The clutter assemblage



Publication Details

Buchanan, I. M. 2011, 'The clutter assemblage', DRAIN Journal of Contemporary Art and Culture, no. 14, pp. 1-7.


In a short but intriguing essay entitled “Clutter: A Case History”, Welsh psychoanalyst Adam Phillips asks what clutter – e.g., a messy bedroom, an untidy studio, a disorganised desk, and so on – might mean, or rather ‘do’, for the person doing the cluttering. For Phillips, the questions ‘what does clutter mean?’ and ‘what does clutter do?’ are related, obviously, but also distinct, and one senses that he shares Deleuze and Guattari’s view, or at least intuits the substance of their argument, that one can only properly engage the second question by first of all renouncing the first. [1] Psychoanalysis, especially but not exclusively its British, empirical strain, is, Phillips observes, curiously ambivalent about disorder, or what he prefers to call clutter. Virtually all its “categories of pathology” are, as Phillips puts it, “fantasies of disorder”, yet its critical language “repudiates chaos” as its basic duty. [2] On the one hand, psychoanalysis is professionally fascinated by instances of disorder and is constantly on the alert for slips of the tongue, tics, compulsions, anything that might be construed as betraying a second order of psychical activity; yet, on the other hand, it cannot accept that disorder really is what it appears to be, it must uncover the hidden pattern, the secret order that renders the slips of the tongue, the tics, the compulsions, and so on, legible. What it cannot countenance, then, is the idea that clutter might be meaningless and still purposeful. The conflict between these two questions, ‘what does it mean?’ and ‘what does it do?’, pushes contemporary psychoanalysts like Phillips in a similar direction to Deleuze and Guattari’s work.

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