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“”Deleuze was of course an absolute genius, but I think that Guattari should have been shot.
|—Slavoj Žižek, allegedly|
Anti-Oedipus is a 1972
acid trip book written by French thinkers Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) and Félix Guattari (1930–1992), originally published in French as Capitalisme et schizophrénie. L'anti-Œdipe. The book is the first half of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia series and is regarded as a critical work within postmodern philosophy and post-structuralism.
Like most works of postmodern philosophy, Anti-Oedipus covers many areas of study and is immensely cross-disciplinary. Deleuze and Guattari engage with philosophical problems (both modern and postmodern), politics, economics, linguistics, anthropology, Marxism, and most apparent from the title, psychology. Even if it is seen as slightly outdated, the text is still a good framework for revolutionary change and puts forth many good insights into psychoanalysis and authoritarian culture.
The book is also like most postmodern philosophy in how it is nearly incomprehensible. Insofar as the book promotes psychoanalysis based on the unfalsifiable idea of the unconscious mind, it is pseudopsychology. The book also interprets schizophrenia in a non-orthodox manner that could be regarded as pseudoscience. Though Deleuze and Guattari's criticism of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan within Anti-Oedipus is perhaps praiseworthy, other writings by Deleuze and Guattari have been criticized for being anti-science.:145-158
Wilhelm Reich and Nazi Germany
In 1933, Wilhelm Reich published The Mass Psychology of Fascism, a psychological text that aimed to answer the question: "Why do people willingly submit to fascism and authoritarianism even though it is clearly against their own interests?"
The book compared Germany's descent into fascism to the USSR's transformation into a communist state. Reich's main thesis is that Germany's conservative culture (particularly in regard to sexual conservativism), had repressed the libidinal desires of the population, making them accustomed to being docile and forcing their sexuality to be expressed in more masochistic ways. This is contrasted by Russia's more liberal views of sexuality, which in Reich's view led to more freed desire and hence, a less hierarchical society. Compared to Reich's later pseudoscientific work on the orgone, The Mass Psychology of Fascism was way ahead of its time, raising some serious objections to the nature of society and how it treats sexuality. One would expect a text like this to be post World War II, but it was actually a very sharp analysis for the era.
The Mass Psychology of Fascism was a key inspiration for Anti-Oedipus and a lot of its major arguments can be seen as augmented versions of the ones presented in Reich's book.
During the period of May 1968, France was in a place of massive civil unrest. Though some aspects were in opposition to capitalism, socialism wasn't their main goal. In essence, the protests and riots were a rebellion against the culturally conservative society in which they lived. It was a rebellion against traditional hierarchies in schools, businesses, and most importantly for D&G,[note 1] the family.
“”Everything was patriarchal, starting in the family, where you couldn't speak at the dinner table unless spoken to… You couldn't go out with friends, and never with boys. Everything was forbidden everywhere. You had to obey orders in the factories, in the schools. We were suffocating. There was this enormous need to talk and share. Everyone was fed up.
|—Josette Preud'homme, a 20-year-old who took part in the riots|
Within the lens of Freudian psychoanalysis, and specifically through the framework of the Oedipus complex, it could be seen that the protesters were merely lashing out against the father (the metaphorical father that the state was taking the place of). Deleuze and Guattari were big supporters of the protests, and strongly disagreed with the diagnosis that psychoanalysis provided. To D&G, the protests sidestepped the Oedipus complex by being about the abolition of states and authority and not the taking over of states and authority. The Oedipal complex implies an innate desire to kill the father and be with the mother, but the 1968 protests were about tearing down hierarchies, not shifting them such as the Oedipal view would describe.
As stated earlier though, Anti-Oedipus is very broad topic-wise and cannot be merely simplified as a critique of psychoanalysis (as much as the title implies it). The events of May 1968, serve as a framework for the revolutionary character of the book. D&G wanted to lay out blueprints for a revolution and wanted to show the reader its possibilities.
Anti-Oedipus is often referred to as a "May '68" book and many of the themes and goals of the work can be understood through its relation to the event.
“”Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus.
|—the first paragraph of Anti-Oedipus:2|
When first opening Anti-Oedipus, one thing becomes apparent: this book is really weird. Like really weird. Not necessarily in the content (though that also is a source of confusion), but mostly in the writing style. Sentences and ideas bleed into each other and putting the book into a series of syllogisms would be absolute hell. Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus (the second half of the Capitalism and Schizophrenia series), were deliberately written in a disjointed style to simulate schizophrenic thought disorder.
The first part of Anti-Oedipus, named "The Desiring-Machines", starts with a description of the world. But, it's different from the descriptions provided by modern philosophy. It is a description of the world in motion. For example, within the Kantian view, the world is divided into many separate parts and categories (phenomena, noumena, a priori, a posteriori, etc.). Deleuze and Guattari seem to assume that (apart from Spinoza's) all the systems of modern philosophy are plagued by conceptions of the world that transform it into something static and final. They are not in the business of explicitly arguing against the views of the early modern metaphysicians, they merely want to express a different possible perspective. This they refer to as the schizophrenic or "machinic" perspective.
As put in the first paragraph:
“” It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines — real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections.
Deleuze and Guattari want to construct a view of the world that is "most immanent", or a view of the world that doesn't draw from anything transcendental (religion, morality, dogmatic ideas, etc.) In order to achieve this view, D&G divide and understand the world in terms of machines. For them, everything is a machine. Human-machines, eye-machines, computer-machines. From the smallest atomic machines to the largest "Celestial-machines". To Deleuze and Guattari, machines interconnect, produce reality (through their existence and through what they literally produce), and can be divided and redivided in any way.:1-4
Machines do produce reality, but they're not the only component of reality. For Deleuze and Guattari, the world is mostly composed of flows (bodily fluids, energy, desire, etc.). Machines are not to be viewed as miracle producers, but more as interrupters. For example, the mouth machine interrupts the flow of air, milk, and sound. They also describe the way in which machines interrupt, according to a code. Codes are, tautologically, instructions given to determine machine behavior. And thus, coded flows are the products of machines, and those products go on to be coded by other machines.:38
Just put any word before "-machine" and you'll be on the right track. . . when a word is applicable to literally everything it really leads one to wonder if it has any useful meaning at all.
misreads is a big fan of Spinoza and is using this machinic perspective to parallel Spinoza's idea of god/nature. In short, Spinoza believes that everything is fundamentally one substance (that he referred to as "god"). Deleuze and Guattari make this most apparent with their analysis of the man/nature dichotomy.
“”Second, we make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species.
In essence, the distinction of man/nature doesn't make any sense within a machinic worldview. The things that humans produce are based on nature just as a human is a production of nature itself. If it hasn't been made clear, Deleuze and Guattari, like most postmodernists, are also post-humanists.:4-5
“”A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst's couch.
Deleuze and Guattari worked together for many years at an experimental psychiatric facility La Borde. When they discuss schizophrenia in their works it is thus a reflection not only of a deep study of psychoanalytic theory, but also the highly personal experiences and relationships with psychotic patients they had developed during these years. To their credit, Deleuze and Guattari do want to make it clear that they do not intend to romanticize schizophrenia and even describe the patients they met during the La Borde years in quite humanizing terms. The problem comes with Anti-Oedipus, where they make a distinction between schizophrenia as illness and schizophrenia as process/production. This notion of schizophrenia is one of their most criticized concepts within contemporary philosophy. Even though D&G want to represent an abstract interpretation of schizophrenia (and strictly as a process), they are still often lambasted for their poor understanding of schizophrenia as an illness, not to mention their dehumanization of people who happen to have the condition in Anti-Oedipus.
Deleuze and Guattari define the schizophrenic as a non-identity, a subhuman, an unsociable intensity that doesn't operate by any kind of internal or consistent logic. They also assert that schizophrenics are beyond ideology (at least, social ideology), and exist "before the man-nature dichotomy". The idea of a split or a constantly splitting identity is something observed within schizophrenics, but the definition has changed over time with our understanding of the illness and the book somewhat generalized all schizophrenia into a few traits.
“” He does not live nature as nature, but as a process of production. There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.
Even though their conception of schizophrenia and ontology of machines seem to line up, D&G still want to reinforce the idea that they are not promoting nor delegitimizing the harms that schizophrenia causes. Schizophrenic delirium is debilitating and leaves the subject completely unsocialized.
Within the Freudian-Lacian view, desire is derived from a subject and their relation to symbols of the unconscious (and for Lacan, this constitutes the concept of the symbolic chain). D&G believe that the schizophrenic, by definition, is a constantly splitting subject, and that even though there is a disconnect in the symbolic chain, the schizophrenic still desires. This is a much better context for the solar-anus quote from the beginning of the book, since the "meaningless" desire intends to support the idea that desire is a production. For their future purposes (Chapter 2), they view schizophrenia as beyond the Oedipal complex and the social forces that perpetuate it. In the words of Antonin Artaud, a schizophrenic whom they use as a case study:
“”I don't believe in father in mother, got no papamummy.
There have been some parallels drawn between the Nietzschean "Übermensch" and the Guattarodeleuzian conception of schizophrenia. For context, second to Spinoza Deleuze's most
misread historical philosopher would probably have been Nietzsche. The Übermensch's overcoming of humanity through the rejection of nihilism has some resemblance to the ideas of the boundary-crossing, territory-destroying schizophrenic who exists outside of the dogma of society. Having any form of mental illness being represented in a similar way to that of how Nietzsche represents the "superman" is going to cause some problems.
Creativity and Boundaries
Deleuze and Guattari have a way of coming up with concepts that is sometimes regarded as distinct from all other philosophers. They don't care about pre-existing semantic boundaries and normalities when creating concepts. That's why, without even batting an eye, they assume license to use the word schizophrenia in such a peculiar (and perhaps offensive) way. D&G believe that ideas can be drawn from anywhere and that it's possible to take the positive parts of something useful and leave the rest, no matter what it is (in this case, schizophrenia). They see the wild creativity and boundary-crossing of schizophrenia as incredibly useful and even see schizophrenic desire as intrinsic to the human unconscious. Though, in taking the good, they also have to leave the bad. They leave the perceived uncontrollable and unsociable nature of the schizophrenic to the wayside and see nothing wrong with that. After all, with a "machinic" world view, it's very easy to take some machines and leave others behind. You're not taking the whole schizophrenic, just considering the schizophrenic-desire-model-machine and leaving the rest.
Materialist Psychiatry and Desire
Deleuze and Guattari wanted to set out that they do not just oppose psychoanalysis unconstructively, they want to take the valuable ideas of psychoanalysis (namely, the unconscious mind and childhood's effect on desire), and reform psychoanalysis into a more effective method of psychology. They present their practice of psychology as a "materialist psychiatry" and contrast it from the idealistic psychology they claim has plagued the history of western thought. D&G refer to their practice as "schizoanalysis" and the last part of Anti-Oedipus is dedicated to a breakdown of the idea.
One of the easier concepts to understand in Anti-Oedipus is their conception of how desire works and operates within the human psyche. They first make a distinction between two types of desire that are represented in western philosophy.
- Acquisition: described as a desire of "lack" and is the most common conception. Specifically, the view supposes that desire is a reaction to an absence or deficiency within the subject. Acquisition-based desire is the view that psychoanalysis adopts since the Oedipus complex (the fundamental tenet of Freudian psychology and apparatus for which all desire follows), supposes that all desire is based on the desire to kill the father and to be with the mother.:25
- Production: a conception of desire that rejects the idea that lack is what forms desire. It posits that desire is a continuous process and that perceived lack is illusory. To supporters of a productive theory of desire, lack is merely a consequence/coexistence of desire. This view is utilized most famously by Friedrich Nietzsche in the form of the "will-to-power", a continuous striving Nietzsche believed to be fundamental to everything.:25
Deleuze and Guattari believe that acquisition-based desire is contradictory and has crippled the progress of western thought. Their view of desire conforms more so to production and is aptly named "Desiring-Production". Thus derives the title of the chapter, "The Desiring-Machines". To Deleuze and Guattari, Desiring-Production is at the basis of consciousness and produces reality. We are desiring-machines. Since D&G believes humans to be part of nature, and nature is composed of matter (a purely positive thing, or the presence of something), why should desire act negatively? Or, as the lack of something?
Deleuze and Guattari's main criticism of acquisition-based desire is in the form of a Socratic challenge, 'If lack is to precede desire, then how do you determine what you lack?' In essence, Deleuze and Guattari posit that the concept of a "lack" presupposes a desire to create that lack (i.e. what you lack is what you desire). There is no objective, outside "lacking" in which people conform, to determine what you lack, what you fundamentally desire must be a foundation to determine what you subjectively lack. Lack is seen as a byproduct of desire, the idea of desire being a reaction to a lack is an illusion. To Deleuze and Guattari, since psychoanalysis — both Freudian and Lacanian — rely heavily on acquisition-based desire, they are no longer viable forms of analysis and must be abandoned.:25-27
Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family
“”Psychoanalysis is like the Russian Revolution; we don't know when it started going bad.
The second part of Anti-Oedipus, "Psychoanalysis and Familialism: The Holy Family", runs with the ideas presented within the first part and applies them directly to psychoanalysis and the Oedipus complex. This is the chapter of Anti-Oedipus where most of the major arguments are made.
The Oedipal Theater
The first subsection looks into the background of Oedipus' development and its basic mechanisms. They begin with a way to view Oedipus, namely, the "Oedipal Triangle". Also referred to as the "daddy-mommy-me triangle", the Oedipus triangle is a visual guide created by Deleuze and Guattari that represents how psychoanalysis maps desire. First and foremost, Deleuze and Guattari view the Oedipal Triangle as limiting due to its overly reductionist nature. To D&G, the world is absurdly unpredictable and chaotic (they even refer to the universe as the "chaosmos"). In Anti-Oedipus, desire is seen as explosive and constantly transforming, so the idea that desire could be mapped onto a triangulation is ridiculous to the authors. Deleuze and Guattari believe that modernist thinking has made people want to believe in constants (logic/reason will always apply, history moves dialectically, "I think therefore I must be necessary"), and that drive for groundedness and consistency has led to limiting universal narratives, more specifically, the Oedipus complex.
“”But who says that dream, tragedy, and myth are adequate to the formations of the unconscious, even if the work of transformation is taken into account?… It is as if Freud had drawn back from this world of wild production and explosive desire, wanting at all costs to restore a little order there, an order made classical owing to the ancient Greek theater… And not even an avant-garde theater, such as existed in Freud's day (Wedekind), but the classical theater, the classical order of representation. The psychoanalyst becomes a director for a private theater, rather than the engineer or mechanic who sets up units of production
The unconscious in D&G (desiring-production), is presented as a factory of desire. Desire is produced, and the idea of lack is thrown to the side. Though, in opposition, Deleuze and Guattari propose the idea of the Oedipal theater. The Oedipal theater is a multi-layered critique of psychoanalysis utilized throughout Anti-Oedipus. Instead of the factory-like view of desiring-production, the Oedipal theater develops desire through roles that are represented to the subject (the familial roles are played out and desire is derived). The idea of the Oedipal theater being a "classical theater" as opposed to avant-garde is a clear parallel to the opposition between Freud and D&G's thought (modernism and postmodernism respectively). It also presents the psychoanalyst as the "director", which plays into another critique of psychoanalysis: Deleuze and Guattari propose (very similarly to Karl Popper's criticism), that instead of the psychoanalysts conforming Oedipus and the unconscious to how the world actually operates, the psychoanalysts conform the world to how Oedipus operates. They are, to Deleuze and Guattari, stuck within their own ideology. And as directors of the Oedipal theater, psychoanalysts must make sure that the show runs as usual, with minimal variation.
Within the world described by Anti-Oedipus, there are numerous forces/mechanisms at play.
First and foremost, there is desire. To Deleuze and Guattari, the world itself is tantamount to desire. It is constructed for us subjects via the experience of our consciousness (which to Nietzche and D&G believe to be merely a relation of desires/impulses), and the entire social sphere is founded upon the desires of human beings. Desire runs the world, and humans are the number one producers. Though most prevalent in part 2 of Anti-Oedipus, there exists another force: Repression. Repression exists in two different, but related manners.
Social repression is (opposed to most of Anti-Oedipus), rather straightforward. The most common agent of social repression being fascism/authoritarianism. Being socially repressed is to be put into a hierarchy, to not be a commander of the world around you, but merely a commanded.
This form of repression is used in a very similar way as Wilhelm Reich would use it within The Mass Psychology of Fascism. The idea of "psychic" repression and "sexual" repression are (in the same way desire is conceived within psychology like this), very intertwined. All desire comes from the libido which is linked to sexuality. Sexual repression is fairly straightforward and is merely restricting someone's ability to express sexual desire. Psychic repression has more to do with desire in general, though is on a micro-individual scale relative to social repression.
In this part, Deleuze and Guattari present an argument for why authoritarianism occurs. The argument is parallel to the one given by Wilhelm Reich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism, though incorporates some of the ideas presented throughout Anti-Oedipus.
First stage: The child/desiring machine is created and begins its production of desire.
Second stage: Via the parents, the child's desires are denied.
Third stage: Even with the denial of desire, the desire is still produced, and consequently, it redirects its investment into masochistic and power-loving ways since that's all it can do.
Fourth: The psychic repression and learned masochism of childhood transform into social repression later in life.
Deleuze and Guattari don't believe this accounts for all forms of authoritarianism belief but do believe that it was a massive cause of 19th & 20th-century authoritarianism.
Impact and Critism of Anti-Oedipus
When Anti-Oedipus was first published, it was a wildly controversial and scandalous book. It received tons of press coverage and sold out in 3 days. 
- Sigmund Freud thought up the Oedipus complex
- Jacques Lacan contemporary psychoanalyst at the time when Anti-Oedipus was published
- Michel Foucault Wrote a preface for Anti-Oedipus
- Alan Sokal Famous critic of postmodern philosophy who wrote some work on Deleuze and Guattari (he especially hated Guattari)
- "D&G" is a common way of denoting Deleuze and Guattari.
- I think this is my most favorite quote by Slavoj Žižek, supposedly: "Deleuze was of course an absolute genius, but I think that Guattari should have been shot." by @NxtLvlUWb (7:49 PTG · 17 Dis 2020) Twitter (archived from 16 Aug 2021 18:46:43 UTC).
- Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by by Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari (1983) University of Minnesota. ISBN 0816612250.
- Copy of Anti-Oedipus used for the article. Take one ;)
- Capitalisme et schizophrénie. L'anti-Œdipe by Gilles Deleuze; Félix Guattari (1972) Les Éditions de Minuit.
- Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers' Abuse of Science by Alan Sokal & Jean Bricmont (2011) Profile Books. ISBN 1861976313.
- See the Wikipedia article on The Mass Psychology of Fascism.
- In France, The Protests Of May 1968 Reverberate Today — And Still Divide The French. NPR.
- See, for example Guattari's essay "La Borde: A Clinic Unlike Any Other"
- Beyond Good and Evil, Part 2, Paragraph 36, https://kirbyyardley.medium.com/036-nietzsches-beyond-good-and-evil-one-paragraph-at-a-time-639d51280df6
- Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives by François Dosse (2007)