[A continuation of yesterday’s discussion of Deleuze & Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, including excerpts of stuff I recently put up in comments at Church and Postmodern Culture.]
Social organizations, artifacts, moralities, selves: all these sorts of structures emerge from the intersections of the various desires that flow from and through the world. Say Deleuze & Guattari: a substance is said to be formed when a flow enters into a relationship with another flow, such that the first defines a content and the second, an expression. They cite McLuhan:
The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the content of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.
Desires are like light, sound, speech: content without meaning, signs that don’t signify. Every place where one flow interrupts another flow is a place where some sort of meaningful structure emerges. Structure imposes order on desires, “territorializes” them, imposes limits by restricting their promiscuous flow to specific channels. This means that, for Deleuze and Guattari, what stops the flow of desire is order: personal, social, economic, political. Because unchanneled desire is a threat to order, these excess flows are categorized as marginal, transgressive, neurotic. Judeo-Christian morality used to be the most powerful territorializing machine in Western culture. It’s what Lacan, following Freud, called “the Name of the Father” — God laying down the Law and speaking the Word, embedding everyone in a network of cultural signifiers the purpose of which is to restrict the flow of desire. Christianity reterritorializes “good” desire as a lack in the self that can only be fulfilled outside of this world; that is, in God.
Psychotherapy is supposed to help us channel our desires in socially acceptable ways. For D&G this makes therapy part of the problem rather than part of the solution. The therapist is a “priest” (Freud’s term) of the social order, trying to rechannel these transgressive overflows into neurotic but lawful repressions.
If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire, no matter how small, is capable of calling into question the established order of a society: not that desire is asocial, on the contrary. But it is explosive… desire is revolutionary in its essence — desire, not left-wing holidays! — and no society can tolerate a position of real desire without its structures of exploitation, servitude, and hierarchy being compromised. If a society is identical with its structures — an amusing hypothesis — then yes, desire threatens its very being. It is therefore of vital importance for a society to repress desire, so that repression, hierarchy, exploitation, and servitude are themselves desired. It is quite troublesome to have to say such rudimentary things: desire does not threaten a society because it is a desire to sleep with the mother, but because it is revolutionary… Desire does not “want” revolution, it is revolutionary in its own right, as though involuntarily, by wanting what it wants (p. 116).
D&G heap disdain on the Oedipus myth of the son killing the father in order to possess the mother. Freud puts Oedipus at the foundation of all neurosis; Lacan transforms Freud’s interpretation but preserves the Oedipal interpretation of desire. D&G are anti-Oedipus:
Oedipus as the last word of capitalist consumption — sucking away at mommy/daddy, being blocked and triangulated on the couch… the whole of psychoanalysis is an immense perversion, a drug, a radical break with reality, starting with the reality of desire, it is a narcissism, a monstrous autism: the characteristic autism and the intrinsic perversion of the machine of capital.
Order is a territorializing operation that restricts and channels the flow of desire by imposing limits on their expression and fulfillment. Because unchanneled desire is a threat to order, these excess flows are categorized as marginal, transgressive, neurotic. Transgression, guilt, castration: are these determinations of the unconscious, or is this the way a priest sees things? The Law restricts the flow of desire; the Law tells us what is prohibited; therefore desire concentrates its flows on violation and transgressing the prohibitions. We don’t spontaneously want to kill our fathers and have sex with our mothers: the Law channels all excess flows of desire toward taboos, forcing them to become transgressive.
According to D&G, God has been replaced by Mammon as the main force of late-modern de-/reterritorialization. Capitalism in particular is a machine that transforms desire from creativity into lack, a lack that promises fulfillment not in creation but in consumption. The problem is that the economy never honors its promise, and desire becomes perverted, neurotic, seeking not fulfillment but a continual state of unfulfilled longing for what you don’t have and can never get. Capitalism is the great deterritorializing force: all the structural distinctions between people, places and things get leveled down to an abstract economic exchange value; desire is channeled into production and consumption for their own sakes. Everything, old and new, is reterritorialized into flows of money.