beware desyr: anti-oedipus reading notes

One of the re-occurring problems that Deleuze & Guattari address within Anti-Oedipus (AO) is that of the apparently self harming act.  This is perhaps most clearly indicated in the way in which they return to the ‘desire for fascism’ within the masses that Wilhelm Reich attempted to address in his book The mass psychology of fascism.  Reich, whom D&G declare  “the true founder of a materialist psychiatry” (AO: 129), was unsatisfied with any theoretical explanation of the rise of fascism that failed to account for its popular support.  They phrase this in terms of desire – “Desire can never be deceived.  Interests can be deceived, unrecognised, or betrayed, but not desire.  Whence Reich’s cry: no, the masses were not deceived, they desired fascism, and that is what has to be explained” (AO: 279).  The argument is a attempt to allow reality to speak, to let the facts back in, in particular the unpalatable fact that there was this support for fascism (this desire).  Such a fact, the argument presumably goes, means that we are faced with the options of (i) either those who voted and marched and applauded the fascists were somehow duped or else (ii) they willingly and knowingly wanted this state of things (which is taken to be a kind of contradictory situation since it is ‘against their own interests’ for the masses to desire fascism).  Unlike a simple despotism in which the autocrat installs themselves through violence, perhaps aided in some sense by passivity, the fascist regime came to power through a popular passion, through the desire of the masses.  This poses the problem of why people desire that which is against their own interests, why people desire that which oppresses them?

Even to pose the problem in this way is to assume much, however, not least in these notions of ‘interest’ and ‘oppression’.  Is it not, after all, simply as possible to assume that, in fact, fascism was in the interests of a large number of people?  The huge class battles between the communist and fascist forces that occurred in Germany during the rise of fascism make it clear that there wasn’t some sort of ‘passive’ or willing acceptance of the National Socialists German Workers Party by all concerned.  Something was plainly at stake and that something was fought out in street battles which couldn’t go unnoticed.  This caveat aside, however, the issue of a ‘self-injurious desire’, a desire that desires its own pain, its own confinement and stricture, even a desire that desires its own death, this problem does seem to be of interest.  It is also, possibly, a problem that derives more from Nietzsche’s concept of a will that would rather will nothing than not will (Genealogy, 3, Section1) than from Reich.

The response from D&G in AO seems to be located in the analysis they offer of desire, the economy of desiring-production/social-production.  The dynamic, crucially, is one of an oscillation between the limits of deterritorialisation (presented through the conceptual personae of the nomad and the schizo, though there is quite possibly some interesting difference in these two figures as we discussed at the reading group last night) and reterritorialisation, which seems in particular to be connected with the notion of the ‘Urstaat’.

Just after the passage cited above (AO: 279) D&G focus on these “perfectly reactionary unconscious investments”.  They connect these to what Reich calls ‘traditional bonds’  It is Reich’s article, “What is class consciousness?” (AO: 279 fn94) in which this role of ‘traditional bonds’ is brought forward.  In the tasks Reich presents as those for the revolutionary leadership we find the need to analsyse “the desires, fears, thoughts and ideas (‘traditional bonds’) which prevent the progressive desires, ideas, etc from developing”.  Such a question, of course, tends on the one hand to a form of idealism, as though the real problem is simply finding the false ideas that the proletariat is imbued with in order to focus on getting across the ‘correct consciousness’ (class consciousness) which will then enable the proletariat to see the error of its ways and liberate itself.  Such an idealistic route would plainly reject the whole basis of Marxist political economy, its analysis of the role of the productive mode as the final determinant in any political analysis.  It would also run counter to the economy of forces that is the central principle of the analysis of desiring-production/social-production within AO.  “And what does Reich mean” D&G ask “when he speaks of ‘traditional bonds’?” (AO: ibid).

These ‘traditional bonds’ are “neoterritorialities” or “archaisms”.  They are, in that sense, precisely what we might think of when we hear the term ‘traditional bonds’, those odd hangovers from somewhere in the past which exist in today as areas of co-ordination and group formation.  Like football clubs and their fans or geographical designations (‘southerner’, ‘northerner’) or social clubs (The Womens Institute or The Rotary Club) – “from domino players to home brewers via the Veterans of foreign Wars” D&G suggest.  Despite their archaic nature they have a “perfectly current function” within the modern State, that of coding.  The nature of coding is to form groups, group-subjectivities, within which we are all formed and exist.  They range from merely coding a group-subject that is in effect ‘static’ to group-subjects that are capable of radically deterritorialising such as gangs or neighbourhoods that resist the modes of State law – in Brighton, for example, one of the radical newsletters calls itself ‘Rough Music‘, a name it derives from a practice that used to take place within the local communities in Sussex in which a community would ostracise offenders.  Such examples of ‘resistant communities’ which rely on a kind of historical or familial bond are key examples of the archaisms D&G are talking about it seems, capable at times of deterritorialising dynamics away from the State, at times of reterritorialising dynamics of the formation of a new order.

The analysis D&G then offer places these archaisms within the to-and-fro dynamic, the oscillation, between de- and re-territorialisation in which “if it is true that the function of the modern State is the regulation of the decoded, deterritorialised flows, one of the principal aspects of this function consists in reterritorialising” (AO: 280).  This double movement is then directly aligned with the tendency of the rate of profit to fall (AO:281).   It is not, then, that archaisms, the ‘traditional bonds’, are to be understood and analysed so as to be removed and replaced by the ‘class consciousness’ but rather that the very dynamics of the flows of desire are an oscillation between release and capture akin to that tension found within the capitalist mode of production and which Marx expressed with the concept of the ‘law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall’.  The analysis of archaism, of the intricacies of the economy of desire, is the “important consequence” that “the social axiomatic of modern societies is caught between two poles, and is constantly oscillating from one pole to the other…these societies are caught between the Urstaat that they would like to resuscitate as an overcoding and reterritorialising unity, and the unfettered flows that carry them towards an absolute threshold” (AO:282).

This ‘modern society’ that oscillates between flow and fear, between freedom and fascism, includes the socialist as well as the capitalist states.  “Democracy, fascism or socialism, which of these is not haunted by the Urstaat as a model without equal” (AO: 283).  Moreover it is not as though we should merely valorise a free desire since it is desire itself that is this oscillation.  Just after this line about the modern states comes the following – “The name of the local dictator Duvalier’s chief of police was Desyr”.  (In fact Desyr was the chief of the secret police).  Reading this is strange, an oddity.  It is not an argument, not a claim, merely some incidental fact but one placed in such a position as to call a warning to those who simply want to shout ‘desire, desire, desire is always good and true and beautiful’.  As they suggest, it is not desire that is deceived.  In which case desire is, perhaps, as we all know, deceitful.  Beware desyr.

 

The Mass Psychology of Fascism
by Wilhelm ReichRead more about this title…
Anti-Oedipus (Continuum Impacts)
by Gilles DeleuzeRead more about this title…

Article written by

philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

3 Responses

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  1. Sinthome
    Sinthome at |

    Terrific post. Your gloss on the distinction between desire and interest is especially illuminating with respect to Deleuze and Guattari’s question of why we desire our own oppression. Nonetheless, I’ve never quite been able to find an answer to this question in Anti-Oedipus itself. Now I confess that I find this text extremely slippery, but too often they seem to speak about this oppression being applied to bodies from the outside. For instance, in their critique of the psychoanalytic clinic, they often seem to suggest that it is the analyst that Oedipalizes the analysand. The application comes from the outside. Yet this entirely sidesteps the really interesting question of why the analysand desires this oppression. This is the terms within which they’ve framed the question. It could be that I’m just entirely missing something.

  2. Sinthome
    Sinthome at |

    One additional point. You write:

    Just after the passage cited above (AO: 279) D&G focus on these “perfectly reactionary unconscious investments”. They connect these to what Reich calls ‘traditional bonds’ It is Reich’s article, “What is class consciousness?” (AO: 279 fn94) in which this role of ‘traditional bonds’ is brought forward. In the tasks Reich presents as those for the revolutionary leadership we find the need to analsyse “the desires, fears, thoughts and ideas (’traditional bonds’) which prevent the progressive desires, ideas, etc from developing”. Such a question, of course, tends on the one hand to a form of idealism, as though the real problem is simply finding the false ideas that the proletariat is imbued with in order to focus on getting across the ‘correct consciousness’ (class consciousness) which will then enable the proletariat to see the error of its ways and liberate itself. Such an idealistic route would plainly reject the whole basis of Marxist political economy, its analysis of the role of the productive mode as the final determinant in any political analysis. It would also run counter to the economy of forces that is the central principle of the analysis of desiring-production/social-production within AO. “And what does Reich mean” D&G ask “when he speaks of ‘traditional bonds’?” (AO: ibid).

    Have you noticed that this sort of idealism infects nearly all contemporary continental political theory? This only occurred to me recently. You have Zizek who calls himself a militant Marxist, but who only ever makes passing hand gestures to economy (the vacuous “parallax” talk), and the rest of the time locates the political in the Act and the critique of ideology. You have Badiou who calls himself a Marxist, yet talks about truth-procedures and decisions. Ranciere sees everything in counting that which is not counted. Laclau sees it all in fights over the hegemonization of empty universals. Foucault in power, of course. The Adorno period Frankfurt school is better, but even there the focus is on the level of cultural artifacts. It’s surreal when you begin to reflect on it a bit. Marx’s central claims about the primacy of production and economy seem to be entirely ignored… Or maybe I’m just missing something in all these debates. Deleuze and Guattari are singular in their discussion of production, but I’m still deciding whether this is adequate. The problem is even worse in the Deleuzian secondary literature. The Marxist dimension almost entirely disappears, and they’ve even been portrayed as “liberals” in some quarters.

  3. mark
    mark at |

    An interesting post, and I like the section you have concentrated on from Anti-Oedipus. The film V for Vendetta is a good example of demonstrating how people desire their own repression, where the fascist government is actually voting in democratically.
    From my reading Deleuze and Guattari their argument is persuasive in arguing desire produces, which can flow between the two poles of molar/paranoiac and minor/schizophrenic. Revolutionary thought then has the serious problem of becoming-revolutionary without relying upon a molar identity (e.g. working class). While I agree with Levi that Deleuze and Guattari’s Marxist dimension (unfortunately) disappears from most secondary literature, it is also helpful to remember that Anti-Oedipus, and A Thousand Plateaus, serves as a critique of Marx. As Lyotard noted, classical Marxist terms, such as the supra-infrastructure and infrastructure, the worker’s struggles, the proletariat and work value theory, drop from Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis.

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