The first distinguishing feature of the theory of desire outlined in AntiOedipus (1977) is its positivity: desire is understood as a primary active force rather than as a reactive response to unfulfilled need. Desire is productive in the sense that it produces real connections, investments and intensive states within and between bodies. In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari suggest ‘desire produces reality’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:30). This fundamental difference in point of departure sets the Deleuzian theory apart from an entire tradition of thought about desire that extends from Plato through Hegel to Freud. In particular, it sets this conception apart from the idea that desire is constituted by the ever-renewed and impossible attempt to regain a lost object of satisfaction. The point is not to deny that unsatisfied desire may give rise to phantasmatic satisfactions, but to deny that this phenomenon is the essence of desire. Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of desire is constructivist in the sense that desire always requires a machine or assemblage. Desire is present in a given assemblage in the same way that, in a musical work, the principle of composition is present in the silences as much as in the audible sounds: ‘Lack refers to a positivity of desire and not desire to a positivity of lack’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987:91).
A second distinguishing feature of their account is that the process of desire is not by nature directed at the production of stable subjects whose
own conscious desires respect the familial and social order. Rather, ego formation and the constitution of subjects involve a historically specific fixation of desire, brought about by the action of social codes, family structures and behaviour towards the child. In this sense, their conception of subjectivity is entirely consistent with Foucault’s view that ‘it is one of the prime effects of power that certain bodies, certain gestures, certain discourses, certain desires come to be identified and constituted as individuals’ (Foucault 1980:98). Nor is desire internal to a subject, in their view. Rather, it is the subject which is inseparable from the constitution of a machinic assemblage of fluxes of intensity, particles of affect and a-signifying signs. Desire produces intensities and the consumption of intensities, wherever and in whatever form these may be found. Subjectivity is an effect of this process rather than its origin. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari claim, desire is a-social or revolutionary by nature, not in the sense that it ‘wants’ revolution but rather ‘as though involuntarily, by wanting what it wants’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:116). They follow Freud in calling the energy that is transformed in the process of desire libidinal energy. They insist that this energy is not primarily sexual nor directed at other persons and reject the idea that it naturally tends toward the formation of a fixed or centred subjectivity. In their view, it becomes fixed under the influence of Oedipal social and familial structures which impose a particular usage of the primary syntheses. The best evidence, they argue, ‘points to the fact that desire does not take as its object persons or things, but the entire surroundings which it traverses, the vibrations and flows of every sort to which it is joined and in which it introduces breaks and captures’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:292). Alternatively, if we persist in calling such libidinal energy sexual, then we must say that sexuality is everywhere: in the manner in which a bureaucrat fondles his files, the way in which a judge administers justice, or the way in which a film-maker handles her camera, her characters and her story. What is important is the manner in which this energy is invested in its surrounding field: ‘we always make love with worlds’, Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘and our love addresses itself to this libidinal property of our lover, to either close himself or herself off or open up to more spacious worlds’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:294).
In Deleuze and Guattari’s initial outline of their theory at the beginning of Anti-Oedipus, desire is treated as a process of production. What desire produces, in the first instance, is a machine or circuit of libidinal energy which they call a desire-machine. This is a complex process which has three phases corresponding to the main stages of the production process as described by Marx: first, there is the connection of part-objects and flows of energy or material to form an elementary body or simple machine. Second, the aggregation of these elements to form a complex body involves the constitution of what they call a ‘body-without-organs’ or ‘plane of
consistency’. This is an imaginary body-surface on which the various elementary bodies and energies are recorded, but on which they may also be desexualised and reconnected in different configurations. As such, it embodies the creative or ‘schizophrenic’ potential of desire.2 Third and finally, there is a phase of consumption involving the experience of intensive states of the resultant psychic body. This implies sensation or self-enjoyment in a broad sense, which includes privation and suffering as well as sensual pleasure. According to Deleuze and Guattari, subjectivity emerges only as a residual effect of this consumption of intensive states which accompanies the connections and recordings of desire. To each phase, they assign a distinct form of synthesis: a connective synthesis of flows and part-objects, a disjunctive synthesis of meanings attached to the elementary machines, and a conjunctive synthesis of resultant differences which give rise to intensities. Desire is the force that animates this process of connection, encoding and consumption. The concept of desire as the principle of co-function or composition which determines the existence of any machinic assemblage echoes Deleuze’s metaphysical account of the will to power as the differential principle of force relations: ‘Desire: who, except priests would want to call it “lack”? Nietzsche called it “Will to Power’” (Deleuze and Parnet 1987:91).
The end-point of the process of desiring production is a form of intensity which is ‘consumed’ by the body. Intensities are the products of a synthesis of differential forces, the effects of an encounter between different levels or kinds of energy, and the basis of all sensation. They express the difference between one state and another: warm-cold, light-dark, hard-soft, etc. Intensity is thus the primary mode in which desire consumes itself, the primary mode in which a body of whatever kind is affected. For the human body, intensity is the primary affect from which all forms of feeling and emotion are subsequently derived. Both schizophrenic experience and works of art involve such intensive quantities in their pure state. Throughout Anti-Oedipus (1977), Deleuze and Guattari draw upon accounts of schizophrenic delirium to illustrate aspects and stages of the process of desire, on the grounds that such experience is closest to the heart of desire. This assumption serves a polemical function in providing clinical leverage to their disagreement with Freud. It allows them to represent psychoanalysis as a misrepresentation of the nature of desire, and indeed as an institutional and discursive arm of those social forces that seek to repress and inhibit the authentic experience of desire. Beyond this, the more important point of their reliance upon schizophrenic delirium lies in the suggestion that the experience of intensity is the real motor of the process of desire as production. For this reason too, Deleuze and Guattari draw upon the experience of writers and painters to establish the link between a susceptibility to intensities and a creative relationship to the real.
Art is the capture of sensations in a given medium, and therefore depends upon a susceptibility to the effects of forces in producing intensive states. Like desire, art in its pure form exists in a state of permanent exile, a nomadic state which resists the territorialisation of particular styles, genres or modes of capture. Both art and desire in its schizo form have an affinity with those states that carry the potential for change or metamorphosis.