A Schizoanalytic Primer

Jude H
9 min readJan 6, 2022

To start, with Freud. In laying down a structured theory of the psychic apparatus according to the 3 agencies of Ego, Id, and Superego, Sigmund Freud set the foundation for popular research concerning ego psychology and namely the vast majority of what is known as “psychoanalysis.” The multiplicity and contradiction of flows once present in the psyche were now organized into a system that could be manageable, a system that could make the study of a vast population possible under the same model of diagnosis and treatment.

Naturally, these people do not come into the world with such a structure. This was detailed by Freud in many stages taking place in early childhood, specifically in regards to the familial triangle (that of father, child, and mother).

Through a series of identifications, the ego and id emerge and differentiate from one another. The most important part of this process would be that of the incestuous object-cathexis stemming from the child towards the parent of the opposite sex. All relations within the familial triangle are that of subject-object in regards to prohibitions. It is quite simple: The son desires sex with the mother. This desire meets a confrontation in front of the father. The father presents the threat of castration. The son renounces incest. The son identifies with the father and transfers his object-cathexis onto another woman, one chosen in the image of his mother.

Freud’s theories of dream representation are largely tied to the paragraph above. The symbolism that appears in dreams is studied under the model of object relations in individuals, more often than not rooted in the family. The symbols themselves that appear in dreams, or the signs, are naturally very large in scale, but the symbolized, or signified, not so much, as they are always followed to the body and nudity, birth and death, sexuality, and parent-child dynamics. This narrowing down of dream symbolism is a large weakness of Freudian psychoanalysis and specifically theories of representation.

Freud’s theories particularly faltered when presented with child treatment as well as psychoses, as he figured they were simply subjects who lacked the development of an ego, or at least not one they could study as it had been disturbed. Patients without such an ego make it difficult for Freudian psychoanalysis to find a starting ground in its analysis, especially linguistically. In fact, it is found by researchers that children do not develop the perceptual functions that enable the self-description of “I” until at least two years of age. The child is thought to not be able to apprehend the boundaries of its very own curvature and exists in a symbiosis with the mother or mother figure. The process of moving past such a state begins shortly in dialectical fashion.

The evolution of the child’s ego results in the self-perceived distinction between the child itself and its mother. The mother as object as well as itself. As it learns to see itself as object it develops an ego. This process has been developed differently by multiple Freudian psychoanalysts such as Margaret Mahler who detailed the state of symbiosis and Jacques Lacan who wrote extensively on the “mirror stage” occurring much earlier in the child’s life during its first encounter with self-recognition in a mirror. Regardless, this is where the ego differentiates itself from the id. A disturbance in this process is what is thought to result in an irregular ego which typically inhibits the formation of object relations. This idea is problematic as it assumes a mistake or fault in the disturbance that must be compensated for, in the name of a “sane” individual. This disturbance does not result in a structural skepticism and delirium about the nature of the child’s familial relations, but rather one big schizophrenic mess (which also typically results in paranoia under the presence of non-disturbed subjects). This signifies drawbacks in the Freudian technique and diagnosis derived from theory. The developed and functional ego results in repression, as it is typically understood to be a controlling force of libidinal energy, channeling it into subject-object relations and defense mechanisms, etc. So where is the shizo left in this regard? Remaining under the Freudian image, the repression of the ego that submits libidinal flows in Oedipal subjects to the unconscious is subverted in psychotic subjects. The Freudian analyst is thus unable to provide a therapeutic service that discovers or unleashes the unconscious or the repressed, and it is this very reason that marks a lack of validity in the Freudian theory of the unconscious. This reason is also why the psychotic subject detailed above is not often recognized by Freud in The Ego and the Id. Simply defining the men described above as “psychotics” would in itself be wrong as well. To insinuate that the subjects lacking the Oedipal complex are in any way unadapted to reality would be incorrect and harmful, as the spinning of this psychoanalytic narrative itself reproduces it. Many have disputed and held discourse on the details of Freudian thought and conception of the unconscious as well as the many processes that occur in the psyche, but it could also be argued that the base itself of psychoanalysis is the wrong starting point.

This is where we are brought to French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, who, in a two-volume collaborative work (and many others) “Capitalism and Schizophrenia” proposed what they called Schizoanalysis. They disputed the existence of a structure in the unconscious, going all the way to ask if the unconscious even exists at all. They do not simply deny Freud’s theories, or that the Oedipal complex is not found in the subjects of the world, but rather they posit desire as social, rather than familial. Just like Freud, they begin with an energeticist conception of desire, knowing no negation, simply seeking to manifest itself in the world. Unlike Freud, they carry on this energeticist stance. The unconscious, for them, does not hold objects nor does it produce images, symbols, or meaning.

The mother is not a whole object and the child does not perceive it as such. Freud presupposes this very thing, that the object of the mother is captured in the limits of her whole physical skin. Instead, the child interacts with the mother as an assemblage, an assemblage of machines at various points of her body, etc. ex: The child’s mouth machine to the mother’s breast machine. These are thus partial objects, and by way of these, production in the unconscious does not rely on objects. This is precisely what leads Deleuze and Guattari to posit desire as not lacking, and rather as a force of what they call “machinic production.” Satisfaction is not achieved through the lacking of an object but rather in the constant formation and renewing of transitory productive connections in the coupling of partial objects to other partial objects. These are what they call machines. Humanity, in humanistic fashion, has been taught to perceive themselves as “individuals” making up a totality/ies.

Machinic production leads us to another notion of theirs: impersonality. Desire is im(pre)personal. It is made up of machines that form assemblages and continually dissolve these couplings in search of new and infinite ones. This relates back to other notions such as molecular and rhizomatic formations. Molecularity is opposed to molarity, molarity essentially being a restrictive formation making up a totality, whereas molecularity is especially nomadic in what is detailed above. It is no surprise that these ideas do not restrict themselves to the “critique” of psychoanalysis, but also to the study of ideology, politics, art, music, etc.

The unconscious wants nothing other than production, this is what they call desiring-production, also known as the desire to desire. The study of representation and meaning in the unconscious begins from a false starting point that is the question of “what does it mean.” Deleuze and Guattari subvert this question towards “how does it work?”. No problems of meaning but only of use.

In Freud’s account, the subject, after renouncing incest, transfers this desire for substitute objects to the world outside of the family. A portion of the subject’s libido is met to society’s needs and advancement, and through this, he leaves behind what was once known as the “primal” immediate satisfaction of desire. Freud calls this process “sublimation.” Here these primal desires, such as incest, are repressed and submitted to the unconscious. Naturally, Deleuze and Guattari take trouble with the way in which Freud thinks of the family and society. They reverse the causality of sublimation to state that there is no need for desire to orient itself away from the family and into society, that instead desire necessarily orients itself directly towards the social body. The conditions that give rise to incestuous desire come from society, The family itself is an artificial construct, a subaggregate, determined by society. Psychoanalysis also makes the mistake of beginning with the child in the family triangle, adopting the child's fantasies. D&G believe that not only is this wrong because it is in fact the father who projects his guilt onto the child and Oedipalizes him, but this mistake is also made irrelevant as it only exists in the framework of familialism. Incestuous desire is thus not primary but simply a form that desire assumes because of societal repression and distortion. The force of repression in this case would be socio-familial bondage. Through this process, Desire acquires Oedipus as well as an unconscious. This repression is what structures desire, and results in the adoption of the ego/id/superego as well as the conscious/unconscious/preconscious.

The social and psychoanalytic repression that Deleuze and Guattari attempt to fight against also retroactively introduces prohibitions and transitively feelings of shame and guilt. This is how psychoanalysis comes to conceive of the unconscious as holding the desire for what is not permitted, the desire for what is socially unacceptable. Psychoanalytic conceptions are thus demonstrated to support the maintenance of the status quo. The unconscious is stripped of the desire to desire and is reduced to a mere representational figure that represents what a repressive apparatus gives it to represent. Psychoanalysis reproduces itself by using its own ideational models of representation. It is a school in which the conscious models the unconscious, rendering it unable in theory to penetrate the true unconscious. They use the so-called real world to determine the so-called fantasy world, whereas Deleuze and Guattari argue against the very existence of this opposition. For them there is only the production of the real, this is exemplary of their materialism in Capitalism & Schizophrenia. What is being said here is that the determination of the binary pole between desiring subjectively/objectively, consciously/unconsciously, and rationally/irrationally is a complete and utter myth. There is a diagonal relationship in the interaction and determination between social production and desiring-production. Desire thus composes a linguistic signifying (or asignifying) chain that does not submit to the order and representation of signs language in expression but rather holds non-localizable connections, the absence of link. This is what the “randomness” of schizophrenic delirium and expression can be attributed to. In this sense, schizoanalysis forgets the task of interpretation.

This idea also extends to what Deleuze and Guattari call the “nonhuman sex.” Psychoanalysis conceives of the libido as a primarily sexual issue, the notion of “sexual” being derived from its biological roots. This is also how it, in the same sense of anthropomorphization, roots desire in the family. Deleuze and Guattari argue that desire is social, and this means that the same libido present in the utilization of our sexual organs is present in the exchanges occurring at the bank, the battlefield, the courthouse, etc. Sexuality is de-sexualized and simultaneously everything is sexualized under the same plane and notion of the nonhuman sex in desiring-machines. Desiring-machines are characterized by the absence of purpose: contradiction is functional as functioning is indiscernible from formation. Desire is a machine, a coupling, free synthesis, arrangement, assemblage, of machines, a decoded and included disjunction, a nomadic conjunction of polyvocal and polymorphic flows and chains. Fancy words. Schizoanalysis does not take for object of study the one or two sexes but rather the multiplicity of sexes, the variable of n sexes. The schizophrenic demands an entirely different determination than that of Oedipus, in a family de-familiarized, a family stretching out over an open social field and history.

This leads to the idea of deterritorialization. This concept can be defined very generally and thus have large implications/applications. A territory can be thought of quite simply, as an enclosure, a set of boundaries, limits, general structure, etc. Deterritorialization is a process that D&G see in the schizophrenic psyche as pure intensities of energy scramble the social code, identity, and significance their libido has been given. Being consistently faced with these codes is what continuously produces “reterritorialization” These pure intensities lead to a purely positive model of the unconscious, one free from the lacking (pleasure according to fulfillment of goals) derived from dialectical negation. The task of schizoanalysis can thus be thought of as philosophical affirmation while simultaneously being one of destruction, destruction of the illusion psychoanalysis imposes. These negative (while being positive at the same time) tasks of schizoanalysis are also accompanied by positive ones. The discovery and exploration of one's own desiring machines is precisely that, and this is the model of schizoanalysis.

Three Notes:

I left out Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of “the body without organs” in this essay because I find it to be incredibly convoluted and unnecessarily difficult to understand/explain considering how insignificant it is to the exploration of D&Gs thought.

The ideas that D&G discuss in Capitalism and Schizophrenia cover an incredibly large range of topics, and the ideas (as I said before) extend largely to political and ideological studies. This essay was primarily focused on the psyche and desire, but I hope to deal with the more directly political ideas of D&G in a future, and much longer, post.

Obviously, this essay does not cover or even touch upon the entirety of D&Gs libidinal theories about the psyche.