Relationships and the Real:
Thoughts on Desiring-Production as Social Production

… the real object that desire lacks is related to an extrinsic natural or social production, whereas desire intrinsically produces an imaginary object that functions as a double of reality, as though there were a “dreamed-of object behind every real object,” or a mental production behind all real productions.

One of the first tasks that Deleuze and Guattari set themselves in Anti-Oedipus is to flesh out the psychoanalytic conception of desire. At “the very lowest level of interpretation”, they argue, desire is constituted by a lack. Production is set opposite acquisition. We produce as a means towards a consumptive end. This seems intuitive. I want something, I work towards its acquisition, producing the circumstances of its emergence; the object is produced, I acquire it, I am content. That is, until I come to realise I lack something else. But this “until”, this “and then” or “and so”, complicates the linear development and dialectic actualisation of desire and its object. Though production and consumption may appear to be a straight line, the straight line, they note elsewhere, is its own kind of pernicious labyrinth. Set against the ultimately enclosed complexity of a hedge maze, it can be far harder to say where a straight line begins and ends.

This “conjunctive synthesis”, in itself, constitutes the “production of consumption”. Under capitalism, we become all too aware that desire is never truly and fully resolved. There is always more to desire, because production and consumption, in this context, are not a straight-forward dialectical process. As Deleuze and Guattari write, within the conjunctive relationship between production and consumption, where the product cannot be fully separated from the process of its own production, “the pure ‘thisness’ of the object produced is carried over into a new act of producing.” What is desired and acquired is never simply left to one side but produces new potentials of multiplicity, arrangement and rearrangement, bricolage. This producing-product is, as a result, “multiple and at the same time limited”, constituted by “the ability to rearrange fragments continually in new and different patterns and configurations”. To find oneself in a milieu overrides the possibility of understanding that 1+1=2. We find ourselves before the straight-line labyrinth of 1+1+1+1+1+1… Postmodernism, as the cultural logic of late capitalism, makes an embarrassment of this otherwise open-ended desiring-production, where what is combined is not simply the “1” as a single unit of something or other, but a 1 that is always the same 1, if only represented superficially through different typefaces. (The unending productive consumption of Marvel movies, etc.)

For a subject in the midst of social relations, either form of conjunctive synthesis can be a difficult thing to withstand. It is for good reason that Deleuze and Guattari model their seemingly positive alternative on the schizophrenic, who may be far more attuned to the materialist machinations of the world at large, beyond capitalism’s restricted purview, but who nonetheless struggles and suffers to belong within the same purview of a hegemonic social order. But it is not an experience unavailable to us in the here and now. “The satisfaction the handyman experiences when he plugs something into an electric socket or diverts streams of water”, Deleuze and Guattari suggest, by way of a notably commonplace example, “can scarcely be explained in terms of ‘playing mommy and daddy'”.

This is the “rule of continually producing production”. The institutional bounds of the reproductive family disrupt this process through orbital sets of relation. The nuclear family, after all, is a configuration that revolves around a given nucleus: the 1+1=2. Other individuals or grouped relations can form bonds and relationships with the reproductive 2, but it is always the 1+1=2 that constitutes an ideological core around which all else revolves. As we move through a heteronormative world, what becomes apparent is the way that this drive to pair up becomes detrimental to a wider social order. Given our current discursive climate, it is necessary to say that this is not some overwrought argument in favour of polyamory. Each to their own, of course, but on a more general level, it is necessary to remain vigilant before the institutional pressure exerted by the family and its inchoate forms of prefiguration, in which the restrictive relationship of the 1+1=2 tends more towards privation rather than further socialisation, not only of a given romantic pairing but the individual as such, constituted by an innate potential for so many more kinds of synthesis.

As I continue to settle into Newcastle, I feel a strange pull towards a sense of belonging I’ve seldom gotten on well with. Finding myself embedded in a whole new set of social relations, at first the joy experienced was euphoric. A new friend made every day; an ever-expanding support network of emotionally available people. But as the period of adjustment begins to settle into a particular configuration, leaning into certain relationships becomes an anxious relation. Validation and comfort is sought in specific places and the ability to self-soothe and feel ground as an individual begins to wane. We call it FOMO, but it goes much deeper — the fear of missing out on what, exactly? Not just fun, but connection. The more friends I have the opportunity to see, the lonelier I find myself feeling when they’re not around.

In the pub the other day, people were talking about the pop-psychological traits of being first or second born. “What about you, Matt? Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “I’m a lone adoptee”, I reply without thinking. “It’s a special category.” An only child without the same antisocial tendencies. In truth, I’m exceptionally social. There’s nothing I enjoy more. But it covers over a secret sadness; a more foundational sense of disconnection. The metaphor routinely returned to is that of a stray dog — perhaps too trusting, despite abuse and discomfort, where a social desiring-production is inexhaustible in being born of lack, but which finds itself colliding with a certain vulnerability that desiring-production necessitates, a certain will-to-rupture. I find myself leaning into and hoping to produce a sense of sociality that those with bigger and/or more stable families may take wholly for granted, leaning all too readily into the production of a certain restrictive social relation that has never actually felt safe to me.

For me at least, the source of this anxiety is familiar, if long since overcome. I feel like a teenager again, all too aware of the insufficiency of a given familial relation, actively seeking new ones. That this sense of social productive, actively engaged with, might resolve into a singular product is a scary thing. The end of social production, the pressure of which is felt and affirmed all around me, is both intensely desired and feared. It is a double-edged sword. Vulnerability, it seems, is endearing, even attractive. A queer friendship seems to navigate this desire with ease. But the shadow of adoption is long and dark. I feel on the outside at all times, even as I am beckoned inwards. An emotional intelligence is sought out as a nice thing to be around. But the vulnerability that this requires, the deprivatisation of desire as a form of social production, eventually starts to feel self-destructive.

Perhaps this is the reason I have felt a desire to write publicly today for the first time in weeks. Even though I take little real comfort from the parasociality of blogging these days. I also started smoking again — properly, at least. No longer simply a social stimulant or writing aid, a treat interrupted by long stints of abstinence, the tiny addictive machine of a writer’s nicotine dependency becomes a stable moment of reprieve where the mind can focus on an oral fixation, as the hands roll cigarette after cigarette and every feeling expunged returns to the body with each intake of cancerous breath. Blogging has long felt like having a cigarette in this regard, whether I am smoking through it or not: the acquisition of a brief moment of composure amid the tumult of the social, a way to write out a feeling and affirm a brief moment of grounding, that performatively travels far out into the world but which is nonetheless produced in the discomfort of intellectual isolation.

For my sins, I am smoking a lot right now, if only because I feel I need lots of these moments to sit and unwind. Against the social euphoria of new connections is the deep-seated and somewhat irrational desire for stable consummation, which is nonetheless distrusted. That smoking is a (somewhat) socially accepted form of self-harm is not to be disregarded here. I’m reminded of James Wilt’s forthcoming book, Drinking Up The Revolution. Our social lubricants, considered within their full materialist context, do us so much harm, despite the fact we (on the left especially) so often fetishise them for the other worlds they provide us glimpses of. Our complicity is deep-rooted; our utopias woefully contained within broader fascistic processes. This is more readily addressed when considering the productive consumption of alcohol. What about the social production that surrounds and runs implicitly through it?

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