ANTI-OEDIPUS PARAGRAPH 1: commentary

I will be commenting the famous incipit to Deleuze and Guattari’s ANTI-OEDIPUS. Here is my literal translation of the first paragraph:

It functions everywhere, at times without break, at times discontinuously. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the it. Everywhere it is machines, not at all metaphorically : machines of machines, with their couplings, their connections. An organ-machine is connected to a source-machine : the one produces a flow that the other cuts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The anorexic’s mouth wavers between an eating-machine , an anal machine, a talking machine, a breathing machine (asthma attack). Hence we are all handymen: each with his little machines. An organ-machine, for an energy-machine: all the  time, flows and cuts. Judge Schreber has divine rays in his ass. Solar anus. And rest assured that it works : Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and can make the theory of it. Something is produced : machine effects , not metaphors.

1) The vocabulary is simple and non-theoretical, colloquial, even a little coarse (“shits”, “fucks”), which is unusual for a book of high theory. This is in line with D&G’s ambition to create a book of nonacademic “pop” philosophy, comprehensible to everyone, to speak in ordinary words, without concepts.

2) The paragraph is an imagistic declaration of D&G’s pragmatism (functions, machine) and pluralism (error of “the it”). The vocabulary and grammar work in the same sense as the imagistic language. The pluralisation of “it” foreshadows D&G’s critique of Freud as a monist thinker submitting concrete multiplicities to abstract unities.

3) There is an opposition between “machine” and “metaphor” that should not be blindly accepted. “Machine” is a frequent metaphor in French for talking about the State, and its institutions and apparatuses, and it is used much more often than in English.

The real opposition is between machine and structure. The point of encounter between Deleuze and Guattari was Guattari’s text “Machine and structure”. The polemic against metaphor is subordinate to the polemic with structure and the critique of the signifier.

4) “It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks”. What is implicit but missing from this list? Speech. This is spelled out in the second example that D&G give (after the breast): the mouth, specifically the anorexic’s mouth, which “wavers” not just between different functions but between different machines (including talking machine) as if function constitutes machine, which otherwise is undetermined. The anorexic’s mouth is D&G’s Schrödinger’s cat.

5) Writing is also missing from the list. We know from Deleuze’s “Letter to a harsh critic” that his aim was to “treat writing as a flow, not a code” (NEGOTIATIONS, 7).

6) The first word of the book is “it” (“ça”). Deleuze had already posited the impersonal “it” (“il”) as the pronoun of the pure event, expressing the fourth person of the singular as dummy subject of the event. The difference between “il” and “ça”, both translated as “it”, is one of actualisation. The neutral impersonal pronoun “il” of “il pleut” (it rains) is more virtual, the demonstrative pronoun “ça” of “ça respire” (it breathes) is more concrete, more actualised, but still impersonal, neuter, generic, and evental.

7) The book begins with the pronoun”it” in the singular and condemns the Freudian use of the definite article (le ça, the id) as a mistake. It is both too conceptual, in the bad sense of concept that D&G wanted to escape, and too monist (“the” indicating uniqueness).The first move of the book is pluralisation and concretisation.

D&G do not really want to avoid concepts, in the valorised sense that they give to this word in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, but abstractions. Psychoanalysis is too abstract, it has perverted the conceptual grammar of words, making them academic and monist rather than pragmatic and pluralist.

8) Metaphor, in the dualist sense, is not enough to escape from abstraction, nor is an aesthetic use of language. D&G want to change the logical grammar of words, to bring them back to a pragmatic (“machinic”) use. This method is the invention of concepts, but the concepts invented in this first paragraph do not receive a scholarly name, unlike many of the concepts in the rest of the book.

9) The third example, after the breast and the anorexic, is Schreber, who both lives his delirium and theorises it in its own terms. Schreber is a foreshadowing of the notion of speaking in one’s own name, that is in the name of one’s experiences and intensities, of one’s machines and their effects. That is the book that D&G would have liked to write, in their own name, but they have only half-succeeded.The book is full of compromises:

We’re well aware that the frst volume of Anti-Oedipus is still full of compromises, too full of things that are still scholarly and rather like concepts.  So we’ll change, we already have… We’re going to stop compromising, because we don’t need to any more (NEGOTIATIONS, 9).

10) The book is “full of compromises”, by Deleuze’s own admission. The term “machine” is one of them. There is no enduring machine-ontology in D&G, and the word “machine” is backgrounded in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in favour of “assemblage”, and in favour of “image” in the cinema books. Each ontology they propose is provisional, and the machine ontology was pertinent to the critique of a certain stage of Lacanian theory.

11) In their final collaborative work WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? D&G privilege an imagistic characterisation or dramatisation of the concept in terms of lines and planes, conceptual characters and landscapes over an intellectualistic definition. This dramatisation was there from the beginning in Deleuze’s work, but was obscured by its specific conceptual instantiations (difference, machine, assemblage). These particular ontologies are not given out as metaphysical absolutes, but as relative to a field of intervention. They are “under erasure”.

12) Deleuze’s project was always pluralist and pragmatist. He encountered the danger of scientistic reductionism in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (mathematism, structuralism, differentialism). Deleuze was moving towards an aesthetic reductionism in LOGIC OF SENSE, and his collaboration with Guattari temporarily saved him from that, but the danger of political reductionism emerged. The turn to the cinema allowed Deleuze to avoid this danger, but the aesthetic reduction returned with renewed force. Deleuze was only able to achieve a provisional non-reductive equlibrium in the final collaboration with Guattari, but at the price of a classical set of ultimately structuralist demarcations between philosophy, art, and science.

13) In fact the book is more ambiguous on this point of structuralist demarcation than it seems at first sight. It allows for intermediate, composite, transversal, and undetermined cases.

14) “Politics” is not included in the list of modes and practices of thought isolated and analysed, something that Badiou was quick to point out. It would seem that Deleuze was sensitive to this omission of politics as a separate field of analysis (even if it is present as an environing element in the book), and was planning a final work to be called MARX’S GREATNESS. This should probably be seen as expressing a symptom to be transmuted, a compensatory dream to inspire a new creation, rather than to be actualised as such.

14) Deleuze’s path is one of successive instantiations of a pluralist and pragmatist meta-ontological research programme. The positive heuristic was one of increasing concrete theory by means of increasingly imagistic conceptualisation. The negative heuristic was the avoidance of diverse temptations to become fixated with a reductionist formulation of this project.

15) Deleuze was never caught in reductionism (contrary to what pompously self-styled “non-philosophers” may pretend). Rather, he was constantly working in the vicinity of one reductionism or another, proceeding by way of a logic of positive compensations and complementations. The movement is not one of reduction but of amplification.

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9 Responses to ANTI-OEDIPUS PARAGRAPH 1: commentary

  1. ecopoiesis says:

    so much metaphor in much of the oeuvre from Deleuze who repeatedly disavowed analogy and metaphor

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    • terenceblake says:

      Yes, but one can see why he rejected the term metaphor as understood within an onto-theological problematic that reductively invalidated “metaphor” as opposed to reality. This is not the only sense of metaphor, but one can understand why Deleuze would want to avoid ambiguity on this point. This is why I use the term imagistic in its place, as noone can deny that deleuze’s style is imagistic.

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  2. landzek says:

    I think the issue that you talk about here with metaphor and concepts and fear in the like, and what D and G are trying to do marks that sort of barrier that Badiou attempts to situate.

    The problem with D as I see it lies exactly there: that there somehow trying to transcend the concept, to right in plain language, to try to avoid or sidestep or not fall into the philosophical idealism, and yet here we are 20 years later talking about them in an over conceptualized manner.

    I think this is why I don’t really talk too much about these guys because they seem to lie exactly in the middle, or on the fulcrum of real determinations.
    It’s like they’re living in a fantasy land that they won’t admit. Like their perpetually trying to overcome something through the process that they’re trying to overcome.

    I think Zizek Does a better job at this because he doesn’t attempt to nail down something to either side while being caught in the middle: I think Z admits the fault and that’s what makes him so rad. D and G seem to me Tippett be involved in a sort of tripping over themselves at all times.

    But that being said, I like your translations better than the translations I have read. Yours seems so much less cumbersome and actually in these little posts I have read at least here but I think in other areas too, you seem to draw a better sense out of them then other authors translations that I have read.

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  3. landzek says:

    ( not ‘fear’. Damn auto correct ).

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  4. missan0uk says:

    Thank you so much, i m reading the book for my dissertation!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. schr4coxnet says:

    Ah, the stage–theater– “pure forces, dynamic lines in space, which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures which develop before organized bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters–the whole apparatus of repetition as a “terrible powr’. (D&R, p. 10) Always in the wings, dark precursors, movements and images–an intensity to behold as we begin AO.

    Thanks for the enlightening rendition of the trajectory of AO extracted from the first paragraph–much appreciated. Only a few more paragraphs to go. Nothing like the concept to provide a stage for the theatre which cannot collapse on either the conceptual nor the empirical but breaks forth on either side of the stage, both sides, or against any side.

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  6. Pingback: ANTI-OEDIPUS PARAGRAPH 1: commentary – tora.

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