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Chaosmos Refracted: The Schizophrenic Ecologies of Félix Guattari

Lecturer: Timothy Deane-Freeman

Originally Taught: Summer School 2021

This course offers an introduction to the philosophy of Félix Guattari, which we will unfurl along its two key axes: schizophrenia and ecology. As such, each week we will read excerpts from a key Guattarian text, beginning with those works dedicated to the propagation of schizoanalysis -The Machinic Unconscious, Molecular Revolution, and Schizoanalytic Cartographies- before moving to those texts which advance an “ecosophical” critique of Integrated World Capitalism -The Three Ecologies and Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic paradigm.

In keeping, however, with Guattari’s heterodox methods, our study will itself take the form of a schizo-ecological cartography, with each seminar dedicated to “reading” Guattari through, within and alongside other semiotic materials. Thus we will encounter an unconscious structured like free jazz, revolution modelled as a coral reef, ecology as we find it in the novels of Jane Austen, and capitalism conceived as a particular speed of light. In so doing, we will activate the “concrete machine” which constitutes Guattari’s thought- “an intradisciplinarity that is capable of traversing heterogenous fields and carrying the strongest charges of transversality.”

Guattari begins The Three Ecologies by quoting Gregory Bateson: “there is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds.” The task of refashioning this first ecology -before the implosion of the biospheric systems which sustain it- is what makes the study of Guattari’s work a most pressing task today.

Week 1: Transversality as method 

In week one, we will introduce Guattari via one of his most important concepts, transversality- an affective and noetic capacity for movement between disparate semiotic territories. Transversality emerges from Guattari’s work at the experimental La Borde psychiatric clinic, and his determination that analysis should not restrict itself to the pathologies of the “mad,” rather traversing the institution to interrogate the interdependent repetition compulsions of doctors, nurses, administrators and cooks. In so doing, Guattari instigates an immediately pragmatic and political philosophy which is dedicated to the multilateral problematisation of hierarchies and established orders, such as will spread out from La Borde into his parallel lives as an anti-capitalist militant and ecologist.

Required reading:

  • Félix Guattari, “Transversality” in Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, translated by Rosemary Sheed, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1984, pp. 11-24

Recommended Readings:

  • Félix Guattari, “Introduction to Institutional Psychotherapy,” in Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955-1971, translated by Ames Hodges, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2015, pp.60-75.
  • Gary Genosko, “The Life and Work of Félix Guattari: From Transversality to Ecosophy,” in Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, translated by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, The Athlone Press, London, 2000, pp.106-160
  • Anne Sauvagnargues, “Guattari: A Schizoanalytic Knight on the Chessboard of Politics,” in Éric Alliez & Andrew Goffey (eds.), The Guattari Effect, translated by Andrew Goffey, Continuum, London, 2011, pp.172-185.

Week 2: Machine and structure

In week two, we turn a to text which occupies a significant place in Guattari’s intellectual trajectory, marking his break with Lacanian structuralism and the beginning of his association with Gilles Deleuze, with whom he will develop a radically materialist semiotics. Against, however, a tendency in subsequent scholarship towards a marginalisation of Guattari -in favour of the more academically credentialled Deleuze- we will here map the fundamental contributions of Guattari-thought: the concepts of deterritorialization, desiring-machines and micropolitics, as well as a generalised critique of semiotics in the Saussurean mode. Against this model, and the formal dyad of signifier/signified, Guattari will draw on the work of Louis Hjelmslev and Charles Sanders Pierce, exploring a universe of inhuman signs, from birdsong to computer code, extending his transversal analyses into a critique of anthropocentric modes of thought and of life.

Required Reading:

  • Félix Guattari, “Machine and Structure,” in Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, translated by Rosemary Sheed, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1984, pp. 111-120.

Recommended Readings:

  • Félix Guattari, “Escaping from Language” and “Assemblages of Enunciation, Pragmatic Fields and Transformations,” in The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis, translated by Taylor Adkins, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2011, pp.23-74.
  • Ferdinand de Saussure, “Nature of the Linguistic Sign,” in Course in General Linguistics, translated by Roy Harris, Bloomsbury, London, 2013, pp.73-82.
  • Louis Hjelmslev, “Expression and Contents,” in Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, translated by Francis J. Whitfield, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1961, pp.47-60.

Week 3: Actually existing schizoanalysis

Week three will see us grapple with the densest of Guattari’s theoretical interventions, his 1989 work Schizoanalytic Cartographies. As translator Andrew Goffey has noted, Cartographies constitutes “perhaps one of the last big books of French ‘theory’ […] to be translated into English,” and like other well-known works in this tradition, it is dedicated to an analysis of those unanticipated singularities which might open up “mutant universes of reference [for which] no calculation can predict the position or the potentialities.” Guattari’s approach, however, sets him apart from other francophone thinkers of the “event,” given his construction of an arduous fourfold diagram which might serve as an “instrument for deciphering modelling systems in diverse domains.” In this seminar, we will carefully enter this complex diagram, setting it to work on a series of aesthetic and political case studies - the music of Alice Coltrane, the Italian “Movement of 1977” and the photographs of Keiichi Tahara- each of which we will probe for consistencies and fields of reference which might resist normative semiotics, and elude the dominant modes of capitalist subjectivation.

Required reading:

  • Félix Guattari, “The Cycle of Assemblages (First Global Approach),” in Schizoanalytic Cartographies, translated by Andrew Goffey, Bloomsbury, London, 2013, pp.69-102.

Recommended readings:

  • Félix Guattari, “The Schizoanalyses,” in Sylvère Lotringer (ed.), Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977 – 1985, translated by Chet Wiener & Emily Wittman, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2009, pp. 204-225.
  • Hanjo Berressem, “Schizoecologic Cartographies,” in Félix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Ecology, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2020, pp.51-124.
  • Félix Guattari, “Cracks in the Street,” in Schizoanalytic Cartographies, translated by Andrew Goffey, Bloomsbury, London, 2013, pp.253-262.

Week 4: Fractal Ecologies

The 1980s saw Guattari implicated in two “existential refrains” characteristic of 21st century subjectivity more broadly. Alongside a growing interest in the fraught relationship between human life and the Earth’s biosphere, he was subject to an immense and almost suffocating depression. Guattari’s response to this confluence demonstrates his conceptual ingenuity, as he outlines the transversal relationship between these subjective and planetary “pollutions.” In The Three Ecologies, he will thus advocate a fractal and multivalent ecology across the subjective, the social and the planetary registers. It is only by simultaneously seeking opportunities for intervention and resistance on all of these fronts, he will claim, that we might commence “the reconquest of a degree of creative autonomy… [and] counter the pervasive atmosphere of dullness and passivity.” In this seminar, we will attempt to be adequate to this challenge, with a speculative reading of subjective, social and environmental ecology as they intermingle across Jane Austen’s Emma

Required reading:

  • Félix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, translated by Ian Pindar & Paul Sutton, The Athlone Press, London, 2000, pp.23-70.

Recommended Readings:

  • Félix Guattari, “Plan for the Planet,” in Sylvère Lotringer (ed.), Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977 – 1985, translated by Chet Wiener & Emily Wittman, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2009, pp.229 -243.
  • Verena Conley, “New Ecological Territories,” in Gary Genosko (ed.), Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers, Vol. II, Guattari, Routledge, London, 2001, 645-664.
  • Gregory Bateson, “Pathologies of Epistemology,” in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantyne Books, New York, 1972, pp.478-487.

Week 5: Chaosmosis

Chaosmosis crystalises themes which are marbled throughout Guattari’s many lives, aiming at nothing less than the instigation of a new “ethico-aesthetic paradigm” proper to the vast energies of mediatic subjectivation and the economic mechanosphere. Attendant to these hyperactive networks, Guattari perceives an immense potentiality for “resingularisation” -the creation of new Universes of value and of reference beyond the homogenising aspirations of an ascendant neoliberalism. In this context, he will turn to the autopoietic processes of art, which “rebounds and irrupts on states of things” in a “relative chaotization in confrontation […] with heterogenous states of complexity.” Far, however, from emphasising the reified productions of a “culture industry,” Guattari’s aesthetics opens onto a politico-metaphysical valorisation of creation and experimentation at every register of life, in transversal operations which Guattari’s nascent “ecosophy” is dedicated to mapping.

Required reading:

  • Félix Guattari, “The New Aesthetic Paradigm,” in Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, translated by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis, Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, 1995, pp. 98-118.

Recommended readings:

  • Félix Guattari, “Entering the Post-Media Era,” in Sylvère Lotringer (ed.), Soft Subversions: Texts and Interviews 1977 – 1985, translated by Chet Wiener & Emily Wittman, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2009, 301-306.
  • Humberto Maturana & Francisco Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (Extract), D. Reidel Publishing, Dordrecht, 1980, pp.73-95.
  • Paul Virilio, “From Highway Right to State Right,” in Speed and Politics, translated by Marc Polizzotti, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2006, pp.49-57.