Guattari's Machinic Unconscious and Proust as Schizoanalyst

Review by Don Callen

Guattari, Felix. The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis. Semiotext(e)/ Foreign Agents, 2010.

[1] Jacques Lacan revolutionized psychoanalysis by displacing the unconscious from the depths of subjectivity to the social space of institutionalized symbolic systems. Unconscious structures of hysteria, perversion and narcissism, he thought, were to be found not in the deep hydraulics of subjective interactions of ego, id and superego, but in the meanings of speech and action within the linguistically governed spaces that constitute our symbolically instituted social reality. Freudian concepts were reconstructed within a theory of language and meaning that drew upon Saussure's linguistics and insisted upon the institutional reality of language over and against a long and continuing tradition of thinking of language pragmatically as an abstract tool or, worse, as a transparent medium for viewing the world.

[2] This structuralism seemed to be a counsel of realism in sharp contrast with the idealistic existentialist concept of the free and self-creative individual whose authentic identity is constituted by standing independent of and, generally, against inscription within the determinations of social institutions. However, it left one with the depressive dilemma of seeming to have to choose between losing one's identity within accepting the social and linguistic determinations of given social structures and losing one's identity by attempting to oppose them. On Lacan's reading, Antigone is the dazzlingly beautiful example of what it means to be thus caught between two deaths (Lacan).

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in a now familiar series of collaborative works, argued effectively that this is a false dilemma. They agreed that the unconscious is a kind of machine that works within the intersection of speaking, acting human bodies and social institutions, but they stressed the historical importance of capitalism in the formation of these institutions on the one hand, and on the other, the open-textured character of disciplinary technologies (invoking a Foucauldian theme) or creative and revolutionary potentialities that exist within the virtual space of the social machines that dominate but need not determine our personal and collective existence. While, in a series of independent philosophical works, Deleuze critically explored the philosophical tradition, harvesting a string of creative concepts to support this social and historical critique in the works of philosophers like Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume and Nietzsche, Guattari was elaborating concepts that would flesh out the meaning and revolutionary potential of schizoanalysis, their name for a new form of socio-historical critique and revolutionary political thought.

[4] Guattari begins The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis by situating the unconscious within a temporalized social space that casts the future as a screen of possibility against a sedimented, materialized past that is however open to a reconstruction through deterritorializing enunciations and acts along bio-socio-political vectors that are virtual, potentialities already becoming. Schizoanalysis is not merely a theoretical representation but a way of furthering a becoming through an interpretive and active assemblage of systemic or machinic processes and operations. (To be noted here is the Hegelian albeit non-dialectical conception of the essentially institutive and potentially creative effect of consciousness in its many modifications, here transmuted into schizoanalysis.) He writes:

. . . the unconscious works inside individuals in their manner of perceiving the world and living their body, territory, and sex, as well as inside the couple, the family, school, neighborhood, factories, socius, and universities . . . In other words, not simply an unconscious of the specialists of the unconscious, not simply an unconscious crystallized in the past, congealed in an institutionalized discourse, but, on the contrary, an unconscious turned towards the future whose screen would be none other than the possible itself, the possible as hypersensitive to language, but also the possible hypersensitive to touch, hypersensitive to the socius, hypersensitive to the cosmos . . . Then why stick this label of "machinic unconscious" onto it? Simply to stress that it is populated not only with images and words, but also with all kinds of machinisms that lead it to produce and reproduce these images and words. (10)

An understanding of the machinic unconscious begins with a conception of language that avoids, first, the universalism of Chomskian and structuralist linguistics, second, linguistic behaviorism in its various scientific and philosophical variants, for example, Searle's rendering of later Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin's speech act theory (Searle), and, third, Habermas's pragmatics which postulates essential linguistic communicative competencies with a view to an idealized rationalization of a democratic political space (Habermas) (a long-standing vision of critical theory (Arendt)). These traditional linguistic conceptions identify dynamic machinic materializations and vectors that interact with each other to construct assemblages of possibilities of existence and trajectories of becoming. There are no linguistic universals of any kind, Guattari asserts (Guattari 32-5). Instead, subjectification is a matter of "assemblages of enunciation, pragmatic fields and transformations" of words, images and abstract functions (thus recovering pragmatic variations of a machinic theme). Deterritorializations of desire and subjectivity are not, however, simply a matter of a play of signifiers, but involve complex semiotic constructions that involve an ideal of power that both subjects and enslaves and accommodates capitalistic subjectification just as readily as revolutionary vectors of resistance (Guattari 46). This point needs to be stressed inasmuch as progressive critical and social theory too often presumes that it has a monopoly on the transformative and creative spaces of potentialities of difference.

[5] One of the machinic assemblages that schizoanalysis addresses is the complex construction of faciality which combines with speech and body shape to form binaries of accepted and rejected gestalts of expressiveness, manifestations of semiotic redundancies that construct machinic consciousness under the subjective totalization of capitalist structures and operations of power. The construction presupposes "black holes" of foreclosed enunciation, repressed possibilities of not just a different speech, but another face, a different body. The success of such capitalistic totalization is measured by a stroke of power that results in a pervasive consciousness that takes the construction to be just the way things are, really. What it is really a matter of, however, is the Imaginary of Capitalism made material within these functionally and pragmatically integrated assemblages. Faciality is constructed by capitalism so as to intersect with gestalts of landscape. The body of the person and the body of the land it inhabits are bound together and equally substantialized in the approved enunciative semiotic of the capitalist imaginary (75-78).

This faciality-landscapity tends to dissolve the territorialized limits of natural sociality and to neutralize the "excessive" machinic effects that could be engendered by a systematic decoding of flows. The whole order of the possible has to be inscribed upon this substance of the signifier. No intensive matter of expression can be organized according to rhizomatic connections. The multitude of the eyes of the cosmos and becomings -animal and -vegetable disappear on behalf of a central eye from which all spatial, rhythmic, moral, deictic coordinates radiate, etc. (89)

"This empty eye that haunts capitalistic faciality knows of only one thing, which is that nothing could exist independently of the dominant worldliness" of capitalism, "a basic faciality which, though not necessarily as 'spectacular' as that of Big Brother, Amin Dada, or the Ayatollah Khomeini, is nonetheless omnipresent." (88) The capitalistic ideal requires a systematic deterritorialization of all polyvocal supports of expression, ethnic, religious and truly democratic groups so as to reterritorialize them on capitalistic supports in, for example, the nuclear family, norms of social standing, etc. "Traditional ethnic antagonism which were quite localized have been commuted in a universal racism that has become inherent to white capitalistic faciality" (90-91).

[6] Unlike existentialists who conceive of temporalization as a construction of the time of existence as a matter of subjective constancy in appropriation of the moment for authentic self-creation (Sartre) or being-toward-death (Heidegger), schizoanalysis conceives of time in terms of rhythms of life first embodied in social assemblages of expressive enunciations of possibility as collective calls, refrains of speech and action (107-8). The musical reference is essential although Guattari would have us understand the figure as involving in "primitive" societies a more heterogeneous phenomenon in which music, dance, ritual and production are typically bound up together in ways that are not undifferentiated but machinically related and give a certain richness and grace to the machinic processes of life. In a controversial and sweeping claim, Guatarri suggests that western music in all its abstract structure and complexity is an impoverishment by comparison with the subtle traditional synergetic enunciations of assemblages of music, dance, ritual and production (111-112). However, the central theoretical point stresses the synergetic and synaesthetic character of the refrain that enables it to become a diagrammatic vector for a potentiality that may be expressed in diverse perceptual modes and objects as an assemblage of possibilities of existence. Capitalism displaces or deterritorializes temporalization from traditional social embodiments so as to structure it around operations that analytically separate and objectivise rhythms of existence in accordance with its productive imperatives and interests. Modern subjectivity is a function of these processes of subjectification and temporalization that appear to deposit an individual challenge demanding a meaningful synthesis of memory, dream, perception, mood, anticipation and action (the palette of modern subjectivity as conceptualized in modern philosophy and art). In truth, the voice of the modern subject's alienated refrain bears another pathos altogether. "I love you, do not leave me, you are my world, my mother, my father, my race, the cornerstone of my organization, my drug. I can do nothing without you . . . What you are really – man, woman, object, ideal of standing – in fact matters little. What counts is that you allow me to function in this society, that you neutralize in advance all the solicitations of the components of passage that could derail me from the system. Nothing will be able to happen anymore that does not pass through you . . ." Whatever the words and notes, it is always the same depressive refrain (109). What a confusion to suppose that the space of existential angst is an opening to free self-creation! Such a refrain condenses a voice that, read literally, reveals the uncritical character of therapies of modern psychoanalysis, all designed to return subjectivity to normal ego structures that work smoothly within the capitalistic machine, and, read ironically, discloses the revolutionary heading of schizoanalysis.

[7] The second half of The Machinic Unconsious is an extended representation of Proust's In Search of Lost Time as a schizoanalysis of assemblages of possibilities of existence (or potentialities of becoming) that both gather and rhizomatically open the relations between the subjectivity of the Narrator, Swann, other characters and, crucially, groups which represent class differences and hence these potentialities of becoming as impulses that are micro-political. (This essay on Proust helps a great deal in fleshing out a large array of technical concepts that Guattari constructs in the first half of the book. The reader might be advised to work back and forth between this essay and the earlier introduction of these concepts.) This opening to a new becoming arises in a refrain, a melodic phrase from a violin sonata by an obscure composer that the aristocratic aesthete, Swann, hears performed at one of the upper-class salons that make up a sub-set of the collective assemblages of social life to which he belongs. However, it is only years later when Swann hears the phrase once again that it begins to deterritorialize his subjectivity as it diagrammatically synergetically operates to sustain a social displacement as Swann begins to frequent the déclassé salon of Mme. Verdurin where he meets an odd assortment of bourgeois figures and social upstarts, among them, a doctor, a painter, a musician and a woman of ambiguous character, Odette. The attraction of the peculiar diagrammatic beauty of the musical refrain takes synaesthetic flight to encompass the strange and ambiguously gendered beauty in Odette's face. Guattari stresses that this assemblage of refrain and faciality is a rhizomatic opening to what will, only some sixteen hundred pages later, amount to a movement of becoming-woman in the Narrator, one of the dominant machinic assemblages in the novel. Odette famously resists Swann's efforts to possess her like some work of art, however. The rhizomatic opening that the refrain and Odette's faciality signify collide with the social redundancy of the aristocratic machine that dominates Swann's subjectivity inducing an obsessive and jealous struggle to which Odette is finally constrained to appear to yield (243-52).

[8] Guattari stresses that the becoming-woman that is one of the central existential vectors in the machinic revolutions of Swann, the Narrator, and, ultimately Proust, may be observed to be thwarted in the case of Swann as it is freed in the Narrator to intersect with diverse becomings, becoming-bird and, crucially, becoming-creator. However the currents and eddies of these becomings (the complicated mapping of which is one of the burdens of the book) are rhizomatically complex, inhibited in one place only to break out in another. These changes are not structurally determined but evolve in an overdetermination of effects which constitute a recreation of the world (281-2). The results are never merely characterological or even socio-political but ontological. Here Guattari's representation of the szhizoid machinic unconscious joins Deleuze's concepts of the metaphysics of repetition and difference (Deleuze). The connection with existentialist conceptions of authentic being-in-the-world are also clear.

These abstract, diagrammatic machinisms of art not only involve energetic, biological, and socio-economic-spatio-temporal dimensions, but also the transitory or ephemeral modes of temporalization, fleeting intuitions, "minuscule impressions," everything that stems from the "extreme part of sensations." They allow us to access the virtualities of the real, a hyper-reality which involves the most profound dynamism of things, not simply time passed and time emerging in the present, but also all the modes of temporalization to come. (301)

The taking-flight of existence in becoming-woman-becoming-creator which is stunted in Swann's jealous aesthetic objectification of Odette is released as the Narrator transforms the fetishistic refrain of the Vinteuil sonata into a series of quasi-Wagnerian leitmotivs that proliferate through resemblance and difference across the face of Albertine (292-3). The work begins as the Narrator sits at the piano and musically analyzes the score, taking note of the mutations of Swann's beloved phrase as it plays out through the work as a whole. In a similar way, the Narrator comes to love Albertine as an unfolding multiplicity. This is to be contrasted with Swann's effort to fix the faciality of Odette by pasting on her image a facial detail from a fresco by Botticelli (290). In a further flight, this musical and facial assemblage itself rhizomatically and transaesthetically morphs into a figure-concept of creative writing, of Proust's creation itself – all of which in a reflecting shimmer reconstitutes Proust's existence, his being-in-the-world we might say. The machinic consistency of this movement however is filled with regressions and other inconsistencies. The Narrator imagines Albertine as a sleeping child, the better to arrest her fleeting mutability. One must think of the taking-flight in this assemblage becoming-woman-becoming-creator as yet as mere possibility, a virtual impulse that does not yet temporalize the writer's existence with consistency and endurance (295-6).

[9] As one reads Guattari's extended interpretation of Recherche, the inevitable question arises, how does the aesthetically refined and esoteric language of the novel have any verisimilitude with the ordinary lived-experience of real life? The essential point is that, of course, it does not. The Recherche is not a matter of holding a mirror up to nature. Rather, as Guattari casts it, it is a special discourse, a discourse not of reflection but of semiotization. Its power lies in the way in which it discloses not consciousness but the unconscious thought that is masked by the redundancies of everyday life, "everything which stems, according to Proust, from the world of habit" (302). The writer's impressions are a sort of analogue to the scientist's experiment. Proust himself likens the work to an optical instrument that enables the reader to discern what otherwise would go unremarked (303). Schizoanalysis is Guatarri's way of characterizing the workings of Proust's instrument. Importantly, however, this analysis, however informally articulated, is essential to achieving existential consistency in flights of becoming that are unconsciously sketched out in the machinic assemblages of ordinary life. Guattari provides us thereby with a noteworthy original phenomenological synthesis of the psychoanalytical and existential traditions but with an opening that is micro-political and does not elide the structures and textures of capitalism which thus show themselves to be malleable and porous. Schizoanalysis not only enables us to discern these processes of semiotization, of concrete "semantic" suggestion and ramification, but to forge new assemblages that both de-substantialize and give rhizomatic consistency to existence. Temporalization is thus secured against objective chance (surrealism) and free association (psychoanalysis) (305) without requiring an essential heading, an existential being-toward-death (Heidegger) or the constancy of realizing the transcendence of freedom (Sartre-de Beauvoir). Even the becoming-woman-becoming-creator as the overarching assemblage of this work does not constitute an essential formula for the temporalized sequences of life. These are rather the semiotic vehicles of a liberated becoming whose rhizomatic mutations can never be predicted or fractally analyzed.

Works Cited

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton. Columbia University Press, 1995.

De Beauvoir, Simone. The Ethics of Ambiguity. Citadel, 2000.

Guattari, Felix. The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis. Semiotext(e), 2011.

Habermas, Jurgen. The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume 1: Reason and the Rationalization of Society. Trans. Thomas McCarthy. Beacon Press, 1985.

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. State University of New York Press, 2010.

Lacan, Jacques. The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis Volume VII. Trans. Dennis Porter. W. W. Norton, 1997.

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. Trans. C. K. Scott Moncrieff. Modern Library, 2003.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel Barnes. Washington Square Press, 1993.

Searle, John. Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press, 1970.