I was planning on writing something else, which I did and nearly finished that, but as I was going through some texts, Mark Seem’s introduction to Gilles Deleuze’s and Félix Guattari’s ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ caught my attention as the first pages mentions “The Anti-Ego”. I mean I’ve seen the page before, no doubt about that, but it struck me because I explained Sigmund Freud’s id, ego and super-ego in the last essay.
Now, to be clear, as you might be aware, Deleuze and Guattari aren’t too keen on these distinctions. To summarize what I dealt with the last time, while they don’t like them, it’s not because they don’t find anything valuable in Freud’s work. I’d say rather on the contrary. It’s just that they aren’t happy with using the subject as a starting point.
But why does Seem (xv), one of their translators, mention “The Anti-Ego”. Well, again, to summarize the gist of the previous essay, id is about the unconscious, about desire, which is what we can’t access, whereas the ego and the super-ego are about the unconscious and the conscious, how we, firstly, seek to tame that desire, and, secondly, how we think of ourselves, how we come up with this ideal ego, the ideal version of ourselves, which, to be clear, is not, strictly speaking, our ideal, but the ideal that we think is our ideal but really is just other people’s ideal. So, going against the ego, be it just the ego, on its own, or with the super-ego, with or without that idealization, is about letting go of such a way of thinking.
But why would you want to let go of such a way of thinking? Well, the point Seem (xv) makes, through Henry Miller’s ‘Sexus’, is that such a way of thinking is ripe for abuse. How so? Well, to make good use of Freud’s terminology, you already are what you are, hence the title of the previous essay, id is what id is. There’s no need to think of yourself, nor to come up with an ideal self as some sort of a goal in life, what it is that you are supposed to be, because, as noted in the previous essay, even Freud was aware that our ideal selves are hardly our ideal selves but the ideal selves of others that are imposed upon us. That, on its own, should be a good enough reason not to keep thinking that way. What Seem (xv) opposes, however, as do Deleuze and Guattari, is people who take advantage of that way of thinking. He (xv) refers to psychoanalysis, in particular, as that’s what Deleuze and Guattari deal with in the book, as that’s a particularly French thing, but, to get the point across, we’d do well to state that it’s about opposing going to therapy, which seems to be like the thing in a lot of American TV-shows and films. I mean, it’s like a trope, dropping ‘my therapist says that …’ in a conversation.
Now, to be clear, I don’t think Seem, nor Deleuze and Guattari are or were against therapy as such. I mean, if you know what’s what, Guattari did actually work in La Borde, which is a psychiatric clinic in France. What Seem (xv) objects to in the introduction is this way of thinking and cashing on it. He (xvi) comments on this, noting that ‘Anti-Oedipus’ attacks such practices and the underlying way of thinking because they make people subservient to authority:
“For who would deny, Anti-Oedipus begins, that psychoanalysis was from the start, still is, and perhaps always will be a well-constituted church and a form of treatment based on a set of beliefs that only the very faithful could adhere to, i[.]e., those who believe in a security that amounts to being lost in the herd and defined in terms of common and external goals?”
If you’ve read Friedrich Nietzsche, this should be familiar to you. What Seem (xvi) is saying is that psychoanalysis and, more contemporarily, what people refer to as therapy, is a lot like going to church. You are expected to be faithful and adhere a set of beliefs. In short, you are expected to be a faithful believer. A faithful believer? Of what? Well, that’s the thing, of whatever it is that people who run the show expect you to believe in. Oh, and, yeah, to make things worse, you are expect to pay for that, for your subservience!
What’s the problem with that arrangement then? Well, it is supposed to fix you, to help you regain a sense of self again, to have a peace of mind, if you will, as Seem (xvi) goes on to point out. Now, what’s the problem with having nothing to worry about? Nothing. I’d say nothing. The thing is, however, that the peace of mind that’s been offered to you is illusory, as he (xvi) points out:
“No pain, no trouble—this is the neurotic’s dream of a tranquilized and conflict-free existence.”
To be clear, I don’t think he is all for pain and trouble. No, no. I think the point he makes is that there’ll be pain, there’ll be trouble, at least to some extent, and you might as well get used to it, because even if you aren’t looking for such, such will find you, eventually. The problem here, as he (xvi) points out, is that you allow others to tell you how you should live your life, so that you have a good life, as opposed to a bad life:
“Such a set of beliefs, Deleuze and Guattari demonstrate, such a herd instinct, is based on the desire to be led, the desire to have someone else legislate life.”
This leads Seem to ponder totalitarianism and fascism, which, if you’ve read the plateau on micropolitics and segmentarity in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ by Deleuze and Guattari, you know to different things, the former being about what you’d expect, a rigid state level entity, i.e., a dictatorship, and the latter being not what you’d expect as it is, for them (165, 205, 214-215), is a certain kind of desire, a desire to desire one’s own repression, to set things ‘right’, to have ‘order’. In short, they (215, 230) call fascism a destructive determination of desire.
This means that, for them, fascism is not Benito Mussolini’s Italy, nor Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Those would be totalitarian states. Instead, it’s something way, way worse that can crop up anywhere, at any given time, which is why you can’t really get rid of it, as such, as they point out when they (214-215) liken it to a body that has these cells that keep spreading, you know like you have in “a cancerous body” and contrast it with totalitarianism that is a body as an organism, as something has a certain organization, as something is supposed to work in a certain way. This is why fascism takes many forms, as they (214) put it:
“Rural fascism and city or neighborhood fascism, youth fascism and war veteran’s fascism, fascism of the Left and fascism of the Right, fascism of the couple, family, school, and office[.]”
And when they (215) note that:
“It’s too easy to be antifascist on the molar level, and not even see the fascist inside you, the fascist you yourself sustain and nourish and cherish with molecules both personal and collective.”
The antifascism quip here is about being naïve enough to think that fascism is a state level entity or an organization within a state, like a political party, when it is far, far worse, as it’s that cancerous self-righteousness that they (214-15) mention. If one wishes to maintain the terminology people are familiar with, treating fascism as a form of totalitarianism, then we could think of it as macrofascism and what they refer to as fascism as microfascism, considering that they (228) do imply this:
“As we have seen, microfascisms have a specificity of their own that can crystallize into a macro fascism[.]”
Anyway, be that as it may, I’m not too fussy about the terms, inasmuch one gets the point, which is that it is an error to think that we can simply point to fascism and then get rid of it. Oh, no, no, no, no. It’s not that easy. It’s sort of always there, ready spring into action, not as some sort of a pre-existing fascist, like some monster under your bed, but as that determination that desire can take, which manifests itself as people taking matters into their own hands, as they (215) point out and as they (228) go on to exemplify:
“[W]e are trapped in a thousand little monomanias, self-evident truths, and clarities that gush from every black hole … giving any and everybody the mission of self-appointed judge, dispenser of justice, policeman, neighborhood SS man.”
So, in other words, fascism or microfascism, if you will, is this self-centered desire, an urge to set things right, having this feeling that one is right about how things ‘should’ be and taking it upon oneself to make things ‘right’, not by coming up with a great system according to which things should be judged, like in a state, but by direct action, being the judge, the jury and the executioner at the same time, there and then, not tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. It’s not even just about dishing out a punishment, about retaliation, in the heat of the moment, but rather this self-gratifying tendency that fuels itself with this fervor to rectify deemed injustices. Everything is about you and your grievances, as they (122) point out, so that it has this suicidal tendency to it, by which they (230) mean that it has this ‘my way or the highway’ thing to it, if you will. They (230) exemplify this with how it worked in Hitler’s Germany:
“[T]he Nazis … thought they would perish but that their undertaking would be resumed, all across Europe, all over the world, throughout the solar system. And the people cheered, not because they did not understand, but because they wanted that death through the death of others.”
Or, as they (231) summarize that:
“Suicide is presented not as a punishment but as the crowning glory of the death of others.”
Yeah, it has this ‘my way or the highway’ or ‘I’m willing to pay a hundred to make sure you won’t get a fifty’ thing to it. While crude, I think it’s basically this ‘fuck you and fuck everything that you stand for’ mentality. It’s when a person is so hellbent on something that they are willing to do anything to make sure someone else loses everything.
Anyway, Seem (xvi) also exemplifies this, how we are in the habit of thinking that fascism is this specific thing, about Mussolini and Hitler, something that, from an Anglo-American perspective, occurred somewhere else and thus the problem of Italians and Germans. I think he is right about that or, rather, that Deleuze and Guattari were right about that, considering what all that has happened in the US in the last decade or so. I think Seem puts it quite aptly when he (xvi) states that:
“Even revolutionary groups deal gingerly with the fascisizing elements we all carry deep within us, and yet they often possess a rarely analyzed but overriding group ‘superego’ that leads them to state, much like Nietzsche’s man of ressentiment, that the other is evil (the Fascist! the Capitalist! the Communist!), and hence that they themselves are good.”
Yeah, it’s like every time people tell you that they are the good guys, and the other guys are the bad guys. I mean, you can be almost certain that those who need to state that they are the good guys are actually the bad guys. Every time this happens in some film, I’m like, yeah, I’m pretty sure these are the bad guys. He (xvi) explains this so well:
“This conclusion is reached as an afterthought and a justification, a supremely self-righteous rationalization for a politics that can only ‘squint’ at life, through the thick clouds of foul-smelling air that permeates secret meeting places and ‘security’ councils.”
Not that there’s anything nice about this, but nicely put, nicely put. He (xvi-xvii) then explains that in reference to Friedrich Nietzsche, noting that the emphasis on oneself results in ressentiment, in which everyone else is to blame, but not oneself, as I’ve mentioned a number of times in my previous essays. In short, it’s reactive and reactionary, as Seem (xvii) points out.
I believe he (xvii) is also correct when he states that the approach of Deleuze and Guattari in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ and, I’d say, also in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ is diagnostic, in the sense that they first want to know what it is that one is dealing with, like what’s the problem, before attempting to do something, to provide a solution to that problem (note that it’s not the solution). I reckon he (xvii) is also correct about how they don’t start from something given and then measure something against that giving as that would subordinate the problem to a norm or a standard, that what’s taken as given. It’s like he (xvii) points out, their schizoanalysis is unlike psychoanalysis in the sense that they don’t think there is one way of doing things, nor one solution to a problem. Now, okay, there’s always something that’s given, at least some starting point, but, as Guattari (59-60) explains this is ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’, we shouldn’t just go with it, have that given, but also acknowledge that even that given is somehow given, that there is this giving to given.
I think Seem manages to summarize their project quite well when he (xviii-xix) notes that it’s indebted to Nietzsche, even though there’s a lot of Karl Marx and Freud in the mix as well. It’s not that they don’t have anything good to say about Marx, the revolutionary figure, and Freud, the analytic figure, but rather that, while working against the system, they had become too much like the system, whereas Nietzsche, the madman, was simply mad enough, out of touch, if you will, to prevent him from becoming part of the system, which allowed him to think of a way out, as explained by Seem (xviii-xiv).
I also have to give credit to Seem (xix) for pointing out that, contrary to what many might think, Deleuze and Guattari are interested in experience. It’s just that they aren’t interested in experience of the subject, as that would be egoistic, as he (xix) goes on to add. What are they interested in then? Well, I’ll let him (xix) explain that as he puts it so aptly:
“The experience, however, is no longer that of man, but of what is nonhuman in man, his desires and his forces: a politics of desire directed against all that is egoic—and heroic—in man.”
To which he (xx) later on adds that:
“They urge mankind to strip itself of all anthropomorphic and anthropological armoring, all myth and tragedy, and all existentialism, in order to perceive what is nonhuman in man, his will and his forces, his transformations and mutations.”
Again, I’d say that they acknowledge the subject, as that what’s given, but they aren’t with going with it, starting from what’s given, the subject. Instead, they want to understand how the given is given, in that giving of the given, as discussed by Guattari (59-60) in ‘Schizoanalytic Cartographies’. In simpler terms, it’s not about what you desire or, rather, what you think you desire, but about what makes you desire it. For example, if you are into beer, then you are, okay, but what’s interesting about that is that underlying desire, that non-human in human, that makes you want that beer. There might, of course, be many reasons for that, but that’s fine as they aren’t interested in uncovering what must have led to it, but in what might have led to it, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari (192) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:
“Everything is organized around the question, ‘What happened? Whatever could have happened?’”
Note how they first got with the simpler version, only to expand on it, noting that it’s not that something must have happened, but about something that could have happened. It’s also worth adding that they (193) also acknowledge that it might be that nothing happened, but the problem is that we can’t be sure. Something might have happened or might not have happened. Maybe. Maybe not. I particularly like their (194) formulation of this in reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work:
“Whatever could have happened for things to have come to this?”
So, things are the way they are, but what’s interesting is to diagnose the situation, as noted by Seem (xvii), to understand how we might have ended up with such and such. It’s very open-ended. It acknowledges all kinds of paths, even the ones that we are not aware of. And that’s why I like their (194) formulation.
Then there’s the point Seem (xix) makes about Deleuze and Guattari, how their work is all over the place and how it is also fun. I agree. They are all over the place, which may annoy a lot of people, especially a lot academics, but that’s the fun of it. I don’t think there’s a dull moment reading their work. It’s a pick-and-mix, taking a bit of this and a bit of that, while happily leaving a lot of what else is there behind, as he (xix) points out. In his (xix) words:
“[T]his is never done in an academic fashion aimed at persuading the reader.”
I agree. They didn’t really care what you thought of their work, nor what you got out of it. If you got something out of it, great, but if you didn’t, well, too bad. I know I’ve mentioned this a number of times in the past, but it’s relevant here, so it’s worth reiterating how Deleuze explains this in ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’. So, for Deleuze (7-8), there are two ways of reading a text. He (7) explains the first:
“[Y]ou either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies[.]”
In other words, you are interested in what it means. Now, if you’ve read Deleuze and Guattari’s takes on semiotics, or, perhaps, Jacques Derrida’s takes on semiotics, you probably already know how this is a futile endeavor. As Deleuze (7) goes on to add, this will only get worse:
“[A]nd if you are even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers.”
So, in summary, there’s this hunt for the signified, which is just another signifier, among other signifiers, as Deleuze and Guattari (112-114, 116-117) point out in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. Then there’s the second way of reading a text, which Deleuze (8) contrasts with the first way:
“[Y]ou see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is ‘Does it work, and how does it work?’ How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book.”
Simply put, move on if you don’t like what you see. It is what it is and what you get out of it, you get out of it. That’s it. In his (8) words:
“[S]omething comes through or it doesn’t. There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It’s like plugging in to an electric circuit.”
So, yeah, maybe, maybe not, but there’s only one way to find out. This also happens to be what Valentin Vološinov (103) states in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’:
“It is like an electric spark that occurs only when two different terminals are hooked together.”
By this he means that a speaker and a listener form that circuit, through which something comes through or it doesn’t. It’s the same with a text that you read. It’s you and the text. It’s not the text itself, nor what its author intended. It’s you and the text. That’s all. This also means that what you get out of a text is not the same as what someone else gets out of it. It might be remarkably similar, yes, but really depends on your background, on who you’ve become.
Anyway, I’ll let Seem (xix) finish his summary of their approach to writing:
“[T]hey use these names and ideas as effects that traverse their analyses, generating ever new effects, as points of reference indeed, but also as points of intensity and signs pointing a way out: points-signs that offer a multiplicity of solutions and a variety of directions for a new style of politics.”
Without getting tangled up on the terms here, what I like about this summary is that Deleuze and Guattari is the point about there being not just multiple solutions to problems, but a multiplicity of solutions, so not only solutions that we are aware of, but also solutions that aren’t even aware of it.
Then there’s the point that Seem (xx) makes about their project taking what’s material very seriously, even though it may seem to some that all they do is to go on and on about semiotics, as they do in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (more so than in ‘Anti-Oedipus’). To be clear, I’d say that they take semiotics so seriously, that it might seem like that’s all they are interested in, even though they are also interested in what’s material. You might be troubled by that as the semiotic side seems to come to dominate the material side, but, if you ask me, they go on and on about the semiotics in order to explain what the problem with the semiotic side is, how certain semiotic systems, what they also refer to as regimes of signs in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ comes to make it appear that it’s all about representation, this, whatever it may be, being defined through something else, as an image of something, as adhering or conforming to a certain form, idea or essence. In short, they are keen to address the semiotic side for a very good reason, which, I think Seem (xx) summarizes quite neatly:
“Such forms of knowledge project an image of reality, at the expense of reality itself.”
In other words, they want to get rid of projections as that’s what representations are. For them, there isn’t reality, what’s for real, and then another reality, which not for real, an image of that reality, to put it the way Seem (xx) does here. Instead, there’s just reality and ways of thinking about it. A transcendent way of thinking about it involves that projection, where you or someone else comes up with an ideal version of it, thinking that that’s what’s what, and then try to make reality conform to that projection. An immanent way of thinking does not involve such a projection. Everything is what it is, as it is, without subjecting it all to scrutiny, thinking that it’s false, in hopes of getting to the bottom of things, to understand how things truly are.
There’s not much else I want to add here, to comment on Seem’s introduction to ‘Anti-Oedipus’, except that when he (xx) states that “[t]o be anti-oedipal is to be anti-ego as well as anti-homo”, that anti-homo is not anti-gay. This is not some latent sexism or distancing oneself from supposedly deviant behavior, like some academic version of ‘no homo’. You need to know your Latin to know that it’s about being anti-human or anti-man, if you wish to use that sexist version of it, perhaps because it’s rather fitting, considering that it’s generally men who are to blame for such oedipal and egoistic views that Deleuze and Guattari criticize. I mean, try to find a woman who was allowed to say much before the late 1900s. To be clear, there have been women who’ve had much to say, but you won’t many of them prior to the 1800s and even then many of them used male pseudonyms so that their writings wouldn’t offend people, by which I mean men.
To make more sense of that connection between ego and oedipus that he (xx) mentions here, without going on a tangent, explaining it the way Deleuze and Guattari do in the book, the problem with both has to do with the subject, which acts upon the subject. To summarize what he (xx) has to say about that, there’s this imperialism of the subject, on the subject, on others and on oneself. I think (xx) think he is right about it being a belief:
“Oedipus is belief injected into the unconscious, it is what gives us faith as it robs us of power, it is what teaches us to desire our own repression.”
I believe this is also what Deleuze and Guattari (130) refer to as the doubled subject in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which occurs when signification, that search for meaning (which never gets anywhere as a signifier only ever leads to another signifier), and subjectification come together, so that it’s all about me and what this means for me, who am I and what not. I think Seem (xx) also manages to convey what this results in:
“Everybody has been oedipalized and neuroticized at home, at school, at work. Everybody wants to be a fascist.”
This is what Deleuze and Guattari diagnose in their works, that people are like this (not that they have to be though) which is also what I keep encountering, every single day (which actually makes them very predictable in their behavior). I think Seem (xx) is, once more, correct about what their project is about:
“Deleuze and Guattari want to know how these beliefs succeed in taking hold of a body, thereby silencing the productive machines of the libido.”
Yes. Exactly! This also what interests me in my own work. It’s just often very difficult to explain because, well, there’s this dominant way of thinking in which the subject is taken for granted, treated as autonomous, having no limitations to its thoughts and actions. It might take half an article to just explain that, what the problem with that setup is, before I get to analyze anything, which doesn’t go well with the people who review manuscripts. It’s like having this handicap, while the opposing side doesn’t have that as they don’t have to explain why they start from the subject. Then there’s the upside to thinking otherwise, which I think Seem (xx) manages to convey quite well:
“They also want to know how the opposite situation is brought about[.]”
Indeed. It’s just that once you’ve successfully diagnosed the situation and then exemplified it through analysis, you rarely have any space left to explain how one might oppose the system or how one might find a way out of it. I think that’s why my work often seems rather pessimistic or gloomy, even though that’s just a part of the story. I think you first need to assess the situation, to make note of the problems, before you try to provide solutions to them. People need to realize what the deal is, why something might be bad for them, against their interests, before it makes any sense to try to provide an alternative to it. If they don’t think it’s a problem, even if it is a problem for them, they are unlike to do anything. I think I manage to do that, but I usually run out of words before I provide the reader with anything that might be understood as somehow positive.
That’s all, for now. I didn’t think I’d enjoy someone introduction to someone else’s book this much, not to mention to the extent that I’d write an essay about, but, I did. It’s good. Anyway, i think I’ll try to finish the essay I was working on before I ended up writing this, but we’ll see. I have a number of essays that haven’t been finished, plus some other ideas that I’d like to look into, but we’ll see.
- Deleuze, G. ( 1995). Letter to a Harsh Critic. In G. Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972–1990 (M. Joughin, Trans.) (pp. 4–12). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
- 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. ( 2013). Schizoanalytic Cartographies (A. Goffey, Trans.). London, United Kingdom: Bloomsbury.
- Miller, H. (1949). Sexus. Paris, France: Obelisk Press.
- Seem, M. (1983). Introduction. In G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (R. Hurley, M. Seem and H. R. Lane, Trans.) (pp. xv–xxiv). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
- Vološinov, V. N. ( 1973). Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (L. Matejka and I. R. Titunik, Trans.). New York, NY: Seminar Press.