Blog: Feb 3, 2008
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.” http://belkin.ubc.ca/outdoor/
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
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…