GUATTARI “LINES OF FLIGHT” (1): the hypothesis of modes of semiotisation

The unconscious, for Guattari, is “structured” like a multiplicity of modes of semiotisation. This hypothesis contains in germ Bruno Latour ‘s multiple modes of existence, which are also modes of semiotisation:

If it was still necessary to talk about structure with regard to the unconscious – which is not self-evident, a point we will come back to – we would say instead that it is structured like a multiplicity of modes of semiotisation, of which linguistic enunciation is perhaps not the most important (LINES OF FLIGHT.

This implies no abandon of the Real for a facile relativism. The real is not linguistic but material, for Guattari. That explains why multiple modes of semiotisation, and not just the linguistic mode, are possible.

Lacan is no materialist, and he does not argue very much in terms of the posited materiality of the signifier. A few explicitly materialist slogans do not compensate for the linguistic idealism of the rest. Nor are Freud and Lacan paragons of scientificity. The most that they show is that language is important, and itself material, they do not show that the psyche is totally, or even predominantly linguistic – that is a separate question. Lacan has rightly corrected a naive empiricist neglect of language in favour of a fictive “raw experience”. But he himself has exaggerated in the opposite sense, of a language-laden absorption of experience.

Guattari’s bold conjecture is that there are many modes of semiotisation, which while making use of language, are not reducible to it. Science, the arts, religion, the economy, etc.

Freud’s theory is mired in scientistic primitivism, which is why it needed Lacan’s linguistic structural re-interpretation to make it bearable. The “causality” of the signifier is a magical idealism expressed in quasi-scientific terminology. Lacan represents a half-way house between Freud and Jung, who recognised the power and the materiality of the signifier with his word-association test, before and independently of Freud.

Our shared language is both collective and unconscious in its semiotic structures. This is another case where Lacan’s concentration on the signifier constitutes a half-way house between Freud and Jung. All of Freud’s thought is a case of magical thinking from a materialist point of view, in that he can give no real material status to the unconscious, nor can any material substrate be given to “psychic causality”. Hand-waving is not explication.

Freudism is a promising but unfinished project, if evaluated in materialist terms. Personal analysis is no scientific proof. It demonstrates psychic causality but not material causality, which is an ontological supplement provided by the nostalgic scientistic faithful. Analysis varies from one practitioner to another, and mobilises multiple semiotic régimes. Guattari’s hypothesis of multiple modes of semiotisation is both more descriptively adequate and more speculatively plausible than any scientistic or linguistic idealist reductionism.

Note: I wish to thank a facebook discussion with Doug Weichbrodt for helping me clarify these points.

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