I had some big plans for this month, but I just didn’t get enough done. That’s not really an issue as I can do whatever I want with this blog, without asking anyone for their permission to do so. That previous essay ended up being expanded, bit by bit, which sapped my time. Anyway, I still wanted to get something done, so I’ll go through something shorter. I’ll go through Félix Guattari’s ‘Molecular Revolution and Class Struggle’, as included in ‘Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics’.
Why this text, from this book? Well, it’s an interesting piece because it’s actually an interview he did about ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, the first book he did with Gilles Deleuze. He takes a lot of liberties in his writings, that’s for sure, but he takes even more liberties in interviews, which makes it particularly interesting reading. Of course, if you want things to be dull and polite, without any riffing, this text is not for you, nor are my texts, for that matter.
You should be able to understand why I say that he takes even more liberties than he normally does in his writing, when we look at the first sentence of this transcribed interview. He (253) states that:
“Beneath Marx and Freud, beneath Marxology and Freudology, lies the shit reality of the communist movement and the psychoanalytic movement.”
Haha, hahahahaha! I told you, I told you! Anyway, he isn’t just a provocateur. He is actually making a point with this, as he (253) quickly goes on to add to this:
“We have to start from this fact, and keep coming back to it. And I use the word shit advisedly – it is hardly even a metaphor: capitalism reduces everything to a state of shit, of an amorphous and simplified flux from which everyone must extract his own share in his own private and guilt-ridden way.”
I agree. I can only agree. That’s exactly how capitalism works. It’s all the same, all the same shit, just in different packaging. The shit comes from the same factories, if not from the same factory, even though the product packing looks different. To get to the point, and to not moan about shit, he (253) rephrases this:
“The keynote is exchange: absolutely anything, in the ‘proper’ proportions, can be equivalent to absolutely anything else.”
Yeah, that’s how capital works. Nothing is out of bounds. He (253) exemplifies with Marx and Freud:
“Marx and Freud, for instance, boiled down to a dogmatic pulp, can be introduced into common currency without any risk to the system. Marxism and Freudianism have been so painstakingly neutralized by the constituted bodies of the workers’ movement, the psychoanalytic movement and the universities that not only do they upset nobody, but they have even become guarantors of the established order, thus showing by a reductio ad absurdum that that order cannot be seriously shaken.”
In other words, something as revolutionary as Marx and Freud can be rendered into the same shit and put into use in the system, without any fear of a revolution that would overturn the system. So, if you are a Marxist or Freudian intellectual, possibly an academic, you are hardly a danger to the system that you, nonetheless, rely on. You as revolutionary a Che Guevara t-shirt. He (254) adds this that, okay, okay, some of you might object to that, stating that it’s the people who are to blame, not what they claim to stand for:
“It may be objected that one ought not to blame these theories for the distorted forms of praxis that claim to be based on them, that their original message has been falsified, that one must get back to the sources, correct inaccurate translations, etc.”
But he (253) has no time for such remarks:
“This is the fetishist trap.”
Why? Well, because texts never simply open up to us. There’s no inherent meaning to them, no correct interpretation, as he (253) goes on to add:
“There is no example anywhere in the sciences of this sort of respect for the texts and formulae propounded by the giants of the past. Revisionism is the norm. We are endlessly relativizing, rearranging, dismantling all the accepted theories, and those that resist remain under permanent attack.”
Now, that might come across as in support of people who resist such revisionist tendencies, but he isn’t siding with them either. In his (253) words:
“Far from setting out to mummify them, the aim is to open them out onto further constructions that are just as provisional, but more firmly grounded in the solid earth of experience.”
This is something that you’ll find in his own published work and in his collaborations with Deleuze. He isn’t interested in what something means, right here, right now, nor in what truly means, which is why it doesn’t matter whether you are working on something here and now, in this and/or that light, or trying to uncover what it originally meant. It’s all the same, all the same shit, if you will. Instead, he is interested in how something functions, whether it works and how it works, whether something is useful and whether it can be used for this and/or that purpose, as he (253) goes on to add:
“What matters, in the last resort, is how a theory is used.”
That’s what matters for, for Deleuze, as well as for me. What’s of great interest is not what something is, but what it does. It’s not that it’s not interesting to look at something, to examine how it might have come to appear to us the way it appears to us, but rather that it is much more useful to understand what it does, what is its function relation to something else.
None of this is to say that there isn’t merit into looking into things, right here, right now. It’s rather the opposite. What he (253) wants to do is to look at what we got and look at how we might have got to this point from whatever the source material is:
“We have to start off from what is actually being done in order to work our way back to the original flaws in the theories, in as much as itis they, in one way or another, that give a handle to such distortions in the first place.”
What he (253-254) wants to avoid is get trapped in the system, or so to speak:
“It is hard for the work of theorizing to evade the capitalist tendency to ritualize, to take over any activity that is even minimally subversive[.]”
But what is so problematic about getting trapped while theorizing? He (254) provides an answer, stating that it has to do with how capitalism ends up “cutting it off from all investments of desire[.]” Now, if you know what he means by desire, this all makes sense. To go back to the previous essay, for a moment, desire is what makes things happen, why, for example, you do what you do, the way you do it, to the extent that you do it, and why I do what I do, the way I do it, to the extent I do it, without it being about you or me. So, for example, if I fancy someone or something, let’s say some attractive woman or like a pint, it’s not that I’ve chosen to like that person or having a pint, but rather that I’ve come to fancy that person or having a pint. The point he (254) is making here is that there is this temptation to ignore desire in all this, to cut of theory from desire, making it neat and self-contained.
In summary, he (254) wants to do the exact opposite of what academics are in the habit of doing, to open up theorizing so that it’s open ended and relevant to everyday life. I guess another way of saying this is that theory should always be kept open, rather than closed, because it otherwise has that tendency to be reduced into some sort of transcendence, so that, ultimately, everything is explained as the Will of God, or so to speak. He (254) moves on to contrast two ways of looking at a text, whatever it may:
“There are two methods of receiving theoretical statements: the academic’s way is to take, or leave, the text as it stands, whereas the enthusiast’s way is to take it and leave it, manipulating it as he sees fit, trying to use it to throw light on his circumstances and direct his life.”
The former is based on this notion inhering to something, either taking it or leaving it on an as is basis. It’s this either you are on board, one of us, or you aren’t on board, one of us. There is this disjunction. The latter is based on happily taking whatever you can and leaving it whenever you feel like it, without any obligation to take this, just this, as opposed that, to the extent that you want, for as long as you want or for as little time as you want, for the purpose of making use of it, for whatever purpose you want to use it for, or, rather, for whatever you’ve come to desire. This is about conjunction.
He (254) notes that it would be tempting to reject Marxism and Freudianism, wholesale, just because they appear to be outdated or lead to a dead end, but that’s wrong headed. What he wants to do is to take a bit of this and a bit of that from both, whatever happens to be relevant to everyday life, and make it work, to make it useful in everyday life.
The next thing to pick up from this interview is his (254) refusal to separate desire from social life and working life. The problem, for him (254), is that desire is seen as this individual thing, what it is that you think that you desire, as opposed to this creative force that drives you to this and/or that, whatever that may be. In other words, he (254-255) wants to make sure that you understand that desire is not a private matter, that this is not about you. He (255) also wants to make sure that you understand it’s not about this and/or that isolated case. He (255) exemplifies this with how we like to think that the university is about mere transmission of knowledge, from teachers to students, but it is, in fact, the whole society. In his (255) words:
“[T]he problem of the university is not just that of the students and the teachers, but the problem of society as a whole and of how it sees the transmission of knowledge, the training of skilled workers, the desires of the mass of the people, the needs of industry and so on.”
To this he (255) adds that whenever this issue is brought up, it is treated as this isolated case, so that the university or universities in question are examined in isolation from everything else, so that they are, at best, merely restructured and reorganized. After providing a couple of other examples, he (255) states that only the symptoms are addressed, but not the underlying causes:
“[T]he question is not how, today, one could alter the behavior [of people or groups of people], but the more fundamental one of how a society is functioning that it lets a situation like this arise at all?”
In other words, the important thing is not to address this and/or that, what it is, followed by pondering what the problem is and how it could be fixed, but to understand how it came or, rather, how it might have come to being in the first place. It’s much more useful to understand how we might have ended up here, as opposed to just taking it for granted.
The next thing I want to focus on in this interview is his (256) definition of transversality. For him (256), it has to do with this capacity to re-arrange, or, dare I say, reassemble. What he (256-257) wants to do with it is to indicate how desire is not individual, but collective. What he (256-257) means by this is that we act the way we do not because we choose to do so, just like that, but we come to desire it, to act the way we do. He (257) also wants to avoid the aforementioned cordoning, so that we don’t limit ourselves to this and/or that neatly isolated context:
“What transversality means is simply continual movement from one ‘front’ to another.”
He (257) adds to this, foreshadowing what he and Deleuze come to refer to as assemblages in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’:
“The unconscious is above all a social agencement, the collective force of latent utterances. Only secondarily can those utterances be divided into what belongs to you or to me.”
To be more specific, he (257) is foreshadowing what they, together, call the collective assemblages of enunciation, which, in turn, pertains to how all discourse is, first and foremost, indirect discourse, a murmur, if you will, as they (76-77) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. He (257) goes on to add that:
“The unconscious does not recognize private ownership of utterance any more than of desire.”
Here he (257) is foreshadowing he and Deleuze come to refer to as the machinic assemblages of desire in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. To get to the point, he (257) states that:
“Desire is always extra-territorial, de-territorialized, deterritorializing, escaping over and under all barriers.”
Again, this simply means that desire is never individual. It’s never about you, nor about me, nor about anyone specific. The role of capitalism is to tell you otherwise, as he (257) goes on to point out:
“[I]t works as a substitute religion. Its role is to regulate repression, to ‘personalize’ it, as the advertisements say.”
He (257) contrasts it with the practice of confession of one’s sins, like a good Catholic, acknowledging a certain similarity, a certain adherence to something, to that which is marketed to people, whatever that may be, but argues that capitalism is much more willing to make compromises, which makes highly flexible. He (257) reckons that it is “an active prostitution, a ritual that never ends”, a “drug” that makes sure that “there is no more risk of the subjects becoming seriously involved in any social struggle.” In other words, all issues are made private, something you have to deal, on your own, or in consultation with some expert who, nonetheless, keeps it a private affair, as he (257) points out. The problem is that it’s like a game, as he (257) goes on to add:
“It is not so much a matter of defending the values of capitalism as of pretending that they do not exist.”
What else is there? I’ve tried to skip all he has to say about psychoanalysis, because I’ve explained his views on it in the past, in that essay on ‘Anti-Oedipus’, and because it’s just not my cup of tea. I’m not too fond of it, nor familiar enough with it to properly comment it. He does, however, make some good points in this interview. For example, he (258) states that:
“It seems silly to have to say anything so obvious, yet one is continually faced with disingenuous assumptions of this kind: there is no such thing as a universal structure of the human mind, or of the libido!”
And that (259):
“What matters above all is not to reduce everything to a logical skeleton, but to enrich it, to let one link lead to the next, to follow real trails, social implications.”
This is the key thing about transversality, letting things stay open, staying in movement, as opposed to settling down and seeking to explain things as caused by this and/or that universal.
There’s also his (260) comments about identity and identification in this interview. This is something that he and Deleuze keep pointing out in their own work, but, to be clear, they reject any kind of reduction of becoming to being. They discuss all kinds of people in their work, including the mad or, rather, the people thought to be mad, but this should not be understood as an endorsement of any kind of behavior, as he (260) points out in this interview. There is no recourse to this and/or that identity, no “saying things like, ‘It’s all because of your homosexual tendency’” or like “‘[i]t’s because in you the death wish is confused with life force”, as noted by him (260).
As a last thing, I want to bring up his pessimism and optimism, perhaps I should rephrase that as his pragmatism. His interviewer, Arno Munster (260), asks him if his work at an experimental clinic, at La Borde, is crucial to his revolutionary project, a real breakthrough, if you will, or a mere reformism. He (261) responds to this by stating that it is a bit of both. To be pessimistic, he (260) reckons that it is bound to be stopped or taken over by the state, so that all the experimentality will replaced by something standard. To be optimistic, he (260), nonetheless, reckons that it won’t be the end of the world if that were to happen. What matters to him (260) is that there are always tiny openings that challenge the status quo:
“Illusory as I believe it to be to count on an approaching transformation of society, I am equally sure that projects on a tiny scale – communities, neighbourhood committees, setting up creches in university departments, etc. – can play a crucial role.”
He (261) believes that having multiple tiny projects that dare to challenge the system, to do whatever, is much better than taking part in major projects supervised and thus controlled by the system. Why? Well, if you work in such major projects, you end up changing things in the system, but aren’t allowed to change the system, to alter it in any way that would constitute any kind of breakthrough.
To wrap things up, this was an interesting text (interview) to go through because he is as all over the place as you might expect, if not more. In other words, considering all the talk about transversality in this interview, it’s appropriately transversal. It’s also interesting because this took place in 1973, just a year after ‘Anti-Oedipus’ was published in French, and yet he seems to have already reworked desiring machines into assemblages. Interesting.
- Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ( 1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Seem and H. R. Lane, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari ( 1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Guattari, F. ([1972/1977] 1984). Molecular Revolution and Class Struggle. In F. Guattari, Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (R. Sheed, Trans.) (pp. 253–261). Harmondsworth, United Kingdom: Penguin Books.