Monday, April 23, 2007

Desire and Creativity as Ideology, Part I

In a recent post, Orla made this comment,

“‘Desiring one’s own repression’ presupposes autonomy and agency. And the masses had neither. Kant understood that.”

I’ve been pondering this statement for a few days, questioning what use can be made of it.

First of all, I think it is necessary to specify which concepts within “desiring one’s own repression” presuppose autonomy and agency.

In this phrase, it is “desire” which presupposes autonomy and agency, not “repression.” We assume, I think, that “repression” acts against autonomy and agency – and that it takes place automatically, not autonomously. If the concept of repression presupposes autonomy and agency, it does so indirectly and negatively.

Orla’s statement is still correct under this stipulation, however, because grammatically in the phrase, “desiring one’s own repression,” desiring is used as an active verb, and repression is used as a noun, the object that the verb acts on – autonomy and agency are qualities of actions, behaviors, not objects. But it is somewhat curious, when you begin to think of what must be happening as process in “ desiring one’s own repression,” that one action ( desiring) is allowed to be conceived as an action, while the other action ( repressing), is grammatically insinuated to conception as an object (of desire.) Part of what interests me here is the schizogenic nature of the process of “desiring one’s own repression,” the self-reflective splitting action of that – which we lose when we express the process in terms of what “the self” does “to itself” as in one sense “ conscious” and active ( the desiring), and in another sense already reified, “unconscious,” – objectified, ( the repression.)

We take the phrase “ desiring one’s own repression” to mean that one uses one’s autonomy and agency to act in a way which causes the loss or abridgment of one’s own autonomy and agency.

Desiring is active and willed, but repression is something undergone.

Repression is something forced upon one’s psyche, for example through trauma.

However, neither of these is necessarily the case. I have often felt forced to desire, against my will… the desire has been something I’ve fought against – I am not active in the desire, I am carried along by it, it is traumatic. The desire I feel may have been produced within me by some calculation of an advertiser or seducer… it is not active, it is not willed by me as a subject. The act of repression, on the other hand, may have in one scathing moment blazed as a conscious response to some situation I’ve found myself in – I might be fully aware, active, and willing that I dismiss, from then on, some troubling interpretation of events before me – I don’t want to “deal with them”, and I won’t.

Therefore, it is not really so clear in just what sense “desiring one’s own repression” presupposes autonomy and agency, or that it does; and it’s not clear that my stipulation that only “desiring” presupposes autonomy and agency, is true.

If I start allowing myself to strip away the conscious, active and willing aspects of “ desire” and at the same time give these their fair share in my concept of “ repression”, I come perilously close to thinking that repression IS desire, desire IS repression. I don’t want that conclusion, but it does need to be seriously considered…It could be compelling.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Patching Up The Broken Umbrella And Hugging The Trees: Deleuze's Wanderings In The Forest

In a passage in What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari (admiringly) quote D. H. Lawrence,

In a violently poetic text, Lawrence describes what produces poetry: People are constantly putting up an umbrella that shelters them and on the underside of which they draw a firmament and write their conventions and opinions. But poets, artists, make a slit in the umbrella, they tear open the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent – Wordsworth’s spring or Cézanne’s apple, the silhouettes of Macbeth and Ahab. The come the crowd of imitators who repair the umbrella with something vaguely resembling the vision, and the crowds of commentators who patch over the rent with opinions: communication. (p. 203f)

This is also a definition of Deleuze’s own philosophy of becoming, even if he is always careful in his traditional and bourgeois categorizations to adhere to the triad of Art, Science and Philosophy.

As he writes (in op. cit.) philosophy is likewise in labor,

Philosophy (thus) lives in a permanent crisis. The plane takes effect through shocks, concepts proceed in bursts, and personae by spasms. The relationship among the three instances is problematic by nature (p. 82)

In his celebration of rhizomatic thought, concept creation, vitalistic and constructivist thinking, the generative chaos on the plane of immanence, and life-affirming expansion he is actually hiding under the umbrella of traditionalist Western philosophical binary thought. He is, in other words, hugging the tree of 'arborescent' thinking that he so opposes.

Arbolic thought is said to be linear, hierarchic, sedentary, and full of segmentation and striation. Arbolic thought is State philosophy. It is the force behind the major sciences. Arbolic thought is represented by the tree-like structure of genealogy, branches that continue to subdivide into smaller and lesser categories. Arbolic thought is vertical and stiff.

Deleuze’s own philosophy is a virtual rain forest of binary thinking. There are trees everywhere:

Different planes, strata, virtual / real, chaos / order, molar / molecular, deterritorialization / dedeterritorialization, lines of flight (presupposing enslavement), micro / macropolitics, plateaus (presupposing valleys), concepts / opinions, difference (presupposing sameness), control society (presupposing free ditto), segmentation (presupposing space), multiplicities (presupposing oneness), identity (presupposing individuation) etc.

Is Deleuze really “desiring his own suppression”?

(more to come)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Affirming Desire

Navigating between Adorno-resque misanthropy and Deleuzian affirming concept creation is a tightrope. Let’s give the latter a chance.

“There are two basic forms of desiring-production: schizophrenia, the free form of desire promoted half-heartedly by capitalism and wholeheartedly by schizoanalysis. And paranoia, the fixed form of desire subjected to socially-authorized belief (in God, the father, the boss, the teacher, the leader).

There are various modes of social-production, each of which represses desiring-production. Capitalism is the most promising, because it is at least ambivalent. It actively fosters both forms of desiring-productions. Capitalism frees desiring-production from capture and repression by codes and representation.” (from Eugene Holland in The Deleuze Dictionary)

Of the two: schizophrenia or paranoia, which is the most life-affirming?

We may not like it. We may even want a different human species. But we are stuck with what we have.

Let’s not descend into the dungeon. Let’s find a way out. And let's be aware that " interpretation " belongs to the suppressive mental habits of ontological thinking that we should try to escape in order to dream up various unexpected ways of living.

Desire Desire Everywhere, and not a Drop to...Desire

Without wavering, I have sided with those who believe the entire social field to be always already invested by desire-- that desire is always already everywhere articulating and activating social and cultural activity—that, as Deleuze and Guattari have put it, “ Social production is desiring production under determinate conditions.”

However, as I survey social production from my vantage point as a nondescript social atom, bobbing and swaying hither and yon on an ocean of anonymity, indeterminacy, and creative impotence – I see little in social production THAT I ACTUALLY DESIRE. I don't desire what I see articulated and activated in social and cultural production. Instead, I feel uneasy and anxious, even a sense of revulsion – at what is offered up for enjoyment and pleasure. (Never mind trying to explain what’s offered up as necessity or as ‘medicine’ – for my own good, whether I like it or not.)

I am at an impasse of sorts: I think that I can explain social production as desiring production, but in fact, I do not recognize where desire actually fits into social production. I also come to question the honesty and integrity of those who claim they do.

This being so, I can lend credence to the idea that people do “desire their own repression.” This would explain what I see. Desire animates the social field, but what is produced within the social field,(including the social field itself,) is anything but desirable. It's our own repression.

Monday, April 16, 2007


As you write in your uplifting post, Yusef,

I am trying to delineate (or actually create) a second concept within the first concept (of repression ) so that for a time we could speak of negative repression ( as restraint) and positive repression (creativity, or a psycho-technic of creativity which we could call positive repression.) In other words, I want to see to what extent, if any, I can affirm repression as a power to create…. Myself, my subjectivation, or better: how we can create our subjectivation.

Yes, affirming life, creating concepts, riding the crest, that's the aim of philosophy. Let's ride the Deleuzian waves of fluidity, delve onto the immanence of organic life, and roll with the punches of static blows.

The paradigm is shifting. In Deleuze’s “Pourparlez 1973-1990” he describes his own (often failed) attempts at creating and treating text as a STREAM, and not as a code.

In other words: reading and creating are exercises in intensities. As he writes in “Spokesmen”, taking his analogy from the world of sports (Olympian and Greek) which was characterized by effort and resistance from a fixed point, as in running, discus and javelin throwing, and shot putting, the new forms of sports today like surfing, paragliding and windsurfing are about riding on an already existing wave.

Philosophy now is how to be incorporated into the movement which is performed by a wave or an ascending stream of air – whereby you “enter” a movement rather than being the starting point of an effort.

However, philosophy still returns to the “fixed” values and to the concept of the intellectual as the guardian of eternal values. As soon as philosophy finds itself in a vacant period it takes refuge in the reflection “on” something like the eternal or the historical. If it can not create movement or ride it, philosophy starts impotently reflecting.

Let's not fall into that trap.

How we can create our subjectivation? you ask.

Do we need subjectivation?

Why not submerge ourselves?

Or am I flirting with the enemy that I can't live without?

Repression as Restraint

Whether this turns out to be a warrantable procedure or not, I want to strip away all ambiguity from the concept of repression and treat repression as if it was synonymous with restraint. I believe that the idea of restraint has far less uncertainty as to its meaning and role as a concept. I will be using it in this sense, which I have taken from the online Wiktionary: control, or caution, or reserve; or in this sense, which I have taken from loss or abridgment of freedom. I am not saying that these are the best or only ways to use the word restraint; I am only saying that these are the ways I will be using the word, in order to serve a specific (and perhaps idiosyncratic) purpose of meaning I have in mind.

I will be using the word restraint in a very limited (restrained?) way here, but what is even more important for me to explain is that I will be using the word as if its meaning were always negative. In other words, I will be using the word restraint as if it was always something which would be hurtful and undesirable, and unwanted. One would never wish for or agree to a loss or abridgement of one’s own freedom, for example. To say that “one desired one’s own restraint” would under all circumstances be saying something contradictory or paradoxical, on the order of saying something such as, “ I desire only what I do not desire.” Whatever a statement like that expresses, it has to be treated as meaningless from the standpoint of any action a human might really be able to accomplish.

Before I go any further, however, I want to make it very clear that I understand it is not at all obvious that the concept of restraint is entirely or unambiguously negative in the manner I am attempting to cast. In fact, it is very frequently used in a manner suggesting that it is the basis for most, or even all, ethical conduct… In other words, the concept of restraint is often used as if it were the basis for the very highest and most positive kinds of human activity. For example, I might tell a friend, “I admired your self restraint in dealing with that asshole-- I would have smacked him.” Or, “I admired your restraint with the booze that night… I drank so much I had a hangover for two weeks.” There are any number of examples of this nature where restraint is something very positive and helpful and leads, or seems to lead, to very positive outcomes. As we desire to have positive outcomes, we would desire that we have restraint. Please pardon me as I continue forward as if these numerous examples are not there – as I will be arguing that these examples require reexamination and reinterpretation, this move will not be as far-fetched as it now seems.

Orla posted his “Goodbye to Repression, Hello to Creation” commentary while I was thinking about writing this further elaboration on the meaning of repression. I agree with everything Orla has said, and I applaud his saying of it. In contradistinction to Orla, or perhaps complementary to him, I want to keep open the question of to just what extent repression is not a technique of creation. In this post, I am trying to delineate (or actually create ) a second concept within the first concept ( of repression ) so that for a time we could speak of negative repression ( as restraint) and positive repression ( creativity, or a psycho-technic of creativity which we could call positive repression.) In other words, I want to see to what extent, if any, I can affirm repression as a power to create…. Myself, my subjectivation, or better: how we can create our subjectivation.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Goodbye To Repression - Hello To Creation

(The Gallic Deleuze in pensive, but - always- talkative mode.
Notice the fingernails that he never cut - are they singularities?)

Yusef, we are locked in the prison of “desiring one’s own repression” producing our own repression of the potentialities of flight lines and the creation of not only “escape concepts”, but liberating ones. We need to “emerge from our self-incurred immaturity” (thanks Kant).

Deleuzian chaotic flows of desire and the connection with other desiring machines will break down the walls and bars of the jail house. But first we must face our captors.

On the four walls of the prison are scribbled the names of Descartes, Freud, Marx, and Reich.

Descartes fooled us into believing that the “I” is a separate, intellectual entity. A cogito has a will to desire something, in this case repression.

Freud manipulated us into accepting unconscious motives. One is not his own master, but is lead to desire one’s own repression by the mysterious forces of the id, or by the internalized societal mores and obligations of the super-ego.

Marx taught us the reification of man as a result of the exploitation by the owners of capital. We came to “desire our own suppression” as the proletariat.

Reich localized our inner fascism and resulting masochism and diagnosed us as objects of suppression from which only the life force of orgasm could free us.

Only Deleuze - with a little help from Nietzsche - can liberate us.

In Anti-Oedipus D&G undertake an analysis of desire that is distinctly political. According to them, desire may fix on one of two alternatives. It may affirm itself, or it may choose power as its centre and the establishment of order as its purpose.

The failure of the imminent revolution in France in 1968 lies behind their analysis. The proletariat had failed to fulfil its historic role as predicted by Marx. Instead of claiming the freedom of the anarchic moment, people chose to re-establish the repressive order that had existed before. They “desired their own suppression”.

D&G found their answer in Nietzsche's Master-Slave relationship, and their entire analysis is strongly rooted in Nietzschean thought.

“Desiring one’s own repression” is the ressentiment of the slave mentality.

The "productive desire" of D&G’s analysis is, in fact, another form of Nietzsche's will-to-power.

The will-to-power of productive desire is balanced by a reactive desire for repression, the slave mentality. The controllers (priests, gurus, mystifiers of all sorts) turn the active strength of productive desire against itself and create the illness of guilt which accompanies any active expression of the will.

So, we are free – FREE at last – from the torment of “desiring one’s own repression”.

Power is not the repression of desire, but the EXPANSION of desire.

Desire opens us up to a new possible world…


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Defending Kant - Against DeKantstruction

As a response to the stimulating post Idealism-Repression: Desire Idealism? it might be helpful to construct rather than deKantstruct “An Answer to the Question: “What Is Enlightenment?”.

Kant is clearly advancing a political agenda, formulating a manifesto, almost in the shape of a speech-act, to actually WILL the spread of freedom into existence. He is addressing the State, the monarch, the power apparatus while simultaneously hedging his bets as a crown-appointed professor.

He is accusing the guardians, meaning the representatives of power, the priests, the administrators, the scholars, the officers for their lack of courage, rather than the masses, the peasants, the common man. The ruling class are the cowards, “the few” rather than “the many”. In other words, those who could “use their own understanding” don’t, and those who cannot naturally don’t.

It is difficult for each separate individual to work his way out of the immaturity which has become almost second nature to him. He has even grown fond of it and is really incapable for the time being of using his own understanding, because he was never allowed to make the attempt.

Pedantic footnote: NB: “incapable” rather than “unable”. And “for the time being”.

An absolute monarchy as in Kant’s Prussia with a probable 95% illiteracy rate gave only the very few any “Enlightenment” prospects, as Kant knew, Thus a public can only achieve enlightenment slowly.

Only freedom (of expression – and education) will promote change. Here Kant, the political activist, speaks truth to power,

For enlightenment of this kind, all that is needed is freedom. And the freedom in question is the most innocuous form of all: The freedom to make public use of one's reason in all matters. But I hear on all sides the cry: Don't argue!

If we are equating “self-incurred tutelage” with “desiring one’s own repression” we are not doing justice to Kant’s essay, but rather blurring and confusing the lines between two domains: the political and the psychological.

When Kant writes, Immaturity is the inability to use one's own understanding without the guidance of another. the original German word for “inability” is “Unvermögen” which translates more precisely into “powerlessness”.

“Desiring one’s own repression” presupposes autonomy and agency. And the masses had neither. Kant understood that.

If it is now asked whether we at present live in an enlightened age, the answer is: No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment. As things are at present, we still have a long way to go before men as a whole can be in a position (or can ever be put into a position) of using their own understanding confidently and well in religious matters, without outside guidance. But we do have distinct indications that the way is now being cleared for them to work freely in this direction, and that the obstacles to universal enlightenment, to man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity, are gradually becoming fewer. In this respect our age is the age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick.

More to come.

The “Repression” Part of “Desiring One’s Own Repression”

In order to speak responsibly of “desiring one’s own repression,” it is necessary to speak responsibly and accurately of repression. But even this apparently more limited task I find to be difficult – I am uncomfortable with the concept of repression… Entangled as it is in a dense network of epistemological and ethical snarls, I doubt I use the term correctly… Does anyone? I worry that we use the concept of repression, ( and yes, we do use the concept of repression—we use it very, very frequently – the word is extremely popular – it may even be that the concept of repression is definitive of modernity-- certainly it is one of modernity’s most privileged concepts, ) because it helps us avoid confronting these very snarls. It’s still possible, I think, that in investigating the epistemological and ethical snarls accompanying “repression”, we could discover that we’re better off without it…. Maybe this is the conclusion of Foucault – I’m not sure.

On the one hand, repression is considered a normal, natural, and even necessary process. It is a part of the process by which the infant makes sense of the world, distinguishes self from other, learns to distinguish pleasant and good from bad and harmful, and copes with these distinctions. In these senses, it would be entirely appropriate and unproblematical that there would be a “desiring of one’s own repression,” because in these senses, repression is what helps a normal individual to survive and thrive in the world. It bothers me, though, that when we speak of “repression” we are almost never thinking of it in this way – we are thinking of it as something harmful and abnormal. When Reich formulated the phrase of “desiring one’s own repression,” he was only thinking of repression in the sense of something bad, harmful.

Somehow the normal, primary repression is thought under certain circumstances to become abnormal, pathological … exaggerated beyond what is necessary for coping with the world and developing in it. Here, everything hinges on being able to know when normal becomes abnormal… Everything hinges on THEORIZING this difference, that is.

I think it is important to emphasize that at the level of the THEORY of repression we cannot mix the actions of repression with other things we know about the brain and the nervous system – we are excluding from consideration things we know ( or think we know,) about brain anatomy, physiology, chemistry, pathology, and ‘cognitive’ science. When we are working within the theory of repression, we are attributing abnormality to the functioning of repression. This seems obsolete, doesn’t it?

Even accepting that we can or could know when normal repression had exceeded some boundary to become abnormal repression, would we ever think that this had happened because one desired for it to happen? Would one choose that one’s repression become excessive to the point of harm? How?

Part of what’s odd about thinking of “desiring one’s own repression” as a formulation for explaining fascism, the fascist character structure, and other related phenomena, is that there seems to be a conflation of conscious and unconscious processes going on. It only makes sense, I think, to say that one is “desiring one’s own repression” if one is conscious of one’s own desire, but if so, can we still speak of this in terms of repression, which, in its pathological form is not at all part of a patient’s conscious awareness, and which must be brought to a patient’s conscious awareness as the key part of the psychotherapy?

Concepts related to repression and “the desiring of repression,” such as the “secondary drives,” bug the heck out of me. The drive is considered secondary because it is socially conditioned. But if it is socially conditioned, why is it appropriate to call it a drive? (The use of the concept of “drive” indicates, I think, a force of nature…In other words, that which is not socially conditioned.)

These mixings and at the same time radical separations which are needed to actuate the concept of repression can’t be right… They are misleading, at the very least.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Idealism-Repression: Desire Idealism?

Due to Orla’s innovation of equating “self-incurred tutelage” with “desiring one’s own repression”, we are now able to ask what Enlightenment is while simultaneously continuing on with our project of learning how to speak accurately and responsibly of “desiring one’s own repression.” This seems remarkable and uncanny to me: I had never believed that these two questions were at all related. I am excited, because I think that combining the inquiries in this way creates a new kind of articulating surface or fold which may allow me to work toward another accomplishment: to problematize the present.

I have tried to insist, as more or less a methodological principle, that we not allow ourselves to become FOR or AGAINST the Enlightenment, nor to be neutral. However, it does seem as if I am establishing myself as AGAINST the Enlightenment, in spite of myself. If so, I will recant. However, what I am really struggling against is a certain tendency to see the Enlightenment, and the great Enlightenment actors, such as Immanuel Kant, as innocent. This sense of innocence, which may be in part a nostalgia for the past, or perhaps a gratitude to the past which has become uncritical, is a factor in what makes the present appear unproblematizable – by conferring an acceptance and authority on to inherited Enlightenment ideas which they in no way deserve.

In one of the earliest and to me one of the most important exchanges here at the Enlightenment Underground, Carl and Orla discussed the way that the concept of agency—and even effective political action-- becomes unthinkable in Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault.

Orla said,

“On an intellectual level I get this, as well as his [Deleuze’s] idea of ‘immanence’ as the pure flow of life and perception without any distinct perceiver.

But I find it hard on a personal level to accept this way of thinking. Wouldn't this mean the impossibility of the individual as an active agent? ”

A collateral, but I believe important advantage to linking “self-incurred tutelage” with “ desiring one’s own repression” is that it will allow me to show how Deleuze’s thought of agency is not impossible – merely different. It comes to seem impossible only when we can’t escape from using Kant’s concepts of agency and autonomy – when we use these concepts as reference points, or standards, by which we coordinate and evaluate other thinking. Riddled as Kant’s concepts are with ambiguity, hypocrisy, ersatz morality and the rest, we could, rather than calling impossible Deleuze’s individual as active agent, be asking something like, “ Don’t the Kantian discrepancies between the transcendental and empirical self render the Kantian self as active agent into an impossibility? Doesn’t ‘pure reason’ render the human being into a thing, and where’s the ‘autonomy’ in that?” Accepting the Kantian political ideas as established, makes thinking the Deleuzian ideas seem impossible or undesirable.

If we are relying on Kantian conceptions of it, we have no basis for thinking that we’ve got an effective idea of the individual, especially not one considered as an active agent. If we think we do, and declare alternative conceptions as blurring that, we are doubly deceived.

Adorno and Horkheimer had this to say,

“As solid citizens, philosophers ally themselves in practice with the powers they condemn in theory. The theories are logical and hard while the moral philosophies are propagandistic and sentimental, even when rigorous in tone, or else the moral philosophies are acts of violence performed in the awareness that morality is nondeductible, like Kant’s recourse to treating moral forces as facts. His attempt to derive the duty of mutual respect from a law of reason, although more cautious than any other such undertaking in Western philosophy, has no support within the Critique. It is the usual endeavor of Bourgeois thought to ground the respect without which civilization cannot exist on something other than material interest—an attempt more sublime and paradoxical than any that went before, but just as ephemeral.” – Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, page 67.

To attempt to ground the respect without which civilization cannot exist on something other than material interest seems innocent enough . Can the Kantian project be deemed a bad thing, deserving of the harsh condemnation given it by Horkheimer and Adorno, as an “act of violence”?

If we embrace the Kantian project , do we or do we not embrace an act of violence against ourselves? If the Kantian project is an "act of violence" and we embrace this "act of violence", do we desire our own repression in this way?