I love Stoic philosophy. As I said on Twitter this morning, the Stoa is to Plato as the Velvet Underground is to the Beatles: infinitely more advanced and sophisticated, but far less popular because people are fucking basic.
I’m sure that my love is partly inspired by the scarcity of sources on the Stoa; virtually nothing survives except tantalizing fragments. The summaries of Stoic philosophy in Diogenes Laertius and Stobaeus account for almost all we know of Greek Stoicism; a few complete texts survive from the later, Roman Stoics, the most important of which is the Discourses of Epictetus about which I have written before. But by the Roman period Stoicism was originally had three divisions (physics, logic, and ethics) had been reduced almost entirely to an ethical philosophy, losing what appear to have been immensely complex and original systems of physical, metaphysical, and dialectical arguments and ideas.
What little is left shows how radically distinct the Stoa’s ideas about the world were and how radically different philosophy might appear if Stoicism, and not Platonism, had come to dominate the conceptual language of Western metaphysics. Take just the simple quote above, which shows the image of a god as the internal seed of things, acting on them from within, as immanent cause, rather than dictating to them from above like some temperamental transcendent chess master.
I really wish Irigaray had written an essay about the Stoic fragments in An Ethics of Sexual Difference.
I am often asked about my dislike for Lacan. But I dislike talking about Lacan, so I don’t really like explaining why I don’t like Lacan. Anyway, yesterday on Twitter I caved and wrote up in 5 key points why I don’t and here it is reproduced in familiar index card form so hopefully I don’t have to deal with this again anytime soon.
"It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks."
What is ‘it’? That’s the question. That’s the question to which, in the broadest sense, Anti-Oedipus is entirely dedicated.
Everything is wrapped up in this basic question. Nietzschean transvaluation, Spinozan ethics, Humean empiricism, Bergsonian intuition: all the modes of thought Deleuze spent the 1960s exploring come together in the question, as do the two great domains of thought which dominated French intellectual life in the 1960s, but which Deleuze, notably, never really bothered with before: psychoanalysis and Marxism.
For most of its history, Western philosophy asked, “What am I?” It explorations of being, of consciousness, of existence, all began with the thinking subject. But the 19th century destabilized the idea of the self’s supremacy: first Schopenhauer then Freud established unequivocally the existence of forces in the mind beyond and outside of consciousness; first Hegel then Marx insisted that consciousness is not a transhistorical given but a product of material and social existence; and Darwin’s theory of evolution formalized the radical notion, hinted at much earlier in Spinoza and Hume, that humanity is not a quality outside and beyond nature - after Darwin, it could no longer be doubted that man was fully in and of nature, and that both human existence and human consciousness are fully within and entirely bound by the principles that govern natural things. Deleuze & Guattari’s position is explicitly clear: “There is no such thing as either man or nature now, only a process that produces the one within the other.”
Thus the formula of the Cartesian cogito - “I think, therefore I am” - in which subjectivity and existence are absolutely linked, was ruptured. Things exist beyond and before consciousness, before subjectivity and the self. What are these things? What underlies and underpins our ability to watch ourselves think and to say “I am”? This is the question to which inquiry now needed to address itself.
To those relations and forces which affect and shape the individual mind but are outside individual consciousness Freud gave the name “das Es,” the German third-person neutral singular pronoun. “The id,” Freud’s English translators decided. IT. That…something. We say ‘it’ because “that which acts but is not the individual consciousness” is kind of bulky.
But Freud’s concept is not adequate. “What a mistake,” D&G write on the first page of Anti-Oedipus, “to have ever said *the* id.” It’s not the idea of unknown forces that bothers D&G, but the singularity, the definite article, the oneness - the idea that behind the subject is simply another, deeper subject, a second, hidden self. What kind of explanation would that be? Like a dictionary definition that includes the word being defined, THE id, the irreducible singularity of the individual unconscious, is inadequate to explain the substrate of the self, the materials and forces from which the subject is constructed and the process by which that construction takes place.
And without a doubt, it is a process that we are in search of here, not a thing. A thing is not an explanation. “Machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines…Something is produced, not mere metaphors.” To ask what “it” *is* is to return to the other of subjectivity the position of a subject - centered, stable, observable. The question must be reconfigured if we are to get anywhere at all. Hence the emphasis on processes, on becomings and relations. There are two questions which will guide D&G’s entire exploration: “How does it work?” and “What does it do?” Or to put it slightly differently: “Given a certain effect, what machine is capable of producing it? And given a certain machine, what can it be used for?”
It is thus never a question of truth. Truth is a correlate of being - the simplistic Platonic question that asks, “What is it?” It is always a question of action and activity, of processes and becoming. To say that the schizophrenic “resists” the forces of capitalism and acts on their “actual” desires is to reinstate the stability of truth as the substrate of the subject, to suggest that beneath the subject constructed by capitalism is an unconscious that is nothing but a deeper, truer subject - a subject more truly the subject than the subject itself. Does that sound absurdly complex and incoherent? Yeah, that’s because it is. The subject has “desires,” but beneath those desires are not more true, “actual” desires, but desire itself, not a desire for or a desire to but desire as the flow, as force, as the energy that connects machines together. The schizophrenic’s desires are schizophrenic precisely because they are not the schizophrenic’s. Desire never belongs to anybody - the schizophrenic is simply in a much better position to recognize that fact. The subject is an operating system - it’s nothing but a thin, reasonably coherent interface designed to facilitate a user experience. Beneath it are endless series of programs, connections, links, chips, nodes, processers. We want to strip back the screen and watch the bits and bytes connect. We want to figure out what makes the damn thing tick.
It will be a wild ride. An expansive, immense one, spanning the whole of history and the entire surface of the world, every cell and organelle in the body and the entire human race’s collective orgasms. How could it be anything else when the root of the entire problem is the idea of discrete entities? Here, again, the Cartesian cogito furnishes us with the best example - the mind that can only become certain of its own existence by denying the possible existence of everything around it. Individuals, unique and irreducible, trapped inside their unique and irreducible flesh suits. Fuck that. “The real truth of the matter - the glaring sober truth that resides in delirium - is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits.” The analytic mode - breaking things down, separating them, examining things in antiseptic isolation - is not sufficient. Everything relates to everything, everything connects with everything. Any time we say that something is, the verb “to be” means the exact same thing. All things are in the same way - this is the claim of substantial unity, the univocity of Scotus and Spinoza, that is the Deleuzian heart of Deleuze & Guattari. Deleuze is the metaphysics; Guattari is the schizophrenia. Everything is necessary. It’s all a part of the same giant mess of quivering, stuttering connections and larval, productive flows.
In Marx we find a history of social processes that never adequately explains interiority. In Freud we find a history of interior processes that never adequately explains sociality. The series of binaries that govern this separation - inside/outside, self/other, personal/social, private/public, mind/body - are the false divisions, the inadequate analytic distinctions that pry open the subject only to find…another, deeper subject. More of the same. This is the problem of hermeneutics, of interpretation. Interpretation seeks to determine what a thing truly is. In the Freudian concept of repression no less than in the Marxian concept of false consciousness, there is the supposition of the latent and the manifest, the visible surface which we see and the true thing hiding beneath it, the real meaning of the things we perceive. But this is sleight of hand, because every hermeneutic in fact presupposes knowledge of the thing it supposedly sets out to discover. D&G do not want interpretation. They want schizoanalysis, an open-ended process of discovery the parameters and protocols of which are discovered as we go along. Things will get messy. But that’s OK. Because things are messy. Sometimes there will be tautologies and dead ends and circles, because life is a series of feedback loops, not a clearly sign-posted highway.
Speaking of clearly sign-posted highways: if interpretation and the lure of the hermeneutic is the first thing we reject, we equally reject teleology, the idea of a destination known in advance, of a future that emerges clearly and inevitably from a present that is taken for granted as fully understood. No, no. We sort of see the past. We barely understand the present. Who the fuck knows what the future will bring. The inevitability with which Marxism, especially, claims to see the future unfold out of the present is an error, to Deleuze & Guattari. The idea that “schizophrenia is capitalism’s annihilating angel,” as Peretti’s article suggests, is not what D&G suggest at all. The inevitability of teleology as just as invalid is the certainty of interpretation - in both cases, there is a claim to know in advance what is yet to be discovered. Nonsense. Again, what we are interested in are processes - connections, shifts, movements, relations, changes. Not beginnings and endings, not stages of dialectical development, not aims or truths or any of that knowing, presumptuous horseshit. These are all things. Processes do not have beginnings and endings, they only have magnitudes: more, and less. Changes are not conclusions or inevitabilities, but simply oscillations. Faster and slower. Bigger and smaller. Stable and chaotic. What goes up must come down. What deterritorializes must reterritorialize. What escapes coding in one place must be coded in another. History isn’t a straight line, it’s an insane, stuttering doodle. What was can be again - but different, because you can never piss in the same river twice. Heraclitus said that. Or maybe it was Patti Smith. One of those growly old punk dudes, anyway.
Anti-Oedipus is revolutionary. No doubt about it. But it’s not revolutionary in that it’s a handbook for revolution, or a manifesto for one. Not for your revolution, anyway, or for the one you think you want. Enough with the teleology, already. There’s nothing revolutionary about a revolution you can already see coming. And anyway, we’ve already established that what you think you want isn’t actually desire, anyway. Stop assuming. Stop interpreting. Stop waiting. Dive in to a sweeping, sweaty, swirling morass of concepts and connections. But for fuck’s sake, don’t do it because you think you know what you’ll find. If you want to read things that will reflect the reality you already assume exists, stick with Buzzfeed and Fredric Jameson. If you want to reinvent the world, to patch together a new infinity from lacerating shards of chaos, Deleuze & Guattari are waiting.