We live today in the age of partial objects, bricks that have been shattered to bits, and leftovers… We no longer believe in a primordial totality that once existed, or in a final totality that awaits us at some future date (Deleuze and Guattari 1983: p.42)
A theory does not totalize; it is an instrument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself… It is in the nature of power to totalize and … theory is by nature opposed to power (Deleuze 1977a: p.208)
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have embarked on postmodern adventures that attempt to create new forms of thought, writing, subjectivity, and politics. While they do not adopt the discourse of the postmodern, and Guattari (1986) even attacks it as a new wave of cynicism and conservativism, they are exemplary representatives of postmodern positions in their thoroughgoing efforts to dismantle modern beliefs in unity, hierarchy, identity, foundations, subjectivity and representation, while celebrating counter-principles of difference and multiplicity in theory, politics, and everyday life.
Their most influential book to date, Anti-Oedipus (1983; orig. 1972) is a provocative critique of modernity’s discourses and institutions which repress desire and proliferate fascists subjectivities that haunt even revolutionary movements. Deleuze and Guattari have been political militants and perhaps the most enthusiastic of proponents of a micropolitics of desire that to precipitate radical change through a liberation of desire. Hence they anticipate the possibility of a new postmodern mode of existence where individuals overcome repressive modern forms of identity and stasis to become desiring nomads in a constant process of becoming and transformation.
Deleuze is a professor of philosophy who in the 1950s and 1960s gained attention for his studies of Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson, Proust and others. Guattari is a practicing psychoanalyst who since the 1950s has worked at the experimental psychiatric clinic, La Borde. He was trained in Lacanian psychoanalysis, has been politically active from an early age, and participated in the events of May 1968. He has collaborated with Italian theorist Antonio Negri (Guattari and Negri 1990) and has been involved in the autonomy’ movement which seeks an independent revolutionary movement outside of the structures of organized parties. Deleuze and Guattari’s separate careers first merged in 1969 when they began work on Anti-Oedipus. This was followed by Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986; orig. 1975), A Thousand Plateaus (1987; orig. 1980), and numerous independent works by each author.
There are many interesting similarities and differences between their work and Foucault’s. Like Foucault, Deleuze was trained in philosophy and Guattari has worked in a psychiatric hospital, becoming interested in medical knowledge as an important form of social control. Deleuze and Guattari follow the general tenor of Foucault’s critique of modernity. Like Foucault, their central concern is with modernity as an unparalleled historical stage of domination based on the proliferation of normalizing discourses and institutions that pervade all aspects of social existence and everyday life.
Their perspectives on modernity are somewhat different, however. Most conspicuously, where Foucault tended toward a totalizing critique of modernity, Deleuze and Guattari seek to theorize and appropriate its positive and liberating aspects, the decoding of libidinal flows initiated b the dynamics of the capitalist economy. Unlike Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari’s work is less a critique of knowledge and rationality than of capitalist society; consequently, their analyses rely on traditional Marxist categories more than Foucault’s. Like Foucault, however, they by no means identify themselves as Marxists and reject dialectical methodology for a postmodern logic of difference, perspectives, and fragments. Also while all three foreground the importance of theorizing microstructures of domination. Deleuze and Guattari more clearly address the importance of macrostructures as well and develop a detailed critique of the state.
Further where Foucault’s emphasis is on the disciplinary technologies of modernity and the targeting of the body within regimes of power/knowledge. Deleuze and Guattari focus on the colonization of desire by various modern discourse and institutions. While desire is a sub-theme in Foucault’s later genealogy of the subject, it is of primary importance for Deleuze and Guattari. Consequently, psychoanalysis, the concept of psychic repression, engagements with Freudo-Marxism, and the analysis of the family and fascism play a far greater role in the work of Deleuze and Guattari than Foucault, although their critique of psychoanalysis builds on Foucault’s critique of Freud, psychiatry, and the human sciences.
In contrast to Foucault who emphasizes the productive nature of power and rejects the repressive hypothesis’, Deleuze and Guattari readily speak of the repression’ of desire and they do so, as we shall argue, because they construct an essentialist concept of desire. In addition, Deleuze and Guattari’s willingness to champion the liberation of bodies and desire stands in sharp contrast to Foucault’s sympathies to the Greco-Roman project of mastering the self. All three theorists, however, attempt to decenter and liquidate the bourgeois, humanist subject. Foucault pursues this through a critical archaeology and genealogy that reduces the subject to an effect of discourse and disciplinary practices, while Deleuze and Guattari pursue a schizophrenic’ destruction of the ego and superego In favor of a dynamic unconscious. Although Foucault later qualified his views on the subject, all three theorists reject the modernist notion of a unified, rational, and expressive subject and attempt to make possible the emergence of new types of decentered subjects, liberated from what they see to be the terror of fixed and unified identities, and free to become dispersed and multiple, reconstituted as new types of subjectivities and bodies.
All three writers have shown high regard for each other’s work. In his book Foucault (1988; orig. 1986 p.14), Deleuze hails Foucault as a radically new thinker whose work represents the most decisive step yet taken in the theory-practice of multiplicities’. For his part, Foucault (1977; p. 213) claims that Deleuze and Guattari’s work was an important influence on his theory of power and has written a laudatory introduction to Anti-Oedipus. In his review of Deleuze’s work in “Theatrum Philosophicum” (1977: pp. 165-96), Foucault praises him for contributing to a critique of Western philosophical categories and to a positive knowledge of the historical event’. Modestly downplaying his own place in history, Foucault even claims (1977; p. 165) that perhaps one day, this century will be known as Deleuzian’. In the dialogue “Intellectuals and Power” (Foucault 1977: pp.205-17), Foucault and Deleuze’s voices freely interweave in a shared project of constructing a new definition of theory which is always -already practice and local and regional’ in character.