[NOTE: Yes… I know this essay has misinterpretations of Deleuze and Guattari in it. Their works meaning escapes me — idealism is foreign to me. Take it with as much weight as you want: a grain of salt, a stone?]
Desire and Production
Deleuze and Guattari start out by making references to the solar anus but when Deleuze and Guattari say that “everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced,” they immediately have lost me. On the contrary, everything is expenditure. Production is only the restriction of expenditure, the immanent flow of solar energy being momentarily stopped by transcendent beings. Now, I will be charitable to Deleuze and Guattari here. They quickly say that “Desiring-machines are binary machines, obeying a binary law or set of rules governing associations: one machine is always coupled with another. The productive synthesis, the production of production, is inherently connective in nature … because there is always a flow-producing machine, and another machine connected to it that interrupts or draws off part of this flow (the breast — the mouth)”. But is this example of the breast and the mouth as two coupled desiring-machines (DM1 — DM2) not really an example of a machine that expends and a machine that consumes, is this couple of desiring-machines not dépense par excellence? Why do Deleuze and Guattari call this the ‘productive synthesis’? I think it would be better to call it the ‘wasteful synthesis’ or the ‘unproductive synthesis’. Deleuze and Guattari do answer my question though. They answer by explaining that a desiring-machine starts off as a machine, a partial object. But because this machine is a desiring-machine, “continuous flows and partial objects” are coupled by desire. But where does this flow come from? Deleuze and Guattari explain that it is actually “desire [that] causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows”. Thus, the desire of the partial object that is the machine causes flows which couple with the machine making it a desiring-machine? Or the desire of desiring-machines is what makes desiring-machines desiring-machines? Deleuze and Guattari then say that “a flow of sperm, shit, or urine that are produced by partial objects and constantly cut off by other partial objects, which in turn produce … [their own] flows” which are then “interrupted by other partial objects” [emphasis mine]. The conflation that takes place here is between expenditure and production. Deleuze and Guattari see the semen from ejaculation as a flow from production rather than as waste matter from expenditure. This is the issue. Now, I’m sure there are examples of this partial object-flow connective synthesis which actually are flows from production and not waste matter from expenditure, but so far, Deleuze and Guattari have failed to demonstrate the existence of the former. Now they say that this partial object-flow synthesis has another form and that is “product/production,” they explain, “[p]roducing is always something ‘grafted onto’ the product; and for that reason desiring-production is production of production, just as every machine is a machine connected to another machine”. The object is produced but also produces. The desiring-machine which is produced via desire also produces flows itself. The production of production is desiring-production because the desiring-machine is the production of desire which produces desire because it is desiring-production which is the production of production? A desiring-machine is connected to another desiring-machine because of desiring-production, because of the desire to produce? The dominating property of desiring-machines is the production of production. Is desire not just desiring-production? Desire isn’t the id, which Deleuze and Guattari rebuke the idea of at the very start of the book. When Deleuze and Guattari say that “desiring-production is the production of production, just as every machine is a machine connected to another machine,” do they not therefore imply that desiring-production is that connection between desiring-machines? Deleuze and Guattari suggest that by relating the concept of desiring-production to the process of production itself, they escape “the idealist category of ‘expression’”. I find their idea that they escape idealism to be ironic, but more on this later. Ultimately, desiring-production seems to be the production of desire and the desire for production, therefore being the production of production, as desire produces flows which leads to connections producing new flows, new desires, new productions. There are now a few questions we must ask: “Why do desires need to be produced? Does desire not exist in excess? Is there a lack of desire?”.
We take issue with the idea that production produces consumption. This is not true. Now, desiring-production and its effect, production, can produce productive consumption, but unproductive consumption is completely foreign to it. This is because the production of (unproductive) consumption is a contradiction in terms. The production of consumption is the production of NOTHING and therefore not production at all. Now, things get even worse for Deleuze and Guattari because of the fact that unproductive consumption disrupts and dissolves the production process. This is quite damning because of the fact that they say “[t]his is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process”. Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of process is dependent on the assumption that unproductive consumption can become the production of the process. This is why there is an issue in Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of process: unproductive consumption cannot become the production of anything or nothing. Unproductive consumption does not produce. So, when Deleuze and Guattari say that specifically Bataille’s conception of “sumptuary, nonproductive expenditures or consumptions … have to do with what … [we] call the production of consumption,” there is a fundamental problem at the heart of their idea of production and process. Once again, expenditure escapes the realm of production, and it is with this escape that Deleuze and Guattari fall into the pit of theoretical bankruptcy. It should be noted that their theory of desiring-production and therefore also desiring-machines are also critiqued by our critique of their understanding of process.
Now, what is desire for Bataille?
Bataille and Desire
The importance of desire in Bataille’s philosophy cannot be overstated. Much like Deleuze and Guattari, his respective theory of desire is a key premise of much of his philosophical project.
For Lacan, desire is lacking. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire lacks nothing. For Bataille, desire lacks NOTHING. Desire is not lacking for Bataille and this is because of the fact that we are sovereign at every moment, we just don’t recognize that from our transcendent position. Our subjectivity is based upon NOTHING, the ground below us makes us tremble due to the fact we cannot know anything about it. Desire is not lack because it necessarily goes towards NOTHING, towards the totality, towards the impossible, and none of these can be gained by desire as none of these things are. In other words, for the human being to exist, and their existence is desire, the human being must negate NOTHING, must deny the totality, must flee from the impossible into the realm of the possible. Desire thus is not lacking anything.
Now, Deleuze and Guattari recognize this, and this is also why when it comes to theories of desire, they are closer to Bataille than Lacan is (even Land recognizes this). They recognize that if one says that desire lacks something, it immediately starts to follow a restricted logic of acquisition. They also realize that this would make desire an idealist conception too.
Now, here is where we begin to disagree with Deleuze and Guattari. They hold that it is “the subject that is missing in desire, or, [it is] desire that lacks a fixed subject”. We begin to take issue here because of the fact that the subject is desire. So when they say that “[d]esire and its object are one and the same thing,” we can do nothing but laugh at them. For Bataille, the discontinuous and isolated subject is desire. Desire is restricted to one being who then desires to open themself up to other beings. I will say that there is definitely a Bataillean moment within Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of lack especially when they propose that lack is idealist, and this Batiallean movement is pronounced even more when they say that lack (psychological lack) and scarcity (economic lack) do not exist.
We need not address their critique of transgression and the law because that is premised on their theory of desire which cannot be true by way of the critical analysis of their theory of desire that we have just carried above.
The Body Without Organs is not Sovereign
When Deleuze and Guattari say that “[t]he body without organs is nonproductive; nonetheless it is produced … [t]he body without organs is not the proof of an original nothingness, nor is it what remains of a lost totality,” we realize that the body without organs is not sovereign. The totality is not the “proof” of NOTHING or itself like sovereignty is. Thus, just as Bataille’s Sovereign surpasses Stirner’s Unique, Bataille’s Sovereign surpasses Deleuze and Guattari’s body without organs.
The body without organs also negates silence because it “gasps and cries … sheer unarticulated blocks of sound”. I would say that because of the fact that desiring-machines use “words composed of phonetic units,” one can only oppose desiring-machines through surrendering themselves. The issue Deleuze and Guattari encounter here is the fact that desire is. One can only oppose desiring-machines and their sound with silence. The body without organs is obviously within the realm of production as Deleuze and Guattari have said, and so it can never actually oppose desiring-machines.
The body without organs is not ecstasy and ignores the materiality of the body, of the flesh. The body without organs is idealist, not materialist. Does the body without organs not reject desiring-machines like the homogeneous rejects the heterogeneous?
A Defense of Bataille Against Deleuzo-Guattarian Critique
Jim Urpeth holds that Bataille “misinterps [capitalism’s] underlying trajectory in which it increasingly emerges as an economy of consumption and ‘expenditure’”. He holds that this is the trajectory of capitalism because of Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of capitalism “[as] an inherent accelerator of ‘deterritorialization’, an inciter of desire for its own sake. It is a global abstract flow of intrinsically undetermined desire operating in excess of any concept of ‘need’. Capital increasingly inverts the relation of priority between desire and object which, arguably, characterized its earlier phases in which the ‘necessary’ and the ‘superfluous’, a distinction arguably crucial to Bataille’s thought, were more readily distinguishable”. Urpeth then says that capitalism is actually liberating itself from the profane, and that once this liberation takes place, “accumulative capitalists, can, on the basis of its relentless erosion of all forms of stable identity and reckless incitement of undetermined desire, be unequivocally affirmed as a resacralization of the world”. For Urpeth, present-day capitalism continues to subvert “human self-determination” and invokes “the dissolution of ‘man’ in anonymous desire flows”. Now, looking at Urpeth’s interpretation of Deleuze and Guattari, it becomes apparent that Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism is dependent on the presupposition that their theory of desire is correct. But as we know, this presupposition is not true. For, desire is self-consciousness and self-consciousness is desire. Lastly, Urpeth holds that capitalism actually escapes the profane world, that it is of the sacred world. This latter position is laughable, for capitalism requires work, labor, productive negation, production, etc. It will always be of the world of work that is the profane world. Also note that Urpeth acknowledges capitalists as ‘accumulative’ further proving that capitalism is another form of restricted economy which is of production and accumulation.
On Julie Wilson’s Comparative Analysis of Bataille and Deleuze and Guattari
Julie Wilson is one of few people, if not the only person, to have explicitly looked at Bataille’s relation to Deleuze and Guattari. Now, Wilson has a charitable interpretation of Bataille here that is largely correct in terms of showing the differences between Bataille and Deleuze and Guattari.
They correctly identify a difference between Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of anti-production, which is the body without organs as it is against desiring-machines which are production, and Bataille’s concept of unproductive expenditure. The difference they correctly identify is that the body with organs, anti-production, the nomad, etc. is ontological, whereas “unproductive expenditure is necessary yet non-ontological” [emphasis mine]. This also implies, and Wilson notes this, that deterritorialization, and therefore also territorialization, is ontological as well, putting it in sharp contrast with Bataille’s concept of sovereignty.
Now, the fact that Deleuze and Guattari and their concepts are necessarily stuck within ontology is where Wilson’s critique of them begins. Wilson sees that because Deleuze and Guattari have “an ontology of production,” they cannot necessarily “escape” capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari are stuck within production because anti-production, the body without organs, is stuck within production. Being stuck within production necessarily keeps them chained to restricted economy. Wilson also notes that Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of deterritorialization as an ontological category “is just the [pure] heterogeneous force of global capital”. Rather than being opponents to capitalism, Deleuze and Guattari inadvertently bolster it.
A Defense of Nick Land’s Interpretation of Georges Bataille
Nick Land moved from Bataille and his libidinal energetics to Deleuze and Guattari and their schizoanalysis, thus, I think it is appropriate to drop Land off here for a moment at this essay. Now of course we will encounter Land a few more times in the future, but most of these encounters will not be very long encounters. I will say that we will have one encounter with Land that will be quite extensive and long, and that encounter will be an essay on Bataille and Kant, this of course assumes that this essay will even be written. Then again, this is probably not true. I will probably write even more extensively on Land in the future, so maybe just ignore these latter remarks. But, what is a better goodbye present than a defense?
John Milbank writes one of the very very few critiques of Nick Land’s The Thirst for Annihilation. Now, I will say that I do adore Milbank’s critical interpretation of Land’s work. Milbank describes Bataille’s atheism as “a positive creed” which is “not at all a matter of ‘doubt’”. In other words, Bataille’s atheism is not an agnostic atheism as it does not doubt or question God’s existence. God’s death has no ambiguity. Bataille’s atheism is then a gnositc atheism that knows of God’s non-existence. But I will say that if Bataille’s atheism is a gnostic atheism, it is an atheism which knows God is not because it knows the self is not as it is predicated on the unstable ground of unknowing.* For Milbank, Bataille’s atheism is “an anti-ontology which rigorously excludes God” and because of this, it is “as mystical as any other religious belief”. Bataille’s atheism is an atheology because it is of God’s death, God’s exclusion from that which is, as being dead is not being at all. He sees that Bataille’s, I guess, “metaphysics” see that “[all that] ‘is’, is the void into which solar energy would immediately dissipate through its full and glorious expenditure”. Bataille’s metaphysics, or at least Land’s interpretation of it, sees that “‘reality hovers in a fractal manner between an infinitely vanishing void, and appearances which can be endlessly exposed as illusions”. What Milbank gets wrong about Bataille’s metaphysics is that “void is categorical,” as void, and I’m going to assume Milbank is talking about base matter here, is outside the categories (of nothing) as Land says.
Milbank argues that Land fails to note Bataille’s sociological aspect and I would agree but one must understand the context in which Land writes about Bataille: Kant.
He then argues that the only way Land can escape the move of making base matter arbitrary is through an anthropocentrism which has the human being as the religious animal. He then concludes that if this is so, Land would be wrong because sociology has proved the idea of man as the religious animal to be false. But, I would firstly say that Milbank is right and wrong here. He is right in that Bataille and Land do necessarily characterize the human being as the religious animal in that the human being searches for intimacy, this search for intimacy essentially being religion, or at least, the religious quest (this is why eroticism always has a religious element to it, especially when one seeks out that intimacy one finds in erotic dissolution with a romantic lover/partner). He is wrong in that Bataille’s sociology in the sense of human beings is founded not upon academic sociological methods but rather upon his theory of religion, his ontology, and his cosmology (the latter two comprising his metaphysics). Milbank then argues that “if the pre-ontological cannot be seen … then one cannot theoretically rule out a transcendent reality”. Now, this is not true. Even though one cannot necessarily see that pre-ontological (base) matter, one can derive a base materialist logic from it that problematizes the idea of transcendence and therefore the idea of a transcendent reality as well. Milbank then argues that Land conflates the Platonic conception of transcendence, which is one of “a hierarchy within a totality, with Hebraically derived transcendence which conceived of a donating source beyond time, in no relation with time … and constantly re-giving time so as to prevent it ever constituting a totality” [emphasis mine]. But if Land does this or not doesn’t matter because both types of transcendence are problematized by the logic of base materialism as the Platonic conception obviously has a high-low opposition as it is hierarchical (in the polar (not Nietzschean) sense) and the Hebraically derived conception has something that is above and uncontaminated by time which obviously is not possible as that which thinks itself as uncontaminated is always contaminated because it must rest upon that pre-ontological base matter. This also means that Land’s critique of post-structuralism still stands.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by
Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. New York, NY: Penguin Group Inc., 2009.
Milbank, John. “Reviewed Work(s): The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (An Essay in Atheistic Religion) by Nick Land.” Sociology 28, no. 1 (February 1994): 348–50.
Urpeth, Jim. “Religious Materialism: Bataille, Deleuze/Guattari and the Sacredness of Late Capital.” Essay. In Difference in Philosophy of Religion, edited by Philip Goodchild, 171–86. New York, NY: Routledge, 2018.
Wilson, Julie. Unproductive expenditure and the spatial ground of the Earth. Generation Online. Accessed June 22, 2021. https://www.generation-online.org/p/fpbataille6.htm.
: Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (New York, NY: Penguin Group Inc., 2009), 4.
: Ibid., 5.
: Ibid., 5–6.
: Ibid., 6.
: Ibid., 4.
: Ibid., 26.
: Ibid., 28.
: Ibid., 8.
: Ibid., 9.
: Jim Urpeth, “Religious Materialism: Bataille, Deleuze/Guattari and the Sacredness of Late Capital,” in Difference in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip Goodchild (New York, NY: Routledge, 2018), pp. 171–186, 172.
: Ibid., 180.
: Julie Wilson, “Unproductive Expenditure and the Spatial Ground of the Earth,” Unproductive expenditure and the spatial ground of the Earth (Generation Online), accessed June 22, 2021, https://www.generation-online.org/p/fpbataille6.htm.
: John Milbank, “Reviewed Work(s): The Thirst for Annihilation: Georges Bataille and Virulent Nihilism (An Essay in Atheistic Religion) by Nick Land,” Sociology 28, no. 1 (February 1994): pp. 348–350, 349.
: *(Agnostic atheism is an atheism that holds that the status of God’s existence is unknowable and so no positive claim that God exists is possible, which defaults to atheism defined as a lack of belief in God. Gnostic atheism is an atheism that holds the status of God’s existence as knowable but instead of making the positive claim that God is, it makes the negative claim that God is not.)