Notes on: Buchanan, I (1997) 'The Problem of the Body in Deleuze and Guattari, Or, What Can a Body Do?'.  Body and Society, 3(3): 73-91.

Dave Harris

Both bodies and BwO are assemblages, but there are crucial distinctions between them.  In particular, the BWO should not be taken as some kind of 'baseline for all that Deleuze and Guattari subsequently say about bodies'(73).  Instead, the BWO is a consequence of their understanding of bodies, so we should start with t their accounts of what the body is, or in philosophical terms, what a body can do.  This is part of the whole project 'to replace etiology (cause and effect) with ethology (action and affect), Freud with Spinoza' (74).  Obviously, we need to turn to the books on Spinoza, and Nietzsche and also Hume, to get the 'actual system or logic of their thought', which includes work on the body.  We can also look at the more 'practical'works on drug addicts, alcoholics and masochists—and anorexics.  These are cases where strangely, the self is actually trying to destroy the body.  In this sense  'Anorexia is then a philosophical problem even as it is a medical, psychological or social one'.  We need to remember that concepts are responses to problems, so we need to get at the originating problem.  This involves rethinking conventional notions of the body and mind.  The body is also not just a 'a cultural object' that is just inscribed with our desires: it has desiring of its own.

Take bulimia.  A particular quote suggests that bulimics enjoy the taste and food in the abstract, but feel discussed when it enters their bodies.  Anorexics feel happy when other people say how pale and ill they look.  Masochists actually enjoy being hurt and anticipating further hurt [actually citing Sacher Masoch].

The body should be seen as 'the sum of its capacities' (75) not a list of functions.  This means we can start to think about 'practices of self', but pragmatically rather than as symptoms of some privileged medical account.  In this perspective, the BWO is not the primary term, 'not even a problem properly speaking...  [But]...  A proposed solution'(76), implying an inaugurating problem.  We have to trace the work on the BWO back to the wider philosophical project, expressed in the earlier texts: these at least helped Deleuze 'work out his problem positions so that he could go on to create concepts'. 

We can start with the books on Spinoza.  The body is presented as knowledge.  It is not to be subordinated to the intellect, nor should mental actions be separated from bodily actions, mental passions isolated from bodily passions, there corporeal expression.  Body and mind are parallel and must be thought in parallel, hence Spinoza's 'parallelism' so that if we know about the powers of the body, we can go on to discover the powers of the mind that elude consciousness.

However, what happens to our body is 'only an effect, which means it is outside our control'.  We can register the results of encounters with other bodies, in the form of joy or sadness, but we do not control them.  The thing about these encounters is they produce compounds which extend the body and its range of activity, or decompose it: we can never understand 'real causes' in this way, but form only inadequate ideas.  For example, it is an illusion to think that we eat because we are hungry, as an act of free will.  Similarly, it is illusory to believe that 'a judgment of god or bad precedes our actions.  It is false to think we want something because it is good'(77): it must already be good [do our bodies good].  It would be a mistake similarly to think that obvious appetites can be understood as instincts producing actions.  It is true that it is difficult to say no to some obvious actions, like eating when we are hungry, but this does not prove that an instinctual appetite exists.  It would be even more mistaken to treat such instincts as causes.  This is really Freud's mistake: it is true that the things that seem to be driven by instincts can never be suppressed completely, and they might even be 'essential to all living beings for their continued existence', but even here it would be wrong to conclude that instincts are independent causes of action.

In particular, the important issue of relations is being avoided.  If we define appetite as '"the effort by which each thing strives to persevere in its being"', as in Spinoza, relations are actually implied.  For example, we can act differently when confronted with different objects.  In this sense, appetite is actually '"determined by the affections that come from the objects"'.  A story by Kafka, A Hunger Artist, can help explain.  The hunger artist did not will himself to ignore his hunger: rather 'he was unaffected by food' (78), could not find the food that he liked [so the food caused the starvation in Spinozan terms—this is clearly supposed to be connected to real cases of self starvation as in anorexia].

Artaud's remark about the freedom that follows becoming a BWO aligns with Spinoza who says that freedom is only possible 'when full possession of the power to act is taken, "from which active affects follow"'.  Buchanan renders this as: 'we are not free to eat, we are caused to eat, which means our hunger is the product of the relation with food...  relations...  are separate from their terms ...and...  are also eternal [virtual?] ...[they]...  passively await realization'.  If we are somehow unaffected by food we will experience no 'hunger - affect, and will not be induced to eat'.  In this sense, anorexia can be seen as a similar attempt to break with an 'insupportable burden of automatic reactions [and is]...  An attempt to produce a body without organs'.  Normally, the desire for food,  as a relation between body and food is 'involuted'and becomes 'a desire for the desire for food', an affect being desired for itself and in itself.  The actual food can then be 'subject to profound disgust'.  This is 'a reinvention of self', designed to liberate ourselves from 'the sometimes intolerable pressure that food places on us'.  Since we cannot change this pressure, we must change ourselves and develop 'a new way of being, which effectively means a new way of becoming.  This is what the body without organs really is, a new way of becoming'(78-9).

This produces in Deleuze 'a philosophy of affects and relations...  transcendental empiricism'. Deleuze and Guattari go on to call this ethology, asking what can a body do rather than 'what is a body'.  The latter involves organicist notions of the body, a genealogy, and we know that D and G develop concepts like the rhizome as 'precisely an anti-organic concept'(79).  We should not think of functions or parts, but affects.  This explains strange remarks like whether or not drug users or masochists might use different means to pursue their desires, just like drinkers can be drunk on pure water.  What can a body do, without devices and contraptions?  This helps to see what masochists or addicts are actually trying to do.  Clearly what a body can do has physical constraints, but this question does point to a beyond, 'beyond the physical limits of the physical body' and it is that that the BWO 'articulates'.  Thus the problem of the BWO is secondary to the issue of what a body can do and what its limits are [it is introduced in ATP as not a concept but a limit state].

A deeper theoretical shift is implied.  Ethology 'looks forwards'[to consequences], and 'outwards'[to relations outside the body].  There's also 'a move away from organisms to machines with these new priorities 'relations and qualities over terms and quantities' (80).  Hence remarks like the fact that a racehorse is more different from a workhorse than a workhorse is from an ox, when we consider affects and relations.

Affect is 'the capacity that the body has to form specific relations'.  There are multiple affects dispersed around bodies.  They are not controlled by the mind.  This is where the example fits of the tick and its three basic affects.  However, bodies conform relations as 'virtual links' if they possess particular affects.  These relations have to become actual by being connected to bodies, thus they are inseparable from the capacity to be affected [Buchanan says this is a point of agreement between Spinoza and Hume].  In this way too, the material of a body 'is equivalent to its practical abilities' in Spinoza.  Healthy bodies have 'a multiplicity of affects and a correspondingly multitudinous complex of relations'.  [As with all multiplicities] we have to think these out not by trying to find some origin but by thinking '"with AND"'.  This is central to transcendental empiricism, and also shows the importance of Hume to Deleuze's whole project.

It is clear that affect and relations depend on each other and cannot really be discussed in isolation.  However, we can talk about two additional terms, 'health' and 'assemblage', to refer to the quality of a body or its quantity [Buchanan implies that this is linked to Nietzsche's discussion, or at least Deleuze's discussion of Nietzsche, but wants to avoid making Nietzsche too particular  or dominant].  Nietzsche argues that we should see bodies as combinations of qualities and quantities of force.  The quantity involves the relation between the forces, but it is difficult to be concrete about this, especially if 'the body's substances in a constant state of flux'.  The term assemblage helps overcome this problem, especially if we see it as combining both active and passive senses [seen better from the French term agencement], a way of assembling or arranging itself, as well as what results in an arrangement.  This describes what is going on in bodies, hence 'the body is a multiple phenomenon, its unity is that of a multiple phenomenon, a "unity of domination"'(81) [citing Deleuze on Nietzsche].  This is a shifting form of unity, and it depends on qualities.  We can see the affect of qualification by using the term health, meaning here 'the actual measurable capacity to form new relations'(82): suitable relations will help form new compounds in health.  This lies behind D and G and their secular ethics, where open-ended proliferating relations are considered healthy [or joyful].  [Impossibly abstract and idealized, of course]. 

So a healthy assemblage between body and nutrition preserves life, but note that it is not the preservation of life that causes the assemblage.  However, if we're going to do an adequate ethology, we must consider relations like this as parts of the definition of a body [again ludicrous because it would be endless, and, very soon, speculative.  In practice, it would be limited to functional prerequisites?].  Health becomes an achieved fact.  The desire for health 'must be intrinsic to affect' because [classic philosophical argument coming up...  'If it were not, desire would be restored to the charge of the mind and hence the Cartesian split so famously overcome by Spinoza would again be instituted'].  Nor can health be defined as a lack, because once satisfied, the desire would be extinguished [but we know that'll never happen because the notion of health used here is infinite].  Health is therefore a continuing process not an end, 'a lacking, not a lack' (83).  This argument is also used to discuss desire against Freud, of course.  Finally, the body is best understood as a machine, constantly forming new relations with no external desires or ends.

D and G say that everything is a machine, but they of course do not mean humans are turning into automata.  They use the term emphatically not as a metaphor, but as something that harnesses forces, that is always doing something, activating relations, including those between body and food ['the alimentary machine'].  As machines are always linked to other machines, they 'must constantly engage new relations'.  This is how the body has affects [ But some of us have more machines?  More effective or productive machines?  Philosophers most machines of anyone? I suspect there's elitism in here somewhere].

This may be a 'somewhat bleak abstraction', but it is better than the 'stark reductions of psychoanalysis. Exploring the difference helps focus on the difference between etiology and ethology, schizoanalysis and psychoanalysis.  These are not just binary opposites.  Abstraction can be understood as 'a form of decoding', but reduction 'is a form of encoding'(84).  Coding is not used in the usual sense of translation or encryption, since that would assume that some universal information exists somewhere and can be recovered.  This was once thought true of the word of God, but, as Foucault argues, the shift turned from how God encoded his meaning into how man could decode it, and these were seen as not identical: codes are irreducible.  Decoding and encoding are both functions of codes, or in the terms of D and G, 'codes are effectuations'.  The point then becomes to find out how they work, not what inner meaning they conceal.  However, some academic traditions preserve the notion of encoding as 'a wholly mystical process' where some phenomenon is inaccessible, 'not able to be understood for itself' [D&G come close with their virtual/actualsplit?]. 

Psychoanalysis 'is probably the greatest and most extensive secular example of encoding', and it is this process that D and G focus on in criticism.  Thus oedipalization is an encoding process, 'and a priestly one at that'.  To abstract means to break with this process and discover 'new universes of reference' rather than restore 'a Universal referent'[taken from Chaosmosis].  In the case of the Wolfman, for example the point is not to find out what the wolf means, but to discuss how 'wolfing'actually works.  The processes agree that the key is to find 'isolable relations between heterogeneous parts' (85), and thus both can be understood as 'hermeneutic'.  But abstraction heads for complexity not reduction [so complexity is seen as a jolly good thing?  It is the usual claim of philosophy to overcome the idiotic restrictions of  social science.  Again, complexity is either infinite, or is restricted in practice by some undisclosed criterion].  The wolves '"designate an intensity, a band of intensity, a threshhold of intensity on the Wolfman's body without organs"'[citing AO --good chapter in ATP too].  There is a process of becoming a wolf which is not at all symbolic or metaphorical but results from affect.  By insisting that wolves stand for the father, we solve the problem in advance, we have reduced it, and have learned nothing: 'psychoanalysis is legislative not inventive'(86).  Schizoanalysis by contrast involves 'interrogation', 'the actual technique for realizing abstractions', asking what a body can do [how affects work, having abstracted them first?].

 An example from practice at La Borde shows what might be done, where a paranoiac announces that he might become interested in driving, and Guattari sees this as a way of opening  'the locked doors of the psychotic mind outwards to new vistas' [transversals are the key here].  This will return the psychotic to affect, to a social web.  What might look like something trivial can be 'utilized in its naked singularity, as a catalyst'.  The whole thing depends, for Guattari,  in isolating various affects and partial objects and exploring their complex interrelations, which can take the form of '" harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations"'.  The point is to encourage the patient 'to invent a new self', not to achieve some standard stabilization between instinct and culture.  Nor is this a celebration of 'postmodernist "indeterminacy"'(86), because the emphasis is not on the fragmented self [interesting—the self as a multiplicity is present instead, though?] but on '"autopoeisis"',  self invention, 'becoming for itself'.

How can affects be isolated?  Everything turns on becoming 'as an analytic device'.  Becoming refers to 'the intensity of an attribute, and not its characteristics', process, 'wolfing not wolf'(87) [I suspect a bit of circular definition here --'analytic device' means a further exposition?].  For Spinoza, 'intensity is a measure applied to active acts; it applies when the body is the cause of its own affect'.  Thus the hunger of the anorexic is intensive, meaning it is not caused by food or its absence, but operates as 'a pure continuum of the affect...  a plateau of intensity: the BWO in other words'.  We can gauge intensity 'following the same procedures by which the quality of "whiteness" might be established'.  We need to look for an essence.  However, we achieve freedom by intensifying these essences [the old idea of pushing to limits?].  In anorexia, intensive hunger can eliminate extensive demands.  Such intense hunger is 'not determined by the demands of the body', but exists 'now for itself', and can be described as '"hungering" not hunger'[I don't find this terribly helpful, but I think that everything depends on the intensive being the source and origin of everything that's extensive, as argued in Difference and Repetition.  In this sense, the intense is the essence, and pursuing the essential means stepping back from all the obvious extensive actualizations which can then be put in perspective.  What we're left with is the process, without being attached to any actual objects?].  Once we have intensified a particular essence, we risk subsequent limited actualizations, however, 'a becoming other of a specific type'.  This can be a further deformation, a subsequent 'gross delimitation of becoming itself', a state of bliss which is really another kind of passivity, 'of the already become'.  This is 'the inherent danger of all self motivated becoming'[that which is uninformed by Deleuzian philosophy?].

This is why the BWO can display 'profound morbidity', and why it should not be taken as a model for the body in general.  We have to maintain 'healthy becoming'which cannot be predetermined by a form.  Unhealthy becomings tend 'toward the local, where local means fixed'.  The result might be 'a deadly illness', a madness which is '"a stopping of the process"'.  Becoming must not be halted by a fixed becoming-other, but must continue to progress, as in 'the active or joyous...states'.  The BWO is not productive [I always thought it was the source of all productivity, the potential for productivity].  In the active, 'cause and affect are united.  An active body is responsible for its own affects', not dependent on the external stimulus but on internal desire: 'desire in this sense is like Nietzsche's will to power'.  This desire 'is radically intransitive', not focused on specifics.

[A final attempt to sort out these different terms].  If desire is to be utilized by the body, it must be mediated by another device.  The BWO is 'desire itself', but ordinary bodies are not capable of reaching it even though 'we are hooked up to it' (88).  The mediating devices are the desiring machines, which take intransitive desire and make it transitive.  There is a danger of totally internalizing a desiring machine, making it a self sufficient end instead of a mediation.  This produces involution, an end to relations outside itself.  This may offer 'the purest form of intensity, the pure intense stasis of the BWO', but 'it is also death'.  This is the mistake made by masochists or addicts, and this mistake has to be understood. Outward- facing capabilities are abandoned [this is very much based on Chaosmosis!], the capacity for additional affections is replaced by 'an irrevocable hardening'.  [The black hole beckons].  To be active 'one must affirm', not resort to judgements of good and evil, but pursue  'the union of force with what it can do...  Increase [the body's] capacity to be affected'.  The BWO is the limit of capacities and must be pushed further away [but what is the source of the energy for pushing beyond a BWO?].  To seek to be affected increasingly is to develop the force of the body, and masochism or addiction reduces the capacity for affection.  This produces a plateau of intensity, but it is 'reactive, deadly', incapable of making new connections.

Overall, the point is not to turn our bodies into BWOs, but rather to 'grapple with the BWO as its conduit to the real'[I still think this confuses particular types of BWO with the notion of the egg or spatium—but who am I?]

Note 7 reminds us that the term assemblage is used instead of designing machine in the later work and 'as such, it similarly substantivizes "multiplicity"'(89)—but it is convenient for Buchanan and D and G to preserve the notion of machinic functioning of assemblages?  The machine can also stand for the diagram, as a virtual machine?

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