One of the constants of the Deleuzian secondary literature is the opposition between the work of Deleuze and Guattari and the work of Lacan. For anyone who’s carefully followed Deleuze’s arguments about the logic of representation it’s clear that this should immediately make one’s ears perk up as it suggests an opposition. Yet as Deleuze remarks, “there is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persist alongside the simplification of limitation and opposition” (DR 50). That is, do we not, in the opposition of Deleuze to psychoanalysis, encounter a difference between the subject of the statement and the subject of enunciation?
It is clear that Deleuze’s later work with Guattari often receives disproportionate attention. A glance at earlier works such as Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, and Coldness and Cruelty reveals Deleuze in close dialogue with Lacan’s work. Indeed, Lacan himself noted this, referring to Coldness and Cruelty as the finest study of masochism yet produced in Seminar 14, and devoting part of his seminar to the study of DR and LS in Seminar XVI. Throughout these earlier works, Deleuze endlessly elucidates the concept of the dark precursor through reference to objet a, and draws on Lacan’s account of structure in “The Seminar on the Purloined Letter”, to elucidate his conception of dual serialization. Nor is the issue straightforwardly one of Lacan making use of lack as central to his account of the subject. In an astonishing remark in chapter 2 of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes that, “Although it is deducted from the present real object, the virtual object differs from it in kind: not only does it lack something in relation to the real object from which it is subtracted, it lacks something in itself, since it is always half of itself, the other half being different as well as absent. This absence, as we shall see, is the opposite of a negative. Eternal half of itself, it is where it is only on condition that it is not where it should be. It is where we find it only on the condition that we search for it where it is not. It is at once not possessed by those who have it and had by those who do not possess it. It is alwayss a ‘was‘. In this sense, Lacan’s pages assimilating the virtual object to Edgar Allen Poe’s purloined letter seem to us exemplary” (DR 102, italics mine). Here we see that Deleuze draws a distinction between lack on the one hand (which, as he argues in his important essay “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?” is rendered possible through the symbolic), and negativity on the other hand. Deleuze’s concern is not with lack, but rather with any ontology that would treat the negative as ontologically primitive such as can be discerned in the opening movement of Hegel’s Science of Logic.
During this period, when Deleuze critiques psychoanalysis, it is generally directed at Freud’s early tendency to treat one series as original (the series pertaining to infantile experiences) and one series as derived (the series pertaining to adult relations and experiences). This is an extension of his critique of Plato’s distribution of models and copies, where early Freud sees the infantile series as original and all adult amorous relations as being copies of these early series. Deleuze praises Freud’s later account of phantasy and the deferred effect (already present in the early Project essay) for completely overturning this primacy of one series over another, and sees something similar at work in Lacan’s account of how objet a functions to upset the primacy of one series over another.
One might concede these points and nonetheless argue that while this is true of Deleuze’s earlier work, his work with Guattari departs from this praise of Lacan and finally dispenses with psychoanalysis altogether in favor of schizoanalysis. Admittedly I am not much interested in Deleuze’s later work with Guattari, apart from What is Philosophy?, but the question nonetheless persists of whether this is the case. A close reading of Anti-Oedipus reveals that the issue is far from being straightforward. Thus, for instance, references to Lacan are generally positive throughout the text and criticisms tend to be directed at his followers for precisely the reason noted above: treating one series as primary over another. Similarly, in a footnote early in the text, Deleuze and Guattari write, “Lacan’s admirable theory of desire appears to us to have two poles: one related to “the object small a” as a desiring-machine, which defines desire in terms of a real production, thus going beyond both any idea of need and any idea of fantasy; and the other related to the ‘great Other’ as a signifier, which reintroduces certain notions of lack” (AO 27). From the perspective of those who treat Deleuze and Guattari as rejecting Lacan and psychoanalysis tout court, this comparison of objet a to desiring-machines and reference to Lacan’s account of desire as “admirable” cannot but appear surprising, and suggest that readings of this issue are not nuanced enough.
The broader point to be made revolves around the avowed aim of Anti-Oedipus in responding to Reich’s question of why people will their own repression. There is a tendency, I think, to treat the Oedipus as some sort of academic mystification or conspiracy on the part of analysts. While there are certainly ways of conducting analytic practice that reinforce the Oedipus, one wonders why these two authors would go to so much trouble critiquing the Oedipus if it were simply mistaken practice on the part of psychoanalysts and certain academics. As Deleuze and Guattari are careful to point out, “the Oedipus is not nothing”. Arguably the case can be made that Lacan was the first “anti-Oedipus”. This is evinced in his claim, beginning in the late fifties and persisting throughout his career that “the Other does not exist” (Seminar 5), “that there is no Other of the Other” (Seminar 6), that “there is no metalanguage” (Seminar 12), that the desire of the analyst is the desire for absolute difference (Seminar 11) and so on.
What is to be accounted for is the desire for Oedipus or Oedipalization. There is a certain cereal box version of Oedipus that reduces it to the relationship between parents and child. However, Lacan gives a far more nuanced account revolving around a certain relationship to the Other. Anyone who has practiced as an analyst is familiar with the early consultations where the analysand perpetually asks “what am I?”, “tell me who I am!”, “tell me the solution to my suffering!” and so on. That is, the analysand situates the analyst in the position of the subject supposed to know or the master who possesses knowledge. This is the Oedipus par excellence.
The Oedipal desire is evinced in the desire for a master, for an authority, to be identified and named. Lacan sometimes quipped that the analytic cure consists in being cured of the desire for a cure. If this means anything at all, it is in reference to overcoming this desire for an authority that would finally name us and serve as proxy for our desire. If there is a difference between Lacan and Deleuze and Guattari (and there are many), then it is perhaps that the former sees the Oedipus as something that must be worked through, as a phantasy to be traversed, while the latter often seem to suggest that we can immediately proceed to deterritorialization. Yet in reading the secondary literature do we not find that performatively Deleuze and Guattari often function as names of the master? It is odd to deny ourselves those tools that would allow us to conceptualize mass group submissions to despotic authority. Psychoanalysis provides us with these tools.