For you can tie me up if you wish,
but there is nothing more useless than an organ.
When you will have him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom
To Have Done with the Judgment of God, Antonin Artaud
The body without organs is one of Artaud’s most famous and impalpable concepts. Fraught with paradox and inconsistency, it is most popularly cited in one Artaud’s final works To Have Done with the Judgment of God. In Judgment, Artaud condemns organs as “marks of a judgment … permanently etched within us.” (Brown, 3). Here the organs, or rather, the organization structure of the human body/being hinders man’s contact to a more infinite reality.
Artaud most clearly expounds on body without organs toward the end of his life, after spending years in the several insane asylums. However, the body without organs is not the final ramblings of a madman given over to the fragmentary psychosis of schizophrenia. Instead, this idea culminates much of Artaud’s thought throughout his life. We see seeds of the body without organs in Artaud’s writings on the peyote ritual. He asks “… why was it that each time… I felt myself touching on a vitally important phase of my existence, I did not come to it with a whole organism?” (A Voyage to the Land of the Tarahumara, 384). In Mexico, Artaud confronts his lack of bodily and pathological unity, a problem that plagued him since his first correspondence with Jacques Riviere in 1923: “a man possesses himself in flashes, and even when he possesses himself, he does not reach himself completely” (43). “Man is sick” Artaud claims “because he is badly constructed” (Judgment, 570). Artaud’s claim seems problematic: he was sick, spending a great deal of his life in mental institutions, falling in and out of drug addiction, suffering from collapses of thought and communication. His deteriorating health was certainly a symptom of poor physiological and psychological construction. Deleuze and Guattari take Artaud’s denunciation of organs as a way of locating the experience of bodies in society and culture. Roland Bogue summarizes Deleuze’s treatments of Lewis Carroll and Artaud in the Logic of Sense:
Carroll may resemble a childlike pervert, and Artaud a raving madman, but as writers they are cultural physicians whose differential diagnoses unfold divergent realities and alternative modes of life. (Bogue, 3)
Deleuze describes Artaud and other writers as a symptomologists, cultural physicians who find new plateaus of experience. As cultural physicians, these writers are ingest, digest, and manifest social and cultural disease.* It is also important to resist the impulse to attribute Artaud’s removal of organization to a need for primitive or primordial existence.
…Artaud knew well that “there is in me something damaged from an emotional point of view.” “In matters of feeling,” he wrote, “ I can’t even find anything that would correspond to feelings.” It in no way diminishes the unique and uncanny brilliance of his writings to suggest that the sensual excesses of his “theater of cruelty” may be better understood not as expressions of a naturally overflowing vitality but as defenses against the devitalization and derealization that pervaded his being… Artaud did desire to eclipse the mind through ecstatic sensation and fusion with the ambient world; yet, far from being his primordial condition, this was an escape he never achieved—not through drugs, not through the theater of cruelty, not ever through his own quest for the primitive, his famous voyage to Mexico…(Sass, 238-239)
Sass claims that Artaud, like many schizophrenics, did not suffer from rampant primitive or Dionysian exuberance, but an intensification of self-consciousness, isolation, and self-reflexivity that correlate to the progression of modernism in art and literature. Both Sass and Deleuze encourage us to read Artaud differently: not simply as voyeuristic observers glimpsing through the asylum window, but as students of a symptomologist who created new ways of consuming and producing experience.
Anti-Oedipus is Deleuze and Guattari’s first major collaborative treatment of Artaud’s concept of a body without organs. In the following sections, I will define and utilize key theories as a way of re-entering Artaud’s work, especially his final work: To have Done with the Judgment of God. In the Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari describe three basic components of desiring-production: desiring machines, the body without organs, and the nomadic subject. In order to grasp their conception of the body without organs, it is important to understand it’s relationship to the other two.
A. Desiring Machines
Deleuze and Guattari define desiring-machines as a process, an act of producing. Desiring machines is not a desire to do or to have an object or even to achieve a state. Rather, they are invested in the production of desire. Thus, a desiring machine can never be “satisfied” or come to completion. In this sense, desiring-machines are very like Nietzsche’s notion of will to power: a driving force without a clear goal or object. The only object of desiring-machines is production itself.
The satisfaction the handyman experiences when he plugs something into an electric socket or diverts a stream of water can scarcely be explained in terms of “playing mommy and daddy” or by the pleasure of violating a taboo [transgression]. The rule of continually producing production, of grafting producing onto the product, is a characteristic of desiring-machines or of primary production: the production of production (AO, 7).
So desire is always about production, or even the production of production. This is also why desire here has nothing to do with a Freudian and Lacanian “lack.” Since desiring machines are focused only on their own production, there is no object of desire and hence no object lacking. “Lack is created, planned, and organized in and through social production” (AO, 28). In Judgment, Artaud suggests a similar distaste for “lack” in relation to subjectivity.
It seems that consciousness
in us is
to sexual desire
and to hunger;
but it could
just as well
not be linked
For Artaud, consciousness is an “appetite for living” instead of a desire for a particular object. He rejects desire as a mode of self-satisfaction or pleasure, pointing to a more profound desire, an “explosive necessity” preceding all possible objects or actions, preceding language itself (Judgment, 565).
Roland Bogue describes desiring machines by way of an infant feeding a the mother’s breast. Here the “mouth-machine” of the infant and the “breast machine” enter into an circuit (through the flow of milk) (Bogue, 60). The mouth machine is coupled with an esophagus-machine, a stomach-machine, an intestine-machine where nutrients are converted into “energy circuits of collateral desiring-machines” (Bogue, 60). Therefore “each circuit extend[s] into other circuits that spread in ever-widening networks of activity” (Bogue, 61). This example also operates in another way. In using the a textbook example of psychoanalytic infantile desire, Bogue reveals the ways that Deleuze and Guattari stray from Freudian familialism. Here, the mouth-machine can also be “a breathing-machine, spitting-machine, a crying machine” depending on the codes that are ‘stockpiled’ in it (Bogue, 61). In Bogue’s example, desiring machines are pure production, the mouth-machine does not desire the milk, nor does the esophagus-machine or the stomach-machine. These machines connect to each other to form a network or circuit. This circuitry of desiring machines recall Artaud’s theater of cruelty:
It is a question then of making the theater, in the proper sense of the word, a function; something as localized and as precise as the circulation of the blood in the arteries or the apparently chaotic development of dream images in the brain… (The Theater and its Double, 92)
Artaud envisions a circuit: a circulation of sensorial or synaesthetic phenomena that feed in and out of each other: an intermingling of intensities. Judgment performs these kinds of synaesthetic networks. Maria Levitsky writes that “one would be hard pressed to find anything like Artaud’s work being broadcast on radio or TV now, but to get an approximation of an idea of it, do this: turn on the radio to any station…, turn on the TV with the sound up and the picture off, smoke a joint and just listen to the glorious sound of the babbling media.” This kind of theater “releases conflicts, disengages powers, liberates possibilities, and it these possibilities and their powers are dark, it is not the fault of the plague not of the theater, but of life.” (TAD, 31) The “babbling media,” gibberish, tonal flux, and vocal screams surround the listener like desiring machines connecting and disconnecting, recoding themselves, creating a storm of dissonance.
B. Body without Organs
Two paths were open to him:[man]
that of the infinite without,
that of the infinitesimal within.
The body without organs is a topology of the “infinite without,” a network of desiring machines that circulate around it. While desiring machines produce production, the body without organs is the state before and after this production. It is a state of zero production, anti-production. The BwO empties itself of the infinitesimal within, “the spleen, the tongue, the anus or the glans” to become a surface, a plane of pure consistency. Bogue expands his breast-feeding example to include the body without organs:
If we speak loosely of the infant’s body without organs… we must include within that body without organs the mother’s breast,… the microbes converting food into nutrients and waste,… [The body without organs] is not a mere fantasy or mental image. Rather, it is a virtual entity, real without being actual… the grid of potential circuits that any given chain of desiring machines might actualize at a specific time. (61-62)
Bogue’s apt summation pivots around the grid-like nature of the body without organs. The BwO does not contain desiring machines. It is a surface where they connect and disconnect. Production flows across the body without organs like a ecological energy transfer, and the BwO channels this transfer, blocking pathways and overcharging circuits, plugging and unplugging the flow, allowing for free movement. Where “god himself squeezed the movement” into organs, the BwO purges god’s organs allowing for the free associations of desiring machines.
Because they were pressing me
to my body
and to the very body
and it was then
that I exploded everything
because my body
can never be touched
Artaud’s “explosion” is the result of the paranoid machine. The BwO occillates between both paranoiac and miraculating machines, machines that repulse (paranoiac) and attract (miraculating) desiring machines. Hypersensitive, the paranoiac machine suffers from desiring-machines, wishes to turn them off, while the miraculating machine seems to bud desiring machines like an asexual invertebrate. This paradox, wavering between attraction and repulsion, directly speaks toward Artaud’s notion of consciousness which is both “tireless and beyond measure” while being composed of “nothingness,” a consciousness that invites the flow of desiring machines, while simultaneously clogging their pathways.
In Anti-Oedipus ,the two aspects of the body without organs that most interest Deleuze and Guattari are its function of recording and its apparent miraculous form, that is, the appearance of miracles.
The body without organs, the unproductive, the unconsumable, serves as a surface for the recording of the entire process of production of desire, so that desiring-machines seem to emanate from it in the apparent objective movement that establishes a relationship between the machines and the body without organs”(AO, p. 11).
Here, the body without organs is a surface on which the production of desire is recorded or coded. Desiring-machines or production becomes signification. Because of this recording or coding of production, it appears that desiring-machines actually spring from the body without organs. This false appearance of production is what they call the “miraculating-machine.” (Miracle here seems only to refer to the appearance of an impossible production.) Deleuze and Guattari synthesize these two aspects of the Body without organs (recording production and miraculous production) as an aspect of capital.
Capital is a body without organs of the capitalist (or the capitalist being): the unproductive surface on which the production of labor is recorded. “Recording” means that the value of labor/production is determined on capital. For the miraculous aspect Deleuze and Guattari refer to Marx’s concept of relative surplus value (RSV). RSV is a strategy of capital to increase profits by increasing the value produced during a given amount of labor time, thereby making labor more productive. With the development of RSV it seems like capital (not labor) is what produces capital. Here, then, capital is a body without organs in these two respects. First, because the production or labor is recorded onto capital (giving it a value), this act of recording is central to a notion of money. Second, while capital is unproductive, it appears to be productive (as if through a miracle) and masks the real productive processes (labor). This second aspect of capital as the body without organs is precisely what Marx calls commodity fetishism: the fact that the production process is masked or eclipsed. We have disjunction, then, between the way a commodity appears to have been caused and its real process of production. “Production is not recorded in the same way it is produced” (AO, 12). This disjunction operated by the body without organs is what Deleuze and Guattari call the disjunctive synthesis.” The disjunctive synthesis of recording therefore comes to overlap the connective syntheses of production” (AO, 12-13).
Artaud, in his scathing attacks on America, does not specifically speak to the issues of RSV and capital, but instead uses the analogy of sperm. For Artaud, Americans are that picture of disjunctive synthesis: the “real nature” of desiring machines are replaced by their “synthetic substitutes,” where “artificial insemination factories… make a miracle.” Here, sperm functions the way capital does. Sperm are sites of connective synthesis, sensuous sites of production, in short: desiring-machines. But technologically advanced factories miraculate (through artificial insemination) desiring machines, thereby covering up the (re)productive forces and intensities. Here the slippage between consumption and consummation is clear. Artaud begs us to re-examine desire-as-immanence, as a metaphysical phenomenon that the disjunctive synthesis of culture obfuscates.
C. The Nomadic Subject: The Celibate Machine and Becomings
Artaud’s treatment of sperm and desire lead us a third machine: the celibate machine. The celibate machine is a genuine consummation: auto-erotic, or automatic: “the nuptial celebration of a new alliance, a new birth, a radiant ecstasy, as though the eroticism of the machine liberated other unlimited forces.” (18) The celibate machine is a body without organs populated with desiring machines. It plugs into these desiring machines, following their flows and production, switching between them, turning them on and off. The celibate machine is nomadic, navigating the terrain of desiring machines around him.
There is a schizophrenic experience of intensive qualities in their pure state, to a point that is almost unbearable—a celibate misery and glory experienced to the fullest, like a cry suspended between life and death, an intense feeling of transition, states of pure, naked intensity stripped of all shape and form. (AO, 23)
The nomadic subject is One and Multiple simultaneously, just as Artaud’s “void… approaches with all its forms whose most perfect image is the advance of an incalculatable group of crab lice” (Judgment, 562). Artaud describes himself as an “ill-assembled heap of organs” that could not find “one body, a single human body which escaped [his] perpetual crucifixion” (383). He negates the possibility of unity in light of the multiple, fragmentary nature of consciousness. By plugging into the infinite exteriority of desiring machines, the body without organs inhabits the space of the One and the space of the Multiple, attaining a state of pure immanence, a positive plane of desire. Deleuze and Guattari describe the paradox of being both ‘One’ and ‘Multiple’ in A Thousand Plateaus:
It is not a problem of the One and the Multiple but of a fusional multiplicity that effectively goes beyond any opposition between the one and the multiple…There is a continuum of the intensities in substance. (ATP, 154).
The intensive qualities that Deleuze and Guattari describe are striking similar to Artaud’s radio play. Judgment is certainly a “cry suspended between life and death.” Shards of language, stripped of their codified meanings, create what Deleuze might call pure desire stripped of its rigidified subject/object distinction. Bogue’s description of “passion-words” mirror Artaud’s radiophonic use of language, word-shards, and glossolalia.
Passion words commingle in a terrifying realm of ceaseless cannibalistic dismemberment, dissolution, absorption, and expulsion. However, there are also moments in which the schizophrenic body attains a perfect totality, not as an organism but as a body without parts, which does everything through insufflation, inspiration, evaporation, fluid transmission… (Bogue, 27)
These fluid passion-words (and the body that absorbs and emits them) relate back to Artaud’s treatment of shit and language. Judgment is packed with the abject or excremental: “There where it smells of shit, it smells of being” (Judgment, 559). However, Artaud’s does not simply evoke the disgusting or obscene. “Shit” is a way of experiencing the body as a “fluid transmission,” a permeable surface that is fraught with externalities (or desiring machines).
For the great lie has been to make man an organism,
thus creating a show order of hidden functions which are outside
the realm of the
the will that determines itself each instant…
(Letter to Pierre Loeb, 515)
The body without organs must be productive in its own right, a replacement of the “organism” that Artaud rails against in his letter. It is not an empty body stripped of organs, but a single body of multiplicities.
The body without organs is productive, reminiscent of Artaud’s search for “deliberate will,” the pure flow of desire. It is an experiment, a continuous program of experimentation and destabilization. But in order to achieve it , one must get rid of the old body and all of its significances.
Mistress, 1) You may tie me down to the table, ropes drawn tight,…. 2) One hundred lashes as least… 3)… you sew the scrotum to the skin of the thighs… You sew the breasts, securely attaching a button with four holes to each nipple… (ATP 151)
Deleuze and Guattari use this kind of program to reveal the way that desiring machines attach themselves to the Body without organs. Sewing the body shut, as the paranoid body does, and flogging the body (attaching “waves of pain” to the body).
It is false to say that the masochist is looking for pain but just as false to say that he is looking for pleasure in a particularly roundabout way. The masochist is looking for a type of Body without organs that only pain can fill, or travel over, due to the very conditions under which that Body without organs was constituted. (ATP, 152)
For the masochist, pain is a mode in which he/she achieves an a priori synthesis, an indeterminate end, a body without organs. The masochist is trying to unlink desire from pleasure (as modern psychoanalysis currently links them). “Pleasure is in no way something that can be attained only by a detour through suffering; it is something that must be delayed as long as possible because it interrupts the continuous process of positive desire.” (ATP, 155) Here, Deleuze and Guattari concept of “positive desire” fully reveal the genius of Artaud’s work. Throughout his life, Artaud embraced his suffering, making it indecipherable from his poetry, theory, and performances. In his criticism of Lewis Carroll, he claims that “ ‘Jabberwocky’ is the work of a coward who was not willing to suffer his work before writing it and this can be seen” (449). Artaud preferred Baudelaire who “produced bedsores of aphasia or paraplegia” or Poe who “produced mucus membranes like prussic acid, alcoholic acid, and this to the point of poisoning and madness” (448). Artaud’s suffering is not the demented pleasure of a madman, but a way of attaining a ‘continuous process of positive desire.’
In closing, Deleuze and Guattari warn readers of the “ever-present dangers of that empty their body without organs instead of filling them.” (ATP, 152) Creating a body without organs is a task that must be attacked with caution, `since overdose is a danger. ‘You don’t do it with a sledgehammer, you use a very fine file’ (ATP 160). Deleuze and Guattari dissociate the task of destratifying the organism and creating a body without organs from committing suicide:
You invent self-destructions that have nothing to do with the death-drive. Dismantling the organism never meant killing yourself, but rather opening the body to connections that presuppose an entire assemblage [… ]. [… .] You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn [… ]. [… ] You don’t reach the Body without organs [… ] by wildly destratifying. [… .] If you free it with too violent an action, if you blow apart the strata without taking precautions, then [… ] 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 bring them back down on us heavier than ever (APT, 160-161).
The body without organs is the field of immanence of desire, the plane of consistency proper to desire (where desire is defined as a process of production, without reference to any external instance, such as lack that would crush it or pleasure that could bring it to an end). So the body without organs is the field where desire can produce freely without end.
Then you will teach him to dance wrong side out
as in the frenzy of the dance halls
and this wrong side out will be his real place.
Anti-Oedipus. Deleuze and Guattari. Trans. Robert Hurly, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977.
A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze and Guattari. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Deleuze on Literature. Roland Bogue. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Selected Writings, edit. and introd. by Susan Sontag, trans. by Helen Weaver, University of California Press, California 1973