Situating Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the subject

David Brian Schwartzberg, Fordham University


The philosophical category of “the subject” ties together ideas of agency, personal identity, political representation, and an open-ended list of acts or processes that seem to presuppose a subject: the epistemic subject, the speaking subject, the experiential subject, the desiring subject, the revolutionary subject. If the postmodern news of “the death of the subject” has not in the least extirpated the term from contemporary theory, that is because it simply means that, in all of these cases, the subject can no longer be appealed to as explicans, but must instead be treated as explicandum. In pursuit of that project, Louis Althusser and Michel Foucault were major proponents of the classical poststructuralist thesis that the subject is socially constructed in the service of systems of oppression. More recently, Judith Butler and Slavoj Žižek have argued that these subject-formation processes involve psychodynamic mechanisms. More specifically, these oppression-serving forms of subjectivity are libidinally cathected. Butler calls these cathexes “desire for subjection” and Žižek calls them “ideological jouissance.” This dissertation aims to demonstrate that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus provides a theory of the subject that belongs to this recent renovation of the classical poststructuralist thesis. I contend that positioning Deleuze and Guattari’s theory in this way will both clarify the theory and demonstrate its distinct virtues for contemporary philosophical discussion. In all three theories under consideration, the desire for subjection is an effect of socially instituted foreclosures. The three theories are then differentiated by the nature of the object of these foreclosures, which can be specified in Lacanian register-theoretical terms: for Butler, it is the repressed symbolic; for Žižek, it is the Real2 (the negative Real); for Deleuze and Guattari, itis the Real1 (the positive Real). Each of these psychodynamic theses are pregnant with distinct political implications. I argue that Deleuze and Guattari’s alternative offers the most promise for the exigencies of the present because (1) it integrates multi-systems or intersectional approaches with a pivotal problematization of global capitalism, and (2) it entails a radically ecological and non-anthropocentric orientation.

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Recommended Citation

Schwartzberg, David Brian, "Situating Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the subject" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10182880.