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

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.

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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.

cronenberg

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.

Panopticomania

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

Artaud, Deleuze and The Will to Nothingness

Catrin Welz-Stein – Unborn Ideas

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

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

I believe in spontaneous conjurations.

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

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

When you will have made him a body without organs,

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

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

as in the frenzy of dancehalls,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Droste/Escher (Thanks, Teresa!)

(Image: Antique Time Spiral, used by permission)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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