Just as Deleuze became more Nietzschean after his encounter with Guattari, one could argue that he became more “Lacanian” too.
The lesson of Deleuze’s retrospective “Letter to a severe critic” is that although he took Nietzsche as an object of study in the 60s he was speaking from the point of view of the history of philosophy. It was only with the collaboration with Guattari that he was able to philosophise in his own name, a desire that working on Nietzsche had both stimulated and blocked.
Deleuze’s statements about his philosophical development confirm an impression that we can have when reading DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION and LOGIC OF SENSE of a struggle or agon, an underlying antagonism between two types of thought. Several commentators, including Badiou and Zizek, have echoed Deleuze’s auto-analysis and presented a vision of the “two Deleuzes”. This insight is usually expressed in the simplistic chronological terms of Deleuze-before-Guattari and Deleuze-after-Guattari. We are called on to choose one over the other, or to embrace a synthesis of the two.
This splitting of Deleuze can lead to the picture of a luminous affirmative later Deleuze as against a more austere darker earlier Deleuze, leading to the necessity to return to (or to resuscitate) the sombre earlier Deleuze or to “darken” our vision of the later Deleuze. It would be more in line with Deleuze’s own thinking to maintain this divergent conjunction in his thought without reducing it to an absolute split.
To begin to do justice to this internal antagonism within Deleuze’s thinking we can turn to a similar agon within Lacan’s own work. At a decisive moment Lacan felt obliged to choose between normalisation (Jacques-Alain Miller) or schizophrenisation (Guattari). Lacan chose the former and Deleuze chose the latter. However, in each case fragments of the rejected alternative persist in the choice actually taken.
Yet this persistence of virtual fragments does not have equal weight, it is not a symmetric survival. After the rupture produced by ANTI-OEDIPUS there is no naive ignoring or going back. Lacan decided to ignore the rupture, to repress it. This repression is antinomic for a psychoanalyst. The “return” of the repressed came in the form of an increasing presence of Deleuzo-Guattarian themes in the later Lacan: demotion of the oedipal model, turn to the real, passage from linguistics to toplogy.
A similar movement can be seen in Zizek’s work. Zizek highlights diverse Deleuzo-Guattarian themes (immanence, incompletude, disparity) that are to be found “already” in Lacan. But this retrospective movement proves too much. Zizek is only able to find in Lacan what he is looking for, and it is thanks to Deleuze that he knows what he is looking for.
These Deleuzo-Guattarian themes are present in the earlier Lacan, but antagonistically: he is already repressing them before Deleuze and Guattari came to give them greater salience and valorisation. Lacan was repressing himself and the more radical consequences of his ideas, which is what made the Deleuzo-Guattarian rupture both possible and traumatic.