Félix Guattari

By: Erik Davis
April 30, 2014


“We have the unconscious we deserve,” wrote FÉLIX GUATTARI (1930–92), the French antipsychiatrist, militant activist, and “ecosophical” thinker whose work with Gilles Deleuze gave us, in the two volumes of their Capitalism and Schizophrenia, some of the most productive, evocative, and bizarrely entertaining manuals of posthumanist critical thought we possess. For Guattari, the unconscious is not a code fixed in stone, but an engine of subjectivity whose maps and models need to be understood, not as crystals of a specialist’s knowledge — like Freud’s Oedipal family drama or Lacan’s linguistic mathemes — but as open and social processes always capable of further creative “deterritorialization.” Intellectual as well as affective (one dare not say “personal”) friends, Deleuze and Guattari deterritorialized one another. And though extricating what was “Guattari” and what was “Deleuze” precisely misses the point, we can nonetheless hear Guattari in the hysteric sci-fi jargon of “rhizomes,” “assemblages,” and “abstract machines.” Despite appearances, this monster slang is anything but abstract. Guattari was a pragmatist: concepts for him were gadgets deployed within life, existential operators capable of transforming the flows between social networks, technologies, material expressions, and stratifications of knowledge. The notion of “desiring machines” — unleashed in 1972’s Anti-Oedipus — helped Italian autonomist radicals move beyond traditional Marxist formulations, while the discourse of “schizoanalysis” emerged partly from Guattari’s own practice at La Borde, an experimental psychotherapeutic institution whose patients helped, literally, to “run the asylum.” Perhaps Guattari’s most resonant orientation was his late concern with Green politics and ecology, an orientation perfectly appropriate to his own transversal moves between environment, social relations, and subjectivity. Guattari was no nihilist: he practiced deterritorialization not simply to destroy reified orders, but to allow room for genuine singularities to blossom — flashes of cosmic novelty whose liberation he believed was inseparable from solidarity.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Jaroslav Hašek, Willie Nelson, Blind Gary Davis, Alice B. Toklas, Lars Von Trier, Maria Leach.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).


HiLo Heroes, Philosophy