From now on, no domain of opinion, thought, image, affect or narrativity can pretend to escape from the invasive grip of ‘computer-assisted’ data banks…
………– Felix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies
“How should we talk today about the production of subjectivity?” asked Felix Guattari. Then he’d recognize the obvious: “A first observation leads us to recognize that the contents of subjectivity depend more and more on a multitude of machinic systems”.1 Ahead of his time, or just looking around and seeing what was already obvious, and yet bringing to the fore the hidden kernel of that ubiquitous world we now term the network society we’ve become.
I remember reading and rereading a particularly poignant section of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia – that collaborative project of Deleuze and Guattari, two friends whose lives would be entwined. As Francois Dosse relates it in a biography of the two friends: Intersecting Lives, Deleuze and Guattari have described their work together on several occasions, but they did so somewhat discreetly. Describing their writing together when Anti-Oedipus first came out, Guattari remarked:
This collaboration is not the result of a simple meeting between two people. In addition to the particular circumstances leading up to it, there is also a political context. At the outset, it was less a matter of sharing a common understanding than sharing the sum of our uncertainties and even a certain discomfort and confusion with respect to the way that May 1968 had turned out.2
As regards writing together, there was no particular difficulty and both of us realized slowly that this technique had some clear function. One of the very shocking aspects of books about psychiatry or psychoanalysis is their duality in the sense of what an ostensibly sick person says and what the healer says about the patient. . . . Curiously, however, we tried to get beyond this traditional duality because two of us were writing. Neither of us was the patient or the psychiatrist but we had to be both to establish a process. . . . That process is what we called the flux.
As I said previously the passage in Anti-Oedipus that captured for me the sense of the project and its acute diagnosis of our society and capitalism relates to what they termed “our very own ‘malady,’ modern man’s sickness: “Schizophrenia as a process is desiring production, but it is this production as if function at the end, as the limit of social production determined by the conditions of capitalism.”(Anti-Oedipus, p. 139). So that when Guattari asks: “How should we talk today about the production of subjectivity?” It’s this sense of the end of history and capitalism as its final form to which Guattari speaks. As they say in AO: “The end of history has no other meaning. In it the two meanings of process meet, as the movement of social production that goes to the very extremes of its deterritorialization, and as the movement of metaphysical production that carries desire along with it and reproduces in a new Earth.” (ibid., pp. 130-131).
Just here D&G will suddenly rise to the occasion and deliver a paeon to the schizo:
The schizo carries along the decoded flows, makes them traverse the desert of the body without organs, where he installs his desiring-machines and produces a perpetual outflow of acting forces. He has crossed over the limit, the schiz, which maintained the production of desire always at the margin of social production, tangential and always repelled. …. For here is the desert propagated by our world, and also the new earth, and the machine that hums, around which the schizos revolve, planets for a new sun. (ibid., p. 131)
Poetry, hyperbole, utopian? – And, they will even liken this new type of being, this schizo as a new Zarathustra: “These men of desire – or do they not yet exist? – are like Zarathustra. They know incredible sufferings, vertigos, and sicknesses. They have their spectres. They must reinvent each gesture. But such a man produces himself as a free-man, irresponsible, solitary, joyous, finally able to say and do something simple in his own name, without asking permission; a desire lacking nothing, a flux that overcomes barriers and codes, a name that no longer designates any ego whatever. He has simply ceased being afraid of becoming mad. He experiences and lives himself as the sublime sickness that will no longer affect him. (ibid., p. 131). Nietzsche’s influence permeates this work, the sense they are updating a revaluation-of-all-values, creating for their generation a work to extend and fulfill Nietzsche’s mission and task of a production of a new type of being, a new subjectivity, a new process of subjectivation.
What are we to think of this? For me it was a confirmation of my own being, of having come thus far, of having pushed passed those limits in my own life after my own childhood, Viet Nam, its aftermath, my own suffering and entry into madness, of having come through and applied that very weapon of my own being to the wound of my madness and come out the other side strangely different, whole, having died to that creature I’d been; subtly realizing the old notion of twice-born, of having suffered utter defeat and the end game of my ego’s torturous enactments. These words spoke volumes, clarified the madness of my youthful rebellions, struggles, and defeats; and, yet, also confirmed my own struggle passed the barriers, the boundaries, the strange entry into my own desert of the earth, and arrival into a new earth. Was this too madness? Yes, a new type of madness. Being schiz… a multiplicity, and not only surviving it, but knowing it, being it, without center, without ego… a multitude; or, “I am Legion!” Haven’t I always been more than “I” that singular point becoming only the truth of what D&G would term “singularity”?
So that when Guattari admonishes us to accept the machine, rather than turning luddite, and “rather than associating with the fashionable crusades against the misdeeds of modernism, rather than preaching the rehabilitation of ruined transcendental values, or giving in to the disillusioned delights of postmodernism, we can try to challenge the dilemma of contorted refusal or cynical acceptance of the situation. Because machines are in a position to articulate statements and record states of fact at the rhythm of the nanosecond and, perhaps tomorrow, the picosecond1 does not mean that they are diabolical powers that threaten to dominate man. In fact, people are all the less justified in turning away from machines given that, after all, they are nothing other than hyperdeveloped and hyperconcentrated forms of certain aspects of human subjectivity and, let us emphasize, precisely not those aspects that polarize humans into relations of domination and power.” (SC, KL 501)
One realizes Guattari was on to something toward the end of his life, realizing ours was into rather than out of the machine and capitalism. We would need to embrace technology not as victims, nor slaves, but rather as a new type of being, the Schizo. In fact he’d realize we’d need to set up a bridge, an interface, a two-way communication between human and machine and machine and human: 1) current informatic and communication machines do not just convey representative contents but equally contribute to the preparation of new (individual and/ or collective) Assemblages of enunciation; and, 2) all machinic systems, whatever domain they belong to – technical, biological, semiotic, logical, abstract – are, by themselves, the support for proto-subjective processes, which I will characterize in terms of modular subjectivity. (SC, KL 517)
The more I have thought about it over the past couple years the more I realize that those such as Badiou, Zizek, Johnson are still living in the past, still devoted to outmoded and dead worlds of thought and being, defending Idealisms as material and immaterial strategies of the ‘gap’ as break, distance, qualifier. Instead Deleuze and Guattari were onto something else, onto a truth about our current and future dilemmas that no longer relied on outmoded forms of thought or being. It is to their work we should turn to recover and realign a vision of a new earth. What they had was the courage of their ideas, rather than the courage of despair as in Zizek. The Left needs to turn away from despair not to optimism, but rather to struggle and the future where our hopes and dreams still move in multiplicity; yet, we should not remain with a gap between here and there, but rather undertake the path across, the bridge to the new earth by way of the schizo. True madness is staying with the sanity of our world, holding onto the insane violence of capitalism which is destroying the very foundations of life on our planet. True sanity is in rejection of this world, of exiting its mad ways, of marshalling the energetic creativity to enter a new earth, a new realm of freedom beyond the madness. Yet, to do this is to push past the boundary lines of our current thinking, to enter into a new relation with ourselves and the environment around us.
Maurizio Lazzarato’s Signs and Machines follow Guattari and Deleuze, showing how signs act as “sign-operators” that enter directly into material flows and into the functioning of machines. Money, the stock market, price differentials, algorithms, and scientific equations and formulas constitute semiotic “motors” that make capitalism’s social and technical machines run, bypassing representation and consciousness to produce social subjections and semiotic enslavements. Lazzarato asks: What are the conditions necessary for political and existential rupture at a time when the production of subjectivity represents the primary and perhaps most important work of capitalism? What are the specific tools required to undo the industrial mass production of subjectivity undertaken by business and the state? What types of organization must we construct for a process of subjectivation that would allow us to escape the hold of social subjection and machinic enslavement?
This is the path we should take, questions we should ask, and let the “dead bury the dead” of the old schools of thought.
- Guattari, Felix (2012-12-06). Schizoanalytic Cartographies (Impacts) (Kindle Locations 501-504). Bloomsbury Academic. Kindle Edition.
- Dosse, Francois (2010-06-22). Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism) (p. 8). Columbia University Press. Kindle Edition.