ArticlesDatacide 15

Sincere Genesis – On Félix Guattari & Groups


“Sooner or later the Situationist International must
define itself as a therapy: we are ready to defend the
poetry made by all against the false poetry
rigged up by power”
– Raoul Vaneigem

As a psychoanalyst and militant, Félix Guattari seems to have engaged with the problem of groups for all his life. Across his writing we see him putting forth, as part of a collaborative process, various conceptualisations of group life which are to a larger or lesser degree operational concepts which he had experienced and worked with. These are: institutional analysis, the subject and subjugated group and the collective assemblage of enunciation. Several themes, gathering points for his later more pronounced interest in the production of subjectivity, appear to flow through all of these concepts: transversalism, a mixed semiotic and the subject as ‘supra-personal’.

In some senses it could be said that Guattari does not stop at the ‘group-as-a-whole’ as the outer limit of any group therapeutic practice. There is, always with Guattari, a beyond; a beyond that takes therapy into the wider social field: wider than the person, wider than the family and wider than the collective. At root, then, back in the late 50s, as a co-worker with Jean Oury and Fernando Tosquelles, Guattari began to collaborate in further developing ‘institutional analysis’. It was this work at La Borde that brought forth a sense of the therapeutic as that which should work with ‘crossings’ from one discipline to another, from one sub-group to another, from one role to another. It was hoped, then, that through encouraging a meta-categorical approach both within groups and across the institution as a whole, that forms of unconscious desire as they circulate within groups, could be profiled. Such a ‘transversalism’ as he called it, was an expansive attempt to “maximise communication between different levels and different meanings”1 and, with reference to Guattari’s criticisms of orthodox Freudianism, to rid the therapeutic of its often asocial effects.

With a view of mental illness as one whose sufferers were ‘locked in’ and ‘locked up’ inside themselves (minimal communication between different levels and meanings), this transversal approach, opening up both the subject and the institution to an analysis of its differenting flows and seeing ‘roles’ as forms of play, had the effect, it could be said, of introducing people to different ‘semiotic forms’, different means of expression and bodily affect. A doctor could do the washing up, a patient could organise a play. The therapeutic was not solely reduced to verbal encounters in the consulting room, but seems to have been a form of therapy that, in encouraging the deployment of “multiple social voices” (c.f The Grid) and in accepting the communicative value of gesture, image, sound, deportment, silence, chance and non-sense, led to a situation through which it was possible for Guattari to not only perceive, but to politicise the ‘personal’ as a subjective form that should not be taken to coincide with the bourgeois form of the individual2 .

That which is wider than the self (supra-personal) should, then, come to coincide and develop by means of that which is wider than the group-as-a-whole (i.e. the social). Guattari, expanding on how we can re-perceive the ‘person’ goes on to mention: “… subjectivity founds itself in a complex relation to the other, the alter ego, mother and father, relations of caste, class struggles, in short to the entire context of social interaction”3. Such factors in the production of subjectivity, an awareness of the multiple interlocutors and institutional dispositifs that have formed us, maybe become more discernible through our participation in groups and the ensuing (subject) group then becomes an assemblage through which we can struggle against the way that we have been produced as subjects; the way in which, under the capitalist value-imperative, we have been individualised: “individuals as such are manufactured by the system to satisfy the demands of its mode of production”4. Guattari, following through with his work as a therapist at La Borde, comes to suggest that this production of the subject as a standardised ‘individual’, its being reified in frosty social relationships, comes to mean, even from a left-critical standpoint, that we are conditioned to relate to “subjective processes as individual phenomena” 5.

This, then, explicates a little one of the hazards of group life and of our use of language as the primary means of communication: that every utterance marks us as a ‘self’ and not as an assemblage, a ‘modal’ or ‘polyphonic’ self. Our experience in groups, then, can go some way to making us sensitive to the glare of this guilt-inducing ‘personological’ prism in which we can be caught and which can silence us, reduce us to a fixed identity measureable in terms of that adjunct of individualisation “the primacy of the statement”6. For, being in groups can often be akin to learning to speak all over again and in this way, struggling to express, we get an inkling of those affective states that Guattari refers to as “proto-enunciative”, which in turn profile those dynamical affective components (mixed semiotic) that do not coincide with the form of the self-addressing individual, but exist as “pre-personal”, as prior to the individual and informed, just as much, by both the otherness of the other and the otherness of our ‘self’ which is precipitately encountered in our experience of groups.

Guattari’s interest in groups, then, is an interest that transforms the group from an organ of therapy (group-as-a-whole) into a laboratory for micro-politics. The group for Guattari becomes less a means for taking (discursive) power and more of a formation that, through a process of participation, highlights how we are produced as subjects and reproduce our own subjugation. The ideal for such a ‘subject group’ (that which can contain and encourage a “process of singularisation”7) is that it begins “to move in the direction of co-management in the production of subjectivity”8, that it comes to “re-appropriate the means of production of subjectivity”. This is not a far cry from the counter-cultural urging of a ‘deconditioning’, but what Guattari brings to this is not just a sense of a ‘means of production’ of subjectivity (affect, dispositifs, multiple interlocutors, media messages, childhood experiences, etc.), but a militant confidence that such means can be re-appropriated because, at root, they are a common matter in a politics of desire no longer based on lack but given an impetus by ‘desiring production’.

Guattari, then, in moving away from the ‘already there’, the ‘already formed’ of the person taken as an individual, in moving towards a notion of the subject as a container of dynamic components (a ‘groupuscule’ as Deleuze suggests), is pushing ideas inspired by group therapy in the direction of a refounding of political praxis. In his last work he asks: “how to rebuild politics on different bases… how to rearticulate transversally the public and the private, the social, the environmental and the mental”9. Such a re-articulation, is, Guattari suggests, built upon the inclusion of those disavowed elements of latent communications that can be recast as transitional statements; upon the non-discursive affects (‘poetic nuclei’) that rupture what we know as ‘sense’, but which present us with both the embodied material of our conditioning and an awareness of the unconscious structuration of groups.
December 2013

1. Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, Penguin, 1984, p.18.
2. Felix Guattari, The Guattari Reader, ed. Gary Genosko, Blackwell, 1996, p.122.
3. ibid.
4. Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution, ibid, p.64.
5. ibid, p.35.
6. ibid, p.99.
7. Felix Guattari, Molecular Revolution in Brazil, Semiotexte, 2008, p.62.
8. Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis, Power Publications, 1995, p.128.
9. Felix Guattari, ibid, p133.


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