Firstly, we must recognise that desire thought in terms of lack is one of the great misconceptions of Western thought. Lack and need do not produce desire – the opposite is true. Lack and need emerge as a product of primary desire and the distribution of this remainder in various forms of social organisation. Secondly, we ought to think of social organisation not principally as the fulfillment of basic needs, but on the basis of the distribution of excess. Meaning in productive activity is derived from the expenditure of what we can call surplus value, which does not necessarily come in the form of raw materials or capital, but in any kind of social investment of desire (ritual sacrifice, for example, a phenomenon that is far from diminished in relation to resource scarcity). This distribution or expenditure can be called anti-production. It is the forces and relations of anti-production which either foster or inhibit social obligations and power relations in different forms throughout history, which brings us to our most important critical principle . . .
Social formations do not ‘evolve’ in a smooth trajectory across time, broadly moving along a teleological line of development. One principle of genealogy is discontinuity, of the abrupt reconfiguration and recombination of social formations towards crucially different means and ends in each case. This would be to disagree with the structural anthropology of Claude Levi-Strauss that societies across space and time organise according to a universal principle of value exchange. There is always anti-production, but its direction and form of distribution varies, and it is in terms of these variations that we can differentiate between ideal-types of society. Surplus value must go somewhere and its constitution on the socius formulates it not in terms of exchange but as debt which is always on its way to a creditor. In primitive societies, for example, it is the full body of the earth which takes credit for production; in despotic societies it is the figure of the despot; and under capitalism it is universalised into capital as such. The socius is thus a kind of abstract quasi-cause, the basis upon which all systems of anti-production are inscribed. The debt is paid, for example, into forms of shamanism or ancestor worship in primitive societies, to the emperors and monarchs of despotic states, or to the capitalist banking system (a fact brought into stark relief in recent times).
In the primitive society, it is local social codes which determine the value of objects qua the produce of the earth. The surplus value here is in the form of code, and so reciprocity does not take place according to the exchange of equivalent goods. Anti-production takes the form of sporadic expenditures of local surplus in ritual and the payment of debt remains immanent to the social organisation of blood filiations and marriage alliances. The time of empire, then, is signalled by the total centralisation of these coding regimes of signs onto the figure of the despot. Traditions may be maintained locally, but their codes mean nothing outside of the lineages and alliances specific to them – they are rendered into an archaism. The despot encloses and envelopes the system, imposing a unity on the disparate multiplicity of tribes covering the earth and overcoding them with a transcendent signifier in the form of standardised currency. Tribes now pay perpetual tribute for the sake of the maintenance and expansion of the despotic state apparatus. The debt is no longer sporadic and deferred into immanent social organisation of filiation-alliance obligations and ritual sacrifice; as far as the despot is concerned (which is all that matters) the debt is now infinite and universal, a ‘debt of existence’ applying indefinitely and equally to all. This is the first great deterritorialisation of codes and meaning away from earthly produce, via abstract value towards a universal equivalent.
Under capitalism, however, codes and overcoding signifiers as such become an archaism (however strongly they might retain local significance). Surplus value itself becomes the object of concern, not for expenditure or distribution, but for its own sake. The deterritorialisation of the socius taking place under capitalism is away from codes and towards flows – surplus value returns from the flow of money into means of production. Anti-production, the social organisation and expenditure of surplus value, thus becomes coextensive and effectively synonymous with production. The economic axiom to produce excess functions to dissolve the old coding regimes of signs which would otherwise organise and expend excess flows of production, be they social investments of desire or the desires of the psyche (the distinction has never really existed). As long as there are heterogeneous flows of desire which can be conjoined towards the production of surplus value, capitalism will relentlessly and monotonously dissolve whatever codes exist there to distinguish them as meaningful objects. Things are no longer qualitative, all things are quantitative; everything exists as abstract quanta equated to the production of surplus value. ‘Meaning’ must now be written in scare quotes as social formulations enter into a continual process of unstable recoding of signs after each wave of the economic axiom washes in and decodes the incumbent ones.
With this brief history of surplus value (aka capital) out of the way we can begin to elucidate all the implications for a study of the psyche with regards to each social formation: primitive, despotic, capitalist. Interesting conclusions can be drawn when we analyse sexual reproduction in primitive societies. Firstly, as an effusion of desire, sexual reproduction is here inscribed on the socius directly as social production. It is categorically social, religious, political. We can see from the start that these terms are really synonymous. Deleuze & Guattari see no difference in nature between the desires of the psyche (desiring-production) and social production. It is different forms of anti-production which tend to extricate desire under separate regimes. We do not yet see Oedipus in primitive societies, despite the efforts of psychoanalysts to claim otherwise, because the incest taboo does not exist as a negative prohibition but as a secondary corollary of the filiation-alliance obligation. Sexual reproduction is not yet a matter of private sexual complexes.
Before we begin to imagine primitive societies as proto-hippie communes, however, we must remember that anti-production is a mode of repression; the expenditure of surplus value by definition separates us from the productions of desire, and prevents their direct enjoyment. In primitive societies, debt payments are enforced in a system of repressive cruelty. The purpose of primitive codes is to carefully, painfully, cruelly mediate access to the full body of the earth which constitutes the source of all life (food, shelter, women, Earth-Mother). Memory of this code is often enforced and imprinted directly on the flesh. This physical code takes the form of a writing that does not signify meaning so much as inscribes a position on the earth-body; a given anthropological study describes such a ritual inscription upon the body of a woman to be married. The betrothal is a payment of debt, yes, but the ritual constitutes the mediation of the womb in the filiation-alliance network, the coding of pure flows of desire from its origins to its productions (D&G here agree with the Jungian equation of earth and mother). The hand which writes, the voice which speaks (writing does not yet refer to speech), and the collective eye which witnesses, are each independent organs invested socially in a tripartite system of ritual cruelty. Even the (re)productive organs are public; nobody writes, speaks, sees, or gives birth ‘for themselves’ because there is not yet a private self to represent.
If we can call the primitive system of anti-production one of cruelty, despotic anti-production operates according to a system of terror. The despot reinscribes all the forces and agents of production upon himself, and in so doing commits an incest of the symbolic order as the abstract representation of repression (still not yet a complex of the psyche). By appropriating all the elements of the filiation-alliance network, the despot weds himself simultaneously to the mother whose womb delineates the temporal vector of filiation and the sister whose betrothal demarcates the spatial vector of alliance. Those previously immanent coded flows are directed toward the overcoding signifier who is now everyone’s father, brother, and spouse. Whereas before, the power over life and death was subject directly to nature and the positioning of the body in the system of filiation-alliance obligations, it is now subject solely to the law of the despot. The place of desire under despotism is always one of potential rebellion – the possibility that a single flow might escape overcoding. The law of the despot is thus defined by paranoia, intrinsically constructed in order to pre-empt this potential on threat of death, hence a system of terror in which the death drive looms over all as a ‘voice from on high.’
We must go on to note, then, that inasmuch as the State survives the transition from despotism to capitalism, desire has become fundamentally reactive in the Nietzschean sense. Our subjectivity is always-already in a relationship with the State, variously pacified by it or reactive towards it. The effective equivalence of the relations of anti-production and production under capitalism, however, renders the function of the capitalist State apparatus immanent to those relations. This is true of production generally, as we have said. Surplus value, instead of being expended socially or politically, be it among the tribe or toward the despot, is now privatised. In primitive societies the width and breadth of social organisation was defined by kinship and marriage alliance; and even the caste system continued to be determined by filiation and marriage albeit ultimately subordinated to the political dominion of the despot-king who could confer honour and prestige. These are now archaisms; capitalist social production is concerned only with the flow of capital, it has no concern for filiation-alliance. Capital now reproduces itself on its own line of filiation over and above the commercial exchange-relations of goods which constituted the trust-alliances of mercantile capital. Social production is thus divested from desiring-production as biological reproduction no longer has any meaningful place on the socius. Desiring-production is confined to the private domicile and its inhabitants, resulting in all the knots and complexes of the psyche that come with the real divestment and repression of desire.
As a result, the incest taboo takes on a sinister twist. The highest injunction on sexual activity precludes the investment of sexual desire precisely on the predominant figures available to it. On a broader scale, there emerges a morbid complex of child-worker/father-employer in which the worker is dependent on precarious access to the means of subsistence on the labour market in much the same way that the child is dependent on the support of the father who is also a worker. The power over life and death folds into a death drive immanent to both private and public spheres, as child-worker becomes reactive towards the law of the father, itself a de- and reterritorialization of the despotic law and a quaint reflection of the economic axioms of the market. This law functions effectively to train good ascetics (the relationship between the Protestant work ethic and the growth of capitalism is elaborated best by Max Weber).
Whereas the Oedipal triangle emerged as a result of the demotion of the family away from the social, the onset of mass media and education (each a new and heterogeneous function of the capitalist axiom) ushered in a steady encroachment of the public back into the private. This is where Deleuze and Guattari see the pernicious influence of psychoanalysis: the institutionalised recoding of behaviour in place of the decoded law of the father, except the psychoanalyst demands payment and does not provide parental love along with the conferral of behavioural discipline. For these authors, psychoanalysis is like a microcosm of the capitalist system of cynicism, reinforcing the repressive gestures of the capitalist system in their purest form in the guise of a cure for those very symptoms of neurosis and psychosis.
In the next essay I’ll elaborate the response of Deleuze & Guattari to this rather bleak genealogy of Oedipus and the merits of their prescriptions since the publication of Anti-Oedipus in 1972.