Usage of the Term “Schizophrenia” Beyond Medical Discourse: Two Misreadings of Anti-Oedipus

The aim of this essay is to outline two very different political interpretations of the term schizophrenia as it is used in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (orig. published 1972), and ultimately to critique them both. In their book, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari aim to examine the diagnosis of schizophrenia, and the subject who undergoes this diagnosis, and propose that there exists a revolutionary potential within schizophrenia itself. From this, they develop an alternative method of critique to psychoanalysis, which they call schizoanalysis. The problem with psychoanalysis and psychiatry, as they see it, is that instead of allowing the patient’s pathological illnesses to emerge, these disciplines determine the patient’s condition in advance, using outdated theories from Freud that have since been supplanted, such as the Oedipus complex, which reduces all relations to unconscious desires to possess the mother and eliminate the father. Desire in Freudian psychoanalysis emerges through lack and castration, and interaction with the symbolic field. Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis is much simpler: desire operates as a series of flows between machines. The unconscious does not imagine or interpret, it merely produces. Thus, with the elimination of the unconscious’s need to symbolically interpret Oedipus, the question of desiring shifts from one of why (interpretation) to one of how (“desiring-production”).

The archetypal desiring subject for Deleuze and Guattari is what they refer to as the schizo. The opening pages of Anti-Oedipus cites examples from fictional and non-fictional sources: Büchner’s Lenz, Beckett’s protagonists, Nijinsky, and Daniel Paul Schreber. (Deleuze & Guattari 1984: 2) The schizo is contrasted with the schizophrenic, the “oedipalized” clinical patient, whom the writers are less interested in. For Deleuze and Guattari, the schizophrenic is a zero-intensity body without organs (BwO); whereas the schizo’s body is a surface on which to record the flows of desire. Similarly, society has its own BwO, on which the flows of capital are inscribed. (9-16) Schizoanalysis is therefore a methodology designed to liberate the flows within the delibidinalized, oedipalized subject: its revolutionary potential consists in overcoding the desires of the “father” (the psychoanalyst, psychiatrist, or “despot”, whichever the case may be) with those of the emancipated subject.[1]

In Angela Woods’ chapter on “Anti-Oedipus and the politics of the schizophrenic sublime”, in her book The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory (2011), the writer’s aim is “to demonstrate that in its proximity to clinical accounts of psychosis, Deleuze and Guattari’s model of a revolutionary form of schizophrenia is doubly problematic: first because it cannot be defended against becoming ‘mere’ pathology, and secondly because its political efficacy is dependent on, and I suggest limited by, its association with the sublime.” (Woods: 147) Deleuze and Guattari’s schizophrenia-as-process manifests itself in three “anoedipal” figures: the schizo, the paranoid, and the schizophrenic (148). Of these, the first is valorised by Deleuze and Guattari as “the realization or embodiment of the process of schizophrenia” (148, emphasis added); the infiltrator and disruptor of psychocapitalism. The schizo is compared favourably with other two schizophrenic subjects, who are not invested with revolutionary potential by Deleuze and Guattari. The paranoid overcodes desire, and reduces the world to the individual ego. The schizophrenic, finally, is a failed schizo; a catatonic, “full” BwO, who can now only remain within the walls of the capitalist-medical institution (149). Woods attempts to equate the three anoedipal figures with the three historical diagnostic categories of the schizophrenic: hebephrenia, paranoia, and catatonia (152). Woods is keen to problematise Deleuze and Guattari’s schizo by associating him with Emil Kraeplin’s outdated definition of the hebephrenic (now more commonly called “disorganised schizophrenia”, and no longer recognised by the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders); and also by suggesting that the three subjects are not easily distinguishable from one another.

Woods objects to what she labels the “depathologisation” of schizophrenia that occurs in Anti-Oedipus, as unlike the divergent fields of psychiatry, psychoanalysis and antipsychiatry, schizoanalysis is singular in arguing that schizophrenia “is the direct or unfettered expression of a naturally rebellious desire”, as opposed to “an aberration, an exception to the norm that is the result of a neurological, psychobiographical, or sociological problem.” (157-58) Schizophrenia becomes displaced by Deleuze and Guattari: no longer pathological, but “a deterritorializing process” which “swiftly dismisses the interdisciplinary debate concerning its aetiology.” (158) The political operation of decoded schizophrenia arises from its unbounded, “sublime” aspects, which leaves the redundant therapeutic/analytic carapace of psychoanalysis behind, so that its operatives – the revolutionary schizos – can freely navigate and disrupt the capitalist machine. Yet, as Woods has already explained, it is unclear from Deleuze and Guattari’s account as to what really distinguishes the schizo from the schizophrenic; what precisely in the capitalist environment interrupts the schizophrenic process which cuts off the schizo’s flows of desire (resulting in the catatonic schizophrenic). (160) This leads Woods to her most damaging criticism of schizoanalysis’s reappropriation of the diagnostic category of schizophrenia. For Deleuze and Guattari,

schizophrenia must in some sense remain resolutely exterior to capitalism; it must exceed the boundaries of social and psychic organization, refuse interpretation and interpretive closure, resist therapeutic intervention and theoretical representation. This is certainly an anti-fascist mode of being, as Foucault famously declared in the preface to Anti-Oedipus, but it is anti almost everything else as well. This model takes the concept of micro-politics to new extremes, radically undermining all forms of collective and individual political action. (Woods: 160)

In other words, Woods is asking, In what sense can the schizo hope to affect political change within the capitalist machine, if, through schizophrenia, he escapes capitalism altogether? Woods’ conclusion is that he cannot: the schizo is not only anti-Oedipus, he is anti-society, anti-politics; perhaps also even anti-anti-capitalist. In debasing the diagnostic category of schizophrenia, so that it no longer retains its meaning from the psychiatric context it originated from, Deleuze and Guattari have failed to reinstate the schizophrenic subject as the true revolutionary they had pinned their hopes on.

My primary criticism of Woods’ reading of Anti-Oedipus is in her usage of the word sublime, which holds vastly different significance than it does to Deleuze. Woods presumes that Anti-Oedipus ought to be read as a continuation of the work of prominent antipsychiatrist R.D. Laing, for whom the sublime holds a very particular meaning. In her attempt to trace a genealogy within and around psychiatry and psychoanalytical thought centred around subliminal interpretations of schizophrenia within cultural theory, Woods takes for granted Deleuze and Guattari’s debt to Laing’s The Politics of Experience and other texts, hastily making the following observations:

Deleuze and Guattari make their model of agency contingent upon schizophrenia’s association with the sublime. Schizophrenia’s political efficacy […] is for Deleuze and Guattari a function of its sublimity […]. (Woods: 147)

In the broadest sense, [Deleuze and Guattari’s] schizo-as-outsider radicalizes R.D. Laing’s model of schizophrenia as an experience of the sublime, a transcendent experience, a voyage into inner space. (Woods: 159, emphasis added)

The latter conclusion provides a straightforward enough summary of Laing’s preoccupations with schizophrenia during the writing of The Politics of Experience. Woods cites Laing’s assertion in the chapter on schizophrenia as being “one of the forms in which […] the light [may begin] to break through the cracks in our all-too-closed minds”, (Woods: 159; Laing: 107; Deleuze & Guattari: 131-32) suggesting that this retreat into psychic inner space becomes a form of emancipatory potential in the hands of Deleuze and Guattari. However, this genealogy, as suggested, is only ever assumed, and never fully explained by Woods.

It is possible that Woods missed the work undertaken by Deleuze on the Kantian sublime in Kant’s Critical Philosophy (orig. published 1963) and Difference and Repetition (orig. published 1968), both of which predate Anti-Oedipus (which rarely uses established Deleuzian terminology in the first place). Deleuze was no Kantian in any traditional sense: he considered the father of German Idealism an “enemy” to his own philosophical project, (1995: 6) and his monograph on Kant is a radical reinterpretation of the cornerstone texts of contemporary philosophy.

Deleuze is outwardly critical of the “transcendental method” of Kantian ethics and its attempts to mediate the three active faculties of imagination, understanding and reason; scornfully rebranded by Deleuze as a “common sense” which “designates […] an a priori accord of faculties, or more precisely the ‘result’ of such an accord.” (Deleuze 1984: 21) The Critique of Pure Reason is for Deleuze first and foremost a philosophical exercise dominated by the faculty of understanding; the Critique of Practical Reason a similar exercise for which reason is the legislating faculty. Both arrangements are rigid and hierarchical: practical surely, but philosophically uninteresting. For the former, common sense emerges as the negotiation between the three active faculties, allowing for statements of recognition – or, “the harmonious exercise of all the faculties upon a supposed same object” (2014: 176). For the latter, the legislation of reason subsumes the Good to the law: the ethical subject is determined in relation to the categorical imperative (“you must!”); the law is not determined by the ethical subject (1984: x).

Deleuze’s concern is elsewhere. He wishes to liberate thought, particularly the faculty of imagination, from their determinations in Kantian transcendentalism. The question Deleuze posits in chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, “The Image of Thought” is: How much more can philosophy become?[2] He sees philosophy being governed by the “dogmatic image of thought”, of which Kantian- (and Cartesian-) derived common sense is a postulate. The only Critique relevant to the movement away from the dogmatic image is the third, the Critique of Judgment, and the Kantian notion of the sublime. Deleuze reflects on this sublime’s power to force the imagination (the legislative faculty of judgement) to confront its own limit (phantasteon) (Kant: §26; Deleuze 2014: 188n10), and by doing so, produce an act of “violence” (Deleuze 2014: 188), an original breakthrough for the possibility of thought. Thus, it is when Kant is being perhaps his least “Kantian” that Deleuze finds him most valuable:

If the faculties can […] enter into relationships which are variable, but regulated by one or other of them, it must follow that all together they are capable of relationships which are free and unregulated, where each goes to its own limit and nevertheless shows the possibility of some sort of harmony with the others … Thus we have the Critique of Judgement as foundation of Romanticism. (Deleuze 1984: xi-xii)

It is this permutation of the sublime, one derived from an unorthodox reading of Kant, which Deleuze and Guattari carry into Anti-Oedipus, which takes the faculty of desire as that which it wishes to interpret. Woods, on the other hand, is content to stress the significance of Laing’s own, distinct function of the word sublime without fully acknowledging the chasm of difference between the nature of his body of work and Anti-Oedipus. While Laing’s conception of the sublime as an “inner voyage” is clearly admired and engaged with, Deleuze and Guattari are also critical of antipsychiatry’s “maintained familialism” (Deleuze & Guattari: 95). Despite his status as the most revolutionary of the antispychiatrists, (360) even Laing’s attempt to progress beyond this familialism was not wholly successful.[3]

Perhaps Woods’ strongest claim is that the identities of the revolutionary schizo (undertaking the Laingian subliminal inner voyage) and the catatonic schizophrenic (the full body without organs) are not clearly distinguishable as Deleuze and Guattari have produced them; for her they are “sides of a mobius strip, […] too intimately interlinked to be meaningfully separated.” (Woods: 160) But as we have seen, Deleuze’s prior engagements with the Kantian sublime reveal a very different intention to Laing. Deleuze and Guattari are not interested in ego-loss as a means for “true” ego discovery; rather, the task of schizoanalysis is that of “liberating the prepersonal singularities” enclosed and repressed by the normally constructed ego, “well below conditions of identity” (Deleuze & Guattari: 362). Thus the schizophrenic and the schizo operate on very different levels: the former as captured, oedipalized, incarcerated by the analyst-despot; the latter not a subject as such, rather an oscillation of potentialities, flows, etc. – in sum, a field of desires, active.

***

It is strange that one reading of Anti-Oedipus would interpret its’ political praxis as risking being withdrawn back into the very inertia that that same praxis set out to move away from. But it is perhaps even stranger that the very opposite criticism of the text has also found its way into recent conversations surrounding it: that Anti-Oedipus is too unstable, too nihilistic, when taken to its logical extremes. This is the view shared by critics of the accelerationist movement in political-philosophical thought; more specifically, the arguments made against the British continental philosopher Nick Land.[4] Working from an unmistakably Deleuzo-Guattarian starting point, Land seeks to exacerbate the processes of deterritorialization (dissolution of the ego, liberation of desire, etc.) within the capitalist framework itself, unleashing market forces in order for them to reach an “absolute” limit (Williams: 2). Land echoes particular hypotheticals found within Anti-Oedipus: primarily the following, which poses the idea of a continuing, “deterritorializing” schizophrenization of the processes of capitalism:

But which is the revolutionary path? Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises the Third World countries to do, in a curious revival of the fascist “economic solution”? Or might it be to go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and a practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to “accelerate the process,” as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is, we haven’t seen anything yet. (Deleuze & Guattari: 239-40)

In a series of essays published from 1992 onwards, Land sought to affirm and absolutize the “inhuman” processes of economic deterritorialization. Capitalism, as he has interpreted it, remains in a state of infancy, of which schizophrenia is its extrinsic limit and tendency, “beyond sociality” itself, and “whose evacuation from history appears inside history as capitalism.” (Land 2011: 305) Capital itself exists as “underdeveloped schizophrenia,” (313); its true potential is as a means to deterritorialize subjectivity and unleash “machinic desire”, (337-8) which itself “diffuses all law into automatism” and self-erases politics, society, and individual and collective history. (322-3, 338) Socialist/Marxist/communist projects fail, following this erasure of collectivity and historical genesis, (340) and because of their inability to recognise capitalism as pure creativity without external limit. (624-6) The only viable option in the oncoming post-political era is neoconservatism (448): Landian schizoanalysis makes an enemy of the socius, and moves “in the opposite direction to socialistic regulation; pressing towards ever more uninhibited marketization of the processes that are tearing down the social field”. (340-1) In summary, the flows of capital and the flows of machinic desire are as one. Capitalist society, schizophrenic by its very nature, may only emancipate machinic desire by accelerating (schizophrenizing) its own machinery: tending towards ever greater economic liberalism, automation, globalization, commodification; and dismantling of law and (human) subjectivity, which are but obstacles to the limitless potentials of time-cancelling capitalism.

The role of schizophrenia in Land’s project has its origins in Anti-Oedipus, clearly, but its appropriation is uniquely his own. “Far from being a specifiable defect of human central nervous system functioning,” he writes, “schizophrenia is the convergent motor of cyberpositive escalation: an extraterritorial vastness to be discovered.” (Land 2011: 308) It is a universal condition existing beyond the social, as the other (more developed) side to internalised capitalism, wherein it is neuroticized and incarcerated, “pinned down by the rubberized claws of sanity.” (305-6) Despite approaching Anti-Oedipus from entirely separate disciplinary backgrounds and reference frameworks, there are noticeable commonalities between Land’s analysis of the outcome of that text’s treatment of the schizophrenic condition and that of Woods. Both essentially interpret schizophrenia’s objective tendency as that of ego-loss, which can then function as an escape from Oedipus. However, whereas Woods sees Anti-Oedipus as a depathologisation of psychiatric schizophrenia, Landianism operates either from an always-already depathologised origin, or otherwise seeks to extend its original pathology to the entire social body. In addition, Woods predicted the danger of schizoanalysis as a lapse back into catatonic, “full” schizophrenia; yet for Land, collapse of the subjective “patient” (not a word he would use) cannot come quickly enough.

Many commentators of Land’s (post-)political engagements with Deleuze and Guattari have emphasised how dangerous his co-option of their accelerationist tendencies is. I am less interested in these discussions here. I am only looking to provide preliminary answers to a basic question: Is Land’s treatment of Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis a legitimate continuation of their proposal in Anti-Oedipus? In summary, I take the same position as Mark Fisher (2014) and Alex Williams (2013): in short, no, because of its indelicate conflation of the two axiomatics – capitalism and schizophrenia.

While Land’s cybergothic remix of Deleuze and Guattari is in so many respects superior to the original, his deviation from their understanding of capitalism is fatal. Land collapses capitalism into what Deleuze and Guattari call schizophrenia, thus losing their most crucial insight into the way that capitalism operates via simultaneous processes of deterritorialization and compensatory reterritorialization. (Fisher 2014: 344-45)

Deleuze and Guattari are very clear on this point: there is no “absolute” deterritorialization. One cannot deterritorialize in isolation; there will always exist a complimentary reterritorialization. This is because capitalism is the relative limit of society, and operates by substituting or pushing back the absolute schizophrenic decoded flows with its own “extremely rigorous axiomatic” (the boundaries of the law, morality, sanity, and so on). Hence, capitalism certainly has an innate schizophrenic tendency, in that it decodes, yet at the same time, it also is constantly inhibiting this decoding (deterritorialization) with the restrictive axiomatic Order (reterritorialization). Therefore, for Deleuze and Guattari, capitalism and schizophrenia are fundamentally different: they may be examinable as operating on one and the same economy, but schizophrenia is not the true identity of an infantile capitalism, rather “its difference, its divergence, and its death.” (Deleuze & Guattari: 245-46) Deleuze and Guattari are emphatic on this point: if capitalism does not replace the schizophrenic decoded flows with a restrictive, reterritorializing or axiomatic measure, it is not capitalism at all. Land chooses to subvert this difference between capitalistic and schizophrenic flows, but by doing so he leaves behind the nuance of Deleuze and Guattari’s argument: that the function of schizophrenic nature of capitalism itself functions differently from that of the schizo’s.

There is also a further problem, identified by Ray Brassier (2010), that I wish to introduce, concerning the way in which Land approaches intensification. As a fundamentally non-representational philosophy, Landianism encounters the problem of accessing the machinic unconscious without recourse to the undoings of representational, “transcendental illusions”. Deleuze overcomes this to an extent, according to Brassier, due to his own transcendental empiricism’s inheritance from Bergsonian vitalism, which suggests a sub-representational level below that of direct experience, accessible through intuition. However, Land attempts to eliminate Bergsonism from his own philosophy, replacing him with a “machinic” materialism: purely productive, and operating on the scale intensificatory/deinensificatory (and preferring the former) rather than the epistemological scale of truth/falsity. The philosophical focus then becomes “a question of how your schizoanalytical practice accentuates or intensifies primary production, or on the contrary, delays and inhibits it”; which in itself is not particularly problematic, but beyond representation intensity cannot be mapped, and there can be no translation of the directly inexperienceable “cosmic” schizophrenia as primary process, or death. The materiality of this acceleration presents further restrictions, creatively redefined by Land:

If you’re accelerating, there are material constraints upon your capacity to accelerate, but there must also be a transcendental speed limit at some point. The ultimate limit is not a limit at all for [Land], it’s death, or cosmic schizophrenia. That’s the ultimate horizon. Land unabashedly endorses this remarkable thesis of Anti-Oedipus, but strips it of all its palliatives, about how this might generate new forms of creative existence, etc. For him it’s just: “at the end of the process is death”. (Brassier: 2010)

Landian acceleration reaches an impasse that Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis doesn’t: at the point of death, accelerationism runs out of fuel.  As Brassier asks rhetorically: “how can you intensify when there is no longer anything left to intensify?” From a practical standpoint, Land’s “machinic metaphysics” becomes useless, and from a theoretical one, self-contradictory.

***

What I hope to have shown is that, despite the obvious disparity between the background and the nature of the interpretations of Deleuze and Guattari’s adoption of schizophrenia in their critical discourse in Anti-Oedipus, each of the readings centered around the two readings I have chosen to examine identify features that are inherently similar, and therefore common to their very different conclusions. For Woods, schizophrenia is decontextualized or depathologised when transposed from psychiatric into schizoanalytic vernacular. Deleuze and Guattari have not clearly differentiated the processes of oedipalization which interrupt the schizo’s inner voyage to maximal intensity and form the zero-intensity schizophrenic subject. Furthermore, from an outsider’s perspective, a schizophrenic inner voyage and catatonic inertia are indiscernibly similar, and neither, from this perspective, are by themselves revolutionary. Meanwhile, for Land, Deleuze and Guattari are too reserved, too timid, to follow through with their schizophrenic machinic desire. They are content to differentiate the flows and schizophrenic nature of capitalism from those of schizophrenia itself, rather than correctly identify the former as a primitive and undeveloped expression of the latter. The danger of Land’s understanding of the relationship between capitalism and schizophrenia for his critics is not that they implode into indiscernible confusion, but that they explode into fatalistic, directionless intensity – unsustainable nihilism. Whether these common features are structural weaknesses in the manner of the usage of schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari in their formulation of schizoanalysis, or whether these features arise from separate but related misunderstandings of the analyses and intentions of Anti-Oedipus remains to be comprehensively answered; thus, to conclude, I intend to begin to do so.

In one sense, Woods is right to labour the point that Deleuze and Guattari do not approach the term schizophrenia with enough care taken to acknowledge its various usages and the formulation and specification of meaning it has historically undergone. Given Woods’ background in the medical humanities, she is entirely right to emphasise the unsatisfying, and to an extent dated appropriation of this word, which even during the time of Anti-Oedipus’ composition was beginning to take on new meanings, which undoubtedly were known to at least Guattari. (Woods: 151-52) Regardless, her conclusions – that schizoanalysis is an extension of antipsychiatry, which cannot capitalise on its parent’s revolutionary potential – are hastily drawn, as they are overly presumptive of the necessity of certain antipsychiatric ideas such as Laing’s conception of the sublime for schizoanalysis. This, I have explained, is not the case: Deleuze and Guattari work to distance themselves from antipsychiatry, which they are arguably more critical of than sympathetic to, and Anti-Oedipus can as easily be read as a continuation of both writers’ research projects (especially Deleuze’s) into the production of revolutionary “lines of escape” across different strata of philosophy, political and psychoanalytical thought.

Land’s critics, many of which have engaged with his work for several years, have already helped to delegitimise his adoption of Deleuzo-Guattarian schizophrenia, and it is difficult to find serious gaps or faults in their analyses. Schizophrenia and capitalism, as those terms are characterised in Anti-Oedipus, are not equivocal, and it is not possible according to Deleuze and Guattari to absolutise the deterritorialization processes, as capitalism always recodes with one hand as what it has decoded with the other. It is also not possible for schizophrenic machinic desire to overcode representation, because without the vitalist epistemology of the original Deleuzo-Guattarian schizoanalysis, Landianism is left to aimlessly attempt to intensify the processes of a capitalism robust enough to reterritorialize these attempts of neoconservative/neoliberal sabotage.

If there is a problem with Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis, therefore, it does not appear, from these conclusions, to manifest itself at the level of appropriation of the term schizophrenia. While their schizophrenia clearly differs from the psychiatric term schizophrenia, challenges to its usage by Woods are not successful, as on a functional level (and Deleuze and Guattari are all about functionality rather than interpretation) no serious conflict arises to derail its particular employment in Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze and Guattari actually utilise the word skilfully and delicately, regardless of its authenticity or accuracy to its genesis in psychiatric terminology, to the point where when this precise reappropriation (reterritorialization) in Anti-Oedipus is (deliberately) missed by Land, the force of schizoanalytics easily falls apart. This is not to say that there is no room for improvement to the model of schizoanalytic process in the future – which has been attempted not least by Deleuze and Guattari themselves, in their development of rhizomatics in volume two of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, A Thousand Plateaus (1980) – simply that it has not yet been proven, by these examples, that any significant failure is to be found on the level of Deleuze and Guattari’s adoption of the vocabulary of the medical sciences.

Notes

[1] Schizophrenia was one of Guattari’s concerns as a practicing psychiatrist, but it is also brought up in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. In Anti-Oedipus, however, both writers sought to maximise on the possibility for political revolution through schizophrenic tactics. While it is a text that goes to some length critiquing the basis of psychoanalytic theory and contemporary psychiatric practice, these narratives, which take up the first half of the book, can easily be interpreted as a necessary stepping-stone for the critique of capitalistic society (chapter 3) and the “first tasks” of schizoanalysis, their newly-developed critical methodology through which capitalistic and psychoanalytic repression can be simultaneously reinterpreted (chapter 4).

[2] I am indebted to Miguel de Beistegui for this expression.

[3] Although, confusingly, Deleuze and Guattari claim the opposite earlier in the text: “In the whole of psychiatry only Jaspers, then Laing have grasped what process signified, and its fulfilment – and so escaped the familialism that is the ordinary bread and board of psychoanalysis and psychiatry.” (131)

[4] Defenders of accelerationism, including self-appointed accelerationists such as Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, would attempt to extricate an alternative “political” accelerationism from its apolitical (or at the very least, politically misguided) Landian origins. Williams and Srnicek define their vision for an accelerationist politics within the contours of Marxism-socialism; and oppose “Landian neoliberalism”, in which “[w]e experience only the increasing speed of a local horizon,” to “an accelerationism that is also navigational, an experimental process of discovery within a universal space of possibility.” See Williams & Srnicek (2.2).

Bibliography

Brassier, R. (2010) “Accelerationism: Ray Brassier”, moskvax, available online at https://moskvax.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/accelerationism-ray-brassier/.

Deleuze, G. (1984) Kant’s Critical Philosophy [La Philosophie Critique de Kant], trans. Tomlinson, H. & Habberjam, B., London, The Athlone Press.

— (1995) “Letter to a Harsh Critic”, in Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans. Joughin, M., New York, Columbia University Press, 3-12.

— (2014) Difference and Repetition [Différence et Répétition], trans. Patton, P., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1984) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [L’anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et schizophrénie], trans. Hurley, R., Seem, M. & Lane, H., London, The Athlone Press Ltd.

Fisher, M. (2014) “Terminator vs Avatar”, in Mackay, R. & Avenessian, A. (eds.) #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader, Falmouth/Berlin, Urbanomic/Merve, 335-46.

Kant, I. (1987) Critique of Judgment [Kritik der Urteilskraft], trans. Pluhar, W.S., Indianapolis/Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Company.

Laing, R. D. (1967) The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books Ltd.

Land, N. (2011) Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987-2007, eds. Mackay, R. & Brassier, R., Falmouth/New York, Urbanomic/Sequence Press.

Williams, A. (2013) “Escape Velocities”, in e-flux #46, available online at http://www.e-flux.com/issues/46-june-2013/.

Williams, A. & Srnicek (2014) “#Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, in Mackay, R. & Avenessian, A. (eds.) #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader, Falmouth/Berlin, Urbanomic/Merve, 347-62.

Woods, A. (2011) “Anti-Oedipus and the politics of the schizophrenic sublime”, in The Sublime Object of Psychiatry: Schizophrenia in Clinical and Cultural Theory, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 145-61.

Featured image credits: J.M.W. Turner (c.1840) Sun Setting over a Lake, oil on canvas, 911 x 1226 mm, London, Tate.

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A Note on Hyperstition and Hidden Writing

To interact with Hidden Writings, one must persistently continue and contribute to the writing process of the book.[1]

In the landmark Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Reza Negarestani identifies a proposal towards a new method of narratology: that of Hidden Writing. It supposes we read texts not only in light of, but through their plot holes.[2] The reason for doing so is that texts are diagrams that are themselves networks of lines, crosshatching and bifurcating the earth. Earth is perceived as a singularity, terra firma; that is, a solid object: a hegemony, whether technical, capitalist, biological, or otherwise. But what are solids but “particles built up around flux,” “objective illusions supporting grit, a collection of surfaces ready to be cracked”? Never permanent, always decomposing. Robert Smithson was correct in identifying the process of “de-architecturing”, the decoupling of subject from form, a primal “return to dust or rust” which is characteristic of all elemental singularities, organic or inorganic. And what is effected by this decomposition, when fanged noumena detach and fling off this ill-considered subjectivity? The reduction of mind from matter, the emergence of the Cartesian fissure: a “mine of information”, a hole.[3]

The condition of any ‘solid’ mass (Negarestani uses the earth as an example, in his account of the exiled Iranian archaeologist (refashioned as “paleopetrologist”), Dr. Hamid Parsani) can be interpreted as “( )hole complex” (“with an evaporated W”): a reimagining of Deleuze and Guattari’s “holey space”[4] better equipped to synchronize with Cyclonopedia’s other multi-tentacled concepts. ( )hole complex attests to the meticulous choreography between solid and void, and the void within solid (“void excludes solid but solid must include void to architectonically survive”).[5] Similarly, narrative needs inconsistency, gaps, flaws, derailment and chaos. Narrative operates within limitations, is compressed into a linear trajectory through various forms of time (chronological; the destructive cosmic time identified by Quentin Meillassoux, which pours from schizzes in the hyper-chaotic absolute;[6] the “abysmal” modes of the inner Earth known as Incognitum Hactenus[7]) for which the page, the screen, and the earth serve as milieus, capturing its radiation as chlorophyllous leaves capture light. There is simply more happening inside narratives than they themselves are able to express on their surfaces. A main plot is used as subterfuge, or “hypercamouflage”, to smuggle in a multiplicity of subplots that once exhumed, irrecoverably alter the form of their host.[8] Thus the hegemony of primary interpretation and the illusion of the coherency of plot are savagely torn apart from the Inside.

This is not to say that Hidden Writing only operates on the level of representation.[9] There is an explicitly acknowledged debt in Cyclonopedia to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘machinic thinking’:[10] everywhere there are machines – “real ones, not figurative ones”.[11] Likewise, narratives are actually transformed (“deformed”, “defaced”, or “messed up”) when explored internally (“exhumed”) by outside forces, through the navigation of the complex web of interconnected plot holes effectuated by the reader’s becoming-vermin, as opposed to an external (surface-level) appreciation. Far from upholding an illusionary fidelity and sense of incorruptible representability in its textual analysis, as is the case with “so-called hermeneutic rigor”; Hidden Writing, according to Negarestani, “can be described as utilizing every plot hole, all problematics, every suspicious obscurity or repulsive wrongness as a new plot with a tentacled and autonomous mobility.”[12] Stories that write other stories, machines that produce other machines…

***

Otacon: Raiden? About this Colonel of yours — I found out where he is.

Raiden: Where?

Otacon: Inside Arsenal.

Raiden: What?

Otacon: I’ve checked out all the possibilities, but I keep coming back to Arsenal. It isn’t a relay point, it’s the origin of the signal.

Raiden: …

Otacon: And, the encryption protocol it uses is exactly the same as that of Arsenal’s AI — the so-called GW.

Raiden: …What the hell does this mean?

Otacon: I think it means — you’ve been talking to an AI.

Raiden: That’s impossible!

Otacon: The Colonel probably isn’t GW per se. GW was most likely stimulating cortical activity in the dormant part of your brain through signal manipulation of your own nanomachines. The Colonel is in part your own creation, cobbled together from expectations and experience…

Raiden: That’s crazy…

Otacon: But it’s probably the truth. The virus may be starting to affect GW, which would explain the Colonel’s behavior.

Raiden: It was all — an illusion? Everything I’ve done so far…?

Snake: Raiden!

Raiden: Snake — what’s happening around here?

Snake: I don’t know. What I do know is that you’re standing right here in front of me. Not an illusion — flesh and blood.

Raiden: …

***

The narrative of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty is full of holes. Ostensibly packaged as a blockbuster videogame for the then-state-of-the-art entertainment system, the PlayStation 2, back in 2001, it is in fact (to the disappointment to many gamers) a hypertextural theory-fiction being continuously interrupted by gameplay and cinematic cut-scenes. MSG2 operates according to its own timescale: principal character/actor/soldier Raiden’s conversations with the CO and other military personnel over the nanos (nanocommunication system: imperceptibly small biotechnical implants which make the relay of vertically-aligned operative commands, not to mention surveillance, all the more efficient[13]) unfold dramatically while the battlefield is held in suspension – ten minutes, thirty minutes, the action can wait. Don’t worry if the enemy can hear you (they can).

In the narrative’s third act, the authoritative voice known simply as the “Colonel” begins to exhibit outward signs of radical schizophrenia. These signs are linked by the nomadic rebel trio (the American-born Solid Snake and Otacon gradually wrench Raiden over to their side, the covert NGO Philanthropy) to a virus they had previously installed onto the onboard AI (called GW) of the H-bomb-carrying Arsenal Gear, done in an attempt to neutralize a terrorist strike directed at Wall Street. Eventually Raiden is convinced by Otacon that his commander was a purely fictional entity, an avatar of GW, and that his schizophrenia was induced by the contagion of the “wormhole cluster” program installed onto its system. But should we be as convinced? After all, schizophrenia is not caused by a virus, it is viral, “the very nature of virulence, empiricism, and hence the true nature of the brain.”[14] The most schizophrenic character is not GW, it is Raiden, who after all, has partially manifested the image and voice of the Colonel (based on his experience of playing the previous game, Metal Gear Solid, another narrative trick). What kind of fiction has Raiden let loose?

***

I would like to examine Hidden Writing’s relationship with another concept partially generated by Negarestani: hyperstition. An early definition for this term can be found in Ccru’s online glossary, which lists hyperstition as an “[e]lement of effective culture that makes itself real, through fictional quantities functioning as time-travelling potentials.”[15] Additionally, in Cyclonopedia, hyperstition is interpreted as “a seemingly forgotten website,” a “password-protected laboratory”; itself “a location for exploring a diverse range of subjects from the occult to fictional quantities,” which finds itself “swarming with renegade academics, pyromaniac philosophers and cryptogenic autodidacts”.[16] Indeed, there was a forum called Hyperstition which operated between 2004 and 2008, of which Negarestani certainly contributed towards (many of his posts have since been deleted, presumably as they later developed into published material).[17]

Although hyperstitional entities adopt a variety of guises, frequent tactics deployed involve tactics of subterfuge and a blurring of authorship across malleable boundaries of fictionality. “Fictional quantities” (to adopt the established Deleuze-Guattari term),[18] their causes and effects, fluctuate between states of becoming and Being, ungrounding themselves at each fresh attribution and appearance. An archetype for such an entity can be found in Professor Challenger, whose zoological studies were first widely publicized in works by Arthur Conan Doyle (beginning with The Lost World). Challenger takes on a new dimension in Deleuze and Guattari’s “The Geology of Morals”, which reveals him to be the self-proclaimed originator of schizoanalysis/nomadology, and in which he is observed by the authors “[giving] a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology”.[19] Hyperstitionally, Challenger’s actuality is a side issue: he remains a valuable tool for the authors not only to dispense their own experimental hypotheses and conclusions, but as Anna Greenspan notes, to “populate thought” and “produce something new”,[20] by generating anti-identity in the gap between subject and appearance. But more than this, the “carrier” or “puppet” (in this case Challenger) benefits by leeching off its diegetic meal, becoming-multiple and achieving something close to real existence. It’s no coincidence that many hyperstitional entities (Challenger, Land, Barker, Parsani, Negarestani, the Old Ones) are reclusive authors, which come pre-packaged with their own weird narratives.

Hyperstition is a narrative in flight, and can only be observed in motion. It crawls across narratological conceptions of the world autonomously, non-linearly and non-monotonically, in many directions. And this is where Hidden Writing can be drawn back into the fold, as a provider of a transportation network that fully enables hyperstition’s functioning. Through the interconnected complexes of plothole tunnels, fashioned by sprawling multiplicities of subplots (“Hyperstition is methodically inextricable from a ‘polytics’ or promotion of multiplicity”)[21] bursting out from within their host (main) plot, a hyperstition can navigate the resultant ( )hole complex and achieve its primary objective: becoming-real. This can only occur through a continual process of ungrounding and de-authorizing, delegitimization and a capturing of and experimentation with artificially engineered feedback.

***

Fascinatingly, hyperstition as a deauthorizing, deartificializing process has enjoyed an increasingly prominent life in the field of liberal, utopian politics. Notably, Srnicek and Williams spoke of hyperstitions as “orienting narratives with which to navigate forward”, which “operate by catalysing dispersed sentiment into a historical force that brings the future into existence”, in their expansive post-work programme outlined in Inventing the Future.[22] Similarly, a “hyperstitional manipulation of desire’s puppet-strings” as a means towards the reengineering of cultural “memetic parasites” is a contingent tactic within the operations of the “xenofeminist” collective Laboria Cuboniks (themselves a continuously becoming-hyperstition).[23] But in order to understand how this political tactic has been envisaged, and how it could operate on the plane of minor politics, we must turn again to Cyclonopedia.

Without burrowing too far into its terminology and Parsanian demonological agenda, it is claimed that, from the petropolitical standpoint, an accurate understanding of the political functioning of the Middle East can be obtained from its placement atop the flows of oil which circulate the globe: economically, historically, geographically, politically and ideologically. Oil is “supreme narration lube” that upsets the anthropo-Western hegemonies of the operations of globalization: its production and distribution easing works of Middle Eastern minor literature which (literally) unground any other system of global dynamics through plot holes of the earth. As an exhumed primordial soup which infuses the past into the future, oil is autonomous, a “global conspirator”, the flow of which “poisons capital with absolute madness,” usurping it as the dominant deteritorializing machine; while at the same time “bleeding into economies”, parasitically infiltrating and influencing world politics and inscribing oil’s own projections for a successful future. In short, oil is a multitude of political hyperstitions, and in Cyclonopedia, the most alluring and contagious ones.[24] Oil can teach us about an additional quality of the hyperstitional form: that at core earth temperature, its most stable state is that of a viscous liquid (much like the core earth). But oil itself is also a subplot of another hyperstition, the one attributed to “Negarestani”. And Cyclonopedia, when viewed as a main narrative, begets possibilities for further political tactics imbued with the desire to become reality.

Through the politics of Hidden Writing, the aforementioned authors of Inventing the Future and “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”, have exponentially built on their dual roles: as hyperstitional parasites of Negarestani’s achievement; and carriers who facilitate the contagion through mutation of their political schemas, and recalibrate the virus into potentialities for their own hypergeneric and hyperspecific ends. In the case of Srnicek and Williams, the hyperstitional form operates as a diagram of progress, installed as a system of expansion and ruthless self-criticism.[25] This system is subsequently auto-reflexive, capable of withstanding any argument and adapting to any unforeseen change in temporal environment: as time moves forward on the chronological scale, the post-work schema will absorb any economic or political shocks – to the extent its limitations will allow – and continue to carve out a tunnel through ( )hole complex to enable a future of its own engineering to germinate. And this will occur through contagion of the idea, spread to other (human) carriers via a multichannel attack on all media fronts.[26] The tactics involved in actualizing the “world without work” will therefore become polyvocal and leprous – original inauthenticity.[27]

Laboria Cuboniks address the inauthenticity already rampant in the textures of a social media which facilitates the “puritanical politics of shame” through its virtual carriers: user profiles. The emergent politics of “moral maintenance” are seen to obstruct debate on issues of gender discrimination and wider issues concerning segregation and oppression, and to uphold a rigorous, victimizing conservatism. The solution is beautifully accelerant: “We want neither clean hands nor beautiful souls, neither virtue nor terror. We want superior forms of corruption.”[28] Persist with the new viral technology and methods of socialization, but adapt. Exhume and take command of the underlying corruptive forces emerging as subplots within this medium, but overcode them with outsider feminist antibodies, watch them explode, and spread the xenofeminist disease across a diverse array of socio-political causes and institutions. Enable and transmit the oily flow of hyperstition, “which brings a time of the aeons, a geological time, through a hole in historical time.”[29]

***

Colonel: Raiden! They’ve got Rose!

Raiden: What!

Colonel: Rose is being held in the holds!

Snake: It’s a trap!

Rose: Help!

Raiden: Rose!

Snake: Raiden, get a grip!

Raiden: But Snake!

Snake: It’s a trap. Since the Colonel doesn’t exist, there’s no way he can take Rose hostage.

Raiden: Yeah — you’re right…

Snake: I am right.

Raiden: …OK. … Does Rose — exist — ?

Snake: Don’t be weird. She’s your —

Raiden: What if I’ve never really met her…

Snake: What?

Raiden: If the Colonel is something that I partly dreamt up, then… everything I remember about her could be…

Snake: Don’t jump to conclusions!

Raiden: You and Otacon are the ones that say the Colonel never existed.

Snake: Raiden!

***

I want to conclude by returning to Raiden’s predicament. An open-ended carrier, or a “sink” for “eccentric agendas”,[30] he performs the superlinear tasks transmitted into his corrupted biosystem via a demonic Colonel-vector partially engineered by his own imaginary. He navigates an extra-diegetic narrative as an extra-diegetic subject: a xeno-subject, resembling the totality of the cyber-military flows which converge and compete within him. The only end to his mission that can be envisaged is an inhumanly engineered one. By allowing his schizophrenic narratives to diverge, and selecting from those unleashed narratives the most effective vectors of progress on which to cling (Snake, Otacon, Arsenal), Raiden performs a feat of Hidden Writing, boring his way out of the virtual battlefield and onto the New York streets, and camouflaging amongst its citizenry pack.

Notes

[1] Negarestani, R. (2008) Cyclonopedia: complicity with anonymous materials, Melbourne, re.press: p62.

[2] Ibid: pp60-65.

[3] Smithson, R. (1979) “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, available online at https://monoskop.org/File:Smithson_Robert_1968_1979_A_Sedimentation_of_the_Mind_Earth_Projects.pdf. For a more thoroughgoing analysis of Smithson’s “abstract geology”, see Shanmugaratnam, A. (no date) “Glimpsing the Cosmos Through Cracks in Our Chrysalis”, available online at https://www.academia.edu/24976491/Glimpsing_the_Cosmos_through_Cracks_in_Our_Chrysalis_A_Research_File_on_Elysia_Cramptons_Music_and_Writing. For another perspective on the fissure within object-quality continuity, see Harman, G. (2008) “On the Horror of Phenomenology: Lovecraft and Husserl”: pp355-7, in Mackay, R. (ed.) Collapse IV, Falmouth, Urbanomic: pp333-64.

[4] Deleuze & Guattari (1987) “1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine”, in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [Mille plateaux: Capitalisme et schizophrénie]. Trans. Massumi, B., Minneapolis/London, University of Minnesota Press: pp351-423.

[5] Negarestani: p44. This comment is a reference to Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism.

[6] Meillassoux, Q. (2012) After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Brassier, R., London/New York, Bloomsbury Academic: p64.

[7] Negarestani: p49.

[8] Ibid: pp61, 241, 62.

[9] The folly of representational thinking with Cyclonopedia is given careful consideration by Melanie Doherty, in “Non-Oedipal Networks and the Inorganic Unconscious”, in Keller, E., Masciandaro, N., & Thacker, E. (eds.) (2012) Leper Creativity: Cyclonopedia Symposium, New York, punctum books: pp115-29.

[10] For the sake of the example provided below, this is true; however, the authors of Cyclonopedia (an amorphous “hyperstitional” collective of contributors occupying the interstice between the virtual and the actual, or the fictional and the non-fictional, of which Negarestani and the text’s subject Dr. Hamid Parsani are the most easily identifiable) present radical alternatives to the Deleuzo-Guattarian models of war machines elsewhere in the text.

[11] Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1984) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia [L’anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie]. Trans. Hurley, R., Seem, M. and Lane, H., London, The Athlone Press Ltd, p1. Cf. Welchman, A., “Machinic Thinking”, in Ansell Pearson, K. (ed.) (1997) Deleuze and Philosophy: The Difference Engineer, London, Routledge: pp211-229.

[12] Negarestani: p61 [my emphasis]. Cf. Marshall, K. (2012) “Cyclonopedia as Novel: (A Meditation on Complicity as Inauthenticity)”, in Leper Creativity: p148.

[13] During one such transmission, the theme of surveillance is granted full, unambiguous immanence, when Raiden is told that it is no exaggeration to assume that “whoever control[s] the NSA facility could move the world.”

[14] O’Toole, R. “Contagium Vivum Philosophia: Schizophrenic Philosophy, Viral Empiricism and Deleuze”, in Deleuze and Philosophy: p175.

[15] Ccru (no date) “Glossary”, available online at http://www.ccru.net/id(entity)/glossary.htm. Steve Goodman, in his book Sonic Warfare, dates the Ccru journal Digital Hyperstition, in which the glossary appears as its final component, to 1999.

[16] Negarestani: p9.

[17] http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/. The date cited in Cyclonopedia for the “tumultuous discussion” over the uncovered Parsani notes which kickstart the text, 11 March 2004 (p9), is, somewhat pleasingly, inconsistent with any visible entries.

[18] Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: p153.

[19] Ibid, A Thousand Plateaus: pp43, 40.

[20] Greenspan, A. (2004) “Hyperstitional Carriers”, Hyperstition, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/003707.html.

[21] Land, N. (2005) “Hyperstitional Method I.”, Hyperstition, available online at http://hyperstition.abstractdynamics.org/archives/004711.html.

[22] Srnicek, N. & Williams, A. (2015) Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. London/New York, Verso: p75. Cf. my work “Review: Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams”.

[23] Laboria Cuboniks (2015) “Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienation”: 0x0D. Available online at http://www.laboriacuboniks.net/.

[24] Negarestani: pp13-14, 19, 130, 25-8

[25] Srnicek & Williams: p75

[26] Ibid: pp164-5.

[27] Cf. Negarestani: p191.

[28] Laboria Cuboniks: 0x0C.

[29] Wark, M. (2012) “An Inhuman Fiction of Forces”, in Leper Creativity: p41.

[30] Land. “The term ‘eccentric agenda’ is being coined technically here, to cover an immense terrain, namely: every hypothesis, belief, emotion or commitment that can be evacuated from the principles of hyperstitional activity.”