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Politics of desire

Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus launched a polemical assault on the varieties of uncritical synthesis of Freudianism and Marxism which had become theoretical orthodoxy for much of the extra-parliamentary left in France after May 1968. Their criticism of the psychoanalytic concept of desire and sketch of an alternative schizoanalytic concept immediately became a succès de scandale. The notoriety achieved by their first collaborative work has meant that the names Deleuze and Guattari are firmly associated with a philosophy and a politics of desire. Philip Goodchild represents the opinion of many when he writes that The politics of desire is the sole purpose of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought’ (Goodchild 1996:5). However, ‘the politics of desire’ is an ambiguous phrase which can refer to more than one dimension of their collaborative work. Our concern here is not with the details of their historico-political critique of psychoanalysis.1 Rather, our aim is to identify some of the significant features of their ‘politics of desire’ and to show how these are derived from their non-psychoanalytic concept of desire. The most obvious sense in which they engaged in a ‘politics of desire’ emerges from their argument that desire is implicated in all social and political processes:

There is no such thing as the social production of reality on the one hand, and a desiring-production that is mere fantasy on the other…We maintain that the social field is immediately invested by desire, that it is the historically determined product of desire, and that libido has no need of any mediation or sublimation, any psychic operation, any transformation, in order to invade and invest the productive forces and the relations of production. There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1977:28–9)

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This perspective is the basis for their analysis of territorial, despotic and capitalist forms of social organisation in terms of the different abstract machines of desire present in each case. The resultant ‘universal history’ is discussed in more detail in Chapter 5.

The analysis of the social field in terms of desire also sustains a sense in which Deleuze and Guattari’s social theory may be considered complementary to that of Foucault. If we suppose that all social relations are powerrelations as well as desire-relations, then one and the same social institution may be considered either as an apparatus of power or as a complex circuit of desire: for example, the prison is both a dispositif of micro-power, an assemblage of techniques which purports to train the souls of delinquent subjects by subjecting them to a regime of corporeal discipline, and a complex desire-machine which coordinates bodily activities and the subjective experience of docile behaviour. Of course, this description applies to the prison as envisaged by nineteenth-century social planners and prison reformers: real prisons are altogether more complex circuits of desire and power. From both the point of view of power and the point of view of desire, the relation between them poses a problem for political theory. For Deleuze and Guattari, this problem is raised in stark form by the phenomenon of fascism, once it is acknowledged that the success of fascism cannot be explained by duplicity or ideology. Following Wilhelm Reich, they insist that fascism must be explained in terms of desire. Their account in turn relies upon their own view that desire is inseparable from the machinic assemblages that operate at a micropolitical level to form individual perceptions, attitudes, expectations and ways of speaking: ‘Desire is never an undifferentiated instinctual energy, but itself results from a highly developed, engineered setup rich in interactions: a whole supple segmentarity that processes molecular energies and potentially gives desire a fascist determination’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:215). At one point in AntiOedipus, they suggest that the question of desire’s involvement in its own involuntary servitude is ‘the fundamental problem of political philosophy’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:29).



The same might also be said of the converse problem which Deleuze and Guattari address only at the end of Anti-Oedipus: how is revolution possible? Their concept of desire provides an answer to this problem as well. If by revolution is meant a rupture with the causal determinations previously at work in a given social field, then ‘only what is of the order of desire and its irruption accounts for the reality this rupture assumes at a given moment, in a given place’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:377). By this, they mean more than just that revolutions only occur when the configurations of desire shift in such a way that old allegiances no longer hold sway and authorities can no longer rely on their orders being carried out. They mean that desire must be understood to embody the power of

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differential reproduction or becoming-other which is the condition of creativity in culture as well as in nature.

Deleuze and Guattari’s answer to the question ‘how is revolution possible?’ points to a further sense in which they may be said to be engaged in a politics of desire. For not all assemblages of desire will sustain revolutionary actions. This raises a number of questions about the nature of desire and the assemblages in which it is determined, which will be examined below. At the heart of the project of schizoanalysis lies a distinction between two poles or states of social libidinal investment: ‘the paranoiac, reactionary, and fascizing pole, and the schizoid revolutionary pole’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:366). The difference between these two poles is described in terms of the familiar Deleuzian contrast between two kinds of multiplicity or between lines of integration and territorialisation on the one hand, and lines of escape that follow decoded and deterritorialised flows on the other. Schizoanalysis, they say, ‘has strictly no political program to propose’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:380). Rather, it offers a series of conceptual contrasts in terms of which we can analyse a given social field or process and evaluate the assemblages in play. We saw at the end of the preceding chapter the kind of ethical or political evaluation which this framework allows.


Date: 2015-01-11; view: 505


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