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Reading Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, I am unclear on the nature of the Body without Organs. Most literature seems to describe this body as a phase space in the mathematical sense of the term, i.e. as consisting of all possible configurations of organ-machines into assemblages. This leads to the following characterization:

Since D+G propose a materialist theory of psychology, the unconscious must 'experience' the world through the body's organs, which in the language of D+G means that all of our experiences (in the phenomenological sense of the word) can be characterized as machines 'grafted onto' our body parts, which they refer to as organ-machines.

For example, the baby's mouth connects to the mother's breast to gain milk; this experience takes on the form of a machine: the mouth machines connects to the breast machine.

The objects involved in these experiences are 'partial' in the sense of only existing in the unconscious as components of the machine, rather than as objects in of themselves. Hence the it is not really the mother's breast, but merely a breast, that is contained in the aforementioned machine.

Since each such machine involves the body's organs into some machinic assembly, it can be identified with an 'organization of the body' or a point in the phase space (Body without Organs). The 'location' of this point is then recorded, with D+G's multiplicitous sign-systems consisting essentially of multiplicitous coordinate systems on the phase space.

Two questions follow:

  1. Is the presentation of the disjunctive synthesis as a series "either.... or.... or... or..." a series of equivalent means of describing the 'location' of a particular body-organization in different sign-systems? Does the illegitimate use of the disjunctive synthesis then consist in restricting such to some finite set of sign-systems?

  2. How does the unconscious contain the Body without Organs? How can it contain all possible configurations of organs, since this is of course an infinite amount of information?

If we resolve the problem of information overload by simply calling the BwO the 'attained' phase space or as consisting of those configurations which have been 'experienced', then it would seem we have a fairly cohesive picture: At the climax of the desiring-machine or equivalently, the experience, e.g. when the baby has had its fill of milk, the connective-synthetic bonds dissolve and their energy records a 'memory' of that experience in an (indeterminate) code of representation.

Yet this seems to clash in some respects with the language D+G use to describe the recordings, specifically how they are "on" the BwO.

We could instead take the BwO to be an image of the body as an undifferentiated mass, or equivalently at the point where every organ is in a state of quiescence; the disjunctive synthesis would then attach to each quiescent organ the phase space of possible (or attained) assemblages grafted onto that organ. For example, we have the series "either resting hand or hand-object A or hand-object B or hand-object C...;" all of which are written in parallel on the BwO's hand, so to speak.


To summarize, so far I have found two understandings on the BwO, neither of which seems completely reasonable.

a. The BwO is a phase space (or attained phase space) for what D+G call the various "organ-izations" of the body, i.e. the various configurations of body parts into desiring-machine assemblages. Disjunctive synthesis operates at each configuration in the BwO (point in the phase space) to link together the representations of that configuration in the various sign-system. So for example we have "either a hand or una mano or la main or die hand or..."

b. The BwO is an 'image' of the physical body as an undifferentiated mass, where every body part is in a state of quiet. The disjunctive synthesis attaches to each body part representations of all attained assemblages containing that part as an organ-machine. So for example we have "either a resting hand or a hand touching something or a hand touching something else or a hand making a rude gesture or..."

Which of these is what we are going for in Anti-Oedipus? Buchanan remarks off hand that the "disjunctive synthesis... is functionally equivalent to Althusser's interpellation" - a statement that I can't quite make heads or tails of.

  • The first conception, of the BwO as a phase-space, is essentially recording the assemblages 'globally' or as configurations of the entire body, whereas the second conception records assemblages 'locally' or as configurations of individual organs. But the conceptions of the disjunctive synthesis differ. – Cameron Jan 20 '14 at 6:04
  • The motivation for this question is essentially to understand the illegitimate syntheses. Illegitimate or exclusive disjunction is cited by Holland as the means used to establish the Oedipal restrictions on sexual orientation, saying you must want to sexually possess either exclusively the mother or exclusively the father. Are these restrictions formulated by simply restricting organ-izations of the body to heterosexual ones? In other words, how do we recover the Oedipal imposition of heterosexuality from restrictions at the level of individual organs? – Cameron Jan 20 '14 at 17:28
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Here's what rhizome.org says about it in their glossary:

The "Body without Organs" or BwO is a term Deleuze and Guattari have taken from Antonin Artaud which consists of an assemblage or body with no underlying organizational principles, and hence no organs within it. The BwO is a post-Enlightenment entity, a body but not an organism.

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 traveler and nomad of the steppes. On it we sleep, live our waking lives, fight—fight and are fought—seek our place, experience untold happiness and fabulous defeats; on it we penetrate and are penetrated; on it we love...The BwO: it is already under way the moment the body has had enough of organs and wants to slough them off, or loses them. (D&G 150)

The Body without Organs is thus, as Deleuze and Guattari explain, also a "plane of consistency," which, concretely ties together heterogeneous or disparate elements" (507). In other words, the BwO provides the smooth space through which movement can occur. Rather than the unifying principles of a system of organization, the BwO's system of embodiment is constituted through principles of consolidation.

The BwO is the limit of the body; not the surface or flesh, but an especially intense body; a key point here is about affectivity being originary.

Artaud is really the principal reference here (cf. To Have Done with the Judgment of God.)

Too quickly: the BwO is not an image of the body, unless we conceive of 'imaging' as 'potentialization', in other words as an 'infernal' vision which assembles a virtual field or process of actualization.

Keep in mind that every organ has its own rate of flow/breaks, it has speeds and so even its own time; so that there are many temporal dimensions present in a single organism.

These organs are not identical with the body, its limit-surface/potentiality, which is glorious, intensive, 'all by itself'. Artaud discovers, in the depth and agony of his suffering, that affectivity exceeds the individual organism (even the definite article) and is in some way a process more primary than recognition or even perception (since perception has a relationship with activity that affection does not).

The body without organs is passive and yet repels the organs. Making yourself a BwO involves freeing lines of flight, experimenting with intensive segments, in a meticulous and even ascetic relation with stratification/organization. One key for me is about the development and organization of new senses, forces, problems -- discovering what a body can do, what a body may become sensitive to -- which involves possibly dangerous (at the very least unpredictable) encounters, and which still all risks remaining a negative exercise without the concepts which could empower and affirm these new distributions of sense, these new problems which reconfigure what is important/unimportant, interesting/uninteresting, etc.

This is not the most clear explication of the BwO, of course -- but hopefully it represents some starting-points for further research.


Note that D+G actually say very explicitly, not only is understanding the BwO as image already "the" error of psychoanalysis, but it misses everything about indefinite articles and infinitely auto-constructive assemblages:

The error of psychoanalysis was to understand BwO phenomena as regressions, projections, phantasies, in terms of an image of the body. As a result, it only grasps the flipside of the BwO and immediately substitutes family photos, childhood memories, and part-objects for a worldwide intensity map. It understands nothing about the egg nor about indefinite articles nor about the contemporaneousness of a continually self-constructing milieu (From ATP, "How to Make Yourself a Body without Organs".)

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