When Deleuze and Guattari are writing Anti-Oedipus, and writing about these dynamics (desiring machines, the body-without-organs, the three syntheses), at what were they looking? About what were they writing? Where might I observe a body-without-organs? Where might I look to see a desiring machine? What’s the unit they’re imagining? I can see that I haven’t got a clear grip on this. I keep wondering where I might see these processes in action, but I struggle. So, maybe if I become a bit clearer about what D&G were looking at when they were writing, what it was that they were picturing, maybe it would become clearer to me.
The title, Anti-Oedipus, should help. Freud, in writing about Oedipus, was writing about patterns and processes of the unconscious, patterns which influenced (determined?) behaviour and formed a sense of self. D&G think that Freud’s psychology is narrowly deterministic, bleak and inward-looking. Narrowly intrapsychic, perhaps. Like Klein and Winnicott, and in a way like Jung too, D&G are wanting to shift the focus to a more inter-relational place: desiring machines coupling, channeling flows, experiencing blocks and so on, as different couplings take place. These are body/minds, not just unconscious psychological processes. And these organisms, these body/minds, are not just a single entity in a human individual (an individual unconscious); the human body itself (is it a body-without-organs, in the sense that D&G use this slippery concept?) is made up of lots of desiring machines coupling and uncoupling, driven/animated by desire and whose dynamics are described (say D&G) by the three synthesis. Everywhere there is life there is production, recording and consumption; everywhere there is creating, frustration, repetition and difference.
Everywhere. This process that animates is present not only within individuals but also within the socius, the social body. Anti-Oedipus is also a response to Marx. I’m even less clear about exactly what D&G are objecting to with Marx; I’m clearer (I think) about why they employ (but play with) Marxist concepts: production, machines, surplus, capitalism. D&G are wanting to say that the processes which drive the individual body/mind are the processes that drive the social body/mind as well.
So, as I read and try to make sense of what they’re writing, one moment the body-without-organs seems to be the individual’s body (I’m not sure about this), the next it’s (in historical order) the gods, the despot, capitalism. And, as I read, I keep imagining the body-without-organs as the school, the university, any institution (socius?) that appropriates the productive capacities of the part-objects (the people whose labour fuels these bodies-without-organs): recording, appropriating, directing, blocking and bestowing a sense of identity upon the desiring machines (in this case people) who make up its engine.
So maybe D&G are elusive in all of this because they’re wanting to conceptualise something that’s elusive but omnipresent. The book is like a big, rambling, complicated poem, full of allusions, metaphor, shifting images, unconscious shifts, aiming to make an impression, have an effect and create a felt response rather than the kind of thinky one I’m attempting here.
I’m reading Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects at the same time as reading Anti-Oedipus. Stewart’s book is obviously in the D&G tradition: desire, flow, affect, event, interruption, trajectory are ideas she keeps returning to. But it’s so different from Anti-Oedipus! It’s so concrete, so set in actual human lives.
I suspect that part of my struggle is my age and background. Some of my younger colleagues and some of my students are at home with postmodern texts in a way that doesn’t come so easily to me.
As I was about to post this, I noticed one of my six aphorisms from my last post, aphorisms I wrote roughly 20 years ago:
Play: To much earnestness, too great an iron focus on getting to the essential meaning of things, gets in the way of the most important therapeutic activity, which is play.