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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Philosophy Club Season Finale: Bringing it Home with the Body without Organs

It's amazing what you can find out there on the Internet these days. The attractive Deleuze and Guattari cosmetic bag pictured left can be had for $36.95 and is guaranteed, as the Zazzle folks responsible for its production point out, to "hold all your small items - rhizomatically!" This is a relief. Especially given this dynamic duo's suspicion of those more ordered, highly stratified, systems for arranging things. Just what D & G would make of staring out at the world from the surface of an item more in keeping with that other D & G is quite another matter. Capitalism and consumerism-gone-mad aside, these two heavyweight thinkers and frequent philosophical collaborators would no doubt get a posthumous kick out of the fact that the only decent online photograph to be had of them is on the side of a clutch. Did I mention that I've added it to my Santa list? Did I mention that all I really want for Christmas is a brand new, shiny red Body without Organs?

If only it was that easy: popping a Deleuze-Guattarian BwO into your online shopping cart and clicking on the checkout button. Trouble is, you can't do that. Fact is, a BwO is like one of those olde tyme Christmas gifts of yesteryear: you have to make it. And though, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, it's a question of life and death to get one, it was the actual mechanics behind fashioning ourselves a Body without Organs (BwO) that had us worried as the season finale got under way last Thursday.

In many ways, it was an activity that brought our Autumn 2013 Philosophy Club series to a fitting close. Not that endpoints (or for that matter, starting points) count for much in the realm of post-structuralist thinking. Not that always-in-the-middle positioning isn't as integral to Gilles Deleuze's (1925-1995) general project as it is to that of the other post-structuralist thinkers we've looked at in this series.  But going out with a creative 'big bang' did help to shed important light on some of the less, shall we say, grounded post-structuralist pathways we've traveled down these last couple of months: rendering tangible and palpable Julia Kristeva's positing of the revolutionary semiotic; injecting corporeal vigour and flow into Jacques Derrida's critique of Western Philosophy's privileging of the metaphysics of presence. Besides which, it was fun: catching a thrill-seeking 'line of flight' out of those structures, systems, institutions, organisms - call them what you will! - that attempt to organize and tame us; grappling with the everyday practicalities associated with embodying Deleuzian concepts like becoming-imperceptible, becoming-woman, becoming-animal.

With regard to the latter, we had Marianne's new golden retriever Johnny Rover on hand to give us some pointers on becoming-dog - becoming a BwO - not through imitating him or acting like him, but through engaging with the world as he does: taking the time to smell the roses not in a figurative sense but quite literally; the act of 'seeing' life by way of our nose, as Johnny does, opening the door to new ways of experiencing and perceiving that are ripe with possibility, a riff of desire. For indeed, the BwO is desire in the Spinozist way of understanding the term: desire as in our very striving; desire as in an active life force. And it is perhaps not surprising that the influence that 17th century philosopher Baruch Spinoza (to whom our Spring 2013 Salon series was devoted) had upon Gilles Deleuze is at its most pronounced in the reading that we were bouncing off of as we made our bodies into 'desiring machines', into BwOs: "November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?"

Taken from Deleuze and Guattari's door-stopper of a meaty text, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia (1988), the date noted in the above-mentioned 'chapter' title (the authors prefer to call it a 'plateau,' suggesting a continuous and experiment-ridden 'region of intensity' rather than the usual rise, development, climax and fall of the bookish 'chapter,' but you get the drift...) pays tribute to French playwright and poet Antonin Artaud's declaration of war on the organs whilst recording his radio play, To be Done with the Judgement of God, on this date. As it happens, the play was banned prior to broadcast, and France's radio audience wouldn't hear Artaud's thoughts on organs - "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" - until 30 years later. But Deleuze was an earlier convert to Artaud, and found much to his liking in Artaud's anti-organ crusade. More importantly, Deleuze derived from it a sense of where the true enemy lay: not in organs, as such, but in the organism into which those organs become organized, sedimented, stratified. No Flow, No Go, would seem to be Deleuze's rallying call. And in the spirit of 1960s-style radicalism, Let Your Organs Run Free!

In line with this bodily striving to free oneself from The Organism, from The Man, is the shedding of a firm point of view. Maintaining that standing firm detaches you from the vital flow of life, Deleuze insists that you get out there on the plane of consistency, in that energy field known as immanence, and CIRCULATE! The more encounters you make, the better. Vive experimentation and forgetting! Merde to interpretation and anamnesis! Freud is out - no more finding your 'Self'...Instead, get dismantled, man! Go forth and multiply, mutate and variegate, mate! - and so is Plato. All you need to know in life is no longer buried deep down inside you, waiting for some know-it-all Philosopher King to come along and help you birth it. Rather, it's just one big experimental swim out there and the more you dip your toe in - the more you don't know what you didn't already know - the more life has to offer. In other words, the object of the exercise is to get creative and connect, conjugate, continue; it's to bite off more than you can chew and, as American Idol's Randy Jackson might add, Make it Yours, Dawg!

Sound like a good time? Well, Philosophy Club members could see where the pitfalls might lie. And even Deleuze hastens to warn that, taking it to extremes - all line of flight, no plot to land - can be bad for your health. But on the whole, we were an interpellated lot: keen to clambour up there onto a launching pad and swing between the surfaces that stratify us and the plane that sets us free; keen to revisit our everyday practices and processes with an eye to being looser, somehow...Less invested in established meaning, more open to making anew and anew and anew. In a couple of weeks, wwp club members meet up North at the Nurtury to mark this challenging and exciting intellectual journey we have taken together with a potluck post-structuralist lunch. Let's just say that the proof of just how loose will be in the pudding.