Deleuze: Culture, Memory, and Language

It's Friday, which means it's time for some reflections on the work of french post-structuralists Deleuze and Guatteri in the book Anti-Oedipus. Good summer reading to send you off into the weekend. Fortunately, having touched on their conception of "desiring/production and machines," and bit on "anti-oedipalism," we can move on to something fun. This week: I have for us a few passages from the third major division about the emergence of language and cultural memory. For a while I've been convinced that semiotics and linguistic theory is sort of the cohesive glue behind post-structuralism, maybe it's because I've been spending too much time with literary-types, but I think there's something there. Also, I think if we understand things in linguistic terms, it makes it (more) posssible for me to interact and apply these theories. But anyway, on to the passages:

(Oedipus) implies an individual overinvestment of the organ to compensate for it's collective disinvestment. That is why the commentators most favorable to the universality of Oedipus recognize nonetheless that one does not encounter in primitive socieities any of the mechanisms or any of the attitudes that make it a reality in our society. No superego, no guilt. No identification of a specific ego with global persons--but group identifications that are always partial following the compact agglutinated series of ancestors, and the fragmented series of companions and cousins" (143-4).

I admit that I tried to rescue that passage from yammering on about Oedipus' ultimate anality, and I fear it doesn't make sense. They say that "our modern societies have [...] undertaken a vast privatization of the organs, which corresponds to the decoding of flows hat have become abstract" (143). That society, in particular modernity, has limited the way we interact with bodies [1], and that this correlates with the way we know and understand flows--desire. Because of these privatizations, we "have" an understanding of Oedipus that is social, and one where they are forced to ask "What then remains for the making of Oedipus?"

Moving back to our discussion of some concepts that are more connected with the themes of lanague, that I'm more intersted in.

"the primitive territorial machine codes flows, invests organs, and marks bodies" (144; emphasis added).

I understand this as saying, basically, that: from the very basis of the formation of culture, desire, machines, and bodies are coded/shaped by that culture. It's of course the "bodies" part that I find most interesting, as this is sort of the part where culture and the individual meet. Particularly in this moment, we're given to think that our bodies are our own domains, and in some sort of twisted Cartesian way, beyond the realm of cultural influence. Which is pattently false, even if it's hard to grasp; in any case, the crossing of the mind/body and culture/individual boundaries are I think fascinating moment.

So at this point we have a number of pieces: the culture peice, the individuals/bodies piecs, lets continue this a bit further as they, following Nietzsche, say: >"it is a matter of creating a memory for man; and man who was constituted by means of an active faculty of forgetting (oubli), by means of repression of biological memory, must create an other memory, one that is collective, a memory of words (paroles) and no longer a memory of things, a memory of signs and no longer of effects. This organization, which traces its signs directly on the body, constitutes a system of cruelty" (145-6; emphasis original)

Man, in the social sense "created" by representation, not necessarily in our own memories of events but by a collective/group memmory. Not in the "groupthink" sense, but rather in sense that through ritual, education, and practice what we remember and know (as individuals) about "our" pasts is constrained by cultural values and interests. Think about how we "remember" on holidays, think about key cultural moments that you many not have experienced directly, but are none-the-less part of y/our cultural ethos. I suspect however that we're all more interested in the "cruelty" that they speak of. They go on to say:

"Cruelty has nothing to do with some ill-defined or natural violence that might be commissioned to explain the history of mankind; cruelty is the movement of culture that is realized in bodies and inscribed on them, belaboring them" (145).

And then:

"The sign is a position of desire; but the first sings are the territorial signs that plant their flags in bodies. And if one wants to call this inscription in naked flesh 'writing,' then it must be said that speech in fact presupposes writing, and that it is this cruel system of inscribed signs that renders man capable of language, and gives him a memory of the spoken word" (145; emphasis added).

Your thoughts? I'm not sure I can add much to that, but I'd love to hear what you think.

best, tycho

[1]organs being, body-machines, but I/we haven't quite gotten to the grok point with Deleuze and Guatteri's concept of the "body without organs."
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