The Nightmare of Development


In the fourth chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze offers his account of the development of the larval subject, the genesis of which unfolds like an embryo: always at the verge of dissolution, as the ongoing mutation of the quasi-formed in the sea of intensities (in A Thousand Plateaus, where these conceptual packages return with a mighty force, Deleuze writes that “[t]he organ changes when it crosses a threshold, when it changes gradient” – ATP, 153)). The passage in question:

The system is populated by subjects, both larval subjects and passive selves: passive selves because they are indistinguishable from the contemplation of couplings and and resonances; larval subjects because they are the supports or patients of the dynamisms. In effect, pure spatio-temporal, with its necessary participation in the forced movement, can be experienced only at the borders of the livable, under the conditions beyond which it would entail the death of any well-constituted subject endowed with independence and activity. Embryology already displays the truth that there are systematic vital movements, torsions and drifts, that only the embryo can sustain: an adult would be torn apart by them. There are movements by which only one can be a patient, but the patient in turn can only be a larva. Evolution does not take place in the open air, and only the involuted evolves. A nightmare is perhaps a psychic dynamism that could be sustained neither awake nor even in dreams, but only in profound sleep, in a dreamless sleep. In this sense, it is not even clear that thought, insofar as it constitutes the dynamism peculiar to philosophical systems, may be related to a substantial, completed, and well-constituted subject, such as the Cartesian Cogito: thought is, rather, one of those terrible movements which can only be sustained only under the conditions of a larval subject. (D&R, 114-115)

This likening of the experience of the subject to that of the development embryo, and then from the embryo to the nightmare, is an incredibly provocative constellation to be grappled with. It also forms a bridge between this work and Anti-Oedipus, where the notion of the nightmare returns again in relation to development, only this time it is long-range historical development, and the nightmare is the nightmare of flows. This injects into the framework the question of desire, which is always connected to that destabilizing forces that are capable of ‘tearing apart’ the “well-constituted subject”. Development, therefore, is situated between, on the one hand, the desire for dissolution or disequilibria, while on the other the blockage or “warding-off” of the free movement of flows.

… capitalism has haunted all forms of society, but it haunts them as their terrifying nightmare, it is the dread they feel of a flow that would elude their codes. (AO, 140)

Are we to believe that a universal Oedipus haunts all societies, but exactly as capitalism haunts them, that is to say, as the nightmare and the anxious foreboding of what might result from the decoding of flows and the collective disinvestment of organs, the becoming-abstract of the flows of desire, and the becoming-private of the organs? (AO, 144)

… the greatest danger would be yet another dispersion, a scission such that all the possibilities of coding would be suppressed: decoded flows, flowing on a blind, mute, deterritoriahzed socius—such is the nightmare that the primitive social machine exorcises with all its forces, and all its segmentary articulations. (AO, 154)

How can this nightmare be imagined: the invasion of the socius by noncoded flows that move like lava? An irrepressible wave of shit, as in the Fourbe myth; or the intense germinal influx, the this-side-of incest, as in the Yourougou myth, which introduces disorder into the world by acting as the representative of desire. (AO, 170)

… exchange is known, well known in the primitive socius—but as that which must be exorcised, encasted, severely restricted, so that no corresponding value can develop as an exchange value that would introduce the nightmare of a commodity economy. (AO, 186)

… Oedipus haunts all societies, but as the nightmare of something that has still not happened to them—its hour has not come. (AO, 217)

The movement of deterritorialization can never be grasped in itself, one can only grasp its indices in relation to the territorial representations. Take the example of dreams: yes, dreams are Oedipal, and this comes as no surprise, since dreams are a perverse reterritorialization in relation to the deterritorialization of sleep and nightmares. (AO, 316)

There’s a common critique of D&G, a dusty one that is cranked out regularity from the grim grad school carousal, that their project fails due to their inability to distinguish their visions of thought, individuation, and the unconscious – a vision that emerges from Difference and Repetition – from the functions of capitalism itself. What this critique fails to recognize that this is not something buried in the text capable of serving as a “gotcha!” – this is precisely what is brought to the surface by D&G, the very problematic that they wish to unveil.


10 thoughts on “The Nightmare of Development

  1. dmf

    “Are we to believe that a universal Oedipus haunts all societies, but exactly as capitalism haunts them, that is to say, as the nightmare and the ANXIOUS FOREBODING of what might result from the decoding of flows and the collective disinvestment of organs, the becoming-abstract of the flows of desire, and the becoming-private of the organs” this is the part that interests me about D&G is not that there is a Universal System(s) already in place but idea that we fear the coming unknown (the to come, or not, of the branch Derrideans) because of course there is no (and could be no) Universal System/Code in place (not in genetics, brain -functions, or economic), it remains tho an unfortunately Freudian formulation whereby we somehow register some truth/trauma but than repress/rework it, what we now know is that we are always already pre-judicing/pre-shaping our interactions with our environs (inside and out) and from desires for universal commandments/law, languages, to schemes of tech-surveillances (markets, smart cities, internet of things, etc) and machinations of prediction and control what we cannot even entertain (what isn’t even a real possibility on our radar) in any sustained way is not-knowing, not grasping, not having a solution or a fix at hand or in the works, the nightmare of development is that we will just keep on doing more and more of the same in some desperate attempt to keep things the same, to manufacture a future that is just more of the same until we use it all up.
    Poor Isabelle Stengers (a powerful reader of Deleuze in her own way) has pleaded in vain for a slow science and wailed and gnashed teeth over the against the return of the barbarians but the tellings of such witchy fore-sight are left for the staging of domesticated dramas and other soap-operas.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I guess the one quibble I would have with this is that while, yeah, D&G argue that history unfolds via contingency instead of necessity, it nonetheless comes to be regarded as a universal history once the capitalist mode has been instantiated and begun speeding towards globalization. They retain from Marx that sense that capitalism isn’t merely people doing things, but an abstraction (though not a mystification) that exerts a power or compulsion (and this is a perspective I’d like to continue with). That’s not to say that it enforces a uniformity across the board: yes, one could probably draw out structural parallels between capitalist states and legal forms even if the states remain wildly different, but this is a state that is within the capitalist mode of production, that reflects its class relations… capitalism is ultimately an improvisational system, and any social order is capable of falling into it insofar as it adopts the general equivalence, i.e. money-capital. Compulsion to repeat: “we will just keep on doing more and more of the same in some desperate attempt to keep things the same, to manufacture a future that is just more of the same until we use it all up”.

      Drawing that dynamic out, how the unending train of contingency arrived at the point in capitalism could emerge as the dominant force on the planet, is one of the things that continues to make that entire section of AO so indispensable, even today.

      Imo this is connected closely to the question of “what is to be done” – D&G aren’t posing a critique in which one stands on the outside and poses plans/solutions/agendas… Deleuze was far too Kantian for that – his own operations with Kant and the similarities between it and Marx’s treatment of the political economists are really instructive in this regard, the maneuver of immanent critique and internal transformation. It’s a challenge to see why people desire capitalism, how the ‘libidinal circuit’ operates without being hijacked or mystified, and how this relates to capitalism as a force of intense creativity as much as immense destruction. I’m not sure if I’ve seen this actually dealt with outside of a handful of points in Mark Fisher’s work, and the way he sets it up in his late essay on Post-Capitalist Desire (afaict it can only be found in the Fisher-Function booklet) is quite stunning. Like you I’m completely skeptical of any major overarching plan or decision or solution to transform the system (a skepticism that is shared, I think, by Marx and D&G in their own respective ways), but I think he was moving in a truly novel direction.


      1. dmf

        yes I get that they couldn’t entirely shake the jones for order/structuralism (one sees it in folks like Bifo and his in vain desire for collective consciousnesses/desire and the like) which is why I made my comment about what I valued these days in their work, noting that as we see with Facebook and co. the best that cutting edge platformed AI can do at this point is to try and capture relatively small bits of attention and make some nudges in minute fractions (part of the need for monster-sized) of the pie/network that they can skim off and sell, you see this in the micro capitalizations on ultra fleeting trends in stock prices (again skimming fractions of pennies on massive scale) with machine-trading and in how chains like Walmart and Dollar Store suck the life out of small communities before moving on, as Saskia Sassen and others have noted extraction/expulsion is the trend, take what is vital/valuable and leave the rotting hulk for the rest of us to live with in the ever expanding sacrifice zones, part of why I’m taken with parasites and trash dumps.
        See The Donald as a symptom of how the best our leading cities and banks can do is to build shell-games to serve the money laundered needs of oligarchs and other thugs to try and capture some ever elusive added income, or like in China build whole cities for ghosts.
        All to say they don’t have to be in all places and at all times to dominate and destroy just as a virus need not occupy all the organs to kill the organism/environs.

        “What will be born, what can be born in Poland, in the souls of a ruined and brutalized people when one day (in the future) the new order that has stifled the old one disappears and nothing follows” – asked Witold Gombrowicz about Poland after communism in his Diary of 1953. “


  2. dmf

    Aug 20
    “The University of Disaster will be founded not on knowledge, but on ‘non-knowledge’, on the poverty of knowledge and the humility of truth.”

    (Paul Virilio, in seminar, La Rochelle, France, April 2009


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