THE text, the seminal text, written about our society, industrial and digital society, modern society, especially American society, in the 20th century, is not the Postmodern Condition. It is not Dialectic of Enlightenment. It is not even One Dimensional Man, or Empire by Antonio Negri. The seminal text, the Das Kapital of the 20th century, is not Civilization and its Discontents. That is THE text to be opposed. It is Capitalism and Schizophrenia by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Philosopher Michel Foucault agreed, “the 21st century will be the Deleuzian century”.
In an era of mass incarceration, of mass shootings, of one day of depressing news after another with no end in sight, why do we need to read a book written by an eccentric French philosopher with unkempt hair? Why not, as Marxists argue, should we not continue to comb the archives of a communism that failed? Why not Lenin? Well, we should read Lenin. We should read everything else I mentioned as well, and not be exclusive. Because at the heart, Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, not of subtraction or opposition, which is the dialectical logic. Are “dialectics” (whatever that means) still useful? They are one tool in our arsenal, our assault against the forces of oppression, which has begun to tear away at the fabric of social reality itself, and has begun to convince people that their servitude is their only chance at freedom. Deleuze offers us a theory for thinking the Whole, for rethinking what Being itself is, that offers us also a pragmatics of the possible.
Those who scoff at the idea of revolution will always tell you- “the banks are too big to fail”, “not in my lifetime will that happen”. They have accepted life as it is- for how can they not? They don’t want to live a dreamlike reality. Deleuze takes the schizophrenic, who already lives in a dreamlike reality, the crazy, as the model of the subversive, as the model of a person who imminently fights against the capitalist model of a lifetime of servitude to work, because they truly have no other choice. Deleuze proposes that instead of going to “resolve your problems”, going to therapy or on the psychoanalyst’s couch will only put a band-aid on a problem that emanates fundamentally from the social field. This is what Freud missed, and this is why Deleuze titles the first book of Capitalism and Schizophrenia Anti-Oedipus.
Deleuze starts by talking about schizophrenia in the abstract, and moves on to conceive of how we could remake the whole “socius”- we need a psychoanalysis of the social itself, society itself needs to go to therapy! Who would be the psychoanalyst for that? Well, we, each other, would be. Schizoanalysis is born- we realize we are all crazy together, and we can do something about it. Because before the father beats the son, the father is beaten by the system every day at work, by the boss, by the check out line, by the debt collectors, by his whole life. This is no justification of the way things are- it is a way to get out of the moralism that traditionally plagues psychology, the moralism attached to what are essentially just the norms of bourgeois society. And as Foucault and Deleuze realized, though Marx is the towering thinker of the 19th century, he still swims like a fish in 19th century water. The 21st century is here, Mao is dead, Marx is dead, and we have to carry on, with only the record and ghostly trails left in the tracks.
How do we make sense of reality, Deleuze claims, when one is constantly fed information by way of digital feedback? When the advertisers know exactly what to show you at any given time on your computer screen, how do you escape from the digital prison? Deleuze not only shows, like Guy Debord in the Society of the Spectacle, that modern subjectivity is formed by the media, but how they form an inseparable whole, how they together form a person-media-technology assemblage. Why is this important? Because it portrays reality the way it actually is, where two things that look separate actually are not. Deleuze’s conclusions start out looking like common sense, but put together, they challenge the fundamental wisdom of Capitalism. Put together, like the main character in They Live, we are able to see through the prison of how we were conditioned to see the world, and a whole new world of potentiality emerges, almost visible, sometimes perceptible on the margins.
Deleuze continues his saga in A Thousand Plateaus, considered in postmodern philosophy a conceptual breakthrough and a work of towering genius. It must be said at this junction that Deleuze co-wrote the book with anti-psychiatric radical Felix Guatarri, to whom I have not given enough credit. The only reason Deleuze has been marked here as the genius is because we are pre-programmed to prefer the work of One over many, even though there have been many productive intellectual pairs- Watson and Crick, Marx and Engels, Sartre and Beauvoir, and not enough women pairs. Deleuze is the philosopher of addition, of multiplication- we need new assemblages, new becomings. It is here that Deleuze elaborates on the concept of becoming. This may be too much of a poetic concept for those hardened political and social thinkers who are concerned about the value of the GDP, materialism. But Deleuze is also a materialist, and becoming is essentially material. There is materially a becoming that we experience concretely when we take a walk in the woods, we become more like the animals themselves. We don’t want to be told anymore about logic and maxims and means of production- feeling matters to us. We don’t want to be told our culture doesn’t matter, our traditions don’t matter- they do, and capitalism has been stripping them away from us, and we are continually alienated from ourselves. Of course there are material processes going on, and I could quote statistics about world hunger. But I could also tell you about the story of one woman who contracted AIDS from a soldier in Haiti she thought loved her, and before that worked as a maid in the capital city for pennies while her rich clients engorged themselves. That is what we aim to do! Our suffering is real, and also our happiness!
This is why Deleuze and Guatarri are important to me, and important to the world, and self-respecting “experts” on Deleuze should not look to his more “rigorous” books on Kant and Hume as examples of his “true genius”, for they are perpetuating the logocentric model of thinking that has driven people away from academia, from thinking, as yet another example of “disconnected elitism”. Philosophy can matter to our lives, so much so that can shape history. D&G can shape history, and should, or we may face even darker times