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Becomings

The concept that best expresses the intimate connection between power and desire in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought is their concept of ‘becoming’. We saw in Chapter 1 how they define philosophical concepts in part by reference to their ‘becomings’, by which they mean the pathways along which a concept may be transformed while retaining a family resemblance to its former incarnation. In similar fashion, they define material bodies in part by reference to the ways in which they can ‘become-other’. Corporeal becoming is a different process to conceptual becoming, but similar in so far as it is ‘the action by which something or someone continues to become other (while continuing to be what it is)’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994:177, translation modified). Deleuze often uses Spinoza’s term ‘affect’ to refer to such transformations in bodily capacities. The concept of affect therefore establishes a conceptual connection between the understanding of bodies in terms of power and in terms of becoming. Bodies undergo modification or change when they act upon other bodies or when they are acted upon by other bodies. These modifications which result from entering into relations with other bodies are what Spinoza calls ‘affections’. He distinguishes such affections or modifications from the ‘affects’ or variations in degree of power to which they give rise in the body concerned.6 In these terms, a body may be defined by the affects of which it is capable. Children often think of bodies in these terms: for example, Freud’s Little Hans defines a horse by means of affects such as ‘having eyes blocked by blinders, having a bit and bridle, being proud, having a big peepee-maker, pulling heavy loads…etc.’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:257).

Affects can be either active or reactive and, in his discussion of Foucault’s concept of power, Deleuze relies upon this distinction in order to classify the different ways in which a body can act upon others and the ways in which it can be acted upon: ‘to incite, provoke or produce… constitute active affects, while to be incited, or provoked, to be induced to produce, to have a ‘‘useful” effect, constitute reactive affects’ (Deleuze 1988b:71). Defining bodies in terms of the affects of which they are capable is equivalent to defining them in terms of the relations into which they can enter with other bodies, or in terms of their capacities for engagement with the powers of other bodies. In A Thousand Plateaus, what Deleuze and Guattari call processes of ‘becoming’ are precisely such engagements with the powers of other bodies. This is the reason for their assertion that ‘affects are becomings’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:256). Plateau 10 is devoted to the analysis of a variety of different kinds of ‘becoming’. The list is open-ended but includes at least: becoming-intense, becoming-animal, becoming-woman and becoming-imperceptible.

From the perspective of desire, becomings may be defined in terms of the affects or intensities that correspond to a body’s relations with other



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bodies: ‘to the relations composing, decomposing, or modifying an individual there correspond intensities that affect it, augmenting or diminishing its power to act’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:256). In the case of Little Hans, his own becoming-horse is an attempt to construct an assemblage which would include some of the intensities associated with the affects of the cart-horse. Deleuze and Guattari ask in what way the elaboration of .a becoming-horse might ‘ameliorate Hans’s problem, to what extent would it open a way out that had been previously blocked?’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:258). In the case of the experience of intensity described by Gallop, we saw how the same event might be described in terms of desire or in terms of the feeling of power: her exercise of pedagogic power over the student produced a feeling of power that was for her indistinguishable from erotic desire. We can now see that this event involved a process of becoming in the strict Deleuzian sense: a becoming-student on the part of the teacher, to the extent that she was forced to come to terms with his version of what he had wanted to say in the paper, and a becoming-teacher on the part of the student to the extent that he was forced to see his own text through the eyes of a more experienced reader.

From the perspective of power, becomings may be regarded as processes of increase or enhancement in the powers of one body, carried out in relation to the powers of another, but without involving appropriation of those powers. One way in which bodies can increase their powers is by entering into alliances with other bodies that serve to reinforce or enhance their own powers. The symbiotic relation between wasps and orchids (see p. 54) is an example of a double-becoming which involves real interaction between the two parties. In some cases, such as alliance between individual bodies in the form of a social contract, the mutual reinforcement of powers may amount to the formation of a new and more complex body. Yet another kind of becoming-other occurs when bodies form a kind of virtual alliance with other bodies or states of being. In relation to human beings as a whole, becomings are by definition perverse processes which involve a relation to the unnatural or the inhuman. For example, we learn from myths, anthropological accounts and religious practices that human beings are capable of a variety of becomings-animal. These are not a matter of literally becoming the animal, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, but rather of enhancing the powers one has or of acquiring new powers by entering into a proximity to the animal. Thus, the first stages of becoming-wolf are marked by improved senses of smell and hearing. It is not that the real powers of the animal are in fact always assumed by the subject of the becoming, although in some cases something akin to those powers may be acquired. Rather, it is a question of the production of affects, or forming an inter-individual body with the real or imagined powers of the animal in question. Even an engagement with the powers attributed to the animal in the social imaginary may serve to enhance the

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feeling of power and thereby the real capacities of those engaged in the becoming: sorcerers, warriors, actors and so on. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that the processes of animal-becoming are essentially related to marginal social groups or movements. From a historical point of view,

[there is] an entire politics of becomings-animal, as well as a politics of sorcery, which is elaborated in assemblages that are neither those of the family nor of religion nor of the State. Instead they express minoritarian groups, or groups that are oppressed, prohibited, in revolt, or always on the fringe of recognized institutions.

(Deleuze and Guattari 1987:247)7

Becomings may be realised in the social imaginary or in the unconscious desires of individuals, but they are always linked to a qualitative multiplicity of some kind: ‘We do not become animal without a fascination for the pack, for multiplicity’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:239–40).8 The animal which humans become always appears in the form of a pack or band. The pack is an assemblage of affects and powers which, in turn, affect the quality of the human which enters into relation with them. Melville’s Moby Dick is Deleuze’s favoured example of a becominganimal in which the relation to the multiplicity is mediated by the relation to an anomalous figure who stands at the border of the pack. Through his pursuit of the white whale, Ahab enters into a becoming-whale while the object of his pursuit becomes the white wall of human weakness through which he desires to pass: ‘How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ‘tis enough’ (Melville 1994:167). Ahab’s becoming is a line of flight which takes him beyond life itself, even if in doing so he confronts his own death. The white whale stands for all those figures with whom we can enter into a pact in order to pass beyond a given state of life or being. He is anomalous not just in being an exception but in marking a limit or frontier beyond which everything changes. Anomalous does not mean abnormal but ‘the unequal, the coarse, the rough, the cutting edge of deterritorialization’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:244).

The becomings which interest Deleuze and Guattari are not simply becomings-other but minoritarian becomings. There is no such thing as becoming-majoritarian. The concept of becoming is therefore intimately linked to the concept of the minoritarian, and through this to the processes of deterritorialisation which define a given qualitative multiplicity. We noted at the end of Chapter 2 how they distinguish between minorities conceived as subsystems or determinate elements within a given majority and the process of becoming minor or minoritarian, which refers to the

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potential of every element to deviate from the standard or norm that defines that majority. In these terms, to become-minoritarian is to embark upon a process of deterritorialisation or divergence from the norm, while conversely ‘all becoming is minoritarian’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:106, 291). In so far as the subject of modern European society and political community is masculine, then women and children as well as animals are minorities, and becoming-animal, becoming-child or becoming-woman are potential paths of deterritorialisation of the majority.

Becoming-woman should be understood as a becoming of the same type as becoming-animal, in the sense that it involves a virtual alliance with the affects and powers that have been traditionally assigned to women. The reality of the becoming has little to do with a relation to real women, but everything to do with a relation to the incorporeal body of woman as it figures in the social imaginary. This body might be defined in terms of the affects associated with the nurture and protection of others, or the affects associated with dependent social status such as a capacity for dissimulation or for cultivating the affection of others, delight in appearances and roleplay.9 Becoming-woman does not involve imitating or assuming the forms of femininity but rather creating a molecular or micro-femininity in the subject concerned by reproducing the characteristic features, movements or affects of what passes for ‘the feminine’ in a given form of patriarchal society. Moreover, Deleuze and Guattari argue that there is a sense in which becoming-woman is primary in relation to the other kinds of social and political becoming-minoritarian.

Only minorities can function as agents or media of becoming, but they can do so only on condition that they cease to be ‘a definable aggregate in relation to the majority’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:291). For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari argue that women themselves must undergo a becoming-woman, and that their doing so is a condition of the becoming-woman of all, men and women alike. It is in so far as they form the other term of a binary opposition which defines the majority that women may be subjects of a becoming-woman. It is in so far as they form a minority within the majority that they can function as a medium of becoming. Becomings are molecular not molar. While they are careful to acknowledge the importance of ‘molar’ feminist politics aimed at the establishment of women’s rights on an equal footing with those of men, Deleuze and Guattari also insist on the necessity of a ‘molecular women’s polities’ alongside the molar. In this sense, all becomings are molecular and they all ‘begin with and pass through becoming-woman. It is the key to all the other becomings’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:277). The only reason they give for this primacy is the ‘special situation’ of women in relation to the male standard (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:291), which is to point to the fundamental role of the domination of women by men in relation to the differential assignment of power and affect to the sexes.

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Their claim is that the acquisition of affects through other forms of becoming, such as animal-becoming, presupposes a degree of becoming-woman: that this is the ‘first quantum’ of becoming-minoritarian in all its forms.

The concept of becoming-woman and the special place accorded to it in the spectrum of minoritarian becomings has been a focus of much feminist criticism of Deleuze and Guattari.10 There is no doubt that they adopt the speaking position of the masculine subject of the majority, even as they advocate the deterritorialisation of the structures of domination which sustain that position. It is also true that their concepts and methods of analysis are different from those that have informed much feminist theory. Nevertheless, it is not clear that they are guilty of all of which they have been accused. One recurrent criticism takes their priority claim for becomingwoman to imply that, in the context of gender politics, it is women who must take the lead in breaking with the stereotypical assignment of affects and roles. Such a view would be sexist since it places the burden of change primarily upon women (Massumi 1992:89). However, Deleuze and Guattari assert the primacy of becoming-woman not that women must ‘go first’ in the practical politics of challenging the mechanisms of male domination. Becoming, in their view, is transhistorical and ‘cannot be conceptualized in terms of past and future’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:292). As Moira Gatens points out, there is no justification in terms of their social cartography for regarding the priority of becoming-woman as a temporal priority in the processes of becoming (Gatens 1996:175).

Underlying this temporal reading of the priority of becoming-woman is another, more significant confusion with regard to Deleuze and Guattari’s political perspective. This is the confused idea that the end of gender politics

is the destruction of gender (of the molar organisation of the sexes under patriarchy)—just as in their view the end of class politics is the destruction of class (of the molar organisation of work under capitalism). The goal would be for every body to ungender itself, creating a nonmolarizing socius that fosters carnal invention rather than containing it.

(Massumi 1992:89)

In the first place, it is a mistake to think that becomings are subject to this kind of teleology. A line of becoming, they claim, ‘has neither beginning nor end, departure nor arrival, origin nor destination’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987:293). As such, it makes no sense to regard becomingwoman as a necessary stage in a broader process of abolition of molar subjectivity or human liberation.11 Second, the idea of a ‘nonmolarizing socius’ is an illusion of the same order as the idea of a society without power relations. Deleuze and Guattari are not theorists of liberation but

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theorists of becoming-revolutionary. The latter implies the possibility of transformation in the forms of social organisation of work and desire, and the possibility of redistribution of the molar assignment of differential power and affects to the sexes, but not the abolition of molarisation as such. Becoming-revolutionary is a process open to all at any time. Moreover, its value does not depend on the success or failure of the molar redistributions to which it gives rise: ‘The victory of a revolution is immanent and consists in the new bonds it installs between people, even if these bonds last no longer than the revolution’s fused material and quickly give way to division and betrayal’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994:177). Freedom is manifest in such moments of becoming-revolutionary, whether in a personal or a social sense, but this is a different concept of freedom to that which underpins liberal and liberation theories alike.


Date: 2015-01-11; view: 497


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