Deleuze & Guattari: Theory of Debt


In section five Territorial Representation of Anti-Oedipus Deleuze & Guattari will develop their theory of debt that goes against most economic theories which are based on exchange systems. Instead they offer the socious of inscriptive processes. One in which the criticism of all ‘exchangist conceptions’ is grounded on a counter-theory of Œdipus in which filiation and production, rather than alliance and exchange, are primary:

Society is not exchangist, the socious is inscriptive: not exchanging but marking bodies, which are part of the earth. We have seen that the regime of debt is the unit of alliance, and alliance is representation itself. It is alliance that codes the flows of desire and that, by means of debt, creates for man a memory of words (paroles). It is alliance that represses the great, intense, mute filiative memory, the germinal influx as the representative of the noncoded flows of desire capable of submerging everything. It is debt that articulates the alliances with the filiations that have become extended, in order to form and to forge a system in extension (representation) based on the repression of nocturnal intensities. The alliance-debt answers to what Nietzsche described as humanity’s prehistoric labor: the use of the cruelest mnemotechnics, in naked flesh, to impose a memory of words founded on the ancient biocosmic memory. That is why it is so important to see debt as a direct consequence of the primitive inscription process, instead of making it – and the inscriptions themselves – into an indirect means of universal exchange. (p. 185)

A notion of guilt that ties us to the past through the cruelest forms of inscription, that bind us to the biocosmic memory of the anterior through the repression of those ‘nocturnal intensities’ tracing the mark of the sacred and its law seems to lead us into that moment of justice and sovereignty. Originally justice is the assertion of an equivalence between the creditor’s pleasure in pain inflicted on the debtor and the injury caused by the unpaid debt; memory is the product of marks inscribed on the body for a debt not paid, living reminders that produce the capacity to remember the future moment at which the promise must be kept. The sovereign individual who can make and keep promises and defines himself by power over himself is thus the product of punishment: how culture trains and selects its members  (D& G 1983: 144–145, 190–192). The art of inscription, the tattooing of the debt upon the singular body of the alliance member becomes the form that in our time Lazzarato will call the “extortion economy” that through obligation and guild binds us to the austerity of nations in an age of criminal neoliberalism.

As one entry in the Deleuze Dictionary will tell us for Deleuze, Spinoza is the great ethical thinker who breaks with the Judeo-Christian tradition, and who is followed by four ‘disciples’ who develop this ethical approach: Nietzsche, D. H. Lawrence, Franz Kafka and Antonin Artaud. They are all opposed to the psychology of the priest, and Nietzsche in particular shows how judgment subjects man to an infinite debt that he cannot pay. This means that the doctrine of judgment is only apparently more moderate than a system of ‘cruelty’ according to which debt is measured in blood and inscribed directly on the body, since it condemns us to infinite restitution and servitude. Deleuze goes further to show how these four ‘disciples’ elaborate a whole system of ‘cruelty’ that is opposed to judgment, and which constitutes the basics for an ethics.2

In our own time the alliances and filiations no longer pass through people but through money; so the family becomes a microcosm, suited to expressing what it no longer dominates. In a certain sense the situation has not changed; for what is invested through the family is still the economic, political, and cultural social field, its breaks and flows. Private persons are an illusion, images of images or derivatives of derivatives. Capitalism is defined by social production that passes through axioms of abstract quantities, flows of money and labor that are the real relations of alliance and filiation, rather than codes. Codes have become private matters, searches for meaning. This split between production and reproduction constitutes a very particular affective relation as well, which Deleuze and Guattari summarize as, “the age of cynicism, accompanied by a strange piety. These two affects, cynicism and piety, correspond to the division of social production and reproduction. In the first, in the axioms of capital, we have a social order that reproduces itself without meaning or code. Axioms merely set up a relation between two quantities, a flow of labor and a flow of money. One does believe in, or justify, the rate at which labor is exchanged for money—it simply is. Cynicism is an affect attuned to the indifference of the axioms that produce and reproduce social life, the recognition that the flows of the market mean nothing, have no justification, than their brute effectivity. Piety, and belief, is reserved for the home, for the intimate sphere of reproduction that becomes the source of all the pleasure and pain. Capitalism’s affective economy of cynicism and piety is thus distinguished from the savage economy of cruelty and the barbarian economy of fear, both of which were public despite all of their cruelties. (see Unemployed Negativity: The Affective Economy: Producing and Consuming Affects in Deleuze and Guattari)

1. Giles Deleuze & Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Penguin, 2009)
2.   (2010-09-01). The Deleuze Dictionary Revised Edition (p. 88). Edinburgh University Press. Kindle Edition.

1 thought on “Deleuze & Guattari: Theory of Debt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s