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Desire and the affective dimension of power

In the preceding chapter we noted the extent to which Deleuze and Guattari shared with Foucault a conception of philosophy as involving the analysis of assemblages or apparatuses. On this basis, Deleuze points to the close proximity between ‘what Foucault called the metaphysics of power and Guattari the micropolitics of desire’ (Deleuze 1995b:86). It is tempting to see Deleuze and Guattari’s work and that of Foucault during this period as engaged in parallel but complementary projects, and more than one commentator has succumbed to this temptation: for example, Ronald Bogue comments that ‘Power for Foucault, like desire for Deleuze and Guattari, permeates all social relations, penetrates the body at a sub-individual level, and implements an immediately political investment of the body within larger circuits of action and production’ (Bogue 1989:105). There are a number of formal parallels between their respective theories of desire and power, as well as approving footnotes to Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish (Foucault 1977a:309). Just as Deleuze and Guattari develop a machinic theory of desire, so Foucault proposes an analysis of panoptic power as a machine for the production of homogeneous effects of power (Foucault 1977a: 202). Just as Anti-Oedipus asserts that desire produces reality (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:30), so Foucault asserts that power is productive, ‘power produces; it produces reality…The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production’ (Foucault 1977a: 194).

At the same time, there are important differences between their respective approaches to machinic assemblages. Deleuze and Guattari appear to endorse this conception of their complementary relation to Foucault while drawing attention to their differences in a footnote to the analysis of regimes of signs in A Thousand Plateaus:

Our only points of disagreement with Foucault are the following: (1) to us the assemblages seem fundamentally to be assemblages not of power but of desire (desire is always assembled), and power seems to be a stratified dimension of the assemblage; (2) the diagram and abstract machine have lines of flight that are primary,

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which are not phenomena of resistance or counterattack in an assemblage, but cutting edges of creation and deterritorialization.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:531)

Stated in these terms, the difference between power and desire all too easily appears to coincide with a difference between the positive force of desire and the negative force of power. The difference between Deleuze-Guattari and Foucault would then turn on the question of whether theoretical priority is accorded to power or to desire. Correspondingly, each approach would confront its own distinctive political problem. In Foucault’s case, this would be the problem of explaining how resistance is possible. For Deleuze and Guattari, as we saw above, this would be the Reichian problem of explaining how desire becomes complicit in its own repression. However, this way of presenting the relation between them oversimplifies the issues and seriously underestimates the conceptual resources common to both Foucault’s approach to power and the Deleuzian theory of desire. Taking into account the affective dimension of power points towards a different way of understanding the relation between power and desire, which suggests they are not so much parallel and complementary as convergent phenomena.

We noted above that Deleuze’s concept of power took into account not only the capacity of a body to affect other bodies but also the capacity to be affected. He suggests that there is a Spinozist inspiration to Nietzsche’s theory in so far as will to power is manifest both as capacity to affect and capacity to be affected: ‘the will to power is not a being, not a becoming, but a pathos’ (Nietzsche 1968: para. 635). Whether or not the claim of inspiration is historically accurate with regard to Nietzsche, it is around this affective dimension of the exercise of power that we can trace the outlines of a zone of indiscernibility between the Deleuzian concepts of power and desire. For we also noted that Deleuze explicitly aligns his conception of desire with Nietzsche’s conception of life as will to power. This implies that, like Nietzsche’s expansive force, desire seeks its own enhancement and tends to reproduce itself on an ever-expanding scale. In other words, both Deleuze’s concept of desire and his concept of power involve an inner principle of increase. From the point of view of the affective dimension of power, this principle of increase implies that a body will be more powerful the more ways in which it can be affected, and the greater its range and degree of sensitivity to different kinds of intensive states. A body will increase in power to the extent that its capacities to affect and be affected become more developed and differentiated (Deleuze 1983:62). Deleuze follows Spinoza in calling such capacities to be affected the ‘affects’ of a body. Strictly speaking, these correspond to the transition of the affected body from one state to another. Spinoza distinguishes between transitions that involve increase in a body’s power of acting and those that


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involve a decrease: the former give rise to joy while the latter give rise to sadness (Deleuze 1988c:49–50).3

Nietzsche draws a similar contrast between the affective states which accompany transitions in the state of a body’s power in terms of the enhancement or depletion of the ‘feeling of power’. This term refers to the conscious or unconscious feeling that accompanies all action, what Nietzsche refers to as the ‘desire for self-enjoyment’ that is gratified in every individual action (Nietzsche 1984: bk 2, para. 107). The feeling of power is a sign of our own power to act; however, it is not a reliable sign. The history of culture provides many examples of illusory means by which individuals and groups seek a feeling of power: sacrifices to gods, cruelty to others and to animals, fast cars and alcohol, to name but a few. Just as the actions of others produce sensations in us, so too do our own actions. To the extent that these actions are successful, the feeling of power will be enhanced: to the extent that they fail, the feeling of power will be depleted. In turn, these affective states which accompany actions will react upon the agent’s capacity to act. In other words, there is a feedback loop between the success or otherwise of attempts to act and the agent’s capacity to act. This is why the feeling of power has become the ‘strongest propensity’ of human beings and why Nietzsche suggests that the means for producing it retrace the history of our culture.4

The component of the Deleuzian concept of desire which corresponds to Spinoza’s affect or Nietzsche’s feeling of power is the concept of intensity. Deleuze and Guattari describe the final phase of the production process of desire, after the construction of a plane or body without organs on which intensities circulate, as the experience or ‘consumption’ of pure intensive states. The principle of increase implies that desire will be enhanced the greater the range and degree of intensities available. In extreme cases, the process gives rise to raw feelings such as those Nietzsche describes in his letter to Cast of 14 August 1881: unable to go out because his eyes were inflamed from weeping ‘tears of joy’ while wandering in the mountains, he fears that he is ‘one of those machines that can burst apart’.5 These states are typically associated with transitions from one affective state to another: in Nietzsche’s case, this transition is related to his ecstatic revelation of eternal return; in the case of another of Deleuze and Guattari’s examples in Anti-Oedipus, Judge Schreber, the transition relates to his experience of becoming-woman; in the case of F.Scott Fitzgerald (see p. 86), the transition relates to his ‘crack-up’ and subsequent experience of a strange despair which led him to describe ‘a feeling that I was standing at twilight on a deserted range, with an empty rifle in my hands and the targets down’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:229). In all cases, it is a question of new possibilities for affecting and being affected. The feeling of power is an affect which is associated with a process of becoming-other than what one was before. In Anti-Oedipus (1977), Deleuze and Guattari


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tend to draw their examples from the celibate machines of writers, artists and psychotics. Although these give the impression that intensities are solitary affairs and individual desiring machines are like characters from Beckett, nothing in the theory of desire limits the experience of joy to cases such as these. Consider the principle of increase or ‘inner will’ at work in the Deleuzian theory of desire: desire produces intensities, but these intensities are tied to the physical, emotional or intellectual capacities of the body concerned. As a result, a typical path to increase in the range or degrees of intensity available to a given body will pass through the subject’s involvement with activities outside itself. Activities or forms of engagement with the world and with other bodies, which are inseparable from action upon the actions of others, are the means by which we can bring about increase in our own desire.

Jane Gallop’s account of a pedagogic encounter which gave rise to an experience of erotic intensity may be understood in these terms (Gallop 1992). She recounts an episode in which a graduate student confronts her after receiving a bad grade on a paper he has written and challenges her to go through the paper with him. Reluctantly, she agrees to do so and eventually, after a long and intense session working through the text together, the student is left bowed and vulnerable while the teacher finds herself similarly exhausted but agitated in a manner that she describes as indistinguishable from sexual desire. This was not the familiar scenario of erotic desire intruding upon the scene of pedagogy, but a more interesting story ‘of desire arising within the scene of pedagogy, where it is troublingly unclear whether this is really teaching or really sex’ (Gallop 1992:212). The episode involved an exercise of intellectual or pedagogic power over the student, apparently to good effect. Moreover, this was an exercise of power over another which conforms to the open agonistic structure rather than the structure of domination. In the course of what began as a pedagogic confrontation, each party acted upon the other in ways that could not have been predicted at the outset: he caused her to reschedule a previous engagement, she changed his appraisal of his own work. The out-come was not an affair but a distinct improvement in the student’s powers as a writer and in Gallop’s sense of her own power as a teacher. It was an event of considerable intensity in which the powers of both teacher and student were enhanced. Gallop’s description of the student’s reaction illustrates the sense in which the joy that accompanies an increase of power is not always a pleasurable experience: ‘He sat there huddled over and seemed very vulnerable’ (Gallop 1992:211). While the teacher was no less exhausted by their marathon session, her response is one of increasing agitation that turns into erotic desire. However, the origin of this desire is anything but sexual in the narrow sense. For, in her own words, the desire was rather awakened by the nature of the pedagogic encounter: by

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the experience of working closely with the student and ‘the intimate experience of being good together’ (Gallop 1992:215). In short, what produced her erotic state was the experience of her successful exercise of her own power as a teacher, in a manner and to a degree she had never done before; in other words, her feeling of her own power to enhance the power of the other.

Gallop’s experience shows how the feeling of power obtained by contributing to the power of others may be indistinguishable from an intense experience of desire, and vice versa. If this is so, then it matters little whether we speak of desire or the feeling of power. What matters is the manner in which we act upon the actions of others, and the kinds of assemblage in which and through which we desire. We noted above that schizoanalysis does not propose a political programme (see p. 70). Yet even though, as Deleuze and Guattari say, ‘there are no revolutionary or reactionary loves’, there are none the less ‘forms of love’ that are indices of the reactionary or the revolutionary character of the libidinal investment in a given social field (Deleuze and Guattari 1977:365–6). The distinction between these two forms of love or two poles of social libidinal investment goes to the heart of the schizoanalytic ‘politics of desire’. It is stated in various ways in the course of Anti-Oedipus (1977), in terms of different uses of the syntheses which define the process of desire, or in terms of the difference between molar and molecular states of desire. The same distinction is later drawn between the two states or sides of any machinic assemblage: one side which faces the strata which make it an organism, subject or complete entity of some kind, and the other which faces the body without organs or plane of consistency on which the organism tends to break down or is transformed into something else. Both sides are equally states of desire, but it is only in the latter state that pure intensities arise or circulate (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:4). Just as Foucault contrasts relations of domination with open or agonistic relations in which an agent acts upon the actions of another (Foucault 1983b), so Deleuze and Guattari distinguish between, on the one hand, assemblages of desire that are fixed or delimited in particular ways, shut off from all but certain specified relations to the outside, and on the other, more fluid and open-ended assemblages in which new connections and new forms of relation to the outside are always possible, even at the risk of transforming the assemblage into some other kind of body. They attach systematic conceptual and ethical priority to the latter kind of assemblage which enables new connections and relations to the outside. In this sense, the Deleuzian concept of desire justifies the view that ‘Desire is revolutionary because it always wants more connections and assemblages’ (Deleuze and Parnet 1987:79).

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Date: 2015-01-11; view: 1045

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