by Steven Craig Hickman
There is no need to tell all over again how psychoanalysis culminates in a theory of culture that takes up again the age-old task of the ascetic ideal…
– Anti-Oedipus, Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari
Deleuze & Guattari will dissolve the mystery of the death instinct in Freud realizing that it gathered together the hidden threads in his secret narrative: the truth of Freud’s aspiration – to become a Priest, a Rabbi, a “director of bad conscience”.1 “If one looks for a reason why Freud erects a transcendent death instinct as a principle,” they tell us: “the reason will be found in Freud’s practice itself” (p. 333). After finding the abstract subjective essence of desire – the Libido, Freud forgot what he’d discovered and went looking for something else altogether. He sought some representational image of this abstract entity in the unconscious – his theatre of cruelty: what he found was Oedipus – the self-castrated, eyeless victim of castration and death. As Freud himself would tell it:
The ascetic ideal is an artifice for the preservation of life … even when he wounds himself, this master of destruction, of self-destructing – the very wound itself compels him to live…” (p. 333).
Freud would no longer see in desire a force of love in the world. No. Now desire must turn back against itself in the name of a horrible Ananke, the Ananke of the weak and the depressed, the contagious neurotic Ananke; desire must produce its shadow or its monkey, and find a strange artificial force for vegetating in the void, at the heart of its own lack (pp. 334-335).
Deleuze and Guattari will question this deep wisdom of Freud’s anemic Ananke (Necessity) that binds desire in a weltering world of voidic cholera: “Is this really the right way to bring on better days? And aren’t all the destructions performed by schizoanalysis worth more than this psychoanalytical conservatory, aren’t they more a part of the affirmative task?” (p. 334) In fact they will see in this claustrophobic science of the mind, an Oedipal mind, a dark theatre of cruelty the habitation of ghosts and interior palaces where desire is brought to bare for its crimes, a sadistic chamber where Freud can observe the guilt of the past in all its terrible splendor. Instead of this dark cave Deleuze and Guattari will say, open the doors, let in a little fresh air and give us a “bit of a relation to the outside, a little real reality” (p. 334).
Freud was the first to link death and war as he studied the aftermath of WWI; a linkage between psychoanalysis and capitalism in their twin engagement with death and war. (p. 335) “What we have tried to show apropos of capitalism is how it inherited much from a transcendent death-carrying agency, the despotic signifier, but also how it brought about this agency’s effusion in the full immanence of its own system: the full body, having become that of capital-money, suppresses the distinction between production and anti-production; everywhere it mixes anti-production with the productive forces in the immanent reproduction of its own always widened limits. The death enterprise (war) is one of the principle and specific forms of the absorption of surplus value in capitalism. (p. 335) What Freud discovers is that the death-instinct being immanent to the capitalist despotic signifier, the empty locus around which its system of absorption exists, that it must displace everything into this war-machine to block the schizophrenic escapes and place restraints on its flights. (p. 335) Capitalism is a war machine that binds desire within its own immanent logic as death: a negative desire that produces pure surplus-value out of the hell of its despotic and ascetic cult.
It is at this point that they will introduce Zombie Capitalism: the “only modern myth is the myth of zombies – mortified schizos, good for work, brought back to reason” by the psychoanalytical priest of a new asceticism so that they can continue serving the war-machine like good subservient capitalists. (p. 335) It is the principle of death immanent to capitalism that produces the very limits that bind and impose a gap between social-production and desiring-production that keeps the zombies tied to the endless loop of a false desire for commodities and war. “Now this universe has as its function the splitting of the subjective essence into two functions, that of abstract labor alienated in private property that reproduces the ever wider limits, and that of abstract desire alienated in the privatized family that displaces the ever narrower internalized limits” (p. 337).
In this system caught between abstract labor and desire the zombie citizen lives under a mortuary axiomatic: an axiomatic of simulacra, wherein the zombies cannibalize images instead of flesh: “death is not desires, but what is desired is dead” (p. 337) In truth, capitalism has nothing to co-opt; or rather, its powers of co-option coexist more often than not with what is to be co-opted, and even anticipate it. (p. 338) For those that remember Debord’s Society of the Spectacle all this will seem familiar. In Debord’s theory, media have become the quintessential tool of contemporary capitalism, and consumerism is its legitimating ideology. Or, to cite Debord’s famous quip, “the spectacle is capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image.”2 What is crucial about Debord’s theory is that it connects the state’s investment in social reproduction to its commitment to, “and control of, the field of images— the alternative world conjured up by the new battery of ‘perpetual emotion machines’ of which TV was the dim pioneer and which now beckons the citizen every waking minute.” Not only is the world of images a structural necessity for capitalism, it affirms the primacy of the pedagogical as a crucial element of the political. It enforces “the submission of more and more facets of human sociability— areas of everyday life, forms of recreation, patterns of speech, idioms of local solidarity . . . to the deadly solicitation (the lifeless bright sameness) of the market.” (Giroux KL 517-523)
Under contemporary capitalism, state-sanctioned violence makes its mark through the prisons, courts, police surveillance, and other criminalizing forces; it also wages a form of symbolic warfare mediated by a regime of consumer-based images and staged events that narrow individual and social agency to the dictates of the marketplace, reducing the capacity for human aspirations and desires to needs embodied in the appearance of the commodity. In Debord’s terms, “the spectacle is the bad dream of modern society in chains, expressing nothing more than its wish for sleep.” (Giroux KL 526) What Debord would term the politics of consent is the acknowledgement that all aspects of social life are increasingly shaped by the communication technologies under the control of corporate forces.
Of course this is even more so in our own time, when technologies of communication have become not only ubiquitous and invisible due to normalization, they actually replace reality with a surfeit of image, propaganda, and ideological constructs that seem to be more real than reality itself. As Giroux and Evans will affirm:
Debord did not anticipate either the evolution of media along its current trajectories, with its multiple producers, distributors, and access, or the degree to which the forces of militarization would dominate all aspects of society, especially in the United States, where obsession with law enforcement, surveillance, and repression of dissent has at least equaled cultural emphasis on commercialization from 9/ 11 forward. The economic, political, and social safeguards of a past era, however limited, along with traditional spatial and temporal coordinates of experience, have been blown apart in the “second media age,” as the spectacularization of anxiety and fear and the increasing militarization of everyday life have become the principal cultural experiences shaping identities, values, and social relations. (Giroux KL 600-606)
Following Deleuze and Guattari we should affirm both a destructive and constructive task incorporating schizoanalytical technics in becoming mechanics rather than a theatre director: the political and social unconscious is not an archaeology, there are no statues in this unconscious: there are “only stones to be sucked … and other machinic elements belonging to deterritorialized constellations” (p. 338). As they would tell us in “the unconscious it is not the lines of pressure that matter, but on the contrary the lines of escape” (p. 338). To seek out those constellations of resistance and revolt, those “lines of escape” and flight that will help us to open gaps and cracks in the current system of capitalism and its death machine, this is the task today.
Against all representational theories that seek to interpret the socio-cultural, political, and economic unconscious we must realize that the very images that interpretation entails are the very tools of repression and death, the ascetic priests tools of choice that enslave and bind rather than uncover and liberate or emancipate the break-flows of desire. Instead of a cinematic or video game existence flicking by in synthetic-time frames, encapsulated in the violence of freeze-frame abstractions that present the surface textures of a symbolic existence caught in the imaginary of capital, an a-life of artificial extractions that confine flesh to a screen of repetition and loss rather than the break-flows of real time existence. This half-life in which we are bound to an interface existence, caught up in the flows of death machines that trap and bind us to a ghost-land of sound-scapes and images. “It is the very form of interpretation that shows itself to be incapable of attaining the unconscious, since it gives rise to the inevitable illusions … by means of which the conscious makes of the unconscious an image consonant with its wishes: we are still pious, psychoanalysis remains in the pre-critical age” (p. 339). We must break through this crystal palace dreamland of capital, discover lines of escape beyond its illusory fun house of gadgets and technological toys, else be entrapped forever in a void of commoditized identities, spinning in a self-voided paradise of Oedipal madness where we finally merge with our very machinic lives – our flesh dissolving in the war-machines that have now become our only reality.
Ultimately the schizoanalytical technique unbinds the repressive Oedipal system of capital that has tied it to the death machines of production and zombie commodification, the compulsion to repeat an endless cycle of negative desire in a void of surplus-value profiting that sucks the life-blood out of the human waste expended and multiplied by this vast charnel house system. Instead of falling back into the trap of capitalist repression and re-Oedipalization, schizoanalysis “follows the lines of escape and the machinic indices all the way to the desiring-machines” (p. 339). Or, as they tell us:
undoing the blockage or the coincidence on which the repression properly speaking relies; transforming the apparent opposition of repulsion … into a condition of real functioning; ensuring this functioning in the forms of attraction and attractive functioning, as well as enveloping the zero degree in the intensities produced; and thereby causing the desiring-machines to start up again. Such is the delicate and focal point that fills the function of transference in schizoanalysis – dispersing, schizophrenizing the perverse transference of psychoanalysis.
For a social and political task one must take this and apply it to the repressive blockages within the capitalist system that keep the zombies bound and captivated to the simulacrum of image commodification and technologies of desire, providing an alternative to this death-machine zero sum world of capital; one that allows a transference from this illusory image-world of capital to a world where desiring-machines are no longer formed, mutilated, and bound to a negative desire situated in capital and its war-machines. We need a critical praxis that is not a reversion to pre-critical forms, but is worthy of the anti-representational critique developed by Deleuze & Guattari, one that seeks out in the functional blockages in the political, economic, and socio-cultural unconscious the part-objects that enforce its repressive stasis and violence of passivity and captures the desiring flows of surplus-joissance, all the while seeking lines of escape and flight out of this zombie globalist system of capital. Seeking cracks in the molecular fabric that encapsulates us in what that liberal-conservative Sloterdijk calls the “World Interior of Capital”; that illusionary ideological construct that is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it has become normalized to the point of invisibility, the Infosphere.
1. Anti-Oedipus Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari ( Penguin 2009)
2. Giroux, Henry A.; Evans, Brad (2015-06-22). Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (City Lights Open Media) (Kindle Locations 515-517). City Lights Publishers. Kindle Edition.
The article is taken from:
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