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  • LFTRC & AIA Volume No 21, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 399-419

    Human Systems: The Journal of Therapy, Consultation & Training

    (Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson1

    Pietro Barbetta1 and Maria Nichterlein21. Centro Milanese di Terapia della Famiglia and Universit di Bergamo, Italy.

    2. AIM/CAMHS, Austin Hospital in Melbourne and University of New South Wales, Australia

    This paper discusses some of the concepts that shape the philosophical project of Gilles Deleuze and explores their possible applications within the field of systemic therapy. We propose that Deleuzian ideas connect in significant ways to the more familiar ideas of Gregory Bateson. They constitute a powerful and affirmative critique of the dominant understanding of knowledge, science and practice. As Deleuze would express it, lines of flight. In his work with the anti-psychiatrist Felix Guattari, Deleuze used the term plateau an explicit reference to Bateson to develop an entire philosophy of life and creativity that has significant heuristic possibilities in our field to both consolidate and expand Batesons early insights.

    The paper is organised in two parts: an overview of Deleuzes pro-ject, and a possible integration of some key concepts into systemic practice. This is done through the concrete clinical exploration of one theme: alcoholism. The direct connection is with the letter B (B for boisson [drink]) in Deleuzes Abecedaire, an improvised dialogue with Claire Parnet recorded during his last years of life. This example allows us to reflect on Deleuzes account of alcoholism in a way informed by Batesons notion of the cybernetics of self. We will also be referring at that point to Foucaults notion of dispositive. Deleuze, Bateson, Foucault: not yet the usual suspects, and very different in many ways amongst themselves both as to substance and as to style, but sharing the same bottle nevertheless.

    1. We would like to thank John Morss for his help in smoothing our English grammar and helping us to shape the literary style of this article.

  • Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein400 Human Systems

    Key words: Bateson, Deleuze, therapy, psychoanalysis, systemic therapy

    The problem is not one of being this or that in man, but rather one of becoming human, of a universal becoming animal: not to take oneself for a beast, but to undo the human organization of the body, to cut across such and such a zone of intensity in the body, everyone of us discovering the zones which are really his, and the groups, the populations, the species which inhabit him (Deleuze, 1973).

    Deleuze is a philosopher who still is almost unknown in the field of family therapy. He belonged to the generation that saw Derrida and Foucault emerge in the French philosophical milieu yet, unlike them, he had no time to travel or to go conference-ing. Deleuze like Bateson was perceived by some as an abstruse if not aloof thinker. Yet, this is not a thoughtful let alone respectful view of him for perhaps, more than many of this generation the generation of May 68 , he was the one who did philosophy with most innocence (Derrida, 2001, p. 193) and, like such a child, he was deeply committed to the optimism and the puissance sketched in the revolutionary project of the Enlightenment (Foucault, 1984).2

    So why is it that Deleuze seems to be taking such a critical presence in these current times?

    This is an important question to ask because it addresses a more fundamental ethical question that arises from reading Deleuze: how might one live? Mays introduction to Deleuzes work (2005, p. 4-5) points quite well to this, indicating that this is a philosophical question that is of relevance to our times as a result of the effects that thinkers like Nietzsche and Sartre had in the shaping of the Western mindset.3

    2. Deleuze warns us however that one has to separate this revolutionary project from actual revolutions which, he is consistent in stating, have all ended up miserably by consolidating totalitarian regimes as their result. The revolutionary spirit that Deleuze is invoking is as Foucault indicates in his writing closer to what Kant referred to with his definition of Enlightenment.3. It is no longer, May clarifies, the question posed in ancient philosophy how should one live? which, in turn, was transformed during the modern period to how should one act?

  • (Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 401

    The connection between Deleuze and Guattari is of relevance to us because Guattari was a renowned anti-psychiatrist who although trained with Lacan had an ambivalent relationship with psychoanalysis being far more positive about the possibilities offered by the emergent field of family therapy (Guattari, 1989).

    Their first collaborative book Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze & Guattari, 1983) the first of two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia was very influential (Colebrook, 2002, p. xvii). Foucaults prologue to the book defines it as the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time, an introduction to the Non-Fascist life (Foucault, 1983, p. xiii). It is a book with a passionate, at times angry, style that offers a strong Nietzschean critique of the then prevalent Marxist and psychoanalytical ideas upheld by French intellectual circles. The critique was targeted at the psychoanalytic unconscious: it is not theatre but a factory producing the delirium we call reality [...] an active and productive force of desire (Foucault & Raulet, 1983, p. 446). Their critique also invoked the vital and intimate function that the psychoanalysis of that time had within the capitalist machinery: by forcing interpretation back into the family4, the expansive and creative wanderings of the desiring-machine are captured into a pre-established mould, appropriate to the State in which the individual is living5.

    These ideas in Anti-Oedipus had already been pre-shaped in Deleuzes doctoral thesis Difference and Repetition (Deleuze, 1994), where he articulated a critique of representational thought what he called a static image of thought and its manifestations: common and good sense. He carried out this critique by questioning the prevalence of identity and asserting that what is central to life is not the stability of an image/thought, but difference and variation. Thought in this thesis is no longer a representation of a stable reality of well defined identities and quantities but an active and productive encounter with the outside; an outside that is experienced as a problem in search of an answer. The outside cannot but present itself as a problem since it is itself fluid, fragmented and essentially undecidable. So whatever image one has of what the world is, sooner rather than later one is doomed to encounter difference, a limit in its applicability. Thought then is a complementary process to the outside: a response, a solution to the problem presented through living. And like the outside to which it relates, this alternative thought is equally fluid and fragmented, thus its name: Nomadic.

    4. Which is done by reading unconscious activity as perverse desires that ultimately have to do with mummies and daddies; the psychoanalytical Oedipal psyche.5. This is in close connection with Foucaults ideas on the construction of docile and governable bodies.

  • Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein402 Human Systems

    Deleuze makes a distinction between the static State-like thought that allows governability and this nomadic thought that is intimately connected with life. This distinction is more clearly presented in their second volume, A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987), published eight years after Anti-Oedipus. It constituted a very different and much more complex project than Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze, 1984, p. 239), perhaps completing it as an intellectual project. Rather than presenting a critique, like the earlier book, it proposes a positive project, with its most intriguing aspect perhaps being its structural openness. It is composed of playful plateaux6, where each plateau articulates a whole field of resonances and intensities that channel flows into different forms of organizations/assemblages. There are an infinite number of potential plateaux that can be formed, their only condition for existence being that they work. This notion of multiplicities of coexisting plateaux resonates with another and, in our field, more popular (Hoffman, 2008) of their concepts: the rhizome (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 3-25). The rhizome is a type of knowledge that is decentralized yet highly contingent and contextual. The nomadic thought that Deleuze defined in his thesis organizes itself through rhizomes, constantly expanding in unpredictable yet highly complex ways.

    Troubling/problematizing the Clinic

    Before addressing Deleuzes response to the question posed earlier how might one live? we see some further value in referring to what it does not show us as professionals in this field. For, after all, Deleuzes question seems to refer us back neither to family nor to systemic thinking as we know them, does it?

    In Anti-Oedipus as well as in a number of other essays and interviews (Lapoujade, 2004; 2006), Deleuze and Guattari criticized the family model of psychoanalysis the Oedipic triangle mom-dad-child for its totalizing and capturing gesture: they criticized its claims that the family was the source of everything in the psychic life. As we indicated above, for Deleuze and Guattari psychoanalysis was not a representation of the human psyche but a reductionism of the child7 who is in fact far more interested, as (s)he grows, in understanding how the world out-there in all of its complexity works (for a late summary of these ideas see what children say in Deleuze, 1997).

    6. This is a concept that they borrowed from Bateson. We will touch on this point later in the paper.7. The same argument is used for adults too.

  • (Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 403

    With this in mind one could argue that the Anti-Oedipal question is this: is there, in the realm of life, something that flees (the famous line of flight) the psychoanalytic Oedipus? Or, in perhaps a less confrontational style, is there a way for psychoanalysis to transcend the dangers of familialism? And, a perhaps more direct and relevant question for us in this field, is Family Therapy the new way out of the Oedipisation of everything? The response offers an interesting opening: Family Therapy has not been able to entirely answer this question because in many ways it still remains attached to the idea that everything in life happens in the family: familialism as Deleuze and Guattari call it.

    So, we are still in need of a line of flight for therapy. But what is a line of flight?

    Like with any of Deleuzes concepts, there is no simple and straight definition. An answer can perhaps start by indicating that in considering the expression line of flight, we have to bear in mind the idea of derivation in mathematics8 and variation in repetition. As mentioned earlier, life for Deleuze is not a straight line within an ordered world that could be grasped/understood rationally by an independent individual. Although social life appears as a straight and ordered line, life is instead a sinuous and indefinable line, a wandering of sorts; not a straight line but a line that folds, which is socially treated as a straight line9. This treatment of life as lineal is a result of social manipulation; the effects of living within what Foucault defines as Dispositives. In his friendship towards Foucault, Deleuze (Deleuze, 1988) defines a Dispositive as a set of heterogeneous elements, socially co-ordinated, comprising a multitude of lines that include lines of flight10. Such a definition helps to articulate the subtle and dynamic tension involved in the constitution of our subjectivities, where subjectivity is inherently social and inevitably transient in that such definitions are deemed to end and change in our ongoing assemblage-like relation with the world. To live a life therefore means that we need to be open to line(s) of derivation, taking care not to get stuck.

    Connecting with Bateson

    And we are stuck in familialism as we indicated earlier. Perhaps confirming

    8. A concept that Deleuze surely borrowed from Bergson.9. Foucault would argue that this is done for purposes of governmentality, and, as such, it is not necessarily all bad.10. Note that this is a singular definition. For Deleuze, as individuals especially so in the globalized society we are currently living in we are constituted as a multitude and, as such, we co-exist in a multitude of such dispositives.

  • Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein404 Human Systems

    Batesons intellectual force in the field, we can find in his idea of double bind something that can help us to move forward. There are a number of connections traversing through the work of both Bateson and Deleuze that help us understand the power of the double bind as a line of flight. These are:

    1. The notion of thought as a processIn our opinion, Bateson was not interested in Systemic theory but in Systemic thinking, that is, he was not interested in defining specific contents. His focus was rather on the process and the mechanisms that account for what we observe. This was also a preoccupation for Deleuze as we indicated above.

    There is also a further variation on this point in that both Bateson and Deleuze saw thought not only as intimately connected with the world not as a separate activity based on the brain but as fundamentally dynamic. Thought is not about static realities but about evolutionary processes (for Bateson) or nomadic trajectories (for Deleuze).

    2. The centrality of difference A second common point between Bateson and Deleuze is the importance that they attribute to Difference. The Batesonian dictum of a difference that makes a difference is well known in the field: any difference makes another difference, you see a difference, and such a difference makes a difference in your own mind, creating a meaning. Deleuze is not far from this position in his own investigations which seemed to have been developed at around the same time. As indicated before, his major thesis was an attempt to position difference instead of identity and representation at the centre of philosophical investigation.

    3. The actualization of particularitiesIn a similar way that Bateson warns us of the use of physical explanations to describe the world of Creatura the world of differences (Bateson, 2002, p. 7) Deleuze warns us of the danger of metaphors of identity and representation. The world is not a static world where stable beings struggle to express their identities. Very much in line with the Batesonian notion of an evolutionary ecology of Mind, Deleuzes understanding of the world is as an organic whole that is c...