen the social movements in Haiti or Bolivia, what they constantly say is: ‘we are too weak and what we need is some form of continuity and strength, and our enemies are constantly trying to bust it up, to break it up, to fragment it, to divide us, to make it provisional, to reject any kind of consolidation of the instruments that we need to strengthen our hand.’

(Alliez et al. 2010, p. 158)

Whilst deterritorialisation decomposes existing ideal-transcendental structures, forcing a reconfigured reterritorialisation, this decomposition of fixed transcendental structures is today generally put to use by global capitalism to destabilise and obscure the unities of purpose and possibilities for collective struggle that are needed for emancipatory struggle to get off the ground.  The fragmented body politic is incapable of envisaging its own potential for collective, unified decision and action.

However, Deleuze and Guattari’s critical framework provides us with the conceptual tools to understand revolution differently and, given the developments in capitalist mechanisms of repression since the publication of L’Anti-Œdipe, more productively from a political perspective.  Given the inevitable reterritorialisation of any process of decomposition of the existing social configuration (as proclaimed by Deleuze and Guattari themselves), we should understand the revolutionary gesture not just in terms of deterritorialisation but in terms of the sort of structures we find ourselves with in the wake of reterritorialisation.  That is to say, revolution is not just a matter of disrupting any idealist modes of transcendental, but of disrupting the particular set of existing ideal prescriptive transcendental structures so as to institute a new set of such structures.

If revolutionary political activity is to be seen as capable of overthrowing capitalism, rather than simply as forcing its expansion or mutation through a flash of excessive yet nonetheless rapidly reterritorialised productivity, it must concern itself with the creation of new ideals that will come to be transcendentally prescriptive.  In this respect, I agree with the thrust of Slavoj Žižek’s recent work:

The key test of every radical emancipatory movement is [...] to what extent it transforms on a daily basis the practico-inert[8] institutional practices which gain the upper hand once the fervor of the struggle is over and people return to business as usual.  The success of a revolution should not be measured by the sublime awe of its ecstatic moments, but by the changes the big Event leaves at the level of the everyday, the day after the insurrection.

(Žižek 2009, p. 154)

This shift requires us to equip ourselves with a less simplistic notion of freedom as self-determination.  Rather than self-determination as immediate auto-production, we should understand self-determination as the deliberate creation of ideal structures of transcendental prescription.  Freedom is thus construed not as an absence of limits but as a designation of one’s own limits.

* * *

I will bring this essay to a close with a brief summary of its conclusions.  We have seen that Deleuze and Guattari offer us a complex account of what they take to be the ontological bases of a certain kind of repression.  In so doing, they provide us with a general analytical schema for understanding the dynamics of social formations.  Building on this account of the ontological dynamics of psycho-social life and repression, they give a characterisation of revolutionary resistance to this repression.  Having endeavoured to elucidate a pertinent but necessarily small segment of this heaving conceptual apparatus, I have gone on in the latter part of the essay to suggest that these positive political suggestions are not ultimately productive given our contemporary political conjuncture.  Instead, still working within the ontological apparatus of L’Anti-Œdipe, I have suggested that a mobilisation of the very structures that Deleuze and Guattari characterise as repressive might today provide the key to a renewal of revolutionary politics.  In doing so, I hope not to have simply criticised or dismissed this limitlessly investigable text, but to have found new ways to put its machinations to use.  I hope, therefore, that my criticisms are productive, in the spirit of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought.


Abou-Rihan, F. (2008), Deleuze and Guattari: A Psychoanalytic Itinerary, London and New York: Continuum.

Alliez, É. et al. (2010), ‘Deleuzian Politics? A Roundtable Discussion’, New Formations: A Journal of Culture/Theory/Politics 68, 147-87.

Baudrillard, J. (1968), Le Système des objets, Paris: Gallimard.

Brassier, R. (2001), Alien Theory: The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter [unpublished thesis, University of Warwick].

Chiesa, L. (2007), Subjectivity and Otherness: A Philosophical Reading of Lacan, London and Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

de Beistegui, M. (2004), Truth and Genesis: Philosophy as Differential Ontology, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

DeLanda, M. (2002), Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, London and New York: Continuum.

Deleuze, G. (1968), Différence et répétition, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1973 [2004]), L’Anti-Œdipe: Capitalisme et schizophrénie, Paris: Minuit; Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. R. Hurley, M. Seem and H. R. Lane, London and New York: Continuum.

————— (1975), Kafka: Pour une literature mineure, Paris: Minuit.

————— (1980), Mille plateaux: Capitalisme et schizophrénie, Paris: Minuit.

Hallward, P. (2006), Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, London and New York: Verso.

Harvey, D. (2006), The Limits to Capital, London and New York: Verso.

Hughes, J. (2008), Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation, London and New York: Continuum.

Kerslake, C. (2007), Deleuze and the Unconscious, London and New York: Continuum.

Laplanche, J. and Pontalis, J. B. (1973), The Language of Psycho-Analysis, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith, London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis.

Mullarkey, J. (2006), Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline, London and New York: Continuum.

Sartre, J.-P. (1985), Critique de la raison dialectique, vol. 1: Théorie des ensembles pratiques, Paris: Gallimard.

Žižek, S. (2004), Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences, London and New York: Routledge.

————— (2009), First as Tragedy, then as Farce, London and New York: Verso.

[1] Numerals in brackets refer to Deleuze and Guattari (1973 [2004]).  References give the pagination of the French edition followed by that of the English edition.  The translation is modified where obscurely motivated or cumbersome deviations are made from the original text.  Such deviations in the existing English translation abound, as has been noted elsewhere by Fadi Abou-Rihan (2008), who states that the ‘staccato tone’ (p. 32) of the original French ‘is often completely lost in the English translation’ (p. 138n29).

[2] The term ‘ground’ is used with some trepidation here, insofar as, for Deleuze, the transcendental as material genesis is ground only as unground [sans-fond]; that is to say, insofar as the ‘ground’ of the real is indeterminate, processual and immanent to the real itself, the transcendental ‘ground’ of reality is groundlessness.  For Deleuze’s account of the relation between ground and unground, cf. Deleuze (1968, pp. 349-55); for a clear elucidation of the role of this notion of ungrounding in Deleuze’s thought, cf. de Beistegui (2004, pp. 19-23, 330).

[3] For a clear exposition of the Marxian economic framework that forms the background of Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of capitalism, cf. Harvey (2006), esp. pp. 9-13.

[4] For a fascinating account of the multifarious influences on and development of Deleuze’s (and Deleuze and Guattari’s) understanding of the unconscious, highlighting Deleuze’s place in a tradition of thinking about the unconscious distinct from, and indeed older than, the Freudian tradition, cf. Kerslake (2007).

[5] Although Hughes work provides some illuminating insights into Deleuze’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, I ultimately disagree with the phenomenological interpretation of that thought which Hughes offers.  I have more sympathy for materialistic and scientifically-orientated interpretations of Deleuze’s and Deleuze and Guattari’s work, such as those defended by de Beistegui (2004), Manuel DeLanda (2002) and others.

[6] A phrase I owe to John Mullarkey, who places especial emphasis on this notion of immanence in Deleuze’s work in his 2006.

[7] Jean Baudrillard’s early work, Le Système des objets (1968), also makes some prescient insights into the re-appropriation by capitalism of the ‘liberation’ of the ’60s.

[8] Žižek is referring here to a concept from Sartre’s Critique de la raison dialectique.  The ‘practico-inert’ is the ‘institutional structure’ of our social reality (Žižek 2009, p. 154), the neutral background of our general collective inactivity.  Cf. Sartre (1985, bk. 1, esp. pp. 296-307).

Neurotic subtraction, psychotic subtraction – resisting from within the Symbolic

I’ve been trying to get clear recently on what precisely is at stake in the difference between Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘schizoanalytic’ politics as they outline it in L’Anti-Œdipe and Slavoj Žižek’s more orthodoxly (Lacanian) psychoanalytic Ideologiekritik (outlined perhaps most clearly in the final chapters of The Parallax View).  The conclusion I’ve come to is that Žižek has a more nuanced understanding of the Symbolic than Deleuze and Guattari and so is able to better theorise a position of resistance within the Symbolic itself – a position which is structurally speaking a kind of hysterical neurosis.  This is interesting in relation to Deleuze and Guattari’s identification of revolution(ising) with psychosis (specifically schizophrenia, processually understood), as Deleuze and Guattari and Žižek thus associate a ‘subtractive’ politics (I’ll get onto what I mean by that in a minute) with radically opposed metapsychological structures.  (This should all get cashed out in more detail in an essay I’m writing for my MA, which will no doubt appear here at some point, but these are my preliminary thoughts on the matter.)

So, in what sense do both Deleuze and Guattari and Žižek have a ‘subtractive’ politics.  Žižek actually makes use of this term – borrowed from Badiou – to describe his own political orientation, but it doesn’t appear in L’Anti-Œdipe.  Nonetheless, I think there’s sufficient structural similarity in what’s going on in these two contexts that the notion of subtraction can serve as a useful transversal between the two political projects.  What’s at stake in both Deleuze and Guattari and Žižek is some kind of escape from capitalism.  We need to be careful how we understand this in Deleuze and Guattari’s case, as they don’t appear to be proposing a radical break with capitalism – something with which Žižek is quite evidently concerned; rather, they are concerned to identify and follow the lines of escape (lignes de fuite) already essentially at work in capitalist production itself. As such, it’s unclear that Deleuze and Guattari propose a genuinely anti-capitalist politics; we don’t leave capitalism for another space, but live capitalism at and to its limits.

Bearing this in mind, then, we can turn to the similarities between Deleuze and Guattari’s and Žižek’s positions – before coming back to their crucial difference at the level of the metapsychology of resistance.  In both positions, what we are concerned to escape, to subtract ourselves from, is the existing configuration of the Symbolic – understood as the structure of social norms governing our behaviour as fixed subjects.  The key to this subtraction in both Deleuze and Guattari and Žižek can be seen as the affirmation of something (to use a Lacanian formulation) in capitalism more than itself.  The crucial difference between the two approaches then lies in their identification of this element in capitalism more than capitalism itself with different metapsychologically conceived ‘pathologies’ – hysteria (neurosis) and schizophrenia (psychosis).

What is this element in capitalism more than itself for each of these positions?  I’ll start with Deleuze and Guattari.  Deleuze and Guattari understand capitalism in terms of two tendencies of the Real as process: dispersion and axiomatic capture.  Capitalist production deal directly with ‘decoded’ flows of desire, with pure intensity, with the dispersive function of ‘desiring machines’; hence capitalism’s seemingly infinite creativity and productivity.  However, capitalism also employs what Deleuze and Guattari call an ‘axiomatic’, which they identify with money.  What this notion amounts to is that the dispersive creativity of desiring machines is homogenised and contained by its conversion into the quantitative matrix of money; everything new that desire creates is reappropriated within the existing framework of ‘molar’ assemblages by its monetary quantification.  Novelty is contained by the universal applicability of monetary value, the radical openness of the system of capitalist exchange.

So, having identified the formation of lines of escape as an essential part of capitalist production, Deleuze and Guattari conceptualise subtraction in terms of following these lines of escape produced by capitalism itself.  They identify this process with schizophrenia, insofar as they conceive schizophrenia as precisely a process of escape from (symbolic) reality towards the Real (pure intensity). Although Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the Symbolic isn’t wholly one-dimensional, there is a real sense in which they simply see the Symbolic as the realm of capture and containment and fail to look in detail at the internal structural complexity of the way this system of containment functions.  Their discussion of the illegitimate uses of the syntheses of the unconscious spells out to some extent the kind of moves they take to be involved in repression, but they fail to see the Symbolic as anything more than an environment of straightforward oppressive control.

Žižek makes a quite different move, facilitated by his more nuanced understanding of how enjoyment (jouissance) and Law are interrelated with the Symbolic.  Žižek emphasises that every norm involves a certain internal duality, a ‘parallax’: there is the public face of the norm, and then there is its ‘obscene’ underside, that is, the demand to transgress, and enjoy transgressing, the norm in certain predesignated ways.  The functioning of the norm essentially involves a certain ‘unofficially’ accepted transgression of the norm.  It’s in this necessary parallax that Žižek sees the gap in the Symbolic that provides the possibility of subtraction.

The mechanism of this escape is – and this is a classic Žižekian reversal – overidentification with the strict content of the norm; a deliberately naïve refusal to take the required ironic/cynical/hypocritical distance towards the norm.  Now, this kind of naïve attitude towards norms, this demanding of the Symbolic what it really wants from us, is identified by Žižek as hysterical, as the structure of hysterical neurosis itself.  Thus, Žižek is able to theorise a kind of resistance that operates from within the neuroticising Symbolic itself.

There’s considerably more that could be said on this, but I think I’ll leave it there for the moment.  I’d like to just finish by considering the centrality of taking things seriously in Žižek’s account.  Effectively, what we have in this notion of neurotic subtraction is a kind of subversiveness not based on taking a playful, ironic or cynical distance from the existing situation but based on engaging seriously with one’s surroundings.  I take it that this is an important and positive aspect of Žižek’s entire theoretical edifice (and we find the same impetus in Badiou): a return to a notion of commitment, of taking things seriously.  As such, his work represents an important reaction against a lot of recent critical theory and philosophy, which has valorised evasiveness or disengagement.  In Žižek’s notion of neurotic subtraction we have a renewed sense of what we can achieve by engaging with the world around us, and this is something that it would be productive to develop further.