Body without organs
The Body without organs is an image used by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It usually refers to the deeper reality underlying some well-formed whole constructed from fully functioning parts. At the same time, it may also describe a relationship to one's literal body.
Deleuze began using the term in The Logic of Sense (1969), while discussing the experiences of playwright Antonin Artaud. "Body without Organs" (or "BwO") later became a major part of the vocabulary for Capitalism and Schizophrenia, two volumes (Anti-Oedipus  and A Thousand Plateaus ) written collaboratively with Félix Guattari. In these works, the term took on an expanded meaning, referring variously to literal bodies and to a certain perspective on realities of any type. The term's overloaded meaning is provocative, perhaps intentionally.
The term originates from Antonin Artaud's radio play To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947):
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.
Deleuze first mentions the phrase in a chapter of The Logic of Sense called "The Schizophrenic and the Little Girl", which contrasts two distinct and peripheral ways of encountering the world. The Little Girl (whose exemplar is Alice), explores a world of 'surfaces': the shifting realm of social appearances and nonsense words which nevertheless seem to function. The Schizophrenic (whose exemplar is Artaud) is by contrast an explorer of 'depths', one who rejects the surface entirely and returns instead to the body.
For the Schizophrenic, words collapse, not into nonsense, but into the bodies that produce and hear them. Deleuze refers to "a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission (the superior body or body without organs of Antonin Artaud)." This body is also described as "howling," speaking a "language without articulation" that has more to do with the primal act of making sound than it does with communicating specific words.
Capitalism and Schizophrenia
In Deleuze and Guattari's collaboration, the term describes an undifferentiated, unhierarchical realm that lies deeper than the world of appearances. It relates to the proto-world described in the mythology of many different cultures. Deleuze and Guattari often use the example of the Dogon egg, based primarily on anthropological reports from Marcel Griaule. Describing the Dogon story of the origins of the cosmos, Griaule writes:
These primordial movements are conceived in terms of an ovoid form—'the egg of the world' (aduno tal)—within which lie, already differentiated, the germs of things; in consequence of the spiral movement of extension the germs develop first in seven segments of increasing length, representing the seven fundamental seeds of cultivation, which are to be found again in the human body [...]
According to Griaule, the basic patterns of organization within the egg reappear within all domains of Dogon life: kinship structures, village layout, understanding of the body, and so forth. The egg metaphor helps to suggest the gestation of a formation yet to come, and the potential formation of many actualities from a single origin.
In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari expand the Body without Organs image by comparing its real potentials to the egg's :
The body without organs is an egg: it is crisscrossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings, the destinations of the subject developing along these particular vectors.
For Deleuze and Guattari, every actual body has a limited set of traits, habits, movements, affects, etc. But every actual body also has a virtual dimension: a vast reservoir of potential traits, connections, affects, movements, etc. This collection of potentials is what Deleuze calls the BwO. To "make oneself a body without organs," then, is to actively experiment with oneself to draw out and activate these virtual potentials. These potentials are mostly activated (or "actualized") through conjunctions with other bodies (or BwOs) that Deleuze calls "becomings."
Deleuze and Guattari use the term BwO in an extended sense, to refer to the virtual dimension of reality in general (which they more often call "plane of consistency" or "plane of immanence"). In this sense, they speak of a BwO of "the earth." "The Earth," they write, "is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles" (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 40). That is, we usually think of the world as composed of relatively stable entities ("bodies," beings). But these bodies are really composed of sets of flows moving at various speeds (rocks and mountains as very slow-moving flows; living things as flows of biological material through developmental systems; language as flows of information, words, etc.). This fluid substratum is what Deleuze calls the BwO in a general sense.
A Thousand Plateaus
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari eventually differentiate between three kinds of BwO: cancerous, empty, and full. Roughly, the empty BwO is the BwO of Anti-Oedipus. This BwO is also described as "catatonic" because it is completely de-organ-ized; all flows pass through it freely, with no stopping, and no directing. Even though any form of desire can be produced on it, the empty BwO is non-productive. The full BwO is the healthy BwO; it is productive, but not petrified in its organ-ization. The cancerous BwO is caught in a pattern of endless reproduction of the self-same pattern. They give a rough recipe for building yourself a healthy BwO:
This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continua of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a BwO.
Deleuze and Guattari suggest restraint here, writing that drug addicts and masochists may come closer to truly possessing bodies without organs—and die as a result. The 'healthy BwO' thus envisions the actual body without organs as a horizon, not a goal.
- Colombat, André Pierre (1991). "A Thousand Trails to Work with Deleuze". SubStance (66). "The juxtaposition of these two incompatible fields and explanations creates a non-sense, an excess of sense, that puts in motion the intellect and the imagination of the reader."
- Antonin Artaud. "To Have Done with the Judgment of God" in Selected Writings. Susan Sontag (ed). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976, p. 571. OCLC 473004317
- Deleuze & Guattari, The Logic of Sense, p. 101
- Deleuze & Guattari, The Logic of Sense, p. 102
- Colebrook, Claire (2002). Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865087971.
- Marcel Griaule; Germaine Dieterlen (1954) . "The Dogon". In Cyril Daryll Forde. African worlds; studies in the cosmological ideas and social values of African peoples. LIT Verlag. p. 84. ISBN 3825830861.
- Buchanan, Ian (1 September 1997). "The Problem of the Body in Deleuze and Guattari, Or, What Can a Body Do?". Body & Society 3 (73): 73–91. doi:10.1177/1357034X97003003004. Retrieved 31 August 2012. "Through their activities, the masochist, the anorexic or alcoholic, reduces his or her capacity for affection. Accordingly, their plateau of intensity, which is singular, and therefore incapable of making new connections or entering into new compositions, is reactive, deadly. The body, in other words, is not and cannot be a body without organs, but must forever grapple with the BwO as its conduit to the real."
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