As I think more about Deleuze and Guattari’s account of desire in Anti-Oedipus, I find myself wondering if it doesn’t risk becoming another apologetics for reigning organizations of power. On the one hand, no contemporary political thought can afford to ignore the manner in which desire is manufactured, regulated, and organized given the manner in which we live in a media saturated environment.
On the other hand, the implications of Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of desire become disturbing when juxtaposed with the writings of the Stoic Epictetus. Those familiar with Epictetus’ Enchiridion will find it impossible to forget his opening paragraph...
Do not Deleuze and Guattari, despite all their talk about the creative and productive nature of desire, share an uncanny resemblance to Epictetus? The liberal ideologue tells us that we must resign ourselves to all the ugliness of the world in advance because we exist in a world populated by scarce resources, such that we are necessarily plunged into competition and its attendant social hierarchies. However, wouldn’t it also be the case that Deleuze and Guattari, like Epictetus, tell us that if we suffer then this is because we have created the wrong desires and were we simply to modify our desires we would be capable of tolerating whatever circumstances we might find ourselves in?
Like Deleuze and Guattari, Epictetus seems to suggest that desire is not something natural or inborn, but is a product of our creative freedom. Deleuze, of course, has a strong connection to the stoics through his relation to Spinoza and his development of a stoic ontology in The Logic of Sense. The risk here is that we find ourselves perilously close to claiming that true revolutions are not revolutions in how material conditions or social relations are organized, but rather are revolutions of desire that transform our relations to these conditions...
Scu Says: June 22, 2008 at 11:15 pm
“Perhaps this is the reason that it is of such vital importance that Deleuze and Guattari deconstruct the primacy of the self-enclosed social subject, instead showing that desire itself immediately invests the social field and issues from the social field, that desire is material and not simply a property of biological subjects, and that the subject itself emerges as a product of desire rather than the reverse.”
Seriously, the idea that “The risk here is that we find ourselves perilously close to claiming that true revolutions are not revolutions in how material conditions or social relations are organized, but rather are revolutions of desire that transform our relations to these conditions.” seems contrary to the entire work of D&G, signed both singularly of collectively. There is no separation between desire and material conditions, and D&G are quick and repetitive about condemning anything that implies otherwise. (I mean, it’s called anti-oedipus for a reason).
What they are arguing is you can’t have a material revolution without a revolution in desire as well. Communism isn’t just a question of saying, “Well, right now the shit isn’t distributed very well, and we just need a better distribution of the shit.” Rather, communism must bring into question our very modes of appropriation. Desire is political, it is the question of the political itself. To (badly) paraphrase Spinoza, we don’t desire the good because it is the good, rather we term the good what we desire.
larvalsubjects Says: June 22, 2008 at 11:36 pm
Excellent! This is exactly what I’m trying to bring out, without the words to do so. I agree that such a claim is contrary to the aims of their work, but am raising the question of whether they manage to think that relationship between desire and material conditions adequately (in much the same way that someone’s entire work could be devoted to thinking motion, while still failing to adequately respond to Zeno). While I fully agree with the thesis that you can’t have material revolution without revolution in desire (and also that material revolutions without the latter end up badly insofar as they reinstitute microfasicisms), I think there’s also something more going on in their work. That is, desire can’t be seen as something other than material conditions or different than material conditions (as perhaps Baudrillard might argue in his earlier work).