*Who* Does the Earth Think It Is?!: Notes on Geology of Morals

My first appearance on this illustrious podcast might have been a little clumsy – I’ll be the first to admit that – but I did in fact have some decent notes prior to recording. Matt pre-empted some of what I wanted to say in his opening section, and I didn’t want us to be repeating ourselves, so instead I kinda jumped haphazardly into my notes (I’ll get better at this podcasting business, mark my words). Below you’ll find said notes, focused on the theory-fiction aspect of this essay, along with a couple of other bits that I wanted to post here for posterity.


When Sean first suggested The Geology of Morals he said something along the lines of “We’ll have fun with this one.” Fool that I am, I thought that meant this was going to be a light or easy essay. But it’s not, not at all. It is however fun, and a big part of that comes down to the narrative framing device Deleuze and Guattari use here. That device is of sitting in on a lecture given by Professor Challenger, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it means that Challenger becomes a stand-in for Deleuze and Guattari themselves because he is the one presenting their ideas, which means it also gives them a chance to pre-empt their critics:

Besides, the professor was not a geologist or a biologist, he was not even a linguist, ethnologist, or psychoanalyst; what his specialty had been was long since forgotten. In fact, Professor Challenger was double, articulated twice, and that did not make things any easier, people never knew which of him was present. He (?) claimed to have invented a discipline he referred to by various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities.

Secondly, it allows them to put a variety of thinkers in conversation with each other. Obviously a framing device isn’t necessary here, because any number of philosophical texts do the same thing without it, but, again, it’s a fun way to do so, and even brings in an element of hyperstition. Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned at the very opening of the essay, so even if you’re unfamiliar with When the World Screamed, the simple mention of ACD means it’s fair to assume that Challenger is a fictional character. It gets interesting then when D&G start to bring in these other “characters” in conversation with Challenger, but when you check the endnotes you find these are real scientists and thinkers. There’s something about the light presentation of these dense ideas reinforced by this web of research that gives the essay a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi (hey, D&G are French, so it works). It gives the essay an extra feeling of depth, which is one of the ways that I can feel hyperstition – when I feel unmoored, unsure of what’s real and what’s fiction.

(Some other things that give me that hyperstitional feel:

  • PKD’s VALIS
  • Luke Rhineheart’s The Dice Man
  • The film The Fourth Kind

And other experiences that are immediately lesser if you open up wikipedia and go looking for truth…)

Third, the essay on the whole is about content and expression, and the tension and connection between those two modes. So what do D&G do with this subject matter – with this content? They write it as theory fiction. They use a form of expression that might bring attention to itself and reinforce the content for the reader as they go through the essay. The piece itself acts as a meta-metaphor for the content of the essay (and seeing as most of the talk of strata in this essay went over my head, it was the other metaphors that I really latched onto, meaning I couldn’t very well miss or ignore this one).

And lastly, I’m coming back to this, I know, but it’s fun. It’s a dense essay, but throughout they’ll bring you back to the framing device and give you a breather before carrying on. It’s simple but really effective. As that framing story unfolds, we see Challenger’s authority challenged, his lecture become a puppet show and a shambles, and the man himself turns into a lobster – a lobster giving a lecture to an empty room. (This ending is peppered with Lovecraft references, but Challenger’s transformation just pet me in mind of William S. Burroughs’ All American De-Anxietised Man.)

For more on theory-fiction, A Theory Fiction Reading List.

And while we’re on the topic of theory and also literature…

What’s the art, if I can say that, what’s the literary dimension of writing theory? It’s a genre of literature, Marx is a literary genius. We sort of lose track of that, creating language to describe new situations but in ways that don’t lose track of their genesis and genealogy. To write theory as a literary genre, to tackle that, rather than recycle these terms we picked up from the great famous names.

Mckenzie Wark, interviewed at Believer Magazine

That might not always be easy to see if we get lost in the theory itself – in the ideas and the intellectual aspect apart from the aesthetics (if we get caught up in the content and forget the importance of expression), but I think this essay does a great job of reinforcing her point.


There were also a couple of quotes in this essay that put me in mind of Object-Oriented Ontology, which is something I got interested in largely in regards to my novel Repo Virtual, but which I want to read more on if only because it seems like an effective battering ram against anthropocentric thinking…

To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even rivers, every stratified thing on earth.

And this:

The development of the associated milieus culminates in the animal worlds described by von Uexkull, with all their active, perceptive, and energetic characteristics. The unforgettable associated world of the Tick, defined by its gravitational energy of falling, its olfactory characteristic of perceiving sweat, and its active characteristic of latching on: the tick climbs a branch and drops onto a passing mammal it has recognized by smell, then latches onto its skin (an associated world composed of three factors, and no more). Active and perceptive characteristics are themselves something of a double pincer, a double articulation.


And lastly, there was a vein in this essay about evolution and/as deterritorialisation that really grabbed me, but I might end up expanding on those thoughts at a later date. So for now, I shall say goodbye and that I’m glad to be here with all you buddies.

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.”

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? 

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.