Deterritorialization (via Larval Subjects.)

For many years I’ve been fascinated with Deleuze and Guattari‘s triad of deterritorialization, reterritorialization, and territory. Truth be told, when I first encountered these concepts I was repulsed. I found the language to be trendy and understood “deterritorialization” to refer to some romantic notion of “escape” from a territory. While there are indeed elements of this in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought, the concept, I believe, is much more … Read More

via Larval Subjects .

Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Psychoanalysis -3

For Lacan there is this solipsistic period of life at the beginning. The subject becomes capable of making a distinction between himself and others after the Narcissistic period of the mirror stage. The subject’s ability to interpret and adapt shows signs of progress. Once the mirror stage is passed through and the fantasy is traversed, the subject becomes capable of controlling the unconscious drives and touching reality. The child learns to postpone gratification and finds other ways of satisfying himself. The function of the I shows itself when the child feels the need to act upon the external world and change things in the way of attaining pleasure and satisfaction of desires. When the child gives up desiring his mother and realizes that he has to identify with his father the foundations of the super-ego formation are laid. It is the fear of castration that leads the male child to give up the mother. The sexual desire turns away from the forbidden object and moves towards finding ways of expressing itself in and through metaphors supplied by the predominant culture.

            According to Klein the formation of the super-ego begins in the first year of life. For Klein the “early Oedipus conflict” is at the root of child psychoanalysis. Klein says that Oedipal tendencies of the child start with oral frustrations and this is when the super-ego takes its course of formation. 

These analyses have shown that oral frustrations release the Oedipus impulses and that the super-ego begins to be formed at the same time. […] This is the beginning of that developmental period which is characterized by the distinct demarcation of genital trends and which is known as the early flowering of sexuality and the phase of the Oedipus conflict.[1]    

            It is Klein’s legacy to have taken the beginning of development to a stage earlier than the appearance of the Name of the Father. In this world the castrating father figure doesn’t yet exist. And the child has at least three years ahead to become capable of using language. Klein’s journey into a zone before language, a zone before the child finds itself in the signifying chain, is valuable especially for showing the lack of the role of fantasy and phantasmatic production in Lacan’s story of the formation of the subject. And Gilles Deleuze uses Klein’s insight to make the necessary connections between literature and the unconscious. But before moving on to Deleuze I would like to show from where Klein is coming and hint at the direction she could possibly be heading towards.

            Klein attributes as much importance to the death drive as she does to the life drive. For Klein, already in the first year of life there are object relations and these relations involve expression of libidinal and aggressive impulses.

[…] unfavourable feeding conditions which we may regard as external frustrations, do not seem to be the only cause for the child’s lack of pleasure at the sucking stage. This is seen from the fact that some children have no desire to suck—are ‘lazy feeders’—although they receive sufficient nourishment. Their inability to obtain satisfaction from sucking is, I think, the consequence of an internal frustration and is derived, in my experience, from an abnormally increased oral sadism. To all appearances these phenomena of early development are already the expression of the polarity between the life-instincts and the death-instincts. We may regard the force of the child’s fixation at the oral sucking level as an expression of the force of its libido, and, similarly, the early and powerful emergence of its oral sadism is a sign that its destructive instinctual components tip the balance.[2]

            The child projects his aggressive impulses onto the external world and sees the object (the mother’s breast) as an enemy trying to destroy him. The frustrations that take place in the first year of life cause anxiety and lead the child to express his aggressive impulses through oral sadism (biting the breast). The fantasy that the mother contains the father’s penis leads the child to want to tear apart the mother’s body and introject the object hidden in it through oral sadism. After oral frustration the attention of the child shifts from the mother’s breast to the father’s penis. The aggression against the father’s penis and the response this aggression gets plays a dominant role in the formation of the super-ego. As it develops the super-ego becomes more and more important in the way the subject handles his relation to the world.

[…] by projecting his terrifying super-ego on to his objects, the individual increases his hatred of those objects and thus also his fear of them, with the result that, if his aggression and anxiety are excessive, his external world is changed into a place of terror and his objects into enemies and he is threatened with persecution both from the external world and from his introjected enemies.[3]

             An aggressive attitude towards the external world damages the relationship with the external world; the external world is regarded as hostile, which leads to aggression, and this aggression in turn provokes hostility against the child. It is this kind of a vicious cycle in which many psychotics and neurotics find themselves. Klein describes schizophrenia as the “attempt to ward of, master or contend with an internal enemy.”[4] For Klein, the force of aggression as a result of oral frustrations can reach to such levels that the subject feels obliged to project the super-ego ideal onto the external world. The super-ego is terribly ruthless and aggressive. The projection of the super-ego onto the external world turns reality into an enemy. The subject becomes ill and shuts himself up into his fantasy world and, detached from reality, suffers inordinately. Lacan sees schizophrenia in a similar way; for Lacan what produces schizophrenia is the exclusion of the Name of the Father.                        

            With Klein we learn that the sense of reality is gained through oral frustrations. Lacan, too, thinks that frustrations have a role to play in the constitution of the reality principle. But according to Lacan what’s important is not the natural frustrations themselves, but how they are symbolized, how they are represented in and through language, how they manifest themselves in the form of cultural products. Lacan finds Klein’s theories too biological.

            To explicate where Lacan and Klein disagree I would like to give their opinions on Dick who is a four years old boy suffering from “psychosis.” Dick, who hardly ever talks, is permanently indifferent towards the external world. In Dick’s world there is no good and bad, there is nothing to be afraid of and nothing to love. It is as though Dick lives in a world apart, in another reality. Dick’s world is not structured like language, there is no differentiation, and where there is indifference there can be no difference, in Dick’s world all objects and subjects are one.    

            Dick has a toy train which he repetitively moves to and fro on the floor. Klein says, “I took the big train and put it beside a smaller one and called them ‘Daddy train’ and ‘Dick train.’ Thereupon he picked up the train I called Dick and made it roll [toward the station]… I explained: ‘The station is mummy; Dick is going into mummy.’[5] At the end of this first session of therapy Dick begins to express his feelings. It is after Dick becomes capable of situating himself within the symbolic order in relation to his mother and father that he becomes a human. He begins to play his role given to him by Klein.

            Human reality is a mediated reality. We can see in Dick’s case that the biological turns into cultural through Oedipalisation. Lacan thinks Klein’s therapeutic technique is correct but her theory wrong. What Lacan thinks Klein’s theory lacks is the castrating father figure who says “No.” Lacan complains that the castrating father figure is not given a role in Klein’s scenario. It is true that father is not given a role in the process of subject formation, but Lacan’s assumption that Klein is Oedipalizing the child is wrong. For if the father is excluded from the scene how can the Oedipal triangle be formed. All Klein does is to tell Dick that mummy and daddy copulate. Klein’s world is entirely biological, whereas Lacan is talking about the subjectivation of the individual in and through symbols. For Lacan the unconscious is nothing other than a chain of signifiers. There is nothing before the symptoms manifest themselves in and through metaphors. So metaphors are the products of repression which splits the subject into two separate but contiguous sides; the biological self and the cultural self. Psychoanalysis is about a regressive process which goes back in time through a chain of signifiers and tries to reach the Real of the subject’s desire. A symptom is the manifestation of the Real of the subject’s desire in the form of metaphors.

In advancing this proposition, I find myself in a problematic position—for what have I taught about the unconscious? The unconscious is constituted by the effects of speech on the subject, it is the dimension in which the subject is determined in the development of the effects of speech, consequently the unconscious is structured like a language. Such a direction seems well fitted to snatch any apprehension of the unconscious from an orientation to reality, other than that of the constitution of the subject.[6]

            When Lacan says that “the unconscious is structured like a language,” what he wants to say is that if the unconscious is a web of metaphors the signifiers behind the metaphors are interacting with one another just like the signifiers in language.   

            In psychosis the subject’s fantasy of unmediated omnipresence resists symbolization. The subject cannot turn his feelings and thoughts into symbolic acts, he cannot make a distinction between the me and the not me, cannot engage in intersubjectivity. Introversion dominates the psychotic and he finds himself in a world where nothing matters for nothing is differentiated. The psychotic experiences his inner reality as though it is the reality of all, he cannot separate the inner from the outer. The psychotic’s reality escapes cultural codes. The psychotic doesn’t know the symbolic meaning of the father’s law. The law of the father establishes the order of culture, but the psychotic refuses to come to terms with the father’s law and eventually cannot overcome his frustrations. The mother’s role is determinant in the formation of psychosis. If the mother doesn’t recognize the role of the father the child remains locked in the imaginary world, outside signification.   

            Psychosis appears when all the signifiers refer to the same signified. Language and meaning dissolve. Locked in the mirror stage the subject identifies everything as me, and the me as the phallus. But the reality is that the “I” is not the phallus inside the mother’s body. The psychotic is deprived of nostalgia, of the feeling of loss which is constitutive of the subject. Lacking lack the psychotic subject lacks what Lacan calls “lack in being.” And lacking lack in being the subject cannot identify his natural self as being separate from the cultural objects of identification. By entering the symbolic order the narcissistic sense of oneness, “the oceanic feeling,” is lost. And this loss opens a gap within the subject, which the subject tries to fill with the objects of identification presented to it by the predominant culture. Identification is a way of compensating for the emptiness within the subject caused by the loss of sense of oneness. But the unconscious desires can never be satisfied by metaphors. To overcome the frustration caused by the loss of his fantasy world, the subject turns towards symbolic acts in the way of climbing up the social ladder. The subject becomes a doctor, pilot, teacher; all to endure the pain of not being able to satisfy one’s unconscious desires, or the Real of one’s desire. It is in this context that Lacan sees repression as productive of the subject as a split subject. Because the psychotic has lost nothing, lacks nothing, he has no motivations for such pursuits as becoming a doctor, pilot, or teacher. The psychotic has no sense of nostalgia and he is therefore extremely indifferent to the external world. Experiencing no frustrations in the face of the harsh reality of not being one, the psychotic desires nothingness.

[1] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 123

[2] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, 124

[3] Klein, 143-4

[4] Klein, 144

[5] Melanie Klein, quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, 45

[6] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth Press, 1977), 149

Notes Towards an Object-Oriented Psychoanalysis – 1

Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clo...

Image via Wikipedia

Melanie Klein is the first psychoanalyst to analyse a pre-verbal and pre-Oedipal stage of development, that is, before the child starts to hate the father and wants to unite with the mother whom he believes to contain the father’s penis. In her Psychoanalysis of Children Klein gives a good example of how this adaptation to reality takes place: 

The small patient will begin, for instance, to distinguish between his make-believe mother and his real one, or between his toy brother and his live one. He will insist that he only meant to do this or that to his toy brother, and that he loves his real brother very much. Only after very strong and obstinate resistances have been surmounted will he be able to see that his aggressive acts were aimed at the object in the real world. But when he has come to understand this, young as he is, he will have made a very important advance in his adaptation to reality.[1]

Klein analyses the process of adapting to reality in terms of the child’s relation to his mother’s body. In the first year of life it is through introjection of the mother’s body as the embodiment of the external world that the child learns to relate to reality. At this stage the child sees the breast as the representative of the mother. The child projects his own reality onto the external world and believes that the mother’s breast belongs to him. When the flow of milk is interrupted the child becomes aggressive towards the mother and bites the breast. According to Klein this is the paranoid-schizoid position characterized by oral sadism.

Klein associates this attitude of the child with the dynamics of an adult schizophrenic mind.  A child who cannot yet make a distinction between the inner reality and the external world is like a psychotic adult who cannot make a distinction between what belongs to his fantasy life and what to the external world. 

A good example to this situation can be selected from the Hollywood horror scene. What we see in the Red Dragon, for instance, is a man who over-identifies with Hannibal Lecter, and becomes what Hannibal Lecter identified with in the first place; a psychotic serial killer who identifies himself with Blake’s Red Dragon.

The psychotic serial killer who believes himself to be constructing a work of art with stories of his murders, sees his criminal acts as the actualization of a prophecy, an incarnation of the myth of Red Dragon. It is through William Blake’s painting, Red Dragon, that the character is familiar with the myth of Red Dragon. Towards the end of the film we see him literally eating, incorporating, Blake’s original painting. That is when his total transformation from bodily existence to a mythological dimension beyond the flesh takes place. Until that point in the film he is governed by the Red Dragon, now he is the Red Dragon, which means that he no longer takes the orders from a force outside of himself. He has introjected the source of power and has become his own master against himself. And perhaps he even believes that his becoming is complete now. 


[1] Melanie Klein, The Psychoanalysis of Children, trans. Alix Strachey (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1975), 11

Consequences of Messing With Nature: Cronenberg, Lacan, Klein and eXistenZ

With the aim of changing the past, an impossible thing to do, the subject messes with nature, and his intrusion causes the very event which he was trying to prevent from happening. Just like Oedipus’s father who, in escape from a prophecy, falls victim to his choice of way to escape, and becomes the victim of his own choice. And his choice is, in the first place, to believe in the prophecy. It is as soon as he puts his belief into action that he prepares the grounds of his subjection to an external force. His own construct, that external force, governs his actions independently of his intentions. There still is a governor but this governor is an internally constituted external force.

What Lacan calls the unconscious is the dead zone in-between the subject and the signifier. Or the state of non-being in the space between the state of being governed by drives and the entry into the symbolic order. The unconscious understood as the dead zone in between the subject and language, is at the same time the gap between being and becoming. Entry into the symbolic is associated with a passage from the state of being, through non-being and into the symbolic order of becoming.

Melanie Klein takes the beginning of becoming to as early as the first months of life. In her analysis of the “Early Stages of the Oedipus Conflict and of Super-ego Formation,” Klein looks for the causes of aggression and sadistic impulses in the normal development of the child.

The child also has phantasies in which his parents destroy each other by means of their genitals and excrements which are felt to be dangerous weapons. These phantasies have important effects and are very numerous, containing such ideas as that the penis is, incorporated in the mother, turns into a dangerous animal or into weapons loaded with explosive substances; or that her vagina, too, is transformed into a dangerous animal or some instrument of death, as, for instance, a poisoned mouse-trap. Since such phantasies are wish phantasies, the child has a sense of guilt about the injuries which, in his phantasy, his parents inflict on each other.[1]

Absence of the feeling of guilt causes the sadistic impulse to dominate the child. The external world is considered to be dangerous and the child attacks the mother whom he believes to contain the father’s penis. As he is attacking the mother the child is in fact attacking the father. Formation of the super-ego, or entry into the symbolic requires the acceptance of loss of innocence, purity, security, omniscience and recognition of one’s own guilt. The importance of what Klein is saying here lies in her realization that there is more evil and less evil, but there is no absolute good and evil. We are all, in a way, mad, but some are more so than the others. According to Klein, most subjects experience a certain neurosis during normal development, but in some children the neurotic experience is stronger, more intense, and lasts a longer time. In the Mantle twins for instance, we have seen that it lasted quite a long time, so long as to enable them turn their pathology into their object of study and make a profession out of themselves.

Creativity going wrong and producing weapons rather than surgical tools is a recurrent theme in Cronenberg films. What we see in Dead Ringers and Videodrome is the same process of degeneration, a worstward movement of the experiment undertaken, in different fields of knowledge. Just as Max’s sadistic fantasies turn against him, the Mantle twins’ surgical instruments turn into sharp edged weapons which they direct against themselves at the end. What is portrayed is the characters’ inability to pass from the state of being governed by the unconscious drives, to conscious desiring. The passage from death drive to the desiring production is never achieved in Cronenberg’s films. As we have seen in eXistenZ the subjects only become capable of desiring when they are in the virtual world of the game, attached to an organic bio-port with an umbilical cord. In escape from the realists Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) hides in her own game. At the end of the film we learn that even her escape from the realists was part of the game, a construct of her own psyche, her own creation. We also learn that eXistenZ is only a game within another game called transCendenZ and that the realists trying to annihilate the project turn out to be Allegra Geller and her security guard (Jude Law). As it was in Videodrome so too it is in eXistenZ; what the virtual world of another reality does is to sustain the subject with the environment in which he/she can act out his/her fantasies in a virtual realm beyond the flesh. Within the game Allegra and the security guard can make love, outside it they have a purpose; they have to free desire from the confines of virtuality and restore it to its true place, that place being the material world.


When Jude Law refuses to undergo the operation of being penetrated by what looks like a big machine gun, so that the bio-port can be plugged into him, Allegra Geller says, “this is it, you see! This is the cage of your own making. Which keeps you trapped and pacing about in the smallest space possible. Break out of the cage of your own, break out now.” Allegra Geller sees the physical world as limiting and unsatisfying. To go beyond this limited existence she creates an illusory time-space in which the player is in the service of his/her unconscious drives which are themselves represented in material objects. When the bio-port is plugged into the subject the subject’s five senses are governed by the sensual effects the game creates on the subject. The illusion of safety and security is the result of the depersonalization of experience; it is the Other that plays the game through me. A fantasy world which keeps death at bay, an impersonal consciousness that thinks through me, and a body that never dies. What the game eXistenZ does, then, is to promise immortality in a spiritual realm beyond the flesh. And yet it does this through stimulating the centres of reception in the body which activate the five senses. When Jude Law licks Allegra Geller’s bio-port hole she immediately withdraws and asks, “what was that?” Surprised at his own act, Jude Law says, “That wasn’t me, it was my game character. I couldn’t have done that!” After a very brief silence they realize that since they are in the game they can’t be held responsible for their actions and start kissing passionately.

The umbilical cords in eXistenZ, which seem to connect the subject with a world beyond the physical, in which there is no guilt, no responsibility, and no death, turn out to be the chain of negativity chaining the subject to a detached, meaningless, inauthentic existence. It was Hegel who pointed out that freedom without society is meaningless and not freedom as such. For freedom to become freedom it should be situated in a historical context and hence gain its meaning in relation to time. What Heidegger borrows from Hegel is this idea of the necessity of the social for any meaningful activity to take place. Heidegger’s attitude is very different from the Romantic understanding of freedom as something that can only be experienced in isolation, where, detached from his social environment, the subject bonds in a more profound way with nature, and unite with all the forces of nature in a state of euphoria.

This jubilant assumption of his specular image by the child at the infans stage, still sunk in his motor incapacity and nursling dependence, would seem to exhibit in an exemplary situation the symbolic matrix in which the I is precipitated in a primordial form, before it is objectified in the dialectic of identification with the other, and before language restores to it, in the universal, its function as subject.[2]

Lacan’s Mirror Stage describes the child’s first confrontation with its image of itself on the mirror. Lacan says that the child is not as unified as it sees itself on the mirror. But the child needs this illusion of unity to be able to see itself as a being in the world. This is when the sense of omnipotence begins in the child.

The primary process—which is simply what I have tried to define for you in my last few lectures in the form of the unconscious—must once again, be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness, in that non-temporal locus, I said, which forces us to posit what Freud calls, in homage to Fechner, die Idee anderer Lokalitat, the idea of another locality, another space, another scene, the between perception and consciousness.[3]

If we keep in mind that the primary process is the death-drive then we can see that Lacan’s shift is away from Cartesian dualisms of subject and object, mind and body, nature and culture. In Lacan there is an opposition to a Heideggerian attitude towards the world and its relation to the self. A third world is introduced in addition to the imaginary and the real. And this third world is the symbolic. For Lacan, between the illusory sense of omnipotence and the symbolic loss of self with the acquisition of language, there is a dead zone, a space in-between, a gap between the symbolic and the imaginary. That space is the Lacanian Unconscious, the Real which refers to what Descartes called Cogito, Freud Ego, and Heidegger non-being.

What Descartes and to some extent Freud presuppose is that there is a cogito before anything else, that there is an ego that says “I.”  There can be no self in relation to an external world before language. There is nothing before the subject says “I.” For the ego to begin to exist and develop it has to acquire language and say “I” first. The real entry into the symbolic takes place when the subject is sufficiently equipped with language and capable of realizing that “I” is an illusion, that the self who is to say “I” is lost upon entry into the realm of language. This illusion, however, this imaginary self who says “I,” should be preserved at least to a minimal extent, otherwise the Real slips through and life becomes painful. It is a necessary illusion, the subject, if one wants to be able to do things. Fantasies are illusions we need to keep the Real of our desire at bay.

Is it not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassimilable in it—in the form of the trauma, determining all that follows, and imposing on it an apparently accidental origin? We are now at the heart of what may enable us to understand the radical character of the conflictual notion introduced by the opposition of the pleasure principle and the reality principle—which is why we cannot conceive the reality principle as having, by virtue of its ascendancy, the last word. [4]

So the Real is in-between the pleasure principle and the reality principle. The conflict between the pleasure principle and the reality principle takes place when and if the subject falls victim to the drives and the pleasure principle by letting himself be governed by the unconscious drives.

For Lacan progress takes place when and if the subject passes from the state of being governed by unconscious drives to becoming capable of desiring and being desired. Since for Lacan desire is the desire of the Other, desire is essentially social and symbolic, which means that it is the drive that is prior to the symbolic, and the imaginary is the support of the reality principle, without which the Real would enter the scene and destroy the subject.  Lacan forgets that death-drive is the cause of conflict as well as being its effect. The death-drive preceeds and proceeds the conflict at the same time. But with the traumatic incident the subject’s relation to the Real changes. The direction of this change may lead to destruction as much as it may lead to creation. It is a matter of becoming capable of using the unconscious drives in the way of producing new forms of life.

Gas (Willem Dafoe): See? That didn’t hurt.

Pikul (Jude Law): I didn’t expect that to hurt.

I expect the next part to hurt.

Pikul: Yeah, that’s the part I expect to hurt.

Gas: I haven’t crippled anyone yet.

Pikul: How many have you done?

Gas: Three. Well, you’ll be my third.

Gas: Hey! Easy!

People usually pay me to do this, you know.

Pikul (to Allegra): As you can see, I’ve decided not

to have a bio-port installed.

Allegra (Jennifer Jason Leigh): This is what keeps you trapped

in a cage of your own making, which keeps you trapped

and pacing about. Break out of your cage, Pikul. Break out now.

Cut to:

The subtitles read:



Allegra: The swelling doesn’t last for long.

Pikul: What’s going on? I can’t… I can’t move my legs!

Reference Matter

[1] Melanie Klein, Psychoanalysis of Children, 132

[2] Jacques Lacan,,  Écrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1977), 2

[3] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, ed. Jacques-Alain Miller, trans. Alan Sheridan (London: Hogarth Press, 1977), 56

[4] Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, 55


Cronenberg, Burroughs, Deleuze (1) – Naked Lunch and The Body Without Organs

 organ without a body

The Naked Lunch I am concerned with here is David Cronenberg’s film about William Burroughs’ writing process of Naked Lunch. The film, rather than being a direct adaptation of the novel, is a distillation of Burroughs’s life as he strives to write himself out of the past. We see Burroughs progressively deteriorating to the level of a dumb beast as he tries to make sense of his sufferings in and through writing. In the introduction he wrote for the 1985 edition of his earlier novel Queer, the writing of which dates back to 1953 following the two years period of depression, guilt, and anxiety ridden self-hatred after his accidental shooting of his wife Joan in September 1951, Burroughs, in an almost confessional manner, explicates the sources of his compulsion to write. Writing, for Burroughs, represents his lifelong pursuit of getting out of consciousness and reaching the area between fantasy and reality.

I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would never have become a writer but for Joan’s death, and to a realization of the extent to which this event has motivated and formulated my writing. I live with the constant threat of possession, and a constant need to escape from possession, from Control. So the death of Joan brought me in contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I have had no choice except to write my way out.[1]

The death of Joan creates a space within Burroughs into which he escapes, and attempts to fill with his writings. Cronenberg explicates what Burroughs had already implied in his introduction to Queer. In the film writing in particular and creativity in general is shown to be a response to a traumatic incident, that is, production of fantasies to compensate for the horrors of life. As the film proceeds so does the mental deterioration of Bill Lee who represents Burroughs in the movie. The first signs of Lee’s split come when he is arrested by two policemen for “the possession of dangerous substances.” What they are talking about is the bug-powder which, Lee, who has given up writing to become a bug exterminator, uses to kill insects. The two policemen ask him to demonstrate his profession. One of them puts an insect the size of a hand on a pile of bug powder to see if the insect will die. As the insect begins moving its wings, arms, and legs they leave the room and Lee with the insect. As soon as they leave the room the insect tells Lee through a mouth-anus at its back that it has instructions for him, that it comes from the Interzone, that his wife Joan is not actually human and that he has to kill her. The insect asks Lee if he could put some bug powder on its mouth-anus upon the application of which it starts to make noises and movements as if in an orgy. In the next scene we are in reality and Joan is asking Lee to put some bug powder on her lips. As wee see a few scenes later that the mouth-anus turns out to be the abyss, the bottomless depth, or the space in-between fantasy and reality in which Lee loses himself and shoots his wife.

This presentation of fantasy and reality side by side occurs throughout the film. It is when the gap between fantasy and reality disappears that the Unconscious manifests itself. In the case of Bill Lee the undesired event is pushed back into the unconscious in turn causing an accumulation of sadistic impulses in him. These sadistic impulses are then externalized in and through writing. For Burroughs writing was cathartic in that it liberated the untamed drives and prevented the manifestation of aggression in the external world. In Cronenberg what we see is almost the opposite of this attitude to writing. As we know from Dead Ringers, Videodrome, and eXistenZ, for Cronenberg writing and creativity have destructive rather than therapeutic effects on the writer. In the film Bill Lee emerges as the culmination of these two opposing views on not only the creative process but also the relationship between the creator and the creation, the subject and the object, mind and body. As the arena of this conflict Bill Lee’s world is that of the one in-between the internal and the external worlds, the Interzone, or in psychoanalytic terms the Unconscious, the Real, where there is no self or not self.


Interzone is Tangiers on the North African coast where Burroughs wrote Naked Lunch in 1953. In those days it was a place of escape for the self-exiled artists and artisans. At Interzone everyone has their own particular universality in one big universal cesspool and that cesspool is Lee’s fantasy world. The Real, or the Unconscious, is impossible to represent and all those monsters, bug-typewriters, and disgusting images are only the creations of Lee’s hallucinating mind. In it every universality is surrounded by many other universalities and each universality is a body without organs. Upon arrival at the Interzone Lee starts to see his typewriter as an insect resembling the one which he had first encountered in the interrogation room at the police station. The bug-typewriter becomes the mouth-anus mechanism, the partial object opening a gap through language in-between the body without organs and the organ without a body.

Orality is naturally prolonged in cannibalism and anality in the case of which partial objects are excreta, capable of exploding the mother’s body, as well as the body of the infant. The bits of one are always the persecutors of the other, and, in this abominable mixture which constitutes the Passion of the nursing infant, persecutor and persecuted are always the same. In this system of mouth-anus or aliment-excrement, bodies burst and cause other bodies to burst in a universal cesspool.[2]

Here Deleuze is referring to Melanie Klein’s Psychoanalysis of Children. The state of being which Deleuze summarizes is the paranoid-schizoid position of the child, the world of simulacra. At this stage, which preceeds Lacan’s mirror stage, the child is not yet capable of identification. There is an introjection-projection mechanism going on but the objects, internal and external, are experienced as bad objects. The conception of goodness has not yet developed in the child. Since there is no good object for the child to identify with there is no condition of possibility for the identificatory process with a good or a bad object, there is no self or not self.

The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position in which identification with a good object takes place. The passage from paranoid-schizoid introjection-projection to manic-depressive identification is the process of passing through the Interzone, or in Lacan’s words “traversing the fantasy.” In Deleuze’s terms this process is the hovering of an impersonal consciousness over the transcendental field of partial objects. The bug-typewriter is Lee’s impersonal consciousness manifesting itself in the form of a paranoid fantasy, a body without organs which is pretending to be an organ without a body. In fact it is neither a body without organs nor an organ without a body and yet it is both at the same time. It is a becoming in between being and non-being.


Cronenberg’s move is away from Burroughs’s Kafkaesque understanding of the body as metaphor and towards a Deleuzean narrative of the metamorphosis of the body in a literal sense. All those self-destructive creators are inverted into the spotlight in and through Croneberg’s films and this enables Cronenberg to contemplate on the creative process as an inversion of destructive process and fill the film with this contemplation. What we see in Naked Lunch is the death drive in conflict with the life drive.

In Deleuze the body without organs is the metaphor of the death drive. And since the death drive is a response to the fragmentation of the self, it can only take the form of a paranoid fantasy projected onto the Real. The body without organs is the partial objects brought together in a totalizing way, in a way that deprives them of their partialities.

What the schizoid position opposes to bad partial objects—introjected and projected, toxic and excremental, oral and anal—is not a good object, even if it were partial. What is opposed is rather an organism without parts, a body without organs, with neither mouth nor anus, having given up all introjection or projection, and being complete, at this price.[3]

The body without organs, then, is the absence of a connection between the subject’s inside and outside. The subject, in a state of total negation, neither eats nor excretes. It eats nothingness itself and becomes the catatonic (w)hole. It is not out of the body without organs that the subject is born but from the paranoid-schizoid position which consists of a not yet formed consciousness, an impersonal consciousness violently attacking the external world and splitting the given unities. As opposed to the body without organs it consists of projection and introjection of the partial objects surrounding the subject to create fantasies such as an illusionary ego, and learns to keep the body without organs, or the Real at bay. The paranoid-schizoid position is followed by the manic-depressive position which corresponds to the formation of the super-ego and the sustenance of a balance between id, ego, and super-ego.


Burroughs’s cut-up and fold-in techniques appear to be the two constituent parts of his defense mechanism against the spectre of Joan haunting him. To escape from the paralyzing state of being haunted by the spectre, that is, not to turn into a body without organs, he carries the projection-introjection mechanism to its furthest and literally and unconsciously puts words and sentences, partial objects, next to and within each other to make up discontinuities, cause ruptures and keep the Real at bay. Through giving a voice to the Real as it is before symbolization, Burroughs’s intends to prevent it from becoming real, from being actualized  hence submitting the governance of his actions to an external force. It is this mechanism of repression inherent in the cut-up technique that causes what it tries to cure. The cut-up technique involves literally cutting-up passages and putting them together as a new text which would be neither the one nor the other, hence deforming the syntax. The fold-in technique involves folding into each other the different parts of the same text, hence distorting the order of time. In both states what is at stake is a total negation of the external world as a result of its being considered as hostile. In Burroughs the paranoid fantasy projected on the real replaces reality with its inverted version, that is, Burroughs turns what he imagines the external world to be against itself by creating a paranoid fantasy involving a scenario in which the subject believes itself to be governed by an internally constituted external and evil force. Burroughs discovered cut-up and fold-in techniques as a defense mechanism against the paranoid fantasy he constructed around himself. To get out of this mad symbolic world, he decided to slash it into pieces and connect it with other texts that are themselves torn apart.

Burroughs’s cut-up technique is a result of his search for a way of desymbolizing the paranoid symbolic world he had constructed and projected onto the external world. Burroughs thought resymbolization was therapeutic in that it gave voice to the evil within in the way of expelling it. Cut-up technique aims at desymbolizing the totalitarian system surrounding the subject and was a defense against the totalitarian nature of this resymbolization. Burroughs himself admits in a letter written to Kerouac shortly after beginning to use the cut-up and fold-in techniques that “writing now causes me an almost unendurable pain.”[4] In Naked Lunch the movie, the theme of the materiality of language recurs through the encounters between the bug-typewriter and Bill Lee. Bill Lee creates an insect within, projects it onto his typewriter, and talks with it.  His creations have taken on lives of their own and are doing and saying things mostly against him.

(via silent-musings) In Nova Express, Burroughs’s 1964 text, The Invisible Man says, “These colourless sheets are what flesh is made from—Becomes flesh when it has colour and writing—That is Word and Image write the message that is you on colourless sheets determine all flesh.”[5] Burroughs had a strong sense of the materiality of language. When he has The Invisible Man say “becomes flesh when it has colour and writing” he is in a way referring to the Unconscious as the invisible man who is striving to become visible to himself and to others in and through language.

 Foucault’s interpretation of Bentham’s Panoptic mechanism becomes relevant here. In Discipline and Punish Michel Foucault presents the Panopticon as a metaphor of how power operates within modern western society. A revolutionary apparatus for its time (19th century), the Panopticon was more than just a model of prison for Foucault, it was a mechanism to keep an absent eye on the prisoner, to keep them under control at all times.

The Panopticon functions as a kind of laboratory of power. Thanks to its mechanisms of observation, it gains in efficiency and in the ability to penetrate into men’s behaviour; knowledge follows the advances of power, discovering new objects of knowledge over all the surfaces on which power is exercised.[6]

The formulation of the concept of the Panopticon involves not only seeing without being seen, but also a mechanism that imposes both their differences and their resemblances upon the subjects. So the subject’s difference from other subjects is itself externally constituted, but is also internal to the subject. The subject is the product of the mechanism in which the subject finds/loses itself, and participates in the setting of the trap. Some subjects are produced in such a way as to act on an illusory sense of consciousness, that they are in control of their lives and events surrounding them, that they are freely choosing their destiny, when in fact all the rules and possibilities of action are always already set. In a panoptic mechanism taking on passive and submissive roles brings wealth, love, health, and even happiness. In a panoptic mechanism everyone is a slave, but some are less so than the others. In a panoptic mechanism submissiveness brings power. The system is such that the subject, to feel secure, takes on a passive role. In return the subject is recognized as worthy of a higher step on the social ladder, which brings an illusionary sense of security. The efficiency of the panoptic mechanism depends on its ability to produce submissive/adaptive/rational subjects.


Burroughs’s mind works exactly like a panoptic mechanism. And I think this has been one of the major concerns of Cronenberg throughout the shooting of the Naked Lunch. What we have in the movie is a man who has been caught up in a trap that he himself set. Bill Lee projects the construct of his psyche onto the external world and it is by doing this that he finds/loses himself in the trap, dismembered. The paranoid fantasy he constructs becomes so powerful that it engulfs him causing his detachment from the external world and leading to the eventual loss of the gap between fantasy and reality. It as this point that the Real slips through and tears him apart. He, in his mind, literally becomes a slashed monster, sees himself thus, as he is not, and becomes other than himself. His becoming-other, however, is in the wrong direction, or rather results in a confusion concerning the relationship between the subject and the object.

Burroughs believed that literature gives birth to action. He also saw writing itself as an action. At the end of the film we see Bill Lee at the border on his way back to Annexia from the Interzone. Two guards ask him what his occupation is. He says he is a writer. They want him to demonstrate. He takes out the gun from his pocket. Joan is at the back of the car. It’s time for their William Tell routine. Joan puts a glass on her head. Lee misses the glass and shoots Joan on the head. The guards are satisfied. The spectator witnesses this crime and remembers the person irrelevantly looking out of the window when they were slaughtering Kafka’s K. at the end of The Trial. Who was that person? Was it God? Was it a single man? Was it all of humanity?

[1] William Burroughs, Queer (New York: Penguin, 1985)

[2] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester (London: Athlone, 1990), 187

[3] Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 188

[4] William Burroughs, Letters (New York: Penguin, 1994), 286

[5] William Burroughs, Nova Express, (London: Panther, 1982), 30

[6] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 204