Desire Is Power, Power is Desire

Felix Guattari: After a systematic attack (at least I think so) on psychoanalysis, Gilles Deleuze and I began asking ourselves about the linguistic and semiotic conceptions underlying formations of power in psychoanalysis, in the university, and in general.  ​A sort of generalized suppression of what I call the semiotic components of expression takes place in a certain type of writing, such that even when people speak, they speak as if they were writing. At the same time, the rules of their speech not only depend on a certain syntax, but on a certain law of writing.  Unlike primitive societies, our society doesn’t think much of speech-only writing, writing that is signed, attested. Subjugation in capitalist societies is basically a semiotic subjugation linked to writing. Those who escape writing give up any hope of survival. They end up in specialized institutions. Whether at work or in any other area of life, one must always make sure that the semiotic modes one uses relate to a phenomenon of the law of writing. If I make a gesture, it must relate to a text that says: „Is it appropriate to make this gesture at this point?“ If my gesture is incoherent, there will be, as in a computer, some written or digitalized device that will say: „This person may be mad, or drugged, perhaps we should call the police, or maybe he is a poet: that individual belongs to a certain society and should be referred to a written text.“ I think, therefore, that the problem posed in this colloquium ​whether to read certain texts or not-is basically a problem of the formation of power that goes beyond the university.  Question: Doesn’t this relate to what Antonin Artaud said about the written text? ​Absolutely. Artaud understood theater and cinema in their multiplicity of semiotic components. Most of the time a film is based on a written text, a script, and the plastic and aural elements are referred to, and alienated from, the text.  Isn’t it more a question here of linearity rather than of writing, strictly speaking?  ​Certainly, or what could be called digitalization, putting everything into digits. Is the problem of linearity specific to capitalism, or is there a form of writing specific to capital?  Yes, I believe so. The whole evolution of systems of enunciation tends toward the individuation of enunciation and toward the degeneration of collective arrangements of enunciation. In other words, one moves toward a situation where the entirety of complex systems of expression-as in dance, tattoo, mime, etc.-is abandoned for an individuation that implies the position of a speaker and an auditor, such that the only thing that remains of a communication is the transmission of information quantified in „bits.“ Yet, in another arrangement, the essence of communication is a communication of desire. A child who plays, or a lover who courts someone, does not transmit information, he creates a richly expressive situation in which a whole series of semiotic components are involved.  ​Capitalism refuses to take these components into consideration; what it wants is: 1) people to express themselves in a way that confirms the division of labor; 2) desire to be only expressed in a way that the system can recoup, or only if it is linearized, quantified in systems of production. A number of people here have remarked that linearization is the best way of transmitting data for a given purpose, even in genetic systems. For example, consider what happens in a primitive society when a purchase is made. The purchase is often a body linked to interminable discussions; it is more often like a donation, even though it is presented as an exchange. Today, shopping ideally demands that the salesperson behaves like a computer. Even if the salesperson is someone affable, and displays all the iconic components of seduction, she nonetheless seduces according to a precise code. Her skirt must be a certain length, her smile artificial, etc. The best way for capitalism to insure semiotic subjugation is to encode desire in a linear way. Whether in a factory or a bank, capitalism does not want people who bring the totality of what they are, with their desire and their problems. One doesn’t ask them to desire, to be in love, or to be depressed; one asks them to do the work. They must suppress what they feel, what they are, their entire perceptive semiotics, all their problems. To work in capitalist society implies isolating the usable quantity of semiotization which has a precise relation to a law of writing.  That’s questioning capitalism in an extremely broad sense.  ​Clearly, one must also include bureaucratic socialism.  To take up the question of linearity again, what consequence follows, according to you, .from the critique and rejection of the Oedipal triangle in Lacan? What is the impact of such a critique in terms of revolutionary action; not just as critical exegesis, but as intellectual praxis?  ​To me, the Lacanian definition of the unconscious seems particularly pertinent if one remembers that it forgets the unconscious of the capitalist socialist bureaucratic social field. What, in fact, does Lacan say? He says that the unconscious is structured like a language and that a signifier represents the subject for another signifier. One gains access to the unconscious through representation, the symbolic order, the articulation of persons in the symbolic order, through the triangle and castration. In fact, and this is really what it’s all about, desire can only exist insofar as it is represented, as it passes through representatives. Otherwise, one falls into the black night of incestuous indifferentiation of drives, etc. For the whole question lies here; if one follows Lacan closely to the end, what does he ultimately say? You accede to desire by the signifier and by castration, and the desire to which you accede is an impossible desire.  I think that Lacan is completely right in terms of the unconscious of the capitalist social field, for as soon as someone represents our desire, as soon as the mother represents the desire of the child, as soon as the teacher represents the desire of the students, as soon as the orator represents the desire of the audience, or the leader, the desire of the followers, or ourselves in our ambition to be something for someone who represents our desire (I’ve got to be „macho,“ or else what will she think of me), then there is no more desire. I think the position of the subject and the object in the unconscious is one that continually implies not a metaphysical, general subject, but a particular subject, a type of particular object in a definite socioeconomic field. Desire as such escapes the subject as well as the object, and in particular the series of so-called partial objects. Partial objects of Psychoanalysis only appear in a repressive field. For those who remember Freud’s monograph TheLittle Hans, the anal partial object appears when all the other objects have been forbidden, the little girl next door or crossing the street, going for ​a walk, sleeping with the mother, or masturbating-then, when everything has become impossible, the phobic object appears, the phobic subject appears.  ​Systems of signification are always linked with formations of power and each time the formations of power intervene in order to provide the significations and the significative behaviors, the goal is always to hierarchize them, to organize and mal(e them compatible with a central formation of power, which is that of the state, of capitalist power mediated by the existence of a national language, the national language being the machine of a system of general law that is differentiated into as many particular languages as will specify the particular positions of each one. The national language is the instrument of translatability which specifies each person’s way of speaking. An immigrant does not speak the same way as a teacher, as a woman, as a manager, etc., but in any case each is profiled against a system of general translatability. I do not believe one should separate functions of transmission, of communication, of language, or the functions of the power of law. It is the same type of instrument that institutes a law of syntax, that institutes an economic law, a law of exchange, a law of labor division and alienation, of extortion, of surplus value.  And yet I am so talkative myself that I don’t see how one could accuse me of denying language and power. It would be absurd to go to war against power in general. On the contrary, certain types of politics of power, certain types of arrangements of power, certain uses of language, notably national languages, are normalized in the context of a historical situation, which implies the seizure of power by a certain linguistic caste, the destruction of dialects, the rejection of special languages of all kinds-professional as well as infantile or feminine (see Robin Lakoff’s study)-I think that is what happens. It would be absurd to oppose desire and power. Desire is power; power is desire. What is at issue is what type of politics is pursued with regard to different linguistic arrangements that exist. Because-and this seems essential to me-capitalist and socialist-bureaucratic power infiltrate and intervene in all modes of individual semiotization today, they proceeds more through semiotic subjugation than through direct subjugation by the police, or by explicit use of physical pressure. Capitalist power injects a micro-fascism into all the attitudes of the individuals, into their relation to perception, to the body, to children, to sexual partners, etc. If a struggle can be led against the capitalist system, it can only be done, in my opinion, through combining a struggle-with visible, external objectives-against the power of the bourgeoisie, against its institutions and systems of exploitation, with a thorough understanding of all the semiotic infiltrations on which capital is based. Consequently, each time one detects an area of struggle against bureaucracy in the organizations against reformist politics, etc., one must also see just how much we ourselves are contaminated by, are carriers of, this micro-fascism.  Everything is done, everything organized in what I will call the individuation of the enunciation, so that one is prevented from taking up such work, so that an individual is always coiled up in himself, his family, his sexuality, so that such work of liberation is made impossible. Thus, this process of fusing a revolutionary political struggle with analysis is only conceivable on condition that another instrument be forged. In our terminology (i.e., with Gilles Deleuze), this instrument is called a collective arrangement of enunciation. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a group: a collective arrangement of enunciation can bring both people and individuals into play-but also machines, organs. This can be a microscopic endeavor, like that of certain characters we find in novels (I am thinking of Beckett’s Molloy); it can be transcendental meditation or a group work. But the collective arrangement of enunciation is not a solution by the group. It is simply an attempt to create opportunities ​of conjunction between different semiotic components in order that they not be systematically broken, linearized, separated.  ​In the previous talk, the person who was „discoursing“ came to me and said: „If I spoke a long time, all at once, it was because I felt inhibited, because I could not speak.“ We did not function as a collective arrangement of enunciation; I didn’t manage to relate my own inhibition about hearing him with his inhibition about speaking. It always comes back to the idea that if you abandon the discourse of reason, you fall into the black night of passions, of murder, and the dissolution of all social life. But I think the discourse of reason is the pathology, the morbid discourse par excellence. Simply look at what happens in the world, because it is the discourse of reason that is in power everywhere.  In your collective arrangement of enunciation, how do you prevent the reimposition of linearity and syntax?  ​It would also be absurd to want to suppress the information, the redundancies, the suggestions, the images all the powers-that-be want to suppress. The question, then, is not semiotic, or linguistic, or psychoanalytic-it is political. It consists in asking oneself where the emphasis is put-on the politics of significative redundancy or on the multiple connections of an entirely different nature.  You have to be more precise. You speak of semiotics, of information, of collective arrangements ofenunciation, i.e., of linguistics, and then you displace your argumentation from the linguistic or psychological system to that of politics. I no longer follow you.  Each time it is the same thing. Let’s take a concrete example: teaching writing in school. The question is often posed in a different, global method. Society being made as it is, even in a completely ​liberated school, one can hardly imagine refusing to teach children how to write or to recognize linguistic traffic signs. What matters is whether one uses this semiotic apprenticeship to bring together Power and the semiotic subjugation of the individual, or if one does something else. What school does is not to transmit information, but to impose a semiotic modeling on the body. And that is political. One must start modeling people in a way that ensures their semiotic receptiveness to the system if one wants them to accept the alienations of the bureaucratic capitalist-socialist system. Otherwise they would not be able to work in factories or offices; they would have to be sent away to asylums, or universities.  Do you completely reject the system of knowledge elaborated by Lacan through linguistics and Psychoanalysis? ​Completely. I believe Lacan described the unconscious in a capitalist system, in the socialist-bureaucratic system. This constitutes the very ideal of Psychoanalysis.  But is it valid as a system for describing this system? Certainly. Psychoanalytic societies (and this is why we pay them dearly) represent an ideal, a certain model that can have great importance for the other domains of power-in the university and elsewhere-because they represent a way of making sure desire is invested in the signifier and only the signifier, in pure listening, even the silent listening of the analyst. It is the ideal of semiotic subjugation pushed to its highest expression.  According to Nietzsche, one assumes or goes beyond one’s own weaknesses in adjusting oneself to them, in refining them. Yet Nietzsche is a ​reactionary. Is it possible for someone who is a radical to propose going further into psychoanalytic discourse and industrial discourse?  First of all, I am no Nietzschean​. Second, I do not think of going beyond my weaknesses. Third, I am soaked to my neck in psychoanalysis and in the university, and I do not see what I could bring to this domain. All the more so since I do not believe that anything can be changed by a transmission of information between speaker and listener. This is not, then, even a problem of ideological striving or of striving for truth, as one could have understood it here. It is simply this: either there will be other types of arrangement of enunciation in which the person will be a small element juxtaposed to something else (beginning with me), or there will be nothing. And worse than nothing: the development of fascism in continuous linear fashion is taking place in many countries, and there you have it.  excerpt from the book: Chaosophy (Text and Interviews 1972 – 1977) by Felix Guattari

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