Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Lengthy Response to Glen Fuller

If you've missed it, Glen Fuller has been so kind as to tell me not to continue writing posts on OOO and Deleuze. He has also, through his pedagogical discourse, explained to me that I can't just "use" Deleuze and Guattari, but that in fact I have to know every thing about them, know all of the secondary literature, and read all of the philosophers D&G use themselves. So,this post is an extremely lengthy response to Glen's comments to say thanks for all of the helpful information on how to use “concepts.”  Let's begin:

So let me see if I got this right. First I need to understand the development of the original concept. Okay, fair enough. According to Ian Buchannan’s Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus:
In the various interviews they gave following the publication of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze invariably says that their starting point was the concept of the desiring-machine, the invention of which he attributes to Guattari. There is no record of how Guattari came up with the idea, but on the evidence of his recently published notebooks, The Anti-Oedipus Papers, his clinical experience at La Borde had a large part to play. As Deleuze tells it, Guattari came to him with an idea for a productive unconscious, built around the concept of desiring-machines. In its first formulation, though, it was judged by them both to be too structuralist to achieve the kind of radical breakthrough in understanding how desire functions that they were both looking for in their own ways. At the time, according to Deleuze, he was working - 'rather timidly' in his own estimation - 'solely with concepts' and could see that Guattari's ideas were a step beyond where his thinking had reached (N, 13/24). Unsurprisingly, Guattari's version of events concurs with Deleuze's, though he credits the latter with being the one whose thinking had advanced the furthest. Guattari describes himself as wanting to work with Deleuze both to make his break with Lacanian formulations more thoroughgoing and to give greater system and order to his ideas. But as we've already seen their collaboration was also always more than a simple exchange of ideas, each providing the other with something they lacked. They were both looking for a discourse that was both political and psychiatric but didn't reduce one dimension to the other. Neither seemed to think he could discover it on his own (N, 13/24). To put it another way, we could say that Deleuze and Guattari were both of the view that a mode of analysis that insists on filtering everything through the triangulating lens of daddy-mommy-me could not hope to explain either why or how May '68 happened, nor indeed why it went they way it did. The students at the barricades may have been rebelling against the 'paternal' authority of the state, but they were also rebelling against the very idea of the state and the former does not explain the latter. (emphasis added 38-39)
So, in essence the development of the desiring-machine was centered on the need to develop a concept that did two things: 1) described desire counter to the Freudian Oedipal complex which reduced every desire to a sexual desire (daddy-mommy-me) but could still be used to describe both the political and psychiatric, and 2) explained how desire was ultimately productive.

This makes perfect sense then when in Anti-Oedipus our two authors argue the following:
It is often thought that Oedipus is an easy subject to deal with, something perfectly obvious, a “given” that is there from the very beginning. But that is not all: Oedipus presupposes a fantastic repression of desiring machines. And why are they repressed? To what end? Is it really necessary or desirable to submit to such a repression? And what means are to be used to accomplish this? What ought to go inside the Oedipus triangle, what sort of thing is required to construct it? Are a bicycle horn and my mother’s arse sufficient to do the job? Aren’t there more important questions than these, however? Given a certain effect, what machine is capable of producing it? And given a certain machine, what can it be used for? Can we possibly guess, for instance, what a knife rest is used for if all we are given is a geometrical description of it? (3)
D&G find their answer to these questions in the desiring-machine and the schizophrenic. For the schizophrenic experiences the nature of the world differently. Nature is a process of production. And D&G mean three things by the word process: 1) as “incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making the productions of one and the same process,” and 2) “man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer product,” and 3) process “must not be viewed as a goal or an end in itself, nor must it be confused with an infinite perpetuation of itself” (4-5).

Desiring-machines work in binary (that is, always coupled with another machine) to produce such a process: “[T]here is always a flow-producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast-the mouth). And because the first machine is in turn connected to another whose flow it interrupts or partially drains off, the binary series is linear in every direction” (5). What this means is that every machine must always be connected to another machine and at every connection there is a new machine. For, “a connection with another machine is always established, along a transverse path, so that one machine is always established, along a transverse path, so that one machine always interrupts the current of the other or ‘sees’ its own current interrupted” (6). And it is in this coupling from flow-machine to interrupting-machine, and so on, that D&G argue that producing is always “grafted” onto production. But what this also means is that every desiring-machine should also be seen as a product of production.

However, one of the products of a desiring-machine (since it holds to the process described above) is its body without organs (BwO). D&G state that “[t]he body without organs is nonproductive; nonetheless it is produced, at a certain place and a certain time in the connective synthesis, as the identity producing and the product...” (8). The BwO is a wild collection of unactualized forces, or a blank space across which desiring-machines constantly cut across, “so that the desiring-machines seem to emanate from it in the apparent objective movement that establishes a relationship between the machines and the body without organs” (11). So that desiring-machines constantly create the organism and its opposite – the BwO.

So it is with these concepts (the BwO and the desiring-machine) that D&G are able to form a schizoanalysis that describes a non-Freudian-psychoanalytic sense of desire that is in itself a producing/product. For, as they note, once this is done and “desire is productive, it can be productive only in the real world and can produce only reality…The real is the end product, the result of the passive syntheses of desire as autoproduction of the unconscious. Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression. Desire and its object are one and the same thing: the machine, as a machine of a machine” (26).

So, now that I’ve explored the creation and problematic of D&G’s desiring-machine, let’s look at the problematic of OOO.

OOO was created in response to a certain version of realism in which the things in the world (including the world itself) were all a product of the human mind. Given its name by Quentin Meillassoux in After Finitude, this type of realism became known by the name of Correlationism – pointing to the necessary correlation of human thinking and world. Contrary to correlationsim, OOO proposed a weird realism in which all objects enjoyed the same ontological status as all other objects. As Ian Bogost once put it (and I’m paraphrasing here) OOO does not claim that all things are equal, but that all things equally are. The important thing to note is that like D&G, OOO was attempting to understand the world counter to an overwhelming philosophical world-view. We could say that for OOO objects do two things: 1) describes reality counter to the correlationist view which reduces the world to human thoughts and 2) explains how objects are ultimately productive.

For D&G it was Freud’s Oedipal complex by which everything seemed to be interrupted, and for OOO it was correlationism by which everything became a product of the human mind. OOO found its savior in the creation of objects – everything is considered an object (including its opposite, the subject). Now, I’m not going to go into Graham Harman’s objects (as I’m really still waiting to read his Quadruple Objects book to really get a grasp on some key issues), but am instead going to focus on how Levi Bryant puts forth his understanding of an object.

For Levi, the object is essentially split into two parts: a virtual proper being (or substance) and local manifestations. In the forthcoming Democracy of Objects, Levi states:
Because difference engines or substances are not identical to the events or qualities they produce while nonetheless substances, however briefly, endure, the substantial dimension of objects deserves the title of virtual proper being.  And because events or qualities occur under particular conditions and a variety of ways, I will refer to events produced by difference engines as local manifestations.  Local manifestations are manifestations because they are actualizations that occur in the world. (46)
The object’s qualities are therefore products of the object’s substance, but are not identical to the substance. At the same time, each quality or local manifestation is an actualization of that substance or virtual proper being. Another way of putting this process would be to say that local manifestations cut across the virtual proper being, both actualizing productions of it but also allowing it to withdraw from complete actualization. This is, in fact, one of the main tenants of OOO – that all objects withdraw from both other objects, but also from themselves. But still, regardless of this withdrawal, objects are seen as acts - in that they produce. Here we find Levi's main axiom: there is no difference that does not make a difference. There is no object that does not produce local manifestations, translate other objects, and withdraw from all such relations.

Without getting into the complexities of Levi’s autopoetic and allopoetic systems, we can safely say that this construction of the object is not unlike the process by which desiring-machines operate. Both objects (in Levi’s formulation) and desiring-machines are essentially productive products, and both onticology’s objects and D&G’s desiring-machines produce a realm of potential at every actualization – the virtual proper being and BwO respectively. What D&G’s concepts do, then, when placed up against Levi’s objects is to allow us to better understand how an object can be both limited and open for production. In a lot of ways, the virtual proper being and the BwO act as a structure or limit, while still being a site of production or of recording. I'll be the first to admit that these two theories don't always see eye-to-eye, but when we use D&G to work through these objects, we can broaden the conceptual field of OOO to understand how these objects can be both tablecloths, remote controls, tennis shoes, and stucco while at the same time still be subjects, societies, mobs, and revolutions. Personally, I think D&G can offer us a useful moment of extension from thinking about material things to thinking about all sorts of objects. 

Whew! You weren’t kidding, Glen. That was a lot of work. Regardless, I hope I clarified a few things that you had problems with. I’m sorry you dislike OOO, and my own work. And I don’t know if I will change your mind as to the usefulness of OOO, but perhaps that is another project for another post. Instead, my aim here was to show you that these concepts are not all that different. 


  1. Having read Fuller's post, I guess my first reaction is, wow. The original pioneers of creative, experimental “post-structuralist mashups,” Deleuze and Guattari, used as disciplinary tools against those powerful, dangerous subversives, Ph.D. students. Things have indeed come full circle. Computer, end program!

  2. this seems to fit in with Tim's worries about the paranoia/policing that comes with academic pursuits, Colin Koopman was caught up in a similar go-round in Foucault studies (tho I have now been informed that the post-Rabinow/Dreyfus Foucault isn't radical enough for OOO) and he came up with "appropriationist historiography" in response:

  3. Yeah, Tim, are you serious? Anexact yet rigorous. There was zero rigor in Nate's previous post. He could've told me to get stuffed, it is his blog/think space and I would've respected that. That is exactly how I have used my blog, posting 'thought fragments' to return to at a later date.

    If he did the work (and followed the problematic for which the concept of desiring-machines or whatever are the solution), then he would say something interesting unlike his previous comments making awkward connections between two bodies of work.

    How many actual readers of D&G (or Humanities academics in general for that matter) want to see another grad student half grasp D&G's concepts? Sure, this is a disciplinary question because reading D&G requires a 'sobriety' when experimenting (yes? I wrote 'be careful') and this is beyond silly quips about 'mashups'.

    Actually, I can't believe I am being taken to task for suggesting that not only should a thinker's works be read, but that the work of those that influenced that thinker be read too, and so on, so as to properly understand what the first thinker is arguing. Surely this is basic scholarly practice?

    Nice post on your blog by the way. Superiority? Yeah, right. I have learnt more about something than Nate has. I was trying to help him. He can tell me he doesn't want or need my help. Cool. See how that works?

    Nate, firstly, I haven't told _you_ to do anything except suggest you investigate the origins of concepts further, as you have done above. You can write what you like. The connections you made between OOO ('objects') and D&G's concepts ('desiring-machines') do not exist. If you don't agree, then argue the point. I resent being framed as if I am saying you shouldn't be writing something.

    Secondly, you don't have to read _everything_. The notion is ridiculous. Paul Patton expressed it best when he pointed out in the Introduction to the Deleuze Reader that Deleuze did not talk about scales of events. Patton suggests it is a question of ethics. In LoS Deleuze talked about ethics in terms of being worthy of the events. Part of this is that the scale of events has to be worthy, this is an ethical question. How far back you go in your reading is an ethical question and a question of worth that revolves around the question, how competent do you want to be?

  4. Glen, I share the concern of students/profs speaking in the name of, with the author-ity of, writers whose work they have not done close readings of, but to try and limit use/interpretation (not to mention thinking/seeing through) of texts/conceptual personae to history/pedigree seems contrary to the whole creative/existential impulse of this family of writers. Words/concepts are made meaning full in their use. The demand that ethics be 'worthy' of events (or any other attempt to find an ought in an is) is puritanical/mono-theistic. Thankfully here is an alternative to the demand for justifications which is to manufacture, offer up, viable alternatives.
    “pictures that placed besides one another invite the mind to intuitively establish new relationships and connections-new forms of meaning. In the same way that I ‘come to see’ that ‘this man can be terrible’ from noticing his ‘tone of voice and facial expressions’, his general gestures, I come to discern the significance of a ritual practice or of an ethical utterance, not by means of definitions, but in the impressions that these ‘pictures’-their tone, their expression, their synonymous affinity, etc-make on my imagination. The impression (Eindruck) that I receive here is so ‘deep and extraordinarily serious’ that it transforms the significance of what I see…to vicariously experience them…not from any form of intellectual deliberation-but, as Wittgenstein puts it, ‘from inner experience’. immediately and imaginatively. ”
    -Victor Krebs

  5. Glen,

    I think I can safely speak with some authority on Deleuze and Guattari in a way you cannot, and I have to say that the posts written here show far more understanding of that work than anything you've written. Your critique doesn't even make sense. Events are complex therefore they do not involve objects? The future is open therefore objects do not exist? Have you even bothered to understand what an object is in OOO? It seems that you're wading into a debate having little to no understanding of OOO and what OOO is claiming. This comes out with special clarity where you push the howler that Harman equates Latour's events with Heidegger's ereignis. Seriously, are you just associating words with one another?

    Setting all that aside, you seem to miss the point that you're being called out for the supreme irony of your position. You claim to be defending Deleuze, but you've adopted the most Oedipal, reterritorializing, authoritarian, state based mode of interlocution imaginable. You even go so far as to lecture down to Nate for being a hapless little grad student. It's amusing to watch a so-called Deleuzian occupying the position of big daddy, striving to reterritorialize everything on the text of D&G and halt all flows, lines of flight, and deterritorializations that that text might produce. Do you really not see the performatice contradiction your "intervention" embodies and how it represents the worst sort of Oedipalizing call for submission to the law? You've adopted the position of the policeman and, in your snide remarks about being a grad student, you are privileging molar identities and institutional class structures over molecular becomings. No one here is pointing out that you shouldn't participate because you're outside the academy, so why would you denigrate Nate because he's a grad student? Perhaps this sort of ad hominem and lack of generosity is reflective of not actually having an argument? Nate's posts have been well thought out, informed by the primary material, and Deleuzian in spirit in forming rhizomatic connections. If multiplicities are defined by their lines of flight, then your reterritorializing instincts are the exact opposite of the Deleuzian spirit. Reframing your question about the academy needing any more of those who have half understood Deleuze, the real question should be "does the academy really need another reterritorializing police officer that wants to halt time and becoming?"


  6. Oh, and Glen, re your remarks about ethics and the blather over at your blog, Deleuze also remarks in his review of Hyppolite's Logic and Existence that philosophy is nothing if not ontology: "Philosophy must be ontology, it cannot be anything else [my emphasis]; but there is no ontology of essence, there is only an ontology of sense" (LE, 191). This is a point repeated all throughout Difference and Repetition and Logic of sense. We might also recall Deleuze's disdain of the thesis that we're at the end of metaphysics in an interview in Negotiations. As for objects, let's not forget Deleuze's critique of Spinoza in Difference and Repetition: "Nevertheless, there still remains a difference between substance and the modes, while modes are dependent on substance, but as though on something other than themselves. Substance must itself be said of the modes and only of the modes" (DR, 40). In Spinoza, modes, of course, are bodies or objects. Later on these modes will become desiring-machines, which Guattari models on autopoietic theory. And lo and behold, what are my objects? They are autopoietic machines that are in a constant state of becoming, that are ongoing processes, that draw flows from other objects and so on.


  7. pardon my ineptitude, I was quoting Victor Krebs not commenting in his name.
    ps L not sure that responding in kind is very productive here, just sayin

  8. L, no denigration here, plenty of frustration though! You invoke your auhority to speak. Good work. I don't know who 'L' is.

    OOO is a backwards step in a number of ways. I am yet to be convinced of how or why it is useful. Nate's attempt to read Levi's 'objects' with D&G's desiring machines is counterproductive in my view considering how much Levi uses from D&G. Why bother with the OOO constraints that Levi places on D&G's concepts? From what I have read, unlike many other thinkers, these OOO attempts don't seem to add anything useful or even interesting.

    Let's take this in baby steps. And btw, the last thing I'll post here. I came across Nate's blog and commented with a spirit of goodwill. The rest I'll return to my own blog.

    Firstly, I'd like to know in what way you think my reading of Harman's book on Latour is incorrect. Please! Let's work on what he does say. Does he not call objects 'actants', does he not say that an 'actant' is an event, and does he not the actant is 'events fully deployed at each instant'?

  9. whose afraid of...

  10. lost in concepts about concepts, and still ignorant of the self.