Criticism 35.1 (1993) 131-134.
A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari, by Brian Massumi. Cambridge, MA, & London: The MIT Press, 1992. Pp. 230. $12.95 (paper).
[Reprinted with the editorial permission of Criticism]
Implicit in the title of this study of/guide to the major collaborative
works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus
(1972; Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1983) and A Thousand
Plateaus (1980; Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987), is a
particularly vexed problem for approaching contemporary theory,
both in research and in teaching: to gloss or not to gloss, i.e.
to consult or assign to students secondary commentaries on the
various critical discourses or to limit contacts to primary texts
themselves. One often leans toward a judicious combination of
the two, particularly in teaching, and for this strategy, Massumi's
study/guide will be a useful tool especially if the reader remains
alert to the author's critical presuppositions. For he follows
D & G themselves in inviting the reader "to cycle back"
("you take a concept that is particularly to your liking
and jump with it to its next appearance") and thereby "to
relay readers back to Deleuze and Guattari's own writings,"
but through a selective "drift," "as much away
from the 'originals' as toward them" (8). Indeed, Massumi
concludes the opening section, entitled "Pleasures of Philosophy,"
with an explicit warning: while following Deleuze's recommendation
to read -Capitalism and Schizophrenia- creatively, variably, as one would listen to a record, skipping from cut to cut, Massumi also alerts the reader to the variable functions of certain passages, the "explanatory" vs. the "highly idiosyncratic," with the latter serving "to destroy any misguided trust the reader may place in the authority of the explanatory passages" (9). However, to supplement such "deviations," many of the end-notes fulfill an intertextual function, guiding the reader back "to the 'original' Deleuze and Guattari" (9), not just Capitalism and Schizophrenia, but the broad corpus of their works.
Although this description of Massumi's opening moves should indicate that he does not provide a "user's guide" in any accommodating, overtly friendly sense, its demanding, even aggressive quality should not be construed as hostility. For example, leaving the reader to ponder the stark opening heading of the first of three chapters, "meaning is FORCE," Massumi seems to lead the reader into a combative, critical "ring" by launching into "Round One" (the first of five "rounds" that he breaks at three points with recapitulative and explanatory "Pauses"). This strategy is quite appropriate for tracing an understanding of "meaning" as "the encounter of lines of force, each of which is actually a complex of other forces" (11). In turn, the numerous terminological shadings, expansions and continuous returns to the Deleuze-Guattari corpus suggest that Massumi's strategy of "rounds" and "pauses" is at once combative and repetitive in the manner of a critical "Frères Jacques," once again quite appropriate given the role in A Thousand Plateaus of the ritournelle (refrain, musical round). Moreover, Massumi's "cyclings" help focus more clearly on the bridge in D & G's works between the uniqueness and inherent instability of the "event" (i.e. the separation of meaning as "force") -- "no sooner do we have a unity than it becomes a duality, . . . [that] becomes a multiplicity . . . [that] becomes a proliferation of fissures converging in a void" (19) -- and the reproducibility and consequent "domestication" of an event, i.e. the dulling, diffracting, capturing, regularizing "action" of "power": "Meaning is the contraction of difference and repetition in a self-expiring expression. Power is the resuscitation of meaning" (20).
Even such paradoxical and opaque formulations are useful in
echoing Deleuze's own recourse to paradox as "serious attempts
to pack meaning into the smallest possible space without betraying
it with simplification" (20-21). In fact, Massumi suggests
that paradoxical formulations may help a "user" understand
the broad strategies of D & G in -Capitalism and Schizophrenia-.
For the paradox "does not negate, it compounds," and
thus "unity, duality, and multiplicity of meaning are not
mutually contradictory," but are rather "moments or
aspects of a process . . . mutually determining, in reciprocal
presupposition . . . [that] can be unraveled" (21). Thus,
Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus illustrate
unity/duality/multiplicity of meaning "as levels, or 'plateaus'"
on which one can work "to emphasize that level's connection
to or separation from the others (the relation or the -non-),"
keeping in mind the inherent instability of any level (21). Massumi
describes this movement and fracture (in "Round 3")
in terms of fractals, pausing then to summarize the "slew
of slippery concepts" proposed so far: falling into two sets
or groupings, roughly the "semiotic" and the "speculative"
(23-24), D & G's concepts "are logical
operators or heuristic devices," that is, used without crystallization into methodology, so that each author, writing together or separately, can adapt and mix concepts in a process of "continual reinvention" (24). To show how this variability works, Massumi chooses (in "Round 4") an institutional example, a high school, and works via D & G's conceptual groupings to discuss the emergence of agency in relationship to the "abstract machine" and "collective assemblages" (26-28). This consideration leads directly to linguistic questions of "speech acts," how the abstract machine "must bring a parade of bodies to stand in the same enunciative position," e.g. the bride and groom uttering "I do" (28-30). In turn, Massumi situates the "meaning encounter" in terms of the "order-word" [le mot d'ordre], "the repetition-impulsion of the imperative function immanent to language" (31), to which our social formation make us entirely susceptible.
In yet another "pause," Massumi states that D &
G's concept of the "virtual" is the least understood
of their terms, and this apparent digression becomes quite relevant
in the final "Round 5" where Massumi describes the fractal's
"unfolding," as "a threshold leading across the
synapses toward a new being [future mode, becoming], and a foundation
of nonbeing [past genesis]" (36). By dint of this situation
"in-between," D & G refer to the future-past of
the present as "the virtual" (36-37), and Massumi re-situates
their abstract ruminations on "virtuality" and "the
fractal's realm of 'possibility'" (137-38) within the aforementioned
examples of the ordering force of language. Massumi rejects any
bleak conclusion about language's restrictive "ordering force,"
emerging "ultimately joyous" since "discontinuity
has the final word" and declaring that "the order-word
of D & G's philosophy is the anti-order-word of the call of
the outside: listen closely for existential imperatives which,
rather than limiting I and I's realm of virtuality, take it out
of bounds" (41). Hence Massumi's advice, drawn from D &
G: "Rewrite the slogan of the United States Army: dare to
become all that you cannot be. Complicate, and chortle."
Yet, rather than yield to ending the chapter on an order-word,
Massumi "pauses" a final time to present seven points
of difference between D & G's theories of language and more
familiar linguistic and semiotic approaches
I have developed this opening chapter in some detail in order
to give a sense of the feisty and complex, yet quite illuminating
intersections between D & G's work and through Massumi's deviations.
Like chapter 1, the second and third chapters each open with perplexing
headings/quotations ("HABIT is the ballast that chains the
dog to his vomit" -- Samuel Beckett; "normality is the
zero degree of MONSTROSITY" -- Georges Canguilhem), then
focus on seemingly limited "themes": in 2, starting
with the concepts of "sensation" and "syntheses,"
Massumi opens his "deviations" toward such notorious
concepts as "the Body-without-Organs," "territorialization"
(with its "de-" and "re-" cronies) as well
as towards the distinctions "molarity"-"molecularity,"
"local"-"global resonance," culminating in
an exemplary section (on the baby's "burp" and other
illustrative functions). In 3, conflicts of political relations
take the fore as "becomings-other" vis-
same" (e.g. the State apparatus, education, etc.) on multiple
levels, from the "individual" to "collective"
political struggles. And just as Massumi's "deviations"
are faithful to the strategies of "cycling" and "skipping"
announced at the start, the textual
interplay of end notes propels his analysis into expanding inter-textual dimensions: extensive and detailed references to terminological usage and derivations from different works of the D & G corpus; development of terms by D & G in comparison to a diverse array of writers; numerous productive overlaps and clashes between D & G's perspective and those in recent theories (e.g., gender politics, pp.175-76; "post-Saussurian thinkers," pp.177-78; Marxist theory, pp.188-204) and of contemporary writers (most notably, Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers, Baudrillard, François Jacob, Paul Virilio, and Toni Negri) as well as the vast intersection between D & G's thought and Foucault's; and useful references to extant English translations and occasional corrective measures.
In the end, following the dense study of diverse (micro-)political struggles through "becomings-other" (ch. 3), Massumi's final section, "Still More," offers an impressive, yet grim assessment of global capitalism's most recent strategies of "capture" and of "postmodernity"'s failure to respond: "Becomings are everywhere in capitalism," says Massumi, "but they are always separated from their full potential, from the thing they need most to run their course: a population free for the mutating" (140). While stating that there is no turning back from "this broader dynamic that covers the face of the earth," Massumi leaves admittedly vague any particular course except to seize and develop this dynamism "right where we are: in the final constraint." Thus, his calls to "action" -- destroying "the last bastion of good/common sense," "embrac[ing] our collectivity . . . [through] a global perception of the capitalist relation as the constraint that it is," moving together "into a supermolecularity where no quasicause can follow: a collective ethics beyond good and evil. But most of all, beyond greed," (140-41) -- may leave many readers cold, or lukewarm at best. However, through his strategy of "deviation," Massumi nonetheless articulates and (re-)cycles effectively many of the conceptual intersections that the focal works/authors themselves deploy while deliberately avoiding simplistic and programmatic "political solutions." And were they (D & G -or- Massumi) to contradict their operative premises and propose such solutions, could we individuals hear/read them anyway? As Massumi says, in a final paradox, he (and D & G) are indeed discussing "a future [that one body] cannot envision, for the very good reason that in that future there would be no place for it -- having finally become what it cannot be" (141).
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University