ce399 | research archive (esoterica)

Anti-Oedipus and Surrealism

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 21/06/2010


A Ship of Monsters (1959)

“A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch.”


Surrealism as a theory, a movement and an attitude has affected in some way most of the other movements in the 20th century and has either encouraged or reflected a popular tendency toward the devaluation of the rational (both in the philosophical and everyday sense) in literature, t he plastic arts, the media and film, advertising, clothing and hair styles and language usage…and, some might even suggest, in politics. A number of thinkers from the 18th century (Schlegel) to those of the post-modernist persuasion have seen in modern, avant garde art what Nietzsche called the “aesthetic phenomenon,” wherein “the concentrated dealings with itself of a decentered subjectivity set free from the everyday conventions of perceiving and acting (Habermas, p. 93) promise us some kind of release from the tyranny of the purposive-rational, which has strangled the spirit and fragmented modern life. “Modern art alone” comments Habermas, “can communicate with the archaic sources of social integration that have been sealed off within modernity” (p. 91).

What are we therefore to think, within such a context, and in view of the proclamations in the First and Second Manifestos of Surrealism of Breton, of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia,. of Deleuze and Guattari, which appeared in 1972? Anti-Oedipus, in a convincing but ferocious jargon, purports to found a materialist psychoanalysis based on the concept of the autoproductive unconscious, which is a desiring-machine in a universe of desiring machines. This autoproductive desiring-machine is a contentless, non-moral force, like the Freudian id, whose products are always already also and immediately social production–there, it would seem handily solving the problem of the relation between t he self and t he collective, that collective which according to Michel Serres is a black box and a white noise. “In sum, we know nothing, and once more, the collective is black and makes noise” (Serres, p. 124).

The desiring machine is a flow which is broken, deformed, interrupted by breaks-flows, by the flows-schizzes. It is similar to Bohm’s idea of fragmentation theory in which it is the combinations of vortices, of deformations of a continuum, which are perceived as the reality ‘As such, the desiring-machine is a phenomenon of physics, not metaphorically, but really, as a materialists psychoanalysis would demand. As such, psychoanalysis is a branch of physics. Since desiring production is also social production, a materialist psychoanalysis becomes likewise a materialist theory of sociology, history and economics and allows the authors of Anti-Oedipus to describe the evolution of humanity in three stages, which sometimes overlap or at least retain “vacuoles” or enclaves of a previous stage. These are the stages of the primitive territoriality, of the barbarian Urstaat, and of capitalism. Each of these states has its own way of engraving itself on the body of the citizen, and capitalism is the ultimate stage in which the “capitalist social formation…mobilizes [previous coded] flows that are effectively decoded…by substituting for the codes a quantifying axiomatic that is even more repressive” (Deleuze, p. 176).

Although capitalism does not invent Oedipus, it exploits it cynically and mercilessly, supported by modern Oedipalizing psychoanalysis, in order to force onto the autoproductive unconscious the triangular structure of the Oedipus, to define and limit the autoproductive unconscious to a familial concept which effectively breaks it away from the larger cultural and socio-economic framework, and to deform and replace its productivity by representation, by the despotic signifier. What had been real and productive is deformed by representation and the metaphysical atmosphere of idealism, rationalism, capitalism, and neo-idealist psychoanalysis.

Anti-Oedipus will replace the paranoid, molarizing, capitalist, neurotic, Oedipal psychoanalysis with schizoanalysis: a molecular, schizophrenizing point of view that sets free the autoproductive unconscious That is, it will provide a point of view from where the desiring-machines may be identified before their deformation by Oedipus and seek the dissolution of egos. “The first positive task consists of discovering in a subject the nature, the formation, or the functioning of his desiring-0machines, independently of any interpretation” (Deleuze, p. 322). “In this regard, the first thesis of schizoanalysis is this: every investment is social, and in any case bears on a sociohistoric field” (p. 342). “Libidinal economy is no less objective that political economy…” (p. 345). “Schizoanalysis would come to nothing if it did not add to its positive tasks the constant destructive task of disintegrating the normal ego” (p. 362). Here we have a basic theory for psychoanalysis and politics, a study which involves those whom Michel Serres once rather sarcastically “les psyches et pos” (la psychanalyse et la politique). How far can we go in claiming a surrealist influence, or if we are more modest, an intertextuality?

Deleuze, the Breton of the First Manifesto, and surrealism in general posit the unconscious as the primary reality which must be allowed to express itself. For Anti-Oedipus, it is not so much a matter of the “dictation of the unconscious outside any concern for the moral or aesthetic,” the classic definition from the First Manifesto, as it is of freeing the desiring-machine of the unconscious for an authentic desiring-production which is the equivalent of social production The mere expression of the autoproductive unconscious would deny it its productivity by replacing its productivity with representation represented by Oedipus. Nevertheless, I cannot imagine Breton objecting to this definition of the unconscious, which does not seem to me to be contradictory to the goals of surrealism. Breton’s view of the unconscious is not as broad as that of Deleuze and certainly his analysis of the problem is not as deep, as scientific, or as well thought out in its relations between the individual desiring-machines and the socio-economic sphere. Nevertheless, the freeing of the unconscious has the same goal for both surrealism and Anti-Oedipus: an expression-production freed from preconceived ideas, most particularly capitalist-bourgeois ideas.

Both Anti-Oedipus and surrealism require a destructive posture in relation to bourgeois capitalism, and both look to abnormal (although privileged might be a better word) states of mind for the insights and enlightenments required. In Les Vases communicants, Breton and Eluard sought to imitate the states of the various mental afflictions and Anti-Oedipus does specify the difference between schizophrenia as a critique and schizophrenia as a disease: schizophrenia as a critique becomes a disease when it is frustrated as a process by oedipalizing psychoanalysis and by capitalism, which cause the process to take itself as an end. “So the schizo is effectively neuroticized” (Deleuze, p. 363).. Still, Deleuze tracks Artaud about in much the same way Breton tracked Nadja, expecting to find and finding in mental illness some insight, and even a greater sanity than in the world of bourgeois normalcy. He finds Artaud rejecting Oedipus in

I don’t believe in father

In mother

Got no

pappamummy (p. 14)

and he draws further material from the diary of Nijinsky and L’Art brut, a periodic series of reproductions of art works done by residents of the psychiatric hospitals of Europe. “There is never a delirium that does not possess [a strong politico-erotic content] and that is not originally economic, political, and so forth, before being crushed in the psychiatric and psychoanalytic treadmill” (p. 274). “Why does it [capitalism] confine its madmen and madwomen instead of seeing in them it own heroes and heroines, its own fulfillment?” (p. 245).

The problem of a similarity in the concept of representation between surrealism and Anti-Oedipus is somewhat more complicated, given the great theoretical emphasis placed on the signifier by structuralism and post-structuralism, a concern which largely post-dates Breton. In the state of the barbarian Urstaat, however, Deleuze sees the despot establishing the practice of writing: “It is the imperial information that makes graphism into a system of writing in the proper sense of the term” (p. 202). Referring to the studies of Leroi-Gourhan, Deleuze remarks that “primitive societies are oral not because they lack a graphic system but because, on the contrary, the graphic system in these societies is independent of the voice” (p. 202). When, however, the graphic system begins to mirror the spoken word, it tends to supplant it. Writing, as Derrida has often claimed, takes its origin in the priestly class and has its roots in power. “The age of the sign is essentially theological” (Derrida, p. 14). On the other hand, a case can be made (as in the case of Linear B), that writing has its origins in record keeping of merchants.

Tristan Tzara recommended writing a poem by cutting words out of a newspaper and pasting them haphazardly on a piece of paper. Some of the surrealist poets appear to have followed his recommendation. Such a dislocation and mutilation of language, of the signifier, are done in the name of a graphism which has been appropriated by bourgeois power. This dislocation of language is more easily done with poetry, since poetry is nearer the “aesthetic phenomenon” than prose. Sartre no doubt realized this when he opted for prose as a form of commitment, fully accepting the metaphysics of presence and its basis in power, making of prose a form of action which acted on the external world, and rejecting the word-for-the-word’s-sake. Sartre saw language as an order forced on a formless world of objects and would have wanted nothing to do with desiring-machines (making Sartre a closet Platonist, of which he has been accused before). He rejected surrealism as well (Plato would have, too)–ironically putting himself in the bourgeois camp, at least from the point of view of the autoproductive unconscious. Sartre would have wanted nothing to do with the autoproductive conscious–since it would have threatened the pour-soi as the consciousness of being conscious. Seen from this angle, surrealism’s assault on the phonocentric bourgeois writing is consistent with its expectation that primitivism may provide a purified view of things. Nevertheless, Deleuze would have to see the anti-bourgeois linguistic mutilations of the surrealists an ineffective: “Writing has never been capitalism’s thing. Capitalism is profoundly illiterate” (Op. 240). “Electric language does not go by way of the voice or writing: data processing does without them both, as does that discipline appropriately named fluidics, which operates by means of streams of gas; the computer is a machine for instantaneous and generalized decoding [of the flows]” (p;. 241). With a little imagination we may see a surrealist in today’s computer hacker and electronic saboteur.

Besides the role of the unconscious and the automatism recommended in the

First Manifesto, probably the second principal characteristic of surrealism is the unification of opposites recommended in the Second Manifesto, i.e., the destruction between male and female, life and death, good and evil, etc. Deleuze deals with the opposition between male and female in his criticism of anthropomorphized sex and in general his concept of the desiring-machines does away with these oppositions. There is not as much the tone of mystical union, however, in Deleuze as there is in surrealism. “Everything is objective or subjective, as one wishes” he writes. “That is not the distinction: the distinction to be made passes into the economic infrastructure itself and into its investments. Libidinal economy is no less objective than political economy, and the political no less subjective than the libidinal…(p. 345). Such idea of unification seem more methodological in the

Anti-Oedipus than mystic and in any case the problem is solved by the desiring-machines. Yet, as Habermas frequently points out, mysticism seems to be lurking about in any post-modern who tries to resolve the Hegelian diremptions–and the desiring machine is certainly an omnivorous concept.

As for the concept of love, “l’amour fou,” which was supposed to tear the mind out of its domination to bourgeois values, the desiring machine absorbs it as well. Desire, which Breton traced back to the Marquis de Sade as the ancestor of surrealism,
“does not take as its object persons or things, but the entire surroundings that it traverses…” (p. 292). “In a word, the social as well as biological surroundings are the object of unconscious investments that are necessarily desiring or libidinal….The libido as sexual energy is the direct investment of the masses, of large aggregates, and of social and organic fields” (p. 292).

In this case, we have to be careful in claiming that Anit0Oedipus provides a much wider definition of desire that that which Breton traces back to Sade. Considering the importance Breton gave to the unconscious and to desire, I am convinced that if Breton did not go as far in extending desire as to have conceived the desiring-machine, he would certainly have found this Deleuzian concept congenial. “The truth is,” writes Deleuze, “that sexuality is everywhere: the way a bureaucrat fondles his records, a judge administers justice, a businessman causes money to circulate; the way the bourgeoisie fucks the proletariat….Hitler got the fascists sexually aroused. Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused” (p. 293).

This quotation naturally brings up the style of Anti-Oedipus. The book is an abstruse, jargon-ridden piece of work, interlarded with poems by, quotations from and references to Artaud, D.H. Lawrence, Nijinsky, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, etc., with a shocking use of vulgarities in such a difficult work. The style is that of a surrealist shock treatment, as if the sudden impact of the language would drag you out of your capitalist, Oedipalized, molarized, paranoid stupor and make you realize the truth of the auto-productive desiring-machine.

Anti-Oedipus, rather surprisingly, has little regard for the usefulness of dreams, and certainly not that fascination the surrealists had. Dreams are Oedipal. “…and this comes as no surprise, since dreams are a perverse reterritorialization in relation to the deterritorialization of sleep and nightmares. But why return to dreams, why turn them into the royal road of desire and the unconscious, when they are in fact the manifestation of a superego, a superpowerful and superarchiaized ego…? (p. 316)

What is the last word on the relation between surrealism and Anti-Oedipus? If we accept Anti-Oedipus as the whole truth, then the desiring-machines absorb everything and Breton and company and surrealism are a bunch of desiring machines going along in their more or less Oedipalized, familialized, paranoid, molarized and triangulated fashion. But if we care to look at the 20th century as an adventure in pose-modernism, then we may say that surrealism and Anti-Oedipus use the unconscious in a very similar fashion. Surrealism, despite the rejection of the aesthetic preoccupation by Breton in the First Manifesto, is mostly an aesthetic phenomenon. Although Breton rejected Communism and saw surrealism as the revolution in mens’ minds, the manifestations of surrealism and “surrealist research” are mostly in art and literature. I would relate surrealism and Anti-Oedipus in the following way: Surrealism uses the resources of the unconscious to create art and literature; Anti-Oedipus uses them to understand and describe the human sciences, by positing desiring-machines which create history, society, culture and the economy.

For either one, a schizophrenic out for a walk is better than a neurotic on a couch.


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Viking Press, New York: 1977. Trans. Of Anti-Oedipe. Les Editions de Minuit, Paris: 1972, by Hurley, Seem, and Lane.

Jacques Derrida. Of Grammatology. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore: 1976. Trans. of De la Grammatologie. Les Editions de Minuit, Paris: 1967, by Spivak.

Jurgen Habermas. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. MIT Press, Cambridge: 1987. Trans. of Der Philosophische Diskurs der Moderne: Zwölf Vorlesungen. Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main: 1985.

Michel Serres. The Parasite. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore: 1982. Trans. Of Le Parasite by Schehr.



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