Episode #06: Chronosis and the Three Buddy Problem

The buddies are doing something a little different this episode. Having previously announced a three-episode deep-dive in Deleuze’s The Fold, they all had pretty rotten Aprils. Corey suggested we cover something a bit lighter in the meantime… Instead we read Chronosis.

Written by Reza Negarestani and Robin Mackay, with astounding artwork by Keith Tilford, Chronosis is the story of time itself and its encounters with various tribes and villains throughout the multiverse.

In this episode, the buddies try to unpack this comic adventure, figure out if Reza Negarestani really exists, and ponder the philosophical potential of modern mythologies.

Listen below or, alternatively, find us on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, Podbean and YouTube.

If you would like to read along with us, visit the Urbanomic website to pick up a copy of Chronosis for yourself, where you’ll also find links to various stockists.

The Buddies Without Organs podcast theme tune was written and recorded by George Rennie.

Sean Gets Off His Face

Our Sean recently deterritorialised himself off the podcast and wound up on another plane of buddies, discussing the “faciality” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus with the lovely folks on the Acid Horizon podcast.

Read the introduction to the episode below, and listen over on the Acid Horizon Patreon for just £1 a month.

What is the role of the face in the construction of societies and the development their forms of political power? In today’s episode, we are joined by Sean from ‘Buddies Without Organs’, a philosophy podcast which conducts close readings of the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Together, we examine the plateau entitled “Year Zero: Faciality” from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.  We discuss the emergence of the face as a historical object which functions as a component in the deployment and mediation of forms of political and social power.  In particular, we focus on the importance of the face of Jesus of Nazareth depicted as a ‘White Christ’, a visage which Deleuze and Guattari claim to be the face par excellence, one to which all other faces become subordinated. Moreover, the construction of the face entails serious implications for imperialism, racism, transphobia, and other political issues. Other figures discussed: Heidegger and Foucault.

Episode #05: On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature

It is possible that writing has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there. To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer. That is to become something else.

Gilles Deleuze, “On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature”

This week, Sean, Matt and Corey talk about literature, gay Plato, lines of flight, Georges Bataille, the Situationists, whiteness, the American frontier, DH Lawrence, Kurtz-gradients, Leslie Fiedler, Game of Thrones, Saint Paul, secrets, treachery, and what it means to be a writer.

Listen below or, alternatively, find us on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, Podbean and YouTube.

If you would like to read along with us, this discussion was primarily based on “On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature”, taken from Deleuze’s 1980 book Dialogues II.

The Buddies Without Organs podcast theme tune was written and recorded by George Rennie.

What’s in Your Pipe?: Notes on Structuralism and Post-Structuralism

Structuralism begins from an attempt to understand the arbitrary “structures” that give signs meaning. Ferdinand de Saussure, who was a linguist and semiotician, broke signs down into the signifier and the signified. This simple deconstruction of what constitutes a sign describes the basic semiotic relation we deploy intuitively every day. For example, I can pick up a pen and say “this is a pen” and everything is right with the world. The signifier is that which points and the signified is that which is pointed to; the signifier is the word “pen” and what is signified is an ink-based writing instrument. But then, why is a “pen” called a pen? If we think about it, there is no material relationship between the word “pen” and the object it describes. This becomes all the more apparent when we ask people who speak different languages what they call a pen. They’re all going to have their own word for it. What Saussure argues, then, is that we understand very intuitively that that relationship between signifier and signified only works because the pen-as-sign is captured within this sprawling informative structure we have called language. And that’s it. That’s all there is. In this sense, a “pen” doesn’t just signify an object in itself but its entire web of relations. A pen isn’t just called a pen so you can identify pens but so you can distinguish pens from paper and paper from desks and desks from rooms and rooms from houses, etc. etc. etc. 

It’s one of those things that seems very, very obvious but actually has very complex implications. For the structuralists, this affects our understanding of language — and society more broadly — quite utterly. This is not, for instance, a materialist analysis of language, because there is no material relation that explains why a pen is called a pen. The naming of a pen is totally arbitrary. Language is structural, then, in that it explains itself. We use words to explain words. There’s no hidden substrate that gets us back to some sort of foundational truth. We are beings trapped in language.

This has an impact on a lot of philosophy in the 20th century. Jacques Derrida, very famously, doesn’t just reconstruct language systems but deconstructs them. Michel Foucault does something very similar, albeit with history. Whilst there is nothing outside the text, or outside of language, we can find interesting trajectories of thought when we consider how language is constructed over time. And, in so doing, we may be able to get back to some material foundation, which explains, if not the word themselves, then the opposing relations that demanded new terms be constructed. Through such a process, we can also deconstruct language to produce new meanings within it as well. Jacques Lacan takes a similar approach and applies it to psychoanalysis. He “gets out” of language and the baggage of its arbitrariness, so to speak, by turning to mathematics.  

For Deleuze and Guattari, however, the arbitrariness of naming allows them to have a lot more fun with language. If language is without material foundation, it is essentially a house of cards. But, for Deleuze, this doesn’t necessarily make the structure of language fragile. In his book Logic of Sense he explores how “nonsense” still has a function within the structure of language despite structuralists’ attempts to rationalise it, and explains how its application doesn’t undermine sense but instead expands its possibilities. It is in this (non)sense that Alice in Wonderland becomes its own sort of philosophical text. It’s as if Carroll’s is a kind of non-Euclidean linguistics that may not follow the standard rules of language and its structures of grammar but which still expresses truths and meanings. And wrapping our heads around that leads us to some strange and interesting places.

We see a similar sort of process occurring in the “Geology of Morals” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus. From the very beginning, it is clearly a promiscuous text that uses various sorts of language interchangeably, shifting from the fictional to the philosophical to the geological to the structuralist. Indeed, through its narrative framing device of a kind of post-Conan Doyle fiction, we see sense and nonsense become entwined. Professor Challenger, a character lifted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s various tales, wholly embodies his own name. He is there to challenge and oppose the neatly structured relations that otherwise provide consistent meaning. He, as the man who made the world scream, is not interested in reconstructing histories or stratas. He wants to take on the world on its own terms, in its totality, and he engages with language in much the same way. He places the convivial and the technical side by side. What happens here, in this post-structuralist play, is that the signifier and the signified can no longer be wrestled apart. Theory and fiction are no longer split between that which points and that which is pointed to, but instead become reconstituted as a singular sign, as a part of language, as a multiple that, when added up, becomes One; becomes its own thing. This is how the Earth becomes a body without organs. When we explore its depths, we have to organise all the dirt we dig up, perhaps for our own sanity, but in so doing we undermine the process itself. 

It is why this chapter is such a dizzying reading experience. If we were to approach it like diligent little readers, breaking down its references and movements, we would love work in its totality. We would lose its own movement and the force of its presentation. This is to say that, in our attempts to render it more legible, by annotating and footnoting every aspect that is not immediately clear to the average reader, we would likely render it even more illegible. This is the double bind that Deleuze and Guattari speak of. To analyse its content, we lose the power of its expression. But in embracing the power of its expression, we must sacrifice the lucidity of its content. 

This observation is scalable. We can apply it to theory-fiction on the one hand, as that awkwardly-named cleft concept, which cannot be understood either as a composite or a singular entity without losing the true meaning of its gesture, but we can also apply it to the earth itself. Who does the earth think it is? That is, what is the earth beyond the limits of our knowledge? And what influence does this unknown entity have on our own attempts to “stratify” it?

This is Magritte’s 1929 painting The Treachery of Images. “This is not a pipe”, he says, and he’s right. It’s not an actual pipe but we understand that a painting of a pipe signifies a pipe all the same.

What his painting does is highlight that semiotic relation and make us laugh because we get caught up in the slippage that results from the signified — a pipe — being impossibly torn away from its signifier — a painting of a pipe. But there is also a further tearing that results from this, whereby the word “pipe”, which is also present, is made just as ridiculous as the picture and its object.

So Magritte effectively deploys two signifiers for a pipe in order to tell us that the signifier is not the signified, and yet, whereas we might expect this paradoxical presentation to make the whole world crumble, nothing changes. We can both appreciate the painting’s content — its cascading mess of asignifying relations and deterritorialization — and its expression: the aesthetic qualities of the painting as a painting, as a world within its own frame. 

Here we have a feedback loop, maybe — what Deleuze and Guattari call the plane of consistency. What allows us to appreciate the relationship between content and expression is precisely their innate distinction from one another, that is nonetheless dependent on the friction that disturbs us. In geological terms, we can say that Magritte’s painting erodes the meaning associated with each signifier, but the painting itself provides space for sedimentation to occur again. We can laugh at the utter crisis of meaning on display — the content, which Deleuze and Guattari describe as the “abstract machine” — because it is contained by the boundaries of the painting — the expression, or the plane of consistency. Here, again, we have the double bind — and we might note that it is similar to a process we discussed in the first episode of this podcast, on the body without organs; what Spinoza calls “nature naturing”. 

If we are struggling to follow the twists and turns, I always fall back on an observation that is, at once, superficial, but may help us to anchor ourselves in the process we are trying to better understand. To what extent is this text, “The Geology of Morals”, doing rather than explaining what it hopes to describe? How is it demonstrating its thesis through the very explication of its thesis? 

Episode #04: The Geology of Morals

God is a lobster, or a double pincer, a double bind.

Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

This week, Sean and Matt are joined by a new buddy, Corey! Together, they talk about what is likely the most notorious text in Deleuze and Guattari’s oeuvre. Topics covered include geology, North Korea, theory-fiction and the humiliation of structuralism.

Listen below or, alternatively, find us on Spotify, iTunes, SoundCloud, Podbean and YouTube.

If you would like to read along with us, this discussion was primarily based on “10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)”, taken from Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus.

The Buddies Without Organs podcast theme tune was written and recorded by George Rennie.

Every Drive a Death Drive: Notes on Schizophrenia and Desiring-Machines

The death drive for Lacan isn’t a return to a primal inorganicity but a constant circling around an unattainable lack; it produces repetition. But this also means that, in Freud’s own terms, every drive is a death drive.

This is to say that, for Lacan: every drive pursues its own extinction; every drive involves the repetition of this pursuit; every drive is an attempt to go beyond the pleasure principle, where enjoyment is experienced as suffering. 

What’s important for Lacan, however, contra Freud, is that the death drive has nothing to do with biology, making it cultural rather than natural. Deleuze and Guattari complicate this relation even further — it’s not a case of culture versus nature but of capitalism,  and separating culture from nature in that context is a fool’s errand. Capitalism thrives because it transgresses the divide.

This is why Deleuze and Guattari necessarily make desire machinic — you can’t distinguish the organ-machine of the human body from the “actual” machines of capital. As far as capitalism is concerned, there is no difference anyway. 

But that conflation of distinctions is also central to their symptomatology of schizophrenia, introducing one of Anti-Oedipus‘s most famous lines early on: “A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic on the analyst’s couch.”

There’s a paradox here. Schizophrenia is a human pathology to be cured, so that we can better function under capitalism (or so Foucault would argue), but for Deleuze and Guattari schizophrenia seems to be a pathology of capitalism itself. What is an illness for us is capitalism’s primary mode of operation. So why attempt to suppress the schizophrenic when schizophrenics arguably understand the (symbolic) nature of the world far more intuitively than the so-called healthy-minded? 

As they write of Lenz, the titular character in Georg Buchner’s novella-fragment — a man out for a walk in a surreal world but a world that he is nonetheless one with — his “walk outdoors is different from the moments when Lenz finds himself closeted with his pastor, who forces him to situate himself socially, in relationship to the God of established religion, in relationship to his father, to his mother.” But to be situated socially is only to drive a wedge between Lenz and the world that feels so immediately accessible to him. As Buchner writes of Lenz out on his stroll: “he could not grasp why it took so much time to clamber down a slope, to reach a distant point; he was convinced he could cover it all with a pair of strides.” What is pitched to us as a well-travelled route towards understanding is, to the schizophrenic, a torturous detour. 

This isn’t to privilege insanity over reason, but to perhaps complicated the relationship between reason and understanding. Ergo, to better understand the schizophrenic is to better understand our own relation to a capitalist system.

In seeing nature as the schizophrenic does, as a process of production — which is almost like saying, to see nature capitalistically — then Lacan’s distinction between nature and culture becomes yet another imposition. Of course, Lacan is right to say that every drive is a death drive, but he retains a hold on Oedipus. His work is, like psychoanalysis as a whole, arguably concerned with origins above all else. And Deleuze and Guattari make a joke about this later on, asking which comes first, the chicken or the egg. But an egg is a BwO — a plane of consistency. It is a body all mixed up and indistinguishable, unformed, unmoulded. The chicken is a chicken, inserted into its own socio-symbolic milieu. An egg becomes a chicken, of course, but the chicken remains capable of producing that BwO again. And so, the best way to understand the chicken / egg paradox is schizophrenically. There is no difference. There is only a traversal by the BwO into the symbolic order.

Oedipus is representative of this traversal. Oedipus is the primal figure of this disorientating thrust into the world of the socio-symbolic, and so, if Deleuze and Guattari are to privilege the worldview of the schizophrenic, they have to be anti-Oedipus. 

But again, this isn’t some wholly irrational pursuit. In undoing the distinction between man and nature — producing a Homo natura, as they put it — is, or should be, “the principal concern of a materialist psychiatry”. And this makes their project innately Spinozistic, surely — Spinoza who puts forward a heretical and supposedly atheistic view of the world that nonetheless views production as Deleuze and Guattari do — as nature naturing, which we discussed when talking about the body without organs.

Here it is worth emphasising that, although Deleuze and Guattari are obviously informed by an understanding of schizophrenia as a clinical pathology, they are extending it into its own critical apparatus. This is what happens when they insist that “schizophrenia is the universe of productive and reproductive desiring-machines”. Schizophrenia is not a pathology attributed passively to the mentally ill, but an active critical framework through which we can interrogate the world anew — or, if not anew, at least afresh, as we’ll see . 

This too is a Spinozist maneuver, in the sense that Spinoza argues in his Ethics, “if we form a clear and distinct idea of an emotion itself, this idea will not be distinguished from the emotion itself insofar as it is related to the mind alone … Therefore the better we know an emotion, the more it is placed within our abilities and less passive the mind is in relation to it.” And this emphasis on an emotion as an idea is importance here. Deleuze and Guattari write that Oedipus also “is not a state of desire and the drives, it is an idea, nothing but an idea that repression inspires in us concerning desire; not even a compromise, but an idea in the service of repression, its propaganda, or its propagation.”

Episode #03: Desiring-Machines

Snow on the peaks and upper slopes, gray rock down into the valleys, swatches of green, boulders, firs. It was sopping cold, the water trickled down the rocks and leapt across the path. The fir boughs sagged in the damp air. Gray clouds drifted across the sky, but everything so stifling, and then the fog floated up and crept heavy and damp through the bushes, so sluggish, so clumsy. He walked onward, caring little one way or another, to him the path mattered not, now up , now down. He felt no fatigue, except sometimes it annoyed him that he could not walk on his head. At first he felt a tightening in his chest when the rocks skittered away, the gray woods below him shook, and the fog now engulfed the shapes, now half-revealed their powerful limbs; things were building up inside him, he was searching for something, as if for lost dreams, but was finding nothing. Everything seemed so small, so near, so wet, he would have liked to set the earth down behind an oven, he could not grasp why it took so much time to clamber down a slope, to reach a distant point; he was convinced he could cover it all with a pair of strides.

Georg Büchner, Lenz

This week, Sean and Matt overcomplicate Oedipus whilst talking about fascists in the Capitol, chickens, eggs, and psychoanalysis.

Listen below or, alternatively, find us on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, Podbean and YouTube.

If you would like to read along with us, this discussion was primarily based on “Desiring-Machines”, the first chapter of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus.

The Buddies Without Organs podcast theme tune was written and recorded by George Rennie.

A Note on Non-Photography

If philosophy begins with the creation of concepts, then the plane of immanence must be regarded as prephilosophical … Prephilosophical does not mean something preexistent but rather something that does not exist outside philosophy, although philosophy presupposes it. These are its internal conditions. The nonphilosophical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself…

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?

I’ve often thought about the nonphilosophical as being analogous to a kind of nonphotography. (And it is worth noting that Francois Laruelle has a book on non-photography, but I won’t declare this to be at all analogous to what he is theorising. If it is, it is by accident.)

Sean and I are both photographers and I’m sure we can both appreciate that thrill of going out in the world and making photographs. But photographs are more like the pleasing result of a broader sensorial experience. We tend to forget this, or take it for granted. But doing so can make us blinkered in innumerable ways.

A photograph, in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense, is like a concept. We can take photographs and even become totally obsessed by photographs, arranging them and tweaking them and perfecting them. And that’s a beautiful process in and of itself. It aids how we look at the world and we can hone an eye for seeing beauty more frequently and in surprising places. But the process of photography, in its complexity, can cover over that initial process that makes us pick up a camera in the first place, which is engaging with the world around us.

In fact, we can go so far as to objectify that world, removing ourselves from it as special observers, who falsely believe that we see things differently or even as they really are, relative to those who do not share our interests. But when we focus all our attention on the complexities of photography, we can — no pun intended — lose sight of looking, as that which is prephotographic or nonphotographic, but which is closer to the heart of why we photograph than anything else about photography. 

I’ve thought about this a lot. Maybe too much. It is precisely what frustrates me about professional photographers — of which I almost was one. And this frustration definitely drove me from a career as a photographer to become a writer instead. Because, as Deleuze and Guattari correctly suggest, “Thinking provokes general indifference.” Photography too, for its own sake, can provoke a general indifference towards the world.

The plane of immanence, then, as an image of thought, is nonetheless a very practical concept, I think. We may find ourselves getting wrapped up in knots trying to articulate that which is supposedly inarticulable, but when we stop trying to articulate it we find ourselves falling victim to our own shortcomings. To attempt to think the prethought is precisely to engage in a thought most fundamental. This is why they write that “To think is always to follow the witches’ flight.” To think, more than just philosophise or perceive or learn by rote, is to fly across this plane of immanence and pass through other images of thought. To think is always to transfigure oneself because “one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think — an animal, a molecule, a particle — and that comes back to thought and revives it.”

A Note on Particle Physics and the Image of Thought

Physicists constantly struggle to explain the void that exists between the phenomena that we see. First, there was gravity, and the impact of gravity’s discovery on philosophy was huge. (It is no coincidence that Newton’s discoveries are parallel with Kant’s.)

Most recently, we saw the discovery of the Higgs boson, helping to explain why particles have mass. I won’t pretend to be familiar with the particulars, but it was clear even to the layman that the Standard Model of physics did not account for everything. Until that moment, we seemed to exist within a void, but that void could not be absolute, otherwise it would surely collapse in on itself. And so we developed theories like dark matter and the like, to potentially explain why nothingness nonetheless has a mass. 

Perhaps it is useful to think of Deleuze and Guattari’s plane of immanence in a similar way. It is not enough to say “I think therefore I am”, because we are yet to fully understand how thought is manifest and how our vast array of (often conflicting) conceptions of the world around us are able to coexist without reality collapsing in on itself. The plane of immanence becomes a kind of apperceptive field; perhaps similar to what Kant called “transcendental apperception”: our present understanding of “the pure, original, unchangeable consciousness that is the necessary condition of experience and the ultimate foundation of the unity of experience.” 

However, even this scientific analogy is a limit on thought. In many ways, it is putting the cart before the horse, as we are all too prone to do. How can we think of thought in a way that isn’t limited by what we presently know? 

Episode #02: Plane of Immanence

Only friends can set out a place of immanence as a ground from which idols have been cleared.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?

Only friends…? What about… Buddies?

This week, Sean and Matt talk about the weather, philosophizing between buddies, and the limits of thought.

Listen below or, alternatively, find us on Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, Podbean and YouTube.

If you would like to read along with us, this discussion was primarily based on “The Plane of Immanence” chapter from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s What is Philosophy?

The Buddies Without Organs podcast theme tune was written and recorded by George Rennie.