The eye no longer sees, it reads.
(Deleuze & Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, p. 206)
I grew up with Calvin and Hobbes. As with many of my contemporaries, I think that there was much in Calvin’s way of being in the world that evoked for me a deep sense of longing to show the same kind of resistance that he unflaggingly gave to the control structures around him. His many alter egos—Spaceman Spiff, Tracer Bullet, Stupendous Man, Hobbes—also resonated loudly with me as an only child (well, raised mostly as an only child—it’s a long story) who learned to to be his own playmate for the most part.
In the early 90s I signed up for a book club that gave a number of free books up front, in exchange simply for buying or rejecting the book of the month each month. I think I was 19. I am sure that I failed fully to follow through with that particular contract. Nevertheless, with my ‘free books’ I received two Calvin and Hobbes collections—The Essential and the Indispensable—and hung on to them until now. My first two kids dipped in and out of them, with my second boy in particular really loving them. My youngest, though, has a kind of devotion to Calvin that borders on the religious. The collections have long since become loose-leaf folders, and, since he taught himself to read earlier this year, this five year old boy can often be found under tables, on bunk beds, or in his fort carefully working his way through page after loose-leaf page.
Before this, my partner and I spent many, many hours reading the comics to him, trying our best to explain why they are funny. The literary analysis required to explain the delusional fantasies of a six-year-old resisting being drawn into conformity to a 4-year-old who likewise is being raised very carefully to resist conformity and to own his own body was really challenging, to say the least. I think that it is safe to say that an enormous amount of our son’s processing of societal control structures has come through his interaction with Calvin.
* * *
Desire no longer dares to desire, having become a desire of desire, a desire of the despot’s desire. The mouth no longer speaks, it drinks the letter. The eye no longer sees, it reads. The body no longer allows itself to be engraved like the earth, but prostrates itself before the engravings of the despot, the region beyond the earth, the new full body.
(Anti-Oedipus, p. 206)
Looking at this from an adult perspective—particularly one informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis—has been a remarkable experience. Their treatment of schizophrenia presents, as they put it, schizophrenia as the only universal. From their perspective, society—all organized society—is essentially a set of shared delusions, and the experience of the territorialization of the flow that describes human being-in-the-world.
Imagine water being channelled into various canals, sluices, waterwheels, irrigation channels, dams and dynamos, and you get a picture that comes close to what they are talking about. From their perspective, modern society is a process of territorialization of that flow, itself a deterritorialized force. So, like the water, the channeling of it only has a purpose if it can flow freely within the channeling.
Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor of the ‘body without organs’ is a version of Plato’s corporal model of the city, as outlined in the Republic, but one that inverts and turns it inside out, so that the organization that Plato tries to outline is instead the result, from Deleuze and Guattari’s perspective, of an arbitrary organ-ization, according to the ‘despotic signifier’ that holds sway over a particular society. In an earlier post, I treated certain aspects of this model, particularly associated with what I call ‘sites of control’. Here, I would like to address these again, particularly from the perspective of childhood.
In ancient Greek, οἰκοδεσπότης (oikodespotes) is a composite word that we run into quite frequently to describe the master of a house. We also run into the non-compound form. In the New Testament, this is a common term for the owner of a house (eg. Matthew 10.25).
The structure even of democratic—theoretically ‘open’—society is shored up by a series of structures that do not have the possibility of openness. Corporations, the military, etc., are (generally) closed, hierarchical structures. Without these, of course, capitalistic, democratic structures wouldn’t have the engines to keep them moving—or so the argument goes. While there are certainly exceptions to the rule, these exceptions in no way describe the typical experience of the structural components of ‘open’ societies. Deleuze and Guattari treat this internal inconsistency as an oscillation between two poles: ‘Born of decoding and deterritorialization, on the ruins of the despotic machine, [modern] societies are caught between the Urstaat that they would like to resuscitate as an overcoding and reterritorializing unity, and the unfettered flows that carry them toward an absolute threshold’ (p. 260). Earlier, in this vein, they say: ‘The State, its police, and its army form a gigantic enterprise of antiproduction, but at the heart of production itself, and conditioning this production’ (p. 235).
Long before any individual begins to participate in the internally inconsistent-with-democracy structures of companies, police forces, bureaucracies, etc., the child is acculturated towards participation in those within whatever family structure describes their experience. Outside of this, school, the dentist, the doctor, religious organizations, the playground, walking down the street—all of these are loci of control where a child is expected to be able to respond ‘appropriately’, ‘with good manners’, as ‘a good little girl or boy’. Older generations, family, friends, teachers, ‘caring professionals’, people on the bus. Everyone is full of advice for when they see something falling out of sync from their expectations for children’s behaviour, particularly when children are not able to be controlled by adults.
The problems faced by children who are not able to be controlled by their parents such that they can be pulled into other control structures are, as with Calvin, difficult to assess. On the one hand, we laud—at least in North American society—the idea of creativity, of a maverick, of the frontiers-person. Deterritorialization, flow. On the other hand, we don’t know how to cope with the exact personality traits or modes of being in the world that issue in such behaviour. Territorialization, the schiz.
In the last chapter of Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari introduce a diagram that describes the way in which this societal oscillation affects the individual:
They state (pp. 281 & 283):
From the standpoint of a universal clinical theory, paranoia and schizophrenia can be presented as the two extreme oscillations of a pendulum oscillating around the position of a socius as a full body and, at the limit, of a body without organs, one of whose sides is occupied by the molar aggregates, and the other populated by molecular elements. But one can also present this as a single line along which the different forms of socius, their planes and their large aggregates, are arranged; on each of these planes there is a paranoiac dimension, another that is perverse, a kind of familial position, and a dotted line of escape or schizoid breakthrough. The major line ends at the body without organs, and there it either passes through the wall, opening onto the molecular elements where it becomes in actual fact what it was from the start: the schizophrenic process, the pure schizophrenic process of deterritorialization. Or it strikes the wall, rebounds off it, and falls back into the most miserably arranged territorialities of the modern world as simulacra of the preceding planes, getting caught up in the asylum aggregate of paranoia and schizophrenia as clinical entities, in the artificial aggregates or societies established by perversion, in the familial aggregate of Oedipal neuroses.
There’s a lot to unpack here, and I am struggling to present something that can be discussed without necessarily understanding all of the terminology that, by the time one has reached this point in their book, the authors expect that one is able to understand. I often find that the easiest way to do this is to appeal to the metaphor that they themselves have used: Plato’s cave.
In Plato’s cave analogy, there are two individuals of note. The first is the philosopher who, climbing out of the cave, becomes used to the outside light, eventually being able to stare at the sun—a symbol not for retinal damage, but rather the Good. The second is the fellow who, helped out of the cave by the now fully-sighted philosopher, becomes able also to see, but can’t cope with the loss of his life in the cave, and returns to his comfy seat and all of the accolades that were his for being really, really good at predicting which shadow was going to appear on the wall of the cave next.
In Deleuze and Guattari’s model, schizophrenia is equivalent to all of the cave, philosophy, and the failure of philosophy to provide egress from the cave: ‘schizophrenia as a process is the only universal. Schizophrenia is at once the wall, the breaking through this wall, and the failures of this breakthrough’ (p. 136). Their treatment of ‘Schizophrenia as a clinical entity’ in the above diagram demonstrates that their overall conception of schizophrenia is not a metaphor derived from individual schizophrenics, but rather a sense that ‘clinical schizophrenics’ are part of the symptomology of capitalist society (p. 245):
…it would be a serious error to consider the capitalist flows and the schizophrenic flows as identical, under the general theme of a decoding of the flows of desire. Their affinity is great, to be sure: everywhere capitalism sets in motion schizo-flows that animate ‘our’ arts and ‘our’ sciences, just as they congeal into the production of ‘our own’ sick, the schizophrenics. We have seen that the relationship of schizophrenia to capitalism went far beyond problems of modes of living, environment, ideology, etc., and that it should be examined at the deepest level of one and the same economy, one and the same production process. Our society produces schizos the same way it produces Prell shampoo or Ford cars, the only difference being that the schizos are not salable.
The schizophrenic as a clinical phenomenon, then, is a part of the process of schizophrenia as a universal.
* * *
The child’s place within this world is a process of becoming. Calvin is a prime example of the bifurcation between Deleuze and Guattari’s clinical schizophrenic and the breaking-through-the-wall-schizophrenia. Depending on the way in which Calvin continues to grow, the delusional coping mechanisms he employs to overcome control structures ranging from teachers and bullies to eating food he finds disgusting and being forced to pose for photographs may or may not become something that is pathologized in his later life.
Family structures can code in a similar way a sort of clinical despotism—the control structures that society insists it should be able to find pre-installed in children can be produced through a number of methods. Physical violence, abuse, emotional manipulation, reward—all of these, from societally acceptable and even laudable through to those things that we approbate, are differently effective, and internally very similar.
While camping recently, I found myself having to intervene in a family whose father was stumbling around drunk, interspersed with physically attacking and orally abusing his three teenage children. Like a despot of old, he did as he wanted, himself, no doubt, the victim of violence and loss in the past and/or present, but clearly using his family as a way to work out the loss of control in his own life. When I entered their campsite, the three children, cowed, nearly immobile with fear, yet immediately denied anything was wrong. When the camp attendant confronted the father after our complaint, she came back to us reporting that the children said ‘he’s only doing this out of love’.
When discussing this today, my partner pointed out that this is precisely the same sort of delusion that Calvin uses, except that, in this scenario, the abuse was obviously so thorough that they had become Quislings to their own cause. The body of the despot had become their own, and so the violence being done to them was delusionally ascribed to its opposite.
Watching those nearly-grown children arrange themselves on the invisible body-without-organs of the mini-despot of their father’s kingdom, I experienced many resonances with my own early childhood. I recalled the fear and violence with which my natural father directed my highly restricted flow. The impossible expectations that he had for me, and the way in which reward and love came only if things were done in a very particular fashion. I saw those aspects of my early childhood very differently, all of a sudden. I saw the violence that had been done to my father as the child of a first-generation-from-the-farm religious Mennonite family. I saw the rapacity of the Cossacks as they raided the villages of our ancestors. A history of violence that either was the result of state-sponsored violence, or mimicked it.
No wonder so many of us read Calvin and Hobbes with a barely suppressed desire to be like him.