guattari_schizoanalytic cartographies_1488_2337
Felix Guattari, Schizoanalytic Cartographies, Bloomsbury, London, 2012, 272 pages, £17.99 paper, ISBN 9781441167279.

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Schizoanalytic Cartographies is an ambitious and thought-provoking book that provides a detailed exposition of Guattari’s version of schizoanalysis, a form of analysis that he extracts from the debris of a reductionist psychoanalysis. As part of this approach, Guattari looks to “minimize the use of notions like those of subjectivity, consciousness, significance … as transcendental entities that are impermeable to concrete situations” (page 23) and instead provides an array of terms which he offers as instruments for a speculative cartography. The schizoanalytic cartographies of the title, then, are maps which refuse a fixed and invariant domain of subjectivity, but are rather relational configurations which change state and status as a function of particular assemblages. Guattari imagines this as a framework with which to protect schizoanalysis from the temptation to give in to the ideal of scientificity that ordinarily prevails and, as such, we may read his schizoanalytic cartographies as attempts to position, if only temporarily, singularities and processes of singularisation. What is at stake here is the enunciation of singularities which are outside of the dominant coordinates, on the basis of which ‘mutant universes of reference’ can spring up and for which “no calculation can predict the position or the potentialities” (page 104).

Originally published in French in 1989, this translation of Felix Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Cartographies came out last year from Bloomsbury – formerly Continuum – as part of their Impacts series, a collection of “seminal works by the finest minds in contemporary thought”, which is not bad as far as marketing ‘theory’ goes. The latest in a series of recent translations,[1] all of which have been published by semiotext(e) heretofore (see Guattari and Rolnik, 2008; Guattari, 2006; 2009a; 2009b; 2011), this book has the potential to contribute to on-going debates in contemporary human geography, with regards to abstraction, affect, cartography, subjectivity, and theory. The book adopts an unorthodox structure: there is an introduction – the ‘Preliminary’ – followed by eight numbered chapters; this is appended by a series of seven essays.[2] As such, the book is translated in its integrity. Just as important as the text – if not more so – are the manifold diagrams and tables that litter the book. There are over 70 of these (although there is at least one missing from the original text), along with a handful of prints, which are excluded for reasons of cost.

The translator’s introduction is outstanding in the way it attends to Guattari’s writing, here and elsewhere; it is both lucid and insightful, but also rather bombastic (much like Guattari himself). Andrew Goffey identifies the text as being “perhaps one of the last big books of French ‘theory’ - that extraordinary efflorescence of thinking that occurred in the wake of the events of 1968 - to be translated into English” (page xv). Crucially, Goffey warns the reader of the difficulty of the text that is about to follow, by reflecting on the difficulties encountered in the process of translation. Not only are there many textual inconsistencies[3] but Guattari develops a “highly idiosyncratic vocabulary”, a “strange machinery of expression” (page xvi). However, Goffey is also keen to reassure the reader, suggesting that the “asperities and snagging awkwardness of some of Guattari’s writing is actually rather felicitous”, as it performs or evokes the author’s ‘movements of thought’.[4] For all the defence of the originality of Guattari’s thought, and style of theorising, it is hard to overlook the difficulties of what can be a rather abstruse text. Alongside his familiarity with chemistry, and even physics, there are more exclamation marks (!), ellipses (…), and unfinished lists (etc.) than you can wave a stick at. Even for someone accustomed to reading Guattari, the price of entry is high, both in terms of the ‘jargon’, as Goffey puts it, but also the pace of theorisation.[5] Having said that, if you have read Guattari’s work – either solo or collaborative – it will be of great help in navigating some of the key ideas, particularly with regards the production of subjectivity. Importantly, then, this is a text that operates at an abstract level (in terms of the theory, the concepts, and the language) yet which does this with reference to a slew of abstractions (a form of diagrammatic speculation). The sometimes oblique nature of the writing relates to Guattari’s attempt to establish a new analytic that might capture new modes of expression; this can be seen in how the syntax itself creates forms of schizo-cartographies. Take his discussion of existence and diagrams, for instance:

“We must now examine the impact of expressive smoothing (EC) on the structures of modular – I would be tempted to say medullary – reference. It is impossible to go in one direction without taking into account the counter-effect of that movement on the point one has just left! Because of the fractal unfolding of fields of possibility, this incidence of Expression on territorialized modules will not take place brutally but by thresholds, to the extent that new attractors of Content Cφ will acquire consistency.” (page 142)

As Goffey so eloquently puts it, this “is a question about the specificity of his theoretical practice, in the sense that the idiom, the idiosyncracy – the idiocy, even – of a jargon testifies to what it is that matters to it” (page xix)As his erstwhile collaborator (and admirer) Deleuze once noted, Guattari’s “ideas are like drawings, or even diagrams” (2006: 238).

As I read (and re-read) the book, two clear themes became apparent – themes which could be of interest to many a human geographer and social theorist. The first is Guattari’s method, or style, which is a curious combination of analysis and speculation. Curious, in that it revivifies ideas of what it is to analyse and how to go about doing so. The second is Guattari’s engagement with affect, which may yet become an important contribution to debates within the discipline and beyond, with regards to both the nature of affect and how to apprehend it. I want to start with the latter and then move to the former, as I think that Guattari’s work is at its most compelling in its discussions of affect. As he puts it, affect should stop being thought of as a ‘raw energetic matter’ but as a “hyper-complex object, rich with all the fields of potentiality that it can open up” (page 186).[6] This hyper-complex object is also a “pre-personal category, establishing itself ‘before’ the circumscription of identities, and manifesting itself by transfers that are as unlocalizable from the point of view of their origin as from that of their destination” (page 203). Here, Guattari points to the problem with identifying how one thing can affect something else, unsettling conventional notions of causality and highlighting the transitive character of affect. It is tempting to quote him at some length, as his articulation of affect points to how it “remains fuzzy, atmospheric, and yet is perfectly apprehendable” (page 203).Crucially, the temptation to pin down – or quantify an affect – is an impossible task, as it “loses its qualitative dimensions and its potential for singularization, for heterogenesis, in other words the eventual compositions, the ‘haecceities’ that it promotes” (page 204). This, then, is precisely why psychoanalysis should give up treatment under the aegis of scientific paradigms. In his sights here are those figures most readily associated with the ‘psy’ disciplines: Freud and Lacan.[7]

“For more than ten years I have endeavoured to extract from the debris of psychoanalysis what still stands up, what deserves to be rethought on the basis of theoretical scaffoldings that are different to and, if possible, less reductionist than those of the Freudians and Lacanians” (page 17)

If Guattari comes across as a rather renegade psychoanalyst, this is in large part because he is. The project of schizoanalysis, which both he and Deleuze developed, is at centre-stage in much of the discussions of reanimating psychoanalysis. This is a kind of paradoxical analysis, which should be

“both more modest and more grand. More modest because if this schizoanalysis really is going to exist one day, it is because it already exists a little bit everywhere today, in an embryonic fashion, in diverse modalities, and has no need of an institutional foundation in due form. More grand, to the extent that its vocation is, in my opinion, to become a discipline for reading other modelling systems. Not as a general model, but as an instrument for deciphering modelling systems in diverse domains, a meta-model, in other words.” (page 17)

It is this last point, on the rejection of a general model – or a ‘normalized schizoanalytic protocol’ – that guides this style of analysis. This is a deliberate ‘displacement’ of the analytic problematic, a deliberate shift from analysing “systems of statements and performed subjective structures towards Assemblages of enunciation to forge new coordinates for reading and to ‘bring into existence’ new representations and propositions” (page 17). In a geographic context, these provocative comments seem to chime with recent critiques of methodological conservatism. Guattari’s method is in keeping with the ethos of many non-representational theories that understand the world as incomplete and inconsistent, necessitating an approach that is animated by a spirit of affirmative experimentation.

These eccentric qualities are foregrounded throughout the book and schizoanalysis is seen as a way of avoiding “getting bogged down in the concept of the ‘unconscious’” (page 18). Analysis “no longer resides in a derivation of interpretable signifying chains” (page 19) and should therefore extend – or to use his terms, enlarge – its means of intervention, so that it does not rest on the “interpretation of fantasms and the displacement of affects but endeavours to render both operative, to score them with a new range (in the musical sense)” (page 214). An exemplification of this style of analysis is provided early on in the book, by way of a particular case: a singer who has had a recent bereavement and can no longer reach the same notes. It starts with a fairly conventional reading of the situation, before Guattari offers a different interpretation of the condition. This interpretation is much shorter, and notes that without the existence of the singing the patient might have lost other kinds of octaves in other registers, and culminates with a typical flourish of his:

“That is all one can say about it! Certain long marked out pathways … undergo a pragmatic transformation. Should these facts be recorded in the column of debts and losses? Nothing is less sure!” (page 25)

What, then, of the cartographic in the book? Cartography offers a way to both speculate – by charting connections – and position singularities. Schizoanalysis is tethered to cartography in order to avoid the ‘swamps of reductionisms’, but only so long as this is a cartography that is void of any and every scientific reference. Guattari, of course, is inconsistent and on it is hard to overlook just how many scientific terms pepper the text, even if they do seem to be appropriated in unexpected ways. Cartography is a way of “re-mooring … social and analytical practices on the side of ethico-aesthetic paradigms” (page 149). In order to avoid slipping into mechanistic accounts of the subject, or a particular relation to the world, Guattari works with an ethos of 3 + n, avoiding dualisms and syntheses (see Genosko, 2002). The claim is that the cartographic possibilities are opened up by having at least four functors – or a ‘quadripartition’ – something which Guattari justifies at some length (page 69). Unfortunately, for this reader at least, much of the book is devoted to a long and somewhat dense examination of the four functors (which deploy onto ‘domains’) – not defined, but understood as variables – and include: Flows (F), Territories (T), Phyla (Φ), and Universes (U). The entities which arise from these four domains do not have any identity as such, but are only able to sustain their own configurations through the relations that they entertain with each other.

Alongside this somewhat technical discussion, Guattari also ranges over topics such as postmedia, molecular revolution, and chaos – which all appear elsewhere in his oeuvre. Somewhat inevitably, the other highlights include material that has already been published, piecemeal, elsewhere. Indeed, Guattari is at his best when he puts his ideas to work on a particular topic, whether it is literature (Genet), architecture, photography (Tahara), theatre (Witikiewicz), or even his own dreams. The latter is fascinating but troubles the claims made earlier on in the book, that schizoanalysis really does signal a break with psychoanalysis. Not only am I slightly in awe at the level of detail that he is able to recall – does anybody remember his or her dreams with such clarity? – but the interpretations are equally surprising, with a striking speculative flourish. And yet, it is this speculation that holds Guattari dear to me; he is unafraid to try out ideas, to think aloud, to digress, to reach dead-ends and double back. This speculative analysis is surely what sets it apart from the version of psychoanalysis that he rails against with such vehemence, an analysis that holds all the answers. With Guattari, we see that this is just one interpretation among many, and that this particular one ‘works’ because it diagrams the way in which these ideas may cohere. Although the book itself is on the cusp of coherence, it is also clear quite how much of an original thinker Guattari was. Able to range – seemingly – over any topic, he is thrilling, if not a little confusing, to read. This book offers readers a series of challenges in how to proceed in an age where quantification, science, and truth remain, for many, the benchmarks of quality research; Guattari reminds us that there are other ways of going on, and that,

“other modalities of subjective production – those that are processual and singularizing – are conceivable. Tomorrow, these alternative forms of existential reappropriation and of self-valorization may become the reason for living of human collectives and individuals who refuse to give themselves up to the deathly entropy characteristic of the period through which we are passing.” (page 15)


[1] The growing interest in Guattari’s work is indicated not only by recent translations but by new publications. A little-known French press, Éditions Lignes, has issued a number of out-of-print and previously unpublished texts (Guattari, 2007; 2012a; 2012b; 2014), as part of a collaboration with the institute (IMEC) which houses Guattari’s archives – all 79 boxes of it – and which coincided with the twentieth anniversary of his death.

[2] Some of these essays have appeared elsewhere, something which Goffey notes (xv) but does not provide details of. The opening chapter, ‘Preliminary’ [Regimes, Pathways, Subjects; trans. B. Massumi], appears both in The Guattari Reader and alongside a fantastic collection of texts in Incorporations: 6; ‘Refrains and existential affects’ [Ritornellos and Existential Affects; trans. J. Schiesari and G. Van Den Abbeele], and ‘Genet regained’ [trans. B. Massumi], were previously translated and published in The Guattari Reader (Genosko, 1996); ‘The refrains of being and sense’ [The Refrain of Being and Meaning; trans. C. Wiener and E. Wittman] appears in Guattari’s (2009a) Soft Subversions; and ‘Architectural enunciation’ [trans. T. Adams] features in the journal Interstices.

[3] It is compared to Whitehead’s (1978) Process and Reality, which, by my count, comes with 23 pages of corrections.

[4] Jannel Watson also remarks on the book’s “awkward neologisms, frequent digressions, and obscure references” (2009, page 5).

[5] Indeed, in the Preliminary, Guattari himself begs the reader “not to hold the plethora of characterizations, the semantic overload of certain expressions and, doubtless, a certain vagueness in their understanding, against me too much: there is no other recourse possible here!” (page 5).

[6] And, later on in the chapter, we read that psychoanalysis has accustomed us to thinking “affect in terms of an elementary entity. But there also exist complex affects” (page 210).

[7] There are some fascinating reflections on the resonances between psychoanalysis and religion, with Guattari noting that sacred texts – Freud’s Old Testament and Lacan’s New Testament – are often thought to provide ‘some all-purpose formulae’. 


Deleuze G (2007) Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995. D Lapoujade (ed), A Hodges and M Taormina (trans). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Genosko G (1996) The Guattari Reader. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
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Whitehead AN (1978) Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York: Free Press.