Posted by: Edward | November 14, 2006

Introduction to Deleuze and Guattari part one

Their project for Capitalism and Schizophrenia was psychological emancipation of the individual and cooperative social organization so they are very compatable with both Marxism and Occult practice.

Deleuze and Guattari, however, is not a totalized whole that can be understood and explained. Rather their work is many things subject to many understandings. One purpose of studying Deleuze and Guattari is to change how you think. It is an initiation. Their concepts are not a system to be understood but rather tools we can apply or put to work.

The second problem with getting into D&G material is almost every introduction to them is made in terms of A Thousand Plateaus, the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, whereas the material you might want to start with is in Anti-Oedipus, the first one.

Rather than just leave you with a pile of negatives I’m going to attempt to put some of their thought into context and explain how certain of their concepts can be useful.

Locating Deleuze and Guattari in Context

Deleuze was a mainstream (for the French) philosopher who initially made his splash by investigating what has been called a nomad line or minority position of philosophy and western culture. The nomad line would be a secondary stream or descendence where ideas out of the primary discourse have recurred and developed. This would include thinkers like Bergson, Nietzsche, and Spinoza as opposed to Plato, Hegel and Kant. His method, as he explained, was to sneak up behind a thinker, rape them, and force the birth of a bastard love child, conceptually speaking. It might be important that he hated Hegel, and was not even willing to “rape” him as one could argue Marx did.

I suppose what I should go over next is what he took or adapted from those thinkers.

Bergson was a thinker that concentrated on perception, creativity, and evolution. Bergson also was a proponent of what is called Vitalism. Vitalism looks at the world in terms of life energy and its movement or flow through the world and living beings. Vitalism is a significant recurring feature of the nomad line and appears again and again in many different guises. I’ve even realized that Scientology or at least Dianetics is based around Vitalist conceptions. While I’m not sure if Bergson’s Vitalism did, many incarnations of Vitalism considered the live energy to be distinctly sexual in nature. This feature will be important later. Additionally Vitalism underlies many forms of occult conception and practice. One way to adapt Vitalism to a Marxist context is to reexamine the labour time theory of value. If we put the emphasis on our energy, Kapital is even more directly vampiric.

Nietzsche is one the most misunderstood philosophers of all time and unfortunately has been tarred with the brush of Nazism and ignored. He started with philology the historical study of language. From there he branched into aesthetics before moving into ethics. A note on disciplines within philosophy, aesthetics is about the appreciation of beauty, logic is about discernment of truth, and ethics is about selection of good. The most common approach to ethics is to treat it as discernment of truth or judging good against bad. The other approach is to treat ethics as about action. It is in this sense that Nietzsche and Spinoza study ethics. Nietzsche explores how the ethics system and morality taught to the masses benefits the powerful and works contrary to the common man’s best interests. It is very easy to adapt this to a Marxist understanding of ideology or the rather occult conception of Maya as veil of illusion.

Nietzsche further places the emphasis on a person’s body and actions as opposed to their mind and thought He goes so far as to give advices about where to live and how to care for one’s metabolism. He even puts some attention to how passion or emotional energy fuels us.

Spinoza is a difficult case to approach and unfortunately I have not done nearly enough reading here. I can, however, go over a couple of his ideas that influenced Deleuze and Guattari. The first is the body, Spinoza’s body is an affective body and is defined according to what it can do, its actions. One consequence of this conception is that a group of people working towards some complicated affect, say a revolution, are in a sense one body. Another consequence is that a body is never fully closed, as we never know all that it could do.

The next concept to approach is Spinoza’s formulation of determinism and causation. For Spinoza causation was absolute and choice an illusion. The only power available was human reason and our capacity to understand why. The philosophy espoused by the Merovingian character in Matrix Reloaded is actually directly Spinozean. This understanding of causation is fairly compatible with Marx’s historical materialism, how human behaviour springs from material conditions, and the inevitableness of the changes in mode of production.

The last concept involves the distinction between emotion and passion. Based on the observation that no animal in nature acts against its interests as a species and yet humanity does. Emotions are those natural feelings that lead us to take actions in our own interests, at least as a species. Passions on the other hand are those feelings that incite action contrary to our best interests. These passions are foreign to us and are like a virus or addiction. Kapital, as it is clearly against our interests, is an alien and enemy intelligence. It is in these terms that Mark from K-punk considers the writer William S. Burroughs as a Spinozaist.

Guattari is the other member of the intellectual tag team behind Capitalism and Schizophrenia. He was a psychotherapist and Marxist activist. He was trained as a Lacanian and long after the ideas and practices he espoused ceased to look Lacanian he still considered himself one. He was a founding member of the LaBorde Clinic a radical anti-hierarchical psychotherapy organization. In addition to Lacan, Guattari’s primary influences are Marx and Hjelmslev.

Lacan himself is probably best viewed in terms of his own influences, those being Freud, Marx, and Saussure’s semiotics. Now early Freud is based on the idea of the libido driving the organism, a kind of Vitalism. Later Freud is concentrated on the Oedipus complex and the father mother child love triangle. Lacan identifies the signifier of semiotics as an Oedipal operation, castration essentially. This can be related back to the work of Burroughs, the word is a fundamental error that alienates us from reality and this form of communication is ideological.

Hjelmslev created a non-saussurean semiotics. The essential differences are instead of the two terms of signifier and signified he used three purport, substance and form. The reason Guattari uses this is to attempt to find a semiotics that is not bound to ideological communication. Ultimately this is beyond the scope of this article so we’ll move on and perhaps cover that in a later discussion.

In a fundamental sense Guattari remains a Lacanian even as he alters what this means. He works to bring in and generate concepts that counteract limitations in the system. Even his participation in Anti-Oedipus can be seen in this context. Hjelmslev he imports to compensate for the form of semiotics Lacan used and Nietzsche for problems with late Freud. His project remains psychological emancipation of the individual and cooperative social organization.

I’m sure that a knowledgeable person could find many contentious interpretations and even some errors of fact in the above and I welcome comments and corrections. Consider this a work in progress.



  1. Hi Fenriz. Just to reassure you: I haven’t forgotten about your effort at the moment, and I will get around to responding… soonish. I have a truckload of writing to finish before the New Year – sure you know how it is…

  2. It sounds like you are heading in the right direction, and I look forward to part 2.

    One point: I would mention Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, with reference to both Spinoza and Kant. In other words, the only way to find out “what a body can do” is to experiment.

    As for your reading of Lacanian castration along the lines of: “the word is a fundamental error that alienates us from reality” – be careful! Lacan’s master-signifier offers the infant relief from the anxiety of the mother’s desire. Choosing the master-signifier and enterring the symbolic order is not an error as such – Slavoj Zizek characterises it as a “forced choice”, so the subject is committed to this choice in such a way that it could never genuinely be experienced as an error. Of course, here we reach an early criticism of Deleuze and Guattari – the subject who does not choose to enter the symbolic order is, by definition, psychotic. Rather than alienating us from reality, entering the symbolic order allows us to escape immersion in the Real, something that the psychotic lamentably fails to escape. In this sense, reality in Lacan is aligned with the symbolic order, not the Real.

    Sorry if these comments aren’t helpful. As I said, I think this is a very good part one, and if you were way off script then I wouldn’t have bothered!

  3. This is an interesting line…particularly the vitalism and occult link. I’ve written a dissertation about all this stuff and it is my passion. One needs to remember, above all, that vitalism is very much a philosophy of medicine, or at least rooted in medical understanding — it is, in essence, a reflection of the important (perhaps seminal) role that medicine plays in the French tradition.

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  5. I’m interested to know if there’s a distinct separation between Bergson’s Vitalism and what you might call Animism…

  6. […] of our modules, the more utility we gain from the use and combination of modules. For instance, Deleuze describes that he took the worlds of Marx, Freud and Nietzsche, loaded them, snuck up behind them […]

  7. Was there ever a part two (or more) to this?

    • Not as such, or at least nothing that ended up being posted here. I would say that the ideas that would have been in part two informed a great deal of my later writing.

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