📰 A Creative Multiplicity
Full Title: A Creative Multiplicity: The Philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari – Edward Thornton | Aeon Essays
‘How could two such different men, with such distinct sensibilities and styles, pursue their intellectual agenda together for more than 20 years?’ asked Francois Dosse in his 2007 double biography. The answer to this question – and the secret to their alliance – was their mutual distrust of identity. Deleuze and Guattari were both resolutely anti-individualist: whether in the realm of politics, psychotherapy or philosophy, they strived to show that the individual was a deception, summoned up to obscure the nature of reality.
From their first collaboration, the pair would go on to develop various strands of anti-identitarian thinking, imagining a future in which the individual no longer reigns supreme. This ethos was evident not just in what they said, but how they said it – writing, editing and rewriting in a strange and unusually symbiotic dialogue.
Instead of pushing for historically subjugated identities to be reclaimed, Deleuze and Guattari tried to dissolve the distinctions that defined and delimited the individual subject itself. The result was a progressive, Marxist-inspired, anti-capitalist politics of joy – one that sits uncomfortably with some forms of identity politics prevalent today.
The reason for Guattari’s perpetual agitation can be summed up with a single phrase: ‘the threat of Stalinism’. Guattari saw how the collective will of the Russian Revolution had collapsed into the hierarchical power structure of bureaucratic state communism. Now, he saw the same process occurring in miniature in every group he joined.
No matter how communal the initial struggle, sooner or later the collective will dissolved into a competition between individual desires – with one Person eventually emerging as the leader, at the expense of the others. Why do collaborations always collapse into hierarchies, he asked himself? Why does the group get atomised, rather than retaining a unified voice?
La Borde was an experimental institution run along communist lines: doctors would help with manual labour, and patients and staff worked together to maintain the hospital. Here, Guattari began to believe that what made patients ill was not their particular pathology, but a form of social alienation – a problem made worse by the dehumanising activities of doctors, nurses and traditional medical systems.
If psychosis is actually a form of alienation, he saw, then it can be fought only with sociability – which relies not on the formation of a strong sense of individuality, but on the ability of a group of people to work together.
At La Borde, his techniques included encouraging patients to participate in ‘therapeutic clubs’ for arts and theatre, where they could forge lasting relationships. When trying to give people the tools to reintegrate into society, Guattari said it was necessary to ‘build a new form of subjectivity that no longer relies on the individual.’ In the political arena, Guattari claimed that the ‘centralist disease of communist parties is due less to the ill intentions of their leaders than to the false relationships they establish with mass movements’. His problem was never a particular person – be they schizophrenic or Stalinist – but the process by which groups break up into discrete units, detached from one another, and from their own lives.
For Guattari, this was a moment of betrayal: if the Communist Party couldn’t recognise when a revolution was happening under its nose, and if Lacan refused to comprehend the force of collective Desire when it was pouring through the streets, then something had to be done.
Deleuze claimed that because the canon of Western philosophy has judged thought on its ability to represent the world, it has taken sameness and accuracy to be paramount.
A man is a man only insofar as he represents his own ideal form; and to know what a man is, is to know the form of ‘man’. Similarly, Descartes’ ‘I think, therefore I am’ championed the centrality of identity and the individual. A person’s ability to know herself is what facilitates all further knowledge, the argument goes. In both cases, the basis of understanding arises from something unique, individuated and unchanging. In other words, the individual is the paradigm for truth.
Not so for Deleuze. He argued instead that thought is not grounded in identity; rather, it is generated out of difference.
In fact, what appears to us in experience as an individual – be it a single stone or an individual Person – gains its identity only as an effect of diverse forces that are in constant tension with one another.
Instead of Lacan’s commitment to the unconscious as a kind of theatre, where individual Desires are staged, Guattari took up the idea that it was more like a Machine or factory, constantly producing Desire.
Central to Deleuze and Guattari’s thesis is the claim that Desire is not individual; Desire runs through people, and drives people, but is not always aligned with simple self-interest.
The neuroses that Freud diagnosed, and that continue to plague society in the 21st century, were not ahistorical pathologies. Rather, they were products of how capitalism had developed through time to constrain and order Desire into a restrictive set of patterns.
Take the nuclear Family – a historical construct that fashions people via a process of Oedipalisation, according to Deleuze and Guattari. Children are taught to direct their desire at a love-object, namely the mother, which is kept out of reach from them by a powerful law, embodied by the father. The result is the passive individual subject, who will turn up to work, obey the boss, compete with the neighbours, and consume an endless stream of commodities. Psychoanalysis plays the role of the police force of capitalism, tracking down psychological deviants and reforming them in the image of the good child and the good worker.
The resulting Freudo-Marxism is a kind of psychoanalytic anthropology that the duo dubbed ‘schizoanalysis’: a narration of the history of Desire, as a productive and impersonal world-creating force.
Deleuze and Guattari advocated a three-stage practice for bringing about political change through schizoanalysis. First, find those processes of Desire that deviate from capitalism; then follow each to their most extreme conclusions, to allow them to escape from the restrictions of capital; and finally, align these different processes to create a ‘molecular revolution’.
Deleuze and Guattari argued that it was impossible to know in advance what such a revolution would look like. Instead of fomenting one according to a pre-ordained plan, they proposed a politics of experimentation. The bodily ordeals of the French dramatist Antonin Artaud’s ‘theatre of cruelty’, and the drug-induced adventures of the American writer William S Burroughs, were two of Deleuze and Guattari’s favourite examples of how one might explore alternative organisations of Desire.
Because the philosophical image of the individual is based on the apparently autonomous figure of the white male subject, it is through a process of ‘becoming-woman’, and of ‘becoming-minoritarian’, that the spectre of individuality can finally be banished.
Deleuze and Guattari’s books speak in a multitude of voices, not easily reduced to either of the two authors. ‘Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd,’ they say in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the sequel to Anti-Oedipus.
‘We didn’t collaborate like two different people. We were more like two streams coming together to make a third stream, which I suppose was us,’ Deleuze had said. Or, as Guattari put it, there was ‘a true politics of dissent between us, not a cult but a culture of heterogeneity that makes each of us acknowledge and accept the other’s singularity’. The duo worked not by asserting their identities in conflict with one another, but by acknowledging themselves as a space in which differences could flourish.