The problem of the body in Deleuze and Guattari, or, what can a body do?



Publication Details

Buchanan, I. 1997, 'The problem of the body in Deleuze and Guattari, or, what can a body do?', Body and Society, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 73-91.


The infamous and by now well-known distinction Deleuze and Guattari draw between the organism, or organic body, and the inorganic matrix they call the body without organs, has been the cause of much confusion, as well as anxiety and outrage. The confusion, and hence much of the anxiety, stems, I believe, from a mistaken perception that because bodies and bodies without organs are both examples of what Deleuze and Guattari call assemblages, which effectively means neither have what is traditionally known as organs, there must not be any real difference between the two notions. The error is further compounded when the body without organs is taken to be baseline for all that Deleuze and Guattari subsequently say about bodies. Although it is perhaps too finely drawn, the distinction between bodies in general and bodies without organs is, however, absolutely crucial to their actual use of this concept to explain the practices of masochists, drug addicts, anorexics and so on. As I will show, logically, the body without organs cannot be the basis of Deleuze and Guattari's understanding of the body, because it is in fact a consequence of it. As such, we cannot get to the heart of Deleuze and Guattari's theory of the body by taking the body without organs (BwO) as our starting point. Instead, we need to begin with the philosophical problem from which their constructivist account of the body actually derives, namely the Spinozist question: what can a body do?

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