Felix Guattari

From New World Encyclopedia

Western Philosophy
Twentieth century philosophy
Name: Pierre-Félix Guattari
Birth: April 30, 1930 (Villeneuve-les-Sablons, Oise, France)
Death: August 29, 1992 (La Borde clinic, Cour-Cheverny, France)
School/tradition: Psychoanalysis, Autonomism
Main interests
Psychoanalysis, Politics, Ecology, Semiotics
Notable ideas
assemblage, desiring machine, deterritorialization, ecosophy, schizoanalysis
Influences Influenced
Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, Gregory Bateson, Jean-Paul Sartre, Hjelmslev, Gilles Deleuze Eric Alliez, Michael Hardt, Brian Massumi, Antonio Negri, Gilles Deleuze

Pierre-Félix Guattari (April 30, 1930 – August 29, 1992) was a French militant, institutional psychotherapist, and philosopher. Guattari is best known for his intellectual collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, most notably Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980) in which they developed schizoanalysis. He also developed a concept of three interacting and interdependent ecologies of mind, society, and environment, an "ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to the social and mental spheres.

Guattari was a leading thinker of what came to be called Post-structuralism. He was also considered a post-modernist. Post-structuralism was critical of the mode of the thought of Structuralism, which focused on binary oppositions to create universal meanings. The post-structuralists, especially the deconstructionists sought to destabilize these fixed meanings, demonstrating not the homogenous nature of thought but its heterogeneity. Post-modernism, likewise, doubted the modernist confidence in the ability to create a unified or grand narrative that would represent truth.

The work of Guattari, especially his collaboration with Deleuze, attempted to both dismantle and at the same time use the theories of Freud and Marx, to reinterpret the basic notions of desire and social order through "a political analysis of desire as it is expressed or repressed in Western culture."[1]

Their attack on capitalism starts with the family, which they consider as the key source of repression. From the perspective of individualism, the family must repress desires to maintain itself. They imagine a larger social order which replaces the dominant role of the family in capitalist society as the basis for a new utopian vision.


Pierre-Félix Guattari was born on April 30, 1930 in Villeneuve-les-Sablons, a working-class suburb of north-west Paris, France.[2] He trained under, and was analyzed by, the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan in the early 1950s. Subsequently, he worked at the experimental psychiatric clinic of La Borde under the direction of Lacan's pupil, the psychiatrist Jean Oury.

One particular novel orientation developed at La Borde consisted of the suspension of the classical master-patient, or analyst/analysand binome, in favor of open confrontation in group therapy. It was the practice of group-therapy and the study of the dynamics of a plurality of subjects in complex interaction, rather than the individualistic style of analysis of the traditional Freudian school which led Guattari into a larger philosophical exploration of a vast array of domains, including philosophy, ethnology, linguistics, and architecture among others in order to better define the orientation, delimitation, and psychiatric efficacy of the practice.[3]

Guattari would later proclaim that psychoanalysis is "the best capitalist drug" [4] because in it desire is confined to a couch: Desire, in Lacanian psychoanalysis, is an energy that is contained rather than one that, if freed, could militantly engage itself in something different. He continued this research, collaborating in Jean Oury's private clinic of La Borde at Court-Cheverny, one of the main centers of institutional psychotherapy at the time. La Borde was at that time a venue for conversation amongst innumerable students of philosophy, psychology, ethnology, and social work.

1960s to 1970s

From 1955 to 1965, Félix Guattari participated in the trotskyist group Voie Communiste ("Communist Way"). He would then support anticolonialist struggles as well as the Italian Autonomists. Guattari also took part in the movement of the psychological G.T., which gathered many psychiatrists at the beginning of the sixties and created the Association of Institutional Psychotherapy in November 1965. It was at the same time that he founded, along with other militants, the F.G.E.R.I. (Federation of Groups for Institutional Study & Research) and its review research, working on philosophy, mathematics, psychoanalysis, education, architecture, ethnology, etc. The F.G.E.R.I. came to represent aspects of the multiple political and cultural engagements of Félix Guattari: The Group for Young Hispanics, the Franco-Chinese Friendships (in the times of the popular communes), the opposition activities with the wars in Algeria and Vietnam, the participation in the M.N.E.F., with the U.N.E.F., the policy of the offices of psychological academic aid (B.A.P.U.), the organization of the University Working Groups (G.T.U.), but also the reorganizations of the training courses with the Centers of Training to the Methods of Education Activities (C.E.M.E.A.) for psychiatric male nurses, as well as the formation of Friendly Male Nurses (Amicales d'infirmiers) (in 1958), the studies on architecture and the projects of construction of a day hospital of for "students and young workers."

Guattari was involved in the events of May 1968, starting from the Movement of March 22. It was in the aftermath of 1968 that Guattari met Gilles Deleuze at the University of Vincennes and began to lay the ground-work for the soon to be infamous Anti-Oedipus (1972), which Michel Foucault described as "an introduction to the non-fascist life" in his preface to the book. Throughout his career it may be said that his writings were at all times correspondent in one fashion or another with sociopolitical and cultural engagements. In 1967, he appeared as one of the founders of OSARLA (Organization of solidarity and Aid to the Latin-American Revolution). It was with the head office of the F.G.E.R.I. that he met, in 1968, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Jean-Jacques Lebel, and Julian Beck. In 1970, he created C.E.R.F.I. (Center for the Study and Research of Institutional Formation), which takes the direction of the Recherches review. In 1977, he created the CINEL for "new spaces of freedom" before joining the ecological movement with the development of his "ecosophy" in the 1980s.

1980s to 1990s

In his last book, Chaosmose (1992), the topic of which is already partially developed in What is Philosophy? (1991, with Deleuze), Félix Guattari takes again his essential topic: The question of subjectivity. "How to produce it, collect it, enrich it, reinvent it permanently in order to make it compatible with mutant Universes of value?" This idea returns like a leitmotiv, from Psychanalyse and transversality (a regrouping of articles from 1957 to 1972) through Années d'hiver (1980-1986) and Cartographies Schizoanalytique (1989). He insists on the function of "a-signification," which plays the role of support for a subjectivity in act, starting from four parameters: "Significative and semiotic flows, Phylum of Machinic Propositions, Existential Territories and Incorporeal Universes of Reference."

Félix Guattari died of a heart attack in 1992.

In 1995, the posthumous release Chaosophy featured Guattari's first collection of essays and interviews focuses on the French anti-psychiatrist and theorist's work as director of the experimental La Borde clinic and his collaboration with philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Chaosophy is a groundbreaking introduction to Guattari's theories on "schizo-analysis," a process meant to replace Sigmund Freud's interpretation with a more pragmatic, experimental, and collective approach rooted in reality. Unlike Freud, Guattari believes that schizophrenia is an extreme mental state co-existent with the capitalist system itself. But capitalism keeps enforcing neurosis as a way of maintaining normality. Guattari's post-Marxist vision of capitalism provides a new definition not only of mental illness, but also of micropolitical means of subversion. It includes key essays such as "Balance-Sheet Program for Desiring Machines," cosigned by Deleuze (with whom he coauthored Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus), and the provocative "Everybody Wants To Be a Fascist."

In 1996 another collection of Guattari's essays, lectures, and interviews, Soft Subversions was published. This collection traces the militant anti-psychiatrist and theorist's thought and activity throughout the 1980s ("the winter years"). Concepts such as "micropolitics," "schizoanalysis," and "becoming-woman" open up new horizons for political and creative resistance in the "postmedia era." Guattari's energetic analyses of art, cinema, youth culture, economics, and power formations introduce a radically inventive thought process engaged in liberating subjectivity from the standardizing and homogenizing processes of global capitalism.

Key concepts

Anti-Œdipus (1972) was co-written with French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It is the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, along with the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus (1980). It presents an analysis of human psychology, economics, society, and history, showing how "primitive," "despotic," and "capitalist regimes" differ in their organization of production, inscription, and consumption. It claims to describe how capitalism ultimately channels all desires through an axiomatic money-based economy, a form of organization that is abstract, rather than local or material.

Desiring machines & social production

Michel Foucault, in the introduction, calls Anti-Œdipus "… an introduction to the nonfascist life."[5] Deleuze and Guattari argue that capitalist society trains people to believe that desire equals lack (Foucault refers to this as the "two-fold law of structure and lack"[6]) and the only way to meet one's desires is to consume. Anti-Œdipus argues that desire does not come from lack, in the typical Freudian understanding. On the contrary, desire is a productive force. "It is not a theater, but a factory." The opposition to the notion of lack is one of the main criticisms Deleuze and Guattari make both to Freud and Marxism. Desire is a productive, real force, whereas psychoanalysis limits desire to the imaginary or fantasy.

Like their contemporary, R.D. Laing, and Wilhelm Reich before them, they link personal psychic repression with social repression. In such a framework, Deleuze and Guattari describe the productive nature of desire as a kind of Desiring-Machine that functions as a circuit breaker in a larger "circuit" of various other machines to which it is connected; the Desiring-Machine is at the same time also producing a flow of desire from itself. Deleuze and Guattari imagine a multi-functional universe composed of such machines all connected to each other: "There are no desiring-machines that exist outside the social machines that they form on a large scale; and no social machines without the desiring machines that inhabit them on a small scale." Thus, they opposed Freud's concept of sublimation, which led to a necessary dualism between desiring machines and social production, and which had trapped Laing and Reich. Their book is, hence, both a critique of Freud and Lacan's psychoanalysis, and also of Freudo-Marxism. They oppose an "inhumane molecular sexuality" to "molar" binary sexuality: "Making love is not just becoming as one, or even two, but becoming as a hundred thousand." Deleuze and Guattari's concept of sexuality is not limited to the connectivity of just male and female gender roles, but by the multi-gendered flows that a "hundred thousand" Desiring-Machines create within their connected universe.

The "anti-" of the title Anti-Oedipus refers to their critique of the Freudian Oedipal complex, disputing the original model's articulation of society based on the family triangle. Criticizing psychoanalysis "familialism," they want to show that the oedipal model of the family is a kind of organization that must colonize its members, repress their desires, and give them complexes if it is to function as an organizing principle of society. Instead of conceiving the "family" as a sphere contained by a larger "social" sphere, and giving a logical preeminence to the family triangle, Deleuze and Guattari argue that the family should be opened onto the social, as in Bergson's conception of the Open, and that underneath the pseudo-opposition between family (composed of personal subjects) and social, lies the relationship between pre-individual desire and social production. Furthermore, they argue that schizophrenia is an extreme mental state co-existent with the capitalist system itself and capitalism keeps enforcing neurosis as a way of maintaining normality. It must be noted, however, that they oppose a non-clinical concept of "schizophrenia" as deterritorialization to the clinical end-result "schizophrenic" (that is, they never intended to romanticize "mental disorders;" instead, they show, as Foucault, that "psychiatric disorders" are always second to something else… maybe to the "absence d'oeuvre"?).

Body without organs

In Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari begin to develop their concept of the BwO—body without organs, their term for the changing social body of desire. Since desire can take on as many forms as there are persons to implement it, it must seek new channels and different combinations to realize itself, forming a BwO for every instance. Desire is not limited to the affections of a subject.


Although (like most Deleuzo-Guattarian terms) deterritorialization has a purposeful variance in meaning throughout their oeuvre, it can be roughly described as a move away from a rigidly imposed hierarchical, arborescent context, which seeks to package things (concepts, objects, and so on) into discrete categorized units with singular coded meanings or identities, towards a rhizomatic zone of multiplicity and fluctuant identity, where meanings and operations flow freely between said things, resulting in a dynamic, constantly changing set of interconnected entities with fuzzy individual boundaries.

Importantly, the concept implies a continuum, not a simple binary–every actual assemblage (a flexible term alluding to the heterogeneous composition of any complex system, individual, social, geological) is marked by simultaneous movements of territorialization (maintenance) and of deterritorialization (dissipation).

The process of deterritorialization and reterritorialization are part of the process of the unmaking and remaking of the individual. The authors posit that dramatic reterritorialization often follows relative deterritorialization, while absolute deterritorialization is just that… absolute deterritorialization without any reterritorialization.


Guattari's use of the term "ecosophy" is somewhat different and often contradictory, although conceptually related to, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess's concept. Generally it demarcates what Guattari observed as the necessity for the proponents of social liberation, whose struggles in the twentieth century were dominated by the paradigm of social revolution and Marxism, to embed their arguments within an ecological framework which understands the interconnections of social and environmental spheres.

Guattari holds that traditional environmentalist perspectives obscure the complexity of the relationship between human beings and their natural environment through its maintenance of the dualistic separation of human (cultural) and nonhuman (natural) systems; he envisions ecosophy as a new field with a monistic and pluralistic approach to such study. Ecology in the Guattarian sense then, is a study of complex phenomena, including human subjectivity, the environment, and social relations, all of which are intimately interconnected.

Without modifications to the social and material environment, there can be no change in mentalities. Here, we are in the presence of a circle that leads me to postulate the necessity of founding an "ecosophy" that would link environmental ecology to social ecology and to mental ecology.[7]

Despite this emphasis on interconnection, throughout his individual writings and more famous collaborations with Gilles Deleuze, Guattari resisted calls for holism, preferring to emphasize heterogeneity and difference, synthesizing assemblages and multiplicities in order to trace rhizomatic structures rather than creating unified and holistic structures.

Major Works

Works published in English

  • Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics (1984). Trans. Rosemary Sheed. Selected essays from Psychanalyse et transversalité (1972) and La révolution moléculaire (1977). ISBN 978-0140551600
  • Les Trois écologies (1989). Trans. The Three Ecologies. Partial translation by Chris Turner (Paris: Galilee, 1989), full translation by Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton (London: The Athlone Press, 2000). ISBN 978-1847063052
  • Chaosmose (1992). Trans. Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm (Indiana University Press, 1995). ISBN 978-0253210043
  • Chaosophy (1995), ed. Sylvere Lotringer. Collected essays and interviews. ISBN 978-1584350606
  • Soft Subversions (1996), ed. Sylvere Lotringer. Collected essays and interviews. ISBN 978-1584350736
  • The Guattari Reader (1996), ed. Gary Genosko. Collected essays and interviews. ISBN 978-0631197089
  • Ecrits pour L'Anti-Œdipe (2004), ed. Stéphane Nadaud. Trans. The Anti-Œdipus Papers (2006). Collection of texts written between 1969 and 1972. ISBN 978-1584350316

In collaboration with Gilles Deleuze:

  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 1. L'Anti-Œdipe (1972). Trans. Anti-Oedipus (1977). ISBN 978-0143105824
  • Kafka: Pour une Littérature Mineure (1975). Trans. Kafka: Toward a Theory of Minor Literature (1986). ISBN 978-0816615155
  • Rhizome: introduction (Paris: Minuit, 1976). Trans. "Rhizome," in Ideology and Consciousness 8 (Spring, 1981): 49-71. This is an early version of what became the introductory chapter in Mille Plateaux.
  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2. Mille Plateaux (1980). Trans. A Thousand Plateaus (1987). ISBN 978-0816614028
  • On the Line (1983). Contains translations of "Rhizome," and "Politics" ("Many Politics") by Deleuze and Parnet. ISBN 978-0936756011
  • Nomadology: The War Machine. (1986). Translation of "Plateau 12," Mille Plateaux. ISBN 978-0936756097
  • Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (1991). Trans. What Is Philosophy? (1996). ISBN 978-0231079891

Other collaborations:

  • Les nouveaux espaces de liberté (1985). Trans. Communists Like Us (1990). With Antonio Negri. ISBN 978-0936756219
  • Micropolitica: Cartografias do Desejo (1986). Trans. Molecular Revolution in Brazil (2007s). With Suely Rolnik. ISBN 978-1584350514
  • The Party without Bosses (2003), by Gary Genosko. Features a 1982 conversation between Guattari and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. ISBN 978-1894037181

Works untranslated into English

Note: Many of the essays found in these works have been individually translated and can be found in the English collections.

  • Psychanalyse et transversalité. Essais d'analyse institutionnelle (1972).
  • La révolution moléculaire (1977, 1980). The 1980 version (éditions 10/18) contains substantially different essays from the 1977 version.
  • L'inconscient machinique. Essais de Schizoanalyse (1979).
  • Les années d'hiver, 1980-1985 (1986).
  • Cartographies schizoanalytiques (1989).

Other collaborations:

  • L’intervention institutionnelle (Paris: Petite Bibliothèque Payot, n. 382 - 1980). On institutional pedagogy. With Jacques Ardoino, G. Lapassade, Gerard Mendel, Rene Lourau.
  • Pratique de l'institutionnel et politique (1985). With Jean Oury and Francois Tosquelles.
  • (it) Desiderio e rivoluzione. Intervista a cura di Paolo Bertetto (Milan: Squilibri, 1977). Conversation with Franco Berardi (Bifo) and Paolo Bertetto.


  1. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (University of Minnesota Press, 1983, ISBN 0816612250).
  2. "Felix Guattari: A Chronology" in Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies, Trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton (London: Athlone, 2000), p. ix.
  3. Brian Massumi, Foreword to A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London: Athlone Press, 1988), p.x
  4. "The Best Capitalist Drug" (Trans. Janis Forman) in Felix Guattari, Chaosophy (New York: Semiotext(e), 1995), 209-224.
  5. Foucault (1972, xv).
  6. Ibid, p. xviii.
  7. Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies Trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton (London: Athlone, 2000), 27.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Abou-Rihan, Fadi. Deleuze and Guattari: A Psychoanalytic Itinerary. Continuum, 2008. ISBN 978-1441137784.
  • Alliez, Eric. The Signature of the World: Or, What is Deleuze and Guattari's Philosophy? New York: Continuum, 2004. ISBN 978-0826456212.
  • Genosko, Gary. Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction. New York: Continuum, 2002. ISBN 978-0826460332.
  • Genosko, Gary (ed.). Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers. Volume 2: Guattari. New York: Routledge, 2001. ISBN 0415186781.

External links

All links retrieved March 26, 2024.


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