Félix Guattari: Ecosophy and The Politics of Freedom


Ecosophy: The Politics of Freedom

Gilles Deleuze would speak of his recently deceased friend and partner telling us that the work of Guattari remains to be discovered or rediscovered: “That is one of the best ways to keep Felix alive.”1 Maybe this is what we are doing in this reading group: discovering or rediscovering the work of Felix Guattari, and in this sense keeping his central insights alive within the matrix of possibilities we term speculative anarchism.

That The Three Ecologies was published in 1989 and seems as alive today in its critiques as the day it was penned is a testament to the truth of which his friend Deleuze speaks. That it deals with both his political and ethical vision is to be expected. Guattari was always the radical revolutionary seeking ways of emancipating others both in his medical practice and in the late cultural malaise of our capitalism. As both a committed communist and a green activist Guattari toward the end felt the need to enter the fray, to expose himself within the truth of politics and ran as a candidate for one of the political formations of the French Green movement. Even though his bid was unsuccessful it remains a high mark for the man and his politico-ethical stance and a measure of his need to realize his vision in a practice as well as theory.

The Three Ecologies is one of these pragmatic interventions into the political and ethical dilemmas of our age: the intersection of the environment, society, and subjectivity. Beyond all the usual analysis lay a his vision of neoliberalism (’Integrated World Capitalism’) as a monstrous system of ‘simulation’ (p. 31). A copy of a copy, a false world of symbols and references that simulate reality but instead entrap us within the clutches of its broken fabrications. Zizek will call this false world of simulations the big Other, or the symbolic order that enfolds us in an inverse register of Plato’s true world. As Zizek will say of Lacan, that he unveiled the illusions on which capitalist reality as well as its false transgressions are based, but in the end resined himself to the plight of humans at the hands of this neoliberal order: the final result being that we are condemned to domination— the Master is the constitutive ingredient of the very symbolic order, so the attempts to overcome domination only generate new figures of the Master. Against this Zizek will tell us that the great task of those who are ready to go through Lacan is thus to articulate the space for a revolt which will not be recaptured by one or another version of the discourse of the Master.2 We should say the same of Guattari. Those who are ready to go through Guattari is thus to articulate a site within which the political and ethical dilemmas of our ecosophic vision will open toward freedom rather than the capture or recapture of its potentials by the big Other of neoliberalism.

For Guattari ecosophy is first and foremost a reframing of the problematics of the world. As he will tell us the main issue facing us is not to return to abstract reductionist scenarios that lead to new charismatic leaders, rather ecosophy concerns itself with the problematical relations in which the production of human existence itself can arise within new historical contexts. At one point he will affirm that social ecosophy will consist in developing specific practices that will modify and reinvent the ways in which we live as couples or in the family, in an urban context or at work, etc.(ibid. 34) Does Guattari see us remaining within the confines of the capitalist matrix while doing this? So that ecosophy will work at the micro level of family rather than at the larger level of class dynamics, etc.? Rather than clinging to general recommendations we should be implementing effective practices of experimentation, as much on a microsocial level as on a larger institutional scale. (ibid. 35)

Guattari will begin at the base level of a theory of the Subject, or with the components of subjectification. For him there is a difference between the individual as person and the notion of subjectivity as such. The individual is the core site, the ‘terminal’ node or end point for processes that involve human groups, socio-economic ensembles, data-processing, etc. This notion of the individual as the endpoint of a network of information and relations is obverse to that of subjectification, which for Guattari is an aesthetic ethical perspective incorporating ecosophy in its three forms of the social, enviromental, mental. One could think of this in the same ways as the Medieval Borromean rings in which each of these levels-of-abstranction (LoV’s) overlaps the other in such a way that they form a knot. Depending upon one’s point of view or level of abstraction the specific area or region delimits a set of problems rather than solutions. As one moves through the knot one shifts focus and realizes that the regions are all part of a larger nexus seen only under the guise of singular moments of organization and detail. Ultimately Guattari used this is a teaching tool, a way of organizing the domains of knowledge and problems to awaken people from their lethargy. Point blankly he tell us that we must kick the habit of sedative discourse, and be able to shift or oscillate between the differing perspectives of the ecosophic lens.(ibid. 42) Rather than a static approach this takes a more dialectical path incorporating parallax perspectives in their processual and immanent development rather than some outer objective accumulation of facts. The inner dynamics of flows and intensities, rather than the static appraisal of substance and being.

With the emergence of our artificial world of cyberspace, biogenetics, and speed (Virilio) Guattari admonishes that we must accept this as a condition of any new praxis rather than trying to escape into some mythical past of the pre-critical worlds. The very condition of our socius and technological realms must be the starting point for ecosophy. He relates this to Alan Bombard’s experiment with an octupus in which he filled two containers: one with pure unpolluted water, the other with the polluted water from the local seaport. What transpired is that the animal survived fine in the polluted water, and within just a few minutes of being transferred to the unpolluted tank suddenly curled up, sank, and died. The notion here is that we cannot situate ourselves in some false theoretical world of ideas from which to rebuild our present world, instead we must situate any pragmatic undertaking within the very vectors of subjectification that order our present actual world.

Instead of separating and reducing the world to abstract categories of culture and nature, etc., we must begin to think ‘transversally’. To think transversally is to enact the logic of intensities, of auto-referential existential assemblages engaging in irreversible durations. This is a logic of both humans as subjects constituted totalized bodies, but is also of them as – in the psychoanalytical sense, as partial objects; or, as in Winnicott, transitional objects, institutional or otherwise. To think transversally is to think through the movement and intensity of evolving processes. In this sense process as Guattari uses it should be opposed to structure or system, and seen rather as the capture of existence in the moment of its constitution, delimitation, and deterritorialization. Ultimately at the heart of all ecological praxis is a sense of “an a-signifying rupture, in which the catalysts of existential change are close at hand, but lack the expressive support from the assemblage of enunciation; they therefore remain passive and are in danger of losing their consistency…”(ibid. 44)

To understand the way in which the Global Integrated System of Capital has captured and constituted our present artificial matrix or symbolic order Guattari developed four semiotic regimes within which to define its basic operations:

(l) Economic semiotics (monetary, financial, accounting and decision-making mechanisms) ;
(2) Juridical semiotics (title deeds, legislation and regulations of all kinds);
(3) Techno-scientific semiotics (plans, diagrams, programmes, studies, research, etc.);
(4) Semiotics of subjectification, of which some coincide with those already mentioned, but to which we should add many others, such as those relating to architecture, town planning, public facilities, etc.

As one studies the matrix of signs that is present day capitalism one must not lose sight he reminds us that it has become delocalized, and permeates the whole planet rather than being localized within a particular national context. Rather than looking for a stupefying and infantilizing consensus, it will be a question in the future of cultivating a dissensus and the singularities in production of existence and subjectification. A capitalistic subjectivity is engendered through operators of all types and sizes, and is manufactured to protect existence from any intrusion of events that might disturb or disrupt public opinion. As he explains it:

“It seems to me essential to organize new micropolitical and microsocial practices, new solidarities, a new gentleness, together with new aesthetic and new analytic practices regarding the formation of t}e unconscious. It appears to me that this is the only possible way to get social and political practices back on their feet, working for humanity and not simply for a permanent reequilibration of the capitalist semiotic Universe.” (ibid. 52)

Against any false sense of reconciliation Guattari affirms our need to accept struggle and disequilibrium, to affirm it and move not toward a reconciliation of opposites but rather to keep with the tensions and bifurcations, the gaps that present the antinomic anomalies. It is in these anomalous gaps that the new artist laborer begins to make his/her initial project drift far from its previous path, however certain it had once appeared to be. There is a proverb ‘the exception proves the rule’, but the exception can just as easily deflect the rule, or even recreate it. (ibid. 53) The aim of ecosophy is the setting forth the principle antimonies between the ecosophical levels, or, if you prefer, between the three ecological visions, the three discriminating lenses. (ibid. 54)

Against any return to a psychoanalytical modeling Guattari tells us what is needed is for us to face up to the logic of desiring ambivalence wherever it emerges – in culture, everyday life, work, sport, etc. – in order to reevaluate the purpose of work and of human activities according to different criteria than those of profit and yield. (ibid. 57) As he states it:

“Rather than tirelessly implementing procedures of censorship and contention in the name of great moral principles we should learn how to promote a true ecology of the phantasm, one that works through transference, translation and redeployment of their matters of expression.” (ibid. 58)

The point here is that for the most part the great religions of the world have lost their hold on the great majority of humans, and in this secular sphere of capital violence and other asocial manifestations we are no longer bound to the education and socialization procedures of primitive agricultural systems, but rather what we are seeing in everyday life a return to a totemic and animistic vision within the lives of singular citizens based on a hyper-technological fantasia of power and control. Societies are no longer bound to the grand narratives of past ages, but are splintering into subcultural enclaves of dissipative mythologies and schizo-cultures based on hyper-mediatainment networks of music and video that like the turbulent systems of nonlinear dynamics flow into hyper-intensities of flux and instability.

Even as the religious impulse seeks self-fulfilling prophecies of catastrophe and apocalypse in the major religions, the eco-revolutionary fronts seek to control the green movements with apocalyptic myths of climate catastrophe. We fill the unknowns, the gaps and cracks of the future with terror and horrific images, creating movies of the doom that become instant best sellers. Yet, the fictional portrayal of this doomed future scenario leaves people passive, alone, and apathetic rather than disturbing their inner subjectification for change. We speak of change but moment by moment we do nothing more than repeat this truth in the echo chamber of our cultural fantasias.

Guattari saw the unconscious not as theatre but as a factory. A factory that produced machinic processes in a plural form of subjectification through singularization. This process of psychogenesis was itself the development of becomings that formed singularties. The point of Guattari’s schizoanalytical ecosophy was to break the molds of organization that trapped us in the realms of domination and control, and instead to open subjectivities to the flow and intensities of the Real. As his friend Bifo Berardi says, Guattari hoped to “reopen the channel of communication between the individual drift and the cosmic game”.

What has transpired in the neoliberal regime is the construction through education, media, etc., three forms of subjectivity: a serial subjectivity corresponding to the salaried classes, secondly, a form corresponding to the huge mass of the ‘uninsured’, and finally an elitist subjectivity corresponding to the executive sectors. (ibid. 61) Guattari seems to take a pragmatic approach and acceptance of capitalism, and defines the task of any ecosophy as encouraging capitalist societies to make the transition from the mass-media era to a post-media age, in which the media will be reappropriated by a multitude of subject-groups capable of directing its re-singularization.(ibid. 58)

What guides this transformation is the notion of systems of valorization which allow for new modes of being and singularization to arise. Even in the Third-World thousands of value-system revolutions are progressively percolating their way up through society and it is up to the new ecological components to polarize them and to affirm their importance within the political and social relations of force.(ibid. 62) As he tells us rather than remaining subject, in perpetuity, to the seductive efficiency of economic competition, we must re-appropriate Universes of value, so that processes of singularization can rediscover their consistency. We need new social and aesthetic practices, new practices of the Self in relation to the other, to the foreign, the strange… (ibid. 68) Ultimately Guattari seeks the reconquest of a degree of creative autonomy – the catalyst for a gradual reforging and renewal of humanity’s confidence in itself.

1. Franco Berardi. Felix Guattari: Thought, Friendship, and Visionary Cartography
2. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 616-620). Norton. Kindle Edition.

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