Creative Experimentation and the Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Thought is a ‘witches’ flight’ in the sense of carrying us to beyond the frontier of what the body and the mind have been presumed able to do.
– Joshua Ramsey

A book I am currently working on is called Hands-On Chaos Magic by Andrieh Vitimus. Throughout the sections I’ve read, the author lists many exercises that develop visualization and concentration skills. The book uses these examples to encourage an open source approach to its exercises, inviting the reader’s participation in making their own magical frameworks. It has us adopt a questioning attitude and develop exercises that are effective and have meaning to us.

This book feels like a natural extension of developing individual, creative approaches. Interestingly, I think this kind of experimentation prevents its practitioners from too narrowly channeling their creativity. Rather than focusing all of our efforts on a particular form of art, any circumstance becomes creative. We become a kind of craftsman, but for all of life, and through a kind of inquisitive play with existence, new solutions emerge. Although there is much that is outside of our control, we can experiment in every moment. By nurturing the details of our lives, we find novel and often beautiful possibilities.

This kind of free play is present in the work of some of the twentieth century’s most important philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. They carve out the still-beating heart of the Entrenched Position, giving it over to the cascades ever in the process of desiring-production. Deleuze and Guattari provide us with concepts that allow us to think differently, shifting away from a blind insistence on our possession of Truth. Their concepts, collected under terms like schizoanalysis, provide a pivot for creative experimentation and expansion in our own lives.

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I will try to focus on some important concepts from their studies in A Thousand Plateaus. By observing how these concepts relate to each other, we can then grasp what Deleuze and Guattari are offering us when we work to understand it. They give us a truly rare and wonderful thing. Not only is their conceptual system coherent, it also adheres to lived experience. By being highly realistic, and not necessarily idealistic, its range of practical applications is enormous.

Two of Deleuze and Guattari’s most useful concepts are the rhizome and the assemblage. The rhizome offers a model for connections within reality between what are referred to as heterogeneous elements. These can be understood as aspects that occupy a network of connections that constantly fluctuate, connect, and re-connect. In A Thousand Plateaus, it is described as “[passing] between things, between points.” [505]. In its process of connection, the rhizome creates new realities of its own.

The assemblage expands upon this, offering us a way to understand provisional collections of these heterogeneous elements. An assemblage:

[extracts] a territory from the milieus. Every assemblage is basically territorial. The first concrete rules for assemblages is to discover what territoriality they envelop, for there is always one: in their trash can or on their bench, Beckett’s characters stake out a territory. Discover the territorial assemblages of someone, human or animal: ‘home.’ The territory is made out of decoded fragments of all kinds, which are borrowed from the milieus but then assume the value of ‘properties’ . . . [504]

The environment organizes itself in particular ways, pulling itself together into coherent groups that make an assemblage. Depending on how these differences are brought together changes the territory and therefore the assemblage. This process of constitution is elaborated on with Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of territorialization and deterritorialization.

These territories have certain exit points within them to other states of being and intensity, called lines of flight. Since the territory occupies a certain level of organization, when we change how that matter organizes, we begin moving along these lines towards deterritorialization. These are transitions that embrace the fount of possibility and our ability to move along different paths at any time. Interestingly, Deleuze and Guattari describe two different parts of this process. The first is when we move outside of a territory but “reterritorialize” on a different one. The second is when we reach the “plane of consistency,” an extremely abstract and difficult concept to describe. The plane of consistency underlies all universal order and allows it to exist, but it is more fluid and potential. If we transition from more rigid conceptions of order, we can reach the plane of consistency and find more creative freedom.

I think this understanding helps shed light on human habits. For example, we tend to move in default patterns of thought, behavior, and organization. This can be conceived as a territory. It is a particular state of energy that we occupy at any given time, with tendencies to move in certain directions, whether intellectual, verbal, etc. This can be observed in children, with a more chaotic creativity limiting itself over time to the construction of a personality. However, this cuts both ways, and we can follow our personality back across time, along the paths of its formation, and sense its limitations. This is to realize our freedom. It is helpful, once we recognize that incredible freedom, to understand the balance of crafting and dissolving transitions along the flux of events. Our territories contain “lines of flight” that describe other possible states of becoming and how we may best follow them.

These ideas all tie into the concept of a body without organs. A body without organs is a process of reality in becoming, of how we each give shape to a life’s work. As I understand it, the body without organs is how each of us shape actualities in accordance with our deepest desires in ongoing experiment. It “pulls” potentials into existence. Set in motion, the body without organs constructs itself through the events of our lives. Since reality is processual, it necessarily follows that any moment we express opens onto multiple dimensions, including the full scale of heavenly bliss and hellacious suffering. The body without organs teems with possibility and danger, that we may not survive beyond this moment to carry on this grand experiment.

At any rate you have one (or several). It’s not so much that it preexists or comes ready-made, although in certain respects it is preexistent. At any rate you make one, you can’t desire without making one. And it awaits you; it is an inevitable exercise or experimentation, already accomplished the moment you undertake it, unaccomplished as long as you don’t. This is not reassuring, because you can botch it. Or it can be terrifying, and lead you to your death. It is nondesire as well as desire. It is not at all a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices. You never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. [149-150]

Understanding these concepts clarifies Deleuze and Guattari’s purpose.  These concepts are not held in a death grip.  Instead, they energize and reconnect language from within, allowing us to conceive and feel other dimensions of existence. Their writing mirrors this, teeming with the associations, loops, and spirals of life. We can observe new connections forming and see what can be drawn from them. We then enter and better effectuate processes of change. An application of this philosophy is how best to use this framework to liberate ourselves. Through it, we continuously work to realize a much broader and diverse experience of life, a “nomad science” and philosophy of freedom.

Schizoanalysis

There is nothing
except
the impossible
and not God

– Georges Bataille (taken from The Thirst For Annihilation)

Schizoanalysis, also known as pragmatics, is an open-ended, creative system of experimentation outlined by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in their seminal philosophical/theoretical texts. They describe it as “a set of practices.” This set of practices pulls us further from our moorings and casts us out into unforseen vistas. Reality is described as a productive process, in which assemblages (diverse interconnections of matter/energy) spontaneously self-organize. This process is always becoming and never finished; creative dimensions emerge as this process continues and are strictly relative to the process itself. In the process of production, phenomena constantly come to fruition.

What the schizophrenic experiences, both as the individual and as a member of the human species, is not at all any one specific aspect of nature, but nature as a process of production. What do we mean here by process? . . . the real truth of the matter, – the glaring, sober truth that resides in delirium – is that there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and a recording process (enregistrement), without any sort of mediation, and the recording process and consumption directly determine production, thought they do so within the production process itself. Hence everything is production: production of productions, of actions and of passions; productions of recording processes, of distributions and of co-ordinates that serves as points of reference; productions of consumptions, of sensual pleasures, of anxieties, and of pain. Everything is production, since the recording processes are immediately consumed, immediately consummated, and these consumptions directly reproduced. This is the first meaning of process as we use the term: incorporating recording and consumption within production itself, thus making them the productions of one and the same process. (Anti-Oedipus, 3-4)

Dispensing with transcendent, all-pervading formalisms and staid absolutes, Deleuze and Guattari explore and mine the edges where theory begins to break down and fissure. Instead of becoming more rigid, we redirect the flows of matter/energy, pulling us further towards potentiality and what they term the “body without organs.” We experiment with different configurations of reality, always helping to connect and create. The ever-shifting panoply of form is referred to as “the strata.”

This is how it should be done: Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a [body without organs]. Connect, conjugate, continue: a whole ‘diagram’ as opposed to still signifying and subjective programs. (ATP, 161)

Matter/energy flows, and we are part of this flowing process.

We are not only enmeshed with all other life as our own stratum, but form dense webs of interconnections with all other phenomena. In this conception, we are what Manuel De Landa calls “intensive processes” and flows that constantly define and change our organism in each moment. The strata constantly flow into each other. Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome describes how vast linkages between what appear to be divergent forms of life constantly form and fluctuate.

Each existent strata is riddled with lines of flight that can pull it further away from certain forms and towards a more open, wild space. These lines of flight link it to different strata, different ways of life and orders of being. This is the body without organs, or the plane of consistency, the vast sea of potential matter/energy that we actualize in the process of raw creation. It progressively “becomes different” and describes the flowering of space itself, leading to worlds within worlds.

We tap into the energetic potential of the Body without Organs and pull ourselves in the direction of new possibilities. This conception of reality as an open question is an extension of Deleuze and Guattari’s experimental approach to life and knowledge. Teleology is abandoned in the free play of energetic becoming in untold (and self-creating) dimensions.

At any rate, you have one (or several). It’s not so much that it preexists or comes ready-made, although in certain respects it is preexistent. At any rate, you make one, you can’t desire without making one. And it awaits you; it is an inevitable exercise or experimentation, already accomplished the moment you undertake it, unaccomplished as long as you don’t . . . It is not at all a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices. You never reach the Body without Organs, you can’t reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. People ask, so what is this BwO? But you’re already on it, scurrying like a vermin, groping like a blind person, or running like a lunatic: desert traveller and nomad of the steppes . . .
A BwO is made in such a way that it can be occupied, populated only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is not a scene, a place, or even a support upon which something comes to pass . . . It is nonstratified, unformed, intense matter, the matrix of intensity . . . Matter equals energy. Production of the real as an intensive magnitude starting at zero.
(ATP, 150-153)

And from the work of Manuel De Landa:
The metaphor supplies us with a target for the theory of the virtual: we need to conceive a continuum which yields, through progressive differentiation, all the discontinuous individuals that populate the actual world. Unlike the metaphor, however, this virtual continuum cannot be conceived as a single, homogenous topological space, but rather as a heterogeneous space made out of a population of multiplicities, each of which is a topological space on its own. The virtual continuum would be, as it were, a space of spaces, with each of its component spaces having the capacity of progressive differentiation. Besides this multiplication of spaces, we need a way of meshing these together into a heterogeneous whole. Deleuze, in fact, refers to the virtual continuum as a plane of consistency, using the term ‘consistency’ in a unique sense, and in particular, in a sense having nothing to do with logical consistency, that is, with the absence of contradiction. Rather, consistency is defined as the synthesis of heterogeneities as such. (Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 72).

I would now like to discuss how the metaphysical description of virtuality and its connections to applied science and chaos theory can be paralleled and creatively applied with contemplative practice (especially its aspects of depth psychology).  Our lives can express this spontaneous, free-flowing creativity in its very workings. This creative possibility is only unlocked once one begins to explore these concepts in an engaged way.

A common description of mystical experience is the realization that our experience barely scratches the surface of universal potential. Our senses, though varied and complexly detailed, are still limited. Something vast lies beyond this experiential island, in which we are immersed. We are all expressions of this immense Unknown. In certain intense experiences, old patterns break down, freeing us from some of our self-imposed constraints. This is a parallel of the process outlined in schizoanalysis, as we explore and experience new ways of becoming and being.

Trapped in a constricting tangle of language routines we tread a narrow circuit in the maze Nick Land

This is similar to the destratification process outlined in A Thousand Plateaus. Following a line of flight in our contemplative practice, we open ourselves to divergent ways of being. If our self-image is viewed as an abstract stratification over time (habits, patterns of feeling, etc.) we come face to face with the intensive processes that gave birth to and lurk behind that self image in the first place. This is the realm of the suppressed and unconscious.

Once we begin to meditate, we begin to understand more fully the limits of our surface experiences and self-constructions. Once we strip those protective layers away, we immerse ourselves in the swarm of the Body Politic, the seething mass of often contradictory desires, impulses, thoughts and sensations that make up our organism.

Coming to understand the often frightening aspects of our diverse natures, our self-image can begin to dissolve, as it is often unable to contain these strands of contradiction. This creates a wider space that emerges as we turn our attention inwards. This engages us in the direction of increasing degrees of freedom, and new potentiality.  Once this image, and all its attendant conceptualizations and meaning-making processes, begin to disintegrate, we can experience what Ray Brassier has termed “a crisis of meaning”:

Very simply, nihilism is a crisis of meaning. This crisis is historically conditioned, because what we understand by ‘meaning’ is historically conditioned. We’ve moved from a situation in which the phenomenon of ‘meaning’ was self-evident to one in which it has become an enigma, and a primary focus of philosophical investigation. The attempt to explain what ‘meaning’ is entails a profound transformation in our understanding of it; one that I think will turn out to be as far-reaching as the changes in our understanding of space, time, causality, and life provoked by physics and biology.

Over the past few years of extended meditative practice, I have felt this loss of an absolute meaning more and more acutely. However, I do not think that this is a negative, as it emerges inexorably out of the universe’s freedom to grow, develop, and become. Since meaning is not something that is handed down to us, we are free to create and develop our own. We can explore, via some of the concepts described in schizoanalysis, whether we wish to create new ways of life that are more in accord with our desired wish for meaning. This is not a strict injunction, however, and the question of meaning can remain wonderfully open, making room for possibility. Sometimes we may wish to change those concepts and create our meanings once again.

Mystics and ex-statics dissolve and create experience-ordering structures.
– Jess Hollenback

This is the beating heart of the koan Mu (“No”) shining and pulsing in all of creation.

Schizoanalysis is thus an open-ended practice and toolkit for breaking down our rigid personal barriers and constructions. We are drawn further into the constant proliferation of life and the universe, and are part of its ever-breaking wave. We can then see the vast potential for inventiveness and creative flux open in each moment, and explore various interlocking states of being. We recirculate the flows, and with every breath, word, and action, we create the world anew.