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Deleuze and Guattari's Political Philosophy

Lecturer: Jon Roffe

Originally Taught: Winter School 2017

Between 1972 and 1991, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari published four books together: Anti-Oedipus, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, A Thousand Plateaus, and What is Philosophy?

These books are, by their own account, quintessentially political in character; the aim of this course is to explicate the nature of this politics. Practically speaking, we will consider in turn each of the four major forms of social organisation, what they call social machines or formations: pre-State or ‘savage’ society, State or ‘barbarian’ society, capitalism, and finally the counter-State nomadic formation. The course will conclude with a consideration of some critical problems that can be raised to their account.

While the bulk of the discussion will focus on the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, we will turn to both the Kafka volume and What is Philosophy? at various points. The course, consequently, functions as an introduction to Deleuze and Guattari’s joint works, with a particular focus on their claims about the nature of society, the nature of the human subject, and the capacities we may or may not possess for transforming our social context.

Monday: Introduction. The first seminar will lay out the general framework of Deleuze and Guattari’s account of society, both in terms of the ontology of desire found in Anti-Oedipus, and the machinic ontology of A Thousand Plateaus.

Suggested reading: “Micropolitics and Segmentarity,” chapter 9 of A Thousand Plateaus

Tuesday: The pre-State formation. In the second seminar, we will discuss the form of society that, in Deleuze and Guattari’s view, precedes, anticipates, and wards off the advent of the State.”

We will spend a significant proportion of the first hour in a discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s most important influence in this context, the anthropologist Pierre Clastres. In the second hour, we will consider this formation from both the libidinal perspective of Anti-Oedipus (in which the incest prohibition is at issue) and the economic perspective of A Thousand Plateaus (in which the operation of warding is at issue)

Suggested reading:  Pierre Clastres, “Society against the State”

Wednesday: The State formation. The middle seminar will consider what is arguably the central category in Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of society, the State. In the second hour, we will again consider the libidinal and economic perspectives in turn: the State foreclosure of incest, and the State, from the economic point of view, as an apparatus of capture. We will also touch on the place of the State-city opposition in the analysis.

Suggested readings: extracts from “Savages, Barbarians, Civilised Men,” in Anti-Oedipus, and “Apparatus of Capture,” in A Thousand Plateaus.

Thursday: The capitalist formation. We will turn, in the fourth seminar, to Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of capitalism. While broadly Marxist in character, its libidinal and machinic emphases mean that it develops in a rather unorthodox direction. The second hour will again turn to the libidinal and economic registers. On the one hand, we will see how the advent of the Oedipus complex is a result of the advent of capitalism. On the other, we will see how the displacement of limits proper to capitalism appears from the point of view of the price-value opposition.

Suggested reading: extract from “Apparatus of Capture,” in A Thousand Plateaus

Friday: The nomadic formation, the case for revolution, conclusion. In this last seminar, we will consider the two major lines of revolutionary thought in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. The first is the claim that capitalism must be pushed beyond its own limits in order to transform it beyond its rapacity, a thesis that appears in all of Deleuze and Guattari’s political works; the second is the much more substantial claim for a fourth social formation advanced in A Thousand Plateaus, the nomadic formation.

We will close the seminar series by considering two important open question. First, how viable are these critical proposals, even on the grounds that Deleuze and Guattari themselves provide? Both the notion of acceleration, and Eugene Holland’s rather different proposal for a free market communism will be considered here. Second, what does the term ‘politics’ mean for Deleuze and Guattari, especially given their hostility to the normative categories that are normally presupposed by it?

Suggested readings: extract from “Treatise on Nomadology,” from A Thousand Plateaus; Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, “#Accelerate Manifesto”; Eugene Holland, extract from Nomad Citizenship; Jean-François Lyotard, “Energumen Capitalism”