What’s your name?
Existence means exposition to and adaptation of a full range of given norms, structures and boundaries. As soon as we come to existence, our individuality is inhibited by the circumstances we are born into. This does not lead to a loss of personality but to a construction of an artificial one: Already before we are born we are categorised based on our genitals, which decide what kind of name is going to be imposed on us, Susan or Tom. We learn a language, we learn how to behave in diverse situations and especially how to behave towards inferior, authoritative or equal partners. Deleuze and Guattari notice a stratification of our bodies, which is created through the hierarchical order of society, in their work on the ‘Body without Organs’ from A Thousand Plateaus. Their theory derives from the assumption of continuous power relations amongst members of society, with a vertical distribution of power where those at the top are oppressing the lower ones.
Body Without Organs
Now I would like to pick up their idea of the ‘Body without Organs’, which I like to explain as one big soup without a beginning and end or anything else which restricts it.The Body without Organs (BwO) can be described as a state after or before existence. However while existing everyone is constantly in the process of becoming a BwO without ever attaining that limit.
The term body needs to be defined here as a whole, consisting of different parts, organs, which are depending on each other, yet each of them functions individually for the benefit of the entity. I don’t mean only the anatomical body we all have, but any social formation where people are depnding on someone or something else. Deleuze calls that organised body ‘organism’. We all function as an organ of the organised, in any power relationship, which means in any possible relationship and situation, constantly. We are categorised and structured under all circumstances, whether amongst our families (being the daughter, the uncle or the dog), at school or work (teacher, employee etc.), in a political party or even through the influence of media while watching TV for instance. Deleuze recognises three strata on the body: the organism itself, functioning as a body’s whole articulation, the way a body presents itself in the given restrictions. The signifiance, which includes both, how the body gets interpreted and how it interprets others. Finally the subjectification which allows every body to be looked at in exactly one way, and forces it to articulate itself in exactly that expected and no other way. In short that means that each body is expected to fulfil its role in exactly one way which is forced upon it through a superior organism. Now let’s see what happens if a body does not obey to the role it is put in, may it be an occupational position, in a fight with the biggest enemy or in a loving relationship.
It’s ‘innate’ in society
I’d like you to imagine a tree now. With its roots deep in the ground forming the bottom. They are obviously the most essential part of the tree, as they are the strong basis which keeps the tree standing and nourishes it with water and minerals. Then we have the trunk, which can be seen as the medium between the roots and the treetop. It keeps the ‘information process’ ongoing. Only because of those two parts of the tree the branches can produce leaves and fruits.
Let’s take the treetop as a metaphor for the government, then we become the roots, automatically, with no choice, nourishing the highest ones of society. The trunk could be the media in this case. The state could not survive with any of these parts as it exists now. If we stopped supporting the system we would become social outcasts. However first we would have to get conscious of the fact that and how we are supporting out own suppression. This concept can be transferred on any social constellation.
That means that as soon as we, as beings come to existence we introject, we absorb the values of society and then obey them as we are expected to, otherwise we are seen as morally corrupt, perverse or mad . So in order to be accepted, we need to not have an individual character but adopt the arbitrary and unnatural binary structures (of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age etc.). Just think of the judgement you’d pass if you saw a little girl, let’s say 10 years, with lots of make up in her face, wearing a short skirt, high heels and a little purse. Here we have two images clashing, which we are simply not used to. Because society decided make up and short skirts are for women, well now it is teenage girl, anyone else having these attributes seems wrong to us.Think about your own feeling when you are invited to a party where everyone is dressed fancy in there evening outfits, I mean really posh, and you arrive in your old sneakers wearing jeans with a hole and a baseball cap. You do not feel appropriate, not belonging. You become an outcast.
You cannot be different to others while you exist, but nevertheless you try to, through clothes, through music, through your political ideals, your behaviour and your whole articulation. The point is though, as long as you articulate yourself, express yourself you will never be different. You will always be able to articulate yourself only in one way, in the way society tought you. You will always be a body in the organism, which means we are all discriminating articulation that is alien to us. We are always fascists.
To sum up Deleuze sees society as a hierarchical organism, where every body is one part of an economic infrastructure, without any space for free will, variety or identity. Our existence is paradoxical in itself: created to reach the transcendent values of society, we are trapped in the organism which makes it impossible to fulfil this task, hence we are exposed to infinite dissatisfaction which means that at the same time, we are continuously desiring. We are desiring air to breathe, food to eat, sleep when we are tired, someone to love. Any feeling, any idea or thought is a desire. To reach absolute satisfaction, a shift from the vertical hierarchy to a horizontal distribution of power needs to take place. All parts of a body need to be in proximate connection to one another, in a linear communication process. There must not be any kind of medium between two bodies.
Plane of Consistency
Deleuze and Guattari have the idea of the rhizome, which can be seen as contrary to the tree concept I explained earlier. A rhizome is positioned horizontally. It can be seen as a ‘destratified’ body with organs. Which means that the three strata (organism, signifiance, subjectification) need to be abolished. We need to get rid of everything we know, a language, a color, a name, a feeling. If that was the case there would not be any expectations which we had to fulfil. We need to stop thinking in order to stop desiring and be no longer supressed.
In their words, we need to exist on a ‘plane of consistency’ where we practice constant ‘experimentation’ and ‘nomadism’, desire is ‘fluid’. There is no organisation and all bodies are one entity. In my imagination such a plane of consistency can be compared to an egg. A raw mixed up egg, you cannot really see the lines between the yellow and the white bits anymore, everything is connected to each other and fluid. Although if an egg turned into a chick, it would start existing, it had eyes, feet and feathers. It would desire.
How can we reach that plane of consistency, that big soup where we could all be free? We can’t. Not yet. Not while we are existing in the form of human beings in a body with a language, with a name, with a gender and with relationships. We need to stop articulating ourselves. We need to stop existing. Deleuze and Guattari give an instruction how to free ourselves from all neurosis which is caused by the power of pure discourse after or before existence. That is the only way to find the real, the ultimate truth of the self.
One more thing: What do you think would happen if we could reach the plane of consistency, if we were a body without organs right now, while we exist?
I am thinking that the impact on society would go far beyond anything we can imagine. It would be a disaster. It would be far worse than any anarchy you can imagine.