The ethical (and political) status of theorizing the subject: Deleuze and Guattari

  • Bert Olivier University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
Keywords: abstract machine, actual, assemblage, Deleuze, deterritorialization, Guattari, lines of flight, rhizome, subject, virtual


With Lacan's exhortation that the subject's ethical task is to “take up” his or her desire as its point of departure, this paper thematizes the question of the ethics of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's notion of the subject, as articulated (mainly) in A Thousand Plateaus (1987). It is argued that, given their ontological conceptualization of the subject as an open, complex “agency-assemblage” that is ineluctably characterized (“virtually”, if not “actually”) by a rhizomatic and multiplicitous structure (every subject always already being “a crowd”), their conception enables one to address the issue of the ethical status of theory in psychology in an exemplary manner. The reason for this claim is that their complex, multifaceted theorization of the subject construes it in a nonsubstantialist, “machinic”, or rather “structural-machinic” manner (that is, with a complex structure that operates like a becoming-machine). This stresses the enduring possibility for change on the part of the subject – something that has to be presupposed in any psychological or psychoanalytic theory of the subject, lest the possibility of efficacious therapeutic intervention be theoretically and ethically compromised. Another way of putting this is that, at the level of what Deleuze and Guattari termed “the abstract machine”, the subject is overdetermined insofar as it comprises an indefinite sphere of “virtual” possibilities that may be actualized under certain conditions – the subject is always already more than what has been historically actualized. Moreover, such a theory allows for the “deterritorialization” of the subject along “nomadic” “lines of flight” that effectively resist its endless “territorialization” by the “state apparatus”.


Download data is not yet available.
How to Cite
Olivier, B. (2017). The ethical (and political) status of theorizing the subject: Deleuze and Guattari. Psychotherapy & Politics International, 15(2). Retrieved from