Guattari’s Oedipus

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Noir Realism has put up a thought-provoking post on Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, describing the work as a “Black Book of Riddles,” a “dreamwork” that doesn’t so much offer a strict revolutionary praxis, but opts instead for an extended poetic science-fiction of a world existing only moments away where death’s pale figure hovers, a chilled wind in the air. And it is a book of riddles indeed! So many interpretations and opinions move around it: Lyotard used it as a platform for his leap from doctrinaire Marxism, Zizek sees it as a corrosion of Deleuze’s abilities as a philosopher, and Manuel DeLanda calls it the duo’s “worst book.” Nick Land finds a how-to guide in hacking into capitalism’s artificial intelligence, Bifo rereads it as a book of warnings. Baudrillard assaults it as a justification for capitalism’s destructive tendencies, but Foucault applauds it as a guide to living a non-fascist life.

Maybe this is exactly the impact that the book aims to have: after all, the very ambiguous nature of its text will either bring seduction or revulsion, or both simultaneously. Its celebration of the schizophrenic experience is certainly controversial, but people overlook the fact that at the bottom of schizophrenia is a rejection of any system that promotes a master signifier. Love the book or hate it, to attempt to advance one over the other to fall into the striated space that the book wishes to explode.

I’d like to put forth another reading of the text, one more buried in subtext and the author’s personal life, that makes the work a kind of “game,” a micropolitical revolution that at once lays schizo-analysis out as a decisive counter to traditional psychoanalysis (and all the disciplinary institutions and power relations that it plugs into) while simultaneously schizo-analyzing Felix Guattari himself, the ‘patient zero’ in the bizarre experiment.

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Anti-Oedipus was not written like a regular book; there was no rigorous academic study conducted in the traditional sense, no unified thesis that was worked towards. Instead, it was the work of two individuals, one an anti-Hegelian philosopher working in the Nietzschean tradition, and the other a left-wing militant and psychoanalyst tied to both the radical La Borde clinic and Jacques Lacan’s Ecole Freudienne de Paris. The philosopher was a meticulous worker, moving slowly through thoughts in his preferred seclusion, drawing them out in verbal concepts. The left-wing psychoanalyst, on the other hand, was speed and diagrams- “He can jump from one activity to another, he doesn’t sleep much, he travels, he doesn’t stop.”1 If Deleuze’s thinking was thick and heavy, Guattari’s was light, rapidly fluctuating from one minute to the next. The same paradigm carried over to writing: by the time work on Anti-Oedipus commenced, Deleuze already had published multiple philosophy landmarks – Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), Difference and Repetition (1968), The Logic of Sense (1969), and others on Kant, Proust, and Bergson – but Guattari’s own writing output was small and fragmented, flows blocked by either reoccurring bouts of writer’s block or sudden changes of interest. To coax his friend’s philo-speculative accelerations onto the page, Deleuze regimented Guattari with an ascetic lifestyle:

Their first book was written primarily through letters. This approach to writing completely upset Guattari’s daily life, because it forced him to work alone, which was not his habit, as he had been used to directing his groups. Deleuze expected Guattari to wake up and get to his desk right away, to outline his ideas on paper (he had three ideas per minute), and, without rereading or reworking what he had written, to mail his daily draft. He imposed what he considered to be a necessary process for getting over writer’s block. Guattari followed the rules faithfully and withdrew to his office, where he worked slavishly until four o’clock in the afternoon every day, after which he went to La Borde to quickly make his rounds before returning to Dhuizon, generally around six o’clock.2

This process, of writing without rereading or revising, to thrust together information culled from other works with the thought flows of everyday experience and personal insight, is very close to the earlier surrealist’s tactic of ‘automatic writing’ – to allow the pen to drift across the page, pouring out images and feelings and words not regulated by the self’s tendency towards self-censorship. Breton and the other surrealists saw the tactic as a way to “gain access to a split-off, traumatic kernel of ideas dissociated from the individual’s conscious mind…”3 In many ways, automatic writing resembles a microform of the positions theorized in Anti-Oedipus: movement or circulation free from the command and discipline forced upon the mind/body by power institutions.

And so Deleuze would take these threads that Guattari, the “diamond miner,” brought forth and polish them, rewriting them in combination with his own thoughts before shipping them back to Guattari for further rewrites, and so on. “Each of us functions like an incrustation or a citation in the other one’s texts, and then, after a while, we’re not sure who is citing whom anymore.”4 The separate voices collapse into one another, polyvocality, individuals (who were already both many) disintegrate as the bond becomes a collective assemblage of enunciation. Deleuze and Guattari, two desiring-machines, plugged into one another, allowing the blocked flows through. “Desiring-machines are binary machines,” we read in Anti-Oedipus, “…one machine is always coupled with another… 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.”5 Through the circulation of these flows, conjoined desiring-machines take on new forms, engage in different processes of becoming – becoming even a war machine.

Psychoanalytic Overcodes



To conjoin flows, to operate in a world where the lines dividing nature, the self, and culture disappear, to move through this world of affective experiences as both one and multiple, is to experience things in a profoundly schizophrenic manner. Normalization? A play of power, to cut off this schizophrenia right at the moments that define it: the flows themselves, subterranean spasms of the desiring-machines. This power becomes identified in psychoanalysis through the supposed Oedipal complex, rendered by Freud to be the necessary passageway for the child into accepting authoritarian civilization. This is why Deleuze and Guattari, despite their leftist credentials, maintain an something ambiguous relationship to capitalism: because it too circulates affects and obliterates boundaries, the market system is schizophrenic. In his notes to Deleuze, Guattari writes that an “ethnologist who gives two-cent pearls in exchange for an Indian bow and a grass skirt isn’t stealing. He’s responding to the other’s desire on the other’s terms.”6 States and corporations, the anti-markets that centralize and overcode these desiring relations and recompose them on their own terms, are no different than psychoanalysis’s Oedipus; but all it takes for the complex to be circumvented is the movement of the non-Oedipalized schizophrenic.

Anti-Oedipus is thus read as a prolonged assault at the base foundation of all psychoanalytic theory – the work of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s name is repeatedly referenced in the book, again and again is his ghost called up to be thrust back into the abyss with all his triumphalism for power’s mechanics. But Guattari’s notes, published as The Anti-Oedipus Papers, portrays things a little differently: it is almost a constant engagement with the work of his mentor, Lacan. The transferal from Lacan to Freud is pretty easy to make, as Lacan had made a call for a “return to Freud,” to restudy the master’s works and rediscover their applicability. Oedipus transfers between the two as well: the triangle of the father-mother-child is replicated in Lacan’s triangle of the symbolic-imaginary-real. The symbolic and the father coincide; the symbolic order is the domain of the state-form, but not the state as the governing institution itself, but the extended codes and overcodes, laws written and unwritten, norms, relations, that make up the fabric of our civilization. The Real begins in what Deleuze and Guattari would call a schizophrenic state, pre-Oedipalized, and the Imaginary is where the ego, the space where selfhood is defined in relation to the reality principle, comes together. The passage through both triangles is the passage through the most invisible of disciplinary institutions, making the body itself docile and productive in ways the factory never would be able to.

Lacan fairs quite well in the text of Anti-Oedipus, and Guattari gives him much credit in The Anti-Oedipus Papers. But for him, Lacan never goes far enough, always falling back just before the radical extent of his approach to the psyche can be revealed. Take Lacan’s “A,” a sense of alterity tangled up in semiotic structures: Guattari points out that the “A” is really the Body without Organs, the smooth space where the deterritorialized desiring flows move and conjoin, but Lacan wants to Oedipalize the “A” by identifying it with the mother. The rationale, Guattari argues, is Lacan’s own resistance to his desiring-flows: “…he interrupts his deterritorialization to the letter (no doubt a defense against his own schizophrenia…).7 Later the “A” is pushed further, out into the descending lines of deterritorialization, by dividing it into multiple parts, such as the “objet “a” of individual fantasy” and “the institutional object group fantasy.” There is no single position of alterity that desire relates to, but a multivalenced field.


Lacan: the “A” brought into the Oedipus Complex through the figure of the mother


Guattari: the “A” as the BwO, the smooth space populated by flows and intensities

Guattari’s relationship with Lacan is illuminated further in the pages of his journal, also sent to Deleuze along with his array of notes and thoughts. As he plunges deep and deeper into the rhizomes of his delirious work, he feels the drift, the breakage from Lacan (and even La Borde) happening, a fault line that must happen if the work is to be a success. Lacan becomes Guattari’s own Oedipus, his thought the symbolic order that his own system is chained to. And the more Guattari strives to deterritorialize, become schizophrenic in his own way, the more the complex attempts to reterritorialize him. His mentor invades his dreams:

Another dream about Lacan! This is insane! I can hear them, from here, saying: “badly eliminated transfer,” etc. In a sense, its true if transfer is Oedipal reterritorialization artificially woven onto the space of the couch. I have oedipal rot sticking to my skin. Not passively, but with all the will to power of the death drive. The more I become disengaged – the more I try to become disengaged – from twenty years of Lacano-Labordian comfort, the more this familialist carcass enfolds me secretly. I would rather admit anything else!8

The reference to the death drive is critical – as the disengaged continues, Guattari dreams of death, physical deaths of the his own body and the deaths of his personal relationships. He toys with the idea of hiding, escaping the scrutiny that is bearing down on him with the looming publication of Anti-Oedipus, avoiding the act that himself and Deleuze will never be forgiven for. The more these fears circulate in counter of his desiring-flows, Lacan comes to take on the form in Guattari’s mind of the all-knowing father:

And Lacan! We’re listening to music: an opera, sung privately. A singer with a voice, moving like a little girl’s. But also, and especially, a young beautiful tenor with a warm, captivating, fascinating voice. Maybe a high baritone. Lacan, a real connoisseur, makes me feel my ignorance… What a guy, my goodness, he knows everything about everything, Hebrew, Chinese, modern mathematics…9

Finally, Lacan confronts Guattari in his office, approaching him with the stern attitudes of the plant manager, the work-boss. “What have you done over the past two years? We’ve lost contact. I’m not trying to reprimand you, you’re still part of the Ecole. I accept divergences, that’s why I founded the Ecole, but…” Guattari defends himself by explaining that he’s still a Lacanian psychoanalyst, but a Lacanian who wants to move forward and engage with the unknown, “instead of trailing in the wake.”10 Lacan tells him he wants to see the manuscript of Anti-Oedipus, but Guattari refuses – what would Deleuze say? In the end, a dinner invitation is set, a meeting to discuss the book and the concept of “schizo-analysis.”

So what is schizo-analysis?” The beginning of the meeting was very hard. I messed up a sacred Lacanian formula, and tried to redeem myself as well as I could… A second wave of emotion. But it was too late! Something had already broken. Maybe things had always been broken between the two of us. But, also, has he ever accessed anyone, has he ever talked to anyone? I wonder! He sets himself up as a despotic signifier.11

The word choice here is crucial: the despotic signifier is identified by Deleuze and Guattari as the primary overcoding abilities of the state-form and its state-logic, that symbolic order that issues command and discipline, converting these relations into the bureaucratic institutional interface of formal and informal governance. Hence the reference to the “sacred Lacanian formula;” this is like the laws of the state, held up as almost holy in its universality and omnipotence. Guattari messes up the formula, transgresses the law – but it is not the kind of transgression that leads back to disciplinary institutions (the hospital, the prison, the asylum, the “familialist carcass” of the social), but one that leads to the final break with Lacan.

It’s late. Time to go. He was pleased with our meeting. Reassured. Or so he said! Stooped, evidently exhausted, limping imperceptibly, his silhouette disappeared into the night. The gates on the house at the rue de Lille closed heavily behind me.12

Schiz, as in schizophrenia, schizo-analysis, means to “break,” “separate,” or divide; the schizo-analytic practice is to locate find these breaks, wherein the potential for bifurcation resides, and use them to jump in a new production of subjectivity, a new place full of beings and becomings. Psychoanalysis, built along the Freud-Lacan axis, mends these breaks, makes it where there will be no jumps into the unexpected and chaotic maelstrom of the bifurcation. Anti-Oedipus tangles with the hegemony of the mental health profession, revealing it to be part and parcel of the symbolic order that builds the way we operate in the social and in nature. For Guattari, this took on a deeply personal meaning, for he was caught within the folds a symbolic order that took on the Ecole as its institutional manifestation, but was being generated by Lacan and the traditions that flowed through him. Guattari’s contributions to Anti-Oedipus, his conjoining with Deleuze on the level of desiring-machines, then would be, as he puts it, a procedural disengagement leading to the final schiz, the break from Lacan – the exiting of this mini Oedipal triangle and becoming-schizophrenic.

1Felix Guattari The Anti-Oedipus Papers Semiotext(e), 2006, pg. 20

2Francois Dosse Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari: Intersecting Lives Columbia University Press, 2011, pg. 7

3David Lomas The Haunted Self: Surrealism, Psychoanalysis, Subjectivity Yale University Press, 2000

4Guattari The Anti-Oedipus Papers, pg. 16

5Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin, 2009 (reprint edition) pg. 5

6Guattari The Anti-Oedipus Papers, pg. 167

7Ibid., pg. 128

8Ibid., pg. 305

9Ibid., pg. 317

10Ibid., pg. 343

11Ibid., pg. 344

12Ibid., pgs. 344-345

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8 Responses to Guattari’s Oedipus

  1. noir-realism says:

    Yea, so many dismiss Guattari it’s is astounding… I mean when the two met it was at a moment when Deleuze needed this as well, it was what both needed to break out of their own specific blockages: the one from the Master of psychoanalysis, the other from the Master Image of thought itself.

    • edmundberger says:

      I’m so surprised by the general dismissal of Guattari as well! I’ve read far more Guattari than Deleuze, actually… there’s something about the way he deploys his concepts that resonates with me. Not downplaying Deleuze, though! I’m definitely interested in learning about the impact/schizs produced for him in the event of Anti-Oedipus. Aside from his health problems and overall thought trajectory, I’m not to familiar.

  2. noir-realism says:

    Yea, I sometimes wish I could undergo both a series of Lacanian and Guattarian analytic sessions, see the process firsthand… reading the literature just doesn’t do it justice. And, it seems that for all Badiou’s bluster, he saw in Deleuze as well the only rival he ever truly had… which makes me wonder if under the hood he didn’t envy his relationship with Guattari (since Badiou like Zizek is more of a staunch Lacanian in that since). So much to work through… this whole year is pretty much being spent on both Deleuze and Zizek for me with Badiou in the background. I think Badiou is wrong to base his whole Image of thought on the matheme…. I still think that Deleuze (with Guattari) was moving in the write direction (and, he, too, used forms of math, jut not from physics, but from the life sciences.)

    • edmundberger says:

      At one point I tried to find a Lacanian analyst in my area, but alas, Louisville KY is lacking in them! Didn’t even try to look for a Guattarian one… I wonder what a schizo-analytic session would even look like, especially given the further thoughts on it developed in Guattari’s last couple of books. The engagement between Deleuze/Guattari and Badiou/Zizek is a tricky one, for sure. It would be interesting if the former were still alive and capable of response! It seems to me that a great deal of the debate is driven, at its bottom, by a kind of posthumous struggle over the legacy of Lacan (and Hegel,of course). But I agree with on the direction that Deleuze and Guattari were moving, staking out far-off territories, beyond dogmas and ideology.

  3. noir-realism says:

    Yea, been reading Clayton Crockett’s book Deleuze beyond Badiou of late. In it he relates that Badiou had begun a correspondence with Deleuze toward the end of D’s life, but that he had Badiou promise not to have it published. Either way it is interesting that Badiou saw in Deleuze his only major rival, the only one that did not follow in the wake of Heidegger, structuralism, poststructuralism, etc… did not fall for the Linguistic Turn. That both used certain forms of math to support their respective programs in understandable. Plato seems to be the dark inheritance behind both philosophers: one in rapport, one in antagonistic relation; both in an agon to overcome the One in their own way….

  4. Pingback: Guattari’s Oedipus | ~ S c h i z o s o p h y ~

  5. Naxos says:

    Reblogged this on ~ S c h i z o s o p h y ~ and commented:
    I don’t really agree with Steven as to assert with him [here] that Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus is somehow a book of ‘riddles’ or a kind of ‘dreamwork’ of sorts, because this is like reproducing the idea that the book’s stylistic aim is mysterious, that it has ‘secrets’ to discover, that there is a lot to ‘reveal’ about its content, that it is just revolting and provocative, just as if what Deleuze and Guattari wrote would not really be speaking by itself and with enough clarity and loudness. Of course, it is not but in reason of what I do understand about the book that I certainly don’t see it in this superfluous way, so there is no excuse for me to fill this lack by creating any asylum for my word to make it playfully resonate with it. While it is difficult to read what they say with the same degree of literalness that they apply to the text, which precisely is what the reader is invited to do through it, another thing is to give the text some obscure properties that it does not have, just as to read only whatever our own intimate word wants to get from it. Anyhow, I would admit that the book contains a good lot of conceptual syncretisms that are not quite meant to please any poetic science fiction of a world-after-death, but all the contrary: for those who can track them right from Deleuze’s previous philosophical work, these syncretisms really mean the reader to think desire as a full intensive experience of life in a reborn-materialized-world. However, as Deleuze and Guattari say in their book: a bad reading is better than not reading anything at all, and to my mind, the word of who might be behind Deterritorial Investigations seems to have a clearer idea of the book despite of being also agreeable with Steven’s:

    “Its celebration of the schizophrenic experience is certainly controversial, but people overlook the fact that at the bottom of schizophrenia is a rejection of any system that promotes a master signifier… Schiz, as in schizophrenia, schizo-analysis, means to “break,” “separate,” or divide; the schizo-analytic practice is to locate find these breaks, wherein the potential for bifurcation resides, and use them to jump in a new production of subjectivity, a new place full of beings and becomings.”

    The post at Deterritorial investigations is worth to repost as it brings in the question about how Guattari finally broke with Lacan and got rid of his very own attached lacanian subjections.

    “Guattari’s contributions to Anti-Oedipus, his conjoining with Deleuze on the level of desiring-machines, then would be, as he puts it, a procedural disengagement leading to the final schiz, the break from Lacan – the exiting of this mini Oedipal triangle and becoming-schizophrenic.”

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