Some High Theory Hi-Jinxs

How long does it take a crucial intellectual intervention to become a literary example? At what point do philosophy, science, theology, history, and other forms of critical discourse arrive at their inevitable rendez-vous with poetics, fiction, and primary documentation? In the case of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, the answer appears to be 37 years. First published in 1972 as an ambitious coup d'etat against the state of Freudian theory (and no doubt the intellectual dominance of a certain fellow Frenchman), a new edition of Anti-Oedipus appeared last month under the Penguin Classics imprint. Thus a founding work of post-structuralist theory is now a "classic," appearing in the same series as Bronte's Villette, Larsen's Passing, and Hogg's The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

This is assuming, of course, that Deleuze and Guattari meant for Anti-Oedipus to be taken seriously in the first place (along with its even better known sequel, A Thousand Plateaus). Organized around the advocacy of schizophrenia, "schizoanalysis" and the productive energies of "desiring machines" (concepts that were to replace Freud's repressive theatrics of the Unconscious), Anti-Oedipus was never really a player in therapeutic discourse (it's hard enough for intellectual neurotics to find an orthodox Freudian or Lacanian, imagine the challenge of tracking down a schizoanalyst). Like much of the work that would eventually come to be known as "post-structuralist," Anti-Oedipus was always more a speculative exercise in theoretical play and critical conjecture than a naively sober attempt to "explain" something. By mimicking the discourse of the insane, the book attempts to hallucinate into being the very reality it seeks to describe--a world where subjects divest themselves of guilt, lack, and perpetually absent desire to inhabit a new world of flowing aleatory pleasure. And why not? The Unconscious itself didn't exist until Freud gave it a name, thereby making it a real thing (because now it had a name). Who is to say the equally audacious proposition of a "Body without Organs" might not enjoy a similar success? It was worth a shot, anyway.

Over the years, many less humorous critics have attempted to map Deleuze and Guattari's tortured and self-consciously psychotic discourse onto other objects of inquiry. Who can know why? It would make as much sense to use Finnegan's Wake as a critical template, a work that Anti-Oedipus arguably more closely resembles than Studies on Hysteria. As an intellectual gambit, Anti-Oedipus (like so many other "theory" texts of the era) appears more interested in the stakes of aesthetic competition than those bound up in philosophy or even psychoanalysis. Only a crazy person would think a "theory" based on extolling the stylistic idiosyncrasies of the insane could be anything other than a terminal aesthetic in its most narrow sense--a critical path designed, in its willful eccentricity, to go nowhere.

In 1966, only 6 years before Anti-Oedipus, Lacan introduced the full edition of Ecrits by front-loading his seminar on the purloined letter, pulling it from the chronological context of his lectures so that it might stand as an introductory exemplar of Lacanian "style." These are the words Lacan himself uses--the essay is not an introduction to his thought or his theory, but to his style. Later, in the first essay of the actual seminar, Lacan emphasizes that his first publications were in Minotaure, the famous surrealist journal of the 1930s where he shared pages with Breton, Dali, and Picasso. Despite his reputation for obtuse prose, how much more deliberate, legible, and exacting could Lacan be in signaling his desire to be engaged as a poet, a novelist, an artist? Could he have known that an entire generation would miss the art and instead embrace the science of a linguistified Freud as a science?

One can only hope that Delueze, Guattari, Lacan, and (what the hell) Baudrillard are all in surrealist heaven now, having a drink with Alfred Jarry and toasting this new edition of Anti-Oedipus. Perhaps now, with a spiffy new cover, it will finally be appreciated for what it is and always was-- an uncompromising literary work of pataphysical genius.

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