Jay Cantor (review date 24-31 December 1977)
SOURCE: A review of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in New Republic, Vol. 177, Nos. 26 & 27, December 24-31, 1977, pp. 36-37.
[In the following unfavorable review of Anti-Oedipus, Cantor asserts that the book lacks concreteness and is “an extraordinary failure.”]
There is—by definition—no tradition that can include utopian speculations; there are only works. And some of the works are famous: Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, N. O. Brown's Love's Body, R. D. Laing's The Politics of Experience were popular this last decade (a time so unsure of its own traditions as to have a profound taste for such things). But despite their popularity these works appear to take place on the margin, to speak to rather than from the traditional disciplines. Laing, an anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist, left the profession to study meditation in Ceylon. Marcuse was denounced as “petit bourgeois” by every established Communist party. Brown, according to Harold Bloom, is a false prophet of the return of the repressed. (The repressed Bloom assures us—or condemns us—never returns. There are only more or less graceful shoulderings of our burden of heritage and guilt. The Oedipal drama is the way that the authentic tradition is constructed.)
This sense of being excluded from the tradition is to everyone's taste. We've made it a sign of authenticity of radical insights that they must be almost outside conventional discourse. The prophet should leave the encampment for the visions of the desert (the playwright should go off-off Broadway). The saving word comes from outside us. It must alienate again the civilization that is alien to us. It should refuse to make sense. (Anti-Oedipus certainly does that an annoying amount of the time.) And the reader of such speculations should, as the Mad Hatter advises Alice, by ready to believe six impossible things before breakfast.
The schizophrenic (often a somewhat imaginary creation), the one who refuses our syntax, our grammar of feeling, the boundaries we live by and within, is, here, the hero. Artaud and Nietzsche (“I am every name in history,” he wrote, after going mad) are the exemplary figures, as they are for Deleuze and Guattari, and not those who have accomplished a graceful repression, who have resolved Oedipus.
We could, of course, assimilate this whole business to the Oedipal drama: outlaws versus establishment, anti-psychiatry versus psychiatry, palefaces versus redskins, can all be seen as masks of fathers versus sons, attempts to scandalize Dad. But this, as Deleuze and Guattari show, is a way of making things easy on ourselves, of not having to listen to this difficult speech. And it is difficult. The radical word uses its cunning—by clowning, by extravagance, by poetry—to repel assimilation into the established order (or “co-optation” as it used to be called).
This cunning—on the part of the authors and of the “schizorevolutionaries” that they praise—is part of the drama of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. As in the “utopian” works I mentioned—and in many speculations since Freud—the unconscious is here the un-co-optable proletariat, outside the tradition, beyond culture, betrayed by civilization. Anti-Oedipus more than any other intersection of Marx and Freud, renders palpable the metaphor of the unconscious as a worker, and does it in a brilliant, appropriately nutty way. (In Marcuse, by contrast, the question of work is by-passed. The millenium arrives when the machines have taken over human labor. The revolution is a pastoral.) For Deleuze and Guattari the unconscious is not an expressive Freudian theater director, putting on that disguised family drama we call history. The unconscious is a factory. It consists of little machines (“desiring machines”), devices made up of circuits that connect “partial objects” (the mother's breast, an old boot, a numinous broken stone) and “flows” (flows of milk, flows of saliva, flows of sunlight), connects them all up into Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. These contraptions include the organs of our bodies. (The mouth “cuts” the flow of milk, or sucks on the stone, and the stone must then be hidden in the boot.) Desire is not desire for...
(The entire section is 1792 words.)