- A Schizoanalytic Reading of Baudelaire: The Modernist as Postmodernist
Whether Deleuze and Guattari were actually “doing philosophy” in the Anti-Oedipus or not, their last collaborative work Qu’est-ce que la philosophie?) may shed some light on the status of the concepts operating in that early work.1 Unlike scientific concepts, which aim to stabilize and identify specific domains within the real, philosophical concepts operate according to Deleuze and Guattari as what we might call “transformers”: they intervene in established philosophical problematics in order to de-stabilize them, reworking old concepts and forging new connections among the distinctive features composing them.2 What is distinctive about the Anti-Oedipus, in this light (and perhaps this is what makes its mode of intervention seem more than just philosophical), is that its de-stabilization of established problematics involves making new connections with historical context, as well as re- aligning concepts into new constellations.3 A term such as “de-coding,” then, will best be understood not in terms of any content of its own, but in relation to the concepts it transforms in the course of producing schizoanalysis out of the problematics of historical materialism and psychoanalysis in the wake of the events of 1968 in France, and—for the purposes of this essay—how it illuminates the transformative force of the works of that great 19th- century figure of transition, Charles Baudelaire.4 My aim here will thus be not so much to explain what de-coding means as to show how it works and what it can do in the way of textual and socio-historical analysis of Baudelaire.
Since concepts as transformers intervene in other contexts instead of governing domains of their own, they have no independent, autonomous content, and depend instead on their use for whatever content we can ascribe to them. In other words, what makes philosophical concepts “user- friendly” for Deleuze and Guattari is also what makes them so challenging: they are strategically underdetermined, and thus only take shape—to borrow one of Deleuze’s favorite polyvocal expressions—“au milieu”: in context and in between their point of departure and a point of arrival or connection with some other phenomenon or event.5 Connecting schizoanalysis with Baudelaire for one thing endows the notion of de-coding with features— notably the linguistic or rhetorical tools of metaphor and metonymy for close analysis of poetic texts—it does not obviously possess in the Anti-Oedipus itself; and at the same time it in turn situates the evolution of Baudelairean poetics in the broader cultural and historical context of the emergence of market society, which is ultimately responsible for de-coding in the first place. The de-coding of modernism in Baudelaire will, in this context, turn out to be not only what happens to an earlier romanticism he puts behind him with the invention of modernism, but also what happens to that modernism itself, especially in the late prose poems. By repositioning Baudelaire in relation to and somehow already beyond the very modernism he contributed so much to inventing, a schizoanalytic reading can help situate Baudelaire in postmodern context. But first, a few words about de-coding.
De-coding is, in the first place, Deleuze and Guattari’s translation into semiotic terms of the concepts of rationalization and reification, by which Weber and Lukacs designated the historical replacement of meaning by abstract calculation as the basis of social order. More in agreement with Lukacs than with Weber, they explain this process as a function of the capitalist market and the predominance of exchange-value. To be more specific, de-coding is linked to axiomatization, the process central to capitalism whereby streams of quantified factors of production (such as raw materials, skills, and knowledges) are conjoined in order to extract a differential surplus; de-coding both supports and results from axiomatization, transforming meaningful qualities into calculable quantities. Deleuze and Guattari disagree radically with both Weber and Lukacs, however, in considering de-coding not as sterile disenchantment or hopeless fragmentation, but as the positive moment in the dialectic of capitalist development: as the potential for freedom and permanent revolution, opposed by the forces of re-coding...