Political Organ-izing against Organ-izations/isms

The body is the body.

Alone it stands.

And in no need of organs.

Organism it never is.

Organisms are the enemies of the body.

-Antonin Artaud, ‘The Body is a Body’

a. “The BwO howls: “They’ve made me an organism! They’ve wrongfully folded me! They’ve stolen my body!'” (ATP: 159)

As an image of thought, the idea of society or the world functioning as an organism is well sedimented.  In its stupidest form, it posits resemblance between the human body and society.  Just as various organisms interact to from an organism as a functional whole, it states, society is a totality stitched together by the cooperation of social institutions.

What is remarkable about the organismic approach is its prevalence, with a history that spans from Ancient and Classical thought, through the Middle Ages, and the modern period, to today.  In contemporary sociology, for instance, a complex version of the organismic metaphor still predominates.  Rather than simple resemblance, it poses a general theory of relationality, positing that relations of interiority between parts form an organic whole.  It is only by virtue of being part of a whole that any part exists.  And if that part were to be separated from the whole, it would lose its value and function.  While avoiding brute functionalism and an inability to understand conflict or difference, it still assumes crucial categories as givens (the social, the state, social classes, and individuals to name a few).  The result?  Social institutions are granted a miraculous existence, put on Earth by the grace of God.  And the idea of directing them away from contributing to the whole or ending their existence altogether is not only at the limit of thought, but offensive.

The alternative doesn’t require rejecting organismic thinking altogether.  And while we should out of hand reject the categorical essentialism whereby natural kinds or types are assumed, the point is not to deny that the organismic model exists but to explain its emergence and function.fn  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari explain that the image of the organism is useful because it is a political depiction a body pattern organized  as centralized and hierarchized, so that “useful labor is extracted from the BwO” (ATP: 159).  Organs are put to use in the service of simple reproductive labor, allowed to produce along two lines: products at work (with your organs connected to the technical machines of the capitalist) or self reproduction (with your organs connected to the social machines of the species) (AO: 54).

Three clarifications should be kept in mind:

First, the organism as an image of thought is just a representation.  It represents the limit-process whereby the organs of a body are directed solely toward reproduction.  Organisms in this sense don’t actually exist in the world, but only in mixes with all of the other ways bodies can be.  So even as the enemy might be organisms, it is crucial not get caught up in the noisy theater of representation but dive into the hidden abode of production.

Second, bodies never exist in isolation.  ‘Individuals’ are the product of recurrent processes so they always arise in populations, as the result of complex processes of individuation.  Therefore, what is at stake with organisms is not individual bodies, but bodies politic that trasversally stretch through many different dimensions as the connect across the surface of a multiplicity — “a Collectivity  (assembling elements, things, plants, animals, tools, people, powers , and fragments of all of these; for it is not ‘my’ body without organs, instead the “me” is on it, or what remains of me, unalterable and changing in form, crossing thresholds)” (ATP: 161).

Third, there are worse things than organismic reproduction.  Tempering the enthusiasm of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari warn A Thousand Plateaus that, “If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then instead of drawing the plane you will be killed, plunged into a black hole, or even dragged toward catastrophe. Staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected— is not the worst that can happen; the worst that can happen is if you throw the strata into demented or suicidal collapse, which brings them back down on us heavier than ever” (161).

b. “The BwO is not at all the opposite of the organs. The organs are not its enemies. The enemy is the organism” (ATP: 158)

So if not an organism, then what?  First, a detour through the misleadingly named concept ‘Body without Organs.’  The concept comes from the brilliant work of schizophrenic and writer Antonin Artaud.  The key comes from Artaud’s radio play “To Have Done with the Judgement of God” where he states:

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.

Modifying Artaud’s account, Deleuze and Guattari argue the political point that organs aren’t to be gotten rid of, but to be directed away from organisms and put to other uses.

So follows the first task, which is negative: Destroy, destroy!  It may involve identifying the miraculating-machines that make organs appear to have a ‘natural’ function fully-formed as part of some miracle of God.  Don’t forget that it is not enough to grasp for some originary creation moment, because organs are not reproduced in the same way they are produced.  Or if you’re careful, simply expunge the straight-jacket of habit and dull self-interest, and lay waste to mindless processes of repetition that work that machinically direct energies toward docile labor reproduction.

But after the ground-clearing, the second task is positive: Create, create!  The newly freed organs have left their resting place as part of a layout of singularities in a basin of attraction and now need connecting.  Even more importantly, connections no longer have to converge on the singular purpose of reproduction.  There are a million ways for it to go bad – with connections going nowhere spinning in the void or maybe its quickly captured.  Even worse, the accumulation of a million micro-fascist lines of flight – a cancerous body rather than a totalitarian organism.  The cautionary note of ATP bears repeating: “staying stratified—organized, signified, subjected— is not the worst that can happen” (161).

c.  The Political Payoff

Two suggestions [word choice] for activist practice in light of the above observations:

First, organ-ize against organ-izations/isms.

The creative connexions formed when organs come into contact by contingency or experimentation creates an ‘order for free’ surplus.  Those happen-chance encounters of organs are locked into relations of necessity by an organ-ization/ism that exploitatively extracts the surplus in the name of its self.  And it’s not just the State and Capital.  The growing biopolitical tissue of Empire captures its subjects through enrollment, with Non-Governmental Organizations being its new darling.  The alternative is to start “from a threshold of dispersion past which imaginary identity or structural unity subsists” (AO, 322-3).

A good starting point is ‘People’s Global Action.’  With the Zapatistas acting as midwife, a network emerged in 1997 to coordinate the growing field of struggle against global capitalism.  PGA is explicit, it is not an organization but “an instrument for co-ordination.”  “PGA has no membership”, in fact, “No organization or person represents the PGA, nor does the PGA represent any organization or person” and “the PGA will not have any resources”.  And the success of the PGA speaks for itself, international trade rounds began meeting well-coordinated resisted around the globe.  A string of multi-sited international days of action were capped off by the Seattle protest in November 1999 that has effectively incapacitated the WTO for over a decade.  The only problem?  PGA has withered into a husk.

What the example demonstrates is that organs without organizations can existing and flourish.  Despite lacking a definite governance structure or system of membership, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people took part in coordinated action.  For a time, the Washington Consensus looked on the verge of collapse.  But as global trade was undertaken by other means, with the WTO abandoned in favor of multi-lateral regional trade agreements and governance via the G8/G20, it appears that protest will have to do more than turn out numbers.

Second, construct plateaus not events.

When organizing in terms of events, there is no such thing as bluffing.  At a demonstration, something must be demonstrated or it isn’t much of a demonstration at all.  So rather than manufacture a false sense of urgency, activism needs to recognize that in a sense it is already too late.  A boycotts or a protests alone is a reactionary act that at best stave off greater misery, and at worst just adds to the general asphyxiation by being one step behind.  How does one avoid being specifically reactionary and vaguely revolutionary?  Ditch the ‘declaratory posture’ of summit sieges and adopt the ecology of the plateau.

The potential of plateaus is found in the effects of composition.  If you want to understand a plateau, consider this: as a set of pure singularities come together – stones, pockets, mouth; a shoe, a pipe bowl, a small limp bundle that is undefined, a cover for a bicycle bell, half a crutch – how will they combine? When constructing a plateau, as its elements are brought into communication they resonate or interfere, resulting in amplification or dampening.

Through Beckett’s virtuosic pen they are strung together into a plane of intensity without intended outcome of conscious completion.  Molloy is a magnification of intensity without ever building to the fevered pitch of a climax or to have a necessary progression finally displaced by external events.  The careful practice of engineering a plateau is then to pay attention to the ecology of the objects and the effects the interaction produces.  The socialist bureaucrat only knows how to speak of efficiency and rationality.  But if artfully combined, differences animate and elevate the plane of intensity.  The intensity is sustained long enough to leave an afterimage, a residue that is found on its elements as they fly off into different orbits or a trauma that causes an event far after its imprint.  Events then take on a second-order function, subservient to the plane of intensity.

The path now open is lived communism, prefiguration in the strongest sense.  Freed from both the necessity of re-production and the urgency of making an event, what is left is affection and co-operation. This is not the dual power of setting up alternative institutions; this is the abolition of ‘relations of production’ altogether.   It is about the practice of communism as a process: communisation.  Real movement which abolishes the present state of things.  The result is something shared, held in common, even if it is just a plane of intensity, a sensibility, or a world. fn



This is where Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘politics first’ parts ways with DeLanda social science ontology.  Simply put, they fall on either side of Marx’s famous 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”  DeLanda, not one to hide his anti-marxist sentiment, titled his book on assemblages “A New Philosophy of Society.”


Even more confusing is that while the BwO might represent an image of thought that is the polar opposite of ‘organisms’, so when Artaud’s term ‘body without organs’ is deployed in the context of D&G it would be more appropriate to call it the ‘body without organisms’.  In a more general sense, there are four dimensions to BwOs in D&G’s metaphysics.

1) single intensive BwO: a body that breaks habit and is therefore able to experiment with its organs

2) single virtual BwO: the limit of destratification of a single body

3) universal intensive BwO: the plane of consistency upon which assemblages can be constructed (the Earth)

4) universal virtual BwO: plane of immanence or absolute deterritorialization where all matter is free of form and function (the Cosmos) [Protevi, Political Affect]

The slippage between all four is intentional.  For the purpose of this essay, I will clarify which one I am referring to if appropriate.


I have re-ordered D&G’s “one negative task and two positive ones” from AO.

*Negative task being, ‘deconstruct psychoanalysis’, “a whole scouring of the unconscious, a complete curettage. Destroy Oedipus, the illusion of the ego, the puppet of the superego, guilt, the law, castration” (AO, 311).

*First positive task, “discovering in a subject the nature, the formation, or the functioning of his desiring-machines, independently of any interpretations” (322) …  the essential aspect of the first positive task is to ensure the machinic conversion of primal repression” (339)

*Second positive task, schizophrenize with schizoanalysis (rather than neurotocize like psychoanalysis) — “to reach the investments of unconscious desire of the social field, insofar as they are differentiated from the preconscious investments of interest, and insofar as they are not merely capable of counteracting them, but also of coexisting with them in opposite modes.” And to “make use only of indices-machinic indices-of sexuality in order to discern, at the level of groups or of individuals, the libidinal investments of the social field” (AO, 350)


[[“Third, be reflexive in action not between actions.”  cut, thought it was ‘supposed to’ be the topic of this paper…  couldn’t find a way to work it in to my liking..]]

3 thoughts on “Political Organ-izing against Organ-izations/isms

  1. This is an interesting description/treatment of Bodies w/o Organs, particularly the way in which you mobilize D&G to caution against anarchist politics and action as usual.

    I think it would be beneficial and interesting if you thought/wrote about the status of this caution. What in D&G, besides the sexy concepts, provides for its mobilization as something cautionary and then as an alternative? I guess what I am getting at here is that Bodies w/o Organs, acting as something cautionary, might be a little too Hegelian, a little too reliant on a past that will have been such and such a way, in light of its present/future.

    Does mobilizing D&G in a cautionary way delimit experimentation, affect, and cooperation?

  2. there are two conjunctural reasons for the difference in tone/ambition between AO and ATP.

    the first — AO was written in the immediate aftermath of 68 while ATP was released in 1980. a lot of the revolutionary energy was quashed in france/across the world — especially after waves from the OPEC oil embargo started global stagflation in the mid-70s. in a simple sense, the ‘times’ were different and so they decided to become much more humble and cautious, at risk of becoming like the Red Brigade at the tail end of the Italian Movement of 77.

    the second — ATP was written with an eye to the ‘effects’ of AO. word has it a number of deleuze’s students may have taken the imperative to ‘experiment’ a little too far – which is why the language of ‘black holes’ and micro-fascism takes a much more prominent role. ie: now that we all understand that micropolitics and molecular revolutions are the name of the game, let’s talk about all the ways ‘lines of flight’ can and have gone bad. therefore, it wasn’t really putting the brakes so much as trying to be a little more careful with the terrifying task of playing with the new.

    as far as activist practice goes – let me mull on it a bit more. a very quick response would be that ‘absolute destratification’ would be a destruction of the reproduction of the organic stratum altogether — and i don’t mean in a metaphorical sense. some ‘critics’ have picked up this, though it’s mostly developed in terms of what’s at stake for considering evolutionary biology via D&G. i think this is probably where the bergsonism comes through the strongest, and as you noted the question of time looms large. i won’t pretend to have it all figured out, but i think the piece i wrote for the MLG ‘Forget the Dialiect’ (which is posted on this blog) is a start to understanding the non-linear aspects of the dynamic of BwOs.

    but as i said, let me think on it and i’ll get back to you. thanks for the intriguing comment!

  3. I think you are right to note a shift from AO to ATP. I wouldn’t say they grew more cautious, but I think they did recognize the dangers of oppositionism a little more. But still, the enlisting of D&G in the “accelerationist” camp based on one quote from AO (by people who admit they haven’t actually read the whole book, no less) is completely spurious, to put it as diplomatically as I can.

    I also like that you say that the first task is to destroy. D&G get too much happy-go-luckyism assigned to them. It’s clear from, among other things, the sequence of their collective project that destroying comes first.

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