NOTHING TO DECLARE The Language of Becoming (4): The Marriage of Philosophy and the Unconscious

4) The Marriage of Philosophy and the Unconscious

‘Does the unconscious still have anything to say to us?’

asks Guattari, noting the deluge of systems and techniques of interpretation that flood our psychological landscape.

‘Does philosophy still have anything to say to us!’

asks Deleuze, pointing out the existence of an Image of thought that functions to prevent thinking. Perhaps these two questions are inseparable, as if they form a single paradoxical question that is somehow both at once, without obliterating their difference.

A paradox is an affront to logical consistency, but may well be apt to reveal a different, more vital consistency, the consistency of a becoming, that is to say of a process of transformation in which the process itself is prior to, and more prior than, its terms.

A militant analyst concluding that modern analytic theories and practices contribute to the repression of the unconscious and wanting to listen to the unconscious outside such repressive models turns to a philosopher. A marginal philosopher concluding that traditional philosophy submits the activity of thinking to a repressive Image of Thought, crushing under rationalist Method, turns to an analyst in order to put into practice a new style of philosophy of thinking without Image.

A strange encounter where each tries to learn more about his own house by turning to his neighbours, a double-becoming where philosophy and analysis, thinking and the unconscious, concepts and intensities swap places. As if philosophy treated as a creative flux of concepts and the unconscious as creative flows of desire cannot be kept in their institutional settings, concerning as they do all of us. Deleuze and Guattari’s collaboration provides one figure of a modern problem (task): the marriage of philosophy and the unconscious.

Both, of course, were heavily influenced by Jacques Lacan. But Lacan has acted as a blockage to psychological and philosophical creativity, being erected, for a while, into one of the pillars of the self-declared ‘modern’ thought in France. It is Lacan’s union of philosophy and analysis that both inspired admiration in its desire but produced stasis as its result. It has functioned as a false crystal:

« It seems easy, but conceptual transfers from philosophy to analysis are not at all obvious. Lacan, in this domain, appears as a sort of virtuoso but, despite the appearances, he had lots of inadequacies at the level of philosophy and that earned us yet another reductionist vision of the psychoanalytic domain » (Guattari).

In reading Deleuze’s LOGIC OF SENSE we can feel the tension between Deleuze’s philosophical project of analysing and dismantling the Image of thought and of describing a different, pluralist, anarchist, anti-rationalist, affirmative type of thinking on the one hand; and on the other, the use of Freudian and Lacanian notions that serve to crush his more philosophical concepts. An explosion was immanent!

Guattari in turn with his analytical experience, with his talk of the unconscious as machine, with his desire to interpret normality (including normal philosophy and normal analysis) in terms of the unconscious, to interpret neurosis in terms of schizophrenia, served as catalyst.

Guattari, for his part, felt that his life was split into fragments divided as it was between militantism, Lacanian theory, group-analytical practice, and a ‘schizo’ personality. What he wanted from Deleuze were the concepts, the style that would enable him to stick together the fragments without falling into a system, yet without letting drop any of the fragments:

« What I expected from working with Deleuze were things like this: the body without organs, multiplicities, with re-assemblings on the body without organs ».

But combining ‘philosophy and the unconscious’ does not necessarily mean talking about the unconscious or, worse, about theories of the unconscious. Rather it can designate an activity of philosophizing, or creating with concepts, that is open to the unconscious, that is permeated by it.

Perhaps the collaboration of Deleuze and Guattari is only a sign writ large, a literal enactment of a symbol, the incarnation of a double-becoming that traverses quite other endeavours, that can be expressed and enacted in quite other ways. If « it takes two to be crazy » (Deleuze), all depends on at what level this « two » is to be lived. We are all double, we are all multiple – but this multiplicity is somehow internal’ and ‘external’ at the same time, multiplicity of encounters, sometimes with elements very distant in space and time, sometimes with elements quite close. We never know in advance what person, what encounter will multiply us. A continual pulsation, or alternation, between loneliness and collaboration, between the desert and the packs that people it is necessary.

Why does an analyst need to come to a philosopher in order to listen to the unconscious better? Because the unconscious has been silenced or organized by the systems and practices that were supposed to reveal it as it is and to let it speak. Because there is an Image of thought that has added to and reinforced the stratification of our existence, an official methodical philosophy that is present in quite other disciplines than ‘Philosophy’. And philosophy is needed to track it down and free us from its grip.

Why does a philosopher working within philosophy need to come to an analyst in order to philosophize more freely, in order to construct a thought of multiplicities and becomings. The unconscious has always been present in philosophy, but normally in its stratified form, domesticated and immobilized, caught in the metaphysics of representation, the Images of rationalism. To free thought from these Images another contact with the unconscious is needed, a different unconscious is needed.

The result is to de-literalize both philosophy and analysis, to deterritorialize both thought and the unconscious, to the point that we have two poles, yes, but two poles that are continually swapping places, and where each de-structures the other, opening it up to the play of the soul in the world, a play of events and affects, of multiplicities and becomings that we can call either philosophy or the unconscious, depending on the context.

Instead of trying to analyse and explain this movement, perhaps we could take the movement itself as our guide. Instead of dissipating the paradoxes we could take them as essential elements in a language of becoming that would be on the plane determined by the intersection of philosophy and analysis. Paradox would then be the name of a form of expression for becomings, and not necessarily be signalled by ‘paradoxical expressions’.

Paradox is not embodied in separate expressions but in the use we make of any expression, it exists in all language, coextensive with the language of becomings and with the becoming of language itself. In this sense, paradox haunts language, at that point where words and phrases are taken not only in their designation and signification, but also in the images they transmit and are inhabited by.

If certain contemporary philosophers such as Deleuze and Lyotard, and contemporary analysts such as Guattari and Hillman, have incarnated such an encounter between philosophy and the unconscious explicitly, they have done much to render our terms and systems of reference more fluid. Deleuze remarks that writers such as Klossowski, Kerouac, Burroughs, Artaud, tell us more about the unconscious than psychoanalysis does, precisely because they do not discuss ‘the unconscious’ as a theoretical object, but produce it and follow its flows.

Paul Feyerabend is a better guide to the unconscious than Freud because every page of his works is concerned with events, affects, passions, assemblages, becomings, pluralities, incommensurabilities, dreams and desires (to use only his own theoretical terms) – espousing ‘the greatest art of the unconscious, this art of molecular multiplicities’ (Deleuze and Guattari). Perhaps that is why he has been so little appreciated and understood – both by traditional Anglo-American epistemologists and by trendy French-inspired jargon pushers.

Jung has been described as ‘psychologist of the future, philosopher of the past’, because of this interplay between two poles (called by him personalities Number 1 and Number 2) within his life and work.

If you read Jung for the philosophy in a narrowly conceptual systematic sense, without noticing that the system is a mess and the concepts leak and flow in every direction, you will reduce Jung to No 1, stratified, segmented, dated.

If you read Jung affectively, for the forces he can transmit, for the changes he can provoke, then his works become true treatises of the body without organs, and the last (Memories, Dreams and Reflections) is the key to the rest and to what is living now.

Étienne Perrot in Les Rêves et La Vie, James Hillman in Revisioning Pychology are the true successors of Jung, melting down the system into the experience, the concepts into the affects and becomings. Psychologists of the future, of the daimonic forces knocking on the door.

Yet this is too dualist, as if we are yet again opposing living practice and dead theory. Jung manifests a continual Nietzschean inspiration (despite his denegations) and was very strongly aided in breaking with Freud and developing his own views by the ideas of Henri Bergson and William James. It is this anti-rationalist, pluralist philosophy that is overlaid in Jung’s works by more rationalist and monist ideas and that surfaces again in Hillman, in Deleuze, in Guattari, in Feyerabend. It is as if the struggle in Jung’s life between the alchemist and the Professor is reproduced on the philosophical plane as a struggle between pragmatism (Nietzsche, Bergson, James) and metaphysics (Plato, Kant, Leibniz).

This battle between two sorts of philosophy is tied to different ways of imagining concepts. There are many people for whom the concept is dead. Either they avoid it entirely, preferring ‘life’ – or they submit to the soul-destroying operation of absorbing heaps of such dead matter and thus become philosophers.

Still others, a happy few, have the power to reveal the affect in the concept, to feel the life in the concept, a non-organic life. They are wild philosophers – just as Groddeck called himself a ‘wild analyst’: anything but a groupie or a zombie. The wild philosopher is an empiricist:

« Only an empiricist could say: concepts are the things themselves, but the things wild and free, beyond « anthropological predicates » (Deleuze).

Hence the cry of Anti-Oedipus: « Everything must be interpreted in terms of intensity« – dreams, myths, memories, paintings – even philosophy.

The body without organs is an egg, an egg of intensities, closed in on itself, but leaking in all directions. The loneliest is the most connected, the most desertic is the most populated, the most abstract is the most ‘wild and free’. A book, an image, a phrase, a dream, a concept can be a body without organs waiting to be fertilized by us and to fertilize us, to enter in a becoming with us that gives birth to something else, to many things. As in Russell Lockhart’s dream:

« ‘Do you not know that words are eggs, that words carry life, that words give birth’. After a dream like that, what can you say? I felt as if I had been hit on the head like a pupil who had not paid attention. It was a dream as Zen Master » (Lockhart, WORDS AS EGGS).

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3 commentaires pour NOTHING TO DECLARE The Language of Becoming (4): The Marriage of Philosophy and the Unconscious

  1. Very stimulating reading, as always.


  2. Hi Terence!

    I’m glad you put this into blog form. I like this text a lot. I have it saved in the .jpgs you posted time ago! And just yesterday I discovered we have the printed version, too—but I probably would be unable to find it alone (!) because I have a great grasp of our library (!!). So, I’m still glad that it’s online. (I’ll say, though, that reading the title « Nothing to Declare » in big letters printed on an encyclopaedic tome has its ironic appeal!)

    Seriously, I think this is some alchemy you did here! The marriage works. And the language of becoming, of processes, flows, intensities, is not just a theme explored, but it’s also how the text speaks (or, I could say: it’s both in the materials & in the operations). Re-reading it, I feel that the text does a lot indeed and it manages to don’t « declare » much (« this play of difference and of disjunctive synthesis leads us to suspect that Difference is one of the names of the unconscious »: even this, which could be taken as quite a declaration, sounds more like an invitation to seeing through!)

    A couple of thoughts on Deleuze/Hillman. I always found Deleuze’s discussion of the ‘image of thought’ useful for thinking about film—since criticism can become itself the dogmatic image that prevents you from seeing the image, so to speak… There was a discussion of Antonioni in the cinema books in which I think Deleuze, explicitly referred to how little useful was writing about « incommunication », « isolation », and other clichés to grasp what was happening in Antonioni’s images, to understand the relation between bodies & world in his cinema. And, somehow, I’ve always linked this with Hillman’s insistence about staying with the image & addressing it in its own terms—but also with his discussion, in ‘Re-Visioning Psychology’, of the double meaning of the word ‘idea’ in Plato: as that which one sees & as the instrument/perspective by which one sees. It seems to me that, in both cases, there’s a warning about examining the idea/image/perspective that enhances or limits what we can see, think, etc.

    All this is also to say that I believe this is a bit what your text did for me in relation with ‘Teorema’. When I did a bit of reading on this film, years ago, I remember finding texts that stressed a positive effect (in the maid) and a negative effect (in the family members) to basically build an anti-bourgeois argument. And I think I bought it a bit unthinkingly. But, when I read your text, I thought that this was very biased & that the film itself does not do this judgement—on the contrary: the shift experienced by the lives of each character after the angel is gone is particular to each soul, but EQUALLY brutal in all cases. One can only see the positive/negative contrast if one already has a prior idea of a positive madness (of sainthood & holy miracles) Vs. a negative madness (of pissing on paintings, etc.). And, having just recently read Hillman’s essay on ‘Psyche and Eros’, well, this myth fits the film as glove in hand! As a character in a Bergman film says: « People like me have never given the soul much thought. Then the soul starts acting up and you are helpless »… It’s the encounter with Eros (which also reminds me of Deleuze’s « thought is nothing without something that forces and does violence to it ») what is so strongly depicted in this film: the violence of the soul’s awakening. Or as you put it: « Faith in the soul is the gift of the angel ». Part 2 is downright beautiful!!


    • terenceblake dit :

      Hello Cristina, thank you for your kind words and further reflections.

      I wrote nothing to declare at a moment of synthesis in my life, after attending Deleuze’s seminar for six years and after six years of Jungian analysis. I finally felt that I did not need to « compare and contrast » but that I could write out of a new space where both these strands came together with my work on Feyerabend and on Hillman and many other things.

      It seems to me that you are now at your own moment (or plateau) of synthesis and I am very happy to read your commentary. The Psyche and Eros myth and Hillman’s essay were very much on my mind in writing this essay, and I think seeing Pasolini’s THEOREM and reading the book just crystallised everything in a compelling series of images.

      I am glad to see that something I wrote 35 years ago can still be living today, and that some of my spots have become also gems.

      Aimé par 1 personne

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