In what sense can Guattari’s thought be understood as a radicalization of Lacanian psychoanalysis? And what does it mean to say that Guattari’s thought is a radicalization of Lacanian psychoanalysis? First, to characterize Guattari’s relationship to Lacan as a radicalization of Lacanian thought is not to claim that Guattari was an orthodox Lacanian. Rather, Guattari’s schizoanalysis is a radicalization of psychoanalysis in the sense that Hegel is a radicalization of Kant or Spinoza is a radicalization of Descartes. Just as Hegel and Spinoza deeply transform the thought and projects of their most important predecessors, Guattari significantly transforms Lacanian thought. However, before such a question can even be posed it is first necessary to determine just where Deleuze and Guattari share common ground with Lacan.

While it is certainly true that Guattari transforms Lacan’s thought in radical ways, it is also true that this relationship between the two has been presented as being one that is deeply antagonistic and hostile. Nietzsche pointed out that we arrive at the perspective of substance ontology, that there are substantial things composed of predicates, due to a set of illusions produced through language where words create the belief that there are unchanging things corresponding to these words. In the secondary literature on Deleuze and Guattari, one gets the sense that something similar occurs with reference to psychoanalysis. Often psychoanalysis is treated as if it is a monolithic entity, as the arch-enemy, characterized by homogeneity, despite the fact that psychoanalysis is characterized by a heterogeneous diversity of different schools and orientations often at odds with one another.

This is extremely odd for two reasons: First, it is odd that followers of the champions of difference would require identity in their enemy. It is as if somehow the ontological claim of the ontological primacy of multiplicities gets entirely forgotten and the target gets reduced to a molar and simplified identity without heterogeneous vectors and tendencies of its own. Second, it is especially odd that American Deleuzians seem so intent on toppling psychoanalysis, as if it were the most pressing political struggle within the American situation. Psychoanalysis is hardly anywhere to be found in the United States at the level of practice or predominant theory. Indeed, what we instead get in the States is the complete exorcism of the subject from the clinical setting, treating diagnostic categories as if they were natural kinds and signs, the ignorance of anything like a symptom, and a therapy that tends to be premised on the normalization of its patients so that they might tolerate normal, married, heterosexual conjugal relations, go to work and produce, and be good little consumers. One would think that were Deleuzians looking for a worthy project along the lines of Anti-Oedipus, they would begin not with psychoanalysis– which at least provides the possibility of providing a space where all that resists the “normal” might at least be enunciated, where the treatment isn’t 8 meetings with a cognitive-behavioral psychologist with tried and trusted methods to get rid of the symptom, where the solution isn’t a chemical straight-jacket –but rather with a Foucault and Bourdieu style analysis of the evolution of the DSM-IV, the relationship between therapeutic practice and insurance companies, the relationship between therapeutic practice and the legal system and work, an analysis of the statistical methods through which certain diagnostic categories are produced and generalized, and an analysis of the discourses through which certain attitudes towards life, the body, and mental health are produced. This sort of critique would potentially reveal something about American life in general, something un-thought and at the level of the unconscious in the structural or systematic sense, and would have potential for generating more active struggles, transforming what appear to be individual problems into collective symptoms. But alas, apparently psychoanalysis is the arch-enemy.

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As is always the case, it’s necessary to know a bit about history and the discourses one is talking about to properly evaluate the relationship between Guattari and Lacan. Guattari’s intellectual trajectory began, and continued his entire life, with the La Borde clinic which was closely affiliated with Lacan and Lacanian teaching. As Jean-Claude Polack described this atmosphere, “When I first arrived at La Borde one didn’t have the right to speak if one had not gone over Lacan with a fine tooth comb” (Gary Genosko, Felix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction, 2). Yet Guattari’s relationship to Lacan was not simply a tangental one premised on arriving in an intellectual milieu heavily influenced by Lacan. No, Guattari himself did an analysis with Lacan as well as a training analysis with Lacan. Moreover, Guattari remained an active member of the Ecole freudienne de Paris [EFP], Lacan’s school, for his entire life. Finally, an examination of every reference to Lacan in Anti-Oedipus reveals, surprisingly, that they are uniformly positive. Indeed, throughout Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari make scattered positive references to Seminars 16 and 17, drawing on them to develop their own concepts. By contrast, it is Lacan’s students that are invariably the target of their criticisms when the issue is one of criticizing Lacanian psychoanalysis (the target of their critique of psychoanalysis lies elsewhere, I believe, than Lacan, though Lacan does become an occasional target on certain theoretical points in A Thousand Plateaus and various independent essays).

One would expect that were there a complete rift between schizoanalysis and Lacanian psychoanalysis, Guattari would have severed all relations to the EFP as he began to develop his own radical schizoanalysis. Yet this did not occur. This suggests that while Deleuze and Guattari certainly develop a critique of psychoanalysis in Anti-Oedipus, the relationship between Guattari and Lacan is far more complex and subtle than it is often portrayed.


There are certain features of Deleuze and Guattari’s critique of psychoanalysis that simply cannot be understood outside of the context of debates among the various psychoanalytic schools. Lacan was “excommunicated” from the International Psychoanalytic Association (IFP) in 1964. This was two years after Guattari began his training analysis with Lacan in 1962. The ostensible reason for Lacan’s excommunication was his practice of variable length sessions, however it is clear that a tension had been building between the orthodox psychoanalysis of the IPA, and a number of Lacan’s own teachings.

The standard IPA position, descended from Freud’s daughter Anna Freud, was that of “ego-psychology“. Here the idea was that the aim of psychoanalysis was the production of a healthy ego, “capable of the management of the management of libidinal and aggressive impulses, and the adaptation of this ego to reality.” Lacan had attacked this psychoanalytic trend on two fronts: First, as Lacan demonstrated with his account of the mirror stage and a close reading of Freud’s own texts (specifically “Narcissism: An Introduction”, “Mourning and Melancholia”, Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego, and The Ego and the Id), the ego is not a rational site or seat of mind that can preside over unconscious drives, but is rather the product of a specular identification with an image that both generates aggressivity of its own (Lacan’s famous imaginary dimension), and is an alienation of the lived body. Far from being a seat of rationality, claimed Lacan, the more we strive to embody the ego or the specular image the more alienated we become in this image. Lacan, in effect, undermined the supposed unity or self-identity of the ego upon which ego-psychology was premised. This, it should be noted, was a key influence in Guattari’s own critique of the subject or identity that will become so important later in Anti-Oedipus.

Second, Lacan rejected ego-psychology’s notion of “adaptation to reality” on two grounds. On the one hand, the ego or specular imago produced through the mirror stage renders us fundamentally maladaptive. Lacan would later extend this critique, showing how language fundamentally transforms our relation to the world. On the other hand, Lacan critiqued the aims of ego-psychology or orthodox psychoanalysis on ethical grounds. Under the model of ego-psychology, the analyst set himself up as a model of both what a person should be morally and as an arbiter of what constitutes reality. Consequently, analysis practiced with the aim of producing a strong and healthy ego well-adapted to reality cannot help but aim at identification with the analyst as a model of what a person should be and, since reality is both social reality and physical reality, normalization of the analysand or patient. In other words, the practitioner of ego-psychology, according to Lacan, was not an advocate of the analysand’s desire, but rather an agent of the police or the social order. However matters are worse. For if, as Freud argued and Lacan argues as well, the primary source of our suffering is social in nature, resulting from the sacrifice of jouissance we must undergo to enter the social order, then it follows that the normalizing ego-psychologist is intensifying the analysand’s alienation by teaching adaptation to the social order. I would argue that it is this form of psychoanalysis that is the primary object of critique in Anti-Oedipus.

I would argue that there are at least eight Lacanian claims or concepts that were indispensable to Guattari’s own radicalization of psychoanalysis and the formation of schizoanalysis.

1) The critique of the unified ego or subject.

One of the main themes throughout Anti-Oedipus is the critique of the molar and paranoid pole of desire. One primary form this takes is the idea of a unified self or subject. Clearly, one of the motives for this critique is the aggressivity that accompanies unified identity or the unified self. It seems that the more we strive to maintain ourselves, the more aggressive towards otherness we become. On the one hand, this is because of the manner in which this unity obstructs the pulsation of the drives. On the other hand, this is due to the nature of specular identification which turns to rivalry with the semblable or alter. This critique comes directly out of Lacan’s account of the Imaginary and the mirror stage. Indeed, Lacan had described the ego and its striving for unified identity as a paranoid structure. He would make this claim of the domain of the imaginary or the striving for wholeness and consistency as well.

2) The critique of the idea of totality or wholes.

Another central theme of Anti-Oedipus is the critique of all wholes or totalities as both paranoid and molar structures. From one end of his work to the other, Lacan is perpetually demonstrating the ruin of any and all totalities and how the pursuit of totality generates antagonism and fascist tendencies.

3) The critique of Oedipus.

It is assumed that if one falls under the label “psychoanalysis”, one must be an advocate of the Oedipus. Throughout his work, Lacan not only complicates the Oedipus– through his forays into ethnography and the focus of his work on psychosis rather than neurosis –but also critiques the Oedipus. In many respects it could be said that for Lacan, unlike Freud, the Oedipus is not central to Lacan’s theoretical edifice at all. More importantly, in one respect the ultimate aim of analysis is to move beyond the neurotic’s fantasy of the Oedipus. Where Freud constantly defended the father, Lacan constantly emphasizes the failure of the father and the manner in which the father functions as a veil in neurosis for something else. Where Freud constantly defended the father as the ground of social order, Lacan perpetually showed the deadlocks this particular formation created in the social sphere. In Deleuze-speak, Lacan buggered Freud in his return to Freud. In his final stage, beginning around seminar 19 (1971 – 72), began the year before Anti-Oedipus (1972), Lacan begins to move towards a fully post-Freudian position, developing the borromean clinic that will eventually culminate in the sinthome where the name-of-the-father is no longer necessary to the knotting of the three orders and where all subjectivity is premised on universal foreclosure.

4) The critique of unified drives.

The ego-psychologists or orthodox psychoanalysts had argued that there are stages through which the drives develop and that a healthy subject is one in which the drives become unified around a single object. Thus, for example, part of neurosis for the orthodox psychoanalyst would consist in the subject becoming fixated at one stage. For example, the subject might become fixated on the anal drive. A healthy subject, by contrast, would be a subject in which all the drives were unified. For the male subject this would culminate in the phallus, while for the female subject this would culminate in the acceptance of vaginal intercourse. Lacan demonstrated that the drives are in and of themselves partial, without forming a global and integrated totality. They each go in their own directions, as it were. This conception of the drives would be crucial for Guattari’s understanding of desiring-machines and their endless process of synthesis and lack of unity.

5) Mobile desire and productive desire.

Deleuze and Guattari are famous for arguing that desire is mobile and productive, that it doesn’t want anything, that it represents nothing, and that the unconscious is a factory. This concept of desire is already central to the Lacanian concept of desire. First, Lacan characterizes desire as an endless metonymy or displacement that “desires to desire” or to keep desiring, without any object functioning as the ultimate object of that desire. Second, in his account of fantasy as well as metaphor, Lacan emphasizes the productivity or creative nature of desire. Finally, third, Lacan shows how the unconscious is not a theatre, but a series of endless signifying substitutions producing effects of sense or meaning and even objects themselves (cf. Seminar 5: The Formations of the Unconscious). Deleuze and Guattari will radicalize this thesis, extending the field of desire well beyond language, while still remaining deeply indebted to this Lacanian principle.

6) The social unconscious.

Perhaps one of Lacan’s most significant contributions is the idea of the social or cultural nature of the unconscious. Insofar as the unconscious is a product of our introduction into language, it is not a private or personal sphere like a sack in the mind, but is social and cultural through and through. Indeed, he goes so far as to argue that the effects of some unconscious processes can only be seen in the case of the third generation as in the case of psychosis where the foreclosure of the name-of-the-father’s effects aren’t encountered until the third generation. “The Seminar on the Purloined Letter” would be another example of the social unconscious, insofar as the various positions of the people in the story are interrelated through social structure, not private experiences of the mind. Guattari significantly deepens and radicalizes this idea in his work at La Borde, developing a far broader account of transference and the unconscious that ranges across everything from the architecture of clinics, the roles of patients and staff, activities, etc. However, it’s notable that Lacan’s understanding of the unconscious as social in nature already extends it far beyond the domain of the private family that makes up the object of critique in the second chapter of Anti-Oedipus.

7) The symbolic or semiotic nature of the unconscious.

The tendency among orthodox psychoanalysis was to biologize and personalize the unconscious. Lacan’s great contribution was to discern the role of language or the signifier in the unconscious. Guattari rightly radicalizes this notion of the unconscious, developing a far more complex and elaborate account of the semiotic.

8) Sexuation

In A Thousand Plateaus (1980), Deleuze and Guattari constantly emphasize the necessity of passing through the stage of “becoming-woman”. A lot of ink has been spilled over this and there’s been a great deal of difficulty understanding just what they might be claiming. This claim cannot be understood outside Lacan’s account of sexuation in Seminar 20: Encore (1972). There it will be noted that the masculine side of the graph of sexuation is a highly formalized version of the Oedipus, in addition to being the side that aims at totalization and identity in the social field. The feminine side of the graph of sexuation, by contrast, is premised on the logic of the “not-all” and the absence of anything like totality. Where the masculine side is the logic of the transcendent, the feminine side is the side of the immanent.

The common critique of Lacan one hears from Deleuzians is that Lacan focuses too much on lack and castration. It seems to me that this is a confusion of levels of analysis. If Lacan talks of lack and castration then this is because neurotics perpetually talk about lack and castration. But the aim of analysis in the final instance is to move beyond this. This is impossible to do in the absence of conceptual tools that articulate just how these structures of subjectivity emerge and how we come to experience ourselves as lacking in a universe where there is no lack. It seems to me that Deleuzians are mistaken in treating Lacanian thought as the enemy.