March 8th, 2021

📝 Deleuze, Guattari, and MacIntyre

What do the French radicals have in common with the Scottish ethicist?

I read an article by Edward Thornton called 📰 A Creative Multiplicity about the collaboration between Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari.

‘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. *

This kind of anti-individualism is not a position against Individualism. It's not that we ought to be less self-centered, it's that we aren't individuals at all—not just an ethical claim but an ontological one.

Insofar as we see ourselves as individuals it's because we're participating in a scheme that tries desperately to maintain the paradigm of individuality, which is a struggle against reality, an ideological campaign.

To escape from that scheme, Foucault's preface to Anti-Oedipus provides a tagline:

Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia. *

I think it would be interesting to compare the Deleuzo-Guattarian project with MacIntyre's 📙 After Virtue. They seem radically different in vibes and conclusions but there are some intriguing similarities.

First, both projects are rooted in the "New Left" that tried to recover a liberatory Marxism from the totalitarian tragedy of Stalinism.

Thornton describes Guattari:

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. *

And here, from the book 📙 Learning From MacIntyre:

MacIntyre’s key and lasting contribution to New Left literature was to show how “common sense” Kantian responses to the evils of Stalinism were an inadequate basis upon which to rebuild an anti-Stalinist left. *

Like Deleuze and Guattari, MacIntyre's project was to find a path beyond both individualism and Stalinism:

He asked if “there can be an alternative to the barren opposition of moral individualism and amoral Stalinism.” Answering this question in the positive, he claimed that Marxists should follow Aristotle specifically, and the Greeks more generally, in linking ethics to human desires: “we make both individual deeds and social practices intelligible as human actions by showing how they connect with characteristically human desires, needs and the like.” *

In the cultural reception, I think Deleuze and Guattari are associated with crazy flash-cut postmodernism, frantic accelerationism, rhizomatic hypermedia, incomprehensibility and psychosis, the polar opposite of Aristotelian virtue ethics. The "schizophrenic" aspect of the Deleuzo-Guattarian project projects a very different vibe from MacIntyre's ideal of a coherent polity of local communities.

But this description of Guattari's practice in working with psychiatric patients suffering from the atomizing individualism of Capitalism gives a different picture:

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.’ *

Deleuze and Guattari, like Marx, see capitalism as a tyranny that nevertheless builds the conditions for the social order that will replace it: communism, that is, a society where work is for the common good. They emphasize Desire as a productive force. Capitalism liberates desire from the medieval structures that "melt into air" but also reterritorialize it and privatize it.

This is also MacIntyre's basic view, as we see clearly in this quote from John Gregson's book about MacIntyre, called 📙 Marxism, Ethics and Politics:

MacIntyre argued that capitalism potentially provided a ‘form of life’ through which people could ‘rediscover desire’ in such a way as to discover ‘above all what they want most is what they want in common with others.’. It was this socialized form of desire—the desire to be neither alienated from each other or ones’ self—that could potentially help individuals to discover that what they actually want are new forms of community and radically different social and economic arrangements. *

I'll try to continue this exploration later.

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