Desire is Productive: Why Deleuze & Guattari Love Henry Miller

Daniel Avatar

I’m reading Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia on the heels of a lot of work on Hölderlin, my favorite German schizophrenic next to Nietzsche.

Of course it’s incredible. This text is talked about a lot, but maybe not very well understood.

Is it relevant today as we face #OccupyWallStreet, the crumbling of dictatorships and plutocracies, rhizomatic internet social spaces converging on the real, and the productive forces of desire taking to the street?

As Lacan commented on the college students in France during the May 1968 protests, “structures do not take to the streets”, and “you will need a new master”. He also said that desire takes courage, which is why he never trusted anarchists, because they could not prosper without a master.

It is said that Lacan phoned Deleuze immediately upon skimming through the recently published book, Anti-Oedipus (Lacan respected Deleuze as the most talented philosopher in France during the time) but he was enraged after reading the book. He asked him for drinks and never showed up.

In this post, I want to look at a crucial break Deleuze and Guattari (D & G) make with psychoanalysis (there are many) — but specifically, that of desire as a productive force and the role of lack.

As the title Anti-Oedipus implies, and as the text argues convincingly, psychoanalysis is paralyzing to desire. Even though Freud hated psychotics because they were outside of the realm of being affected by Oedipal relations, i.e. outside of the realm of desire – D & G literally flip this on its head.

They argue that the moment we are put in relation to Oedipus, production is impossible, and production, as well will see in a moment is the basis of all desire. The Oedipal unconscious, for which they are seeking to avoid is not productive, but is one of representation, dreams, etc.

Schizophrenia is the model (not in an idealized sense) because of the way that it regulates the process of the production of desire and desiring machines.

As background, D & G perform a genealogy of desire in philosophy. They point out that philosophy has had two major revolutions of desire. The first was ushered in by Plato, where desire was defined as lacking because it was somehow linked to acquisition. This led to what psychoanalysis would later perfect: desire as a lack of an object, a lack of a real object.

When we place desire on the side of acquisition, we place desire in the realm of the dialectic and idealism. The other type of desire that Plato brought about was desire as productivity, which is the central concern that D & G have in Anti-Oedipus.

Desire as defined in terms of production avoids the pitfalls of lack. Every time desire is defined as lack, as Clement Rosset points out:

“The world acquires as its double some other sort of world, in accordance with the following line of argument: there is an object that desire feels the lack of; hence the world does not contain each and every object that exists; there is at least one object missing, the one that desire feels the lack of; hence there exists some other place that can cure desire (not in this world)” (Anti-Oedipus, Pg. 26).

The second way that philosophy approached desire was brought about by Kant’s Copernican revolution, which advanced Plato’s productive side of desire. Desire became that which shows the reality of the object as a thing created by the mind, and thus desire remained merely a psychic reality. The reality of the object, even if it is produced by desire is still only a psychic reality, and as such the Kantian revolution in metaphysics, or more precisely the death of metaphysics did not change desire as intimately linked to lack.

Then enter psychoanalysis, which performed a third sort of revolution to desire. If desire is the lack of a real object, its very nature as a real entity depends upon an “essence of lack” that produces the fantasized object, and thus desire produces an imaginary object that functions as a double of reality, as though there were a dreamed-of object behind every real object (Anti-Oedipus, Pg. 25).

Desiring Machines

Desire produces the fantasy, and what is left over is need. As one frequently says of psychoanalysis, one suffers from an “incurable deficiency of being”.

At this point, D & G seek to show that desire does not lack but it produces – it is the subject that is missing/lacking in desire – not some fantastical object. This objective being (the nonexistence of the subject) of desire is the real itself.

In taking their cue here in part from Marx, D & G argue that “what exists is not lack but passion as a natural and sensuous object” (Anti-Oedipus, Pg. 26).

Lack is deposited as a residuum of desire and is found within a real that is natural and social, not a real that is intrinsic, but one that is extrinsic, that is out there. This is why desire is often the desire of death, and thus it stays in close touch with the objective conditions of existence.

What is lacking is the objectivity of man – the objective being of man – for whom desire is to produce, to produce within the realm of the real.

What we find then is a privileging of the real, which is a sphere of complete possibility. And since all lack is created, planned and organized in and through social production, the best of us are those that embrace the lack inherent in being, embrace it for what it is.

As D & G point out, Henry Miller provides a model for how to position oneself towards desire. To me this sounds faintly Buddhist, especially in its insistence to avoid the lack, by recognizing it as a purely socially produced phenomenon, not as something that is primordial or intrinsic.

This lightness that D & G place on desire and lack is refreshing. We find a perfect example in their quoting of Miller:

“From the little reading I had done I had observed that the men who were most in life, who were moulding life, who were life itself, ate little, slept little, owned little or nothing. They had no illusions about duty, or the perpetuation of their kith and kin, or the preservation of the State…

And Miller continues:

The phantasmal world is the world that has never been fully conquered over. It is the world of the past, never of the future. To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain.”

– Henry Miller, Sextus

One response

  1. Vernon Shukriu

    Lacan never said “Structures do not take to the streets”. The student graffiti was inspired by Lucien Goldmann’s observation that “structures do not make history, men and women do” which was in spirit with his opposition to structuralist thinking. The students utilized that saying and aimed it against what they perceived as the rigidity of structuralism and particularly towards Althusser. It is commonplace knowledge to suggest Althusser was opposed to May 68( he was in an assylum at the time). Far from it. His letter to Maria Antonietta Macciocchi is a testimony to this. Althusser merely insisted on emphasizing the primacy of the general strike over the students’ protests.

    Anyway. What Lacan did say was: structures did indeed descend into the streets in May 68; meaning that 68 marked a change in the dynamics of capitalism, an abandonment of so-called fordist capitalism and movement towards self-initiative and the foundations of neo-liberalism.

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