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Category Archives: Artaud

Here is another nice post from Dark Chemistry on Graham Harman as smasher of objects, which he opens with a fine quote from one of my articles on Artaud, Deleuze, will to nothingness and literature.


The consequences of projection of fantasies onto the Real can be clearly observed in Kerouac’s The Subterraneans, which was quite a subversive book in its time, carrying Kerouac quite high up the cultural ladder, and in Burroughsian terms “causing thousands of Levi’s sold”. 

 San Francisco, California

In The Subterraneans we see Jack Kerouac’s persona Leo oscillating between attraction to and repulsion by Mardou who is a Cherokee American. One half of Leo loves Mardou and the other half is afraid of this love. If in one chapter Leo declares his love for Mardou, in the next chapter we see him resenting her. Leo’s oscillation between the life drive and the death drive constitute a movement between negation and the transcendence of this negation. Affirmation always remains at bay for Kerouac and his character Leo. Perhaps only at the beginning of the novel he gets a bit closer to affirmation, but this affirmation is in no way an affirmation of Mardou as she is. Rather, it is the affirmation of what has happened throughout the novel, an affirmation of that which has lead to the break-up of Mardou and Leo, as if what has taken place was what actually happened, rather than a projection of Leo’s paranoid fantasy on what has actually happened. At the end of the novel it becomes clear that all that has been lived had been lived for this novel to be written, rather than for its own sake.

[…] this was my three week thought and really the energy behind or the surface one behind the creation of the Jealousy Phantasy in the Grey Guilt dream of the World Around Our Bed.)—now I saw Mardou pushing Yuri with a OH YOU and I shuddered to think something maybe was going on behind my back – felt warned too by the quick and immediate manner Yuri heard me coming and rolled off but as if guiltily as I say after some kind of goose or feel up some illegal touch of Mardou which made her purse little love loff lips at him and push at him and like kids.[1]

Upon having the dream Leo begins to see everything through the keyhole of his obsession that one day Mardou will sleep with Yuri if she hasn’t already done so. I would like to read this story with the story of Adam and Eve’s fall from Heaven to Earth in mind, or the passage from the old Earth to the new Earth. What’s at stake here is the conflict between what’s going on in Leo’s mind as to what’s going on in Mardou’s mind and what’s really going on in Mardou’s mind. There is, in reality, nothing going on in Mardou’s mind. It is Leo projecting what he read in the Bible onto Mardou’s mind, what he read in the Bible being that it was Eve who caused the fall, for it was her who tempted Adam to eat the apple. So Leo is projecting what he has introjected from the Bible. And the Bible was the representation of women in general and his mother in particular for Kerouac. The preconception in Leo’s mind that women are evil, sinful, and guilty by nature both attracts and repels Leo. This state of being caught in a movement between repulsion/attraction ties the subject with an endless chain of negative associations to his own fear of being betrayed, pushing him further towards madness and death. The final words of the book bring the end which Leo was from the beginning of the relationship more than willing to reach: separation and through writing it down reunification with the lost object. For as we know from Freud, “writing was in its origin the voice of an absent person.”

And I go home having lost her love.

And write this book.[2]

  Leo believes that he has had the dream and that if he has the dream of it the sexual intercourse in real life has either taken place or will take place in the future. Kerouac/Leo is, “at present,” writing The Subterraneans. And everything has already taken place; the sequence of events follows this way: Leo has the dream, Mardou engages in sexual intercourse with Yuri, Mardou and Leo break up, Leo continues the daydream, laughs to retain sanity in the face of this tragedy, and goes home and writes this book. In it there is no true story; and it doesn’t matter whether there is or not a true story other than the story of an unhappy consciousness running towards its death in and through a story of love, affection, resentment, guilt, and compassion, which exposes the symptoms of a life as it unceasingly wills its subject’s end.

[…]still making no impression on my eager impressionable ready-to-create construct destroy and die brain – as will be seen in the great construction of jealousy which I later from a dream and for reasons of self-laceration recreated…[3]   

Now, Leo sees Mardou in bed with Yuri and obsessively believes that his dream will come true. Leo believes himself to be a clairvoyant, that he has the ability to know things prior to seeing them actually taking place before his eyes. This he has introjected from Mardou herself, who, in a Nietzschean fashion, believes, does, and says things which simultaneously repel and attract Leo. There is no linear narrative in Mardou’s story about her adventures with the subterraneans of San Francisco and Leo likes it because there remain lots of gaps for him to fill with his fantasies later on when he is writing his story. Say what she may,

I got nervous and had some kind of idea about Mike, he kept looking at me like he wanted to kill me – he has such a funny look anyway – I got out of the house and walked along and didn’t know which way to go, my mind kept turning into the several directions that I was thinking of going but my body kept walking straight along Columbus altho’ I felt the sensation of each of the directions I mentally and emotionally turned into, amazed at all the possible directions you can take with different motives that come in, like it can make you a different person – I’ve often thought of this since childhood, of suppose instead of going up Columbus as I usually did I’d turn into Filbert would something happen that at the time is insignificant enough but would be like enough to influence my whole life in the end? – What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take? – and all that, so if this had not been such a constant preoccupation that accompanied me in my solitude which I played upon in as many different ways as possible I wouldn’t bother now except but seeing the horrible roads this pure supposing goes to it took me to frights, if I wasn’t so damned persistent –’ and so on deep into the day, a long confusing story only pieces of which and imperfectly I remember, just the mass of the misery in connective form –[4]

What, then, is this “connective form”? Who, then, is the subject of this “mass of misery pieces of which are imperfectly remembered”? There is a different way of remembering in action here, a different way of being in relation to time and language in this “imperfect remembrance” of the lived experiences. The problem with Kerouac’s writing is that he is not separating his introjected object from the projecting subject. Kerouac wants to represent Mardou as she is and yet he at the same time wants to prove that Leo was the one pulling the strings from the beginning. What Mardou is actually trying to convey is veiled by Kerouac who makes it impossible for the reader to distinguish between fiction and reality, self and other, subject and object, projected and introjected. His voice dissolves into the voice of Mardou and Mardou’s story remains unheard. Rather than unveiling, Kerouac’s writing not only veils but also manipulates the truth of the other for his abusive purposes. All his life Kerouac struggled to traverse this field of partial representations of the other, but being an innocent fascist he repeatedly fell into his own traps and failed in affirming the real as it is. If he could have loved the real as it is, he could have “delivered himself from his automatic reactions,” and thus he could have become “a body without organs.”[5]

While most of us live by the time of good sense, the Nietzschean subject is able to defy such sense and experience the creative evolution of self in exploration of a deeper memory – the virtual memory of the pure past as the event of events of the eternal return. Rather than a self-identical self, the self of the third synthesis of time is a creatively evolving self who is able to genuinely affirm life as metamorphosis.[6]

Leo chooses to become partially mad, for Mardou is the other half of his madness. The internal theatre of Leo stages a sexual intercourse between Mardou and Yuri and/but although this intercourse has not yet taken place, Leo is assured that one day it will. Leo had started plotting ways of getting rid of Mardou three weeks prior to their split. Is this will a will to end the relationship that makes Leo see this dream? In other words, is the source of this dream a will-to-nothingness-oriented-hope, a wish that Mardou will engage in sexual intercourse with Yuri and the relationship will end that way? Or is the dream based on a will-to-nothingness-oriented-fear that Mardou does not, and has never loved Leo? These questions can be asked if one wants to know what the dream means, in other words these questions are interpretation oriented questions and my aim here is not to interpret Leo’s dream and understand what it means but rather to make use of this dream in understanding why this dream matters not only for The Subterraneans, but also for twentieth century philosophy, literature, cultural and critical theory, and psychoanalysis.

 Both Oedipus and Leo see themselves as innocent victims “caught in a trap set by the God.” Fiction and reality give birth to one another in each case. In Oedipus’ case the prophecy turns into truth, in Leo’s case a dream turns into reality. Leo believes in what he sees in his dream and he sees Mardou in bed with Yuri. And his strong belief, almost an obsession, that one day Mardou will sleep with Yuri gives birth to the actualisation of this event at the end of the novel. Leo tells everyone about his dream. He tells Mardou almost every day following his dream that he is worried about the future of their relationship. Leo’s paranoid-schizoid attitude prepares the grounds for the actualization of what he was afraid of. At the end of the story, the only thing left at hand for Leo to make the best of is to write his experiences down and turn his loss into a gain in and through language. Leo is such a tragic character that in order to remain sane he has to laugh at himself by considering the “whole host and foolish illusion and entire rigmarole and madness we erect in the place of one love, in our sadness…”[7] to be a joke. When Leo learns that Mardou has actually slept with Yuri, when the truth is finally established, when fiction turns into reality, he addresses the reader:

[…]but I continue the daydream and I look into his eyes and I see suddenly the glare of a jester angel who made his presence on earth all a joke and I realize that this too with Mardou was a joke and I think, ‘Funny Angel, elevated amongst the subterraneans.’

‘Baby its up to you,’ is what she’s actually saying, ‘ about how many times you wanta see me and all that – but I want to be independent like I say.’

And I go home having lost her love.

And write this book.[8]

Cover art from the film and soundtrack editions of THE SUBTERRANEANS. Cover art from the film and soundtrack editions of  The Subterraneans 

Kerouac writes through love, but through a love that Leo is afraid of falling in. And his writing is the product of a sick desire, it is driven by a love of love, a desire to be desired. Kerouac exposes himself through Leo in such a way as to show why it is necessary to create something without becoming destructive of either the self or the other. Something that he himself doesn’t know how to do. It is an ill will that drives Kerouac towards manic-depressive, self-destructive alcoholism. His consciousness of the absence of “eternal love” in this finite life together with his immortal longing for an eternal love turn him into “a shipwreck on the shores of lust.” What Kerouac lacks in life is what is necessary to operate the war-machine in Kerouac. Love is the force that drives the war-machine and Kerouac is afraid of loving with a greater love, without projective identification. He is a paranoid love-machine because his love is in the form of a spark given birth by the struggle between the superiority and the inferiority complexes he simultaneously harbors within himself.

In the absence of a war–machine, war dominates the world. And when war dominates the world there is nothing left for one to write but that although his books are among the most important examples of a different way of being in relation to time, language, and life, Kerouac is “locked into an attenuating endgame, playing himself, with each move, further into a corner and into defeat.”[9] He, suffering inordinately from an irrecoverable loss, an irreparable deterioration of psychic and somatic health, pays a high price to render us the witnesses of his fantastic experiences.

Kerouac died in 1969 and/but long ago, in 1951, eighteen years before ceasing to exist among the living, in On the Road, he writes this:

And for just a moment I had reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiances shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething soar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I realized that I had died and been reborn numberless times but just didn’t remember especially because the transition from life to death and back to life are so ghostly easy, a magical action for naught, like falling asleep and waking up again a million times, the utter casualness and deep ignorance of it. I realized it was only because of the stability of the intrinsic mind that these ripples of birth and death took place, like that action of wind on a sheet of pure, serene, mirror-like water. I felt sweet, swinging bliss, like a big shot of heroin in the mainline vein; like a gulp of wine late in the afternoon and it makes you shudder; my feet tingled. I thought I was going to die the very next moment.[10]

What Kerouac enjoys is death from pleasure, what he desires is suffering. In Kerouac’s writing there is a multiplication of the directions towards which it becomes possible for the subject to head as the subject goes along the way creating new life forces out of his Dionysiac regress. In time, however, Kerouac’s revolutionary becoming takes such a direction that his desire turns against itself turning him into a reactive force drowning in his own resentment. The Kerouac image represented by the media (newspapers, TV, radio), is in conflict with Kerouac’s image of himself, and this relation to himself of Kerouac through a media, through an external force, through a panoptic eye, locks Kerouac into the projection-introjection mechanism through which he constantly breaks and is beaten by as he beats. This operation is more than Kerouac can actively handle, and turns him into a reactive and anti-social person making him “rather will nothingness than not will,” destroying him in the process.


In Julio Cortazar’s short story Axolot, we read the main character realizing that the type of fish called Axolot stand still in water with no movement at all, a kind of motionless flight. With this realization the character commits himself to becoming like those fish himself. At the end of the story he sees everyone outside of himself as an Axolot fish. He has become an axolot himself. He has gone beyond the finitude of his existence. He becomes altogether immobile, merely an observer, watching people, life, opportunities, and time pass by. Eventually he becomes imperceptible. Here and now everything is continually changing towards becoming-imperceptible. Time turns something into nothing. Everything is in time only for a short period of time. Then everything disappears in a neutral light.

To have dismantled one’s self in order finally to be alone and meet the true double at the other end of the line. A clandestine passenger on a motionless voyage. To become like everybody else; but this, precisely, is a becoming only for one who knows how to be nobody, to no longer be anybody. To paint oneself gray on gray.[11]

It is the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive that is being manipulated by global capitalism (contemporary nihilism) today. Undecidability, absence of foundational truth procedures, loss of principles, and declarations of the end of history and the subject are all manifestations of a discursive disease which is very rapidly contaminating the relationship between humans and their own health. In a world where a normal person must have a therapist, where having a therapist is a sign of normalcy, there can be no other choice but to shake the foundations of the illusions on which the health of many generations to come depends.         

Carrying out an intervention in the course of events, introducing a split into the continuity of things requires learning how not to be produced by the image factory which captures desire in a certain order of signification mechanism so as to turn the subject into a copy of the products of the image factory, or into the object of the other’s interpretation  and identification processes. To become capable at least to subvert the codes of the capitalist axiomatics which produces desire as the desire of nothingness and death, this subject should come to a realization that he/she is already caught up in the projection-introjection mechanism. So the subject has to learn to use the projection-introjection mechanism in such a way as to sustain the conditions for the impossibility of wickedness in the form of exclusive and illusory constructions of the Real. Surviving the absence of a transcendental signified in a “time out of joint” requires learning to love the object of desire for what it is rather than for what it resembles. This is to love and live without projective identification, without paranoid reactions to the other, without possessing the other, or without confining the other within the boundaries of the self. One has to cease to be somebody and learn to become nobody so as to create a difference in and for itself and affirm this difference by affirming the difference of that which is “not I.”

Movie from the book: “The subterraneans” (1960; Dir. Ranald MacDougall) featuring Gerry Mulligan, Art Pepper, Art Farmer, André Previn and Carmen McRae on screen.

The Subterraneans- Kerouac, Pollock and Bowie from magicloaf on Vimeo.

Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (London:, 2009), 210 – 220.

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Kerouac'ın aşk müziği 

Jack Kerouac’ın Türkçeye yeni çevrilen romanı ‘Yeraltı Sakinleri’ bu yıl okuyacağınız aşk romanlarının en afilisi. Roman, Beat Kuşağı’nın özgürleştirici anlatım tekniklerinin ilk uygulamasını da satırlarında barındırıyor. Kerouac, en ünlü kitabı ‘Yolda’yı üç haftada, ‘Yeraltı Sakinleri’ni üç günde yazmıştı.

Kerouac’ın aşk müziği – Kaya Genç (Radikal Kitap)

[1] Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans (Penguin: London, 2001), 69

[2] Kerouac, The Subterraneans, 93

[3] Kerouac, 39

[4] Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans, 20

[5]Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (University of California: Berkeley, 1975), 570-1 “When you will have made him a body without organs,

then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom

then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out

as in the frenzy of dancehalls

and this wrong side out will be his real place.”

[6] Tamsin Lorraine, “Living a Time Out of Joint,” Between Deleuze and Derrida, eds. Paul Patton and John Protevi (Continuum: London and NY, 2003), 39

[7] Kerouac, The Subterraneans (Penguin: London, 2001), 77

[8] Kerouac, 93

[9] J.M. Coetzee, Youth (Secker and Warburg: London, 2002), 169

[10] Jack Kerouac, On the Road (New York: The Viking Press, 1957), 173

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (University of Minnesota Press: Minnesota, 1988), 197

Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (London:, 2009), 210 – 220.

Catrin Welz-Stein – Unborn Ideas

I close the eyes of my intelligence, and giving voice to the unformulated within me,

I offer myself the sense of having wrested from the unknown something real.

I believe in spontaneous conjurations.

On the paths along which my blood draws me, it cannot be that one day I will not discover a truth.[1]                     

 Artaud does not call for destruction of reason through the imaginary but an affirmation of reason’s self-destruction on the way to self-creation. There is a knowledge which Artaud is in pursuit of without knowing what that knowledge is and what purpose it serves. Artaud is always in pursuit of this unattainable and ungraspable knowledge and he knows that, as he is trying to give it a voice, he is moving away from and towards it at the same time. This movement of the action and the intention in opposite directions, that is, this turning against itself of desire, is a thought that Artaud feels with his body but cannot express through articulable forms. Artaud makes the inarticulable visible through costume, lighting, etc., and tries to create a psychic materiality. 


When you will have made him a body without organs,

then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions and restored him to his true freedom,

then you will teach him again to dance wrong side out,

as in the frenzy of dancehalls,

and this wrong side out will be his real place.[2]

Artaud feels the body as an externally organized structure and experiences existence as pain because he feels his body to be restricted and subjected to forms it is not willing to take at all times. By disorganizing the body through putting its organs to different uses, to uses other than they have come to be put, within the organizing structures, Artaud induces agony in himself. Desiring to become inorganic, and this is a desire for an impersonal death, an “ungraspable” knowledge, this striving for infinity within the finite, is, paradoxically, at once the product and the producer of his affirmation of life as it is, that is, as “a process of breaking down…” as the American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald puts it in his The Crack Up. In The Logic of Sense Deleuze reads Fitzgerald’s The Crack Up with Kleinian eyes and says that identification is peculiar to manic-depressive states. In The Crack Up Fitzgerald says,

I only wanted absolute quiet to think about why I had developed a sad attitude toward tragedy—why I had become identified with the objects of my horror or compassion… Identification such as this spells the death of accomplishment. It is something like this that keeps insane people from working. Lenin did not willingly endure the sufferings of his proletariat, nor Washington of his troops, nor Dickens of his London poor. And when Tolstoy tried some such merging of himself with the objects of his attention, it was a fake and a failure…[3]

Deleuze affirms Fitzgerald’s manic-depressive attitude towards the relationship between life and death in the Porcelain and Volcano chapter of his The Logic of Sense.

If one asks why health does not suffice, why the crack is desirable, it is perhaps because only by means of the crack and at its edges thought occurs, that anything that is good and great in humanity enters and exits through it, in people ready to destroy themselves—better death than the health which we are given. Is there some other health, like a body surviving as long as possible its scar, like Lowry dreaming of rewriting a “Crack Up” which would end happily, and never giving up the idea of a new vital conquest?[4]

In a world ruled by fools full of ill-will war becomes inescapable. Since war, conflict, violence and destruction are interior as much as they are exterior affairs, it is hardly a matter of bad luck that we will be wounded at some point if we haven’t been already, not that I wish it to be that way. An injury either creates a possibility of relating to the world as it is, or turns into an obsession with the self, into a delusional and rigid vision of existence projected onto the real, giving birth to neurosis or psychosis.

We do not write with our neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life, but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in “the Nietzsche case.” Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is a set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health.[5] 

If we have a look at “the Nietzsche case” once again with Kleinian eyes through a Deleuzean looking glass we see that the mechanism of projection-introjection is itself the illness of which resentment and bad conscience are the causes and the symptoms at the same time. In the case of projection the subject’s illness is manifested as aggressiveness and hostility towards the external world, always accusing the others for his weaknesses. This is the paranoiac who is afraid of being persecuted and sees the external world as a threat to his unity. Afraid of the external world, he himself becomes hostile towards it in turn provoking hostility against himself, thus giving birth to the actualisation of what he was afraid of. And in the case of introjection the subject internalises the fault and turns against itself. This is the psychotic who identifies with everything and everyone, and who has too many points of view together with a divergent coherency of thought and action. Intending to take a spoon from the drawer he might break a plate on the floor. In the first case there is a detached hostility and in the second case there is an immersed attachment. In both cases the subject becomes the victim of his own actions against and toward himself and others.

Nietzsche says that the will to nothingness eventually turns against itself and becomes creative and revalues all values to survive death.[6] It is through writing as the patient and the physician, as the analyst and the analysand at the same time that Nietzsche is able to turn resentment, bad conscience, fear, and guilt against themselves and produce desire as affirmation of the world as it is after a conflict that is interior as much as it is exterior to the self. This conflict is the crack up that happens to the body of the organism. It is neither interior nor exterior, but a “surface event.”    

There was a silent, imperceptible crack, at the surface, a unique surface Event. It is as if it were suspended or hovering over itself, flying over its own field. The real difference is not between the inside and the outside, for the crack is neither internal nor external, but is rather at the frontier.[7]

It was on and through his disorganized body, or body without organs, that Artaud traversed the realm of affective intensities and the field of partial objects and produced desire without an object. For Deleuze the process of traversing the affective intensities felt through body rather than grasped by the mind may be the returning of a “great health.” Here objects are related to in such a way as to produce desire not as lack but as production. For Deleuze it is the production of fantastic visions of the world that are the causes and effects of certain pathological conditions. Bombarded with unattainable objects of desire the subject becomes mad.

In both Freud and Lacan the attitude toward the object of desire is Platonic in that the object of desire is the object of desire as long it remains unattainable. To put it in Lacanian terms, with the acquisition of language the subject starts to enter the symbolic order and loses touch with the Real which is the unconscious. His desires and drives are shaped and organized according to the Symbolic order of the language game in which he finds himself. So the direction the subject’s becoming will take depends not only on the way in which the subject relates to language but also how he relates the unconscious to language, since it is one’s production of a sense of oneness for oneself in and through language that determines one’s way of being in relation to language. Language is neither internal nor external to the subject and yet it is equally internal and external to the subject since language is the surface in-between. Beyond language there is nothing. Deleuze observes a movement of language towards its outside, not to reach the outside of language, but to create an outside language within language in writers such as Kafka, Beckett, and later Kerouac(The Subterraneans, Big Sur). For Deleuze, their subversions of syntax become their passage through the fleshy transparency of signification unless the process of production through the unconscious forces of the outside is blocked.

All writing involves an athleticism, but far from reconciling literature with sports, or turning writing into an Olympic event, this athleticism is exercised in flight and in the breakdown of the organic body—an athlete in bed, as Michaux put it.[8]

Deleuze sees the goal of literature as giving a voice to those unconscious forces that belong to a realm outside of language and those forces can only be given a voice by creating an impersonal consciousness through a new language within language – an outside language inside the language – that traverses the field of partial representations of the human condition and produces an other sign that is itself at once internally exterior and externally interior to the major order of signification. The outside of language is the realm which Deleuze calls “the transcendental field of immanence.” It is through this synthesis of transcendence and immanence that Deleuze is theoretically able to touch the material through the psychic, and the real through the fantasy. But the problem persists, for the question remains: how are we going to practice this theory? Is it practical enough to be applied to the banalities of ordinary life?

In his book, On Deleuze and Consequences, Zizek bases his critique of Deleuze on his use of Artaud’s concept of the body without organs. As is clearly understood from the subtitle of his book, Organs Without Bodies, Zizek’s aim is to reverse the Deleuzean order of things. With his well known 180 degrees reversals, Zizek uses Deleuze’s idea of a resistance to Oedipalization against him, and that way shows that Deleuze’s assumption that Oedipalization is something to be resisted is based on false premises. For Zizek, Oedipalization takes place when and if there is a failure in the system. Zizek considers Anti-Oedipus to be a book in which Deleuze and Guattari situate a psychotic and an Oedipalized subject on the opposite poles of one another. For Zizek a psychotic is the Oedipalized subject par excellence, rather than being an anti-Oedipe who escapes the codes of capitalist axiomatics.

[…] far from tying us down to our bodily reality, “symbolic castration” sustains our very ability to “transcend” this reality and enter the space of immaterial becoming. Does the autonomous smile that survives on its own when the cat’s body disappears in Alice in Wonderland also not stand for an organ “castrated,” cut off from the body? What if, then, phallus itself, as the signifier of castration, stands for such an organ without a body?[9] 

What for Deleuze is traversing the symbolic becomes traversing the fantasy in Lacan as Zizek pointed out first in The Sublime Object of Ideology and later in The Ticklish Subject. Traversing the fantasy is a stage in the process of progress and it is only upon entry into the symbolic that the subject becomes capable of initiating change in the symbolic order. In Lacan’s mirror stage where a series of imaginary Narcissistic identifications prepares the subject for the symbolic order, the child has an illusory sense of oneness and yet this illusion is necessary only in so far as the child will traverse this fantasy and will have learned to look at the world without identification.

A detachment from identification is common to both Deleuze and Zizek and in this sense they are both Lacanians. Lacan is the one that unites them as he splits them. For Deleuze the Lacanian symbolic is that in which the subject finds itself upon birth, so to initiate change the subject should try to introduce an exterior inside, a new language within language. Deleuze tries to put language in touch with a pre-verbal, if not pre-linguistic stage. It is to Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position that Deleuze attributes importance. Deleuze takes the schizoid part of the paranoid-schizoid position and extracts from schizophrenia all apart from introjection and splitting processes. Following Klein Deleuze makes a distinction between introjection and identification. According to Deleuze introjection and splitting are useful tools for creating difference, whereas identification not only preserves but also serves the system. Zizek agrees with him on the usefulness of introjection and splitting. In both cases the revolutionary-becoming is associated with the death drive. But Zizek disagrees with Deleuze’s association of introjection and splitting with schizophrenia.

For Zizek there must be a distance between reason and non-reason. One should not try to name the unnamable, but rather one must show the nothingness outside everything, to do this one must introduce a split into the symbolic continuity of things. An interruption of the system from within is the aim of both Zizek and Deleuze, and yet while Zizek affirms non-representability of the unconscious, Deleuze sees the unconscious as the producer of difference and initiator of change. For Deleuze the unconscious is dynamic, but for Zizek it is static and it is this static state outside time that manifests itself in the form of gaps within the symbolic order; it splits and interrupts the flow of things, rather than participate in it.

What does Oedipalisation mean? It means the production of a subject who would willingly blind himself to the social reality. Who would rather see nothing rather than see the truth. An Oedipalised subject is he who blinds himself to the symbolic meaning of things and chooses to see the nothingness before or after the symbolic. It is the symbolic that Oedipus represses by blinding himself to it. That he has engaged in sexual intercourse with his mother and killed his father, induces such guilt in Oedipus that he punishes himself by cutting himself off from the external world. This Oedipal introversion of the subject leads to a weakening rather than a strengthening of the subject’s fantasy world. With the exclusion of reality, fantasy has nothing to mediate. Unconscious drives cannot attach themselves to external objects so as to turn into desire. Left hanging in the air the unconscious drives turn against the subject and the subject becomes self-destructive, blinding himself to the symbolic, thus opening himself up to the nothingness behind it by choosing to see nothing. An Oedipal subject closes his eyes and seeing the nothingness inside says there is nothing outside. He is Nietzsche’s man, as he puts at the beginning and the end of On The Genealogy of Morality, who “would much rather will nothingness than not will.” For he still wills, otherwise he wouldn’t want to blind himself to it all. It is because he cannot help willing although he doesn’t want to will that his will turns against itself and wills nothingness rather than something to stand in for it. 

It is Nietzsche’s legacy to have made a distinction between the subject and the signifier, knowledge and truth. By exposing the absence of an origin of knowledge he exposed the absence of truth in knowledge. Nietzsche inverted into the spotlight the nothingness inherent in knowledge which is constitutive of a truth outside scientific knowledge. Truth can take many forms and one of these is poetic truth, which Nietzsche considers to be closer to the absolute truth, which is the truth of the absence of truth at the center of scientific knowledge.

For Nietzsche there is no relation whatsoever between the object of knowledge and the truth of experience. Perhaps what Deleuze would years later call transcendental empiricism explains the production of truths alternative to the scientific truth which claims to be objective and absolute. For Deleuze literary activity involves creation of impersonal consciousnesses within the subject of writing. The subject of writing should detach himself/herself from the object of writing; that is, the writer should make a distinction between the enunciated and the subject of enunciation. As Deleuze puts it in his essay, Life and Literature, “literature is not a personal affair.”  Literature is not about writing down one’s personal experiences as they actually took place, which is impossible anyway. Literature involves selecting from experience and giving form to formless experience which is yet to take the shape of new forms of experience. Out of the old experience one creates new experience.

The writer turns unnameable drives into new symbolic meanings and new objects of desire. With Deleuze the unconscious is given a very important role to play in the process of cultural production. The non-symbolizable drives interacting with one another and forming what is called the unconscious are turned into comprehensible and desirable forms through literature. Literature contributes to the symbolic order by producing not only new symbolic meanings of the already existing objects but also new objects which didn’t previously exist within the symbolic order.  Literature, therefore, turns the unconscious drive into the symbolic desire. So Deleuze could say the unconscious produces desire. Literature is about turning the pre-verbal — if not pre-linguistic — objects into verbal objects with symbolic meanings attached to them. Literature constructs a world in which the objects gain new significance.

David Pearson, a plastic surgeon, has a fun hobby: photoshopping Escher/Droste-style remixes of watch-faces, combination-lock dials, and other round readouts and twiddles.

Droste/Escher (Thanks, Teresa!)

(Image: Antique Time Spiral, used by permission)

[1] Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (Berkeley: University of California, 1975), 92

[2] Antonin Artaud, Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (University of California: Berkeley, 1975), 570-1

[3] F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up (New York: New Directions, 1945), 69

[4] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003),

[5] Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, transl.Daniel W. Smith and Michale A. Greco (London and New York: Verso, 1998), 3

[6] Friedrich Nietzsche, On The Genealogy of Morality, trans. Maudemarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998), 116-8

[7] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester with Charles Stivale, (London: Continuum, 2003), 155

[8] Gilles Deleuze, Essays: Critical and Clinical, transl. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Verso: London and New York, 1998), 2

[9] Slavoj Žižek, Organs Without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 83

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