Notes on Anti-Oedipus: The Three Meanings of Process

There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.

—Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus

I’ve been rereading Anti-Oedipus of late, taking copious notes, etc. trying to simplify for myself this labyrinthine masterwork by a philosopher and an anti-psychiatrist at a juncture in those turbulent years that would see the failure of the New Left, as well as the birth of that weird era we term postmodernism (so called). No sense in going into the personal details of biography and collaboration between the two men, this has been documented to death. Instead as I began thinking through this work that even the two men would ten years later see as a grand failure.

Deleuze speaking of Nietzsche once stated that the masters according to Nietzsche are the untimely, those who create, who destroy in order to create, not to preserve. Nietzsche says that under the huge earth-shattering events are tiny silent events, which he likens to the creation of new worlds: there once again you see the presence of the poetic under the historical.1 The failure of the 1968 event in France would leave a bitter taste in the minds of both men. In “Intersecting Lives”, the author notes that Deleuze was disappointed by his work: “Eight years after Anti-Oedipus was published, Deleuze considered it a failure. May ’68 and its dreams were long gone, leaving a bitter taste for those who had high hopes but were caught by the stale odors of conservatism.” While for Guattari it was utter devastation as these authors state it. His hyperactivity and the immense effort he had put into the book led to something of a collapse, a feeling of emptiness. Completing a work is never as satisfying as the many imagined possibilities and ongoing pleasures of a work in progress. ‘I feel like curling up into a tiny ball and being rid of all these politics of presence and prestige…The feeling is so strong that I resent Gilles for having dragged me into this mess”.

Yet, the book would take on a life of its own and would become a part of the critical mythology of that era. I came on it in the 90’s quite by accident, seeing the work on a table in friend’s apartment. She was cooking dinner so I began reading the introduction by Foucault, another author I was knowledgeable of only through hearsay rather than translations. All that would come later. Yet, I was intrigued, so asked her to lend me the book. I remember she laughed and said it would change my life. I of course nodded skeptically and we ate an excellent meal, drank wine, and the rest is silence.

I know I’ve read this work piecemeal many times, picking up threads here and there turning them over as my reading in other aspects of the postmodern turn became greater and greater. At sixty-five I’m definitely a product of my age and its strangeness. Being a U.S. citizen is to live in a lonely planet of thought, because most of the people in academia in philosophy were either into analytical or scientific-mathematical thought. So that most of the new French thought as we termed it came by way of literary critics and certain Marxian intellectuals like Fredrick Jameson. Postmodern thought in America was abstruse and jargon ridden ghostings of that era’s philosophical hero worship, Jaques Derrida. So that much of the thought came through this Heideggerean world of hyperlinguistic aestheticism. Tell the truth it turned me off completely. I read it of course but felt this whole linguistic turn and deconstruction of Western metaphysics along with the soft political punches under the guise of subtle Hegelianisms was strangely off-putting. So I turned away.

That’s why Deleuze’s Logic of Sense more than Difference and Repetition always spoke to me, and his early histories of philosophy. Yet, it was the collaborations with Guattari that intrigued me in an odd-ball way. It was an attack on most of Western conceptuality and the androcratic and familial structures that have underpinned our civilization. So that even though they admit it is not a political work explicitly, it is implicitly just that: political through and through.

So I’ve decided to take notes and share my findings. In that first chapter ‘Desiring Productions’ they’ll affirm the obliteration of the whole of the Western Enlightenment tradition of humanism, affirming Nietzsche’s nihilistic insights about the end of meaning. As I quoted in the epigraph: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other and couples the machines together. Producing-machines, desiring-machines everywhere, schizophrenic machines, all of species life: the self and the non-self, outside and inside, no longer have any meaning whatsoever.”

It’s this reduction of the humanist divisions of human/nature, nature/nurture, etc. all the typical binaries that have bound us to the metaphysical heritage which would dissolve into process and nihilism. But what did they mean by process? They’ll argue that there are three distinct meanings of process:

  1. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process. (AO, p. 27)
  2. This is the second meaning of process as we use the term: man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other—not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather, they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product. Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. (AO, pp. 27-28)
  3. That is why desiring-production is the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry, which conceives of and deals with the schizo as Homo natura. This will be the case, however, only on one condition, which in fact constitutes the third meaning of process as we use the term: it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself. Putting an end to the process or prolonging it indefinitely—which, strictly speaking, is tantamount to ending it abruptly and prematurely— is what creates the artificial schizophrenic found in mental institutions: a limp rag forced into autistic behavior, produced as an entirely separate and independent entity. (AO, p. 28)

Deleuze and Guattari will oppose the Freudian conception of the unconscious as a representational “theater”, instead favoring a productive “factory” model: desire is not an imaginary force based on lack (as in Hegel/Lacan/Zizek), but a real, productive force. They describe the mechanistic nature of desire as a kind of “desiring-machine” that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger “circuit” of various other machines to which it is connected. Meanwhile, the desiring-machine is also producing a flow of desire from itself. Deleuze and Guattari imagine a multi-functional universe composed of such machines all connected to each other: “There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale.” Desiring-production is explosive, “there is no desiring-machine capable of being assembled without demolishing entire social sectors”.

We know that they turned from the machinic terms to assemblage in A Thousand Plateaus, but underneath it is still about flows and interruptions within a continuous process of production. As they’ll say “Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows” (AO, p. 28). They will attack Idealism for making this into an object, rather than a process. One can return to Schelling’s work to discover the Idealist conceptions. For Schelling Spirit is not a static entity given, something mysterious X, but infinite becoming and infinite productivity. It is in this ceaseless production lies the organic nature of human Spirit that is moved by its immanent laws and that has its purposive-ness within itself. Schelling here introduces the notion of organism which unites in its immanence its goal and purpose, its form and matter, concept and intuition. It’s this revision within Deleuze and Guattari that will lead to a materialist perspective, saying: “Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle.” (AO, p. 27)

For Deleuze and Guattari the notion of Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death. “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division. In his final essay entitled Immanence: A Life, Deleuze writes: “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.”

Lastly they will attack any notion of transcendence and teleology or goal oriented production etc.: “it must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself.” This schizophrenizing process of desiring production is bound within a flat ontology or plane of immanence that has no goals, and in fact ends badly for the paranoiac and schizophrenics we find in actual institutions.  In fact they would go so far as to say that “Desiring-machines work only when they break down, and by continually breaking down(AO, p. 31)”. It’s here that they’ll introduce that concept of the Body-without-organs:

Above all, it is not a projection; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the body itself, or with an image of the body. It is the body without an image. This imageless, organless body, the nonproductive, exists right there where it is produced, in the third stage of the binary-linear series. It is perpetually reinserted into the process of production. … The full body without organs belongs to the realm of antiproduction; but yet another characteristic of the connective or productive synthesis is the fact that it couples production with antiproduction, with an element of antiproduction. (AO, p. 31)

I want go into detail on this concept till the next entry, since section 2 of that Chapter deals with exactly that. Only to leave you with a quote from that next section to think on:

An apparent conflict arises between desiring-machines and the body without organs. Every coupling of machines, every production of a machine, every sound of a machine running, becomes unbearable to the body without organs. Beneath its organs it senses there are larvae and loathsome worms, and a God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it. (AO, p. 32)

One is almost tempted to see in this “God at work messing it all up or strangling it by organizing it” the late great gnostic demiurge or the Spinozan God of materialist process itself. A blind processual being or entity that is more of a placeholder for the process that is continuously creating and destroying throughout the universe. Desiring production as this machine in continuous process of making and unmaking worlds.


  1. Theory and Theorists. “Nietzsche’s Burst of Laughter,” Interview with Gilles Deleuze. April 17, 2014.
  2. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Penguin Classics (May 26, 2009)

 

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