Deleuzian: Against Oedipus

I've always had a somewhat strained relationship with psychoanalysis and Freud, as you might expect, given that I'm generally a fairly rational human being. I mean, really, psychoanalysis doesn't really present a very good (or accurate) picture of how mental experience or culture functions, and frankly--and perhaps this comes from Deleuze and Guatteri--it seems like the analyical tradition is as inscriptive as it is descriptive. Which is ok, if that's your thing, but it's not mine. The problem with this is that there are a lot of thinkers who've been influenced by the psychoanalytic tradition that, I think on the whole, have something interesting to say. Deleuze and Guatteri for instance, but also folk like Julia Kristeva, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida: you know all the angsty continental intellectuals of the last 30 years. All this despite the psychonalysis, I'd be inclined to say.

I'm also reminded of a conversation I had with a professsor in which I made a typical complaint about psychoanalytically-derived theories as being "a lousy explanation for mental experience," and "not based in any sort of meaningful understanding of reality." In response she said something like "it's interesting that people don't go after Marx for that," which is to say, we accept a lot of Marxist ideas on faith in ways that we won't for psychonalysis. Now for the record I'm totally ok with that, but I think in the larger sense she's right, we tend to dismiss a lot of Freudian based thought wholesale without really engaging with it. That's what this week's essay is about. Sort of.

As I return to Anti-Oedipus, I'm struck by how much I absolutely hated the second chapter, which is all about the function (or non-function) of Oedipus in the world as a result of psychoanalytic theory. While I admit that I'm only beginning on the third chapter, I am realizing how important it is that this book "deal with" Oedipus. I think in my reading of this, I was drawn to passages that allowed me to connect with Deleuze and Guatteri's psychodynamics, and also learn anti-oedipalism. Also, as a side note about this part of the text: it's pretty clever writing, there are parts that were honest-to-g-d funny enough to laugh out loud. That's why I love this book. Anyway, here's what I found:

"For the unconscious itself is no more structural than personal, it does not symbolize any more than it imagines or represents; it engineers, it is mechanic. Neither imaginary nor symbolic, it is the Real in itself, the 'impossible real' and its production" (53).

I rather like the way that this sums up their idea of psychodynamics, and at least for my purposes it allows Deleuze and Guatteri to both engage psychoanalytical theories without accepting the suppressions, while still working in "some sort of meaningful understanding of reality." Furthermore, I think way of thinking about psychoanalytic theory makes it possible to both engage the tradition in a productive way without subscribing to its more unhelpful/insidious aspects. This is very much in line with the sort of thinking/approach that I looked at last week.

In the spirt of rethinking the tradition they say, "We are so molded by Oedipus that we find it hard to imagine another use" (76), given the inscriptive nature of psychoanalysis and Oedipus, reforming is incredibly hard to think beyond it. This is clearly where a lot of people fall down (I'd point to Kristeva, if I had more experience with her), but I think this is part of the reason that new ideas are so incredibly hard to come by. I mean if you take a step back and look at Deleuze and Guatteri, (and perhaps this is a product of how I'm thinking about them, but) it's easy to see their project as being incredibly Hegelian: this isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but a useful example.

Back to Oedipus for a moment:

"Oedipus is completely useless, except for tying off the unconscious on both sides. We shall see in what sense Oedipus is strictly 'undecidable' (indécidable), as the mathematicians would put. We are extremely tired of those stories where one is said to be in good health because of Oedipus, sick from Oedipus, and suffering from various illnesses under the influence of Oedipus" (81).

This critique isn't difficult to swallow, and I completely endorse this point. But I didn't need to read eighty pages to get to this conclusion, thankfully they propose a solution:

"It is not the purpose of schizoanalysis to resolve Oedipus, it does not intend to resolve it better than Oedipal psychoanalysis. Its aim is to de-oedipalize the unconscious in order to reach the real problems. Schizoanalysis proposes to reach those regions of the orphan unconscious--indeed 'beyond all law'-- where the problem of oedipus can no longer even be raised" (81-2).

This passage comes from a chapter of the book (#2) that is the foundation of their criticism of Oedipus, the discussion of schizoanalysis, based upon my reading of the table of contents comes later. But I think this early summary is helpful in saying "there's a way out, just hang on for it," and "arguing against oedipus isn't the answer." And I hope there is.

Though this is a sticky section of the book, I do want to reiterate that this is still a rather entertaining text: as I was searching for these parts I found myself chuckling at some passages, and others that I had annotated with "ha!"'s and smiley faces. Maybe I'm weird, but that's part of the reason I liked this book so much.

Stay tuned, and I hope you have a good weekend.

Best, tycho

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