Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) and Félix Guattari (1930–1992) were French thinkers whose work, together and independently, has influenced theoretical and philosophical concepts of modernity. For example, their work on the control society, schizoanalysis, and body-without-organs explains the surveillance and control of individuals by corporations and discusses how humans can free themselves.
Deleuze was a French philosopher who studied at the Sorbonne and acquired an interest in modern philosophy from the specialists teaching there: Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac. After teaching at several French universities and working at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (National Center for Scientific Research), Deleuze was appointed in 1969 to the experimental school at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, where he taught until his retirement. Among the influences on Deleuze’s thinking, Friedrich Nietzsche, Benedict de Spinoza, and Henri Bergson had a relevant role.
Guattari was a French psychoanalyst trained under the guidance of Jacques Lacan. After being involved with leftist and revolutionary groups in his youth, Guattari worked most of his life at the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde, where he was able to engage in broad philosophical explorations. Here, group therapy was developed, making possible open discussion on several subjects, such as ethnology and architecture. Apart from his work with Deleuze, Guattari worked extensively on the question of subjectivity in the last decades of his life.
At the university at Vincennes, Deleuze met Guattari, starting a collaboration that resulted in several publication, including Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). The main theme developed in these works is human desire, a concept present in all of their work, and how humans can be freed through the use of schizoanalysis. As a result of studying human desire, and the limitations imposed by capitalism, Deleuze described the transformation of society into a control society.
In 1992, Deleuze wrote an article, “Postscript to the Societies of Control,” that analyzed the change of society from a disciplinary society, identified by Michel Foucault as the governing system from the 18th to the 20th century, to a society of sovereignty, which is governing in current times. Whereas the former had strict schemes to follow and obliged humans to start again at each stage of life (e.g., at school, at work), the latter can be seen as a much more liberal environment, especially with the diffusion of information technologies (which were not yet devised at the time Deleuze was writing).
Having the freedom to do whatever one wants and to access work from any location (delocalization) seems to offer individuals the ability to move freely and to organize themselves at their own pace. But in a control society, one is never finished with anything, and as Camaeron Crae recognizes, the demands of work are not constrained to official work hours but can pervade all of one’s time, effectively expanding control over all of one’s activities. Thus, the society of sovereignty actually limits citizens’ freedom much more than the previous model; such permanent control over citizens’ movements is justified by the argument that it brings more security to their lives.
Such normalization of surveillance opens up many ethical questions, which have yet to be fully addressed. For example, multinational corporations may track individuals’ activities to convince consumers of a need for their products, making such products the objects of desire. To Deleuze and Guattari, however, desire should be productive, creating its own objects.
In the first section of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari discuss the concept of desiring-production, whereby desiring-machines appear to connect the criticized Freudian concept of libido with the Marxian concept of labor-power. Schizoanalysis is used to study schizophrenia—not the clinical disorder but the result of a generalized psychosis pervading a capitalist society. It is a positive concept, emphasizing the potential of freedom, in contrast to paranoia, where everything would be fixed and without any possibility of change. This duality is not new and can be seen as the eternal dilemma between free will and determinism.
Born in the aftermath of the 1968 revolution in France, Anti-Oedipus is a critique not only of capitalism but also of the established power structures. Many philosophical theories, including Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus complex, are criticized, with the aim of freeing humans from any oppression resulting from the capitalistic model, which controls individuals by convincing them that desires can be directed only toward products. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the control realized by the companies that market these products can be reversed only by a revolution overturning the existing power structures. The metaphor that Deleuze and Guattari used was of individuals becoming “schizophrenics” to free their feelings without any limitations.
However, their use of the term schizophrenic for their conceptual model created misunderstandings, as some equated the term as used by Deleuze and Guattari with the clinical disorder of schizophrenia. Such misunderstanding is not surprising as in their works the authors often introduced terms without any introduction or explication, such as schizoanalysis and body-without-organs.
The influence of Deleuze and Guattari’s work on contemporary society is broad and covers many fields. They foresaw the control that companies would have over citizens. At a time when faith in the development of modern technologies was great, they envisioned the effects that increased control would bring to society. Today, despite the increased freedom provided by new technologies and social networks, some of those effects, as Deleuze and Guattari predicted, have been negative. For example, today individual privacy has decreased, and the technological advances that are commonly used in many of our daily activities also track our movements, decisions, and desires—in effect, putting our entire lives in the control of multinational companies.
Deleuze and Guattari developed schizoanalysis in the context of a control society. It is basically a political attempt to plan a strategy of survival under capitalism, fighting against the established power structures and against oppression. It aims to create new values and desires to oppose the psychosis and fear fostered by the capitalist society. In addition, Deleuze and Guattari introduced the concept of the body-without-organs as a solution to the relations between machines and organisms. Through these concepts, Deleuze and Guattari examined how humans could survive in a capitalist society and free themselves. Moreover, they predicted the ongoing struggle between the security policies implemented by postcapitalist societies and the control society.
See also Foucault, Michel ; Marxism ; Modernism ; Social Control
Buchanan, Ian. “The Problem of the Body in Deleuze and Guattari, or, What Can a Body Do?” Body & Society, v.3/3, (1997).
Crain, Cameron. Living in a Society of Control (July 30, 2013). http://mantlethought.org/content/living-society-control (Accessed November 2014).
Holland, Eugene. Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. New York, NY: Routledge, 1999.
Lambert, Gregg. Who’s Afraid of Deleuze and Guattari? An Introduction to Politica. London, England: Continuum, 2006.
Parr, Adrian. The Deleuze Dictionary. Edinburgh, Scotland: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.