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Psychology: Schizoanalysis and Religion


Although Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explicitly define the approach they develop in Anti-Oedipus (1972) as a "materialist psychiatry" and insist repeatedly that the unconscious be thought of as an "orphan and an atheist," schizoanalysis turns out to have important ramifications for the study of religion. That religion plays such an important role in a book of materialist psychiatry may be less surprising given the centrality of Baruch Spinoza to Deleuze's thought; but then again, Deleuze reads Spinoza through the lenses of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche. An evaluation of religion is thus both crucial to the development of schizoanalysis and quite complex, even ambivalent.

Schizoanalysis is, first and foremost, a world-historical, Marxian critique of Freudian psychoanalysis. While it is true that schizoanalysis combines insights from all three of the great high-modern materialists (Marx, Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud), each of whom is used to critique the others, Freudand particularly his theory of the Oedipus complexreceives the brunt of the critique, as the book's title itself proclaims. Just as Marx understands capitalism and the bourgeois political economy of writers such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo in relation to a theory of modes of production spanning all of known history and anthropology, Deleuze and Guattari situate the nuclear family and the "bourgeois psychiatry" of Freud in relation to an equally broad theory of modes of libidinal production, based largely on Marx, but also in part on the anthropological typology of Lewis Morgan. Through comparisons with "savagery" and "barbarism" (terms drawn from Morgan's typology), Deleuze and Guattari conclude that the nuclear family itself, as well as the Freudian version of psychoanalysis that does so much to illegitimately universalize, and hence reinforce, the nuclear family and its Oedipus complex, are strictly capitalist institutions, with little validity outside capitalist society (and only a detrimental or symptomatic role to play within it).

Modernity represents a key turning point in this view of world history, for a crucial discovery is made in a number of different fields: first by Martin Luther, then by Adam Smith and David Ricardo, and somewhat later by Freud. The key discovery, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is that value does not inhere in objects but rather gets invested in them by human activity, whether that activity be religious devotion, physical labor, or libidinal desire. In this fundamental reversal of perspective, objects turn out to be merely the support for subjective value-giving activity. Yet in each of the three fieldsreligion, economics, psychologythe discovery of the internal, subjective nature of value-giving activity is accompanied by a re-subordination of that activity to another external determination: In the case of Luther, subjective faith freed from subordination to the Catholic Church is nevertheless re-subordinated to the authority of Scripture; in Smith and Ricardo, labor-power freed from feudal obligations is re-subordinated to private capital accumulation; in Freud, polymorphous libido is re-subordinated to heterosexual reproduction in the privatized nuclear family. To free human activity from these last external determinations is the task of world-historical critique: Marx provides the critique of political economy to free wage-labor from private capital, just as Deleuze and Guattari provide the critique of psychoanalysis to free libido from the private nuclear family and the Oedipus complex. Can schizoanalysis provide a point of departure for a similar, world-historical critique of religion? Probably not, for reasons that will be considered below. But one thing is clear: if schizoanalysis insists that the unconscious be considered an orphan, this is in order to free it from the repressive confines of the nuclear family and the psychoanalytic Oedipus complex. Why must the unconscious also be considered an atheist?

There would be two key turning points in a schizoanalytic world history of religion, the second of which has already been broached in the allusion to Martin Luther. The first involves the transition from "savagery" to "barbarism"or, roughly translated, from polytheism to monotheism. Under savagery, social relations comprise a patchwork of reciprocal and temporary debts and obligations, sponsored by a plethora of spirits or gods, that link everyone in society more or less indirectly with everyone else. Such a "horizontal" pattern of social relations contrasts sharply with the "vertical" relation characteristic of barbarism, which links everyone directly with a despot and his god; equally important, the patchwork of temporary and reciprocal debts gets replaced by one unidirectional debt that everyone owes to the despot and his god, an infinite debt that can never be discharged. Whereas the earth had been the focal point (or what Deleuze and Guattari call the "natural presupposition" or "quasi-cause") of social life under savagery, it is God that appears as the divine presupposition or quasi-cause of social life under barbarism, and it is ultimately on God that barbaric social relations converge and to God that the infinite debt is owed.

In this context, the emergence of (mercantile and then industrial) capitalism and the Protestant Reformation represent a second key turning point, occurring within monotheism, because Protestantism and capitalism subordinate the secular institutions of the despot (The Church) to a more abstract God (a deus absconditus )the divine but absent Voice of Scripture and capital, respectively. This is Deleuze and Guattari's adaptation of Max Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (19041905) thesis, as it were: liberal-democratic capitalism and psychoanalysis pick up where Protestantism left off, as they replace waning external social authority with forms of internalized, subjective authority or self-discipline. The infinite debt once owed to the despot now transfers to the equally infinite debt owed to capital, the new god or divine presupposition of modern social life; society is henceforth governed by economic forces rather than moral principles. And as the cash nexus of capitalism subverts all religious and social authority in society at large, all that remains is the internalized authority of private consciencefirst in the form of an individualized Protestant conscience nonetheless still supported by the external authority of Scripture and the congregation, then as a liberal-civic conscience with no support except the fainter and fainter echoes of the Father's Voice in the superego. But in a society governed only by the imperative to accumulate capital, the Father ultimately has no social imperative to impose on privatized conscience other than to work in order to pay the infinite debt. Capital invents secular institutions to invest with authoritymost notably the nation-state, along with the nuclear familybut ultimately these too succumb to the primacy of private accumulation (through the combined forces of globalization and mediatization).

The unconscious, then, is an orphan at home and an atheist in society at large. But this atheism is not only or primarily a specifically religious disbelief, but a general disbelief in despotism of any kindmonotheistic god, absolute monarchy, private capitalthat attributes the productive activity of society to itself as its "quasi-cause." This rather bleak assessment of the anachronism of belief and of the role of monotheism and despotism in world history is tempered, however, by another current of schizoanalysis derived from Nietzsche (though here again, the figure of Spinoza is important, too). Nietzsche's virulent critique in The Genealogy of Morals (1887) and elsewhere of Christian "slave morality" in the name of personal self-transformation (the "overman") is well known; less well-known and more important to schizoanalysis is his insistence in the same work (Essay 2, especially section 11) on the increase in power obtained by assembling human beings into larger groups. Inasmuch as Nietzsche posits will-to-power as the basic human motivation, the formation of human groups should be of major interest to him; but for the most part he disdains groups for their all-too-human "herd instinct" and focuses instead on superhuman individuals and their heroic "transvaluation of values."

Here, the schizoanalytic amalgamation of Nietzsche and Marx proves salutary and illuminating. For unlike Nietzsche, Marx is indeed focused on the formation of human groups, and he pays particular attention to the increase in human power obtained through the socialization of production, especially under capitalism. The centralization of capital; the extension of the market to now global proportions; the development of factories, assembly-line production, and, more recently, out-sourcing and computer-coordinated productionall lead to increases in human capacities through what Marx called the productive force of cooperation. Yet Marx, unlike Nietzsche (and Freud), pays insufficient attention to the unconscious, which is the very hero of schizoanalysis and the primary agent of its version of world history. This neglect has engaged Marx and Marxism in a mostly unproductive attempt to persuade people to act in accord with their own interests. Following Nietzsche and Freud, Deleuze and Guattari's response to this predicament is categorical: people are not motivated to act by interest, but by desiremuch of which is unconscious; and what desire wants is power and the increase of power. Moreover, socialized production is not the only source of such power. Any binding together of human beings in larger groups will have the same effect: an increase of power. And as Émile Durkheim perhaps most famously observed, religion (from the Latin ligare, to bind together) has been and continues to be one of the most pervasive and effective forms of human grouping for that very reason: it increases the power of the group in and of itself (regardless of whether material productivity in the narrow sense is thereby increased or not). Far from being an "opiate," as Marx notoriously said, religion (according to the principles of schizoanalysis) is something human beings desire precisely because it represents an increase in their power. This is why schizoanalysis does not offer a world-historical critique of religion: as with capitalism and psychoanalysis, schizoanalysis considers the phenomenon of religion to be ambivalent, and therefore in need of careful evaluation.

This explanation of the appeal of religion (in this fundamental etymological sense) to human will-to-power raises a number questions for schizoanalysis, however. For one thing, can one be sure that religious groups are still viable under current market conditions, if the cash nexus and capital accumulation rule society and effectively preclude any belief? (Among others, Giorgio Agamben argues in The Coming Community (1990) specifically for the formation of human communities that are not held together by shared beliefs.) More important, can desire want power and at the same time want to exercise power freely? To what extent are power and freedom compatible? And most important, how can the power attained specifically through group formation be exercised free from external determination? Can group coherence remain immanent to group activity, or does it require something transcending the group itself (such as a "God above") to act as its center or ground, to which productive group activity may then become subordinate? These are some of the questions that schizoanalysis would want to ask about religion in general, as a species of group formation among others.

But a schizoanalysis of religion would be even better suited to the examination of specific instances of religious group-formation, since the answers to general questions like those above will never be black and white, but a matter of degrees. In Deleuze and Guattari's view, the unity of a human group is never simply given or naturally ordained; it is always produced and maintained by the group itself. That is why it is crucial for them to identify, in connection with the large-scale typology of social formations they derive from Morgan, the "natural" or "divine" presupposition or quasi-cause around which each type of social formation organizes itself: the earth, God, capital. Much the same would apply to human groups on smaller scales: here, too, schizoanalysis would want to discover the quasi-cause around which a group organizes itself, whether that be a totem animal (as in Durkheim), or a team mascot, a book of scripture and a prophet, a flag and a constitution, or whatever. Then the task would be to assess whether the power associated with a given quasi-cause takes on a life of its own and turns against the groupor, on the contrary, remains in consonance with group activity and enables the group to flourishand to evaluate in each particular case the degree to which a specific mode of group-formation enhances or curtails the power of the group and of members of the group.

See Also



Agamben, Giorgio. The Coming Community. Translated by Michael Hardt. Minneapolis, 1993. Proposes that the coming community be organized around "whatever," rather than a specific set of shared beliefs or a common project.

Bataille, Georges. The Accursed Share: An Essay on General Economy. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York, 1988. Demonstrates with several examples that all societies except capitalism are centered on expenditure rather than accumulation.

Bryden, Mary, ed. Deleuze and Religion. London and New York, 2001. Examines the intersection of Deleuze's thought with religious matters, from a variety of angles.

Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York, 1990. The more important of Deleuze's two studies of Spinoza, whose insistence on immanence becomes a central features of Deleuze's own thought.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. New York, 1977. Originally published in French as L'anti-Œdipe in 1972. Presents the theory of schizoanalysis based on a critique of the psychoanalytic oedipus complex.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, 1987. Extends the approach developed in Anti-Oedipus to a wide range of phenomena, from geology to bird songs to postmodern capitalism.

Durkheim, Émile. Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Translated by Karen E. Fields. New York, 1995. Proposes that the basis of religion is the augmentation of power inherent in assembling people in larger groups.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York, 1970. Analyzes the emergence of modernity and confirms Deleuze and Guattari's conclusion that "Freud is the Luther and the Adam Smith of psychiatry."

Holland, Eugene W. Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. London and New York, 1999. Explains the theory of schizoanalysis in light of its derivation from Freud, Kant, Marx, and Nietzsche.

Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. 3 vols. New York, 1967. The classic analysis and critique of capitalist exploitation.

Morgan, Lewis H. Ancient Society: or, Researches in the Line of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization. Chicago, 1877. Early anthropological typology of social forms from which Deleuze and Guattari borrow the names for their typology of libidinal modes of production.

Negri, Antonio. The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics. Translated by Michael Hardt. Minneapolis, Minn., 1991. Innovative reading of Spinoza's ethics (contemporary with Deleuze's own) that stresses its relevance for present-day political and philosophical concerns.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality. Translated by Carol Diethe. New York, 1994. The classic analysis of moral theories in terms of will-to-power.

Spinoza, Baruch. Ethics. Translated by G. H. R. Parkinson. New York, 2000. Arguably the first work of immanent materialism, and the inspiration for Deleuze's re-reading of Marx.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York, 1958. The classic analysis of the relation between Protestant asceticism and capital accumulation.

Eugene W. Holland (2005)

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