Consciousness and Desire in Deleuze and Bakhtin

I have been reading Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “A Thousand Plateaus” at the same time as reading Bakhtin. These thoughts crossed my mind.

Bakhtin talks about the dialogic self – that is, self as a dialogue between ‘I’ and ‘me’. That is, ‘I’ is the thing which experiences sensations some of which come from the world. It has no location in time or space it just exists – “continuous event of becoming”. ‘Me’ is how the self objectifies itself so that it can understand its situation in relationship with other entities – the ‘other’. Consciousness is this dialogue.

Deleuze talks about the “body without organs” (BwO) which sounds very like the ‘I’. However, in Deleuze the BwO is also the location of desire – as well as of sensation.

Seems to me that Bakhtin never explains desire – so what is desire?

The human as organism is a machine that maintains itself and reproduces itself. It doesn’t desire anything in the sense that we normally mean it. It just does what it does because that’s the way it is, like electrons repel each other and attract protons.

Example, It would be possible that a natural siphon could be created by chance – I am sure it happens. You would not say that it has a purpose or a desire to do something but you can see that it persists in getting a liquid from one place to another lower place over a higher dry place in between. I think that organisms are like this, including ourselves. Bakhtin says that humans are born twice, the first time as organisms and then again when they enter society by entering discourse. So, I think desire is something that we attribute after the fact, as it were, because of a way of looking at things which is produced in discourse.

But, what is this desire? I think that life is a phenomenon which is a dynamic property of certain substances. It is a property which causes a certain sort of organization of elements which maintain themselves and reproduce themselves. Desire comes about when the organism is conscious because at this point the self is created and the self is a technology to achieve the ends of maintenance and reproduction by manipulating the environment. (So, consciousness is a technology of the organism which enables a flexible response to the environment and consciousness experiences the dynamic properties of the organism as desire).

Deleuze talks about ‘folds’ whereby things are reproduced but with difference. These folds take place within strata , that is in the area where the organism responds to differences within itself and tries to match these differences with its environment. So, the organism has a tendency to reproduce and this becomes folded into sexual drive. It also has a tendency to co-operate with its fellows, to create organization among them so there is another fold and sexual drive becomes creativity, and it is folded yet again and it becomes aesthetics. Similarly, the drive for the organism to maintain itself becomes hunger. This hunger is folded again and it becomes a drive to form business organizations, like hunting parties, kingdoms, empires and multi-national corporations. This organization requires power to shape it and drive it so another fold becomes individual ambition, and so on. Of course, power is difference with suppression: this is allowed but that is not, this is inside but that is outside. So power is a fold in the principle of the cell wall which is the basis of the organism keeping the chaos outside the membrane from the order within. (Power derives from the functioning of the cell wall).

So far, so good, but I have some problems:

  • Deleuze talks about the BwO but what are the organs? Surely they are the digestive tract which must be fed and exhausted; and the genitals. Nothing more. If this is so, why is he being vague and implying that there is more to it?
  • Deleuze talks a lot about rock but rock is not an agent in discourse; it can only ever be an object. Humans have a dialogue with each other in that they create meaning together. You could stretch it to saying that humans can have a dialogue with other organisms because these organisms can react to what humans do. But, you cannot have dialogue with rock, can you? You see, I am worried that Deleuze has not properly grasped the discursive nature of all of this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s