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Our ill-fated fate (ANTI-ODIPUS AND ECOLOGY)

PHILOSOPHY / Can a way of thinking where becoming, growth and change are fundamental, open up new and more ecologically fruitful understandings of and attitudes towards the world? For Deleuze and Guattari, desire does not begin with lack and is not desire for what we do not have. Through a focus on desire as connection and connection – an understanding of identity and subjectivity as fundamentally linked to the intermediate that the connection constitutes. What they bring out by pointing this out is how Oedipal desire and capitalism are linked to each other, and to the constitution of a particular form of personal identity or subjectivity. But in this essay by Kristin Sampson, Anti-Oedipus is also linked to the pre-Socratic Hesiod, to something completely pre-Oedipal. MODERN TIMES gives the reader here a philosophical deep dive for thought.


Ecology is one of the most urgent topics of our time. Perhaps questions related to nature and the survival of life forms on our planet constitute the main challenge of our time. During the last decades, questions related to the conservation of ecosystems, balancing climate conditions and the survival of natural life forms have become increasingly obvious as critically important to more and more people. According to a perspective that can be called ecosophic, is a form of change in action, politics and thinking that we, and the world we inhabit, desperately need. The decisive challenge is thus Ecologysee

This essay deals with Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and schizophrenia from 1972, and sees this in the light of Hesiod Theogonien, which is several thousand years older. The purpose of this move is to highlight two aspects that can be found in both places, namely the space in between and a conception of being where creation, growth and change are fundamental. This will, as will be argued here, open up new and more ecologically fruitful understandings of and attitudes towards the world, which we badly need today.

AGORA: The latest issue of Agora is dedicated to the 50th anniversary of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's famous and still equally controversial book Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and schizophrenia, first published in 1972. MODERN TIMES has chosen to reprint one of the contributions in this publication on pages 18–19. See also a longer essay by Knut Stene-Johansen about Gilles Deleuze and machoism on the following pages, as well as our essay by Lukas Lehner on the front page about what follows from Anti-Ødipus.

Our fateful fate

I Anti-Oedipus is not an explicitly themed ecological perspective. Nevertheless, in recent years, several have considered Anti-Oedipus with a view to such a theme. Claire Colebrook, for example, points to how what she refers to as "the logic of the Anthropocene and its mode of universality", corresponds to and reminds of "that of the universal history of the Anti-Oedipus». She highlights how there is nothing necessary or inevitable about the history of capitalism and humanism, but nevertheless: Once that history has unfolded, it is inevitable and a form of destiny. As Deleuze and Guattari says i anti-Oedipus (referring to Marx): «[T]he universal history is the history of chance and not of necessity […]. In short, universal history is not simply retrospective, it is contingent, singular, ironic and critical.»

That something similar can be said about it anthropocene, implies that even if the historical development that has brought us to where we are today could have been different, in the sense that there is no deterministic form of necessity that has brought us into our current situation, this situation is nonetheless our destiny when we first find ourselves here as we do today. That we live in a historical time called the Anthropocene means, as Michael Marder describes it, that we live in an age where "there is no more space unmarked by human activities that are imprinted directly onto the planet's geological strata". There are no longer any untouched nature; no outside of the human-influenced. And while there was no necessity for us to end up here, in retrospect, however random and contingent it may be, it is still our fateful fate. This is what has happened.

Capitalist power formations

The relevance Anti-Oedipus has for an ecological project, is also something Simone Bignall, Steve Hemming and Daryle Rigney point to, when they show how Guattari's later works The Three Ecologies presents an echo from Anti-Oedipus in what he writes about capitalism and capitalist subjectivity. And Guattari himself writes in The Three Ecologies: "Ecology in my sense questions the whole of subjectivity and of capitalist power formations." The concept of the ecological, as Guattari puts it forward, thus implies a critique that links the concept both to understandings of subjectivity and, by extension, to desire and what he refers to as capitalist power formations.

The desert, which is a recurring figure in Anti-Oedipus, has also been highlighted with a view to a form of eco- or geophilosophy. Aidan Tynan describes how there is a conceptual consistency in what he refers to as the 'desert poetics' in Anti-Oedipus, which can be used to understand how schizoanalysen of desire implies that a certain form of space or spatiality is produced.

The concept of desire

Now I will not pursue here desert- figure. But the significance of the concept of desire for ontological understandings of basic concepts such as nature, the world, being or physics is a thread I will pursue. I will do that by first taking a brief look at the presentation of desire in Anti-Oedipus. Next, I will direct the spotlight back in time, to Greek antiquity, in line with the allusion in the title – 'Anti-Oedipus' – to Sophocles' work on Oedipus. However, I will go back even further than the fourth century BC and Sophocles contemporary in ancient Greece – in an attempt to find a possible way out of some of what Deleuze and Guattari connects with the oedipal. That is, I will look more closely at a specific and decisive place in Theogonien to Hesiod (around 700 BC), and investigate whether there is something here that can contribute to a possible reconceptualization of nature understood as physis. There are, as I said, two aspects in particular that I would like to emphasize with this move: the importance of the intermediate and an ontological understanding of being as growth. This essay thus examines how these two aspects, linked respectively to the space in between and a fundamental ontological understanding of being where becoming, growth and change are decisive, can be found, albeit in different ways, both in the thinking of Deleuze and Guattari and in Hesiod.

Positive desire

Let me begin by pointing out how these two aspects – the in-between and the thinking of becoming – appear in Deleuze and Guattari, by looking at desire, and their critique of desire understood as lack, as well as their argument for a desire that is instead what can be called anti-Oedipal.

It has been argued that Deleuze's entire project is directed towards lack and negation. This is something Colebrook emphasizes, among other things: "Deleuze's entire project set itself against lack and negation." A notion of lust as something that has the lack as a prerequisite, that is "premised on 'lack' or regulated by 'law'", as Alison Ross writes, is challenged. A psychoanalytic notion of desire as a form of insatiable lack (regulated by Oedipal law) is something that Deleuze, not least in his collaboration with Guattari, as we see in Anti-Oedipus, seeks to counter. According to Deleuze and Guattari, then, desire does not begin with mangel and is not lust for what we do not have. Instead of being defined based on negation, this is what is often referred to as positive desire. This non-Oedipal desire is positive and productive in the sense that it begins with connections and attachments. Life strives to preserve and expand, enlarge and strengthen itself through connections with other desires.

Understood as attachment and connection, desire can also appear as a social force. But here I will primarily focus on desire more ontologically, as a force that acts productively and productively through connections and flow. As Constantin Boundas has pointed out, for Deleuze philosophy is ontology (weather intention). In collaboration with Guattari, Deleuze thus develops an understanding of desire as positive and productive and which underpins a notion of life as material flow. Desire also forms a central element in Deleuze's critique of dualistic thinking. Through the focus on desire as attachment and connection, the relationship between what is connected through the connection appears central. This relationship is somewhat intermediate. In other words, there is significant attention directed towards the relational space that connects something in this understanding of desire. This opens up an understanding of identity and subjectivity as fundamentally linked to the intermediate that the connection constitutes. When we come to Hesiod below, we shall see how the threshold here constitutes a figuration of the in-between, which the thinking of Deleuze and Guattari more than two thousand years later can be said to carry with it an echo.

The idea of ​​the subject

Anti-Oedipus considered as criticism of a certain way of understanding desire, is connected to a criticism of a form of Oedipalization where desire is understood in relation to a subject. That is, according to Deleuze and Guattari, the Oedipal form of subjectivity is not the only one, but one of several possible forms that human experience, or relation to the environment, can take. There is also an opportunity here for a fruitful look back to early Greek antiquity, where it has been argued that the idea of ​​the subject, indeed the very constitution of a subject, first arises with the introduction of medicineone, which historically coincides with the earliest pre-Socratice thinking, that is, according to Hesiod.

The Oedipal form of subjectivity that Deleuze and Guattari criticize also has a peculiar connection to capitalism, as is evident from the subtitle. Through so-called Oedipalisation, the flood of desire is reduced and channeled in certain ways. It constitutes a particular form of oppression that reduces and limits the possible forms that desire takes, and thus the connections that desire can make, to those who maintain the social structures of capitalism. What Deleuze and Guattari bring out by pointing this out is how Oedipal desire and capitalismn are linked to each other, and to the constitution of a certain form of personal identity or subjectivity.

Such a subjectivation of desire results in a subject who experiences himself as someone who has or owns an identity that is firmly placed on either one or the other side of various pairs of opposites, such as either male or female; either white or black, and so on.

A non-Oedipal (or an-Oedipal or anti-Oedipal) productive form of desire, on the other hand, will fragment such a form of personal identity. Here there is no underlying core or essence that gathers the identity of one person or one subject. Where Oedipal desire constitutes a subject that lacks the desired object, the goal of anti-Oedipal desire is something immanent in the process that this desire constitutes: It seeks not something that is lacking, but instead that which allows it to continue to flow or grow . The form of productive and positive desire that Deleuze and Guattari seek to unfold is thus not negative, not constituted out of lack, but instead out of connection and attachment, flow, process and relation/space. This inscribes itself in a form of ontology or conception of being that sees the world or being as becoming. That is to say, it is written into a way of thinking that can be traced back, via, among others, Friedrich Nietzsche, to thinkers such as Heraclitus, who see the world as fundamentally set becoming.

Back to the pre-oedipal

As we have seen, it is both intermediate and becoming are essential aspects of the way Deleuze and Guattari present an anti-Oedipal desire. Let us now move back a few thousand years in time and see how these two aspects appear early in Greek antiquity in the figuration of thresholdone in Hesiod. But first a few words about the way in which Hesiod too can be said to belong in a context that is non-Oedipal, or pre-Oedipal, in a quite literal, historical sense.

The title Anti-Oedipus carries within it an allusion to the tale of Oedipus, who in his very attempt to escape his 'prophesied' fate, namely to kill his father and marry his mother, ends up fulfilling the prophecy. This is a story we know not least from the Greek tragedian Sophocles, who lived in the 400th century BC.

It is Sophocles' presentation of the Oedipus myth that is Sigmund Freuds classic reference when he formulates his theory of the Oedipal. To the extent that the Oedipal is connected with the desire for lack, we find this expressed in ancient Greece not only in the poetry of tragedy and the mythology on which it is based. Also in the philosophical tradition, not least through Platos symposium, the request is interpreted as constituted based on and directed at what is missing.

Here, however, I shall neither look more closely at the desire for lack in Plato nor the Oedipus myth in Sophocles. Instead, I will go back a few more centuries in time, to something that can be referred to as both pre-Platonic, pre-Sophoclean and pre-Oedipal, but I would like to note pre-Oedipal (or pre-Oedipal) in a more historical sense: to Hesiod's Theogonien. Here we find the image of the threshold, which expresses both the space between and being as growth, and this represents something that in a certain sense stands outside the later Oedipal, and which can also be considered a sounding board for some of what we find in Deleuze's and Guattari's anti-Oedipus.

Hesiod's textual universe also precedes the first philosophers in the Western tradition, namely the natural philosophers, or the pre-Socratics as they are also called.

Hesiod lived around 700 years before our era, i.e. several centuries before both Plato, Sophocles and the other tragedians. Together with the texts we have handed down associated with the name Homer (the Iliad and the Odyssey), make up Hesiod's Works and days og Theogonien a textual universe that also precedes the first philosophers in the Western tradition, namely the natural philosophers, or the pre-Socratics as they are also called. Both Heraclitus and Parmenides are pre-Socratic philosophers. The works of Homer and Hesiod can thus be described as pre-pre-Socratic. One of the things that makes these texts interesting for us today is that they differ in many and significant ways from even the very first philosophers – the natural philosophers or the pre-Socratics – in the philosophical tradition in the West.

In this sense, these texts constitute a form of exterior to this tradition and something against which we can look. This is one of the reasons why I bring in Hesiod in the following, as a pre-pre-Socratic, and at the same time possibly historically pre-Oedipal, aspect of the Oedipalization that Deleuze and Guattari criticize in Anti-Oedipus, and which has references to Freud. Let me thus direct attention to a particular place in Hesiod's Theogoni, where he describes an absolutely crucial place: the threshold.

The bronze threshold in Hesiod: Aries as growth

The threshold is an old figure in the Western philosophical tradition, and we thus already find it in Hesiod, who lived in Boeotia in ancient Greece around 700 BC. Here we find a description of a threshold that figures decisively in his cosmogony. Hesiod's Theogoni depicts how the world – the cosmos – came to be, and in this sense this work constitutes a cosmogony. This carries with it ontological implications. Hesiod describes a bronze threshold (chalkeos oudos) which is placed in a decisive place – a 'there (entha)' – where the three basic genealogical principles he has previously explained – namely kaos, the earth and eros – are gathered and determined in one basic principle or in one root. This description of a new fundamental principle in Hesiod has much in common with later pre-Socratic philosophers' determination of a first principle: the arch. That is, something "that can exist by itself alone and by virtue of which everything else exists", as Vigdis Songe-Møller convincingly and originally argues. IN Theogonien l. (811–12) Hesiod describes this foundational place as follows: "There are the shining gate-posts and the threshold of bronze, steadfast, fixed by unbroken roots, grown out of themselves."

This seminal and significant place, rooted in the threshold of bronze, is depicted in Theogonien (l. 749–50) right there the core of the earth Gaia has been revealed as chaotic: namely, as an immense chasm or chasm – chasma mega (l. 740). The world has thus been revealed or exposed as something without a solid foundation or foundation, and Hesiod thus needs a new foundation here in his description of the world. This is what the threshold offers.

The threshold is the place of all sources and limits (l. 807 ff.), according to Hesiod: It constitutes the beginning and the end of everything. In this sense, it seems like a form of the arch, i.e. a basic principle. The limitless roots of the threshold in Hesiod are not bound to anything and have not come into being from anything other than themselves. They are self-growing – autofuês – and constitutes what ensures a stable foundation for the gate which is embedded in the threshold. The threshold is motionless and unshakable (astemfes). The figuration of this basic principle of the portal built on the threshold growing by, and out of, itself, is vegetative. The threshold has roots – the root (between rhiza) – like a plant. This new principle of becoming is—literally—the roots of all that is, and constitutes that from which all things grow. Through this vegetative, biological image, the world is thus unfolded as fundamentally alive.

Hesiod's steadfast, self-growing bronze threshold also acts as a unifying principle. It brings together the two opposite generative mothers who create – give birth to – the world from the beginning Theogonien: namely chaos and broad-breasted earth. The bronze threshold also represents something in between, like the place where earth meets sky and night meets day. A threshold is also fundamentally something that marks a space, a transition, between what the threshold stands as precisely a threshold between.

The stone threshold in Parmenides

Some of the aspects that characterize the basic bronze threshold in Hesiod, such as this meeting between night and day, and also the designation of it as a 'there (entha)', a decisive place, can also be found in the later pre-Socratic the thinker parmenides, in the depiction of what for him is a fundamental threshold. Hesiod's figuration of the threshold as a fundamental principle thus seems to have had an influence on at least some of these natural philosophers. Nevertheless, there are also some significant differences between the thresholds of the earlier pre-Socratic Hesiod and the later pre-Socratic thinker Parmenides. I will not go into more detail about Parmenides here, but let me say a few words about the threshold in Parmenides as well, to illustrate how it differs from Hesiod's.

Parmenides is considered to be the ideal thinker more than anyone.

Parmenides lived around 500 BC and is often seen as the opposite of Heraclitus. Both are pre-Socratic natural philosophers, but where Heraclitus is known for asserting that the world is fundamentally becoming and change, Parmenides is considered the thinker of being above all, and for asserting that the world is fundamentally unchanging. Parmenides also has a threshold: a stone threshold. This marks the distinction between our, mortal, world, with change, becoming, birth and death, on the one hand, and the divine, eternal, on the other. This threshold thus marks a decisive place in Parmenides' ontology of being. The gate between the two separate dimensions is guarded by Justice – Do – and are very difficult to open, and when, in a very exceptional exceptional case, they are opened, the threshold becomes an enormous gap: chasma mega. This reminds one of Hesiod, where also, as we have seen, such a huge gulf— chasma mega – figures in the description of the threshold.

Boats bronze thresholdone in Hesiod and the stone threshold in Parmenides are depicted as enshrined in important decisive places, and are introduced by the word 'there': entha. Both thresholds figure in descriptions of nature, in the sense of the world or kosmos. They both combine different, and to some extent opposite, dimensions such as night and day. Yet the bronze threshold in Hesiod is depicted as alive: as growing out of and by itself. This is not the case with the stone threshold of Parmenides, where instead the aspect related to the threshold forming the foundation of a door that is closed and locked with a bolt, between two very different and strictly separated worlds/dimensions, is emphasized.

The basic threshold in Hesiod is thus self-growing, and the word for 'to grow' is in classical Greek fuein. This word is related to the word spindles, which also carries the meaning 'nature'. The pre-Socratic thinkers, these earliest natural philosophers, had nature— spindles – as its subject, and then nature/fusis in the sense of the world, being, or cosmos. And several of them, including Parmenides, wrote works called About nature: Cause fuseôs. One of the original meanings of spindles is therefore 'growth'. This can be understood as pointing towards an understanding in early Greek thinking of being as growth.

To sum up: In Hesiod's figuration of the threshold, both of the two aspects this paper seeks to highlight—the space in between and becoming—are striking and salient aspects. And this image of the threshold that fundamentally belongs in a context that is literally historically pre-Oedipal, not only because it precedes the presentation of the Oedipus myth in Sophocles (which is Freud's classic reference), but also, and not least, because this precedes the constitution of the form of subject and subject thinking to which the Oedipal is linked, and which is described above.

The threshold in Theogony and the concept of desire in Anti-Oedipus

So how to tie all this together Anti-Oedipus? Why go back to the earliest Greek thought and Hesiod to talk about Anti-Oedipus and ecology? One answer could be that Hesiod presents something that could stand as a form of outside or alternative to that which Anti-Oedipus stands as a criticism of. By virtue of being pre-pre-Socratic, and through presenting an understanding of the basic principles of nature that differs from the later philosophical tradition, which the contrasts between the thresholds in Hesiod and Parmenides illustrate, among other things, we can here get a glimpse of another picture of the world than that Anti-Oedipus criticizes. Based on Deleuze and Guattari, we can see how lack-desire and capitalism are connected, which in turn points to how capitalist consumption promotion as a form of fulfilling a lack desire is ecologically destructive. Given that we need to create new ways of thinking and acting, reflecting on the basic concepts from which we think and act can be powerful. Both in Anti-Oedipus and in Theogonien is it possible to find fruitful approaches to other ways of understanding and approaching what can be described as nature/the world/spindles, and of which we humans are a part in a fundamental way.

Hesiod does not speak of oedipal or anodypal desire, and Deleuze and Guattari do not speak of some self-growing bronze threshold with roots that grow and come into being out of itself. Nevertheless, it is possible to see some points of connection between them. Both direct attention to the in-between, either in the form of desire as connection/attachment or through the threshold as basically something in between. And both in Anti-Oedipus and in Theogonien can we find a revelation of being as becoming or becoming, either through the desire that constantly seeks to continue the flow of connections, or through the self-growing growth of the threshold.

"Earth is the primitive, savage unity of desire and production."

"The earth is the primitive, savage unity of desire and production", write Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus. Perhaps seeing Deleuze and Guattari and Hesiod in the light of each other can also help bring out and direct extra attention to aspects of Anti-Oedipus linked to being as growth. "[The] body without organs reproduces itself, shoots buds and spreads to the outermost limits of the universe", they write in Anti-Oedipus. And as they say: "It's no use saying: We are not plants [...]." This can be read as pointing out how everything in the world is subject to a form of growth or becoming: Everything is subject to change.

"Metal is everywhere"

One aspect of Hesiod's bronze threshold that may sound particularly wondrous to a modern ear is that this metal grows. The classical Greek word Hesiod uses – chalkeos – can mean both of bronze and of copper, which is perhaps not so surprising considering that bronze is a copper-based alloy with only a small amount of tin (90/10 per cent). The word for bronze or copper – chalkos – can also be used for something made of metal more generally.

Regardless of whether the word is translated as bronze, copper or metall, we are not in the habit of thinking of such metallic quantities as something that grows or is alive in such a sense. Nevertheless, such a view has some resonance to more modern and contemporary theories of nature. Jane Bennett, for example, travels in the book Vibrant Matter (2010) question whether there is, as she writes, "such a thing as a mineral or metallic life", and she asks this question with a view to Ecology. And not least, i A Thousand Plateaeus (1980, in Danish as A thousand plateaus), which forms the second part of Capitalism and schizophrenia (the work Anti-Oedipus is the first part of) Deleuze and Guattari write about metal as alive, even that which makes visible the life of matter, a material vitalism. There is a coexistence between metal and all matter. Water, plants, forests and animals are all populated by salts and minerals, as they write: "Everything is not metal, but metal is everywhere." This living metal and the material vitalism of Deleuze and Guattari sounds surprisingly little different from how Hesiod presents the self-growing threshold of bronze/copper/metal as the basis of all that is: for spindles, nature in the broadest sense.

Growing crops

Bennett argumenterer for at hvis det er slik at «an image of inert matter helps animate our current practice of aggressively wasteful and planet-endangering consumption, then a materiality experienced as a lively force […] could animate a more ecologically sustainable public.»

WE need to think of matter differently: as living.

I am sympathetic to this perspective, which links people's aggressive and destructive practices towards the world we inhabit and are a fundamental part of, to a specific notion of the materiality of this world as non-living matter. If this is the case, we need to think of matter differently: as living. One part of such a project is to consider the space in between, the relationship as fundamental.

Given an understanding of nature – spindles – as a threshold and growth, we and everything that exists are fundamentally growing growths. In the ontology of becoming Anti-Oedipus unfolds starting from the spaces of desire connections, and which can resonate with the self-growing bronze threshold that unfolds nature as alive, in a fruitful way, there are perhaps some openings for creating new concepts and new, much-needed, ways of relating to nature /spindles on.


The essay was previously printed in NOW.

Kristin Sampson
Kristin Sampson
Sampson is professor of philosophy at the University of Bergen.

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