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Revisiting the real machine room

Luke Lehner
Lukas Lehner
Freelance writer.
NOW / Barely 50 years after the publication of Anti-Oedipus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, the work has not lost its relevance according to the Norwegian magazine AGORA's new theme issue. Anti-Oedipus has rather proved to be a prophetic and highly applicable conceptual toolbox for the examination of a financial and information capitalist contemporary. In this essay, reference is also made to the book's claim that there is no economy or politics that is not permeated to the highest degree by desire. And what about the fascist where someone is led to desire their own oppression as if it meant salvation?


By Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattaris L'Anti-Œdipe (in Norwegian Anti-Oedipus) – subtitled "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" – was published in 1972, it featured a frontispiece of a painting by Richard Lindner, "Boy with Machine". The picture shows a slightly chubby boy holding a small home-made machine, almost a toy, between his chubby fingers. But behind him another, larger machine pumps and whirs, to which the small toy machine is connected. The small machine, which the boy proudly presents, is not just a toy, but stands in constant mechanical exchange with the large machine that occupies the entire picture surface behind him.

Richard Lindner, ‘Boy With Machine

That the journal Agora has now dedicated the first issue of the year to Anti-Oedipus, is due not only to the book's 50th anniversary in 2022, but also to the fact that, seen in the light of today's political and information capitalist status quo, the work has not lost any of its topicality. In our contemporary perspective appears Anti-Oedipus almost frighteningly prophetic: the theory of 'desire machines' has, in the literal sense, materialized and found its way into everyone's trouser pocket, lighting up faces on the subway in the morning rush hour or letting eager fingers run wildly over smooth screen surfaces. The smartphones that today enthrall everyone, from the youngest children to the oldest pensioners, only further confirm that desire is 'machine', and that market forces and desire are intertwined – truly two sides of the same coin. As Matias Faldbakken writes in The Hills (2017): "The square centimeters that make up the screen have, in a way, been given a similar function to the banknote – a perfect translator of all things (...). The banknote and the screen are related. The screen is the banknote's window. The screen is the shopkeeper's window."

Everything is 'machine'

In the notoriously difficult – but at the same time also something as rare as immensely funny – philosophical work Anti-Oedipus is, a polemical critique of Freudian psychoanalysis is advanced doxaaffirmative tendencies, which via the Oedipal triangle close desire inside the nuclear family's potentially claustrophobic conditions. At the same time, a general 'machine ontology' driven by positive desire is promoted: Rather than considering desire as a lack that reaches for an unattainable object, Deleuze and Guattari understand desire as an inherent, real-ontological dimension, which at all levels of the being strives to make connections with other 'machines' or devices: Thus a complex network of production and consumption vectors emerges, with contractions that interrupt and channel a multitude of flows – such as the flow of milk, food, semen, faeces and liquid desire . Everything is 'machine': from the infant who sucks on the mother's teat and thus forms part of the device of a breastfeeding machine, to the bureaucrat's loving stacking of papers in the bureaucratic machinery. From Deleuze and Guattari's point of view, everything is mechanical, everything is a series of currents and interruptions, where each link is inserted with desire in the broadest sense.

The critique of psychoanalysis

Criticism of psychoanalysis is mainly advanced on the basis of its theory of desire, which understands desire as fundamentally flawed: In Freud's Oedipal triangle mother-father-child, the Oedipus complex appears – having one's mother as a forbidden object of desire – which then encodes a individual's future adult sexuality, only as a result of the child's desire, understood as an expanding hunger for reality to make new links and connections with the external world, is not allowed to flow freely, but rather is regulated and coded to have to move within the nuclear family's narrow and limited circumference.

The nuclear family is a transfer agent of the regulations of the state and the law.

This has political consequences: the nuclear family, as it crystallized beyond the 1800th century, is, for Deleuze and Guattari, a transfer agent of the regulations of the state and the law, which encodes its children as much as the state encodes its citizens. The implicitly political question that Deleuze and Guattari raise by extension of Spinoza, and with a view to crypto-fascist tendencies, is: "Why does anyone desire their own oppression as if it were their salvation?"

In extension of the book's critique of psychoanalysis' confining, neurotic tendencies, Freud and Marx are also juxtaposed: Economy of desire and political economy are not separate spheres, but form part of one and the same economy, which together constitute, as Deleuze and Guattari call it, one social production of the real thing. In other words, we are not dealing with the nuclear family as a closed unit on the one hand, and the state and society on the other.

Just as little do they maintain Marx's distinction of real relations of production characterized by capital flow ('base') and phantasmagorical consumption characterized by desire flow ('superstructure') neatly and neatly separated from each other – rather these two spheres intertwine to the highest degree in the same economy. There is no economy, no politics that is not to the highest degree imbued with desire, just as there is no desire that is 'private' and heartfelt that is not extremely political – in the sense that the codings to which it is subjected, the regulations and norms, does not originate in the nuclear family and one's immediate family, but rather in the political and capitalist societal production of reality that the nuclear family only transmits to its offspring.

Anarchic Resistance Agent

As a foil to the neurotic confinement of psychoanalysis promotes Anti-Oedipus precisely a theoretical figure of the schizophrenic as a revolutionary and anarchic agent of resistance, which must not, of course, be confused with schizophrenia as a pathological condition, even though the theory has its origins in it: The schizophrenic and his desires cannot be confined either within fixed, neurotic frameworks or in the bourgeois conditions of the nuclear family or the state apparatus, but breaks all boundaries – of subjectivity, the nuclear family, the nation-state, or representative thinking doxa of a world of clearly defined, self-identical 'objects'.

Rather, the schizophrenic strives to make as many connections as possible with as many mechanical devices as possible. In that sense, the schizophrenic follows both the uprooting ('rhizomatic'), 'deterritorializing' logic of capitalism, while at the same time challenging and pushing it to the limit: Capitalism, in its chimerical, reifying flexibility, follows a double logic, including on the one hand to turn everything into capital, while on the other it maintains certain apparatuses of control such as the state and the nuclear family, which in the 'reterritorializing', that is, limiting, movement maintains an arsenal of disciplinary, regulatory codings.

With this issue about Anti-Oedipus, Agora is also celebrating its 40th anniversary, where 25 people have been members of the editorial board from 1983 until today. During these years, a total of 105 booklets of Agora have been published, totaling approx. 30 pages. Since 000, the publisher has been H. Aschehoug & Co.

Three texts in Agora

In Agora's thematic section, there are three texts in particular, which in their own way show and emphasize the way in which the work has not lost any of its relevance – that rather it still offers particularly applicable theories and concepts for the examination of central contemporary phenomena and challenges, respectively right-wing populism, financial capitalism and what, under the overarching term 'machine theory', can be summed up as a critique of technology and ideology.

Fascist defensive reactions

The theme section first text is by Frida Beckmann, who uses Anti-Oedipus as a 'toolbox' to understand "paranoid, nationalist and neo-fascist tendencies and identities after the turn of the millennium"

Already Michel Foucault mentioned Anti-Oedipus as an instruction manual for the "non-fascist life". Starting from the dichotomies the work draws up, between capitalism and schizophrenia on the one hand and fascism and paranoia on the other, and starting from a neoliberalism that took hold virulently in the 1980s and 1990s, Beckmann identifies a majority of what she calls the present 'paranoid' identities.

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