Liminal Subjectivity and the
Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm of Félix Guattari


Stephen J. Arnott*

A crucial strategy for the reversal of the ethical and political resignation or apathy characteristic of the postmodern age consists in a renewed understanding of the notions of difference and subjectivity. The conversion effected by the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari is best characterized in terms of its anti-reductionist project. With regard to difference, it becomes no longer acceptable to license its reduction to opposition and contradiction, which emphasize a pure negativity. Likewise with regard to subjectivity, the reduction of the subject to a transcendental unity proves to be wholly detrimental to a broader conception which could account for subjectivity as a mode of production and discover in relevant productive processes heterogeneous transcendental conditions necessary to the manifestation and equilibrium of subjectivity in its manifold modalities. In this way we describe two important insights attributable only to a philosophy of immanence, for which the primordiality of Being and Subject are brought into question and overturned in favour of what we can best term a processuality which is univocal, in the sense that no categories or conceptualizations fall outside its scope.

            We should not, however, see this strategy as the only one, or as definitive or necessary in any way. It is a strategy chosen not arbitrarily but contingently, a mode of experimentation which Deleuze and Guattari have made their life's work. Rather than being the substance of a pedagogy, it is instead an opening onto a conceptual creation which constitutes philosophy's perceived importance and interest. This activity consists in the laying out of a plane of immanence, characterized in this case by a mistrust of transcendent principles and universal absolutes, and the creation of concepts or conceptual tools which come to occupy this plane and engender between them relations of consistency. Such a strategy is worthy of attention from a number of perspectives, but from the point of view of our current concerns we shall focus on its ethical and political ramifications. By engaging in a cautious reductionism ourselves, in singling out two crucial but non-exhaustive themes, difference and subjectivity, we can expect to discover how Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy opens up fields of possibility suggestive of new and unrehearsed ethical and political practices.

            The clearest and most succinct exploration of the potential ethical and political effects of this strategy of immanence is found in Guattari's final work Chaosmosis: an ethico-aesthetic paradigm, published only shortly before his death in 1992. This important text has thus far received little attention in the secondary literature which belies its significance as a heart-felt reflection on decades of intellectual creativity. I propose to shed light on the ethical and political vision expressed in this work by means of mapping its connection to the themes of difference and subjectivity and by borrowing a series of concepts from another diagnostician of the social, anthropologist Victor Turner. This will have the effect of situating Guattari's approach within a broader context of social research, and permit a strategy of comparative analysis which will reveal simultaneously the relevance and originality of the latter's vision.

            Before we begin this task in earnest, it will be necessary to say something about the concept of subjectivity as it is developed throughout Chaosmosis. The emphasis is always on the production of subjectivity, a thesis which opposes itself to any theory or philosophical inquiry which conceives subjectivity as given, either wholly or partially, which, in other words, insists on its a priori or transcendental status. This at once distances Guattari's approach from that of Turner, who while conceding that social and political structures are produced for the most part due to organizational requirements, presupposes a unity of the individual which to some extent remains immune to the effects of structure and stratification. Turner's individualism, however, is in no way a necessary requirement of his thesis, and in fact often seems to be at odds with it. For the moment we must emphasize that Guattari admits no such essential unity, for one because we have no grounds, empirical or otherwise, for maintaining this presupposition, and for another because treating subjectivity in the light of the complex processes of production by means of which it is constituted in all its heterogeneity or diversity opens up ever new possibilities for its future production and also permits an optimism which might be denied to proponents of essential qualities of human individuation.

            The term 'production' gives rise to images of production-lines, of highly mechanized techniques for producing objects according to preconceived design specifications and economic viability. The processes of production constitutive of subjectivity take on an altogether different character, but will include mechanized production in their midst. Guattari opposes mechanism to 'machinism', and employs the latter to characterize production as it relates to subjectivity. Machinic production is invoked to access the extreme complexity of contributing factors and the enormous variety and variability of connectivity. Factors contributing to the production of subjectivity will not be limited to biological arrangements, familial circumstances and social milieu, although all these will be included. Technology, media, art, institutions, machinic encounters of all kinds must be seen to have an active role in the production of subjectivity. Machines of extreme diversity, not simply scientific or technological machines, but desiring-machines, aesthetic or literary machines, organic and inorganic, corporeal and incorporeal, all contributing, all making their effects felt in varying degrees of intensity - on the basis of this machinic background subjectivities are produced. By means of this machinic ontology, this machination of ontological textures, we are able "to decentre the question of the subject onto the question of subjectivity" (C p. 22). We no longer need recourse to a universal or transcendent subject, but instead diagnose processes of subjectivation operating on biological, psychic, resource etc. materials in diverse and ever-changing ways.

            In seeking to identify and understand the effects of factors implicated in the production of subjectivity within both historical and present cultural and social contexts, we can hope to highlight those factors whose contribution appears to be detrimental, which in other words steer both individual and collective subjectivity down paths of self-destruction and at the same time pinpoint potentially creative or positive factors which have been blocked in one way or another and thus been unable to be realized in any effective capacity. This is not to say that we can foresee in advance what effects certain kinds of tendency or paradigm are going to have, although we can hazard an educated guess, though not without risks. This conveys something of the force of Guattari's call for the reappropriation of the production of subjectivity: initially to try to be aware of or at least have a story about factors and processes which play an active part in the production of subjectivity, and then to be ready to experiment with new factors, as they present themselves or are created, without, however, having any clear ideas about the results of such experiments. For example, within an ethical perspective, we might identify the prevalence of transcendent principles licensed by religion or other kinds of moral dogma in the production of subjectivity in certain social contexts or historical periods. While we can recognize manifest positive effects of such moralities such as the institution of fairly stable communities of like-minded subjects, we can also see all-too-plainly the insularity and prejudices of such subjects and communities. Perhaps we can find a way to preserve or enhance the positive effects by other means while at the same time lessening the negative ones. Guattari suggests that this might be achieved by the introduction of a certain 'narrative element' of tolerance based on a conception of 'constellations of Universes of value' which would facilitate a respect amongst proponents of belief systems of different or even opposing types. Such considerations might seem distant from the multicultural societies which many of us now occupy, in which the recognition of the diversity of value and systems of belief is supposedly acknowledged. It is still the case, however, that political decisions are often made on the presupposition of shared community values which in actuality amount to little more than the propagation of values that are dominant rather than shared. For example, the current perceived need to introduce mechanisms of government instituted and controlled censorship of the Internet presupposes shared moral standards which demand the restriction of certain kinds of information being disseminated. Little regard is given, however, to the far-reaching effects that such censorship would illicit - for example, electronic or hypertext versions of Anti-Oedipus­ would be censored by mechanisms currently under consideration due to its use of profanity and words such as incest, masochism and so on.

            If there is no general prescription as to how we might steer the production of subjectivity along positive and creative paths, Guattari nonetheless argues that we might attempt to ensure increased diversity, creativity and experimentation, without at the same time contributing to antagonistic tendencies, through the institution of a broadly aesthetic paradigm, which would achieve primacy over scientific, moral, religious or other paradigms. With the intention of clarifying and elaborating this ethico-aesthetic paradigm, I want now to introduce two important concepts developed by Victor Turner in the context of an analysis of the sociological effect of ritual practices in various preindustrial societies. The first of these is 'communitas', which describes a state of community which is in patent opposition to the mode of hierarchical community engendered by 'normal' social organization and stratification and which is effected on specific and relatively infrequent occasions within structured society by means of rituals of various kinds. The second is 'liminality', which derives from limen, meaning threshold but also implying margin or outskirts. Communitas and liminality for Turner constitute one half of a dialectical relation defined as 'anti-structure' which maintains an antithetical position with regard to the other half of the dialectic, that being structure or social organization.

            It is important to recognize from the outset that communitas does not represent for Turner some ideal state of community which is only lost or subjugated through the prevalence of hierarchically organized social structures. The latter are patently necessary, and communitas as such only persists in their midst, au milieu. In Turner's words: "communitas is made evident or accessible, so to speak, only through its juxtaposition to, or hybridization with, aspects of social structure."[1] This is to say, it does not require the destruction or collapse of social organization, but takes place only within such a context and despite its hegemony. It exists only in the relation of 'coincidentia oppositorum' with social strata. Communitas is attributed several important qualities which mark its distinction from engineered community. It is existential, or in Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, 'territorialized', in the sense that it is not constituted by means of deterritorialized structures or ideological goals. It embodies or enacts potentialities yet to be stratified or incorporated into hierarchical structures. It is spontaneous in the sense that while it may be made manifest by ritual practices, its composition and effect are not foreseen, nor imagined to be easily incorporated into social organization. Finally it is associated with experiences of liminality, marginality or structural inferiority which effect a temporary suspension of the hegemony of structure.

            I will not go into details here regarding the specific examples which Turner provides with regard to communitas as he finds it enacted in vastly different types of social organization, from the Ndembu tribal society of Zambia to the Fransciscan order of the twelfth century. Instead what seems important for our purposes is to explore what we must describe as the philosophical claims he makes as to the role of communitas and liminality within organized societies. Firstly Turner links liminality with the aspect of creativity or potentiality he finds characteristic of communitas. In this regard he finds support in Bergsonian philosophy:

"Bergson saw in the words and writings of prophets and great artists the creation of an 'open morality', which was itself an expression of the élan vital, or evolutionary 'life-force'. Prophets and artists tend to be liminal and marginal people, 'edgemen', who strive with a passionate sincerity to rid themselves of the clichés associated with status incumbency and role-playing and enter into vital relations with other men in fact or imagination. In their productions we may catch glimpses of that unused evolutionary potential in mankind which has not yet been externalized or fixed in structure."[2]

In this way the artist is accorded a certain privilege due to her liminal or marginal status, or openness to liminal experiences. Liminality is characterized, as we can see in the above quotation, by both a general resistance to hierarchy and the removal of social obligations and expectations. This, according to Turner, releases potentiality through a resultant emotional or affective intensity: "The processes of 'leveling' and 'stripping'…often appear to flood their subjects with affect."[3] In this way a link is established between the liminal experiences undergone by participants in certain kinds of tribal rituals and the experiences of the artist within the context of her social milieu. Communitas is perceived to have a destabilizing role as it breaks through 'the interstices of structure', though this effect is often only momentary and can in fact intensify the structural capture. In this way an oscillation is produced, which Turner describes in these terms: "Maximization of communitas provokes maximization of structure, which in turn produces revolutionary strivings for renewed communitas."[4] This is because communitas is not directed towards the needs of human beings, for it involves no organizational properties which would regulate the distribution of food and goods, the ownership of property, and so on. Communitas is therefore a transitional or liminal state itself in the sense that it does not fulfil the requirements of livable or actualized community. We might in this way want to confer upon it a virtual status, or define it as a mode of privileged access to the virtual, in Deleuze and Guattari's sense of this term.

            It seems crucial to stress also that Turner's account rids social or political matters of ideological concerns. It cannot be a question of envisaging a mode of social organization which will maximize the potential for spontaneous communitas. It is therefore never a matter of seeking to overturn one social constitution with another ordered according to different principles: "there is no specific social form that is held to express spontaneous communitas. Rather is it expected best to arise in the intervals between incumbencies of social positions and statuses, in what used to be known as 'the interstices of social structure'."[5] Rather than revolutionary activity being directed at the destruction of outmoded and despised forms of social organization with the aim of instituting new ideologically determined ones with the hope of greater freedom or whatever, such activity must instead seek to create or identify manifestations of communitas and provide them with increased force or intensity. In this way the dynamics of social organization are brought to the fore, while rigid stratifications are destabilized and open to change or collapse. As Turner sees it:

"structural action swiftly becomes arid and mechanical if those involved in it are not periodically immersed in the regenerative abyss of communitas. Wisdom is always to find the appropriate relationship between structure and communitas under the given circumstances of time and place, to accept each modality when it is paramount without rejecting the other, and not to cling to one when its present impetus is spent."[6]

It is always a matter of ensuring the perpetual oscillation between anti-structure and structure as they are complementary in their opposition. "Together they make up one stream of life, the one affluent supplying power, the other alluvial fertility."[7] If structure ensures that the organizational requirements for a society are met, communitas simultaneously ensures that this structure does not maintain an unbreakable grip, and thus become sterile and inflexible. The link between liminality and communitas is crucial in this regard. The former acts as a mode of access to communitas within the context of social organization, and has the character of Deleuze and Guattari's schizophrenic escape. It describes the advent of a line of flight which leads away from the plane of organization towards the non-hierarchical and relatively disorganized plane of immanence. It enacts a withdrawal, but one which is imbued with revolutionary effect: "if liminality is regarded as a time and place of withdrawal from normal modes of social action, it can be seen as potentially a period of scrutinization of the central values and axioms of the culture in which it occurs."[8] One final point with regard to Turner's analysis. Although he finds evidence for the practical activity of spontaneous communitas primarily in preindustrial societies, and links its effectiveness to ritual practices which involve rites de passage of various kinds, those of status elevation and status reversal being the most important, he does not imagine that the actualization of communitas is limited in this way to societies less complex or more primitive or savage than industrial or technological ones. In fact he suggests the reverse: "The very flexibility and mobility of social relations in modern industrial societies, however, may provide better conditions for the emergence of existential communitas, even if only in countless and transient encounters, than any previous forms of social order."[9] It seems that while we might continue to insist that there is no ideal of social organization which we could expect to be fully open to a maximization of communitas, nonetheless, the increased diversity of many of today's societies manifest a potentiality for new forms of social and political practice which would have been unimaginable in previous eras.

            To summarize, we can stress these important aspects of Turner's social diagnosis, insights which are shared by Guattari and developed in his own terms throughout Chaosmosis. The first is the perceived necessity of a perpetual oscillation between two opposed poles, those of structure and anti-structure, to remain for the moment with Turner's terminology. Although the latter conceives this see-sawing in terms of a dialectic, it is one without ideal resolution. The social appears always as a process, a metastable equilibrium in which no permanent stasis can be reached. Secondly there is the important close association which Turner detects between liminality and aesthetic practice. This will contribute to our understanding of the function which Guattari maps out for his ethico-aesthetic paradigm. Thirdly, Turner discovers a heteropathic[10] link between communitas and its conditions or causal factors. In other words it is engendered only by means of a break from the normal conditions of community, and often involves periods of isolation and enforced alienation. Finally we must emphasize again Turner's optimism regarding the increased potentiality for existential or spontaneous communitas within modern social strata.  

            I suggest that Turner's account of the oscillation between structure and anti-structure as the force behind dynamic and creative society provides us with a fortuitous mode of entry into Guattari's more complex and terminologically rich analysis and prospective insights. The latter employs the term 'chaosmosis' to describe the oscillation between the two poles of chaos and complexity, between the virtual and its manifold and transient actualizations. Although there is in a sense a unilinear progression leading out of the infinite speeds of chaos towards the finitude of actualization, the former is not thereby fully eradicated or covered over: "At the source of a world's constitution there is always a certain modality of chaotic discomfort in its organicity, functionality and relations of alterity" (C p. 81). No experience is more sensitive to this persistence of chaos than the psychotic, and Guattari devotes much attention to delineating the precise nature of such experiences with regard to their unique relation to chaos and social organization. We should note that Guattari's conception of chaos bears close similarities to the nature of anti-structure as Turner understands it. There is, however, a problem with the structure/anti-structure distinction in that it expresses a rigid dichotomy, and if we are to take it as an ontological description, it seems hard to imagine how we might conceive of anti-structure, that which is patently not structured, giving rise to that which is. The relation between the ontological modalities of chaos and complexity as conceived by Guattari do not persist in a simple relation of opposition or contradiction. Chaos is not simply the antithesis of structure or organization, but rather describes an ontological 'homogenesis' which would include not only virtual entities or particles in relatively free or disorganized states but also the potential relations constitutive of their ordering. Such relations would never be fixed, and a process of selection must begin to take place if any existential fixity or grasping is to be achieved or actualized. "The movement of infinite virtuality of incorporeal complexions carries in itself the possible manifestation of all the components and all the enunciative assemblages actualizable in finitude" (C p. 112).

            The psychotic experience is characterized as a selective process, but one which is not limited to a consistency with the processual orderings already carried out. It is in this sense understood as autopoietic and is liminal to the extent that it crosses the threshold between complexity and chaos to return with fresh insights and new existential perspectives:

"It is not therefore Being in general which irrupts in the chaosmic experience of psychosis, or in the pathic relationship one can enter into with it, but a signed and dated event, marking a destiny, infecting previously stratified significations. After such a process of dequalification and ontological homogenesis, nothing will be like it was before. But the event is inseparable from the texture of the being brought to light" (C p. 81).

Note that the experience of psychosis shares with Turnerian liminality the qualities of 'stripping' and 'levelling' which problematize the structure and permit potential access to what Guattari calls 'the ontological roots of creativity'. It is in this way that psychotic experience is linked to or prefigures aesthetic experience which seeks to explore ontological univocity and develop its potentials in unforeseen and unpredictable ways. This aestheticization of subjective experience is constitutive of a Bergsonian 'open morality' in that it engenders new Universes of value which no longer possess the qualities of universals. Such processes of aesthetic creativity, which are not limited to great works of art, or even to artistic practice in any traditional sense, but which apply a broadly aesthetic paradigm to all selective functions, economic, social, political, educational and so on, always involve a relation of heteropathy, characterized by an initial ‘dequalification’ followed by the creation of new qualifications as necessary. As Guattari explains:

"every aesthetic decentring of points of view, every polyphonic reduction of the components of expression passes through a preliminary deconstruction of the structures and codes in use and a chaosmic plunge into the materials of sensation. Out of them a recomposition becomes possible, an enrichment of the world (something like enriched uranium), a proliferation not just of the forms but of the modalities of being" (C p. 90).

This is where Guattari's conception of the production of subjectivity becomes crucial. With the introduction of the aesthetic paradigm as a principal contributing factor in this production, we can expect a change in existential modes, less reliance on or resignation towards the general stratification of society, and an increased awareness of the finitude and potential transiency of dominant Universes of value. In other words, the aesthetic paradigm involves a certain distancing from the mechanism and stasis of structure, inaugurating a social process whose increased adaptability and creative freedom ensures its capacity to deal with the problems which confront it, problems which at the moment seem insurmountable. Guattari has no faith in the dominant scientific and rationalist paradigms in this regard, because their conservative tendencies and rules and thus their distance from the ontological root of creativity make them incapable of engendering the kind of adaptability which seems to be required if we are to confront our most pressing global problems.

            Guattari conceives of a generalized ecology, he calls it 'ecosophy', which would include the crucial component of an ecology of the virtual, enacting an aesthetic paradigm that places emphasis on liminality and its creative potentialities and pays less heed to the stratifications of science and rationalist principles. It is not of course that the products or effects of these latter paradigms can somehow be extracted or abstracted from the production of subjectivity, it is rather that their acceptance or dominance will be checked against an underlying aesthetic sensibility capable of resisting or problematizing, if necessary, their prescriptions. Guattari argues that we must formulate ecologies of the virtual in addition to current ecologies of the environment, of the social and of the mental, in order to gain access to "the domain of virtual intensities establishing itself prior to distinctions being made between the semiotic machine, the referred object and the enunciative subject" (C p. 30), the preindividual and impersonal as the site of the transvaluation of values. Ecologies of the virtual constitute, in Guattari's mind, an alternative to the already richly structured domains of the other ecologies, a chance to rethink or alter the principles of selection which have given rise to our current difficulties. In his terms:

"There is an ethical choice in favour of the richness of the possible, an ethics and politics of the virtual that decorporealizes and deterritorializes contingency, linear causality, and the pressure of circumstances and significations which besiege us. It is a choice for processuality, irreversibility and resingularization" (C p. 29).

The ethical and political importance and relevance of an ontology of the virtual is thereby revealed. Rather than conceiving an ontological domain in which we postulate essential natures and eternal truths, we grasp instead a processual univocity which gives rise to heterogeneous ontological consistencies, "a processual, polyphonic Being singularizable by infinitely complexifiable textures, according to the infinite speeds which animate its virtual compositions" (C p. 51). Ecologies of the virtual would then have the role of processual opening, of developing interfaces, or, in Guattari's terms, 'transversalist bridges', by means of which contact could be made between relatively stratified entities and the transcendental conditions of their constitution. In this way we highlight the principal methodology, or 'schizoanalytic metamodelization', facilitative of the reappropriation of the production of subjectivity.

            The primacy of an aesthetic paradigm is called for due to its singular capacity for enacting such transversal interfaces which by means of liminal activity construct lines of flight leading away from the plane of organization towards virtuality and counter-actualization, thereby opening up fields of the possible. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari define art as the creation of percepts and affects on a plane of composition. The key characteristic of percepts and affects is that they are not tied to any preconceived subjective capacity or objective formulation. They possess a singularly liminal quality as revealed in their ability to cross thresholds and to inaugurate new existential mappings. In other words, they effectuate what Guattari terms 'partial nuclei of subjectivation' which may contribute to the production of subjectivity in unforeseen ways, in that they fail to acknowledge limits and boundaries established through processes of stratification or unification: "whatever their sophistication, a block of percept and affect, by way of aesthetic composition, agglomerates in the same transversal flash the subject and the object, the self and other, the material and incorporeal, the before and after…In short, affect is not a question of representation and discursivity, but of existence" (C p. 93). We might say that it is constitutive of spontaneous communitas because it simultaneously collapses the distinctions and dichotomies upon which a divided 'community' thrives and effects new modes of experience or Universes of value whose possibilities might be explored. The creation of percepts and affects through aesthetic practice would not be limited to traditional modes of artistic expression, but would be common to all manifestations of existential communitas.

            In order to explore the relevance and viability of Guattari's aesthetic transmutation within present social environments, and to distinguish it from the practices of liminality discussed by Turner (rituals, ceremonies of inauguration, myth creation etc.), we must attempt to discover factors by means of which we might distinguish our current age from those which have preceded it. In this regard Guattari maps out three types or modes of assemblage, with identifiably different characteristics or tendencies. The first is the territorialized assemblage, descriptive of so-called primitive or savage societies. The singular and identifying quality of such assemblages is that they maintain a tangible relationship to the body of the Earth, and the Universes of value that they inaugurate are only relevant to the extent that they enrich this relationship: "every drive towards a deterritorialized infinity is accompanied by a movement of folding onto territorialized limits, correlative to a jouissance in the passage to the collective-for-itself and its fusional and initiatory mysteries" (C p. 103). Values remain immanent and are selected only according to their utility with regard to territoriality. Once the body of the Earth loses its primacy as social nexus, assemblages constituted according to altogether 'alien' or 'outlandish' criteria are made manifest. Universes of value actualized within such 'deterritorialized assemblages' are no longer held in check by territorial utility or viability, but instead are relative to an abstract or transcendent nexus, the body of the Despot, or the body of Capital.[11] Such deterritorialization has the following posited effects:

"With deterritorialized assemblages, each sphere of valorization erects a transcendent autonomized pole of reference: the Truth of logical idealities, the Good of moral will, the Law of public space, the Capital of economic exchangism, the Beautiful of the aesthetic domain…This carving up of transcendence is consecutive to an individuation of subjectivity, which itself is divided up into modular faculties such as Reason, Understanding, Will, Affectivity…" (C p. 103).

What I want to stress here is the alienation effected by such deterritorialization: not simply alienation from the other, but more importantly alienation from the creation of values themselves. "Transcendent value presents itself as immovable, always already there and thus always going to stay there" (C p. 104). Processes of subjectivation suffer an homogenization in that conformity to incontestable values and principles is expected and, for the most part, not open to negotiation. Subjectivity "is no longer the result of the changing contours of an intrication of spheres of valorization secured to matters of expression - it is recomposed, as reified individuation, from Universals laid out according to an arborescent hierarchy" (C p.104). The advent of the deterritorialized assemblage seems to curtail from the outset any outbreaks of spontaneous communitas due to the homogeneity that it constitutes. What then are the grounds for Guattari's optimism, which he shares with Turner, that current changes in social organization seem to indicate the collapse or decline of deterritorialized assemblages prioritizing centres of transcendent and immutable value in favour of more complex and rhizomatic arrangements facilitative of new possibilities for the creation of Universes of value no longer prone to universalization.

            It is not simply a matter of a return to primitive social assemblages and a rediscovery of the function of ritual practice in the iteration and reiteration of communitas - such would only formulate an ideology. Instead, it is a matter of recognizing the potentialities and possibilities in our midst, which lead the social away from its universalist tendencies towards as yet unseen and unexperienced modes of social organization. As Guattari explains:

"One does not fall back from the regime of reductionist transcendence onto the reterritorialization of the movement of infinity in finite modes. The general (and relative) aestheticization of the diverse Universes of value leads to a different type of re-enchantment of the expressive modalities of subjectivation" (C p. 105).

The machinic fabric of society now manifests a 'transindividual' or 'transsubjective' connectivity which seems to offer manifold possibilities for practices which are not inevitably destined to fall under the scrutiny or control of authoritarian remnants of the passing regime. It is, as Guattari notes, in an 'autofoundational position', the productive capacities of which are yet to be explored or made manifest. It is less a question of predicting how things might turn out, but instead a matter of identifying the sites where potentiality has opened and is opening up, and of discovering how these might facilitate creative enterprises, instances of spontaneous communitas, of all kinds. At the same time, we must strive to be vigilant regarding new mechanisms of control which seek to channel creative energies along predefined and 'acceptable' paths, and also struggle against reductionist tendencies bent on effective subjective homogenization - e.g. the mass media. "In the end, a politics and ethics of singularity, breaking with consensus, the infantile 'reassurance' distilled by dominant subjectivity" (C p. 117).

            Foucault, in his essay "Different Spaces"[12], undertakes an analysis of a type of social space which possesses certain properties which seem to make it conducive, at least potentially, to the occasional manifestation of existential communitas. He employs the neologism 'heterotopia' to describe such 'different spaces' or spaces of difference, thereby marking a sharp distinction between them and utopias which we should define as spaces of idealized consensus, of homogeneity or reduction to the same. Utopias, for Foucault, possess the quality of being 'fundamentally and essentially unreal', whereas heterotopias constitute real spaces, existential topoi, but at the same time call forth virtual intensities not yet actualized, but on the threshold (limen) of actualization. Like the ritual practices of preindustrial societies discussed by Turner, they exist in an antithetical or problematic relation with the structured spaces of social organization. They "have the curious property of being connected to all the other emplacements, but in such a way that they suspend, neutralize, or reverse the set of relations that are designated, reflected, or represented [réflechis] by them."[13] They are not therefore representative of community standards but rather are spaces in which communitas may spontaneously arise in the absence or abeyance of such standards or norms. In this regard, Foucault identifies two principal types or characters of heterotopia, though these are no more than typical and thus not exhaustive of the potential manifestation of such spaces. First, we can highlight heterotopias of crisis which Foucault defines in terms consonant with Turner's liminal spaces or practices: "places reserved for individuals who are in a state of crisis with respect to society and the human milieu in which they live."[14] In the context of preindustrial societies, such individuals, in Foucault's estimation, are typically "[a]doloescents, menstruating women, women in labour, old people, and so on", and we might add with Turner individuals undergoing various rites de passage; in the present age, as Foucault points out, heterotopias of crisis have become increasingly rare almost to the point of extinction, although we might find examples in refugee camps and immigrant centres populated by individuals in a state of limbo awaiting the outcome of decisions concerning their geographical futures. Heterotopias of crisis have by and large given way to what Foucault calls heterotopias of deviation: "those in which individuals are put whose behaviour is deviant with respect to the mean or required norm."[15] Such spaces of difference are of course not necessarily sites of spontaneous communitas, and Foucault himself focussed much of his attention on analyzing how heterotopias of deviation have been overcoded by normative social principles and disciplinary techniques of various kinds. They are, however, at the same time privileged sites in which transient and spontaneous communitas can appear with the appropriate initiatives. For example, Guattari, in his psychoanalytic and institutional activities, attempted with his colleague Jean Oury to evolve a psychotherapeutic heterotopia devoid of the usual hierarchical arrangements between clinicians, general staff, and patients.[16] Foucault began his Histoire de la Folie with an account of the 'ship of fools', which for him, whether it is a fictional entity or not, it hardly matters, constituted a heterotopia of deviation markedly at odds with the disciplinary or morally directed psychiatric institutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. Interestingly, he concludes his essay on heterotopias with the following observation: "The sailing vessel is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without ships the dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police that of the corsairs."[17] Productive heterotopias will always embark on oceanic voyages with no destination mapped out in advance, voyages of intensity and intimacy, of experimentation, leading away from the strata and hierarchical structures of organized life. 

             Aesthetic sensibility and ecologies of the virtual provide existential paradigms which, by means of new liminal practices, open up the social field to the possibility of manifold instantiations of communitas. They direct our energies away from the conservatism required to preserve abstract and universal systems of valorization, and thereby ensure the proximity of the creation of values and the production of subjectivity. They effect a reconciliation between chaos and complexity, between being as difference and subjectivity as processual and transient actualization.

[1] Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure, NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1995 (originally published in 1969), p.127.

[2] Ibid. p. 128.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 129.

[5] Ibid. p. 138.

[6] Ibid. p. 139.

[7] Ibid. p. 140.

[8] Ibid. p. 167.

[9] Ibid. p. 203.

[10] This fortuitous term was suggested to me by Assoc. Prof. Fred D'Agostino during the course of our discussions about the themes of this section.

[11] See Anti-Oedipus section 3 for a detailed account of the types of socius and how they are distinguished.

[12] Michel Foucault, Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984, Volume 2, Edited by James Faubion, London: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press, 1998, pp. 175-185.

[13] Ibid. p. 178.

[14] Ibid. p. 179.

[15] Ibid. p. 180.

[16] See his account of the institutional functioning of La Borde Clinic, founded by Oury, and at which Guattari worked until his death, in Chaosmosis, pp. 69-70.

[17] Ibid. p.185.

* Stephen J. Arnott, Canberra, ACT, Australia (E-mail:

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