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  • Dynamic and Thermodynamic Tropes of the Subject in Freud and in Deleuze and Guattari
  • Martin E. Rosenberg

[O]rators and others who are in variance are mutually experiencing something that is bound to befall those who engage in senseless rivalry: believing that they are expressing opposite views, they fail to perceive that the theory of the opposite party is inherent in their own theory.

—Thrasymachus of Chalcedon


In their recent work Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (1991), Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari make explicit the role that the concept of chaos plays in their representations of subjectivity, with respect to philosophy, science and the arts.1 I wish to exfoliate the chaotic in Deleuze and Guattari’s works, for their analysis of the ways in which chaos may be used referentially in philosophy, science and the arts in this later work may interfere with readers’ attempts to grapple with manifestations of chaos as a referent in their earlier collaboration, the two volumes subtitled Captialism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. One way to make visible Deleuze and Guattari’s recourse to the chaotic in these two works is to examine the role that particular physics tropes play in their representation of subjectivity, especially since the tropes that model the subject in these two works engage agonistically with those that model subjectivity in the works of Sigmund Freud.2

The descriptions of human consciousness in Freud and in Deleuze and Guattari are problematic precisely in their inverse, mirrored opposition, and we may discover the “ground” for that opposition by examining the role played by tropes from the discipline of physics in these theorists’ representations of subjectivity. We will need to notice particularly the historical differences in the ideological use of these tropes—at the end of the nineteenth century, and since the mid-twentieth century. As we will see, these two periods are interesting because they represent moments when the term entropy, a concept describing the amount of disorder in a physical system, has very different meanings— in physics, and in the cultural matrix as well. In the mid- to-late nineteenth century, entropy (in the context of equilibrium thermodynamics) refers largely to terminal processes of disorder for a physical system; since the nineteen-sixties, however, entropy (in the context of non- equilibrium thermodynamics) came to be understood as an initial condition enabling greater order and complexity in a physical system. Since Freud draws on the first version of entropy as referent, and Deleuze and Guattari draw on the second version of entropy as referent, two questions emerge: Can we say that Freud and Deleuze and Guattari are making the same claims for tropes of chaos (or entropy, or disorder) as grounds for their contending representations of subjectivity? If so, what can we then say about the stability of such claims for a correspondence between laws of physics and the forces and processes of human consciousness? In order to confront these questions, we should first examine trope theories that might illuminate the problematic construction of correspondences.

Physics and Tropes

The problematic of the subject becomes the problem of representation when the particular forms of representation of the subject, such as tropes, come into question. This problem of representation then requires a rhetoric of the tropes of subjectivity that will discover the relationships among particular tropes representing specific functions of consciousness, such as the dreamwork, or the Oedipal scenario.

By the term trope, we may refer to what Hayden White calls the irreducible nature of metaphor in imaginative and realistic discourses. A trope is a turn of phrase that links an abstract concept to the physical world, and as such, establishes a correspondence between the physical world and human ideation. According to White, tropes are “inexpungeable from discourse in the human sciences” (White 1–2). In other words, for White, every trope is a fiction, the authorship of which all writers must deny, in order to preserve their claim for the truth-content of their discourse. But even contemporary theories of tropes have had recourse to the discipline of physics in order to model how tropes work. Thus, for the sake of this inquiry, we must first question...