Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Transversality as ontology and ecosophy.

With transversality we appear to have a powerful and subversive tool with which to combat the problem of bureaucratic sclerosis, capable of a direct and intentional opposition to institutionalisation. As Guattari contends, “there is nothing inevitable about the bureaucratic self-multilation of a subject group” providing they are able to confront “irrationality, death, and the otherness of the other.” (MR, p.23). Transversality allows him to draw on alterity in a less cautious fashion than Sartre, as a resource with which to engineer opposition to bureaucratisation at the unconscious level. On this basis permanent transversal analysis breaks down both horizontal and vertical structures, generating transitional objects which auto-correct the aim of the subject group. However this conception is not without drawbacks, perhaps inherent in the psychoanalytic context from which it springs. Whilst Guattari explains that interpretation is not performed by someone “that adopts the role of the ‘analyst’”and might be performed by “the idiot of the ward if he is able to make his voice heard” (MR, p.17) this statement is less subversive than it superficially appears.

If only subject groups are capable of elucidating their own objects (hence able to speak for themselves), and the emergence of such groups depends on the analyst’s skilled manipulation of transversality, then the analyst retains a degree of authority. Perhaps this is inevitable given that transversality (akin to deterritorialization in A Thousand Plateaus) is not an unqualified good, rather a process which must be applied with caution and expertise to avoid traumatic and destructive outcomes. This threatens to replicate the active party/inert working class schema characteristic of dogmatic Marxism, relocated to the unconscious terrain of schizoanalysis. It also demonstrates the cost inherent in the use of transversality, the loss of the kind of genuine agency which Sartre was so keen to preserve. What is more, as Guattari ontologises transversality in his later work this erasure of agency and the focus on subjectivation over actual praxis (or functioning as its equivalent) becomes ever more evident.

i Cartographic ontology and the ecosophic object.

In Chaosmosis Guattari develops a complex theory of interactions between individuals, groups and pre-personal machinic elements of subjectivation. Here he abandons any notion of a traditional personological account in favour of a radically decentred metamodelisation of the unconscious, where “beneath the diversity of beings […] there is a plane of machinic interfaces” (CH, p.58). Here subjectivity produces itself and is always collective because “the unconscious is above all a social agencement, the collective force of latent utterances. Only secondarily can those utterances be divided into what belongs to you or me.” (MR, p.257). Subjectivity then is an emergent property, arising from interactions between four ontological functors (machinic phylums, material fluxes, existential territories, and incorporeal universes of value, containing components which are both virtual and actual, discursive and non-discursive). These distinct ontological domains are traversed and interfaced by entities termed collective assemblages of enunciation, collective in that they “exceed the problematic of the individuated subject”, and enunciative in the sense of a process of semiotization (rather than representation or signification reducible to a single subject who enunciates).

Bruno Bosteels has noted that because the schizoanalytic practice of mapping transversal linkages between functors is not one of representation, it acquires an entirely praxical dimension as “a process of autopoiesis rather than mimesis” developing “openings onto the virtual and onto creative processuality.” (CH, p.31). In other words it is an absolutely creative act itself. This develops a characteristic from the earlier work, the blurring of the boundary between action and interpretation. If as Guattari claims it is “the map that, somehow, engenders the territory” what of the position of the cartographer themselves? When he returns to discuss the practice at La Borde in Chaosmosis, it is explicit that now “only the network of nuclei of partial enunciation […] could arguably hold the title of institutional analyser […] the psychotherapist […] is only a link in this complex apparatus.” (CH, p.71). This erasure of the analyst but the continuation of the analysis, a mapping without a cartographer so to speak, demonstrates the absolutely immanent nature of the ontology Guattari is proposing. By no longer privileging the analyst within the institution or political movement Guattari appears to better conserve the notion of subject groups as genuinely autopoietic. But this also raises a serious question as to the role of the agent, now that the task of creating the conditions for the production of subject groups has shifted into the pre-personal domain of collective assemblages.

Guattari’s political concerns also become increasingly transversalised, into a new articulation he terms ecosophy: a transversally linked series of mental, social, and environmental problematics. Here virtual ecology is just as important as the ecology of the actual, the ecology of art forms as significant as the ecology of life forms. In the face of integrated world capitalism, and the threat posed in every ecological register by the technological transformations this has brought with it, (most importantly the serial type of mass media subjectivity) only a praxis which traverses the actual and virtual, the mental, the social and the environmental, will be sufficient to meet the challenge. As posed in Chaosmosis the chief ecological problem is an investment of human desire in production for its own sake. The issue then is how to “change mentalities, [to] reinvent social practices that would give back to humanity […] a sense of responsibility” requiring in turn “a refoundation of political praxis” (CH, pp.119-20). This praxis is to be focussed upon the deconstruction of the market in favour of centring all economic activities on the production of subjectivity.

The role of the group within the new problematic is set out in The Three Ecologies (1989). Guattari is interested in the development of the group desire, acting in opposition to more personological forms of social subjectivation. Instead of a social ecology revolving around the self or the family (key elements of the kind of mass mediatised identity cultivated by integrated world capitalism) we need to encourage “auto-referential subject-groups, which open onto the socius and the cosmos” (3Es, p.39). Such subject groups are formed by collective assemblages of enunciation rather than what Guattari describes as “mechanisms of empty repetition” (3Es, p.40). Guattari identifies two key movements in capitalist subjectivation: on the one hand an ever increasing split between the serial subjectivity of workers, an underclass, and the elite subjectivity of the executive classes. On the other a kind of reterritorialisation of the family to recode old workerist identities with new middle-class ones. To counter these forces social ecology must move into a post-media age, facilitated by the takeover of mass media outlets by subject groups, replacing the homogenous processes of capitalist subjectivation with newly singular, productive, responsible ones. Guattari’s concern here is “to institute, in particular, new systems of valorisation” (3Es, p42) rather than a fully worked through model of a new society. Such systems of valorisation would work to inculcate a politics of dissensus, rather than totalisation, a “multifaceted movement” principally concerned with “heterogenesis, […] processes of continual resingularisation” (3Es, pp.44-5).

A transversal ecosophical politics certainly has many advantages, chiefly the ability to think the compossibility of a diverse range of problematics within a single theory. In this respect it can better approach the irreversibly interlinked issues of contemporary geopolitics in a way which perhaps, for example, Badiou’s discrete truth processes might be unable (given that the zone of compossibility is reserved for philosophy itself). But at the same time the wide ranging “continual movement from one ‘front’ to the other” (MR, p.257) of transversal politics hazards the melting away of a singularly and committed politics in such a mêlée of assorted interests. What gives ecosophy a consistency that this description belies however, (and in spite of its extraordinary array of concerns, from media reforms, to reorganization of the free market, to the need for new experimental post-communist alliances), is its ceaseless return to just one question, subjectivation. This is not unproblematic in itself, for though within institutional psychotherapy this is legitimately the primary issue, is there not a distinction to be drawn between such contexts and the political or ecological sphere? Whilst his advice to the green movement to “concern itself, as a matter of priority, with its own social and mental ecology” (CH, p.129) has some merits, is this alone necessary? In other words, in focussing so closely on forms of subjectivation, does Guattari not remain too closely tied to the subject (albeit radically depersonalised, fragmented, machinically derived, transversally linked to a myriad of other ontological registers) at the cost of active political praxis?

ii. Transversality: intersubjective relation or intrasubjective self-differentiation?

If in his early work Guattari appeared to accord a privileged role to the analyst, his later conception erases this in favour of an immanent ontology ultimately determined by the activities of machinic pre-personal entities, the collective assemblages of enunciation. In so doing the later work can be identified as being more closely in line with that of his collaborator, Gilles Deleuze. Such systems have drawn criticism of late for conferring on the actor a kind of paralysis, perhaps even erasing the decisive subject altogether. Though Guattari himself is clearly deeply concerned with subjectivation, in the final analysis whilst subject groups are active, they are entirely dependent on pre-personal processes of formation. As he puts it

“it is less by way of voluntary decision than by induction of an unconscious collective assemblage that the psychotic is led to take the initiative, to accept responsibility” (CH, p.70 emphasis my own).

Guattari continues to use the Sartrean terminology of responsibility here, but it is responsibility of a most curious kind, (submissive responsibility by induction) and certainly not the sort that Sartre himself would recognise. The subject group is passive because it depends on a force outside or behind it to lead it towards the moment of autopoiesis. In this sense (and contra Genosko’s assertion that transversality in the later work has removed its psychoanalytic scaffolding almost completely) the psychoanalytic origins continue to overdetermine his group theory. Peter Hallward has critiqued Deleuze’s valorisation of the virtual over the actual for leading to a subject without agency or strategy, and hence whose decisions are devoid of genuine consequence. Similarly in Guattari’s own work though there is a great deal of strategic discourse, it is almost entirely focussed on a domain prior to the emergence of the subject itself. This reduces agency to a play of chasmotic processes, machinic assemblages without an engineer, self-engendering maps without a mapmaker.

Further, once ontologised and immanentised, Guattari’s processural theory of assemblages begins to present a problem for transversality’s status as a properly relational operator. Relation might be considered to require that between terms there exist a degree of tension, the condition of real alterity itself, the otherness of this term in relation to that. In Sartre’s system, due to his need to maintain the original posit of absolute subjective freedom, this tension is extremely high, and relation (between for-itselves at least) is cautious or even threatening, giving rise to positive characteristics only under the most exceptional of circumstances (i.e.: the group-in-fusion). From a Deleuzean point of view Sartre’s alterity is “totally compromised by an-all-too empirical acceptance of the other” or of the other as genuinely other. In Guattari’s later system alterity is set at an extremely low tension, given the lack of real autonomy for any of the components in the system (either human individuals or pre-personal machinic assemblages). Guattari does not conceal this, instead explicitly foregrounding the linkage connecting subject to object, focussing on the excluded middle, rather than the specificity of either term in themselves. Transversality allows this foregrounding and much more than merely that. In Chaosmosis it enables Guattari to think the existence of mutant virtual entities, described as

"half-object half-subject [with] neither inside nor outside […] becomings - understood as nuclei of differentiation [which] agglomerate in the same transversal flash the subject and object, the self and the other" (CH, pp.92-3).

At the level of these virtual machines transversality ushers us into a Deleuzean universe wherein relation is a term for the self-differentiation of reality itself. The ontologisation of transversality destroys the very idea of relation between discrete, specific, and autonomous items which are properly other to each other and must be understood precisely as a becoming other not a relation between others, an intra-subjective self-differentiation rather than an inter-subjective operator.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

The transversal Subject group in Guattari's early work.

Guattari’s ontology is in many respects opposed to that of Sartre’s: it rejects the very notion of lack (either thought in terms of the empty surging self-transcendence of an intentional consciousness or a material situation determined by scarcity) and stakes out a position which allows a far greater role for the social and relation in general (for Guattari even an individual human is actually a group in the sense of being the result of a multiplicity of pre-personal machinic relations). However as Guattari himself puts it “I spent almost fifteen years of my life being saturated not only by Sartre’s writings but by his actions. Everything I have said and done is in some way marked by him.” Indeed as Gary Genosko has accurately contended, “if a single philosopher may be said to haunt Guattari’s work, it is surely Sartre.” This inspiration is especially pervasive whenever Guattari comes to talk of the group, markedly so in his earliest writings but this continues to be the case even in Chaosmosis and The Three Ecologies. As such we will consider his early work on institutional analysis and gauge how well Guattari’s new conceptual technology and psychoanalytic standpoint is able to overcome the challenges to the group which beset Sartre. Then we will critically assess what happens when transversality slips the bounds of this initial setting and comes to define every level of Guattarian thought. What is at stake here is whether this expanded relational ontology is able to produce the kinds of groups capable of agency in the practical matters of politics, and whether in taking transversality as the key resource from which to construct an ontology it is even proper to think of it as relational at all.

i. Opening the blinkers: the group in institutional analysis.
Transversality, originally a topological concept meaning an “extending over, lying across, intersecting […] without a resulting coincidence”, first enters philosophy via Sartre’s The Transcendence of the Ego. Here consciousness “unifies itself […] by a play of ‘transversal’ internationalities which are concrete or real retentions of past consciousnesses.” In this way Sartre is able to unite consciousness with its past instantiations without recourse to any kind of transcendent ego. Guattari’s re-formulation of the concept in his early essays of the 1960s ‘Transversality’ and ‘The Group and the individual’ alter this in three primary ways. It mutates from a device designed to connect the past with the present into a newly future-oriented one, it spatialises a previously purely temporal notion, and finally it is now crucially intersubjective in nature.

Guattarian transversality originates as the solution to a very specific problem: how to conduct psychoanalysis in an institutional setting (indeed the very specific setting of the Clinique de La Borde where Guattari developed his experimental psychotherapeutic practice). An institution can be thought of as a complex network of lines of unconscious force, relation, and desire. In such a setting the usual concept of a bilateral analyst-analysand transferential relationship become ever more complicated. As set out in the essay of the same name from 1964, transversality is applied as a way of conceptualising and manipulating this intricate networks of unconscious relation of which a psychiatric hospital consists. In this sense transversality is deployed as a coefficient of openness between institutional sub-groups and strata, illustrated by allusion to a horse’s blinkers, which can be more or less open. Institutional analysis uses transversality as a tool to “change the data accepted by the super-ego into a new kind of acceptance of initiative” (MR, p.13) and thereby circumvent the usual castrating forms of subjectivation. From a Sartrean perspective, we might consider this to be the creation of the conditions necessary for patients to begin to take responsibility, to get a grip on their situation and emerge from inert passivity into activity, the activity here being the creation of new forms of subjectivity.

In the essay “Transversality” Guattari identifies two (non-absolute) kinds of groups in operation: subject groups and subjugated/dependent groups. A subject group “endeavours to control its own behaviour and elucidate its object, and […] can produce its own tools of elucidation.” (MR, p.14) whereas the subjugated/dependent group is merely passive and fits into the hierarchical arrangement of other groups within an institution. Here we can see parallels with Sartre’s group-in-fusion/serial collective gathering schema, both in terms of the active nature of the subject group and the manner in which it produces techniques designed to clarify its own objectives (comparable to the progressive-regressive nature of the praxis of the group-in-fusion). The object of institutional therapy is to create the conditions amenable to the formation of such subject groups.

Guattari adds to this Sartrean schema the manifest/latent distinction from Freud, with the manifest content of the group (the things it says and does, the role played by its leading members) being set apart from the latent content, in other words the group’s unconscious desire. The structure of the institution itself, consisting of the organisational configuration of doctors, nurses, and other staff operates as a block to the free movement and expression of the group desire of the patients. What transversality works upon is not merely the manifest communicative/organisational structure, but the latent and unconscious system of flows of desire. As Guattari describes it transversality “tries to overcome both the impasse of pure verticality and that of mere horizontality” (MR, p.18). The Sartrean echoes here are clear: verticality describes hierarchical structures, of exactly the kind formed once a group-in-fusion ossifies into a bureaucratic institution, and horizontality refers to the kind of structure of seriality, a sequential arrangement of isolated terms. Transversality as organisational tool liquidates both forms of structure, in favour of a more fluid and distinctively non-hierarchical system of intra-organisational unconscious relation.

Whilst Guattari certainly incorporates elements of Freudian psychoanalysis, his post-Sartrean conception of the subject group ought to be sharply distinguished from the kind of group psychology earlier developed by Freud. For Freud the group takes on a largely negative role as “a revival of the primordial horde”, allowing the individual to fall in love with a charismatic leader figure and hence fall into the mass psychology of fascism. The kind of group psychology he sketches is mediated through the libidinal bond to the leader, posited as the ego ideal of each constituent member of the group. Guattari certainly allows for such possibilities within the subjugated group, as set out in Anti-Oedipus (even if a group is revolutionary at the pre-conscious level, providing that they maintain a libidinal investment of a reactionary nature the “unconscious libido continues to invest […] the old form of power, its codes and its flows” ). However the subject group (like the group-in-fusion) is absolutely a figure of emancipation and empowerment, enabling the individual patient in question to attain new and more productive forms of subjectivity by joining the semiotic system of the subject group. Subject groups also depend upon the breaking down of precisely the kind of hierarchical mediation via the leader presented by Freud.

The group may remain couched in Sartrean terms, but the psychoanalytical context means that we are now dealing with a very different kind conception of individual consciousness. For Guattari the individual is no longer a closed system as seen with Sartre’s for-itself, irreducibly isolated from other such entities, but rather radically open, and hence always already a group phenomenon. As he puts it in the 1966 article ‘The Group and the Individual’: “beyond the Ego, the subject is to be found in scattered fragments all over the world of history” (MR, p27). As such alterity is no longer to be feared (and only redeemed via the mediated reciprocity of the group), but is rather the very property which guarantees transversal relations, and hence the possibility of creating new forms of subjectivity. Transversality is used to both set the conditions for the emergence of subject groups and to channel flows of desire so as to conjoin individuals with these new active groups. In so doing the patient “will be revealed to himself as he is beyond his imaginary and neurotic dilemmas.”(MR, p.20). As Guattari describes it transversality operates as “the unconscious source of action in the group […] carrying the group's desire” (MR, p.22). By breaking down pre-existing structural forms (for example by use of ‘the grid’ at La Borde to regularly shift all members of the institution, staff and patients alike, between diverse job roles) patients are exposed to multifarious new relations of alterity. This in turn enables a radical break with past forms of subjectivation, codings, and habits. This rupture with inherited models and forms of signification sets up the potential space within which subject groups can begin to produce themselves.

ii The transversal group in history and politics

In ‘The Group and the Person’ Guattari takes his institutional notion of the subject group and transversality and applies it to political movements. What is immediately apparent is that whilst we have moved from the domain of psychotherapy to politics, Guattari himself maintains a similar perspective to that demonstrated in the ‘Transversality’ essay. For him the actual efficacy of political group praxis, (in terms of achieving a concrete aim) is somewhat of a secondary issue. It is the kind of subjectivity which membership of the group fosters which is primary, and as such “whether there was real effectiveness hardly matters; certain kinds of action and concentration represent a break with the habitual social processes and in particular the modes of communication and expression of feeling inherited from the family” (MR, p.29).

Here Guattari emphasises the importance of group phantasy in a more emphatic manner than in ‘Transversality’, distinguishing between basic group phantasies and transitional group phantasies. Basic group phantasies serve to render the subjugated group the prisoner of its own phantasies, an example which Guattari gives is of the false territorialisation of the group-as-body, leading to racism and nationalism. Another example of basic group phantasies in bureaucratised societies is that of roles and career narratives, all of which in Sartrean terms serve to preserve a serial and inert existence. The transitional group phantasy on the other hand operates as a kind of internal process of subjectivation, enabling the reorganisation of the group structure and breaking with previously solid demarcations of roles. The transitional group phantasy seems to operate in a similar (though unconscious) fashion to that of the processes of mediated reciprocity which redeem the alienated third party from alterity in Sartre’s group-in-fusion. For when transitional phantasies are in operation, as Guattari puts it “everyone becomes ‘one of us’” (MR, p.42). Transitional phantasies enable the subject group to develop a transitional object, characterised as the constantly shifting and self-correcting aim of the revolutionary group that “keeps asking whether it is right, whether it should totally transform itself” (MR, p.39). This transitional object enables a kind of self-awareness, at the group level of phantasy, so as to oppose internal bureaucratisation with internal subjectivating forces.

In ‘Causality, Subjectivity and History’ (1965) Guattari discusses in depth how the subject group at the centre of the Leninist breakthrough operated. Here he is interested in picking apart the relation between historical breaks and breaks in chains of signification. Ruptures of this kind, Guattari claims, act to disrupt the standard flow of historical causality of the kind modelled by deterministic historical materialism. In a manner which recalls Sartre in Search for a Method he is resolved to hold firm to the idea that subjective interventions are capable of surmounting the mechanistic theories propounded by the dogmatic forms of Marxism. Like Badiou he stresses that the nature of the breakthrough event must be defended against these who would in a Thermidorean manner seek to claim that the event never happened. However his chief concern is to think what network of signifiers enabled the breakthrough, and what then led to this breakthrough subject group to collapse into the nightmare of bureaucratic Stalinism. The fall into Stalinism is diagnosed as being the result of factors present from near the very beginnings of the movement, as the result of certain “collective phantasies of omnipotence” (MR, p.187) which created a simplistic sense of articulation between the party and the people. In turn this meant that no lasting institutional structural innovations were created, leading to the rapid sidelining of soviets and worker’s councils. The fundamental Leninist breakthrough is traced by Guattari to a single defining moment, at the second congress of the All-Russian Social Democratic Party in 1903. Here, in the split between Lenin and Trotsky and their previous allies Plekhanov and Martov, Guattari thinks a new kind of revolutionary semiotics was born, leading both to the success of the 1917 revolution and unfortunately to “the uncritical acceptance of slick-sounding slogans” (MR, p.189) and a contempt for the desire of the masses.

Guattari’s position in this essay remains intriguingly poised between denunciation and endorsement of Lenin and his methods. The creation of a separate institutional object (the party) composed entirely of revolutionaries is at the core of many of the problems which the movement faced, and yet is deemed to be the best response to the accurate diagnosis that “the working class, left to its own devices, tends to slip into trade unionism, in other words into the primacy of production over desire” (MR, p.200). In looking towards the contemporary political situation and the kinds of revolutionary groups required in the current moment, Guattari professes that whilst Leninism has absolutely run its course, there remains one sense in which we should continue to follow Lenin’s example

“I think one should still be a Leninist, at least in the specific sense of believing that we cannot really trust the spontaneity and creativity of the masses to establish analytical groups in any lasting way, though […] the object at this moment is to foster not a highly centralised party but some means whereby the masses can gain control over their own lives” (MR, p.202).

The aim of such analysis is to lay the ground for the autopoiesis of subject groups, to enable them to become open to desire. As such Guattari proposes “not permanent revolution perhaps, but permanent analysis” (MR, p.202). Though he attempts to guard against replicating the party form, denying the analytical corpuscle a role of leadership per se and always surrounding it with the necessary actual revolutionary praxis, it seems fair to say that there remains the considerable danger that in privileging this element over the subject group itself we run the risk of undermining the genuinely self-determining nature of the group. If as Guattari claims it is transversality which is the unconscious source of action in the group, then the analyst as engineer of this dimension comes close to a psychoanalytic version of the active party working to energise the essentially inert working class that Merleau-Ponty critiqued Sartre for cleaving to in the early 1950s. With transversality we appear to have a powerful and subversive tool with which to combat the problem of bureaucratic sclerosis, one capable of the kind of direct and intentional opposition to institutionalisation that we found was necessitated by Sartre’s model of group subjectivity. However, what we might also note at this juncture is that this conception is not without drawbacks, perhaps inherent in the psychoanalytic context from which it emerges. The aim of institutional analysis is to produce the subject group, requiring in turn the manipulation of the transversal coefficients of unconscious communication and flows of desire within the institution. Guattari acknowledges that the analyst, the one who engineers the opening of transversal relations, are themselves absolutely an element to be considered within this system (which is logical given both Heisenburg’s uncertainty principle and the creative and praxical dimension Guattari wishes to accord to the process of analysis). As such the transversalisation of any institution would require the analyst themselves to take part in activities like ‘the grid’. But they seem to retain a degree of privileged authority (at least to the extent that they are the one within the structure who possesses knowledge of the dimension of transversality). Whilst this raises the risk of replicating the active party/inert working class schema at the unconscious level, constant transversal analysis might be exactly the kind of process needed to oppose the collapse of subject groups or groups-in-fusion into paralysing hierarchical structures. But it also serves to demonstrates the cost inherent in the use of transversal analysis, which is the risk of the loss of the kind of agency which Sartre was so keen to preserve.