Ian Buchanan, The Incomplete Project of Schizoanalysis: Collected Essays on Deleuze and Guattari. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2021; 334 pages. 978-1474487894. 

Reviewed by Robert Luzecky, George Mason University.

In The Incomplete Project of Schizoanalysis, Ian Buchanan offers a timely meditation on some of the most important events of our tumultuous age. The text is not slight. The pace of Buchanan’s argument is brisk; its ambit is broad. There are twenty chapters, which are grouped into five sections. These are arranged by theme: Method, Film, Space, Analysis, and Assemblages. In addition to being essential reading for all who are fascinated with the promise of Deleuze’s and Guattari’s philosophical project, this book is of interest to academics and students across a wide range of academic disciplines.

The most substantial claims of the first sections are clarifications of the natures of schizoanalysis and the “body without organs.” Buchanan cautiously observes that it is notoriously difficult to render an exact determination of the nature of schizoanalysis, partially because it is a non-reductive method that could be used to elaborate on a vast plurality of phenomena, concepts, and problems. Here, a comparison between Freudian analysis and schizoanalysis is illuminating. For Freud, Little Hans’s agoraphobia may be reduced to an Oedipal fantasy; the cause of Hans’s fear may be reduced to the putative loathing he feels in response to his father’s authority. Drawing on concepts from Proust, Nietzsche, Marx, and the Dadaists alike, Buchanan observes that schizoanalysis may be characterized as “meta-modelling” of complex, dynamic systems. If the analysis of Little Hans is representative of Freudian reduction, then Proustian expansiveness is expressive of schizoanalysis. Here, one cannot help but think of the seemingly limitless associations conjured by Proust’s narrator’s encounters with madeleines and lilac tea. The suggestion seems to be that each event involves the possibility of forming a plurality of relations, each one of which is productive of a multiplicity of immaterial affects—e.g., the memories of Combray, the plurality qualities associated with the spectacle of the Berma’s performance of Racine’s Phèdre, the seemingly limitless nostalgia evoked by the train leaving a station, etc. Generalizing from these Proustian examples, Buchanan observes that schizoanalysis involves an open-ended, affective association of forces.

Buchanan observes that the body without organs is a crucial element of the process of schizoanalysis. (41) This is no small claim, if for no other reason than the meaning Deleuze and Guattari associate with the body without organs—as well as the conceptually similar line of flight, plane of consistency, plane of immanence, rhizome, etc.—tends to shift throughout their published works. In one of the book’s more pointed moments, Buchanan observes that the body without organs is precisely not a feedback loop of reciprocal determinations of entities comprehended by the same ontological domain. (197) Borrowing from Bergson’s phenomenology, Buchanan observes that the body without organs is a complex multiplicity that involves different phases, each of which obtains as either virtual or actual. The virtual phase of the body without organs involves an ongoing process of incorporeal transformations among non-individuated (but analytically separable) forces; in this sense, the virtual body without organs is an ontogenetic multiplicity made of mutually implicated forces, which are bereft of the material predicates enjoyed by actual entities. The other phase of the body without organs involves the immanent expression of these forces as actualized (or realized) elements of a dynamically evolving assemblage. In concrete terms, the body without organs is a multiplicity that enjoys a plurality of functions on different ontological planes.

Buchanan further suggests that the implied inconsistency of the concept is diminished with the recognition that the identity of the body without organs evolves relative to its function. At first blush, the function of the body without organs seems to be wholly negative. Deleuze and Guattari explicitly point out that “the body without organs presents its smooth, slippery, opaque taut surface as a barrier. In order to resist linked, connected, and uninterrupted flows it sets up a counter-flow of amorphous, undifferentiated fluid” (Anti-Oedipus, 9). The claim here seems to be that the body without organs acts as a dynamic limit to the formation of relations among a strikingly diverse array of aspects—any entity that enjoys spatiotemporal extension, all immanently realized thought objects, any actualized phenomenon. The comprehensive nature of the body without organs implies that it may involve affirmative aspects. It might be suggested that the positive function of the body without organs is expressed in its actualizations. In one of the most nuanced observations of his book, Buchanan observes that the body without organs enjoys expression as a generalized sentiment of love, a universally actualized ongoing affirmation, which conjures fleeting affiliations that—despite all their fragility—promise modification of the whole of reality. (53)

Buchanan continues his clarification of the natures of schizoanalysis and the body without organs in his sections on film and space. A film—identified as an assemblage of mutually implicated technical, ontological, and axiological aspects, which function to produce a gamut of immaterial affects—may be considered to be a body without organs. This implies that movies are an ideal subject for schizoanalysis. Buchanan elaborates on the schizoanalysis of cinema through identifying five associated theses: (1) a proper schizoanalysis of cinema relies on understanding of the whole of Deleuze’s philosophical project; (2) the objects of schizoanalysis of cinema are properly cinematic concepts and the capacities of these to modify the cinematic artform; (3) the schizoanalysis of film should be open to elaborating on artistic innovations in mainstream, commercially successful films, as well as those moments of preternatural beauty expressed in “art-house” films; (4) schizoanalysis of cinema should elaborate on those filmic moments that make the cinema such a dynamically evolving artform; (5) schizoanalysis of cinema involves characterizing cinema as an expression of desire. (63) This final thesis may be restated: cinema functions as a synthetic process that creates qualitative differences that utterly transfix the viewer. Taken together, these five propositions suggest subtly modifying the field of academic cinema studies so that it includes a more robust exploration of the myriad of ways that cinematic art continues to delight us with its beguiling capacities to alter our sense of reality.

The third thematic section of the book involves some of Buchanan’s most explicitly political remarks. Here Buchanan develops a complex axiomatic to elaborate on Deleuze’s and Guattari’s chilling claims about the “the worldwide war machine” though reference to (primarily) American militaristic responses to threats to global capitalist hegemony. With the first axiom of their nomadology, Deleuze and Guattari develop Pierre Clastres’s suggestion that aspects of society are excluded from—and explicitly hostile toward—the State. (State, 189-218; Plateaus, 351). Echoing a point first made by Marx, Buchanan observes that the capitalist axiomatic involves the tendency to be infinitely expansive: “In search of new sources of capital, capitalism willingly invades the underdeveloped regions of the world so it can build and operate factories unburdened by high taxes and labour and environmental restrictions.” (129) One might think that the limitless growth of the markets—even though it is buoyed by the near-deafening jingoistic clamour associated with the ubiquitous neoliberal celebrations of progress, improved efficiency, corporate “right-sizing”, etc.—might not be such a terrible state of affairs. Were this only the case. The fever-dream of capitalist expansion never fulfils its utopian promise. Buchanan soberly notes that the worldwide war-machine of capitalism “consigns to the scrap heap entire industries and the jobs and lives dependent upon them in the First World if the profit and loss statement no longer appeals to the shareholders.” (129) The message could hardly be less ambiguous: capitalism—enforced by military interventions in the forms of direct conflict or the ever-lingering threat of crackdowns by paramilitary police forces—is a cancer which destroys nations and persons alike.

With the fourth and fifth sections of his text, Buchannan lays the groundwork for future applications of the schizoanalytic method. In “Schizoanalysis and the Internet,” Buchanan specifies what could be the beginning of a Deleuzian philosophy of technology. Perhaps the most interesting observation of these pages is that the internet is akin to a rhizomatic structure—i.e., a non-localizable, evolving assemblage of mutually-implicated aspects. This implies that the internet is a species of the body without organs. This identification is essential to all who are interested in the nature and function of AI, as well as who elaborate on how big data transforms human consciousness and society.

In one particularly fascinating chapter, Buchanan elaborates on the complex relationship between Deleuze’s and Guattari’s thought, and the ideas expressed in Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. How might we create an educational system which functions to give people the ability to liberate themselves from a lived experience that tends to involve intellectual, economic, and material servitude? There is scarcely a more important question for all those who are affiliated with academic departments that are under constant threat of being shuttered (or right-sized) in the name of profit-driven anti-intellectualism.

The incompleteness of the project of schizoanalysis is a consequent of its wide application. It is difficult to think of a field of academic study that would not benefit from incorporating the method of schizoanalysis. One might even be tempted to think that the aim of Buchanan’s book might be to specify the method of a new field of academic investigation. This book should be in the library of everyone who seeks apt diagnoses and bold remedies to the problems that diminish our shared lived experience.

Additional Works Cited

Pierre Clastres (1989), Society Against the State, Robert Hurley and Abe Stein (trs.) (New York: Zone Books).

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1983), Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane (trs.) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987), A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Brian Massumi (tr.), (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press).