Desiring Agency: Limiting Metaphors and Enabling Constraints in Dawkins and Deleuze/Guattari

Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene and Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus share a common interest in de-throning consciousness as the seat of identity. At the same time, they seek to displace agency into non-conscious actors or dispel it altogether. In this sense they are part of a larger movement within cognitive science and evolutionary biology to define cognition in terms that partially deconstruct the distinction between organisms and environment. Yet their projects differ from this larger movement in that they both rely on performative language to enact dissolutions or displacements that could not take place in empirical reality. To evaluate their projects, this essay develops a theoretical framework that envisions metaphorical language working together with enabling constraints to produce reliable knowledge. Within this framework, the problematic move that Dawkins and Deleuze/Guattari make is the extensive use of metaphoric language without the counterbalance of constraints. Instead of the non-human unconstrained agency that these theorists enact through their performative language, this essay proposes a model of distributed agency that works through rather than against constraints.