The Schizoanalytic Critique of Althusser on Ideology

This is the first installment of an essay on “Nomad Citizenship revisited” (announced and outlined in a post here at the beginning of February).

Deleuze and Guattari’s fundamental agreements with Althusser are numerous: the attempt to salvage Marxism from Hegelianism by drawing instead on Spinoza; the “Problematic” status of the economic as a virtual structure expressed and masked by actual solutions; the importance of the division of labor as social multiplicity (relative to class struggle); and the “becoming-necessary” of a mode of production as a result of machinic processes rather than as a point of departure.  Yet despite these fundamental areas of agreement, Deleuze and Guattari vehemently reject the notion of ideology – even the new and improved version Althusser proposed, drawing on Lacan, in his famous essay on Ideological State Apparatuses.  They rejected standard notions of ideology for overemphasizing cognition and ignoring the primacy of desire: ideology would not be an instance of “seeing is believing,” but of “believing (desiring) is seeing”: people see what they want to see, what they desire.  But Althusser’s Lacanian version of ideology does center on desire: desire as desire of the Other.  Althusser ingeniously redefines ideology as the constitution of the Subject through interpellation by what Zizek calls the “big Other” – a composite and ultimately fictitious figure based on such real-life authorities as fathers, teachers, preachers, leaders, the police, and the boss.  Crucial for Althusser is that all these figure-heads operate within various Ideological State Apparatuses, and these Apparatuses all align to reproduce the capitalist mode of production, which is the core function of the State.  While recognizing the preponderance of (usually State-run) school-systems in fulfilling this function, Althusser dramatizes the structure of ideology by staging a scene where the Subject emerges through interpellation by turning around when a police officer shouts “Hey you!”

Deleuze and Guattari would agree that a kind of chain of equivalence links the various figure-heads ranging from father to boss as Oedipal authorities, since the father’s authority within the Oedipus complex is itself derived from various forms of despotic authority within social institutions such as the church and the State to begin with.  But what Althusser actually describes is not the ideological constitution of the Subject, but only of the citizen.  This is most dramatically evident in the scene of interpellation with the policeman; but insofar as the function of ideology in all institutions is to reproduce (or challenge the reproduction of) the State, what Althusser indentifies as subjectivity is actually no more than citizenship.  Subjectivity is in fact far more polymorphous than this: the subject qua child, sibling, student, worker, hobbyist, parent, lifestyle-consumer – don’t all align on the citizen-subject, which exists alongside them rather than subsuming them.  The State is not, in other words, the “big Other” from which other instances derive, nor does it found or guarantee their coherence or alignment: just as much as the mode of production, the State only tends toward consistency or is always only becoming-necessary as a result of machinic processes which are themselves disparate, heterogeneous, multiple.  (This is to say, in a very different idiom, that subjectivity is always radically “intersectional”.)

Yet schizoanalysis never denies that the nuclear family contributes to the constitution of subjectivity.  What schizoanalysis does deny is that the nuclear family is the only or even the most important factor in the formation of subjectivity: rather, the family operates along with other institutions; indeed, it serves to relay determinations from these other institutions to emergent subjectivity in its earliest stages of formation (infancy-childhood).  And it also denies, perhaps even more importantly, the Oedipal precept that the relation to the Father or the name-of-the-Father is ultimately the most important axis of intersubjectivity within the nuclear family.  For placing the Oedipal Father at the core of the nuclear family privileges relations of obedience/disobedience in the constitution of subjectivity – precisely the relationship that is central to the Subject’s interpellation by the police and the other big Others in all of Althusser’s ISAs: citizen-subjects either consent or refuse to contribute to the reproduction of the mode of production at the behest of the State.  (Notice that the relationship to the big Other and the binary alternative obey/disobey situate the Father-relation predominantly in the Symbolic and Imaginary registers.)  What’s more, focusing on the Father obscures relations with the Mother, which Deleuze and Guattari consider more important and more fundamental.

Originary maternal relations are comprised not by the binary alternative between obeying and disobeying, but by an exceedingly complex admixture of pleasure and nourishment.  They are part-object relations situated in the body, rather than whole-object relations defined by meaning.  They are Real relations that subsist even while getting over-written in the Imaginary and Symbolic registers, and even when the placenta and then the breast get displaced by other, more worldly sources of nourishment and gratification, as the Subject moves beyond the nuclear family through other institutions such as school cafeterias, grocery stores, and restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and online dating sites – each and every one of which contributes in some degree to the polymorphous constitution of subjectivity.  And these institutions do so not by means of interpellation alone, but also by a process of “solicitation” or attraction promising some measure and form of nourishment and/or gratification, however attenuated, sublimated, varied or perverse.  So these originally “maternal” relations are not “pre-Oedipal” in any chronological sense: they remain in effect, as Real and as necessary, throughout life; in this sense, they are as much “post-Oedipal” as they are “pre-Oedipal”.  But in a more important sense, they are anti-Oedipal: as part-object relations, they defy all logics of identity and unification, denying the (Imaginary) authority of the big Other, the (Imaginary) coherence of the Symbolic order – and any (equally Imaginary) alignment of institutions on the sole State function of reproducing the mode of production.  In reality, then, Althusser’s “apparatuses” are neither ideological nor state-centric: what they constitute is not a citizen-subject – or not only a citizen-subject – but a polymorphous, intersectional, schizophrenic subject.

The next step will be to explore the dynamic of “interpellation/solicitation” within complex institutions operating without a big Other authority-figure, or whose operation involves forces and relations of which an authority-figure-head is merely an expression, a lightening-rod, and/or a mask.

nice David Harvey quote

A pleasant surprise to hear David Harvey recommending something akin to what I’ve called nomad citizenship and free-market communism.

David Harvey, “I’m skeptical about the idea of reforming neoliberalism” (complete interview translated) | My Desiring-Machines

“there are many reason to stop thinking of capital as a dominant form of production of goods and services that we make today and to begin to think of alternative structures that develop use values for the worldwide population, outside of capitalist accumulation to produce everything in order to make profits and accumulate wealth and power. I believe that is what we should think about.”

Naomi Klein’s latest

Meanwhile, I was pleased to see the distinction between major and minor used to parse Naomi Klein’s excellent book on neo-liberalism and climate change (This Changes Everything), in a New Inquiry blogpost (later reposted to  Here’s what I had to say in response (on It is great to see the major/minor distinction being used to good effect to highlight two axes of struggle against neoliberal-capitalist-induced climate change: grass-roots (often indigenous) social movements and governmental policy changes. It is a serious mistake, however, to cast them as “incommensurable” and to claim they cannot coexist. Faced with imminent crisis, we cannot afford anarchist purism (or what Foucault called “state-phobia”): as laudable as the withering away or elimination of the state is in the long run, unless we address climate change directly with all the collective means at our disposal, we probably won’t have a long run. I agree that the minor currents identified here are clearly preferable in theory, but we also need changes in public policy to be able to move quickly enough “beyond the ecocidal logic of endless growth, and with it beyond capitalism” to avoid climate catastrophe. Perhaps in an even more charitable reading, Out of the Woods might agree. On a side note, readings that are more or less charitable are one thing; accounts that are inaccurate or misleading are quite another. Readers should be aware that the question of whether it is “possible to be a real environmentalist if you d[on]’t have kids” does not arise from Klein’s own convictions, as suggested here, but on the contrary from a position she explicitly critiques and disavows. Invocations of “reproductive futurism” and a “politics of the baby’s face” suggest a kind of queer purism that we can’t afford, either. Breeders and non-breeders alike must be enlisted in the struggle against neo-liberalism if we are to have a fighting chance at successfully addressing climate change.

Nomad Citizenship revisited

I’m planning to write what would be in effect a “last chapter” to be added to my book on Nomad Citizenship. In that book, I argue that nomad citizens should self-organize in groups that constitute alternatives to state citizenship, in order to participate in markets and other forms of exchange that constitute alternatives to capitalist markets.  In this additional “chapter,” I propose ways that nomad citizens can intervene in existing institutions, in addition to forming nomad groups of their own.  The aim, in other words, is to develop a political theory of the institution, drawing on both schizoanalysis and nomadology.

My point of departure will be Althusser – for despite fundamental agreement with him on some issues, Deleuze & Guattari vehemently rejected the notion of ideology – even the improved version Althusser developed in his famous essay on Ideological State Apparatuses.  For Deleuze & Guattari such “apparatuses” or institutions belong to neither ideology nor the state, and the aim of this paper is to show why Deleuze & Guattari reject ideology in favor of institutions, and how a political theory of the institution emerges from the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia that stimulates creativity rather than disobedience and promotes productive action rather than mere resistance.

The first step will be to show how the early Althusser’s locating ideology in the construction of the subject oedipalizes the latter through obedience to the law (thematized but not critiqued by Butler), whereas the pre-oedipal fractured self gets constituted in relation to the part-object Real and the post-oedipal subject gets constituted in relation to a fractured Symbolic order, whose supposed authority the schizophrenic subject denies. (The fractured Symbolic order is akin to Derrida’s non-centered structure.)

Against the kind of personification involved in subject-construction according to Sartre, Lacan, and Levinas, the schizophrenic subject is thus not constituted in relation to a person or even the figure of a person (police officer, sujet-supposé-savoir), but in relation to an assemblage or situation, which includes people but also includes things, material processes, and institutional arrangements.  The authority denied to the Symbolic Other gets displaced onto situations or institutions, which (as political theorist Mary Parker Follett has argued) contain authority immanently as formations of “related difference” (nomadic multiplicities).  This is akin to Badiou’s construction of the subject in fidelity to an Event – except that for Deleuze & Guattari such events are not rare, they are ubiquitous: they are called becomings.  Productive schizophrenic subjectivity [nomad citizenship] is constituted in relation to (some of) the becomings inherent in any situation.

The second step will be to show (in line with Gibson-Graham’s work) that fracturing the Symbolic order explodes the mode of production (featured in the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia) into machinic processes: in the second volume, the mode of production is determined by machinic processes rather than the other way around.  In line with late Althusser, the question for a mode of production is always whether a given set of machinic processes, institutional arrangements and corresponding subjective roles maintains sufficient consistency for the mode to reproduce itself.  Lyotard’s postmodern condition entails a similarly fractured Symbolic order, in which machinic processes and institutions are construed in terms of “language-games”.

The final step will be to show that institutions as social machines are susceptible to change not by moves that merely repeat norms differently (Butler’s transgression, parody – mere disobedience) but by moves that change the rules of the language-game itself and thereby actually break institutional bad habits and create new ones, as Roberto Unger recommends in order to “realize democracy”.  Most institutions tend to secrete a transcendent model of organization (or self-preservation) which “fixes” the organization and reduces experimentation to almost zero, making the practices serve the organization rather than the other way around (“alienation”).  Nomadic groups keep organization subordinate to process, by diminishing the ordinary moves by which we reproduce institutions in favor of extraordinary moves by which we can continually change them, or “put them to flight” in a productive sense.

I welcome feedback, questions, and suggestions as I work through the development of this argument.