Thursday, September 21, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 6

Summary of Chapter 6: November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself A Body Without Organs?

The concept of a “body without organs” is essentially a reversal of the death of Chaos, that moment at the beginning of time when the other gods stabbed Chaos to create organs, and Chaos then died. At the same time, as Hakim Bey puts it, “Chaos never died,” and the BwO continues to exist, as the plane of consistency which [feeds and devours] the strata, as the Earth itself on which we live and circulate like vermin. The BwO is thus preexisting, already present, and easy, difficult, and impossible to create, as it is a limit, something you can’t reach but are already attaining. The date for this chapter refers to the date Antonin Artaud recorded To Have Done With the Judgment of God, in which he introduced the concept of the BwO.

They start off discussing various failing or limited attempts to reach the BwO, which tend to create “sucked-dry, catatonicized, vitrified, sewn-up bodies” instead of fully alive, vibrant BwOs (150). These include various forms of insanity, drug use, and masochism. On page 151 a detailed set of instructions to a dominatrix lays out what D&G assert is a program, not a phantasy (distinguishing it from ideology or hallucination, and linking it to the formation of strata (to which the machinic/programmatic refers; this is bound to be complicated later). The point of this program is that it has two distinct phases, one of which creates the BwO, and the second of which sends something circulating in or on it (in this case, pain).

The BwO and desire:

The BwO is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether it be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it). (154)

The give a parable of a priest cursing desire, by invoking lack, hedonistic pleasure, and the Lacanian manque-à-jouir (lack of enjoyment/lack to be enjoyed), the last identified with phantasy (these are later described as the “three phantoms” of internal lack, apparent exteriority, and higher transcendence). In reality, desire is immanent and does not need any of these external standards or objects, which would attempt to subordinate it, hierarchize it, explain it away in terms of something other than itself. The psychoanalyst is this kind of priest.

There is, in fact, a joy that is immanent to desire as though desire were filled by itself and its contemplations, a joy that implies no lack or impossibility and is not measured by pleasure since it is what distributes intensities of pleasure and prevents them from being suffused by anxiety, shame, and guilt. (155)

They describe the becoming-animal of a masochist imitating a trained horse; giving up instinctive forces for transmitted forces (of training; link to Canettian cyst?). Courtly love, and ancient Taoist sexuality are discussed as ways of achieving BwOs; there is an intimation of multiple BwOs having some mass effect; this is the plane of consistency (157).

They distinguish:

1) different types of BwOs, with varying attributes (drugged, masochistic, etc.). “Each has its degree 0 as its principle of production (remissio)” (157). For remission, Alexander Galloway provides the translation “a returning, releasing, abatement; similar to Deleuze’s “repetition,” or the concept of the fetish.”

2) What happens in or circulates in each type of BwO, latitudo. (Galloway: “breadth, width, freedom; similar to Deleuze’s “difference””).

3) “The potential totality of all BwO's, the plane of consistency,” omnitudo, or “the” BwO. [Omnitudo realitatis, or the sum total of reality, is a Kantian concept.]

[Galloway adds that this triad corresponds to that of attribute, mode, and substance from Spinoza.]

They raise the question of the possible linking or conjugation of all the different BwOs, and tie this to the concept of plateau from Bateson, “continuous regions of intensity constituted in such a way that they do not allow themselves to be interrupted by any external termination, any more than they allow themselves to build toward a climax” (158); thus linking to the title of the book (A thousand plateaus = a multitude of BwOs, the plane of consistency).

In a discussion of more works by Artaud, they reveal that the BwO is not really defined against organs per se, but against the organism, which is the unity of the body, bound by the judgment of God. They then expand on this: the BwO opposes the three great strata that most directly bind humans: “the surface of the organism, the angle of signifiance and interpretation, and the point of subjectification or subjection” (159). To the articulations of these strata the BwO opposes disarticulation, “or n articulations.” They reiterate their call from before that caution is needed; it seems the search to become a BwO is to be distinguished from death; though one perhaps courts death in the process, death is itself nevertheless not the desired state.

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of signifiance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. You don’t reach the BwO, and its plane of consistency, by wildly destratifying. (160)

The goal is not an emptying of organs, but to “momentarily dismantle the organization of the organs we call the organism” (161).

They discuss the concepts of nagual and tonal from Carlos Castañeda, then return to Artaud, to articulate more on the dangers to avoid in trying to become a BwO: in addition to the “full” BwOs on the plane of consistency, and the previously described “empty BwO’s on the debris of strata destroyed by a too-violent destratification,” there are also “cancerous” or “fascist” BwOs that function for the strata, as part of the engine of their proliferation (163). They refer to this as the “three-body problem,” a term out of physics, which I suppose evokes an unstable relationship between the three. The BwO is discussed as an egg, and as desire; the organs circulate in the BwO instead of belonging to the organism, indefinite articles are to be used: “an” eye, not “the” eye, “my” eye, or “your” eye. They end with reflections on the similarities and relations between BwOs, and the possibility of a totality of BwOs:

All we are saying is that the identity of effects, the continuity of genera, the totality of all BwO’s, can be obtained on the plane of consistency only by means of an abstract machine capable of covering and even creating it, by assemblages capable of plugging into desire, of effectively taking charge of desires, of assuring their continuous connections and transversal tie-ins. Otherwise, the BwO’s of the plane will remain separated by genus, marginalized, reduced to means of bordering, while on the “other plane” the emptied or cancerous doubles will triumph. (166)

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