Anti-Oedipus and Orgone


In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that both the post-Freudian psychologist Wilhelm Reich and the Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse acted as forerunners of their own particular brand of libidinal politics. Reich, in a series of books including The Mass Psychology of Fascism, The Sexual Revolution, and The Function of the Orgasm looked to the relationship between sexuality and family dynamics as the root cause of oppressive and anti-democratic politics; many of his writings, emerging in the shadow of the Nazism that had overtaken his native land of Germany, emerged as a reflection, in many ways, of the “Authoritarian Personality” discussed by Adorno and the other thinkers of the Frankfurt School. Marcuse, likewise, had attempted a synthesis of Freud and Marx in his Eros and Civilization and had also, in his own way, had helped pave way for the sexual revolution on the horizon of the 1960s.

Marcuse both drew on Reich’s work and criticized it: in his later years, Reich had progressively shed the scientism of psychology for a mystically-inclined and vitalism understanding of the world based upon what he called “orgone,” a kind of bio-cosmic energy. This orgone, for him, was the source of libidinal energy, drained from the individual by the powers of civilization’s apparatuses social repression. Marcuse refrains from addressing the orgone theory at length – after, inclinations towards the mystical are, according to Adorno, one the distinctive trademarks of the authoritarian personality.

Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, are a little more sympathetic to Reich’s work than Marcuse, and in fact, they hold the former’s work in higher esteem: “Reich was the first to raise the problem of the relationship between desire and the social field (and went further than Marcuse, who treats the problem lightly).” (Anti-Oedipus, pg. 118) Furthermore, they seem, in some ways, a little sympathetic (through still critical) to the orgone hypothesis:

…would we do better to review Reich’s final attempt, involving a “biogenesis” that not without justification is qualified as a schizoparanoic mode of reasoning? It will be remembered that Reich concluded in favor of an intra-atomic cosmic energy – the orgone – generative of an electrical flux and carrying submicroscopic particles, the bions. This energy is produced differences in potential or intensities distributed on the body considered from the molecular viewpoint, and was associated with a mechanics of fluids in this same body considered from a molar viewpoint… If the details of Reich’s final theory are taken into consideration, we admit that its simultaneously schizophrenic and paranoiac nature is no obstacle where we are concerned – on the contrary. We admit that any comparison of sexuality with cosmic phenomena such a “electrical storms,” “the blue color of the sky and the blue-gray of atmospheric gaze,” the blue of the orgone, “St. Elmo’s fire, and the bluish formations [of] sunspot activity,” fluids and flows, matter and particles, in the end appear to us more adequate than the reduction of sexuality to the pitiful like familialist secret. (Anti-Oedipus, pgs. 291-292)

What are we to make of this? Does Reich’s theory, perhaps in more of an aesthetic or poetic sense, point towards Deleuze and Guattari own conception of desire as a life force rendered fluid and flowing? Culturally significant, Reich’s “orgone therapy” was practiced by many of the artists deployed in Anti-Oedipus as schizoid circulators of flows: Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and other members of the Beat generation. It was thus, in a way, an entity that assisted in this micropolitical exodus from the confines of the Disciplinary Society. Would it be outlandish to view these followers of Reich as acting out the Autonomist thesis that “false information may produce real events“?

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13 Responses to Anti-Oedipus and Orgone

  1. dmfant says:

    perhaps, but doesn’t one have to have (be had by?) a kind of faith-commitment to be moved by placebo effect/affects?

    • edmundberger says:

      Great question, and one that could be posed directly at a large bulk of affect theory! At the same time, it seems to me that we would have to place orgone-placebos into a proper context… certainly for Reich, and for many of his devout followers, there is a certain placebo effect taking place. But let us take the Beats – Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, etc. – who dabbled in orgone therapy, with its strange boxes and whatnot. Although they discuss it, I can’t recall any of readings other than some passages discussing Burroughs where anybody attributed a real scientific and physiological result from the box. Though this is entirely in a realm of speculation, I wonder just how much was a utilization of orgone therapy for the implications embedded within it: an orgiastic action specifically designed to counteract the dominant culture and political circumstances at the time (this takes on a heightened dimension when one takes into account the US government’s reaction to Reich) . Marcuse (rightfully) was dismissive of orgone as a scientific hypothesis, yet at the same time he called for mass outbreaks of surrealism. Is there anything more ‘surreal’ than orgone therapy, or the entire Reich saga itself? This isn’t to say that Reich or orgone is a determinant feature, but it certainly wasn’t a small and simple role that it played in the ferment of the 1960s counterculture(s) and its quests for ‘authentic’ experience.

      • dmfant says:

        I think I get the general gist of the genealogical gesture (agentswarm has made similar points about religious/superstitious authors/sources) but in terms of moving ahead for those of us who aren’t taken by the spirit (if you will), who like Wallace Stevens are left with such fictions as fictions, is there something to be re-covered here other than a kind of political (diplomatic as Latour might have it) lesson to (as Jane Bennett says of animism) make a strategic use of (alliance with?) such possession-states in others as they serve common ends?
        What if such quests for “authenticity” are almost always tied into a conservative/commanding desire for Author-ity, for a theo-logical drive for Certainty, Necessity, and metaphysical (arche-typal) Presence, aren’t we working for something more reflexive, more experimental, proto-typical than that, to avoid the tyranny (fetishizing) of the means and the mean?

  2. edmundberger says:

    ” is there something to be re-covered here other than a kind of political (diplomatic as Latour might have it) lesson to (as Jane Bennett says of animism) make a strategic use of (alliance with?) such possession-states in others as they serve common ends?”

    When it comes to political change today, be in major political change through institutions or an anti- or micropolitical change, I don’t think that pseudosciences like orgone would really have any relevance. I do think that the way we approach the questions of sexuality through identity politics could use a little ‘shaking up,’ if you will – a little anarchic energy. But orgone, alongside various forms of mysticism, surrealism, exodus, was something irrational against a system that was ‘rationalizing’ to an authoritarian extent (authoritarian personality, culture industry, etc.) Irrationality could certainly teach us a lot today. especially if we can use it to break up certain cultural or social homeostases; the problem is that irrationality, as you point out here, can act as a sort of despotic signifer and evoke feelings of fetishism (in Reich’s case, it was a literal fetishization of the orgasm, and he took it to an extent that reproduced the male-centric view of sexuality). The other key problem is that so much of irrationality today is simply banal – media saturation, the everyday reality of irrational economics and politics, generalized apathy, the proliferation of counterculture signs as economic action, the glorification of pseudoscience, have neutered a great deal of counter-expression. We should mine past counter-cultures for that spirit of experimentation, but things like orgone are most interesting (to me, at least) in a historical or genealogical instance.

  3. dmfant says:

    around 15min Pickering on his gestalt-switch in the marginalization of certain politics of ontology:
    [audio src="" /]

  4. Brian Holmes says:

    Totally interesting, the New Ontology workshops! I’m gonna listen to those….

    This is a vast subject. Both the UK and the USA are pretty remarkable as societies for having only objectivist ontologies. For UK/USA, a thing’s a thing, life’s about getting to know the immutable properties of things. Whereas in my experience, most other places recognize something important about the human condition, which is more than just self-reflexivity. It’s self-mutability. Proust was very good at this, for instance. Life, and even sexuality, is about getting to know how you can become other than youself through art. In UK/USA we tend to go only as far as Hamlet: “Nothing’s either bad or good, but thinking makes it so.” Aha, what’s this, a property that’s of but not in the object! Curiouser and curiouser! But just take one step further, think yourself into new values, find some new good things and your whole life changes….

    Vico rather famously distinguished between things in general and things made by humans, the latter being of a very special class when it comes to explaining what they are because the explainer is always in some sense both a part and a product of what is supposedly being explained. If I were into philosophy maybe I would go on from here to talk about Kant’s distinction between the phenonemon and the noumenon, and voila, we would be getting into the ontology of mind and pretty soon, if we’re lucky, here come Hegel and friends with even more challenging ideas. But actually, I’m much more immediately interested in what happens when poetic objects filled with this self-altering potential start circulating around and being considered “good” – or funny, or seductive, or fascinating, or explosive – by people who use them to get on each other’s wavelengths. It’s a little more Sorel, if you know what I mean. OK, this does involve messing a bit with the boundaries of what is considered “the individual” (another sacrosanct Anglo-Saxon reification) but hey, every form of fire can be dangerous, yet we all use some every day. What if you sent around political stories, which are basically about class and hierarchy, and self and group and sexuality, and maybe also about the ways people use signs in modern societies? And what if these stories were full of characters that seemed just made to slipped on and off your own skin, like a mask or a suit of overalls?

    There was one long season of my life when this what if game became something one could play with dozens and hundreds and thousands of people, and it was both fascinating and seductive and very deliberately political, because it aimed at changing some specific things that were considered bad and good in society. Like the regulatory systems of global economics, for instance. The game was called “mythopoetics,” the playing field stretched basically from Bologna to London with extensions into France, Spain, Germany, Scandanavia and Slovenia, and in the best of cases the play itself took the form of something that was not a traditional demostration, or really a riot, although an outbreak of mass surrealism still does come close to catching it. Of course I am describing little currents or eddies within the counter-globalization movement or “movement of movements,” which had many faces and can’t be explained by just one story. Still, I want to introduce you to a few players from those days, by quoting from a long and otherwise boring text I wrote many moons ago:

    “Consider the AAA, founded in 1995 with a five-year mission: establishing a planetary network to end the monopoly of corporations, governments and the military over travel in space. The Association of Autonomous Astronauts is a kind of multiple name, a freely invented identity. Forget about the moon: “Reclaim the Stars” they said on June 18th, 1999, during the Carnival against Capital. The idea was to create not an art group, but a social movement – a collective phantom acting on a global scale. “Unlike a multiple name that is restricted to art practices, a collective phantom operates within the wider context of popular culture, and is used as a tool for class war,” says an astronaut of the South London AAA, in a text called “Resisting Zombie Culture.”

    “One aspect of the project was infrastructural mapping, identifying the satellite hardware that links up the world communications network. But another was what Konrad Becker calls “e-scape”: “Cracking the doors of the future means mastering multidimensional maps to open new exits and ports in hyperspace; it requires passports allowing voyages beyond normative global reality toward parallel cultures and invisible nations; supply depots for nomads on the roads taken by the revolutionary practice of aimless flight.” Ricardo Balli gives a further idea of what the galactic phantom might do: “We are not interested in going into space to be a vanguard of the coming revolution: the AAA means to institute a science fiction of the present that can above all be an instrument of conflictuality and radical antagonism.”

    “The ideas sound fantastic, but the stakes are real: imagining a political subject within the virtual class, and therefore, within the economy of cultural production and intellectual property that had paralyzed the poetics of resistance. Consider Luther Blissett, an obscure Jamaican football player traded from Britain to Italy, who fell short of stardom but became a proliferating signature, the “author” of a book called Mind Invaders: Come fottere i media. There, between tales of Ray Johnson and mail art, Blissett takes time out for some political-aesthetic theory: “I could just say the multiple name is a shield against the established power’s attempt to identify and individualize the enemy, a weapon in the hands of what Marx ironically called ‘the worst half’ of society. In Spartacus by Stanley Kubrick, all the slaves defeated and captured by Crassus declare themselves to be Spartacus, like all the Zapatistas are Marcos and I am all we Luther Blissetts. But I won’t just say that, because the collective name has a fundamental valence too, insofar as it aims to construct an open myth, elastic and redefinable in a network….”

    “The “open myth” of Luther Blissett is a game with personal identity, like the three-sided football played by the AAA: a way to change the social rules, so a group can start moving simultaneously in several directions. This “fundamental valence” lies at the prehistory of the counterglobalization movement. Just think of the way names like Ya Basta, Reclaim the Streets, or Kein Mensch ist Illegal have spread across the world’s social networks. One can see these names, not as categories or identifiers, but as catalysts, departure points, like the white overalls (tute bianche) worn initially in north-eastern Italy: “The Tute Bianche are not a movement, they are an instrument conceived within a larger movement (the Social Centers) and placed at the disposal of a still larger movement (the global movement),” writes Wu Ming 1 in the French journal Multitudes (#7). This “instrument” was invented in 1994, when the Northern League mayor of Milan, Formentini, ordered the eviction of a squatted center and declared, “From now on, squatters will be nothing more than ghosts wandering about in the city!” But then the white ghosts showed up in droves at the next demonstration. And a new possibility for collective action emerged: “Everyone is free to wear a tuta biancha, as long as they respect the ‘style,’ even if they transform its modes of expression: pragmatic refusal of the violence/non-violence dichotomy; reference to zapatismo; break with the twentieth-century experience; embrace of the symbolic terrain of confrontation.”

    “Yet a strange thing happened, explains Wu Ming in another text: “Some rhetorically opposed the white overall and the blue overall, and the former was used as a metaphor for post-Fordist labor – flexible, ‘precarious,’ temporary workers whom the bosses prevent from enjoying their rights and being represented by the unions.” Between politics, class uncertainty and sheer word play, the Tute Bianche got into full swing. The technique of “protected direct action” – allowing ludicrously padded protestors to face blows from the police – was a way to invade, not just the media screens, but above all the minds of hundreds of thousands of other people. They converged in Genoa in July 2001, to open a real political debate in a country stifled by a neofascist consensus.”

    WHEW, what a long comment… and it goes on and on like that. For a little more on the subject some other day, check out the text itself ( and some stuff on this page, especially the sidebar:

    best, Brian

    • dmfant says:

      hey BH, good to hear from you on this (and other matters), I’m all for the out-breaks of the carnivalesque and certainly humor is a welcome reworkinof all too often rigid (when not outright puritanical) shows of resistance but the powers that be are well geared for running long and wide and so I think we also need counter-moments that can endure, the age old question being how to keep focused and reflexive at the same time and avoid the tyranny of the means, keep the juices flowing if you will.

  5. Brian Holmes says:

    I’m with you. Social movements are complex, they only “work” because they are diverse and internally contradictory in some ways. What I described above was one aspect of a very extended “movement of movements” that included much analysis and strategy, that lasted in an intense ways for five or six years, and that reached back in deeper pasts, while also living on to influence and help shape the most recent cycle of struggles. After participating in that one I began to think about the many dimensions of social-movement struggles and I came up with the notion of “eventwork,” encompassing aspects related to art, to territorial experience, to organizational and communication form, and to theory. All of these are quite different, they have their own people, places and temporalities, but the reason that we have social movements is that people show a willingness to open their particular kind of work up to others. It could be that one of the ways to endure, in a context so deeply marked by the kinds of instrumentalization that Edmund has been talking about in some recent posts, is to become more familiar with the diversity and complexity of contemporary social movements and more able to see the continuities beneath the ups and downs, the outbreaks and the retreats. So, yes, counter-moments that can endure, that seems to me like the most vital thing.

    • dmfant says:

      very good, tho being open/co-operating so often seems to get snagged/snarled in how to deal with expertise (some people are just more capable/knowing at specific tasks than others) and how to come to terms with emerging complexities, the inevitable tensions between desires/interests, and the whole snake-pit of our all-too-human cognitive-biases.
      We are trying to work some of these issues/possibilities through @
      so please feel free to drop in and lend a hand or poke a weak-point as would be helpful.

    • dmfant says:

      this starts with Bifo, than Manning&Massumi @about 3 1/2 hrs in:

  6. S.C. Hickman says:

    In my mind I begin to see Lacan’s notion of jouissance in the light of orgone, too.

    Since for Lacan jouissance is the sense of a senseless libidinal surplus, experienced as lack, which is inerasable from the symbolic field: as such it retains a substantial status – elusive, and ultimately an unconscious substance, which – for Lacan at least, is secreted by the signifier the moment it comes into play, and henceforth it both drives and disturbs all human activity. ( Zizek’s take) For Zizek what is captured in capitalism is exactly this the surplus value as surplus-jouissance, this elusive pleasure-pain that keeps us enslaved to the processes of capitalism: the work-consumer cycles which bleed from us our surplus-jouissance leaving us apathetic and devitalized; joyless. Ergo – Marx’s notion of dead labour… Zombie capitalism, etc.

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