Félix Guattari; SOFT SUBVERSIONS

Félix Guattari; SOFT SUBVERSIONS / TEXTS AND INTERVIEWS 1977-1985 (Full book)

 

9781584350736

This new edition of Soft Subversions — the first edition was published in 1996 — offers a significantly expanded and reorganised collection of texts and interviews by psychoanalyst and philosopher Felix Guattari covering the period from 1977-1985. The book constitutes a companion to Chaosophy, which similarly gathers texts and interviews from Guattari’s work in the period 1972-1977. However, Soft Subversions might well lay claim to being an introduction to Guattari’s work as a whole. As Charles J. Stivale indicates, in his valuable introduction, Guattari in this period faced what he termed “winter years”, when the dynamisms toward change, generated by the revolutionary events of May 1968, appeared to be increasingly suppressed or co-opted. This led him across several of these texts to retrace the trajectory of his thought, clarifying its commitments and stakes, and probing its future directions.

In this vein, the first of five sections, entitled “Guattari by himself”, sees Guattari trace his central notion of schizoanalysis to his own childhood experience of having been “a little schizo around the edges” (64) and his determination to find a means of preserving all of the divergent dimensions of his personality. He examines how he found such a means through a combination of militant leftism, philosophy, and his collaboration, on a creative approach to psychiatry and psychoanalysis, with Jean Oury at La Borde clinic from the mid-1950s. Recollections of his attempts to develop a form of “institutional analysis” at La Borde helpfully offer a concrete instance of schizoanalysis as a form of analysis that resists reduction to an Oedipal framework, instead identifying the social and institutional factors in the present which shape the unconscious.

The first section also situates Guattari’s shift toward a “molecular” conception of revolution sparked by the disparate, localised actions and events constituting the upheavals of May 1968. It concludes with his reflections on subsequently meeting and collaborating with Gilles Deleuze. Significantly, collaboration with Deleuze (not least their development of the concept of fluid “assemblages”) enabled him to address his growing doubts that traditionally-conceived activist groups could provide the juncture at which “molecular” happenings would coalesce with revolutionary force.

The second section turns to Guattari’s deep concern with the contemporary situation in Italy, where the Autonomist workerist movement had recently been suppressed and its leaders, including Antonio Negri, imprisoned. In “An Open Letter to Some Italian Friends” and “Minority and Terrorism”, Guattari provides a penetrating critique, still pertinent to politics today, of the Italian government’s strategy of linking these oppositional activities to the terrorism of the Red Brigade movement of that period. He argues that any significant opposition cannot but do a certain violence to state order. However, the state’s identification of this ‘violence’ with terrorism is, he contends, a very dangerous political impulse, leading to a politics akin to that of the terrorists. Instead, moral denunciations of terrorism ought to be accompanied by political and strategic responses to the conditions (poverty, injustice, etc.) which give rise to terrorism.

The third section consists of Guattari’s exploration of three specific sites of contemporary “micro-revolutions” that might lead to new political alliances: adolescence, sexuality and machinism. These analyses are instructive of Guattari’s style of thought, each reflecting his optimism and creativity, but also his refusal of any simplistic notion of liberation. Thus, in the second piece, Guattari rejects any notion of sexual liberation as freedom of sexual practice. Instead, historicizing Lacan on sexuality, he offers a nuanced analysis of how women and homosexuals are closest to the possibility of a liberation of desire, not by virtue by their identities as such, but by their position within a repressively heteronormative society. The historical necessity of performing their sexualities at the margins of heteronormativity draws them close to the pure becoming of fully liberated desire. Again, in the third article, reflecting his fascination with machines and especially the machinic culture of Japan, he balances the problems posed by capitalism with the potentials of new technologies to provide modes of being that escape the repressive constitution of the subject in Western societies.

The fourth section explores Guattari’s reimagining of psychoanalysis. Here he acknowledges that, unlike his contemporaries Deleuze and Michel Foucault, psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan constituted an event in his life, opening up for him significant, new possibilities of thinking. At the same time, he stresses that, as he wrote Anti-Oedipus with Deleuze, his critique of Lacan deepened, to the point that there was nothing of Lacan in subsequent works. In further articles, Guattari specifies his criticism of the psychoanalytic preoccupation with the unconscious as shaped by past, familial experience. And he questions a tendency within psychoanalysis to construe Freud and Lacan as quasi-religious figures whose authority is inviolable and whose works are the privileged locus of analytic interpretation. Instead, he calls not only for analytic attention to the social factors that shape the unconscious, but for a more radical reframing of the unconscious as capable of generating new objects for itself (the unconscious as a becoming-machine).

A final section gathers together Guattari’s far-sighted anticipations, in this period, of an emerging global capitalism. In “Plan for the Planet” and the essays that follow, he predicts the shift from totalizing ideologies to the typically “soft dominations” associated with “integrated world capitalism”. Moreover, he anticipates the latter’s now familiar and often problematic restructuring of labor, erosion of social gains, creation of new marginalizations and exploitations, and intensified nationalisms. He also anticipates our contemporary problems of scarce energy resources and ecological damage, foreseeing the need to integrate ecological and machinic revolutions going forward. In these “winter years”, he grapples with the deadlocks of postmodernism, finding an unexpected ally in Foucault, who, he had previously claimed, had not influenced him at all. He dreams of a world when minorities will be able to pursue the work of schizoanalysis with renewed vigor.

These diverse but often interrelated texts and interviews offer fascinating and enlightening perspectives upon Guattari’s work. The difficulty often associated with his abstract and idiosyncratic concepts is considerably lessened by the way this volume situates their emergence within his personal biography and concrete socio-political struggles. For those who know Guattari’s work primarily through his collaboration with Deleuze, this collection will clarify his distinctive contribution to that partnership. Indeed, it invites us to turn or return to Guattari’s intelligent, subtle and creative analyses on their own account. Not only does he sound a still valuable warning against too narrow or predetermined a notion of the unconscious and its analysis. His texts also point to a thinker who has much to say to challenges facing our contemporary global context: a thinker who seeks radical social and political transformation, in the revolutionary tradition, yet who both embraces certain technological potentials of advanced capitalism and recognises the necessity of an ecological revolution into the future. This fine collection serves us well, in extending this invitation to (re)turn to Guattari.

References:

  1. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Volume 1. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. [1972]

 

© 2009 John McSweeney

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