Deleuze Notes: Body Without Organs

I’m reading “L’Anti-Oedipe” (A-O) by Deleuze and Guattari. These are some notes for myself. They may be total rubbish; I’m just trying to organize my thoughts.

So the Body Without Organs (Corps Sans Organes) or BwO, is everywhere in A-O, and in the subsequent book, a Thousand Plateaus. It really seems to be a cluster of concepts and it seems like D&G’s notion of it might have evolved over time.

The idea of the BwO struck me ever since I first heard of it in Deleuze’s “To Have Done with Judgement”.[1]  The title of the essay comes from Antonin Artaud’s banned play “To Have Done With the Judgement of God”, wherein Artaud first uses the term “Body Without 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.”[9]

Artaud struggled with drugs and mental illness, and much of the BwO concept in A-O in A Thousand Plateaus seems to involve sexual and pharmacological experimentation as a way to change the programmed responses that the organs impose on our bodies. One thinks of Rimbaud’s “dérèglement des sens” in this regard as well. And there is discussion of how society uses language and word order to program our responses which goes back to Levi-Strauss and others. A Thousand Plateaus even dwells extensively on Carlos Castenada, at which point it is all becoming rather embarrassing and one wonders if there is anything  worth salvaging in the BwO. (William Burroughs is also cited).

But there is more here than the old hippie dream that hedonism can be spiritually liberating.  Bordieu and Foucault and others discussed how societies and families and schools control the body to control the individual. They control the body through the organs. Without organs there is no control. Definitely in Artaud but also with D&G there is this notion of restructuring the organs to liberate experience. (D&G’s discussion of sexual multiplicities can be understood in this context: restructuring the organs).

But this is still an understanding that is focused on the individual. There is a physical body that has to be reconfigured to free the … self? What is being freed exactly? Remember that for D&G, desiring machines are primordial. The unconscious is made of desiring machines. So if we consider the unconscious to exist in the brain which in turn exists in the body, we have a completely different world view from D&G, an inverted view. Instead: “The body is the object of reproduction… it is not the subject. The only subject of reproduction is the unconscious… Sexuality does not exist in the service of generation, rather the generation of the body is in the service of sexuality which is used by the unconscious to produce itself.” [2][3] So they are not focused on the self, but on the unconscious. What is being freed (or decoded) is flows of desire in the unconscious.

But we are still nonetheless in the realm of psychology, the individual. But D&G generalize this: Organs are desiring machines. Reconfiguring organs corresponds to decoding the flows of desire. This generalization allows us to speak of a BwO for the socius (society, roughly). Thus these concepts are generalized from the individual to society and this is useful in their synthesis of the psychic and the social, of Freud and Marx.

The organs are the ‘coded flows of desire’ that the socius writes (enregistre) on the BwO (I think). Decoding the flows is the job of capitalism and/or schizophrenia. When capitalism decodes the flows it extracts a plus-value (profit), and the deterritorialzed (decoded) flows make up the full body of the socius. The schizophrenic takes a nomadic approach and heads straight for the naked BwO.

What is this talk of ‘full’ and ‘naked’ BwO? The BwO is immanent in Spinoza’s sense: the idea of one immanent substance that all reality is made of. D&G speak of the “naked BwO” as a limit, something that can be approached asymptotically but never attained. They distinguish the naked BwO from the full BwO, or fully-clothed BwO. “The socius – the earth, the body of the despot, capital/money – are the fully-clothed bodies. They are like a BwO, a fully naked body: but this naked body is a limit, at the end, not at the origin. The [naked] BwO haunts these other forms of the socius.”[4]

Thus there are 2 kinds of BwO, a ‘full body’ and a ‘naked’ body. Sometimes BwO refers to the full body and other times to the naked body.

The Full BwO:

The full body is a paranoiac machine that repulses organs.[5] The full body is a social creation, the socius. Capital in capitalism is an example of a full BwO.  “Capital is indeed the body without organs of the capitalist, or rather of the capitalist being. But as such, it is not only the fluid and petrified substance of money, for it will give to the sterility of money the form whereby money produces money. It produces surplus value, just as the body without organs reproduces itself, puts forth shoots, and branches out to the farthest corners of the universe. It makes the machine responsible for producing a relative surplus value, while embodying itself in the machine as fixed capital. Machines and agents cling so closely to capital that their very functioning appears to be miraculated by it. Everything seems objectively to be produced by capital as quasi cause.” [6]

The Naked BwO:

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… Doubtless the former paranoiac machine continues to exist in the form of mocking voices that attempt to “de-miraculate” (demiracu-ler) the organs… But the essential thing is the establishment of an enchanted recording or inscribing surface that arrogates to itself all the productive forces and all the organs of  production, and that acts as a quasi cause by communicating the apparent movement (the fetish) to them. So true is it that the schizo practices political economy, and that all sexuality is a matter of economy.” [7]

And finally…

“The body without organs is not the proof of an original nothingness, nor is it what remains of a lost totality. Above all, it is not a projection; it has nothing whatsoever to do with the body itself, or with an image of the body. It is the body without an image. This imageless, organless body, the nonproductive, exists right there where it is produced, in the third stage of the binary-linear series.” [8]

There are hundreds of other pages on the BwO in Anti-Oedipus alone, and there is much more to it.


[1] This is a magnificent philosophical essay that is really a piece or art or prose poetry. When we read it, we understand how to read Deleuze: which is as a great philosophical prose poet. He even tells us how to read him: “For reading a text is never a scholarly exercise in search of what is signified, still less a highly textual exercise in search of a signifier. Rather it is a productive use of the literary machine, a montage of desiring-machines, a schizoid exercise that extracts from the text its revolutionary force.” (A-O, page 106.)

[2] L’A-O, page 131. My v loose translation.

[3] In L’A-O, page 396, the authors discuss how the unconscious reproduces. “The  signifying chain of the unconscious, Numen, is not used to decipher or discover codes of desire, but rather to transmit entirely decoded flows of desire, Libido, and to find in that desire that which scrambles all the codes and undoes all the territories.” and “This chain is how the gene of the unconscious, which is always a subject, reproduces itself.” A very beautiful dynamic described there.

[4] L’A-O, page 338.

[5] Anti-Oedipus (A-O), English version, translated from the French by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane, page 5.

[6] A-O, page 10

[7] A-O, page 11

[8] A-O page 8

[9] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_without_organs