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Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia


Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, was originally intended to be the first volume of a two-volume work. The second volume, which was supposed to be entitled Schizoanalysis, never appeared under that title but was instead "replaced" by A Thousand Plateaus.

At the time of its publication in 1972, Anti-Oedipus had an explosive impact. In a state of high excitement, and still shaken by the events of May 1968, the French intelligentsia greeted this work by a renowned philosopher and an antiestablishment psychoanalyst as a revolutionary brick through the window of psychoanalysis. Deleuze said of his collaboration with Guattari, "We don't work together, we work between the two of us".

The Oedipus complex, which psychoanalysts describe as a fundamental and unavoidable step in the psychic structuring of the healthy child, was denounced by the authors as an "impasse." The unconscious was a production, a fabrication, a flow. Accordingly, there was no such thing as a desiring subject, but rather flows of desire that are independent of and that traverse the subject. These points of traversal of desire, this flow, exists in opposition to lack, to the Law. "Lack (manque) is created, planned, and organized through social production." Being essentially revolutionary, desire is the enemy of capitalist society, which psychoanalysis defends and protects.

The family is the first source of the work of repression operating in the flow of desire: "The family is thus introduced into the production of desire, and from earliest childhood it will effect a displacement of desire, an unheard-of repression." All of capitalism's effortsand those of psychoanalysiswill go toward trying to maintain these flows of desire and "reterritorializing" them by imposing limits; on the interior, Oedipus, on the outside, as "the absolute limit of every society" (p. 266), schizophrenia: "The Oedipal triangle is the personal and private territoriality that corresponds to all of capitalism's efforts at social reterritorialization" (p. 266).

The "schizoanalysis" invented by the authors is defined as "a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage" (p. 311). The thesis of schizoanalysis proposes that desire is a machine, in fact, interconnected machines"desiring-machines." This assemblage of machines represents the real and constitutes the production of desire. Psychoanalysis is described as a belief in a structural ensemble of the symbolic and the imaginary that Deleuze and Guattari characterize as a mythical belief. They radically challenge the Oedipus complex and accuse psychoanalysis of "beating down all the connections, the entire arrangement" because it "hates desire, hates politics." The two authors reject the idea of any psychic reality: "There is only desire and the social, and nothing else." Schizoanalysis, with its schizophrenic process, a "political and social psychoanalysis" proposes to "undo the expressive oedipal unconscious, which is always artificial, repressive and repressed, and mediated by the family, to gain access to the immediate productive unconscious."

The authors are careful to distinguish between schizophrenia as a structure and the schizophrenic as an entity. The latter is sick from the oedipalization that society attempts to impose upon him, but he represents the emblematic figure of the revolutionary, who is in a position to say, "Oedipus? Never heard of it" (p. 366). The schizophrenic process is revolutionary; its goal is to "show the existence of an unconscious libidinal investment of socio-historical production." Here, schizoanalytic production is the opposite of psychoanalytic expression.

Proponents of antipsychiatry, in particular Ronald D. Laing, proved to be valuable allies to Deleuze and Guattari. In effect, madness is described not so much as a collapse but rather as a breakthrough. The goal of schizoanalysis is to enable the flows, to "tirelessly undo/defeat the egos and their assumptions." and it "makes no distinction in nature between political economy and libidinal economy."

In taking as their model the schizophrenic process and contrasting it with the oedipalized neurotic process, the authors constructed a seductive theory that was in keeping with its era. Marxist and structuralist elements are discernible. What are now referred to as "the events of May '68" had not yet been entered into the history textbooks and the collective memory. The metaphor of schizophrenia, stretched to the limit by Deleuze and Guattari, was resonant in the context of a breakdown in the political order and the family. The disillusionments that followed are well known.

It is somewhat surprising to note that in the very extensive index of proper names in Anti-Oedipus, Sophocles is not mentioned once. This is of course indicative of the authors' genuine intent to separate Oedipus as a psychic structure from Oedipus as a dramatic myth. It is the former, structural aspect of Oedipus that is fundamental to all civilizations. It is this Oedipus that is targeted by the authors, and not the dramatic figure of antiquity.

Indeed, Anti-Oedipus today appears as an anti-dramatic text, to be read as a comedy deriding capitalism and glorifying a schizophrenia invented and amplified through the joint writing of a philosopher and a psychoanalyst engaged in critical reflection designed to challenge the bourgeois ideology of their era.

Sylvie Gosme-SÉguret

See also: France; Oedipus complex; Philosophy and psychoanalysis; Schizophrenia.

Source Citation

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. (1977). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. (Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, Trans.). New York: Viking. (Original work published 1972)


Deleuze, Gilles, and Parnet, Claire. (1977). Dialogues. Translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. London: Athlone Press, 1987.

Lecourt, Dominique. (2001). The mediocracy: French philosophy since the mid-1970s. (Gregory Elliott, Trans.). London-New York: Verso. (Original work published 1999)

Le Goff, Jean-Pierre. (1998). Mai 68, l'héritage impossible. Paris: Le Découverte.

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