The "body without organs" and the "organs-partial objects" are concepts that Deleuze and Guattari mobilize in opposition to the organism and its organization, in opposition to the functional specificity of organs, so as to release the decoded and deterritorialized flows of desire. The BwO is the "anorganism of the body" a bundle of virtual affects in a non-organic and non-organized multiplicity, "molecular" rather than "molar."
Rather than an undifferentiated "Pre-Oedipal" body, (a retrospecive illusion projected back onto the infantile body by psychoanalysis) the BwO is a hyper differentiation, Individuation at its most intense. (cf subject)
Deleuze and Guattari use the expression "body without organs" to describe what they call the "plane of consistency of desire". (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether it be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it) It is the field of immanence of desire, as opposed to its surfaces of stratification, where the judgement of God makes it an organism, a signification, a subject. The body without organs is a site of non-coded flows, like the full body of the earth.
The BwO is an extreme rejection of a Helmolzian mechanical psychology that would, for example. treat the eye as a measuring device which the brain uses in constructing a practically efficient map of the external world. In the BwO "No organ is constant as regards either function or position,...sex organs sprout everywhere,...rectums open, defecate and close,...the entire organism changes color and consistency in split-second adjustments" (William Burroughs, Naked Lunch, p. 9) It is an anti-armor, the polar opposite of the armored body studied by Wilhelm Reich and Klaus Theweleit (Male Fantasies). As an external sign of their internalized character armor, the men of the Freikorps fortified themselves with hard leather body armor to assert their solidarity against the threat of fluid women. (although even Fascism is desire)
The BwO is a fusion of internal and external which must be constructed. It can take place in very different social formations, through very different assemblages. Deleuze and Guattari refer to the BwO "not as a notion or concept but a practice or set of practices" (A Thousand Plateaus, pp 149 - 150) and advocate the careful dismantling of the organism through practices that include the hypochondriac body, the paranoid body, the schizo body, the drugged body, and the masochist body. (Since the degree of freedom is also a degree of danger, all the more reason to make the escape with the utmost sobriety. --Massumi, p.85) "Think of the body without organs as the body outside any determinate state, poised for any action it its repertory; this is the body from the point of view of its potential, or virtuality. (Brian Massumi, p.70)
"Where psychoanalysis says 'Stop, find your self again,' we should say instead, "Let's go further still, we havn't found our BwO yet, we havn't sufficiently dismantled our self." (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 151) (see also identity) This ideal status is ultimately unattainable. "You never reach the Body without Organs, you can't reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit." (p. 150) The BwO is the opposite of the body image
For Deleuze and Guattari, the bachelor machine "forms a new alliance between desiring machines and the body without organs to give birth to a new humanity. The subject, which is produced as a mere residuum alongside the desiring machines confuses himself with the bachelor machine, and thus the auto-eroticism of the bachelor machine gives birth to the subject. The bachelor machine produces pure intensive qualities.
The Body without organs is a a chastised body. In his radio play of 1947, To Be Done with the Judgement of God, Antonin Artaud proposed a kind of "Dionysian castration":
-By placing him again, for the last time, on the autopsy table to remake his anatomy.
I say, to remake his anatomy.
Man is sick because he is badly constructed.
We must make up our minds to strip him bare in order to scrape off that animalcule that itches him mortally,
and with god
For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic
reactions and restored him to his true freedom.
Then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.
(in Artaud, Selected Writings, pp 570 -571)
The wrong side out also relates the BwO to Blanchot's concepts of thought from the outside. (see Foucault / Blanchot ) Like Foucault, and Bataille before them, Deleuze and Guattari find in Artaud's discourse of madness the inspiration for a anthropological / psychoanalytic discourse of excess and transgression. Artaud saw the organs as functional articulations forced on the body, as restrictions entailing separation, determination, and representation. Subject to epilepsy and eventually madness, Artaud's thinking is an expression of his torment and suffering. (see James Miller's biography of Foucault, The Passion of Michel Foucault, pp 275-276.)
An organon, an obsolescent word in English for organ, is defined as "an instrumentality for the aquisition of knowledge, a "body of methodological doctrine." (Webster's) Is the "body without organs" a resistance to method?
"The organ is a restriction, not the cause, of the activity of the formative impulse." (G.R. Treviranus, Biology, 1802 - 1822 vol. 4)
The body without organs has been an object of feminist criticism. For Luce Iragaray (Ce Sexe qui n'en est pas un, p.140) the notion is reminiscent of a condition of dispossession of the bodily self. She points out that the emphasis on the machinic, the inorganic, as well as the notions of loss of self, dispersion, and fluidity are all too familiar to women: Is not the body without organs women's own historical condition?
See also Alice Jardine, Gynesis.
"The body without organs is an egg: it is crisscrossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings, the destinations of the subject developing along these particular vectors." Anti-Oedipus, p. 19
CH NOTE Use this quote in relationship to Fuller Domes, Kieler Endless House, Kaufmann's diagrams of morphogenetic areas.
In Terminal Identity, Scott Bukatman considers Deleuze and Guattari as "Cyberpunks, too, constructing fictions of terminal identity in the nearly familiar language of a techno-surrealism." (p. 326) For him, the BwO "is the state in which we aspire to dissolve the body and regain the world." Bukatman compares Vaughn's quest in Ballard's Crash to attain the body without organs. In "The Technology of Death and Its Limits: the Problem of the Simulation Model" (in Rethinking Technologies, p. 156-170) Scott Durham traces the relationships between death and technological planning in Crash as well as in Siegfried Giedion's Mechanization Takes Command. For Giedion, the not altogether successful attempts at the mechanization of death in the slaughterhouse is the point where industrial techniques find their limit in the organic world. In Crash, according to Durham, "the 'accident' of death itself emerges as a product of triumphant industrial planning and technology". He describes the universe of Crash as very much like the Baudrillardian model of a world in which the "real" has become dependent on reproduction, and in which the subject withers away as a consequence of the death of the auratic object, persisting only as a condemned and useless vestige alongside the simulacra that precede and envelope it.