HomeVisual CultureFelix Guattari’s Desiring Machine

Felix Guattari’s Desiring Machine

Felix Guattari aimed to break away from the monotonous uniformity of modern life, and one approach he suggested was to connect with your desired machine. Everyone possesses one; what is yours?

Felix Guattari’s Critique of Machine-Human Distinctions

Felix Guattari found the traditional binary separation between machines and humans unsatisfactory. In an era marked by scientific advancements blurring the distinction between the created and the natural, the self-replicating (autopoiesis), and the reliance on external factors (allopoiesis), there is a need to reconsider the definitions of machines and humans.

Machines now surpass the intelligence of most humans and possess the ability to reproduce autonomously. In a notable act of generational progression, one set of computers dutifully designs the circuits and diagrams for the next, signifying the ultimate act of generational self-replacement. They render themselves obsolete for the sake of the future.

Machine-like Unconscious: Guattari And Deleuze’s Perspective

Guattari and his longtime collaborator Gilles Deleuze viewed the unconscious as a machine, distinct from the Freudian theatrical setting where dramas like Oedipus unfold. Instead, they envisioned it as a factory generating desires and striving to connect with various other machines and processes. Beginning with the maternal breast machine, it then engages with social machines such as the school, workplace, drugs, and language.

Felix Guattari Desiring Machine
Felix Guattari’s Desiring Machine is a concept that he developed with Gilles Deleuze in their book Anti-Oedipus (1972).

The desire to connect with partners is likened to becoming sockets and plugs, establishing connections in both human and machinic senses. However, Deleuze and Guattari conceptualize desire not solely in terms of sexuality but as the machine’s will to connect with others and propagate the flows within it. While it encompasses sexual desire, it extends far into the unconscious and human nature, akin to Nietzsche’s Will-To-Power or Freud’s pre-subjective libido.

Within each of us are arrays of desiring machines. What is your particular focus? How do your desiring machines establish connections with others? Guattari developed the concept of the machinic unconscious while observing schizophrenic patients at the psychiatric institute, La Borde.

He witnessed the mechanical manner in which these patients interacted with themselves and their surroundings. Guattari believed that psychotics existed beyond the confines of the Oedipus complex’s restrictive morality, making them challenging for psychoanalysis to address. However, he argued that they reveal the processes of desire and desire for everyone to observe.

Heath Robinson’s Desiring Machines: A Symphony of Connectivity

Cartoonist Heath Robinson conceived desiring machines that functioned and malfunctioned in equal measure, perpetually linking to others in an endless cycle of connectivity and synthesis. These imaginative contraptions catered to the mind’s desires at their center—urges to eat, wake up, and perform tasks.

However, for us, the viewers, the joy lies in the profound sense of connectivity among the diverse elements of the assembly. They exhibit movement, embodying the essence of beauty in their intricate choreography.

In 2003, the automotive company Honda created a short film titled “The Cog” to promote their new car, the Accord. The advertisement showcased a Heath Robinson-esque assembly, comprising different car parts ingeniously linked to create a seamless flow of motion, from the floor-level action of windscreen wipers to the kinetic movement of stereo speakers.

The commercial’s tagline was, “Isn’t it satisfying when things function smoothly?” Essentially, they meant, “Isn’t it satisfying when things effortlessly flow?”

Navigating Desire: Guattari’s Materialist Psychiatry

Guattari’s materialist psychiatry, known as schizoanalysis, centers around the profound desire for connection. Machines, whether physical or desiring, are prone to breakdowns as much as they are to continuous operation. This reality is illustrated in a supplementary film detailing the challenges the director and crew faced in making the Honda advertisement.

They spent countless hours and months linking up each part, mirroring how desiring machines can interrupt flows as much as they facilitate them. Desiring machines, like their mechanical counterparts, can malfunction, break down, and allow flows to disconnect, forming novel and unanticipated connections.

For instance, the fetishist’s desire to connect with a partner might be redirected toward an object like a shoe, high heels, a gas mask, or a stocking top. Similarly, the general desire to connect with those around us might be channeled toward the movie screen, the internet, or the characters in a soap opera.

Guattari’s schizoanalysis seeks to map these flows cartographically, emphasizing the importance of understanding where desire leads rather than attempting to interpret the psychotic. Making a map of desired machines becomes a central aspect of comprehending this intricate process.

Machines play a prominent role in the works of Felix Guattari, serving to bring coherence and fluidity to his ideas. They enable the integration of typically distinct realms, bridging the gap between Freudian and Marxist perspectives, encompassing both the political and the psychological.

Incorporating the surrealistic sculptures of Jean Tinguely and the blood machines of Saw’s Madman John Kramer, one can recognize that machines inherently connect to the desiring machines within the human unconscious. It’s advisable to simply observe and appreciate their functionality.

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Prakriti Paudel
Prakriti Paudel
Prakriti Paudel, a meticulous editor and insightful writer, navigates the realms of storytelling with precision and creativity.

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