The Connective and Disjunctive Syntheses

The monstrous body of capital — the socius, or the Body without Organs — is massive, imposing, and unavoidable. It defines the very situation in which we live. It is the milieu that all our thoughts and actions presuppose, the environment to which they all refer, the context in relation to which they alone have meaning. In this sense, capital truly is a “divine” force: it suffuses itself into everything, and it subsumes everything. But this divinity is not the end of the story. The monstrous body of capital is indeed everywhere; but for all that, it is not everything. It has grown to be a “transcendental condition” — but it is not transcendent. In Kantian terms, its status is regulative and not constitutive. Or as Marx puts it, the “laws” of capital logic are only “tendential” ones; they are not totalizing or deterministic. The body of capital is therefore not-all. For one thing, it is never satiated; this means that some margin always remains beyond its grasp, some activity that has not yet been capitalized and appropriated. For another thing, it remains infested by parasites, the remnants that it has been unable to transform into itself. As Deleuze and Guattari say, “the surface of this uncreated body swarms with them, as a lion’s mane swarms with fleas.” We ourselves are these fleas; and even as the body of capital strives to eliminate us, it also cannot exist without us. Just as God needs a creation that is separate from himself, and free to disobey him and err in its ways: so capital requires an external source of inputs, as well as an external dumping ground for outputs. It needs conditions that are not yet its own, and also those that are no longer its own. It must always demand additional ‘raw material’ to subsume, and it must always demand an outlet for the results of this subsumption. In short, capital is not really “self-engendered”; it needs both producers from whom it can extort productive labor, and consumers to whom it can sell its products.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s account, therefore, the Body without Organs is only one of three “syntheses” that together compose the “transcendental conditions” of capitalist existence. The socius is the matrix of surplus appropriation, and then of circulation and distribution. It operates what Deleuze and Guattari call a disjunctive synthesis, or a synthesis of recording, “of distributions and of co-ordinates that serve as points of reference.” But such a process cannot continue indefinitely, all on its own. The disjunctive synthesis of capital is not a perpetual motion machine; it is not a closed, self-contained, self-renewing system. Contrary to the assumptions of neoclassical economics, it is not an equilibrium system. Rather, it is what Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers call a dissipative structure, a far-from-equilibrium conductor of flows of energy. If the socius were only able to feed back upon itself, and live upon its own resources, it would either suffer a short circuit and quickly burn out, or else slowly succumb to entropy. This is precisely why it is not-all. In order to function, the disjunctive synthesis must be preceded by a connective synthesis, a synthesis of production, or “of actions and of passions”: a fuel upon which the body of capital is able to feed. And it must be followed by a conjunctive synthesis, a synthesis of consumption or consummation (consommation), “of sensual pleasures, of anxiety, and of pain”: a spark of self-enjoyment that discharges tensions and reboots the entire reproductive process.

The socius can be described as a disjunctive synthesis, because of the way that it captures all production, appropriates or “attributes” this production to itself, and then divides and distributes the fruits of this production, according to a “system of possible permutations between differences that always amount to the same as they shift and slide about.” Capital is not a substance, but a process and a relation: a process of continual metamorphosis, and a series of “relationships between… producers,” that “take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour” (Marx). In its “constantly renewed movement,” capital does not “prefer” one form to another, or even one path of transformations to another. The channels of circulation and the objects of distribution are therefore always changing, even as the outcome of the process — the “valorization” of the capital being circulated, thanks to the sale and consumption of the product, and the consequent “reflux of money to its starting point” — remains the same. The disjunctive synthesis comes down to a play of differences that do not make a difference, or of choices that have no consequence or significance. “No matter what two organs are involved, the way in which they are attached to the body without organs must be such that all the disjunctive syntheses between the two amount to the same on the slippery surface.”

Deleuze and Guattari’s first synthesis, the connective synthesis of production, can be identified with the actual labor process: that is to say, with “purposeful activity'” that transforms the world. The young Marx of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts describes this process as “Man’s species being,” involving the worker’s immediate relation to “nature,” or to “the sensuous external world.” For nature is “the material on which [the worker’s] labor is manifested, in which it is active, from which and by means of which it produces.” Deleuze and Guattari follow this definition when they present the connective synthesis as “universal primary production” in the course of which human “industry” has a “fundamental identity with nature as production of man and by man.” Strictly speaking, this process is not (or is not yet) subjective. In Marx’s terms, the individual human being is not yet separated from “the life of the species” as a whole, nor from nature, which is humanity’s “inorganic body.” In Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, similarly, there can be “no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species.”

When free production is described in this way, it may sound a bit too much like Rousseau’s “state of nature” (or perhaps, in Deleuze and Guattari’s version, like the aggressively outrageous anarchy of Otto Muehl’s Actions-Analytic Kommune, as presented in Dusan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie). But neither Marx, nor Deleuze and Guattari, ever suggest that such “production” actually has (or might ever once have had) an independent, objective existence; it is always intertwined with other social processes, or with other syntheses. In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Marx only evokes production in the context of a discussion about how human beings’ species-specific “life-activity has been systematically estranged from human beings themselves, leading to the isolation of “individual life in its abstract form.” The later Marx, abjuring such existential language, instead emphasizes the way that “the process of production must be a unity, composed of the labour process and the process of creating value.” But where productive labor is a living, social, and embodied process, value-creation involves all the abstraction inherent to the extraction and realization of surplus value. It is not the case, therefore, that free production comes chronologically first, and is only appropriated afterwards by the capitalist; rather, once the mechanisms of capitalism are in place, the capitalists themselves organize social production with the aim of extracting value.

Similarly, Deleuze and Guattari insist that the connective synthesis never takes place all by itself: “there is no such thing as relatively independent spheres or circuits: production is immediately consumption and recording, without any sort of mediation, and recording and consumption directly determine production, though they do so within the production process itself.” The connective synthesis of production is always already accompanied by the other syntheses, and in particular by the disjunctive synthesis of recording, which both organizes the connective process, and appropriates its products. In the connective synthesis, “there is no need to distinguish…between production and its product… The pure ‘thisness’ of the object produced is carried over into a new act of producing.” But in the disjunctive synthesis of recording, the product is taken out of the flow, separated from the production process of which it was a part. This is what transforms it into a commodity. In its “pure thisness,” it was “an ordinary, sensuous thing. But as soon as it emerges as a commodity, it changes into a thing which transcends sensuousness,” Marx says. In this process, the first (connective synthesis is branched upon, and subordinated to, the second (disjunctive) synthesis. This is why capitalism presents us with “a fetishistic, perverse, bewitched world” in which the “apparent objective movement” of the full body or socius appears to us as the motor of social reproduction. Although the disjunctive synthesis depends, both logically and materially, upon the connective synthesis, it always appears as if the second synthesis came first. And this appearance is itself a basic principle of social organization and social reproduction.

[Discussion of the third synthesis, the conjunctive synthesis of consumption, will follow in a later posting]

21 thoughts on “The Connective and Disjunctive Syntheses”

  1. This sounds rather gnostic, as does your Chtuleuzien reading of Capital a few days ago. That there is something outside of us that causes us to be monstrous, and that if we could only dislocate ourselves from it, we could be pure and free. Perhaps you mean capital to be “divine” in the sense that Lucifer was divine, a fallen angel, but …

    Well, I would like to put this on an even simpler plane. Guns don’t shoot people, people do. The crime is not IN the gun. It’s in people.

    In the same way, capitalism is not responsible for human greed.

    We are a species of monkey, and monkeys are naturally aggressive and power-crazy.

    Many on the left forget this, believing with Rousseau that we only became evil when we agreed to give up our solitude in return for the chains of society.

    Or believing with Marx that we were free and perfect before capitalism.

    Gnosticism! Ha ha!

    The gnostics believed, too, that we are free except for some sick crazy God that infected us with the illusions that cause us to be demonic.

    But evil is in some sense inside of us.

    In classical Christian terminology this is sin. And there’s the idea that we can step outside of capitalism via the monastery for instance and become free and charming again. But if you’ve read Eco’s Name of the Rose you get a sense of the kind of mischief afoot inside monasteries.

    We are a kind of monkey.

    And the more we place evil somewhere else — on race, gender, and class, or on lacrosse players, or on religious people, or on the Germans, or whatever, the more we are simply scapegoating our monkeydom. We are monkeys.

    Even if we got rid of capital, per se, we’d still be aggressive, mischievous creatures, looking to become dominant members of the pack, looking to hurt the other monkeys we don’t like.

    It’s bananas, man.

    Theory can’t save us!

  2. Thanks for this flurry of innovation, Steve. Looking forward to further conjunctions. It’s interesting to compare this summary of “The Connective and Disjunctive Syntheses” from ANTI-OEDIPUS to Deleuze & Guattari’s subsequent semiotics, Graham Harman’s objects, and CS Peirce’s semiotic:


    Connective a-signifying real object
    Disjunctive signifying sensual sign
    Conjunctive a-signifying connection interpretant

    (Was recently rereading Gary Genosko’s “Guattari’s Schizoanalytic Semiotics: Mixing Hjelmslev & Peirce”, and Bruno Bosteels’ “From Text to Territory: Felix Guattari’s Cartographies of the Unconscious”, both in the 1998 DELEUZE & GUATTARI: NEW MAPPINGS IN POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY, AND CULTURE (edited by Eleanor Kaufman & Kevin Jon Heller)).

  3. Guns don’t shoot people, people do. The crime is not IN the gun. It’s in people.

    Kirby, though I’ll admit I lack adequate knowledge of Christianity (and especially of the Lutheran variety), I am pretty sure Satan was also designated in the Scriptures as extimate/not intrinsic to man – how else would you have free will, to choose between good and evil ? – or does Lutheranism deny free will? – so this can’t be the main difference between Gnosticism and Christianity.

  4. This feels very much like a poetic description of systems theory. It’s just that the descripive apparatus can be applied also to media, politics, science etc.

    Media are everywhere but not everything, they are autonomous and reflective and transform themselves according to their own codes. We live outside of the media system and belong to its environment and so on.

    In a very elaborated way this can be found in the writings of Niklas Luhmann.

    I’m not sure if there is much reception of Luhmann among anglo american philosophers?

  5. You’ve hit a vein of gold!

    Do you think this is residual surrealism?

    Paraphrasing Breton: Surrealism is the art or sense of taking (viewing) two disparate things and viewing them as one essential thing.

    But synthesis can’t happen within thought without analysis. Indeed within the world as well. Kantian?

  6. Parody Center, Luther thought that our will was in bondage to sin, and therefore that it was not free. He relied a lot on the passage in St. Paul where Paul says (Romans), that he couldn’t do what he thought was good.

    Even though he could know it, he couldn’t do it.

    Nietzsche sort of turns this around (his pop was a Lutheran pastor) and argues that we should enjoy doing the will of the universal will (Chtuleuzien).

    Marx argues that we should act for and with our class, and seems also to deny individual will altogether (we act always as a member of our class).

    The unilinear evolutionists of the 19th century were ooky though — the more you read them the less that you can find that they are really saying anything in particular. Just flapping their mouths, much like us, to continually draw attention to ourselves and our misbegotten ideas.

    The 16th century was a little better in that regard, although it’s true that it takes 5 long shelves to house Luther’s jaw-flapping seances against Satan.

  7. Parody Center, Luther thought that our will was in bondage to sin,

    I told you before all these Western derivates or extensions of Catholicism are drenched in guilt and punishment, which to me always seemed like Satan’s business for how can any loving or creative or good God want us, deliberately, to suffer. But my issue here was something else, you say that evil is within us, but already the myth of the Garden of Eden suggests it comes from the outside (from the snake) how do you interpret that?

  8. Once we’re fallen, it’s inside.

    Nietzsche would have understood that since his dad was a Lutheran pastor.

    Marx also was raised as a Lutheran.

    The question is how to explain evil.

    You can explain it as out-there, like Cthulu, or like Capital.

    Or you can explain it as inside of every one of us (complete depravity since the Fall).

    There are other ways to do it.

    You could just blame it on men (feminism)

    Or just blame it on women (chauvinism)

    Or you could accept that you and yours can be evil, and you could apologize for the goof-up at Duke, in which evil was placed on the lacrosse players for being white, male, and wealthy (and thus guilty without trial).

    We chose Satan (we have a free will) but now can’t ever be quite pure again.

    Ha ha.

    God didn’t will it for us. We willed it.

    Nietzsche would have understood that, but argued that we should really go for it, go for broke, breaking the ten commandments, like the ancient gnostic libertines called the Carpocratians.

    Marx for some reason was also a gnostic — he felt that evil existed within the bourgeoisie, but not within the proletariat. So, if you excised the bourgeoisie, you would also excise all evil, and we would again live in the garden of Eden (the workers’ paradise).

  9. Nietzsche would have understood that, but argued that we should really go for it, go for broke, breaking the ten commandments, like the ancient gnostic libertines called the Carpocratians.

    But the rejection follows quite different reasons. For the gnostics the world is an evil place and the 10 commandments are made by the lord of the world. Gnosticism is always concerned with the external: our own inner soul as well as the force of all evil are external to the world and outside of the place of apparent confusion ( the world ) they can be separated again.

    For Nietzsche the distinction between good and evil follows itself our own will to power which becomes mystified by the assumption of an external source. The good is alway the evil of another one and vice versa. Hence there is no God who can hold authority but the there is also no Cthulhu.

    I think you are right about pointing to a gnostic reading of Marx. But you tend to overlook the implications of this abstract system or monster theoretical point of view which entirely avoids talking about classes and class struggle. There is just capital and there are human beings. Since it is on the verge of becoming a new idealism the question must be raised who exactly has an interest in leading this discourse?

  10. I didn’t understand how or why capital as a gnostic demon has to be a new idealism, or why we have to ask who this reading of capital serves.

    Could you explain this at more length, please?


  11. There is no single Gnostic doctrine but only general trends in Gnosticsm. It may be more accurate to refer to the corporeal as a prison rather than being evil per se. It is viewing the world scientificly, by the “minute particulars” as Blake said, rather than imaginatively. The pyschologist J.H. van den Berg gives an illumination on this matter of perspective in his book The Changing Nature of Man (1961). He refers to science as being focused on the “past,” on what is. Whereas imaginative think is future or oriented, it is liberating, and is focused on what might be. Perhaps similiar to Kierkegaards notion of God as possibility. In this sense Capitalism is very much not divine but in fact human all too human. A visionary man who is free from the past “is the true master,” according to van den Berg, “the adult acts–which means that he gives evidence of a freedom which, if necessary, gives him a right, a total and unlimited right, to act on his own, to carry all responsibility alone. Today, acting as an adult means acting in a team. The plea is made that the team is an improvement–the team is said to create cooperation, harmony, and integration. The peculiarity of all work done in teams, however, is primarily the lack of responsibility of each of the participants. No one is responsible. No one is wholly mature.” (102)

    William James echoes this statement commenting on Walt Whitman in The Varieties of Religious Experience:

    …The only sentiments he allowed himself to express were of the expansive order; and he expressed these in the first person, not as your mere monstrously conceited individual might so express them, but vicariously for all men, so that a passionate and mystic ontological emotion suffuses his words, and ends by persuading the reader that men and women, life and death, and all things are divinely good. Thus it has come about that many persons to-day regard Walt Whitman as the restorer of the eternal natural religion. He has infected them with his own love of comrades, with his own gladness that he and they exist.

  12. In Crossing Brooklyn Ferry WW celebrates what the French call “frottage,” which means rubbing against strangers in public. It creeped me out, and made me hate my fellow man that they could be up to such hijinks. What a rat to be copping feels without the express consent of others. I guess to that extent I understand what you meant by a lack of responsibility when there are two. But I think that two implies the consent of the two. Whitman’s poet narrator is generally alone in a crowd getting illicit kicks.

    He also celebrates sleeping with a prostitute in one of his poems. He might imagine there is teamwork in that coupling, but it’s a very temporary teamwork, and is generally harmful to both participants. They don’t have each other’s ultimate good in mind. That’s capitalism at its absolute lowest. Whitman strikes me as a gnostic, too. He’s quite alone, and interested in his own self, often very much at the expense of others.

    Maybe Whitman is Cthulu, or the will to power, but dressed up like Santa Claus. Whitman was actually a rather evil gentleman, like Allen Ginsberg.

    Ginsberg’s great trick was to present society as a vast evil monolith inside of which he was comparatively good to spend his time just ruining a child or two’s backside in Tangiers as a sex tourist.

  13. I didn’t understand how or why capital as a gnostic demon has to be a new idealism, or why we have to ask who this reading of capital serves.

    “Idealism” in the sense Marx denounced Hegels system as the ideology of the bourgeoisie. Marx on the other hand wanted to look deeper into the concrete material relationships between classes and their antagonisms: remember that the bourgeoisie created the system of capital for their own profit.

    Now, why not abstracting the classes away, turn capital into Capital ( with a capital ‘C’) and re-inscribe it as an evil demon into the society after the hope has faded that the working-class can terminate exploitation and overpower the bourgeoisie? Obviously historic materialism was just too simple but we can’t Marx let go, so poor Marx has to stay on his head, just like colleague Hegel.

  14. I got the feeling that for Marx the end of history was when the poor were all like the bourgeoisie — could read poetry in the morning and go fencing in the afternoon, and listen to opera at night.

    I think everyone can now do this at least in America.

    People are monstrously fat in this country, and although they don’t read poetry or listen to opera or go fencing (at least in the sense that Marx meant), they have that option, it’s just a little intellectually strenuous.

    Most people don’t like intellectually strenuous stuff. The idea is rather to lie about, pop cheese curls, and watch reruns of Friends, or Cosby, depending on your demographics.

    But I like the image of Hegel and Marx side by side upside down together. There needs to be a third to complete the image (things need to come in threes according to Marx and Hegel).

    It’s also fun to imagine them wearing dunce caps.

    But upside down is just delicious.

    Who’s the third?

  15. I got the feeling that for Marx the end of history was when the poor were all like the bourgeoisie — could read poetry in the morning and go fencing in the afternoon, and listen to opera at night.

    Go fishing the day and doing criticism the evening.

    For a reason that is hard to understand the finally liberated human being is neither concerned with prayer ( of course not, religion is dispensable once humanism is almighty ) nor with opera but spent lots of the life time doing criticism. Maybe criticism is the Yoga of the socialist society, something that leads to balance?

    I guess we have to turn back from poetic theory to science fiction ( imagination ). But for the moment I’d recommend to make a stop and watching a little football:

  16. Very very fun, what. Martin Luther as the manager of the Germans!

    Right you are — criticism in the EVENINGS, when the owl of Minerva flies.

    Oh, blimey.

    I just got Mary Midgley’s memoir The Owl of minerva with its FRONT COVER blurb by Mary Warnock, “I hugely enjoyed it” and no exclamation mark! How can the Brits show such restraint. No exclamation mark in a front cover blurb!!!

    Here’s Midgley’s first sentence, “I think it is best to begin a story with something that one particularly likes and wants to share” (1).

    At any rate, maybe Harpo Marx is the third riding a bicycle on the ceiling, and at least quiet, but Midgley decides to open her book talking about a garden that she remembers from age 5.

  17. “The monstrous body of capital — the socius, or the Body without Organs — is massive, imposing, and unavoidable. It defines the very situation in which we live. It is the milieu that all our thoughts and actions presuppose, the environment to which they all refer, the context in relation to which they alone have meaning. In this sense, capital truly is a “divine” force: it suffuses itself into everything, and it subsumes everything. But this divinity is not the end of the story. The monstrous body of capital is indeed everywhere; but for all that, it is not everything.”

    I love it.

    Life itself is only empirical, but at the same time there are words of wisdom, therefore, words themselves can only be treated empirically – surely not?

    What I am trying to say is that your text has been most helpful in the most recent situations, which I have had to deal with, enduring day-to-day capitalism.

    Thank you, its never spiritual, but always amazing.

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