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.

Notes on the BwO

To feel like a body without organs is surely easier than being a body with organs? It is just harder to articulate, because language is a regime of thought attached to the organ of the mouth and we still struggle to vocalise that which we are unconscious of — or should that be “disembodied from”? After all, who walks around with a consciousness of their lungs, heart, brain as they actually are? “I think therefore I am” takes the body for granted. 

When we exercise, and find our body in a state of revolt, to understand that our heart is pounding to deliver blood and our lungs are straining to deliver oxygen, may make us feel better about corporeal experience but to understand the body as a machine is nonetheless to imagine a different kind of apparatus to the one we lug around with us. An organ(is)ed body is a utilitarian body — so, what is a BwO? What is a body beyond the heart and lungs? To finish a race and think about how the machine-that-we-are has managed to complete it says nothing of why we were impelled to run in the first place. To have sex is an even more complicated example. The desires that drive the body into action remain elusive. We are long past the point of believing we have sex only to reproduce, but that hardly clarifies matters. It is through the BwO that we can begin to uncover the reasons as to why. A body without organs is, at the same time, a body beyond organs; beyond the regimented biological understanding of what a body can do. Plenty that we do is bio-illogical. The BwO reaches out to that which is beyond the logic of sense. 


Slough off your organs — what are you left with? What is the body that lies beneath, this surface, this substance and limit? Certainly not a concept, we’re told, but rather a reality that is always with us. The BwO is always in reach, we can always invert ourselves and slip towards it, down past the strata, gaining speed before impact. Be careful though, this is a dangerous place, this surface upon which organs embed and strata erect and events slide across. You can find schizophrenias and catatonias, masochisms and cancers and fascisms.

BwO as raw possibility — not all possibilities are good possibilities. Tear down your strata too quickly and you end up like Burroughs on a bad day, shuddering, wondering when your ass will stop stealing your voice. Keep your strata in reach, climb up if you need a rest, sleep a while and in the morning step back down onto your BwO. Be intrepid, but don’t be stupid.

Billie Eilish’s Pop Cartesianism

Billie Eilish deploying Descartes’ famous “I think therefore I am” in the chorus to her new single doesn’t seem to warrant too much thought. But, accompanied by a video in which she runs around a shopping mall picking up fast food, during a year when her figure has frequently been the subject of tabloid thinkpieces, there’s maybe something to be said for her allusion to the seventeenth-century’s mind/body dichotomy.

At first, the song’s lyrics appear to be directed at the haters and those clinging onto her name for clout, but I see another reading. There’s a deeper sense of alienation here, beneath the pop cultural politics — a kind of schizoid monologue wherein multiple Eilish’s are scattered to the winds by conflicting parasitic agents. First, there are the two Eilish’s being discussed in the press — artist and celebrity — and there are two Eilish’s being discussed by Eilish herself in her songs — projected self and introjected subject. There are multiple Eilish’s vying for attention but each can be place into two broad categories: one of mind and one of body.

Lyrically, consider how, at first, the mind takes swings at the body — I’m more than I appear to be, I’m more than my body; the mind comes first (or should) for an artist of my stature. But then, there’s a recoil, as the world’s bodily ideals conflict with Eilish’s own sense of herself. By the end of the first verse, it’s hard to know who is addressing who. For example, when Eilish sings:

We are not the same with or without
Don’t talk ’bout me like how you might know how I feel
Top of the world, but your world isn’t real
Your world’s an ideal

… I hear a body calling out a mind, afflicted by an unwelcome superego.

It soon becomes apparent that this schizoid vortex of voices and perspectives is where the spectre of Cartesianism cashes out in the twenty-first century. Descartes melds with Freud. We become familiar with the mind and its internal structure of sugerego, ego and id and find ourselves ventriloquising each perspective. Presented to us as angel and demon on each shoulder, bracketing an egoic consciousness somewhere inbetween, but what about that which lurks below the neck? That which Eilish embraces and finds to be a battleground in equal measure? There’s a body without organs lurking under the surface here, trying to make itself heard over the tabloid gossip and Eilish’s own internal monologue.

Psychoanalysis clearly has a lot to answer for. For Deleuze and Guattari most famously — both tangentially involved in the anti-psychiatry movement — Freud’s stratified structure of the mind is nothing but a cage for who we really are and could potentially become. As they write in A Thousand Plateaus, psychoanalysis “royally botches the real” in this regard, “because it botches the BwO.” Deleuze and Guattari were far more interested in bending social rules to better accommodate the divergent subject.

In “Therefore I Am”, Eilish seems to be flexing her line of flight. There’s a sense that she’s doing whatever she wants in an empty shopping mall, that grand temple to desire, but also that she is able to get away with it because she is Billie Eilish. Is this a defiant individualism? Or something else?

“I think therefore I am” soon becomes a loaded statement. Think how, exactly? Or think what? It is telling that the “I think” of Descartes’ phrase is jettisoned from the title itself. “Therefore I Am” gives new meaning to the phrase “immaculate conception”. No thought, just the BwO. Eilish conceives of herself, divested of pop-cultural influence, from her own mind or outside. After all, the BwO “is what remains when you take everything away”, Deleuze and Guattari write. Is there a hint, below the braggadocio, of an Eilishian program of desire; a “motor program of experimentation.”

“Expression in Nature is never a final symbolization, but always, and everywhere, a causal explication“, Deleuze wrote in Difference & Repetition. This is precisely why the body without organs is better expressed, for Deleuze, by a schizophrenic out for a walk than by a neurotic on a couch. The psychoanalyst explores and deploys symbolisation, that “unconscious mental process whereby one object or idea comes to stand for another through some part”; the schizophrenic finds truth in the infinite intermingling of things.

In practice, for Eilish, this is expressed through singing a song to the haters in an empty shopping mall bouncing around to her heart’s content, following desires without recourse to any of her conflicting selves. In the twenty-first century, does the schizophrenic out for a walk still resonate? Or is a media-hounded pop star in a shopping mall just as good an analogy? “Therefore I am” — here Eilish is all explication.



Originally posted on xenogothic.com.

Episode #01: Body Without Organs

Welcome to the inaugural episode of Buddies Without Organs. We began our adventure with our podcast’s namesake — the body without organs.

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 sixth chapter of A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, entitled “November 28, 1947: How do you Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?”

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