Volume 4, Number 2 (July, 2007).
Book Review: A Not so Aberrant Review
Gary Genosko. Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction. New York: Continuum, 2002.1
by Andrew Burdeniuk
(Recent Graduate, MA, University of Sussex).
Gary Genosko has written an excellent book about Félix Guattari. In it he captures the diversity of Guattari’s work and describes something of his public life without resorting to the tropes of Activist or Intellectual. Genosko is now the author of several works which deal with Deleuze and Guattari, Including The Guattari Reader, as well as Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze.
In this most recent work, Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction, Genosko approaches Guattari with a healthy dose of respect, not as a Deleuzian sidekick, or a rabblerousing protest hack, but as a serious thinker. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book comes early on. Genosko challenges the traditional paring of Deleuze and Guattari, questioning why Deleuze always get star billing. The question can be seen as trivial yet, as Genosko points out, it can sometimes result in the eradication of Guattari (Deleuze studies etc). How rarely we see Guattari and Deleuze, how often we hear Guattari blamed for the wacky bits in A Thousand Plateaus. Why is it that Guattari always seems to be the stepchild of ‘Deleuze and Guattari’?
Genosko’s book puts a lie to this thesis, not by being an exhaustive recapitulation of all of Guattari’s work, but by touching upon some of his most effective concepts and most productive periods. This “aberrant introduction” is something less than a biography, and something more than greatest hits collection.
Genosko has chosen several topics in an attempt to capture the diverse and active life Guattari lead. Some are philosophical, such as his discussion of transversality in Guattari’s early and latter periods; others are unique such as his overview of Guattari’s Japanese Singularity work.
Genosko draws a line through French sociology, from Durkheim through Baudrillard and on to Guattari, all having explored Japanese culture at one time or another. Guattari saw Japan as an intersection of Integrated World Capitalism and a unique, archaic culture. The development of Japanese capitalism created a hybrid species of modern capitalism and archaic Japanese culture, resulting in Japanese singularity. Guattari became increasingly interested in Japan, and in Japanese architecture and his concept of Transversality later became popular in Japanese architecture circles, having been introduced through one of Deleuze’s articles on Proust. Genosko discusses Guattari’s views on Japanese singularity as opposed to Baudrillard’s, as well as what he characterises as Japanese Infantilism, and extensively on Transversality and Japanese architecture.
From Japanese Singularity, Genosko moves on to Guattari’s work in the field of Semiotics. Building upon Hjelmslev and Pierce, Deleuze and Guattari, and Guattari on his own, explored how linguistics and semiology fit with the idea of a machinic unconscious. Genosko states: “Guattari attempted to uncover the social and political determinations of signifying phenomena through the use of modified versions of Hjelmslevian categories”.2 Genosko’s detour into semiotics, following Guattari’s own, is a dense and intricate piece of work. The casual reader without a background in Semiotics will not be able to easily follow the discussion, but it is a deep summary of Guattari’s encounter with Linguistics and Semiotics.
Guattari’s late work Chaosmosis was book-ended by A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy? Both books were co-authored with Deleuze and have largely overshadowed Chaosmosis and its message. Genosko deals with Guattari’s attempts at a kind of “schizoanalytic metamodelization” in his fourth chapter. This is Guattari at his most diverse in terms of conceptualization. He either draws upon or rejects dozens of thinkers and theories, and in doing so he creates a diagrammatic representation which is incredibly complex and nuanced. Genosko says that it is “…a work that reaches back to key concepts in order to give them new codings. Decoding, recoding, mixing, hybridizing, distinguishing, typologizing. There is a torrent of semiosic activity in Guattari’s thought and it tends toward complexification”.3 Later he says: “Guattari was always restlessly borrowing, redefining, reapplying, crossing borders and orders, making him hard to pin down…”.4 Genosko explicates and diagrams in an attempt to represent Guattari’s thought, his “Four Functors”. Genosko spends some time explaining how Transversality, with its scattered openness, allows a kind of communality that also involves a reordering of status. Genosko places this in opposition to a kind of “multidisciplinary fuzziness” that pretends to offer the benefits of Transversality without confronting any of the ontological oppositions involved.5
In the way of conclusion Genosko offers a closing statement. It is, like the semi biographical introduction and the emotional first chapter dealing with Guattari’s role vis-à-vis Deleuze, easy to read and whimsical. In it, Genosko deals with some of Guattari’s more obviously political work, like his development of Integrated World Capitalism with Eric Alliez, as well as Guattari’s work with Antonio Negri. He also quickly moves through Guattari’s relationship with the 1, 2, 3, 4 series. In his theorizing, Guattari resisted the molar, statist 1, the closed system of 2, the oedipal triangulation of 3, and finally valorized 4, or really 3+n. Genosko’s closing statement is like Guattari’s work in the best way: political, complex, and vivid.
Genosko has chosen to show us pieces of Guattari’s life; disparate chapters detailing some of his concepts, interests, his semiotics, and in doing so has painted a nice picture of Guattari’s effect. Perhaps when confronted with such a transdisciplinarian (psychoanalyst/ intellectual/ activist/ Marxist/ ecologist), it is necessary to be elusive; in the end we are left with a vital sense of the man and his work, and the gaps in the portrayal of his thought are perhaps the very thing that allow us to apprehend Guattari’s thought.
1 Gary Genosko is a Canada Research Chair at Lakehead University and has written The Guattari Reader, Baudrillard and Signs: Signification Ablaze, and edited Deleuze and Guattari: Critical Assessments.
2 Gary Genosko. Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction. New York: Continuum, 2002:161.
5 Ibid.: 200-1.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)