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Friday, 14 October 2011

Quick note on desiring machines and the ontology of flows

There is a sense in which the speculative method of Whitehead is somehow applied in Deleuze and Guattari's sketch of an ontology of desiring machines in Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze took his take in metaphysics to be close to the style of Whitehead (see Robin Mackay's article in the Collapse volume on Speculative Realims). Desire is an immanent connecting force that acts as a centrifugal element by connecting items indifferent to their ranks, orders or species. The psycho-analytically blessed nuclear family as it appears in the Anti-Oedipus is an institution that preserves a centre by making the flows (in the capitalist territorial machine) always come back to a nuclear unit of dream and desire. The flows are the flows of capital and those of desire that are turned centripetal by the Oedipal devices. Instead of letting the capital flow in a riverbed of centrifugal desire, capitalism makes room for accumulation by making it return home which is always where desire ought to remain.

When we think of an ontology of desiring machines, we think of an centrifugal ingredient, such as contact itself, that makes order transient. Desire is not subjected to any sexual order, it unties the nodes, it produces flow. The capitalist territorial machine controls the flow by making desire controlled, and directed to a private unit. If desire is everywhere, there are many articulations of flow. It acts like Eros and like Eris, a force of dissipation.


  1. I'm not sure if I understand correctly the end of your note, because of the punctuation. I think you are saying that desire is both eros and eris, both break and flow, both connect and cut. So maybe it would be less misleading to talk of an "ontology of breaks and flows"
    In a similar vein, Deleuze often talks in terms of positivity and affirmation, as if the negative were excluded from his ontology. Yet the recurrent prefix (that is to say operator) "de-", as in deterritorialisation is an index of "good" negation that does not create lack but openness. Or the "dé-pli" the unfolding that accompanies the fold. Or "dé-faire" unmaking, as in unmaking the strata.
    So your opposition of centrifugal flows and and centripetal oedipus may need to be at least complemented by the opposition of stratification and de-stratification. Centripetal/centrifugal suggests to me systole/diastole, and so are two poles of desiring flow. As in the commentaries on Francis Bacon.
    Other indices of negativity are the prefix (operator) "a-" or "an-", as in a-signifying, a-subjective, an-egoic. And also "in-" as in "in-forme". So there seems to be a notion of "positive negativity", as in Deleuze and Guattari's claim that deterritorialisation is primary.
    This seems to be in accordance with your reading of Eris not as oppositional strife, but as a "force of dissipation". So the desiring machine is a dissipative assemblage.

  2. Yes, I didn't mean in Eris and Eros as in Empedocles, as love and strife. Desiring machines are dissipative assemblages and they are de-stratifying as they are centrifugal. Stratification is often done by producing centres, like the nuclear family as the supposed arriving point for the flows - desires and capital. An ontology of flows (and centripetal, centrifugal forces) could be a way of providing a philosophy of nature that fits the bill of a Schellingian avoidance of somatism (in Iain Hamilton Grant's terms). In other words, such ontology would deal with the genesis of bodies (and other centres) rather than start out with bodies (or things). Flows (like forces) are candidates to be unthinged, not reducible to things, something whose existence is different from what can fit in a predication.

  3. Thanks for your clarifications. I wonder if your ontology of flows ties in with William Connolly's "world of becoming"? I think that Deleuze and Guattari's ontology is still the most promising, but that it needs to be worked over to open up its terminology and analyses to new contexts. This is the sort of work that William Connolly, Manuel Delanda, and Levi Bryant have been doing. I do not know Grant's work, but the anti-somatism argument seems good to me. Badiou, however, represents a regression from this point of view.

  4. Thanks for your comments. I don't know Connolly's work, any pointer to where he goes to the point? I think Deleuze and Guattari's ontology are both promising and the right response to somatism. I'm very fond of chapter 3 of Mille Plateaux where they develop the idea of the double articulation (and of Deleuze's Pli). Hamilton Grant goes in this direction as well, he reckons that the crucial question of how the Idea becomes matter has been systematically neglected since Plato. In this sense, Badiou doesn't seem to be going in the same direction. I'm involved with teaching Grant's Philosophies of Nature since Schelling right now in the context of my course on contemporary speculative ontologies. I take a lot of these ontologies were directly or indirectly provoked by Deleuze and Guattari.

  5. Two good lectures:

    and his most recent book: