desiring machines

In the Anti-Oedipus, subtitled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, volume 1, and first published in 1972, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari engaged in a radical critique of Freudianism. Like their contemporary, R.D. Laing, and like Wilhelm Reich before them, they linked psychic repression with social repression, and sought to recover the revolutionnary quality of desire.

For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is not to be identified with lack, with the law, or with the signifier, but rather with production, with desiring production in the social field. For them, the Oedipal myth and its institutionalization in psychoanalysis, stands directly in the way of understanding the productive unconscious. It is an obstacle to a materialist psychiatry which would introduce desire into the mechanism and introduce production into desire. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire produces reality .

Desiring machines are the site of that production. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the "labor" of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, "Machinic Heterogenesis") (see also bachelor machines ) (For a Freudian account see play) (see also "buccal space" in pyscho-sexual space.)

Rejecting the "anthropomorphic representation of sex", Deleuze and Guattari describe the workings of the unconscious and of the sexual drives as the actions of desiring machines . They describe the breast as a machine, the mouth as a machine coupled to it, and are at pains to point out that their use of this term is not metaphorical, because for them the essence of both man and nature is production (as opposed to representation), and desiring production is the primary form of human production. It is the production of production. Desiring production is generation.

Deleuze and Guattari contrast " molar" machines --whether social, technical, or organic -- with the "molecular" microphysics of desire. "Desiring machines are the nonhuman sex, the molecular machinic elements, their arrangements and their syntheses, without which there would be neither a human sex specifically determined in the large aggregates, not a human sexuality capable of investing these aggregates." (Anti-Oedipus, p. 294) The regimes of molar and molecular remain inseparable, however. "There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale." (p.340)

For D+G, the molecular unconscious knows nothing of castration. Its partial objects lack nothing and form free multiplicities -- a microscopic transsexuality. Thus "making love is not just becoming as one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand" (A-O, p. 296). "The schizoanalytic slogan of the desiring revolution will be first of all: to each its own sexes." "The schizo is not a revolutionary, but the schizophrenic process...is the potential for revolution." (p.341) D+G propose a schizoanalysis to replace the Oedipal psychoanalysis, not so much in celebration of schizophrenia, but because the breaks and flows that they observe at the schizoid level escape some of the strictures of Oedipus and allow us to see nature as production. "Desiring production is situated at the limits of social production; the decoded flows, at the limits of the codes and the territorialities; the body without organs at the limits of the socius." (Anti-Oedipus, pp 175-6) (the socius is the abstract machine of society -- Massumi) .

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri follow Deleuze and Guattari in underscoring the revolutionary potential of desiring production. For them, "the biopolitical, seen from the standpoint of desire, is nothing other than concrete production, human collectivity in action." (Empire, p. 397) "Empire pretends to be master of the biopolitical world because it can destroy it. What a horrible illusion! In reality we are masters of the world because our desire and labor regenerate it continuously." (p.368)

Some feminist writers have approached this claim to the non-personal with suspicion. Luce Iragaray asks "...doesn't the 'desiring machine' still partly take the place of woman or the feminine? Isn't it a sort of metaphor of her that men can use? Especially in terms of their relation to the techno-cratic?" (This Sex Which Is Not One, p.140) Alice Jardine expresses her concern that "becoming-woman, desiring machines, and other similar concepts are merely excuses for male forms of appropriation of whatever is radical and threatening about women's movements". (How about taking it non-personally? ) (Substance 44/45) quoted in Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy. The book title is an ironic choice, since D + G refer to Oedipus as "the fantastic repression of desiring machines. It substitutes a classical theater for the unconscious as a factory. It interprets the workings of desiring machines as representations of its triangular code of mommy-dadddy -me. It compromises the direct confrontation of desiring-production and social production as well as the relation of psychic repression with social repression. Production is crushed, subjected to the requirements of representation. Oedipus forces desire to take as its objects the differentiated parental persons and prohibits the ego from satisfying its desires with these persons. But the undifferentiated is created as the reverse of the differentiated. In this sense, the Oedipal is a double bind, and for Deleuze and Guattari It cannot be resolved until we do away with both the problem and the solution. "Is that not the nature of desire, that one desires the impossible?" (A-O p 162.)

(See Hans Bellmer and the body)

It is worth noting that for Freud, maternal care is the primary model of seduction. Such care, in focusing on certain bodily regions, contributes to defining them as erotogenic zones, zones of exchange which demand and provoke excitation in order subsequently to reproduce it autonomously through internal stimulation. --J. Laplanche, Life and Death in Psychoanalysis, p. 44)

According to Brian Massumi, the persistent subjectivist misunderstandings of the term "desiring machine" as developed in Anti-Oedipus, led them to substitute the term assemblage in A Thousand Plateaus, (for desire vs representation, see Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, pp 208-11 and for social production vs representation pp 253-56)