Xs and Ys: This is not the essay you were looking for

So, yeah, this is not the essay you were looking for (unless it is the essay you were looking for) because in the last essay I stated that I’d most likely be finishing what I started last month. If that’s what you were looking for, then this is not it. This is what I came up with, while working on another essay, which was not the essay you may have been looking for (this might, of course be just what you were looking for, like, if you already read this and just wanted to return to this).

Anyway, now that you know that this is not what you were looking for, unless it is, of course, this time I’ll be taking a closer look at what Félix Guattari has to say about desire and sexuality, in an interview with George Stambolian, titled as ‘A Liberation of Desire’ in ‘The Guattari Reader’. The interview can also be found under the same heading in ‘Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977–1985’. It was originally published in ‘Homosexualities and French Literature: Cultural Contexts/Critical Texts’, bearing the same title, but I’ve gone with ‘The Guattari Reader’ here as the original book is hard to come by.

I realize that I have commented on this before, on how these are presented in ‘Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, in Guattari’s first collaboration with Gilles Deleuze, but something made me want to return to this topic. So, I did.

The gist of this, of desire and sexuality, is to desexualize sexuality or, to be more accurate, to deindividualize or depersonify it, which is then about desexualizing desire, as I pointed out in that previous essay (which could also be what you are looking for, instead of this essay). In simpler terms, the idea is to focus on desire and sexuality, on their own terms. As I realize that this may come across as odd, to say the least, but I think it should start making sense once its exemplified. So, just bear with me.

Anyway, to get things going, Guattari (204) comments on how sexuality is generally thought of in a society. In his (204) view, it’s typically a taboo topic, so that it’s largely censored. It’s very much hush hush then and if someone doesn’t keep their mouth shut, that person will be silenced. That’s very clear cut. But there’s also alternative to that. It may seem better than the wholesale rejection of the topic as inappropriate, but he (204) isn’t convinced by that. Tolerance might not be as good a thing as we tend to think it is. As he (204) points out, people are still not at ease with the topic. It’s like it is allowed to exist, but only on the condition that it’s presented in a certain, normative way.

He (204) elaborates on this tolerance and unease with the topic by noting how, firstly, it is fine to talk about heterosexuality, and, secondly, even homosexuality, but a sexuality that is undefined, “going in all directions” is what troubles the powers that be. He (204) exemplifies that with how something as mundane as masturbation can be very shocking to people, especially the authorities. Why might that be? Well, doesn’t comment on that specifically, why masturbation causes such a ruckus, but I think his (205-206) commentary of one’s “relation to the body” or “semiotics of the body” as defined by authorities and upheld by people is rather revealing of this.

So, interestingly, he (205) points out that men don’t have a body in the dominant semiotics of the body, whereas women do. What he (205-206) means by this is that women’s sexuality is much broader than men’s, not because that’s inherently the case, but because women have greater surface area of the body that can give them joy and pleasure than what men have. The problem with men is that sexuality is not even about sexuality, but about domination, as he (206) goes to explain. I think he (206) manages to explain this particularly well by commenting how men often talk about sex:

“‘I possessed you’, ‘I had you’[.] Look at all the expressions like these used by men: ‘I screwed you’, ‘I made her’[.] It’s no longer the totality of the body’s surface that counts, it’s just this sign of power: ‘I dominated you’, ‘I marked you’[.]”

While this does not mean that all men act this way, that they speak of sex in these terms, as about doing something to a woman, it is pretty common. I’d say that it is generally considered acceptable for men to speak about sex in this way, in these terms as ‘I [verb] her’, like ‘I fucked her’, there being an active participant and a passive recipient, whereas it is not considered acceptable for women to speak like that, to say things like ‘I fucked him’. Why? Well, while ‘fuck’ is generally a really flexible word, to the point that you can say things like ‘abso-fucking-lutely’, in this context, when it’s specifically about sex, there is this subject-verb-object construction that is considered to apply only to men. While I can’t be sure, as perhaps I’m missing something here, it appears that it is very “phallocentric”, all about the penis, as he (205) points out.

As women don’t have a penis, as they are thus deemed to be lacking a penis, it’s the not having or the lack of penis that is deemed to define their role in sex. I remember talking about sex, asking something like, “well, did you fuck him?”, only for her, a female friend of mine, to reply to me, casually, that he didn’t fuck her at that time or that she wasn’t fucked by him. It’s so ingrained that men are the ones doing the fucking that women themselves also end up speaking in those terms. While I realize that in many situations this isn’t a major concern, as I’m sure people have can and do have lovely sex and as it’s not my job to tell people what kind of sex they should be having, it’s still telling of how sexuality is produced discursively as very male centric. I prefer expressions where it’s about having sex or fucking with someone, like “I fucked with her”, or leaving out who it is that one had sex with, like “we fucked”. I prefer such because it doesn’t reinforce any notions of domination, where it’s like something that comes with bragging rights about having had this and/or that body. Anyway, he (206) summarizes what this does to men then:

“This obsession with power is such that man ultimately denies himself all sexuality.”

Why is masturbation such a hot topic then? What is it about that troubles people and especially authorities. Well, if we are to take Guattari’s (205-206) word for it, masturbation is considered problematic by the many because by masturbating you aren’t dominating anyone, because a man isn’t fucking a woman. It’s also worth noting that he (204) refers to masturbation in general, as a matter of pleasing oneself, on one’s own terms, not as male or female masturbation.

We could, of course, object to masturbation, inasmuch as it is just about the climax, about the “rupture of ejaculation”, to use his (206) wording of dominant male sexuality, as it may be and likely often is for men. Deleuze and Guattari (154) comment on this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ by noting that masturbation is a substitute pleasure. Then again, I don’t think the orgasm is the problem here. In my view, their (154) criticism of masturbation is not limited to masturbation. Instead, it’s about casting sexuality as a lack, that you need sex, to get that pleasure from it, so that everything is relegated to it, as they (154) point out. This then explains why masturbation, giving yourself pleasure, is deemed to be a substitute pleasure. So, what they (154) really object to is the reduction of pleasure to a certain kind of pleasure. That certain kind of pleasure, what you get from that release, is certainly pleasurable, I don’t think people doubt that. It’s rather that there are many other things that are pleasurable.

If we look at the other aspect mentioned by Guattari (206), I think it’s the lack of domination in masturbation that bothers people. So, from this perspective, the problem is about subordinating the orgasm to the domination of others, about relegating others to serving you, to giving you that orgasm. If it there’s no one else, body on body, then there’s no one to dominate. That’s just impossible. It’s just you enjoying you, the way you see fit. What’s the problem with that? Well, nothing really, as you certainly aren’t taking advantage of anyone. It is, however, typically viewed as problematic as it is not a regulated form of sexuality, as you don’t need a permission to do it and as you can do it in any way you like, as you don’t need anyone else’s consent, nor approval.

It’s also worth noting that, for him (205), there are men who have a body or, rather, a relation to the body that is markedly different from what is generally expected of them. He (205) mentions homosexuals, as well as dancers. Now, I’m going to skip the homosexuals here, no offence, and focus on the dancers. What’s so special about a dancer? Well, what I think is special about them is exactly their relation to their bodies. They can do so many things with their bodies that most people can’t or aren’t even aware of. It’s the same with figure skaters. It’s all about the body and the movement of the body, in relation to other bodies. If you’ve seen a dancer dance, or, better yet had the chance to dance with one, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the same with figure skaters. I consider myself a very good skater. Okay, I’m not an excellent skater, nor would I claim to be one, but, still, I’m a pretty good skater. I don’t even know how to explain that, what it is that makes me a good skater, how it is that I have a certain relation to my body that makes it so, nor how I became a good skater, but that’s the case. I was like that already as a child. My guess is that I just did it so much, on my own, enjoying it, that it just happened. That said, every time I see a figure skater on ice, I realize that I’m not really that great a skater. It is just impressive how good they are. How smooth it is. I think I would have made an excellent figure skater. Too bad it’s a bit late for that. Then again, I don’t think it does anyone any good to think that way, because that’s subordinating what it is that you’ve come to desire, in this case skating, to success, for example in competitions, which is to say that it is then constituted as a lack that one seeks to fulfil. You can then only get pleasure from it if you succeed. Success is then that substitute pleasure that Deleuze and Guattari (154) mention. You seek to attain it and even if you reach it, you can only enjoy it for a brief moment, before you need succeed again, and again, and again, never really able to maintain it. I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty miserable way to live. So, yeah, oddly enough, that’s exactly how sexuality tends to viewed, as not enjoying the ride, but the end of the ride.

Now, I think it’s also worth adding here that one should not blindly credit women as better than men or homosexuals as better than heterosexuals, as the problem is not about identity. As explained by Guattari (204), no group is inherently better than another group and groups and even the most progressive and liberatory contain repressive elements. In other words, there are always those who are willing to betray the group for their own good. Deleuze and Guattari explain this particularly well in ‘Deleuze and Guattari Fight Back…’ when they (217) state that people are capable of revolutions, there’s no doubt about that, they can change the system, but their leaders, I’d say the ones who are the most vocal about the revolution, are the ones who subvert the revolution by remaining loyal to the ways the old system functions. There is this temptation to conform or to set up a system of conformity to replace a previous system of conformity, because conforming tends to be rewarded. It’s not necessarily the case that non-conforming is punished, but rather that the reward of conforming, what we might also call selling out, is so tempting that non-conforming comes across a punishment as life is harder then. A sweet gig is a sweet gig.

Guattari (207) exemplifies that by noting that it would appear to make sense that homosexuals write about homosexuality and sexual liberation, but it’s not as clear cut as that as one may end up turning all that into something highly repressive. In other words, assuming that what’s interesting about homosexuality is tied to homosexuals, and can thus be explained only by homosexuals, essentializes it, relegating it to a fixed identity. That means reducing sexuality to a set of classifications, as he (209) points out.

The specific example mentioned by him (207) is French writer André Gide. Even though Guattari (207) refers to Gide as a great writer, he also criticizes Gide for having “always transcribed his homosexuality and in a sense betrayed it.” I’m not familiar with Gide’s works, so I cannot comment on that. Guattari and his interviewer do not really expand on the issue, thus leaving you hanging here, but they do mention Gide’s book ‘Corydon’.

Guy Hocquenghem (62) mentions Gide’s ‘Corydon’ in his book ‘Homosexual Desire’, which helps to contextualize what the issue might be for Guattari, why he is critical of Gide, the homosexual, for betraying homosexuality. The problem with Gide’s account of homosexuality is that it is presented as biologically natural, as explained by Hocquenghem (62). What’s the problem with that then? Isn’t it natural, just like heterosexuality? Well, yes, inasmuch anything is natural, in the sense that it is possible. But that’s not really what Guattari and Hocquenghem are after. As explained by Hocquenghem (62), homosexuality was not really a thing prior to the 1800s, when it was defined as something, supposedly, unnatural, which, in turn, helped to define heterosexuality as natural. I think Michel Foucault (43) explains that point even better in the first volume of ‘History of Sexuality’:

“The sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species.”

The point here is not to claim that homosexuality didn’t not exist prior to 1800s, that’d be absurd, but rather that it was constituted differently, as sodomy, as supposedly deviant sexual behavior and not an identity. As Foucault (37-38) points out, they were acts that were lumped together with other acts deemed as deviant, such as “debauchery (extramarital relations), adultery, rape, … incest” and “bestiality”, and thus illicit, because they were against the licit matrimonial relations and marital obligations. Simply put, prior to the 1800s, what you did was considered to be wrong, not who you were. This then changed when sexuality was deemed to be something who you are and not as what you do, as explained by Hocquenghem (62):

“The term ‘unnatural’, used by the police in the nineteenth century to describe homosexuals, finds its true definition: it describes the person who is against nature as the guarantor both of desire and of its repression.”

The problem with Gide’s ‘Corydon’ is not that it deals with homosexuality, from the perspective of a homosexual, no, that’s not it, nothing wrong with that, but that it falls prey to its own logic which it shares with the authorities who deem it unnatural, as Hocquenghem (62) goes on to add:

“When Gide in Corydon attempts to construct a homosexuality which is biologically based, by means of a comparison with other species, he is simply walking foolishly into the trap, which consists of a need to base the form of desire on nature.”

In other words, presenting homosexuality as natural, like heterosexuality, subordinates desire to nature, which is not a given, but is treated as a given. Anything that is therefore not part of nature, that is to say natural, is therefore unnatural. It’s then deviant, something that deviates from the norm. Having recourse to nature then functions like having recourse to the Will of God. This is fine, because it’s natural, because it is the Will of God, but that is not fine, because it’s unnatural, because that’s against the Will of God. This is also an odd one, considering how people like to think that they act according to our individual wills, that is to say autonomously, and rationally, that is to say ignoring superstitions, yet, there is this regressive and theological appeal to nature, as explained by Hocquenghem (62).

So, what you have is an appeal to a third party that acts as the arbiter of truth, which is, in fact, one of the parties involved, as I’ve discussed in some of my previous essays. That’s how you rig a game and that’s exactly what the problem here is. In Hocquenghem’s (62) words:

“If the [criminal] code retreats into obscurantism here it is because, when faced with homosexuality, it requires the backing of a universal authority on heterosexual normality.”

To be clear, sexuality is not, of course, the only thing that is made to function in this way. This is what Deleuze and Guattari (177) refer to as biunivocalization in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, utilizing one to define the other, which, in turn, reinforces that as a binary configuration:

“[I]t is a man or a woman, a rich person or a poor one, an adult or a child, a leader or a subject, ‘an x or a y.’”

It doesn’t matter what the first term is, what that ‘x’ is, as the point is that it is to be juxtaposed with another term, with a ‘y’, that then reinforces the first term, that ‘x’. They (177) list other pairings:

“[A] teacher and a student, father and son, worker and boss, cop and citizen, accused and judge[.]”

We could also set up heterosexuality as the ‘x’ and juxtapose it with homosexuality as the ‘y’, so that the former is the normal one and the latter is the deviant other. This is the point Hocquenghem (62) makes and what Guattari (207) implies in the interview. What Gide then does, according to both Hocquenghem (62) and Guattari (207) is to posit heterosexuality and homosexuality as the ‘x’. This may seem like a good move, and, in a sense, it is, inasmuch it improves the lives of homosexuals. Then again, we still retain that biunivocal relation in which we have an ‘x’, a natural, normal or desirable sexuality, and a ‘y’, which is an unnatural, unnormal or undesirable sexuality. This means that people will still be discriminated against based on their sexuality and/or something else which is defined in this way, biunivocally. That’s the problem.

Foucault (40) notes in the first volume of ‘The History of Sexuality’ that back in the day, in the 1800s, “[t]here emerged a world of perversion”. There were, all the sudden, all these perverts, people who were deemed to be a bit off, if you will, as he (40) goes on to explain. These perverts, what we could also call deviants, to avoid thinking of this only in terms of sexuality, albeit that’s the topic of this essay, were deemed to their own “sub-race” of the human race, as he (40) points out.

What concerns Foucault (40-41), in particular, is how the shift from acts to identity, from doing to being, in the 1800s also shifted the way sexuality was handled by the authorities. He (40-41) considers it particularly noteworthy that while in the past illicit acts such as sodomy could result in a severe punishment, the shift to it being about the person made it a matter of discipline and control. In other words, sexuality used to be something that you did and you could be punished for what you did, inasmuch it was deemed illicit. The thing here is that what your acts did not define you. You were, perhaps, punished, but that was it and you moved on with your life. As things changed, your acts were seen not as defining you, as such, but rather defined by who you were deemed to be. Now, of course, the acts, what you did, did indeed end up defining you. Shifting things on their head was just a ruse that allowed authorities to control people. As you could be identified as a pervert, i.e., a deviant, it could then be used as grounds to discipline you. So, while it may have seemed to be a good thing that the punishments became less severe in the process and that the cases were deferred to medical professionals, it was a ruse, as Foucault (40-41) points out. Why is that bad? Well, because it makes the person source of perversion or deviance, as Foucault (43) goes on to explain:

“The nineteenth-century homosexual became a personage, a past, a case history, and a childhood, in addition to being a type of life, a life form, and a morphology, with an indiscreet anatomy and possibly a mysterious physiology. Nothing that went into his total composition was unaffected by his sexuality.”

So, no matter what you do, it can then be attributed as having been caused by that, because you are deemed to be born with it, as he (43) goes on to add:

“It was everywhere present in him: at the root of all his actions because it was their insidious and indefinitely active principle; written immodestly on his face and body because it was a secret that always gave itself away.”

In practice, it’s like when someone questions what you did, perhaps poorly, and thinks that it must be because this person is a homosexual. To be clear, that’s not how it is, but that’s how people often think it is. He (43) summarizes all that, further highlighting the shift from acts to identity:

“It was consubstantial with him, less as a habitual sin than as a singular nature.”

This is also the case with other kinds of supposed perverts or deviants, as he (43) goes on to list them:

“[T]here were Krafft-Ebing’s zoophiles and zooerasts, Rohleder’s auto-monosexualists; and later, mixoscopophiles, gynecomasts, presbyophiles, sexoesthetic inverts, and dyspareunist women.”

To make sense of that list of perverts or sexual deviants that he (43) refers to by their “strange baptismal names”, what I could gather is that zoofiles are animal lovers, zooerasts are animal fuckers, auto-monosexualists are masturbators, mixoscopophiles are voyeurs, aka Peeping Toms, gynecomasts are breast lovers, presbyophiles are those who like older men, sexoesthetic inverts are those who behave like the opposite sex, and dyspareunists are those to whom intercourse is painful. Now, there are, of course, countless other labels for all kinds of perverts or sexual deviants, but I think his (43) list shall suffice. Then there’s the highly controversial topic of children’s sexuality, which Foucault (41-42) brings up in the same context. It’s still that way and it’s one of those things that you don’t want to deal with, because it is a taboo, that’s for sure. Now, to be clear, Foucault (42) isn’t addressing molestation here, but rather children’s sexuality, on children’s own terms:

“Educators and doctors combatted children’s onanism like an epidemic that needed to be eradicated.”

He (42) further comments this, noting that children’s sexuality became like a thing for adults, like an obsession, if you will:

“Wherever there was the chance they might appear, devices of surveillance were installed; traps were laid for compelling admissions; inexhaustible and corrective discourses were imposed[.]”

Paranoia might be another good word for that, considering what Foucault (42) goes on to add:

“[P]arents and teachers were alerted, and left with the suspicion that all children were guilty, and with the fear of being themselves at fault if their suspicions were not sufficiently strong[.]”

So, the point here is that it mattered or matters not what children actually do. Instead it’s the suspicion that they might be up to something that’s supposedly reserved only for adults, as codified by adults, mind you, that matters. No again, this is not about molesting children, what some adults do to children, but about meddling with children’s sexuality. Also, it’s not about children acting like adults. It’s more like adults getting hung up on the issue on sexuality, there being that suspicion, which then gives them the license to discipline children, to interfere in their lives. I think Foucault (42) summarizes this well:

“The child’s ‘vice’ was not so much an enemy as a support; it may have been designated as the evil to be eliminated[.]”

He (42) further clarifies this by adding that this required enormous effort, which was simply a waste of time. It was all in the heads of the adults. It was the adults, the ‘x’, who were thinking that the children, the y’, were up to no good, whereas the children most likely didn’t have the faintest clue what this whole ordeal was. That did not, however, stop the adults from staying on it, like, I’d say, a paranoiac whose suspicions just keep getting reinforced when there really isn’t anything to come across, as he (42) points out. Simply put, children’s sexuality, whatever that means, as it’s difficult to comprehend their world from an adult standpoint, seems to have been deemed a perversion by the adults, the ‘x’, so that any supposedly deviant act, from an adult standpoint that is, from the standpoint of ‘x’, was then considered a sign of perversion or deviancy, of ‘y’, which, in turn, would then be a sign that the person might, in fact, be a pervert or a deviant, possibly even born as such, as a ‘y’. Why the suspicion then? Well, if you are an adult, an ’x’, not deemed a pervert or a sexual deviant, a ‘y’, then it concerns you that your children are also ‘x’ and not ‘y’, hence all the suspicion, spying and potential disciplining of the children by the adults. This would, by all logic, be even more problematic for the adults, the ‘x’, if their children are ‘y’, because that would serve as indication that the adults themselves, especially the parents and the educators, are not, in fact, ‘x’, but ‘y’, only claiming to be ‘x’, as either the children have become ‘y’ under their watchful eyes, possibly even learning such from them, or, worse, they were born that way, as ‘y’, which would then indicate that the perversion or deviancy is inherently from their parents, thus making the parents also ‘y’.

Anyway, the point he (43) wants to make is that there are these fancy names given to people seem rather different, let’s put it that way, as neutrally as possible, these psychiatric names given for people whose actions are deemed to be perverted or sexually deviant, as defined binunivocally as the ‘y’ categories. I like the (43) way he characterizes this labelling process:

“These fine names for heresies referred to a nature that was overlooked by the law, but not so neglectful of itself that it did not go on producing more species, even where there was no order to fit them into.”

That’s such an apt way of putting it, calling them heresies. There’s this, supposed, God given order, that ‘x’ belief, and then these ‘y’ heresies that threaten it. I think the second point is also important here, how this results in a production of more and more identities. He (43-43) then emphasizes this second point:

“The machinery of power that focused on this whole alien strain did not aim to suppress it, but rather to give it an analytical, visible, and permanent reality: it was implanted in bodies, slipped in beneath the modes of conduct, made into a principle of classification and intelligibility, established as a raison d’être [reason for existing] and a natural order of disorder.”

So, the point is to derive all these identities from certain acts and classify them accordingly as discoveries, as if there were all these identities, hiding in our midst, just waiting for the psychiatrists to find them, uncover them and elaborate them. As I already pointed out, it then comes across, subsequently, that any such perverted or deviant acts happen because the person is a pervert or a deviant. It’s a switcheroo.

Foucault (44) also wants to emphasize how this is not about social exclusion, having ‘x’ that exclude ‘y’ from the society, but rather about identifying the ‘y’ so that they can and kept tabs on. Deleuze and Guattari (178) elaborate this in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“[T]here is no exterior, there are no people on the outside. There are only people who should be like us and whose crime it is not to be. The dividing line is not between inside and outside but rather is internal to simultaneous signifying chains and successive subjective choices.”

The thing to notice here is that people are not excluded from the society. They are not kicked out. Instead, they are kept in it. The idea is to make a ‘y’ into an ‘x’. If that doesn’t work out of you, you are still marked as a ‘y’ and treated accordingly, as a deviant. Deleuze and Guattari (178) further problematize this by noting that in some cases it is impossible to do that, to conform to ‘x’, when, for example, your skin color happens to be wrong. They (178) state that racism is therefore not about exclusion but about inclusion and that tolerance is a ruse as it is about tolerating the supposedly wrong skin color under certain conditions, forcing them to be identified as such, as deviants, and judged according to their deemed degree of divergence.

Why do people do that then? Well, as already mentioned, being the ‘x’ is a sweet gig, whereas being ‘y’ is not. If there’s no ‘y’ to identify in our midst, then there’s also no ‘x’. That’s pretty much how discrimination works. Label someone else as ‘y’ in order to promote yourself as the ‘x’, which, rather conveniently, matches your characteristics. It gives you legitimacy.

The ‘x’ is, of course, made up, as is the ‘y’, but that’s exactly the point, making things up to legitimize your own position, allowing you to exercise power over others. That’s the sleight of hand in this. You state that you know how it is, what ‘x’ is, because that’s how it is, naturally, culturally, or the like, i.e., according to the Will of God, even though it really is just your will for it to be that. Once that’s set, once you’ve managed to define ‘x’, you have the license to label what it is not as ‘y’. This allows you to bend people to your will, to demand the ‘y’ to be ‘x’, and gives you the license to mistreat those who resist or cannot meet that demand. Mistreat is maybe not a strong enough an expression as it can also be more straight forward, so more like persecution, as Foucault (42) labels it.

The other part of Guattari’s interview concerns desire. The interviewer (205) asks him to define desire. If you struggle with how he presents in his works, with or without Deleuze, you are in luck as he (205) gets to the point here:

“[D]esire is everything that exists before the opposition between subject and object, before representation and production. It’s everything whereby the world and affects constitute us outside of ourselves, in spite of ourselves.”

Note here how he isn’t saying that there aren’t subjects and objects, nor representations, no, that’s not it, but rather that they shouldn’t take for granted, as simply given, as the starting point. In other words, he (205) is interested in how they are produced under certain conditions. Anyway he (205) continues:

“[W]e define it as flow [flux].”

Only to add to this that (205):

“So we speak of machines, of ‘desiring machines’, in order to indicate that there is as yet no question here of ‘structure’[.]”

It’s also worth noting here, before I let him continue, that the opposition of structure here is not against structures or forms, but rather against fixed structures or forms. I take this as a rejection of structuralism. Anyway, having defined desire, he (205) defines desiring machines:

“Machines arrange and connect flows. They do not recognize distinctions between persons, organs, material flows, and semiotic flows.”

Okay, so, as you may wonder, but what’s the link between desire and sexuality? Well, desire is something much more general than sexuality, but desire tends to be understood in terms of sexuality, even though it’s not sexuality. The problem for his with sexuality is exactly that it tends to rely on fixed systems of classification, i.e., on identities, as already noted and as he goes (211) on to elaborate:

“Sexual liberation is a mystification.”

He does go on to say more about this issue, but before I explain that, it’s worth noting that what he is against here is viewing sexuality as this and/or that, as a matter of identity, like there being heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals etc., because it relies on an idea that are all these given, pre-existing sexual identities, just waiting to be liberated, so that people can then be who they are, according to these identities. To put that another way, the problem with treating, for example, homosexuality, as a distinct identity is that ends up being just another heterosexuality, which he (213) defines as the lack of desire, when there no longer is any desire, nor sexuality. Now, he (211) is not against people who think this way, because they’ve been led to think this way, and a minor change in their lives is still a good thing for them:

“I believe in, and will fight for, the taking of power by other castes and sexual systems[.]”

So, just because thinking of sexuality in terms of identity is based on a myth and thus, ultimately, counter-productive, he acknowledges he can’t be against such, in the moment, because that’d be like saying that, for example, homosexuals should just stop complaining about being poorly treated, beaten up and the like. He (212) is also well aware that while he is “a homosexual in [his] own way”, he isn’t “a homosexual in the world of reality or of the group”, by which he means that he can’t speak for the, as “it’s up to the homosexuals” then.

He further elaborates this issue in another interview, this time with Christian Poslianec, as published as ‘The Adolescent Revolution’, when he (131) addresses what his interviewer refers to as sorting people into little boxes:

“I still have to take them into account because that’s what most people do.”

Indeed. This is something that I like to emphasize when I build on his and/or Deleuze’s works in my own texts. I reckon that it’s one thing to present an alternative, let’s say a non-representational account of something, and another thing to convince people that there’s something wrong with the representational account in the first place or, rather, that there can even be an alternative. I don’t like the little boxes, but I have to deal with them and it’s my job to explain to people what the problem with the little boxes is.

Deleuze and Guattari have this reputation of being a bit … hippy-dippy, far out, untethered from reality and what not. That said, if you’ve read their works, I’d say that they are littered with little boxes, not because Deleuze and Guattari are for little boxes, but because they are against them. I mean it’s kind of hard to tackle something unless you can explain what it is that you are tackling and why it is that you think it’s worth tackling. Anyway, Guattari (131) has more to say to Poslianec:

“The little boxes begin in nursery school when the little girl jumping rope has to arrange her body in a certain way and progressively submits to all kinds of behaviors and images.”

Or, as he (131) goes on to summarize that:

“The boxes are everywhere.”

Well, they are not everywhere, if you let yourself think otherwise, as he (131-132) goes on to add:

“But on the level of what I call the economy of desire, there are no boxes.”

In short, he and Deleuze are against a world where it’s all just boxes and for a world that has no boxes. That’s also what I think. I’m against boxes and for having no boxes. That said, like he (131-132) points out, I’m not saying that there aren’t boxes, that most people don’t think that way, in terms of boxes, nor that they aren’t subjected to that, to being sorted into various boxes. That’s why my own work is very much concerned with boxes, not because I’m for boxes, but because that’s the way I can explain why I’m against boxes. It’s those “narrow segregationist attitudes” that need to go for things to change, as Guattari (139).

This is why he (211) wants to emphasize in ‘A Liberation of Desire’ that, ultimately, the system (of boxes) needs to change, not the classifications in the system (the boxes themselves):

“[B]ut I believe that liberation will occur when sexuality becomes desire, and that desire is the freedom to be sexual, that is, to be something else at the same time.”

In other words, sexuality will keep being set up in terms of lack if you rely on it being about identity. Guattari also deals with this in ‘The Adolescent Revolution’. He (135-136) likens identity to having a certificate or a diploma of normalcy:

“Have you passed your puberty certificate? Are you sure that you’re normal?”

He (136) then comments on this, how it’s not something that just the authorities and the experts are interested and invested in, but something much more widespread:

“The jury in this kind of competition is often the merciless opinion of your closest buddies, your sweet girlfriend… It’s a dirty deal.”

To which he (136) adds that no matter what it is, thinking of sexuality in this way, in terms of having this and/or that identity, is “an idiotic mess.” Why? Well, I’ll let him exemplify that:

“[S]exuality never cease[s] to be confronted by tests like, ‘Do you come too soon? Or too late?’ ‘And your orgasm, is it too clitoral?'”

It’s the same regardless of whether you are an adult, an adolescent or an infant, as he (136) goes on to specify, first acknowledging the infants:

“‘Does my baby suckle at the right time?'”

Then he (136) comments on the adolescents:

“Does he masturbate when he should? There is something wrong, Doctor: he doesn’t masturbate yet. What do you prescribe?”

Note how he has flipped things on their head here, how he indicates that by insisting that something like masturbation is normal or natural, as opposed to something perverted or sexually deviant, the lack of masturbation then becomes a concern. So, while masturbation has been and, I’d say, still is generally considered as perverted, as sexually deviant behavior, expressing a perverted or sexually deviant identity, something that one may have even been born with, so that one is a pervert from the start, if you will, it can also end up part of what’s considered normal or natural, so that not doing it or not doing it enough may then be considered abnormal or unnatural. In short, even celibacy can therefore appear as a perversion, so that, oddly enough, you can be considered a pervert for not being a pervert.

In simpler terms, this is about sexuality being about something that you do, as opposed to something that you are. To use the terms he and Deleuze use in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, it’s about becoming, taking things as they come, on their own terms, singularly, and not about being, relying on established categories, something being identifiable as such and such. He (211) puts this rather bluntly in ‘A Liberation of Desire’:

“What these liberation movements will reveal by their failures and difficulties is that there really aren’t any castes.”

What I take him to mean by this is that sexual liberation won’t be reached until those who seek it stop relying on the very system that they seek to oppose. It’s exactly what the interviewer (211) points out, that there is this dilemma of one group merely replacing another. It’s really not just about going against the system, i.e., against people who seek to repress others, but also about going against oneself, against the way one thinks, as Guattari (211) goes on to add:

“On the day when these movements fix as their goals not only the liberation of homosexuals, women, and children, but also the struggle against themselves in their constant power relations, in their relation of alienation, of repression against their bodies, their thoughts, their ways of speaking, then indeed, we will see another kind of struggle appear, another kind of possibility.”

Indeed, that’s when we see things changing. Otherwise you are moving bits and bobs, replacing a bit of this with a bit of that. It is indeed about approaching “the question of sexuality in another way”, as his interviewer (212) points out. It’s not about sexing the body or taking it for granted that the body is sexed, but something altogether different, as stated by Guattari (213):

“The problem is how to sexualize the body, how to make bodies desire, vibrate – all aspects of the body.”

The conversation between him and his interviewer gets a bit muddled, so I’ll skip ahead to the point where I think Guattari (214) manages to explain this different way of thinking about sexuality through literature:

“Take any literary work you love very much. Well, you will see that you love it because it is for you a particular form of sexuality or desire[.]”

That’s exactly it! When you desire or, rather, end up desiring something, be it sexual or not, you just love it to the point that you just go with it and keep going with it, like you can’t help it, like you are possessed or something, until you don’t, which is probably because you’ve ended up desiring something or someone else instead. So, when Guattari (214) states that reading a book is sexual, it’s because it is, because it’s about desire:

“The first time I made love with Joyce while reading Ulysses was absolutely unforgettable! It was extraordinary! I made love with Kafka, and I think one can say that, truly.”

It’s like that. It’s like when you just can’t help it, like you just need to turn the page, page after page, because you are so captivated by it. It’s like that with people as well. Okay, it’s not like that with all people. I mean, hardly. But it’s like, you know it, when you know it. And by knowing it, I mean it’s like an intuition. If you hit it off, you hit it off. It works. There’s a connection. Often that’s not there and it makes no sense to force it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Sure, it might work in the future, there’s that, as desire is open ended, but now is now and then is then.

It’s just, I don’t know how to explain it, really, which is something that Guattari (214) and his interviewer (214) both also struggle with. It’s also not the same with different people, nor with different books, as he (214) points out. It depends.

What I like about this essay, why I ended up writing it (or I think I did, anyway, as that’s not exactly the same thing, as desire and belief are not the same, the former being unconscious and the latter being conscious or, at least, more conscious), and why I like Stambolian’s interview of or, should I rather say, conversation with Guattari (as Stambolian also chips in) is that it explains why we it might not be that useful to focus on sexuality the way we generally do, as a matter of personified desire, typically in the form of fucking. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that fucking ain’t great, I mean it is, it is fucking great, but rather that there’s more to people, more to life, than just fucking. So, what I like about all of this is that it does two things at the same time: it it expands sexuality, making it something that people generally don’t think it is, while desexualizing desire, which, in turn, helps us to understand why we are drawn to this and/or that, but not to something or someone else, without making it all about sex or, rather about fucking.


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