‘Sin your way to heaven and get slaughtered: A byzantine general problem of the self’ (part seventeen)

Filed under:Sin your Way to Heaven and get Slaughtered — posted by Schizostroller on December 26, 2018 @ 3:30 pm

However whilst Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge Lacan when they talk of the discovery of a fertile domain of a code of the unconscious incorporating the entire chain – or several chains – of meaning, they then state that this domain is indeed strange due to its multiplicity – “a multiplicity so complex that we can scarcely speak of one chain or even one code of desire. The chains are called ‘signifying chains’ (chaines signifiantes) because they are made up of signs, but these signs are not themselves signifying. The code resembles not so much a language as a jargon, an open-ended, polyvocal formation. The nature of the signs within it is insignificant, as these signs have little or nothing to do with what supports them.” (p.38).
what supports these signs is the ‘body without organs’. “These indifferent signs follow no plan, they function at all levels and enter into any and every sort of connection; each one speaks its own language, and establishes syntheses with others that are quite direct along transverse vectors, whereas the vectors between the basic elements that constitute them are quite indirect.” (p.38). There is a materialist understanding of the unconscious here that is worth comparing with Freud’s understanding on the unconscious in the Interpretation of Dreams, however first it is worth noting that although Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge Antonin Artaud as the source of their theory of the Body Without Organs, reference to bodies without organs goes back to Schopenhauer. This is important as Schopenhauer had a major influence on not just Nietzsche but also Freud and Bergson, both of whom influenced Deleuze, although to fully get the ‘phenomenology’ here, we must understand that Spinoza brings the materialism in here. So, to recap, in Deleuze, there is an anti-Hegelianism that goes back to Difference and Repetition (Schopenhauer famously was a contemporary at the same university as Hegel) that is influenced by a combination of Schopenhauer’s vitalism and Spinoza’s materialism. So, to look at this understanding of the unconscious we can trace historical roots that go back thus far (and further to Greek atomism) but to do so we will use Freud for the Schopenhauer influence, and Antonio Damasio for the Spinoza influence. However in doing so we will compare and contrast with the influence of Hegel, at least the influence of machines, to Marx’s theory in the Grundrisse.
Firstly though it was in World as Will and Idea, Book 2, Section 23 that Schopenhauer wrote: “It remains only for us to take the final step, and to extend our thesis to all those forces which in nature act in accordance with universal, immutable laws under which all bodies move, being wholly without organs, are not susceptible to stimuli, and cannot perceive motive.” And it is with this in mind that we delve into Deleuze and Guattari’s picture of the unconscious: “The disjunctions characteristic of these chains still do not involve any exclusion, however, since exclusions can arise only as a function of inhibiters and repressers that eventually determine the support and firmly define a specific, personal subject. No chain is homogeneous; all of them resemble, rather a succession of characters from different alphabets in which an ideogram, a pictogram, a tiny image of an elephant passing by, or a rising sun may suddenly make its appearance. In a chain that mixes together phonemes, morphemes, etc., without combining them, papa’s moustache, mama’s upraised arm, a ribbon, a little girl, a cop, a shoe suddenly turn up. Each chain fragments of other chains from which it ‘extracts’ a surplus value, just as the orchid code ‘attracts’ the figure of the wasp: both phenomena demonstrate the surplus value of a code. It is an entire system of shuntings along certain tracks, and of selections by lot, that bring about partially dependent, aleatory phenomena bearing a close resemblance to a Markov chain. The recordings and transmissions that have come from the internal codes, from the outside world, from one region to another of the organism, all intersect, following the endlessly ramified paths of the great disjunctive synthesis. If this constitutes a system of writing, it is a writing inscribed on the very surface of the Real: a strangely polyvocal kind of writing, never a biunivocalized, linearized one; a transcursive system of writing, never a discursive one; a writing that constitutes the entire domain of the ‘real inorganization’ of the passive syntheses, where we would search in vain for something that might be labelled the Signifier – writing that ceaselessly composes and decomposes the chains into signs that have nothing that impels them to become signifying. The vocation of the sign is to produce desire, engineering it in every direction.” (p.38-39).
If we first go over dreams as the ‘royal road to the unconscious’ for Freud. Freud states quite specifically that “Dreams are not to be likened to the unregulated sounds that rise from a musical instrument struck by a blow of some external force instead of by a player’s hand; they are not meaningless, they are not absurd; they do not imply that one portion of our store of ideas is asleep while another portion is beginning to wake. On the contrary, they are psychical phenomena of complete validity – fulfilment of wishes; they can be inserted into the chain of intelligible waking mental acts; they are constructed by a highly complicated activity of the mind.” (p.122). This seems to be the very obverse of what Deleuze and Guattari are claiming. Freud is claiming that there is indeed a chain of signification, even whilst we are asleep. The difference for Deleuze and Guattari relates both to the body (albeit a body without organs – there is a reason for this) and the introduction of machines into human artifice, especially as a product of the industrial revolution. One that made its way into psychology via cybernetics (such as Bateson).
But to have a point of contrast, let us familiarise ourselves with Freud’s concept of dreams and their relation to the unconscious. For Freud, perhaps the entire structure of his book the Interpretation of Dreams can be premised on the question of “if, as we are told by dream-interpretation, a dream represents a fulfilled wish, what is the origin of the remarkable and puzzling form in which the wish-fulfilment is expressed?” For some, including behaviourists, not too much is to be read into dream interpretation, nor for that matter the unconscious, what matters is observable behaviour and how this can be adapted or persuaded. Deleuze and Guattari do not want to jettison the unconscious, but they do want to make it more ‘machinic’. Freud continues asking “what alteration have the dream-thoughts undergone before being changed into the manifest dream which we remember when we wake up? How does that alteration take place? What is the source of the material that has been modified into the dream? What is the source of the peculiarities that are to be observed in the dream-thoughts – such for instance, as the fact that they may be mutually contradictory? Can the dream tell us anything new about our internal psychical processes? Can its content correct opinions we have had throughout the day?” (p.122-123).

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace