“Capitalism and Schizophrenia”: of territories noir
Updated: Mar 30, 2020
(Cover photo: “Porcelain Skin by Ivan Alifan”)
By Navya Rana
“You are not your job, you're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
Chuck Palahniuk in the ‘Fight Club’ seems afflicted with the temperamental curiosity that drives the world: that Capitalism fuses, and channels the production of desire, which enables the consequent commodification to the effect that consciousness can be manufactured. I wish to elaborate upon the same.
Until the advent of post-structuralist thought and revisionist Marxism, Eurocentric discourse was married to its opinions of Marx, and Freud. The collective consensus within academia was informed by what was assumed to be a particular conception of desire in Freudian terms: that the tripartite structure of the personality (identity, ego, and superego) in all individuals harbours repressed emotions/feelings.
In opposition, a pair of French philosophers named Deleuze and Guattari were to postulate that “egos” are constructed through a series of historical processes that interact in different environments, and are thus characterized by dynamism, and by extension individualism (refer to note 1, at the end). Desire, herein, must be thought of as a multi-variate machine that can (and does) bring systemic forces into existence, because it has the power to conceptualize, and then to create. Then, Marx’s dialectical materialism and Freud’s psychoanalysis (may) both govern and audit the production of Deleuzian “desire”: production désirante.
This desire is characterized by a phlegmatic viscosity(2), and seems non-Newtonian(2). It is informed at times by the preponderance of semi-stable combinations. These might be conceptions of reality made up of signifiers such as one’s subculture, religion, life experiences, etc., of the self (a case in point being Lacan’s mirror stage : le stade du miroir(3)), or conceptions of the capital. At others, the desire may dissolve into the subjective as if to threaten the aforementioned prevalent order(s). Therefore, as desiring-machines can come together to create, similarly can they break apart to destroy.
As an addendum, if desiring-machines (consider labourers) do happen to assemble together to form a unit, they constitute a haphazard mechanism (capital) that is still dependent on kaleidoscopic agency. Even as they constitute an amalgam that, superficially, seems unified, the covetous units swarm around as if rebels without a cause. Nevertheless, this small combination of desiring-machines affects a pull towards other «free» desiring-machines. When transcendence overcomes chaos, the minuscule comes together to form an apparently cohesive whole(4): a fairly universal schema such as an economy, a society, a dis-order. These can, in fact, appear so unified that a paradigm shift takes place. The capital or the product-system becomes paramount, in opposition to the desiring-machines : labourers, who had so gloriously represented microcosmic inhibitions. A hundred million are one. This is, precisely, what anti-psychoanalytic social philosophy (implicit is the suggestion that traditional psychoanalysis sought to suppress desire and re perpetuate the capitalist endeavour) derides. In other words, a singular desire cannot stand as a metonymy.
Deleuze’s capitalism, then, it seems, is not private ownership entrenched in a profit motive, but an antitheses of re combinations that infantile distinctions. In fact, capitalism requires a minimum amount of stability to function : it must inhibit atleast some of its own schizophrenic (here : dissociative) tendencies. This becomes possible through the western society’s innate need to identify with the collective, leading to cohesion, which, in turn, buttresses the state’s panopticon. Thence, selfdom is deceit. At the end, the desirous are transformed into their own fetishized vestiges, the sum of which never adds to the former gestalt. For all practical purposes, the commutativity does not exist. This displeases the naïve and sentimental revolutionary. The result, the contrary of the idée fixe, is disillusionment, rebellion, schizophrenia.
In a society, he who differs from the norm is abnormal. Similarly, he who intends to upset the equilibrium in the product machine is schizophrenic. But his schizophrenia isn’t pathological, or wholly negative. According to Deleuze, to opine and detach from established structures is to commune with the world (in an authentic attempt to overcome tyranny). There are hints of the suggestion of acceleration: that capitalism, when left to its own devices, shall self-destruct because the desirous shall no longer be able to sustain themselves as one unit. What is ascribed to schizophrenia is the potential to liberate.
Thus, perhaps the abnormal individual is the purest, and this he owes to his novel attitudes about concepts and perceptions. This phenomenon he terms “schizoanalysis”, at the heart of which is a truly enamouring proposition: the importance of man, and his presupposed ability to exist and function outside the territory of capital.
1. While I say this, it ought to be noted that this compendium (Anti-Oedipus) by D&G vehemently resists compartmentalization into a definite “new theoretical reference”.
2. Epithets evocative of the fluid movement in question: the process of the production of desire, the road to uniformity, and the consequent commodification.
3. The Lacanian mirror stage posits the awareness induced in an infant whence he recognizes his “self” in a mirror by perceiving that self as an ‘other’ to his own body. Those intrigued by this proposal may read ‘The Shadow’ by Hans Christian Andersen.
4. This refers to the process of coming together of the desirous elemental units such that they seem to be one.
The phrases in italics have been suggested by Utsa Bose.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus. Translated by Robert Hurley, Penguin Books, 2009.
Palahniuk, Chuck. Fight Club: A Novel. W.W. Norton & Company, 2005.