Desiring Machines

Directed Reading: UBC: Deleuze and Guattari

Crushing the Unconscious

Posted by MP on February 18, 2008

At the end of the first section/chapter (pp. 49-50) Deleuze and Guattari draw attention to the consequences of misunderstanding the “precise nature” of desiring production; how Oedipal triangulation traps and “distorts the life of the child and his later development, the neurotic and psychotic problems of the adult, and sexuality as a whole”. Within this distortion, psychoanalysis takes on the cause: it says that it understands what is going on in the unconscious–by having someone sit on the couch and express their innermost thoughts–and also that it holds the cure…more talk to convince the patient to fall in line and play his role in the theater of the unconscious. The power of Oedipus lies in its use of psychoanalysis as a displacement or distraction tool of transference, whereby the social repression crushing desiring-production appears to the patient, alone with the psychoanalyst, as familial.

The task for Deleuze and Guattari in the second chapter is to demystify Oedipus, to pick it apart at every important point of its formation, to explain the processes psychoanalysis and Oedipus engage in to configure an acceptable/curable unconscious. D&G feel that their goal to “schizophrenize the domain of the unconscious”–as THE REAL, as productive and machinic–becomes more of a possibility once Oedipus and Psychoanalysis are demystified, but and along lines similar to Marx the key is that this awareness is followed up with (materialist) productive, creative experiences and engagements with the REAL. The schizophrenic will not emerge however, merely with interventions in the illegitimate…

(question still remains about Kant and immanent criteria–D&G mention that they use it and that its good because Kant did so, but for me this is not enough of an explanation to properly understand it with relation to legitimate vs. illegitimate uses of the syntheses of the unconscious. My guess is that legitimate processes of the unconscious must be defined according to what is immanent to it because the transcendent takes the unconscious out of its element, in the sense that criteria which are not immanent will inevitably be imposing some sort of order on the unconscious–perhaps always a confrontation between the socius and the desiring-machine-schizo/person? (am i allowed to say that?), because it seems that criteria coming from the social-machine or order will generally be repressive, trying to extract some sort of surplus value–usurping desiring-production for its own uses)…

uses of the syntheses of the unconscious. Social repression must be undermined by the schizo. The schizophrenic wall/limit must be challenged, broken through, to let desiring-production free; the unconscious cannot fall back into the grip of the familial if it seeks liberation.

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Anti-Oedipus: The Desiring-Machines

Posted by MP on February 4, 2008

Blog: Feb 3, 2008
Directed Reading

Anti-oedipus cover

In between Main and Koerner libraries, there is an art piece by Rodney Graham called the Millennial Time Machine. Basically, Graham’s piece is a carriage converted to a mobile camera obscura. I encountered it the other night on my way home after reading Anti-Oedipus and found that the general idea behind the piece (combined with how we often understand visual perception—the eye continually receives and transmits an image/information that is upside-down and must be flipped back to see “properly” and not live in an upside down world) had something to teach me about what Deleuze and Guattari are doing in Anti-Oedipus.

“The camera obscura, which produces an image that is upside down and reversed, was an influential precursor to the modern, multi-lens camera. During the late 1500s – 1800s, the camera obscura was used as a model for explaining human vision and it stood as a model, in both rational and empiricist thought, of how observation leads to truthful inferences about the world. It was widely used as an instrument of scientific inquiry, artistic practice, and popular entertainment.”

It seems to me that D&G want to intervene in our understanding of that process in relation to the unconscious specifically, and to the world generally (“everything” in their words). Psychoanalysis has seized our understanding of the world and locked it into a dungeon where the Oedipal monster reigns supreme—think Luke Skywalker dropped into the pit of the monstrous Rancor by Jabba the Hut in The Return of the Jedi.


“The Psychoanalyst no longer says to the patient: ‘Tell me a little bit about your desiring machines, won’t you?’ Instead he screams: “Answer daddy-and-mommy when I speak to you!’” (AO 45).

Deleuze and Guattari’s book is meant to intervene in the dominance of the Oedipal framework—to smash it with a whackload of conceptual breaks or perhaps less violently, to say that psychoanalysis and Oedipus (like the camera obscura) have deceived us with an illusion that dictates an incorrect image of the unconscious, of the mind, of reality, and of desire.

Deleuze, reflecting on Anti-Oedipus in the preface for the Italian Edition of A Thousand Plateaus writes (from Gilles Deleuze: Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995, pp. 308-9)

Anti-Oedipus was written during a period of upheaval, in the wake of ’68, whereas A Thousand Plateaus emerged in an environment of indifference, the calm we find ourselves in now.

Anti-Oedipus was a big success, but this success was accompanied by a more fundamental failure. The book tried to denounce the havoc that Oedipus, “mommy-daddy,” had wrought in psychoanalysis, in psychiatry (including anti-psychiatry), in literary criticism, and in the general image of thought we take from it. Our dream was to put Oedipus to rest once and for all. But the job was too big for us. The reaction against ’68 has demonstrated all too clearly just how intact the Oedipus family remains, to this day imposing its sniveling regime on psychoanalysis, literature, and thought. Indeed, Oedipus has become our albatross. (308-9)

The three major claims of Anti-Oedipus were the following:

1) The unconscious functions like a factory and not like a theatre (a question of production, and not of representation);
2) Delirium, or the novel, is world-historical and not familial (delirium is about races, tribes, continents, cultures, social position, etc.);
3) Universal history indeed exists, but it is a history of contingency (the flows which are the object of History are canalized through primitive codes, the over-coding of the despot, and the decoding of capitalism which makes possible the conjunction of independent flows).

The ambition of Anti-Oedipus was Kantian in spirit. We attempted a kind of Critique of Pure Reason for the unconscious: hence the determination of those syntheses proper to the unconscious; the unfolding of history as the functioning of these syntheses; and the denunciation of Oedipus as the “inevitable illusion” falsifying all historical production (309).

Instead, it’s all about machines—desiring machines: “Everywhere it is machines—real ones, not figurative machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections”. (AO 1)

“Everything is a machine” (AO 2):
In the first section of the first chapter process and desire are defined in relation to both production and machines.
“A machine may be defined as a system of interruptions or breaks (coupres)…related to a continual flow (hyle) that it cuts into…like a ham slicing machine, removing portions [prelevement] from the associative flow: the anus and the flow of shit it cuts off, for instance” (AO 36).
Hyle: “designates the pure continuity that any one sort of matter ideally possess” (AO 36).
The break or interruption of flows is not a rejection of that continuity; instead, it is constitutive of it—“it presupposes or defines what it cuts into as an ideal continuity” (AO 36). Thus with each machine there are other machines that are connected to it and the form of that connection is conditioned by how (and which) breaks-flows function in that relation. Also, there is always a “third machine” that perpetually produces an infinite flux. This scope of these processes are essentially the law of the production of production at work; machines connected to other machines, producing and encountering breaks-flows.

The notion of desire that emerges in the first chapter is still somewhat unclear. This has much to do with the fact that I continually find myself clinging to desire as something that emerges from a subject-object relationship: the individual who tries in his life to satisfy his desires by seeking, projecting, working towards, discovering the objects of desire. This also brings out my second confusion, what it means to displace subjects and objects—the implications of situating the subject adjacent to(/outside?) of and after desiring-machines…as products of production.

3 Key Elements of Process:

1.) “Hence everything is production” (AO 4): …of productions, of recording processes, of consumptions. With regards to machines, the term process incorporates recording and consumption(-consummation) into production—“making them productions of one and the same process”.

2.) For the authors, if everything is a machine and everything is production, then there is no distinction between man and nature—“they are one and the same essential reality: the producer-product” (AO 5).

3.) Desire, being an immanent principle (meaning that it is capable in itself to be productive, to produce) in production processes, is a critical component of the materialist psychiatry Deleuze and Guattari offer in contrast to psychoanalysis. In order to do so however, this depends on the third meaning of process: that “it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself” (AO 5).
Another way to look at PROCESS (metaphysical and historical):

“In the Schizo, the two aspects of process are conjoined: the metaphysical process that puts us into contact with the ‘demoniacal’ element in nature or within the heart of the earth, and the historical process of social production that restores the autonomy of desiring-machines in relation to the deterritorialized social machine…Between the two there is nothing but an ongoing process of becoming that is the becoming of reality” (AO 35).

This statement is made within a discussion of the relationship between schizophrenia and capitalism. After reading the first chapter, I realize how critical (and helpful) reading Marx is when trying to navigate through Anti-Oedipus. In one sense, D&G’s analysis/assessment of what the reign of Oedipus has meant for understanding the world resembles Marx’s work where he tries to demystify capital. Both Oedipus and capital produce false conceptions of the worlds in which they operate that have profound implications on how humans think-act in the world (and how they understand themselves in relation to it). In Marx, it was easier to tease out the crucial mode of the implications, Alienation; whereas with Anti-Oedipus, I’m not quite sure if such a singular, causal mode is to be found. I think I understand the psychoanalytic implications, but in terms of how schizophrenia and capitalism operate…I’m still trying to figure out the power of Oedipus.

My first impression reading Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is a combination of captivation, hesitation, disorientation, and illumination. I am drawn in by their provocative style jumps between academic-philosophical-speak (redefining everything & assertions, negations, and questionings—a version of an internal Socratic method/dialogue from my brief encounters with, if I remember correctly, Plato’s writings) and something else—I don’t know what to call it—“straight talk”/”keeping it real” that brings in humor, creativity, and many other unexpected turns. I hesitate, only because I find myself being drawn in too deeply and too quickly into their arguments and style of thinking. I’m not yet a Deleuzian, but you almost seem to have to become one to read and understand their work. Much of what they write makes sense to me, in that I agree with the parts that I think I understand: everything’s a machine? Everything is production? Everything is the Real/reality? “Sure,” I say to myself, “why not?” “Let’s see what happens if I try to think this way…we’ll see what happens when I’m finished with the book.” The disorientation is a product of trying to reorient my understandings of the concepts that D&G (re)define, such as desire or machines, and the diversity of the examples they draw upon, such as literature, economics, psychology, and so on. The sense of illumination comes as a result, I guess, of all the previous aspects I described—I definitely feel like I’m on the receiving end of mind-opening breathes of fresh air on the Schizzo’s stroll…

Listening to a song that I’ve heard many times over, Deleuze and Guattari popped in my head. I questioned the song in a different way, a song I usually heard speaking about continuity and change invoking parallels between racialized slave/indentured/“freed labour” chain gangs working on railroads and hip-hop MC’s rhyming over alienating machinic tracks caught in urban city slums. In the excerpt below, are the words that triggered it:

as if the heart beat wasn’t enough
they got us using drum machines now
the drums of the machines
tryin to make our drums humdrums
tryin to make our magic
instruments be political prisoners up inside computers
as if the heart were not enough
as if the heart were not enough

and as heart beats bring percussions
fallen trees bring repurcussions
cities play upon our souls like broken drums
redrum the essence of creation from city slums
but city slums mute our drums and our drums become humdrums
cuz city slums have never been where our drums are from
just the place where our daughters and sons become
offbeat heartbeats
slaves to city streets
and hearts get broken and heartbeats stop
broken heartbeats become breakbeats for niggas to rhyme on top, but..

i won’t rhyme on top no tracks
niggas on a chain gang used to do that (ah-Huh) way back

Saul Williams, Twice the First Time

All this talk of machines as everything, no distinction as such between man/machines/nature, forced me to break down Saul Williams’ slicing of drumbeats/heartbeats into city slums and “where our drums come from”. How do Deleuze and Guattari concepts capture the experience of the split Williams raps about? The city and village are now absorbed into the capitalistic machine. Their position within it is contingent upon how it fits into the larger machine and the various breaks-flows running through them (deterritorializing and reterritorializing) to extract surplus-value from it and the machines that occupy it.

Is the perceived alienation a product of the persistence (or continual reproduction) of the perception of that split between man and machines? Williams’ verse also raises the same issue Deleuze refers to in the Italian preface of A Thousand Plateaus, the ability of mystifications to operate as powerful constitutive elements of social-production and desiring-production—despite the existence of a certain level of awareness about the oppressive character of those mystifications. Desiring-production is able to, within various forms of the social as products of social-production, produce people-machines that want their own repression. Deleuze and Guattari’s reference to Wilhem Reich’s rediscovery of “the fundamental problem of political philosophy”: “ ‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation? How can people possible reach the point of shouting: ‘More taxes! Less Bread!’?” strikes to heart of the matter. They add that there is no difference between desiring machines and technical social machines, only a distinction between regimes (French: regimen or form of government; a set of laws, rules, or regulations; rate of flow as of a current; rate of speed of operation, as of a motor or engine.). The line between difference and distinction is a hazy one for me while reading this book in that these distinctions appear as having enough significance to produce difference types of machines in the strict sense (AO 29-31). My inclination is to view the line separating distinction from difference as one defined by matter or breaks-flows (hyle)—both a lawnmower and a dump-truck have engines, they are machines, the distinguishing regime being the vehicles they power/connect with…at the same time, the landscaper and the dump-truck driver are also machines with their own engines.

I better stop there…I didn’t even mention the body without organs or go into schizophrenia…

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Marx-Week 2

Posted by MP on January 28, 2008

Let me try some stream of consciousness with Mr. Marx.  For this week readings, I was to read the first chapter of Capital (“The Commodity”), the Appendix (“Results of the Immediate Process of Production, and the “fragment on machines” in the Grundrisse.  In a sense, at this time I am too deep into Marx to step back and elaborate general insights on the underlying methodologies at play in the works—the role of a dialectal method, etc.  However, this may arise from what follows.

“Go on your way,” Marx says, “and let people talk”.  So, let us talk, in a way that Marx would perhaps not “welcome”.

The selected pieces definitely flow together.  The general flow is towards a scientific explanation of the capitalist mode of production, a specific form/mode/stage, in the “economic formation of society”—as “a process of natural history”.  For this science, Marx uses the power of abstraction to break down the material units of capitalism, to examine the “minutiae”, to uncover the mysteries of capital.  All of these writings by Marx are revealings; what appears to be is critiqued in order to demonstrate what actually is.

Our understanding of the capitalist mode of production begins with the things that are produced, commodities.  We learn what the commodity means in the varying modes of production (always with an eye towards the capitalist mode), we learn about its component value forms (use-value and exchange-value), we learn that labour is what gives the commodity the value with which it will be exchanged, and thus becomes defined in relation to money and finally towards capital.

Towards and within the capitalist mode of production, in the process of human labour becoming a commodity, society “appears” to be oriented around capital, whereas Marx would like us to believe labour (power) is at the center of it all. And labour as the productive-definitive component of capital is a mutated, objectified reflection of itself.  The extraction of surplus-value from labour power is ultimately the process that re-presents labour to the person who exchanges it (as a commodity) in an alienated form. Capitalist production is moreover, the reflection of social relations transformed by capital.  Marx gives evidence of these components and their accompanying transformations of meaning/function through abstracted examples of concrete (interrelated) things such as linen/coat, the worker/capitalist, the factory, machinery, and so on.

It is definitely a challenge to read Marx.  Especially when lacking the strong economic knowledge that is necessary to critique the economic systems Marx describes in comparison to other perspectives.

In the process of production labour becomes objectified labour, i.e. capital in opposition to living labour-power, and, in the second place, by absorbing labour into production, by thus appropriating it, the original value becomes value in process and hence value that create surplus value different from itself.  It is only because labour is changed into capital in the course of production that we can say that the original quantum of value valorizes itself, that what was at first potentially capital has become capital in actual fact. (Capital 1016)

Since the production of surplus-value is the means by which the money invested becomes capital, the origins of capital, like the process of capitalist production itself, are based on two factors in the first instance:

First, the purchase and sale of labour-power…viewed in the context of capitalist production as a whole, is not merely an aspect of it and its precondition, but also its continuous result. (the objective conditions of labour—i.e. the means of subsistence and the means of production (also its materials and instruments)—are separated form the living labour-power itself, so that the latter comes the sole property at the disposal of the worker and the sole commodity which he has to sell.)

The second factor then is the actual process of production i.e. the actual consumption of the labour-power purchased by the owner of money or commodities. (1017)

Thus the entire process is a traffic between objectified and living labour in which living labour is transformed into objectified labour and in which at the same time objectified labour is transformed into capital…Hence the process is one which produces surplus-value and hence capital, as well as actual produce…Hence we may say that the means of production appear not just as the means for accomplishing work, but as the means for exploiting the labour of others. (1018-9)

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Week 1: Freud

Posted by MP on January 28, 2008

This is a challenging process for me—to write impulsively—but I guess I just have allow myself to be driven by my instincts…pleasure/unpleasure? Life or Death? Not quite sure yet, I guess I’ll find out in the end whether I’ve delayed unpleasure through repression…

We must be patient and wait for other means and opportunities for investigation. We  must hold ourselves too in readiness to abandon the path we have followed for a time, if it should seem to lead to no good result. Only such ‘true believers’ as expect from science a substitute for the creed they have relinquished will take it amiss if the investigator develops his views further or even transforms them.

Sigmund Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology and Beyond the Pleasure Principle are definitely works that benefit from a comparative reading.  In these writings, Freud is working through his intuitions to come up with answers as to what drives the individual and components of his/her physiology are at work in these processes.

In The Project, Freud’s intention is, as the title obviously indicates, to develop a “scientific psychology”—to situate psychology as a natural science—by examining what happens inside the mind/nervous system and by articulating the “quantitative” aspects (“states”) of the “specifiable material particles”.  As any authoritative science requires, Freud develops a massive set of terms and theorems (many with scientifically appropriate abbreviations and Greek symbols) that emerge sequentially from his logical deductions (extracted from his clinical observations and borrowed from other sciences) in an equation oriented fashion—root-tree thought manifest indeed.

There are some foundational assumptions that I think are useful to understand where he takes The Project, most fundamentally the idea that the mind/thought/the individual/the nervous system/all living things seek balance or homeostasis—a desire, or impulse to return to a resting state.  The measurable units that are this process’ operative elements are the neurons (“the ultimate unit of the nervous system”) and they function to according to the principle of neuronal inertia where the balance they gravitate towards is a state of rest through discharge.  Their reflex action is a flight from anything that excites the system.  With increasing complexity of an organism the neurones must not only respond to external stimulation, but also to eternally present internal stimuli: hunger, respiration, sexuality—instincts.  This secondary function of the nervous system is where Freud locates his psychology, in which the system has had to develop mechanisms to deal with these “exigencies of life” and bring them to a normal state.

(at this point, 40minutes in, I realize that I am only summarizing…Jack Kerouac is much better at this than I…and 400 words in, I haven’t said my own thoughts about all this, so I’ll try again.)

Ok, from what I read, Freud is creating this science as a means to create a legitimate approach for dealing with psychological behaviours that deviate from an ideal-type normal individual.  He probably wants to deal with the critics of his field, but also because it appears that he is a real believer of science, to develop the knowledge about the systems at work in order to have justifiable, effective methods of helping people be “normal”.  The fact that he derives his science of normal, universal human psychology from observations of “excessively intense ideas” (hysteria and obsession) is odd—perhaps this is a misreading on my part, but it seems that this idea of intensity or quantitative characteristics that break through thresholds of the neurones is built not from core to the periphery as his logic generally follows, instead the norm is derived from the deviant.  In trying to map out his science, I find his style lends him to turning dead ends into cases for another explanation or for another new term—for example, if permeable or impermeable neurones cannot fully account for perceptual quality in consciousness, then there must be something else, (aha!) a system of perceptual neurons.  Not that there’s anything wrong with it, it fits with the scientific method.  I still have to figure out why this bothers me.


I think I need to restart.  I need to slice into these writings of Freud, excise the critical concepts that are critical, interesting, and hopefully connected or thematic in some way.  This next attempt at taking on The Project definitely also has a keen eye on Beyond the Pleasure Principle; What is it in the earlier piece (and his other work) that Freud feels a scientific urgency to go beyond in the later?

Freud’s theoretical, hypothetical lab rat is an ideal-type individual. His clinical observations of individuals with “excessively intense ideas” form the basis of his quantitative scale—along which his scientific psychology is mapped out.  This piece sets out to prove the drives shaping human behaviour, to triangulate the object of study between: forces in the world external to the individual that can effect “neuronal” activity, the functioning of component parts of the system—primarily the outcomes of translation between external stimuli and internal instincts (exigencies of life)—, and scientific principles governing the nervous system.  This triangulation allows Freud to project an experimental model or system to put this rat through.

“Mental events” are regulated in the secondary functions of the nervous system, according to Freud’s explanation of the relationship between the system’s anatomy and the principles it attempts to orient its normal state to. The neurones that comprise the nervous system whether they turned towards the external or internal are governed principles of inertia or constancy—that like all matter, neurones have a desired resting state that they are always tending towards or trying to maintain.  In trying to achieve respective states, neurones discharge or give-off; with regards to endogenous stimuli, the aim is to satisfy the exigencies by accumulating a constant level of quantity.  The differentiation between the neurones essentially determines the pathways excitations travel along.

Here, furthermore, we have a glimpse of a trend which may perhaps govern the construction of the nervous system out of several systems: an ever-increasing keeping-off of Qn from the neurones.   Thus the structure of the nervous system would serve the purpose of discharging it.  When the system is reaches its limits, unable to efficiently function according to this, pathological phenomena are the manifest failures.

Within the differentiations that regulate the phenomena, we find important elements of the mind—memory, perception, consciousness, ego, identity, etc. –that are developed in the individual by life experience.

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Course Outline 2008

Posted by MP on January 28, 2008


Week 1(Jan. 14):

Freud—“Project for a Scientific Psychology”
Freud—“Beyond the Pleasure Principle”

Week 2 (Jan. 21):

Marx—Grundrisse, “Fragment on Machines”
Marx—Capital Vol. 1, Chapter 1 & 6 (Resultate)

Week 3 (Jan. 28):

Deleuze & Guattari—Anti-Oedipus
Tully—“Political Philosophy as Critical Activity”
Week 4 (Feb. 4):

Deleuze & Guattari—Anti-Oedipus

Week 5 (Feb. 11):

Deleuze & Guattari—Anti-Oedipus

Reading Week

Week 6 (Feb. 25):

Deleuze & Guattari—A Thousand Plateaus (Selections: “Introduction: Rhizome” & Chapters: 9/12/13

Week 7 (March 3):

Deleuze & Guattari—A Thousand Plateaus (Selections: “Introduction: Rhizome” & Chapters: 9/12/13

Week 8 (March 10) Tentative—possibly over 2 weeks:

Hardt & Negri—Empire
Virno—Grammar of the Multitude
Tronti—“Strategy of Refusal”

Week 10 (March 24):

Spivak—“Scattered Speculations on the Question of Value”
Guha—“Prose of Counter-Insurgency”

Week 11 (March 31):

Glissant, Poetics of Relation

Week 12 (April 7):

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