Univocity and Structuralism (Part 1)

by Beth Metcalf


When Deleuze writes with Guattari we are given the unmistakable impression that they are critical of structuralism.  So, why does it seem that Deleuze, when writing solo, speaks favorably about structuralism?  On the one hand Deleuze, in his article ‘How Do We Recognize Structuralism?’ describes criteria whereby it seems he would include himself as a structuralist.  In ‘Logic of Sense’ p. 71-3, Deleuze describes what “structuralists” have in common: ‘sense’ as surface effect produced by circulation of an empty square in the structural series.  On the other hand, Deleuze and Guattari write critically about structuralism.  For example they say, (‘A Thousand Plateaus’ p. 237) “Structuralism clearly does not account for becomings, since it is designed precisely to deny or at least denigrate their existence: a correspondence of relations does not add up to a becoming…..” 


How is this to be explained?  This apparent inconsistency has brought about a debate as to whether Deleuze is a structuralist or not.  Did Deleuze change his mind over time?  Was Deleuze at first a structuralist who later came to see the error of his ways when he joined forces with Guattari?  Is Deleuze being consistent?  When asking this question of consistency, we must remember that Deleuze and Guattari said, (ATP p144) “consistency is neither totalizing nor structuring; rather, it is deterritorializing”.  We must find the deterritorialization of the problem in order to find Deleuze’s consistency which is neither structuring nor totalizing. 


In regard to this question of consistency, perhaps we can find a clue by noticing the criticism that Deleuze and Guattari level against the binary logic of arborescent thought.  The structuralist “biunivocal” relationship between signified and signifier does not escape that criticism.  (ATP5) “The binary logic of dichotomy has simply been replaced by biunivocal relationships between successive circles.  The pivotal taproot provides no better understanding of multiplicity than the dichotomous root.  One operates in the object, the other in the subject.  Binary logical and biunivocal relationships still dominate psychoanalysis….linguistics, structuralism….”  Deleuze and Guattari describe this biunivocalization as the transcendence of the Despotic Signifier.  (Anti-Oedipus p207-9)  “In short, the signifier appears twice, once in the chain of elements in relation to which the signified is always a signifier for another signifier, and a second time in the detached object on which the whole of the chain depends, and that spreads over the chain the effects of signification….” 


Therefore, Deleuze and Guattari see the biunivocaliztion of structuralism as that kind of totalizing “consistency” that is not that deterritorializing consistency of univocity.  (AO 305-11) “….representation, when it ceases to be objective, when it becomes subjective infinite--that is to say, imaginary—effectively loses all consistency, unless it is supported by a structure….”  This is the structuring and totalizing consistency of the biunivocal relationship.  Psychoanalysis refers to a unity that distributes lack in a transcendent structure.  “All former beliefs are gathered up and revived in the name of a structure of the unconscious: we are still pious.  Everywhere the great game of the symbolic signifier that is embodied in the signifieds of the Imaginary—Oedipus as a universal metaphor.”  There are two poles of biunivocalizing subjective representation: infinite imaginary and finite structural.  With this biunivocalizing relationship, there is “nothing left but images that revolve within the infinite subjective representation.  We will muster all our strength so as to believe in these images, from the depths of a structure that governs our relationships with them and our identifications as so many effects of a symbolic signifier.”  Therefore, no matter how the structuralist may try to produce sense by the circulation of an empty square, there will always still be only the image fortified by a structure that distributes lack.


(AO 305-11) However, Deleuze and Guattari say that Lacan points in a completely different direction.  He is not caught up in the biunivocalizing relation between the Imaginary and the Symbolic.  He points toward a “reverse side” of structure.  “This reverse side is the “real inorganization” of the molecular elements: partial objects….since they are not partial in the sense of extensive parts, but rather partial like the intensities under which a unit of matter always fills space in varying degrees….pure positive multiplicities where everything is possible….since this matter that serves them precisely as a support receives no specificity from any structural or personal unity, but appears as the body without organs that fills the space each time an intensity fills it….” 


Therefore, the biunivocal relationship of structuralism never reaches the reverse side of the intensive forces of univocity.  Univoctiy is nothing like a structuring ideology of lack.  Whereas the partial objects of structuralism are extensive, the partial objects of univocity are intensive multiplicities that lack nothing.  Structural forces of extensity can divide without any change in nature.  They are the forces in which difference is cancelled.  But Univocity reaches the ‘reverse side’.  Univocity includes the intensive forces that cannot divide without changing nature, reaching new degrees of intensive singularity.  Only intensive forces change nature that allows real disparate difference to be actualized in extensity each time. 


(AO 310) “Here too Lacan’s approach appears in all its complexity; for it is certain that he does not enclose the unconscious in an Oedipal structure.  He shows on the contrary that Oedipus is imaginary, nothing but an image, a myth; that this or these images are produced by an oedipalizing structure; that this structure acts only insofar as it reproduces the element of castration, which itself is not imaginary but symbolic.”  Lacan, in working to overthrow the Oedipal/Imaginary, regresses to symbolic biunivocalization.  However, Deleuze and Guattari see this regression as leading to the point of Lacan’s self-critique.  This autocritique shows how the “structural organization of signifiers [i.e. buiunivocalization] still depends on a despotic Great Signifier…”  This self-critique is the point where (according the Deleuze and Guattari) a “reverse side” of structure is revealed.  This reverse side is not imaginary or symbolic.  It is real.  “The unconscious is not figurative….It is not structural, nor is it symbolic, for its reality is that of the Real in its very production, in its very inorganization.”  (AO 328) “….in Lacan, the symbolic organization of the structure, with its exclusions that come from the function of the signifier, has as its reverse side the real inorganization of desire.”


Why do Deleuze and Guattari see this as Lacan’s “autocritique”?  They say, (AO 217) “And isn’t this the strength of Lacan, to have saved psychoanalysis from the frenzied oedipalization to which it was linking its fate—to have brought about this salvation even at the price of a regression, and even though it meant that unconscious would be kept under the weight of the despotic apparatus….”  Deleuze and Guattari call this Lacan’s “autocritique” because they see Lacan as still linked to a despotic regression.  But that regression is the very point that brings Lacan to autocritique, thereby pointing toward a reverse side of structure.  This reverse side of structure is that intensive side included only in univocity. 


Is this not why Guattari, in his solo writings, so strongly criticizes Lacan’s structuralism?  Is he not merely joining Lacan in his autocritique?  But how many of Lacan’s disciples have understood this point of autocritique?  How many of Lacan’s disciples see Deleuze, at least in his solo writings, as merely a structuralist without any critique of structuralism?  How many of Lacan’s disciples reach an understanding of the reverse side of structure?  And can it be said that Lacan himself clearly saw that reverse side toward which (according to Deleuze and Guattari) his autocritique pointed?


(AO 83) “The object (small o) erupts at the heart of the structural equilibrium in the manner of an infernal machine, the desiring-machine.  Then a second generation of disciples of Lacan supervenes, less and less sensitive to the false problems of Oedipus.  But if the first disciples were tempted to reclose the Oedipus yoke, didn’t they do so to the extent that Lacan seemed to maintain a kind of projection of the signifying chains onto a despotic signifier, lacking unto itself and reintroducing lack into the series of desire on which it imposed an exclusive use?  Was it possible to denounce Oedipus-as-myth, and nevertheless maintain that the castration complex itself was not a myth but in fact something real?”  In other words, was it possible for Lacan to denounce the imaginary---biunivocalizing and overcoding it in a symbolic structure---coming to the point of autocritique of that structure---while still calling that structure real?


Lacan’s object (small o) points toward the intensity that breaks the totalizing structure.  Yet he still works at the level of signified/signifier.  Doesn’t this say that, whereas Deleuze and Guattari see Lacan’s autocritique as pointing toward the reverse side of structure; they also see that Lacan was never really able to separate himself from his structural distribution of lack?  Whereas Deleuze and Guattari see structuralism as the circulation of an empty square that produces sense, Lacan never quite reaches the point (even if he may have pointed toward it) of seeing sense as a verb.  He still saw sense as the attribute of a generalizing structure which distributed lack through the despotism of the Signifier.  His autocritique may have pointed toward intensive partial objects, but his structural forces were never able to reach it.


(AO 83) “The true difference in nature is not between the Symbolic and the Imaginary, but between the real machinic element, which constitutes desiring-production, and the structural whole of the Imaginary and the Symbolic….The difference is….between the anoedipal use of the inclusive, nonrestrictive disjunctions, and the Oedipal use of exclusive disjunctions, whether this last use borrows from the paths of the Imaginary or the values of the Symbolic.”  (AO 53) “For the unconscious itself is no more structural than personal, it does not symbolize any more than it imagines or represents; it engineers, it is machinic.  Neither imaginary nor symbolic, it is the Real in itself, the “impossible real” and its production.”


The reverse side of structure (which escapes biunivocalization and is included in univocity) is that which Hjelmslev finds by substituting the heterogeneity of content and expression for the relationship between signified and signifier.  (AO 243) “Far from being an overdetermination of structuralism and its fondness for the signifier, Hjelmslev’s linguistics implies the concerted destruction of the signifier, and constitutes a decoded theory of language…”  In LoS p73, Deleuze says, “Today’s task is to make the empty square circulate….to produce sense.”  Today, the intensity of Deleuze’s univocity produces circulation through decoding and deterritorialization.  The circulation of the empty square is no longer symbolic.  It is real.  Difference and Repetition’ p209, “The reality of the virtual is structure.  We must avoid giving the elements and relations which form a structure an actuality which they do not have, and withdrawing from them a reality which they do have.”


Univocity is external relations of intensive partial objects.  The whole must not be confused with a closed set of objects that change their relational positions in space.  Partial objects are not closed sets.  Rather through external relations, intensive partial objects change qualitatively.  Partial objects cannot divide without changing qualitatively at each state of division.  A partial object is an intensity that embeds itself in another to form a new partial object changing qualitatively at each degree of singularity.       


This reverse side of structure included in the univocity of partial objects never refers to a unity or totality lost or yet to come.  Partial objects are multiplicities without lack.  Structure is no longer thought to be constituted by extensive relational forces.  Partial objects are always intensities that break and emit flows.  (AO326-7) “Partial objects are the direct powers of the body without organs, and the body without organs, the raw material of the partial objects.  The body without organs is the matter that always fills space to given degrees of intensity, and the partial objects are these degrees, these intensive parts that produce the real in space starting from matter as intensity=0.  The body without organs is the immanent substance, in the most Spinozist sense of the word; and the partial objects are like its ultimate attributes, which belong to it precisely insofar as they are really distinct and cannot on this account exclude or oppose one another.”


Univocity includes intensive becomings.  (ATP 237-9)  “Structuralism clearly does not account for these becomings….a correspondence of relations does not add up to a becoming…..a becoming is not a [symbolic] correspondence between relations.  But neither is it [an imaginary] resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification…..They [becomings] are perfectly real……What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes….a becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself…. Becoming is always of a different order than filiation.  It concerns alliances…..Becoming is a verb with a consistency all its own…” 


In what sense does Deleuze enter into a becoming with structuralism?  In what sense does Deleuze (along with Guattari) go beyond structuralism?  I have tried to show that Deleuze enters into a machinic becoming with structuralism because he reaches the intensity of univocity.  It is only univocity that can account for ‘becomings’ in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari are using the term.  Deleuze, in accordance with his univocity, affirms structuralism by finding a ‘common notion’ (a common degree of intensity) with it.  He enters into a machinic becoming with structuralism.  So, there is both the affirmation and the critique of structuralism; because, univocity is immediately affirmation and critique. 


At the end of ‘How Do We Recognize Structuralism’ Deleuze tells us why he is not against structuralism, “No book against anything ever has any importance; all that counts are books for something, and that know how to produce it.”  So we cannot say that Deleuze is against structuralism.  His univocity of affirmation shares ‘common notions’ with structuralism.  He enters into a ‘becoming’ with it.  His own thought finds echoes in the seven criteria by which he recognizes structuralism, while adding the intensive dimension that changes the very nature of his own perspective on those criteria.  Deleuze creates a new concept with his “structuralism”.  He creates the concept of intensive univocity.  And one example of ‘intensity’ is the philosophical concept itself.  Concepts are the intensive and singular events of a philosophical plane of immanence.  Concepts are the intensities of philosophical thought.  As such, they have ‘inseparability’.  WiP p126, “the inseparability of variations is the distinctive characteristic of the unconditioned concept….”  Deleuze shares a common degree of intensity with traditional structuralism, but he creates a new concept of his own.  And as this concept is inseparable from his plane of immanence, it changes the whole nature of his “structuralism”.  He creates the concept of the intensive forces of univocity.  And in changing the intensive dimension of structuralism, he changes its very nature.  Deleuze’s is not traditional structuralism.  Rather, it is post-structuralism through the intensive forces of univocity. 


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