How does Schizoanalysis Work? or, “how do you make a class operate like a work of art”


“Trees at twilight,” by Jerome Lawrence, a former paranoid schizophrenic

“So what is schizo-analysis?” When Lacan finally poses the question, as recounted in The Anti-Oedipus Papers, Guattari doesn’t tell us what his reply, his explanation, is. Instead, there is only the focus on the despotic master of psychology, and Guattari’s failures in recounting that “sacred Lacanian formula. So what is schizoanalysis? Anti-Oedipus, a text which deals repeatedly with schizoanalysis, never comes out and gives us a framework; it instead conducts its infamous evisceration of psychoanalysis – the approach’s relationship to capitalism and power, its emphasis on recoding of decoded flows, its insistence on the familial relations and the subsequent preservation of the Oedipal complex. By and large, Anti-Oedipus is a call for participation: like the performance art piece that can only conduct itself by rousing the spectators out of their passivity, we’re given an array of tools and conceptual devices, and asked to fill in the blank spots ourselves. Still though, they leave several tantalizing clues:

Destroy, destroy. The tasks of schizoanalysis goes by way of destruction – a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage. Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, the law, castration. It is not a matter of pious destruction, such as those performed by psychoanalysis under the benevolent neutral eye of the analyst. For these are Hegel-style destruction, ways of conserving. How is it that the celebrated neutrality, and what psychoanalysis calls – dares to call – the disappearance or dissolution of the Oedipus complex, does not make us burst into laughter?1

Deleuze and Guattari applaud becoming, and their work is peppered with references to figures from the arts and literature that have dared to enter into this world of unpredictable transitions: “from Thomas Hardy, from D.H. Lawrence to Malcolm Lowery, from Henry Miller to Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, men who know how to leave, to scramble the codes, to cause flows to circulate, to traverse the body without organs.”2 Indeed, as they tell us, literature is akin to schizophrenia in the way that there is no ultimate goal, no attainable summit that it is reaching towards, and in itself it is only a process, a production of something. A previously held fact is destroyed by each of these authors: for Ginsberg, it was the destruction of traditional norms of sexuality, and for Miller and Kerouac, likewise, it is the ability to explode bourgeois morality system. Each were able to uproot themselves not only from the social’s mores and traditions, but founding themselves capable of conducting physical exoduses from the territories that had harbored them through much of their previous lives. Furthermore, each is in tune with heightened degrees of empathy and perception; they are able to focus their gaze on something and tease out the intangible in it – an intangible that transforms something within each of them. In a similar manner, the schizophrenic, even in his or her delirium, can find themselves ‘tuned in’ to the things around them:

It’s a given that in the practice of institutional psychotherapy that the schizophrenic who is most lost in himself will suddenly burst out with the most incredible details about your private life, things that you would never imagine anyone could know, and that he will tell you in the most abrupt way truths that you believed to be absolutely secret. It’s not a mystery. The schizophrenic has lightening-like access to you; he is focused, so to speak, directly on those links that constitute a series in his subjective system.3

In many ways, this description of the interaction between the analyst or therapists with the schizophrenic is reminiscent of Peter Sloterdijk’s answer to the question “where is the individual?”: “first of all and most often it is part of a couple.”4 This is not just a physical couple per se, thought it can take on this form; it is the coupling with the “self” and the “other,” various manifestations of alterity that the self relates to. The “individual” becomes a question of space, but a non-physical space between, right on the fluctuations of flows between one thing and another. How is the schizophrenic able to articulate the innerworkings of the self before him? Because he deterritorializes himself right down to these flows that actually creates the individual. Thus, Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the schizo experience, and the subsequent aim of schizoanalysis, is a realization of the interconnected state of all things, and as a “break” or fracture that allows the entity that we mistakenly refer to as the ‘individual’ to make a jump, a leap onto the plane consistency where processes of becoming can take place.

At the same time, it would seem that Deleuze and Guattari came to realize that while the writing Anti-Oedipus had been a schizoanalytic experience for each of them, allowing both to break from their respective gridlocks and Oedipuses, the book itself was far too reliant on the things that it opposed – it could only define itself on the terms of what it sought to destroy. “Self-criticism,” Guattari wrote in his notes, “Volume I was counter-dependent on constituted ideologies ([Psycho]analysis, Stalino-Trotskyism, etc.).”5 What was needed instead was a “Schizo-analytic method for writing a book about schizoanalysis.” The result of this would be, arguably, their A Thousand Plateaus, that massive stream-of-conscious theory-poem that drifts through the world and its ages, showing again and again and again how disciplines and forms of knowledge, no matter how different in their subject matter and approach or how insulated they are from one another, crash expectantly together. The basic thrust of A Thousand Plateaus is the insistence on the reality of the schizo perception of existence as a multileveled and polyphonic whole made from interlocking parts that vibration from one plateau to another.

It was after the book’s publishing that Deleuze remarked that the work’s time had yet to come, that the door that the book had opened was waiting for the world to catch up with it. This future, however, was not far off. In his War in the Age of Intelligent Machines,6 Manuel DeLanda effectively illustrates that the non-linear and non-deterministic discourse of A Thousand Plateaus, particularly its emphasis on phase space and transmutation occurring at the moments of bifurcations properly articulates the non-linear and non-deterministic discourses of chaos theory – a theory that, by the time Deleuze and Guattari completed their work, was yet to be conceived. In chaos theory (of particular interest here is the work of Ilya Prigogine), the bifurcation point is a transformation in a state of chaos that can wield new, spontaneous orders – orders that, once they come into being, are non-reversible. The relevancy of this to the “break” that allows becoming in the schizophrenic experience clear, illustrating that Deleuze and Guattari may be stepping even further than the initial stages of chaos theory: A Thousand Plateaus shows how this is happening or can happen on every level of the material world. What began as a discourse on the schizophrenic comes fractal, where it becomes impossible to tell which scale is being observed or operated along. “The schizo fracture is the royal road of access to the emergent fractality of the unconscious.”7

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Schizoanalytic Practice

Over the course of the 1980s, as chaos theory trickled into open scientific dialogue and the second-order cyberneticians Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela further dissolved the chasm between science and philosophy, Guattari returned to schizoanalysis as not just a practice that the individual or group can engage in, but as something that had real clinical application. A radicalized and broken open psychoanalysis: the dream of Anti-Oedipus. Cybernetics had already had a long lineage in psychoanalysis, but figures like Lacan replicated the theory’s usage for power, just as it had been mined for perfected forms of warfare and market modelization. For Guattari, Maturana and Varela’s “autopoiesis,” an autonomous process in which an organism or organization’s components continually produce themselves, held the potentials for an exit strategy. At the same time, it was problematic: like the classical example of autopoiesis, the operations of the eukaryotic cell, the process is generally thought as a closed system. Guattari writes that instead, autopoiesis “deserves to be rethought in terms of evolutionary, collective entities, which maintain diverse types of relations of alterity,”8 but this too is a simplification. In cellular biology, autopoiesis cannot be viewed as a closed system – they already are the “evolutionary, collective” assemblages that Guattari wishes them to be, for they are dependent on acting with and reacting to their external environment.



Regardless, it is through the image of autopoiesis that Guattari constructs what he calls his schizoanalytic cartrography:

Concrete and abstract machinic Phylums

  • The “General Intellect” and its creative applications
Virtual Universes of value

  • Worlds of senses and feeling, aesthetic images conjured forth
Material, energetic and semiotic Fluxes

  • The movement, circulation, and change of all things
Finite existential Territories

  • Feelings of familiarity, belonging, the sense of “homeland”

Undoubtedly, these four dimensional chart needs further unpacking, for what it is illustrating is nothing less than the passageways of the individual (in the most multiplicitous sense of the word) through chaotic systems; as such, each dimension cannot be viewed in isolation. They all interact with one another and impact the functionings of each, and each overlaps with the other one. To complicate matters even more, Guattari’s sudden death by heart attack meant that his own work on the cartographies remained woefully incomplete and in need of further elucidation: as he writes in Chaosmosis, “each one of them will require schizoanalytic and ecosophic cartographies which will demand that partial components of enunciation be brought to light where they exist but are unrecognised, and where scientism, dogmatism and technocracy prevent their emergence.”9

To begin unraveling the four moving parts, which others have done with remarkable precision,10 the best place to begin would be in the bottom right corner, which Guattari calls the “finite existential territories.” This is the current framework that we all find ourselves in: the set and setting of our lives. It is our home and the paths that we cross everyday, be it the urban space, the job space, the recreational space, etc. Aside from physical spaces, it is the affective responses that we have in relation to the spaces we inhabit. Do they make us happy? How does the tree in the front yard that we see everyday make us feel? Beyond these, it also encompasses the architecture of these spaces, the invisible dictates that they bear down upon us – how do I relate to others or behave in relation to others and my environment inside my territory? Of course, the territory is not necessarily negative – a sense of belonging, a sense of community expands in this bubble – but it can become like the cancerous Body without Organs discussed in A Thousand Plateaus, clogged with bad habits and negative feelings, or even worse, zealous defense of the ideals of the “homeland,” nationalism…

The experiences of the existential territories are felt through the incorporeal universes of value: when we encounter things within the territories, particularly in the architecture of them, certain things manifest themselves in our minds. Guattari argues that these are primarily aesthetic, and perhaps they are. We can grasp the affective responses in our existential territories, and these conjure forth memories, thoughts of the future, mental fictions… what happens within us is a dance of imagery, sounds heard by no other ear, mental pictures that come and go. Within our minds, existing at the intersection of so many things, things that are either there for long periods of time or fleeting encounters and experiences, coming and going at various speeds, we are all painters, writers, filmmakers, technicians, and inventors – “we are all handymen: each with his little machine.”11

images (15)

What colors and curvatures do we find drifting in our mind in response to what we encounter?

So far we’ve summarized what exists on the right-hand side of the chart; this side represents the circulations and happenings within a fixed – yet amorphous – system and an extended study into both the existential territories and incorporeal universes would quickly unveil the full extents of the symbiosis between the two. Of course, the nature of these territories and universes shift from person to person, but approaching it from a schizoanalytic point of view, we know that each person exists in a fluctuating system that engages the production of subjectivity not just in the “self” but in the collective. For Deleuze and Guattari, as well as later philosophers like Sloterdijk, the individual’s subjective exists at intersections of many flows and in the in-betweens; it is perpetually opening and closing based on external factors. This is what the left-hand side of the chart aims to show: the way that both the existential territories and incorporeal universes open up and become something else.

In the upper left quadrant there is the “machinic phylum,” the space of knowledge and ideas, rhizomatic wanderings and the application of creative desiring-flows. If this area is machinic, it is because Guattari always wrote with one foot in the future; moving forward in time, the nature of knowledge and how it is applied will always take on more and more technological and computational relations. I would argue that the machinic phylum is synonymous with the General Intellect identified by Marx and elaborated to a higher degree by the Italian Autonomists. Knowledge is a social body, owned by no individual, and like desire (especially like desire!) it moves in flows, it makes new conjunctions and evolves into higher and higher planes. It does not have to be technical knowledge, but any form of knowledge or flight of ideas that is produced, put out into the world, and used by others to build upon.

Below this is the “material energetic and semiotic fluxes,” an unending and ever-spiraling ecology. In Guattari’s understanding, the fluxes or flows “represents an indispensable awareness of the cybernetic interaction and feedback involved with living organisms and social structures.”12 But he also reminds us to keep in mind that we are dealing with a broader array of fluxes here, that flows are not only social but geophysical, astronomical, cellular. These flows are also the plane of consistency that envelops the entirety of the cosmos. Though these flows are always and forever moving, they are subjected to entropy, the thermodynamic principle that all systems eventually decay and breakdown. Despite this tendency towards dissolution, life itself resists entropy as it emerges from these flows, as Norbert Wiener acknowledges:

As entropy increases, the universe, and all closed systems in the universe, tend naturally to deteriorate and lose their distinctiveness… But while the universe as a whole, if indeed there is a whole universe, tends to run down, there are local enclaves whose direction seems opposed to that of the universe at large and in which there is a limited and temporary tendency for organization to increase. Life finds its home in some of these enclaves.13

For Guattari, it is these forms that grow in Wiener’s enclaves, that populate this particular zone, but the central notion to take from here is how the enclave dwellers interact with the greater flows and also subsequently produce their own flows. Through this, there is an engagement between the machinic phylum/General Intellect and the movements of the fluxes; in order to create something, be it a work of art or some new kind of technology or tool, something most be plucked from the flows. For example, to create a tool, say a hammer, requires there to be a series of geological flows that must be tapped in order for there to even be a raw material to refashion. Writing, another kind of a creation of a tool, integrates creative possibilities with the flows of thought and language. Or a political protest: intellectual capacity fused with the flows of emotions and physical bodies.

The positioning of each space in the cartography shows how one relates to the next, first with how the two on the left-hand side couple with each other, just as the ones of the right do the same. At the same time, there is an explicit relationship between the two across the top, as there are across the bottom. The common linkage between the incorporeal universes and the machinic phylum is that what we could call ‘inspiration,’ a catalyst for knowledge, born from the images and sensations when we have encounters or experiences. Thus there exists a kind of feedback loop between the two: manifestations of the phylum trigger responses in our incorporeal universes, which in turn can add to the social knowledge body or General Intellect. Likewise, it takes various flows (money flows, language flows, genetic flows, commodity flows) to build up an existential territory; no territory comes into being spontaneously. The existential territory is like Wiener’s idea of the enclave from entropy that fosters the creation of life. Meanwhile, those inside existential territories, when confronted with the greater movements within the cartographies, open themselves up into their own flows, deterritorializing themselves. And so the purpose of schizoanalysis returns to what was first glimpsed in the pages of Anti-Oedipus, albeit with a new terminology and understanding: the opening up of the existential territories to new forms of becoming, new potentials, and ultimately, new changes for this cycle to begin again, complexity in the foam of chaos.

Change in a world of flux

The earth is undergoing a period of intense techno-scientific transformations. If no remedy is found, the ecological disequilibrium this has generated will ultimately threaten the continuation of life on the planet’s surface. Alongside these upheavals, human modes of life, both individual and collective, are progressively deteriorating. Kinship networks tend to be reduced to a bare minimum; domestic life is being poisoned by the gangrene of mass-media consumption; family and married life are frequently ‘ossified’ by a sort of standardization of behavior; and neighborhood relations are generally reduced to their meanest expression… It is the relationship between subjectivity and its exteriority – be it social, animal, vegetable, or Cosmic – that is compromised in this way, in a sort of general movement of implosion and regressive infantalization.14

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Just as Deleuze would transition into discussing the emergence of what he and Foucault were calling the Control Society, Guattari too updated his works in the 1980s for the transnational shift from domestic-based, hierarchical Fordist production to the free-floating decentralized information network of post-Fordism. The 1980s were his “winter years”; the radical fire of the 1960s that drove Anti-Oedipus had long since burned out and the pockets of complex resistance in the 1970s were either crushed underfoot by oppressive state apparatuses or overshadowed by volleys of gunfire from left-wing terrorist outfits. The winter years were for him days of depression, and this depression was reflected by stock market turbulence, the withering of the social under the new neoliberal regime, and the environmental degradation that was occurring under both the west’s capitalism and the east’s Marxist-Leninism.

From this view, Guattari posed his idea of “ecosophy,” a revitalization of ecology to encompass the whole dynamic world of flows. This ecosophic model is itself composed of three ecological scales (first proposed in the 1970s by Gregory Bateson): the mind, the society, and the environment. The stratification of each as a separate entity, however, is misleading; following the ongoing discourse started in conjunction with Deleuze, the three scales are indistinguishable from one to the next. Environment shapes the mind, the mind shapes society, society shapes the environment, society shapes the mind, and so on. “Environment” need not only be the standard eco-system environment that we traditionally understand it to be; like Marshall McLuhan, Guattari understood that technology and the media platforms it generates (radio, television, and later, the internet) shapes the social environment and reorganizes the way micro and macropolitical change can occur. The mind itself, drawing on Bateson, operates in its own ecology, as does the incorporeal shifts and manifestations that arise within the mind in relation to external factors. “Now more than ever,” he writes, “nature cannot be separated from culture; in order to comprehend eco-systems, the mechanosphere, and the social and individual Universes of reference, we must learn to think ‘transversally’.”15

Transversally; the word is critical, for it is the call to approach complex and multiscalar problems by the immersion into knowledge in its fractalized reality, to drift across it as we understand it while simultaneously undoing the chains that bind it and keeping in mind transformations coming in the future. Here, the ecosophic project and the schizoanalytic method collapse into one another – in Chaosmosis, Guattari describes his fourfold schizoanalytic cartography as an “ecosophic object with four dimensions.”16 But the cartography is only a theorem, a model. How can it be used to produce the social change that is so radically necessary? An example of the actual application of the cartography, on a microscale, takes place in the kitchen of the La Borde clinic, where Guattari spent the majority of life at work and where his involvement with schizophrenic patients took place.


La Borde

Under Jean Oury and Guattari, La Borde was a place where the boundary line between patient and analysis was extremely murky; instead of the clinic-as-incarceration model (per Foucault’s genealogy), patients had degrees of autonomy, and were allowed to even take part in maintenance and functioning of the grounds and the clinic’s sub-units. Once such place was the kitchen, a space that is generally coded, disciplined: it can “close in on itself, become the site of stereotyped attitudes and behaviors, where everyone mechanically carries out their little refrain.”17 This, however, can change; La Borde’s kitchen could “come to life.” In the kitchen there could singing and dancing, conversation, a swirling of affects and language, experimentation “with all kinds of instruments, with water and fire, dough and dustbins, relations of prestige and submission.” Guattari points out that if a patient is not treated as a prison, but immersed in a clinic sub-unit like the kitchen where he or she can properly encounter forces of alterity, an exit-point, an exodus from their respective “existential entrapment” can be found and carried out. “It is less by way of voluntary decision than by induction of an unconscious collective assemblage that the psychotic is led to take the initiative, to accept responsibility.

The correspondence to the fourfold schizoanalytic/ecosophic cartography is clear: the kitchen and the psychotic patient are both existential territories; one is a physical territory with an overcode and the other is the sensation of being trapped in a ‘black hole,’ to resurrect the vocabulary of A Thousand Plateaus. But the coming alive of this space, the chance encounter and conversations, taps directly into the incorporeal universes. The dough, water, fire, movements of the bodies, parades of words? The fluxes or flows, dancing and circulating, moving fast and slow. The psychotic gains new values, new thoughts, new capabilities, new knowledge; he contributes to this particular subset of the machinic phylum, new rhizomes to uncover and build. And thus the psychotic had exited, his existential territory broken up and his production of subjectivity resingularized.

Machinic Phylum

  • The transmission of the experience gained and changes made into other social areas
Incorporeal Universes

  • Affective experiences occurring within the kitchen
Material, energetic and semiotic Fluxes

  • The flows of people, food, utensils, words, etc., during the usage of the kitchen
Existential Territories

  • The psychotic’s entrapment

In this application, the schizoanalytic cartrographies is utilized to map out an exit strategy during a state of crisis; therefore, it should seem that we could use it in a similar way to find ways to change our present situation. Bifo reminds us that we can view financial crisis fundamentally as a psychotic crisis, and that there exists very real, materialist relationship between the drives that fuel the post-Fordist economy and the mental crisis of those who operate in the capitalist world. For Guattari, the crisis is that schizo break, the bifurcation point of existing on the edge of chaos, where there are potentials for new formations to arise. “Financial crises,” wrote David Harvey, “…typically lead to new configurations, new models of development, new spheres of investment and new forms of class power.”18 In other words, financial crises actualize the dualing mechanisms of biopower: it both leads to a tightening of capitalist control (particularly in tandem with the state) and also hypercharges the constituent power of the multitude. Beyond this is the controlling power’s ability to add axioms to the system, reterritorializing this excess of energy before it can generate new forms of counterpower and ultimately, new beings and becomings. Yet the existential territories, the old ones and the ones yet to be seen, remain as fragile as an egg.

How do we work for its liberation, that is, for its resingularisation? Pyschoanalysis, institutional analysis, film, literature, and poetry, innovative pedagogies, town planning, architecture – all disciplines will have to combine their creativity to ward off the ordeals of barbarism, the mental implosion and chaosmic spasms looming on the horizon, and transform them into riches and unforeseen pleasures, the promise of which, for all that, are all too tangible.19

1Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Penguin Books, 2009 (reprint edition), pg. 311

2Ibid, pgs. 132-133

3Felix Guattari Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977 Semiotext(e), 2008 (reprint edition), pgs. 67-68

4Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jurgem Heinrichs Neither Sun nor Death Semiotext(e), 2011, pg. 147

5Felix Guattari The Anti-Oedipus Papers Semiotext(e), 2006, pg. 367

6Manuel De Landa War in the Age of Intelligent Machines Zone, 1991

7Felix Guattari Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm Indiana University Press, 1995, pg. 64

8Ibid, pgs. 39-40

9Ibid, pg. 125

10I’m thinking here primarily of Brian Holmes’ “Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies; or, the Pathic Core at the Heart of Cybernetics Escape the Overcode This article was key for me in helping to understand Guattari’s dense and complicated solo work.

11Deleuze, Guattari Anti-Oedipus, pg. 1

12Guattari Chaosmosis pg. 124

13Norbert Wiener The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society De Capo, 1950, pg. 12; cited in Alexander Galloway Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization MIT Press, 2006, pg. 105

14Felix Guattari The Three Ecologies Continuum, 2008, pg. 27

15Ibid, pg. 43

16Guattari Chaosmosis pg. 124

17Ibid, pg. 69

18David Harvey The Enigma of Capital and the Crisis of Capitalism Profile Books, 2010, pg. 11

19Guattari Chaosmosis pg. 135

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7 Responses to How does Schizoanalysis Work? or, “how do you make a class operate like a work of art”

  1. Pingback: Art Under Capital (Part II): Aesthetics Beyond Capital | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  2. Pingback: Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies | synthetic_zero

  3. Michael- says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero and commented:
    D&G decoded? An outstanding post by an outstanding thinker/bloggger..

  4. Pingback: Schizoanalysis as Anthro-Ecology | synthetic zero

  5. Pingback: Schizoanalysis as Anthro-Ecology (Synthetic Zero) | Uma (in)certa antropologia

  6. Pingback: Hallucinatory ‘voices’ shaped by local culture, Stanford anthropologist says | paula friis

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