Sex and Subjective Instability

If it was not already obvious, I have started re-reading Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus in the run-up to my PhD, which I’m starting in October. Given my topic is the figure of the orphan in psychoanalysis and philosophy, I am taking Anti-Oedipus as my starting point, and whilst the PhD will no doubt be a relatively straight-laced research project, I already know I want to transform it afterwards into something more personal. The entire impetus behind this project, after all, is a kind of therapeutic function. (Whether that’s a terrible idea or not — and I suspect it might be, as far as my mental health is concerned — we’ll soon find out.)

Yesterday, I wrote about Deleuze and Guattari’s re-conception of desire in the book’s opening chapter on “The Desiring-Machines”, and could not help but begin to apply it to a lot of what I’m trying to work through at the moment, in therapy and life more generally. I have felt an unfortunate tendency to lean into a certain new conception of myself. On the one hand, this is positive and brings so much of their book directly to the fore, as I feel myself actively affirming “the nuptial celebration of a new alliance, a new birth, a radiant ecstasy, as though the eroticism of the machine liberated other unlimited forces.” But against this arises the unfortunate desire to compound and concretise that new sense of self all too readily. A “non-fascist life” is a surprisingly difficult think to live.

I’ve been discussing a certain runaway desire of a “rush to understand” — to understand what certain relations (and relationships) mean or represent; to sketch, far too quickly, the product of a particular aspect of social production, newly entered into; a rush to know, to like, to love. It’s euphoric, but with that comes a strange tendency to get to the end of something, to curtail the flux of getting comfortable with someone new. But an anxiety arises from this too, one which Deleuze and Guattari hold tangentially in their sights. In their abstracted terms, they talk about desire as a “set of passive syntheses that engineer partial objects, flows, and bodies, and that function as units of production.” The ultimate end of this process, however, despite the rush to understand, is surely unconscious. “The real is the end product, the result of the passive syntheses of desire as autoproduction of the unconscious.” When desire makes itself an object to be held and overtly described, it becomes inert, trapping, detrimental to other processes. The anxiety of social production, then, comes from the desire to know the unknowable — that is, the unknowable as the real, beyond all idealistic anticipations and conceptions. I feel I understand this intuitively, at least right now — I am tired all the time, struck by an awareness that what I feel so intensely during the day can only really be resolved through the unconscious machinations of sleep. But letting go of a certain “active” (that is, conscious) production is hard. The desire to produce a concrete and conscious knowledge becomes elusive and self-defeating.

The rush of social production is at its height when opening oneself utterly to the other. But this can also be an intensely unhealthy and even exploitative position to find oneself in. The feeling of being a subject in excitable flux comes up against its own desires to give form to an “object” (person, relation, event) before oneself. (Photography be damned.) As I do my best to steer clear of this, it becomes all the more apparent in other people. There are men — and it is often men — in my social circle who struggle with a certain social indeterminacy and hope to pin everything down. But here again, Deleuze and Guattari confirm what seems so elusive to the self caught up in the fraught vulnerability of social relations. To project what we desire onto others, thought of as social objects, is a kind of violence — whether explicitly or implicitly. In truth, as they write, it is “the subject that is missing in desire,” rather than any external object, or rather it is “desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression… Hence the product is something removed or deducted from the process of producing: between the act of producing and the product, something becomes detached, thus giving the vagabond, nomad subject a residuum.” A recent conversation about bad sex comes to mind, where the self, in trying to determinately affirm its own participation in intercourse, occludes the other in a detached fantasy, and as a result all tenderness is lost.

Dating advice from Deleuze and Guattari? There may be nothing more insufferable to draw from this book; nothing more pathetically “theory bro”. But it is intriguing to feel the stakes of their project in that most intimate and vulnerable of social relations, where a recently acquired and relatively nomadic embrace of post-Covid, newly single sociality struggles against a desire for concentration and privation, which does begin to feel immediately like the repression of a broader tendency to know, like and love a web of people and neighbours. It is the curtailing of a psychic reality into a negatively familiar and restricted form, which is not negative in and of itself, but only in the ways it can deny you a far more liberatory reality if you let it. “As Marx notes, what exists in fact is not lack, but passion, as a ‘natural and sensuous object.'” To be passionate about people needn’t be curtailed and applied to limited circumstances. Indeed, it mustn’t be. We do not need those kinds of relationship, but rather desire them as the distillation of our passion. Distillation needn’t be a form of restriction. Let your cup runeth over.

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