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An Introduction to Schizoanalysis

By A.T. Kingsmith.


Why do the people fight for their own servitude as stubbornly as if it were their salvation? Such an arresting question was first posed by unconventional psychoanalyst William Reich in his 1933 book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism. In the book, Reich makes the case that psychic repression depends on social oppression, and as a result, the modern conception of the fascist state has been taken up not by sinister external forces but internally, by the masses themselves.

In a democratic society, ostensibly, the principles of an idea or a political movement can only be successful if their program bears a close resemblance to the boilerplate expectations of a broad category of individuals. Take the recent rise of far right reactionaries in Western Europe and the United States: someone like Donald Trump is successful precisely because the psychological structures of the American electorate currently coincide with those of Trump and his ideologies.

According to Reich, the masses have not been deceived by someone like Trump, they desire his rhetorical fascistic discourse, and that is exactly what needs to be explained. In an attempt to do so, Reich develops an entirely different way of exploring political control—what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the first truly ‘materialist psychiatry.’ For Reich’s work concerns itself first and foremost with the psycho-somatic structures that make fascism possible at the outset, and then only secondarily, does he turn to the issue of fascism as a subject for political discourse.

What this means psycho-politically is that the success of a political movement or revolution are dependent on a precedent revolution of the psyche. After all, to tear down a factory or revolt against a government is to attack the effects of fascism rather than causes, and as long as any attack is focused solely on effects, no structural political change is possible. For Reich, what is truly fascistic is our present construction of systematic thought, of ‘rationality’ itself. If a factory is torn down, but the rationality that produced it is left standing, we will simply produce another factory. If a political revolution overthrows a despot, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced the despot remain, those patterns will repeat themselves in a succeeding government.

Consider the example of surveillance: the Wikileaks’ Cablegate, the Snowden Documents, the Afghanistan War Logs, the recent Panama Papers—if massive leaks such as these are any indication, the present construction of systematic thought alluded to by Reich operates in a highly securitised and surveilled political climate—a diffuse matrix of new information gathering algorithms, where our information is tracked and then ordered into categories of acceptable or unacceptable activities. We know that we are always being tracked—touch off enough markers in Internet activity by going to certain sites or using certain words and you will be placed on a ‘watchlist.’ Rather than being spurred into anxiety by this unnerving realisation, the vast majority of us ‘choose’ to ignore it, to continue on with existence as ‘usual’ and as a result, we tacitly give our endorsement to the notion that those who are breaking the rules will be brought to ‘justice.’

Inadmissible behaviours are largely unrecognised as existing, or situated under the category of the ‘criminal,’ a concept we rarely take the time to call into question. As a result, a divide is created—a class that falls outside the ‘we’ who have freedom—and deep thought about the shared subjectivity of these ‘categories’ is strongly discouraged. We are under control precisely to the extent we think of those subjugated to the effects of power as anything other than ‘us.’

By rendering the world in this way, our society of control maintains an illusion of freedom. We are ‘free’ to say and do what we want—within pre-circumscribed desires. Since the only forms of speech prohibited in the public discourse are radical indictments of our political system and calls to ‘terrorist’ or insurrectionary action, most of us fall within such parameters without even thinking about it, and so experience ourselves as free to express our views and live our lives.

The role of a revolutionary politics then, for Reich, is to understand and to further the historical movement of increasing productivity and potential freedom into the larger psychic and social spheres of society, to push through the limitations of effects in order to trace the causes of our undisclosed desire for control in what are touted as free and open societies. There is no grand authority to overthrow, no centralised sovereign power—for Reich, the mass psychology of fascism is such that we have created a system where we are the prisoners and the guards; as a result, our internalisation of this perverse form of consensual fascism is what enables both the proliferation of the surveillance apparatus and discourses like Trump’s to come to the fore.


What is Schizoanalysis?

For all of his vital insights into the socio-psychological nature of power and control, Reich never adequately addresses his own question. As Deleuze and Guattari point out in their introduction to schizoanalysis, Anti-Oedipus, Reich was content to answer by invoking the ideological, the subjective, the irrational, and the inhabited because he too remained a prisoner of effect. In other words, Reich fell short of the materialist psychiatry that he dreamed up because his project overlooked the multiplicitious functions of desire in the fascist personality under capitalism.

Drawing from the work of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud, schizoanalysis is a revolutionary political process that seeks to expand upon Reich’s materialist-psychiatric critique of psychoanalysis so as to include the full scope of multiplicitious social and historical factors in its explanations of cognition and behaviour in order to map and thus undermine the causal groundings of fascism.

Schizoanalysis has acquired many different definitions during its development in the philosophic works of Nietzsche, Artaud, Deleuze, and Guattari, as well as literary figures such as Aldous Huxley, William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and Jack Kerouac. What connects these thinkers as schizoanalysts is that they have been able to uproot themselves from the social’s causes and traditions in order to conduct physical exoduses from the ideological territories that harboured them through much of their previous lives. Furthermore, each of them is in tune with heightened degrees of empathy and perception—they have been able to focus their gaze on something and tease out the intangible in it—an intangible that transforms something within each of them.

Indeed, literature is akin to schizoanalysis in the way that there is no ultimate goal, no attainable summit that it is reaching towards, and in itself it is only a process, a production of something. A previously held fact is destroyed by each of these authors: for Huxley, it was the deterioration of an anti-psychedelic political climate, for Burroughs, it was the destruction of traditional norms of control, and for Miller and Kerouac, it was the ability to explode the bourgeois morality system.

In a similar manner, the schizophrenic, even in their delirium, finds themselves ‘tuned in’ to things around them:

It’s a given that in the practice of institutional psychotherapy that the schizophrenic who is most lost in himself will suddenly burst out with the most incredible details about your private life, things that you would never imagine anyone could know, and that he will tell you in the most abrupt way truths that you believed to be absolutely secret. It’s not a mystery. The schizophrenic has lightening-like access to you; he is focused, so to speak, directly on those links that constitute a series in his subjective system.’(1)

In many ways, this description of the interaction between the therapist and the schizophrenic is reminiscent of philosopher Peter Sloterdijk’s answer to the question ‘where is the individual?’: “First of all and most often it is part of a couple.” (2) This is not just a physical couple per se, though it can take on this form; it is the coupling with the ‘self’ and the ‘other,’ various manifestations of alterity that the self relates to. The ‘individual’ becomes a question of space, but a non-physical space of ‘inbetweenness’ situated at the fluctuations between one thing and another. Thus Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of the schizophrenic experience, and one of the essential aims of schizoanalysis, is a proliferation of the interconnected state of all things in order to cultivate a ‘break’ or fracture that allows the entity we mistakenly refer to as the ‘individual’ to make a jump, a leap onto the plane consistency where processes of becoming can take place.

One asks: How is the schizophrenic able to so lucidly articulate the inner-workings of the self before them? Because they deterritorialise themselves right down to the flows that actually create the individual. For schizoanalysis, schizophrenia is not seen as the disease or mental disturbance that characterises or defines schizophrenics. Schizophrenics as clinic patients—and schizophrenia as a reductive psychiatric diagnosis—result from the vital incompatibility between the dynamics of schizophrenia unleashed by capitalism and the reigning institutions of society.

To be clear, schizoanalysis does not romanticise asylum inmates and their often excruciating and exploitative conditions of existence—conditions which are directly fostered by the ‘mental health’ institutions proliferated by capitalism. As opposed to an individualised psychological ‘problem,’ schizoanalysis re-conceptualises schizophrenia as a broad socio-historical system of control that results from the generalised production of psychosis and anxiety that are currently pervading capitalist society—a process that no single psychiatric patent could possibly embody.

In brief, capitalism fosters schizophrenia because the quantitative calculations of the market replace meaning and belief systems as the foundation of society. In this approximation then, we can define schizophrenia—both in the psyche and the socius—as a form of ‘unlimited semiosis’ that emerges when fixed meanings and beliefs are subverted by the cash-nexus under modern capitalism. Hence, schizophrenia constitutes an objective tendency of capitalist society and its historical development. By way of the simultaneous elimination of extant meanings and beliefs, every extension of capital—from the geographical (imperialism) to psychological (marketing)—manifests as a new layer of the perpetual state of alienated fear: “All that is solid melts into air.” (3)


According to Deleuze and Guattari, the powerful capitalist counter-tendency to the emancipatory potentials of schizoanalysis—the driving force behind the resurgence of neo-fascist propensities in democratic states—is paranoia. For if we understand schizophrenia to designate an unlimited chain of semiotic signifiers—radically fluid and extemporaneous forms of meaning—paranoia, by contrast, designates an absolute system of belief where all meaning and all representation is permanently fixed. As a result of this ubiquitous paranoia, we perceive desire, that is, ‘what we seek,’ as a lack, a reaction, a void—something that must be constantly filled and refilled. Under capitalism desire is commodified, it becomes a libidinal economy—a prison in which what the libido seeks is temporarily satiation enabled by the further commodification of all facets of life.

For schizoanalysis, the terms paranoia and schizophrenia point to what Reich overlooked in his initial materialist-psychiatric critique of power: they are the fundamental organising dynamics of a capitalist society. Paranoia represents what is archaic in capitalism, the resuscitation of the obsolete, rigid, belief-centred modes of social organisation. Whereas schizophrenia embodies capitalism’s positive potentials: freedom, ingenuity, and permanent revolution. Hence the schizo-moment is the ultimate subversion of paranoiac systematisation, of the desire to ‘build walls,’ to draw up psychological, ideological, and material borders between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ In deploying a highly figurative style of discourse that manifests in the development of concepts such as ‘desiring-machines’ and the ‘body-without-organs,’ schizoanalysis erodes the stifling distinction between metaphor and metamorphosis. In opposition to the paranoiac traditionalism of fascistic thought, schizophrenia’s potential for radical freedom designates a revolutionary objective tendency of capitalism that opens up spaces to re-code the flows of desire in new ways.

‘Rather than moving in a direction of the reductionist modifications of desire, which merely simplify the complexes of modernity, schizoanalysis works towards its complexification, its processual enrichment, towards the consistency of its virtual lines of bifurcation and differentiation—in short towards its ontological heterogeneity.’ (4)

What most revolutionary politics lacks is a new psychology, an anti-psychiatry that will help us to undertake the task of gradually releasing our over-coded flows of desire from the grips of fascist ideologies without sending us straight into a mental institution. This is the primary aim of schizoanalysis: to take the preferable tendencies of schizophrenia to its limits in order to rupture the paranoiac foundations of modern capitalism. Indeed, to push through the limits imposed by capitalist alienation, to replace our position as poor, defenceless, guilt-ridden puppets in internal straight-jackets, with free, non-Oedipalised, non-individualised, uncoded subjectivities. In short, schizoanalysis is move towards taking up the limitless potentials of conceptualising schizophrenia as a revolutionary breakthrough rather than a psychological breakdown.

A Schizoanalytical Politics

Schizoanalysis is not a psycho-political theory so much as an attitude towards the world. It moves to complicate the paranoiac distinctions between theory and practice, nature and culture, ideology and materiality, self and other, subject and object—to multiply ways of thinking about repressive significations such as race, gender, and class. When speaking of the masses’ desire for fascism, it is not enough to focus strictly on the ideological effects of exclusionary rhetoric: as the example of surveillance makes clear, we must also probe the causal structures of power.

For the schizophrenic is someone whose active desire is not regimented, not hierarchicalised by the family, church, school, army, work, etc. Following from this schizo-break, desire for Deleuze and Guattari is seen as productive, affirmative, an active, non-referential flow. Contrary to the paranoia of capitalism, there is no lack here. There is revolutionary-production: desire-producing desire, energy producing energy—our desire as the power to create rather than to consume.

Desire does not “want” revolution, it is revolutionary in its own right, as though involuntarily, by wanting what it wants… (5)[For] as Marx notes, what exists in fact is not lack, but passion, as a ‘natural and sensous object.’ Desire is not bolstered by needs, but rather the contrary; needs are derived from desire: they are the counter-products within the real that desire produces. Lack is a counter-effect of desire; it is deposited, distributed, vacuolized within a real that is natural and social.‘(6)

Thus contrary to the casual rendering of desire as lack under the paranoiac frame of capitalism, schizoanalysis is a call for the affirmation of desire as open and creative—we need more differentiation, a rejection of binaries, and a refusal to separate subjectivities out into ‘Selves’—the ‘free’ populous—and ‘Others’—criminals, activists, hackers, radicals, immigrants, etc.

Desire, like capital, should be understood in terms of flows: flows of the visual, musical, political, temporal, and performative. However, there is a catch here. While the flows of desire emanate from inherently rhizomatic creativities—i.e. the surrealistic art installation—the flows of capital emanate from hierarchical paranoia—i.e. the Trump campaign. Like schizophrenia, this double process of emanation is inherent to capitalism. In other words, capitalism works by inscribing and re-directing the flows of desire so that they may correspond with the flows of capital through coded spaces such as the stock market. This double process is the process of deterritorialisation (degrounding) and territorialisation (grounding). Desire is first deterritorialised by capital: allowing certain aspects of the schizophrenic process to manifest and then it territorialises them: whenever there is a danger that the flows will become ‘too’ revolutionary.

Capitalism can only exist by liberating production, while at the same time, containing it within limits so that it does not explode out in all directions: “The strength of capitalism resides in the fact that its axiomatic is never saturated, that it is always capable of adding a new axiom to the previous ones.”(7) From mod to hipster, hippie to punk, as any subculture begins to strike its own eminently marketable pose, its vocabulary, both visually and verbally, is rendered more and more familiar in anticipation of its impending reterritorialisation into the capitalist axiomatic.

The only way to overcome this problem is for the schizophrenic to continually deterritorialise their own forms of expression, so as to make repetition and incorporation impossible. This is what poet Antonine Artaud had in mind when he called for ‘no more of masterpieces’—the end of the commodification of political, cultural, and artistic moments and the flow of non-repeatable signs that name make it impossible for the paranoiac system to bring them in to its own body.(8)


Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation or representations of representations. Once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance enters the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology.‘(9)

Thus schizoanalysis is not an entity, not a field, but the performance of revolutionary potential—the process of constantly deterritorialising the socius so that free-form desire can subvert the capitalist formation of paranoia as power—the process through which more and more people move to create less and less commodifiable critiques. But as Deleuze and Guattari are careful to insist, schizophrenia is the potential for revolution, not the revolution itself. After all, it is in the very nature of schizophrenia as free-form desire that it cannot be assigned to any definite goal or end. By way of its staunch opposition to the fascistic captures of paranoia resulting in our psychological internalisation of control, schizophrenic desire is multiple, inclusive, and nomadic.

As philosopher Eugene Holland suggests, the subornation of this paranoid capitalism to a form of desiring-production would entail (among other things), the cancellation of the infinite debt to capital and a return to alliance-based rather than commodity-based social relations. (10) Yet the major hurdles towards realising the revolutionary potential of schizoanalysis stem from the very primacy of desire that makes schizophrenia’s desiring-production ripe with liberating potentials.

For what ultimately governs desire—in this case, what gives capitalism its unprecedented power—is the degree of the development of forces or energies that a given form of political sovereignty is able to organise. When compared to all other social forms, capitalism has developed and organised our energies and forces to a historically unprecedented degree. From Dadaism to the Anti-Globalisation Movement, Surrealism to Occupy Wall Street, as the constant de-and-reterritorialisation of countercultural movements makes uncomfortably clear, capitalism has been able to continually re-generate its own revolution precisely because it can ‘develop and commodify’ our productive forces to a greater degree than any previous social form.

Thus, with Reich’s initial material-psychiatric query in mind, we should really be asking: Under what conditions, and in what form, can we imagine a society emerging that would be more vigorous, in terms of the deterritorialisation of productive forces and energies, than capitalism?

For if the perpetual force of capitalism’s paranoiac cycle of liberation and containment does not collide with a more potent, less rigid alternative, perhaps a shift will occur only after capitalism’s hyper-exploitation of resources has so severely impaired or even reversed its ability to continue developing productive prices and energies that another mode of social relation will show visible signs of doing better.


Felix Guattari, Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977, Semiotext(e), 2008 (reprint edition), pgs. 67-68.
Peter Sloterdijk and Hans-Jurgem Heinrichs, Neither Sun nor Death, Semiotext(e), 2011, pg. 147.
Friedrich Engles and Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1.
Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, Indiana University Press, 1992, pg. 61.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, 1983. pg. 161.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, 1983. pg. 27.
Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, On the Line, Semiotext(e), 1983, pg. 12.
Antonin Artaud, The Theatre and its Double, Grove Press, 1958.
Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, Routledge, 1993, pg. 146.
Eugene W. Holland, Nomad Citizenship: Free-Market Communism and the Slow-Motion General Strike, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.



A.T. Kingsmith is a PhD Candidate at York University, where he studies and teaches political theory. He lives in Toronto and writes at adamkingsmith.com.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, August 27th, 2016.