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NOTES ON THE INCIPIT TO ANTI-OEDIPUS

by Terence Blake

1) TRANSLATION

ANTI-OEDIPUS begins with a very striking opening paragraph:


"Ça fonctionne partout, tantôt sans arrêt, tantôt discontinu. Ça respire, ça chauffe, ça
mange. Ça chie, ça baise. Quelle erreur d’avoir dit le ça. Partout ce sont des machines,
pas du tout métaphoriquement : des machines de machines, avec leurs couplages, leurs
connexions. Une machine-organe est branchée sur une machine-source : l’une émet un
flux, que l’autre coupe. Le sein est une machine qui produit du lait, et la bouche, une
machine couplée sur celle-là. La bouche de l’anorexique hésite entre une machine à
manger, une machine anale, une machine à parler, une machine à respirer (crise
d’asthme). C’est ainsi qu’on est tous bricoleurs ; chacun ses petites machines. Une
machine-organe pour une machine-énergie, toujours des flux et des coupures. Le
président Schreber a les rayons du ciel dans le cul. Anus solaire. Et soyez sûrs que ça
marche ; le président Schreber sent quelque chose, produit quelque chose, et peut en
faire la théorie. Quelque chose se produit : des effets de machine, et non des
métaphores".

This has been translated competently, but a little freely in places, into English as follows:
"It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts.
It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id.
Everywhere it is machines-real ones, not figurative ones : machines driving other
machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings
and connections. An organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine : the one
produces a flow that the other interrupts. The breast is a machine that produces milk,
and the mouth a machine coupled to it. The mouth of the anorexic wavers between
several functions: its possessor is uncertain as to whether it is an eating-machine , an
anal machine, a talking-machine, or a breathing machine (asthma attacks). Hence we are
all handymen: each with his little machines. For every organ-machine, an energy-
machine: all the time, flows and interruptions. Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass.
A solar anus. And rest assured that it works : Judge Schreber feels something, produces
something, and is capable of explaining the process theoretically. Something is
produced : the effects of a machine, not mere metaphors".

Here is a more literal translation:


"It functions everywhere, at times without break, at times discontinuously. It breathes, it
heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the it. Everywhere it is
machines, not at all metaphorically : machines of machines, with their couplings, their
connections. An organ-machine is connected to a source-machine : the one produces a
flow that the other cuts. The breast is a machine that produces milk, and the mouth a
machine coupled to it. The anorexic’s mouth wavers between an eating-machine , an
anal machine, a talking machine, a breathing machine (asthma attack). That is how we
are all tinkerers: each with his or her little machines. An organ-machine, for an energy-
machine: all the time, flows and cuts. Judge Schreber has divine rays in his ass. Solar
anus. And rest assured that it works : Judge Schreber feels something, produces
something, and can make the theory of it. Something is produced : machine effects , not
metaphors".
Some linguistic comments:
1) There is just one verb in the first sentence, “functions”. I think it is best to keep it that way as
D&G are trying for a style faithful to events.
2) The very first word is “it” (“ça): “it” is pluralised and dispersed, as lots of functioning its. For
this reason, beginning with “it is at work everywhere” is inappropriate as this universalises “it”
where it should particularise.
3) Despite the overtly concrete style, the book’s first point is linguistic, concluding: “What a
mistake to have ever said the it”. In French it here is the neuter pronoun “ça”, the same word used to
render the Freudian concept of the id, translated as “le ça”. D&G propose to drop the definite
article, thus changing the logical grammar of the concept.
4) I have translated “tantôt…tantôt” as “at times…at times”. The expression is employed to express
a succession, an alternation, a dispersion of cases. Its sense is taken up later in the paragraph with
“wavers”, predicated of the anorexic’s mouth.
5) For the compact “machines of machines”, the published translation has the more long-windedly
“machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines“. This adds something
to the text, but inappropriately, as the sense suggests composed of rather than driven by. In the
French text there is no reciprocity, but a nesting: machines composed of machines. It’s machines all
the way down (and up).
6) “An organ-machine is connected to a source-machine“. The published translation reads: “An
organ-machine is plugged into an energy-source-machine“. The word “energy” has been added, it
does not fit the example given immediately after of the breast as source of milk. For the same
reason “plugged into” is not suited, as the mouth does not plug into the breast. “Branché” is difficult
to translate as it is a more generic word than its English equivalents, meaning: plugged into, hooked
onto, wired onto, attached to.
6) The published translation has “For every organ-machine, an energy-machine“. This inverts the
order and over-generalises (insertion of “every”). It is tinged with idealism, as if there were a
necessary correlate in the world to each of our organs. It should read: “An organ-machine, for an
energy-machine“. Of course, the same machine can be both organ (receptor) and source, as the
example of the anorexic’s mouth shows, so there is no sharp dualism. There is an asymmetrical
complementarity.
Note: I am not criticising the published translation. Translating French philosophy is a daunting
near-impossible endeavour. I want to comment on the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS (see next post) so
I decided to retranslate it for my own purposes. Translation is just as theory-laden as any other
experience, as the example of Schreber’s theorising shows.

2) CONCEPTUAL COMMENTARY

1) The vocabulary is simple and non-theoretical, colloquial, even a little coarse (“shits”, “fucks”),
which is unusual for a book of high theory. This is in line with D&G’s ambition to create a book of
nonacademic “pop” philosophy, comprehensible to everyone, to speak in ordinary words, without
concepts.
2) The paragraph is an imagistic declaration of D&G’s pragmatism (functions, machine) and
pluralism (error of “the it”). The vocabulary and grammar work in the same sense as the imagistic
language. The pluralisation of “it” foreshadows D&G’s critique of Freud as a monist thinker
submitting concrete multiplicities to abstract unities.
3) There is an opposition between “machine” and “metaphor” that should not be blindly accepted.
“Machine” is a frequent metaphor in French for talking about the State, and its institutions and
apparatuses, and it is used much more often than in English.
The real opposition is between machine and structure. The point of encounter between Deleuze and
Guattari was Guattari’s text “Machine and structure”. The polemic against metaphor is subordinate
to the polemic with structure and the critique of the signifier.
4) “It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks”. What is implicit but missing from this list? Speech.
This is spelled out in the second example that D&G give (after the breast): the mouth, specifically
the anorexic’s mouth, which “wavers” not just between different functions but between different
machines (including talking machine) as if function constitutes machine, which otherwise is
undetermined. The anorexic’s mouth is D&G’s Schrödinger’s cat.
5) Writing is also missing from the list. We know from Deleuze’s “Letter to a harsh critic” that his
aim was to “treat writing as a flow, not a code” (NEGOTIATIONS, 7).
6) The first word of the book is “it” (“ça”). Deleuze had already posited the impersonal “it” (“il”) as
the pronoun of the pure event, expressing the fourth person of the singular as dummy subject of the
event. The difference between “il” and “ça”, both translated as “it”, is one of actualisation. The
neutral impersonal pronoun “il” of “il pleut” (it rains) is more virtual, the demonstrative pronoun
“ça” of “ça respire” (it breathes) is more concrete, more actualised, but still impersonal, neuter,
generic, and evental.
7) The book begins with the pronoun”it” in the singular and condemns the Freudian use of the
definite article (le ça, the id) as a mistake. It is both too conceptual, in the bad sense of concept that
D&G wanted to escape, and too monist (“the” indicating uniqueness).The first move of the book is
pluralisation and concretisation.
D&G do not really want to avoid concepts, in the valorised sense that they give to this word in
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, but abstractions. Psychoanalysis is too abstract, it has perverted the
conceptual grammar of words, making them academic and monist rather than pragmatic and
pluralist.
8) Metaphor, in the dualist sense, is not enough to escape from abstraction, nor is an aesthetic use of
language. D&G want to change the logical grammar of words, to bring them back to a pragmatic
(“machinic”) use. This method is the invention of concepts, but the concepts invented in this first
paragraph do not receive a scholarly name, unlike many of the concepts in the rest of the book.
9) The third example, after the breast and the anorexic, is Schreber, who both lives his delirium and
theorises it in its own terms. Schreber is a foreshadowing of the notion of speaking in one’s own
name, that is in the name of one’s experiences and intensities, of one’s machines and their effects.
That is the book that D&G would have liked to write, in their own name, but they have only half-
succeeded.The book is full of compromises:
We’re well aware that the frst volume of Anti-Oedipus is still full of compromises, too
full of things that are still scholarly and rather like concepts. So we’ll change, we
already have… We’re going to stop compromising, because we don’t need to any more
(NEGOTIATIONS, 9).

10) The book is “full of compromises”, by Deleuze’s own admission. The term “machine” is one of
them. There is no enduring machine-ontology in D&G, and the word “machine” is backgrounded in
A THOUSAND PLATEAUS in favour of “assemblage”, and in favour of “image” in the cinema
books. Each ontology they propose is provisional, and the machine ontology was pertinent to the
critique of a certain stage of Lacanian theory.
11) In their final collaborative work WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? D&G privilege an imagistic
characterisation or dramatisation of the concept in terms of lines and planes, conceptual characters
and landscapes over an intellectualistic definition. This dramatisation was there from the beginning
in Deleuze’s work, but was obscured by its specific conceptual instantiations (difference, machine,
assemblage). These particular ontologies are not given out as metaphysical absolutes, but as relative
to a field of intervention. They are “under erasure”.
12) Deleuze’s project was always pluralist and pragmatist. He encountered the danger of scientistic
reductionism in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (mathematism, structuralism, differentialism).
Deleuze was moving towards an aesthetic reductionism in LOGIC OF SENSE, and his
collaboration with Guattari temporarily saved him from that, but the danger of political
reductionism emerged. The turn to the cinema allowed Deleuze to avoid this danger, but the
aesthetic reduction returned with renewed force. Deleuze was only able to achieve a provisional
non-reductive equlibrium in the final collaboration with Guattari, but at the price of a classical set
of ultimately structuralist demarcations between philosophy, art, and science.
13) In fact the book is more ambiguous on this point of structuralist demarcation than it seems at
first sight. It allows for intermediate, composite, transversal, and undetermined cases.
14) “Politics” is not included in the list of modes and practices of thought isolated and analysed,
something that Badiou was quick to point out. It would seem that Deleuze was sensitive to this
omission of politics as a separate field of analysis (even if it is present as an environing element in
the book), and was planning a final work to be called MARX’S GREATNESS. This should
probably be seen as expressing a symptom to be transmuted, a compensatory dream to inspire a new
creation, rather than to be actualised as such.
14) Deleuze’s path is one of successive instantiations of a pluralist and pragmatist meta-ontological
research programme. The positive heuristic was one of increasing concrete theory by means of
increasingly imagistic conceptualisation. The negative heuristic was the avoidance of diverse
temptations to become fixated with a reductionist formulation of this project.
15) Deleuze was never caught in reductionism (contrary to what pompously self-styled “non-
philosophers” may pretend). Rather, he was constantly working in the vicinity of one reductionism
or another, proceeding by way of a logic of positive compensations and complementations. The
movement is not one of reduction but of amplification.

3) EVALUATION AND SELF-EVALUATION

The function of the language of ANTI-OEDIPUS is performative, it attempts to effectuate in its


enunciative style the break with (Freudian, Lacanian) psychoanalysis that it talks about in the
enounced content. For example, the removal of the definite article from the pronoun “it” id), its
pluralisation and personification (It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits, it fucks) constitute a radical
conceptual transformation of analytcal discourse. However, the break accomplished is a modest,
transitional step compared with what is to come.
Let us examine the incipit to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, published eight years after ANTI-
OEDIPUS:
The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was
already quite a crowd. Here we have made use of everything that came within range,
what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to
prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of
habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves,
but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it’s nice to talk like everybody else,
to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking. To reach,
not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any
importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own.
We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.
The same self-consciousness about language (“clever pseudonyms”, “it’s only a manner of
speaking”) and the same move of pluralisation and of de-personalisation (“We are no longer
ourselves”, “we have been…multiplied”) by means of multiple personification are present, yet
much has changed. The de-sibjectivation by means of “it” has been dropped, as its allusive
transgression of psychoanalytical vocabulary is no longer necessary.
Retrospectively we can see that the transgressive and derisory incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS is still
under the influence of the psychoanalytic problematic. Later in the book (ANTI-OEDIPUS, 161)
D&G will tell us that transgression and derision are themselves derisory, and that: “revolutions have
nothing to do with transgressions“.
ANTI-OEDIPUS’s first technical term is “machine”. This is immediately differentiated into “organ-
machine” and “source-machine”, each defined in terms of their action: “one emits a flow and the
other cuts it“. The machine ontology is undercut by another ontology, one of flows and cuts: “all
the time, flows and cuts“.
The first example is rather abstract as it is not about a concrete case of anorexia, but a case of “the
anorexic in general”, reduced to “the anorexic’s mouth”. It’s function is to show that the
differentiation of organ-machine and source-machine is not an absolute dualism but a relative
pragmatic distinction.Strangely this first example is not so much illustrative of their machine
ontology as deconstructive.
This poses the question of the relation between the examples given in the text and its theoretical
apparatus. If they wish to avoid abstractions and speak concretely (an ideal claimed by D&G in
their last book WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?) D&G should probably have given more space to
specific examples and to singular cases, however indirectly and, to coin a term, deterritorialisedly
related.
The second example, that of Schreber, is even less of a fit to the machine ontology than the first.
True, they talk of “divine rays in his ass”, but he is not reduced to his anus in the way that “the
anorexic” was reduced to his or her mouth. The Schreber example is set forth to show that his
delirium is not metaphorical, too be interpreted by the analyst in terms of his Oedipal drama, but
machinic, speaking in his own name of his experiences.
Thanks to the comparison with A THOUSAND PLATEAUS we can see even more clearly the
unresolved tensions at work in the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS. D&G talk of themselves as
multiplicities acted by more than human forces, but these multiplicities and forces are specified in
terms of “its” (later spelled out as “partial objects”). There is a self-reflexivity about language, we
can already deduce that in their machine ontology a book is a “little machine”, and that writing is a
“flow”, but this is said explicitly only in later works.
There is also the privileging of pathological examples. Machinic ontology is illustrated by the
anorexic’s mouth and Schreber’s ass. Later in the incipit to WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? D&G will
speak of how “all the parts of the machine come together” in the paintings of Titien, Turner and
Monet, in the writing of Chateaubrian, in the films of Ivens, and even in the third Critique of Kant.
Here the “machines” are artitstic, and we are situated on a different plane than the reductive one of
anorexics’ mouths and paranoiacs asses. The pathologising is maintained, rightly so as we need a
good dose of pathological experience to free us from the mediocrity of normal experience.
Even here the pathologising is indirect, as D&G talk in the name of the experience of old age, when
both of them are physically ill rather than old. No doubt they are right to want avoid the trap of
biographical empiricism. Compared to the transgressive language of the incipit to ANTI-OEDIPUS
they have gained in sobriety and can “speak concretely” at last. This was their aim from the
beginning, but they declare in their own evaluation of their work:
“We were not sober enough”
4) CONTEXTS AND PERSPECTIVES

The first paragraph has three examples, or perhaps four if we include “it”, let’s call it example zero.
The progression is from abstract and generic to concrete and specific:
0) “it” – a pluralisation and concretisation of the Freudian id (“What an error to have said the it”).
As used here “it” is ambiguous between the partial object and what will later be called the body
without organs. Subsequently, not much use is made of this acception of the term “it”. The first
word of the book is “it”, but the enunciative impact is to introduce us into a new conceptual
universe where the logical grammar of “it” is different.
This new conceptual universe is still very much in the vicinity of psychoanalysis. “It” serves as a
point of bifurcation. This confrms Deleuze’s Nietzschean idea that the new mode of thought is
introduced under the mask of the old. The bifurcation begins with a minor modification, but the
divergence between the new and the old becomes ever more pronounced.
The evolution of D&G’s thought, begun in the vicinity of psychoanalysis, leaves it far behind. Here
is the beginning of paragraph 2 of RHIZOME in its original version as a separate book published in
1976 (this passage is unfortunately omitted in the version published four years later MILLE
PLATEAUX):
“We no longer speak much about psychoanalysis, even though we still speak of it, too
much. Nothing is happening there anymore. We were profoundly fed up with it, but
unable to stop straight away. Psychoanalysts and above all psychoanalysed bore us too
much. This matter slowed us down, we had to speed it up for our own goals – without
having any illusion about the objective import of such an operation – we had to impart
to it an artificial speed capable of bringing it to the point of rupture or breaking point for
us. It’s over, after this book we will speak of psychoanalysis no more” (RHIZOME,
page 8, my translation).

There is a line of de-psychoanalysation in D&G’s theoretical development.


1) “the breast” and “the mouth”: introduced as generic examples of machines and of their functional
specification into source-machine and an organ-machine. These are partial objects considered
outside any personnological determination. Their complementarity (“An organ-machine for every
energy-machine”) is a specific case of the complementarity of cuts and fluxes that underly
machines. Later D&G will tell us that in concrete cases of machines there is no mono-flux, and
organs are not limited to cutting just one flux, there is no mono-function. Fluxes will be discussed
not just in terms of being cut, but of their combination or “conjugation”.
2) “the anorexic’s mouth”: this is still very generic, but “the mouth” has become a little more
specific as it is associated with “the anorexic”, and its function is seen as in practice more diverse:
“The anorexic’s mouth wavers between an eating-machine , an anal machine, a talking
machine, a breathing machine”

In line with D&G’s de-psychoanalysation, the anorexic will later be discussed without this fixation
on partial objects. In DIALOGUES the example of the anorexic is Fanny, Deleuze’s wife. There is
no more talk about the mouth as wavering between eating-machine and anal-machine. The
important point is not partial objects (“organic regime”) but politics of intensities (“sign regime”):
“In short, anorexia is a matter of politics…There is politics as soon as there is a
continuum of intensities (anorexic void and fullness) , emission and capture of food
particles (constitution of a body without organs, in opposition to a dietary or organic
regime) , and above all conjugation of fluxes (the food flux enters into relation with a
clothes flux, a flux of language, a flux of sexuality: a whole, molecular woman-
becoming in the anorexic, whether man or woman) . This is what we call a regime of
signs. Above all, it is not a matter of partial objects. It is true that psychiatry and
psychoanalysis do not understand, because they reduce everything to a neuro-organic or
symbolic code (DIALOGUES II, page 111, my translation).

3) “President Schreber”: this last example is even more concrete as we have a proper name first, and
only then a reference to partial objects: “divine rays in his ass”. This is a new reversal of
Freudianism, as Schreber is put forward as capable of theorising his own experience, of potentially
speaking machinically in terms of the “effects” produced.As to what exactly speaking machinically
could mean, the text has begun both to define it and to exemplify it performatively.
The psychoanalytic “mistake” is to treat these theoretical productions as metaphors of Oedipus. The
converse error would be to speak of them in fixed and familiar terms, to speak or to interpret
literally, in the sense of unimaginatively.
“We have to counter people who think “I’m this, I’m that,” and who do so, moreover, in
psychoanalytic terms (referring to their childhood or their destiny), by thinking in
uncertain, improbable terms… What does your “reality” have to do with it? Yours is a
flat realism…The argument from privileged experience is a bad, reactionary argument”
(NEGOTIATIONS, page 22, my translation).

The aim is to no longer think in psychoanalytical terms, but in “uncertain, improbable” terms. This
uncertain, improbable, or imaginative language is what D&G are searching for in ANTI-OEDIPUS.