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«Chung-Hsiung Lai Intergrams 10.2-11.1(2010): ISSN: 1683-4186 Abstract This ...»

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Nomadic Desire:

The Schizo-Identity in Mona in the Promised Land

Chung-Hsiung Lai

Intergrams 10.2-11.1(2010):

http://benz.nchu.edu.tw/~intergrams/intergrams/102-111/102-111-lai .pdf

ISSN: 1683-4186


This paper aims to explore a nomadic desire of the second-generation

Chinese-Americans in Gish Jen’s Mona in the Promised Land. The paradigm of

diaspora in the United States has shifted from the moved-to-here immigrants to born-here immigrants, from the longing for the re-turn to the authentic origin to the longing for the emergence of a self-affirmative nomadic subjectivity. Mona, the heroine of the novel, torn between the anxious hope of being firmly rooted and the imminent fear of being fully totalized, is lost and wanders from place to place in her nomadic journey of identity. In this paper, I will mainly use Deleuzo-Guattarian theory to explore the idea of nomadic desire, a simultaneous double-desire of the nomadic subject per se. Then I hope, within this theoretical framework of nomadic desire, to cast light upon the emerging identity problems of the America-Born Chinese in this novel.

Keywords: desire, identity, nomad, Deleuze, Guatteri, Chinese-American, Gish Jen Nomadic Desire of Schizoanalysis The life of the nomad is the intermezzo. Even the elements of his dwelling are conceived in terms of trajectory that is forever mobilizing them.

(Deleuze and Guattari, Nomadology 5) Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows. (Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus 5) What is desire? The definition of desire varies from one to another in our contemporary theory: the essence of the subject to Lacan; the objectified energy in hyperreality to Baudrillard; and the transcendental ethical relation with the Other to Levinas. My exploration of nomadic desire will be mainly based on Deleuze and Guattari’s immanent and affirmative concepts of desire and schizoanalysis. Drawing the links between the political and libidinal economy, Deleuze and Guattari believe that psychoanalysis works with capitalism to channel and control desire, not to liberate it. Hence, they offer us a radical critique of both psychoanalysis and capitalism, “schizoanalysis,” which I find particularly suited to my project of scrutinizing nomadic desire, the one that is, to borrow Derrida’s words, “marked out by the undecidable syntax of more” (Dissemination 43). The term “schizoanalysis” is coined in order to express Deleuze and Guattari’s aim of destroying the holy trinity of Freudian-Lacanian psychoanalysis: the law’s prohibition, castration’s lack, and the sign-systems of the unconscious or the signifier’s structured absence in the production of subjectivity.

To this end, Deleuze and Guattari extract a long neglected social and political strength from the “desiring-machine,” a strength intended to repeatedly resist the power of “Oedipalization.” “Desire,” they claim, “is revolutionary in its essence” (Anti-Oedipus 116). The process of repressing desire is termed “territorialization,” whereas the resistance against the repression to free the flux of energy generated by desire is called “deterritorialization.” For that reason, they aim at taking apart the group identities constructed by its “molar lines”1 and its presuppositions, and at

energetically keeping on “breaking through” without “breaking down.” They write:

The task of schizoanalysis is that of tirelessly taking apart egos and their presuppositions; liberating the personal singularities they enclose and repress; mobilizing the flows they would be capable of transmitting, receiving, or intercepting; establishing always further and more sharply the schizzes and the breaks well below conditions of identity and assembling the desiring-machines that countersect everyone and group everyone with others. (Anti-Oedipus 362) In terms of praxis, Deleuze and Guattari’s endlessly destructive task is to continue haunting capitalism, to erase the boundaries capitalism places on this deterritorialization. This task consequently frees the desiring-machines and dismantles the subject and the tyrannical State. Celebrating the revolutionary force of exploring the unconscious discourses of affirmative desire (such as the subversion of canonical concepts of representation and fluid combinations of surrealistic images), Deleuze and Guattari both insist that Kafka’s novels are significant with regard to deterritorialization. Kafka’s novels, for them, set excellent examples of this revolutionary task, as opposed to simply portraying the desperate Jewish mysticism they are often seen as doing. The books, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (the sequel to Anti-Oedipus), offer their practical critiques of psychoanalysis and capitalism with the politics of “rhizome” (a new term for the dynamic deterritorialization movement). These two discursive exercises in the affirmative and productive desire that Anti-Oedipus to elaborate a postmodern theory of non-totalizable multiplicity, especially they could be employed in schizo-subject and schizo-literature. If the nature of schizoanalysis is destructive, it is then, for them, also a necessary and positive destruction, in a more creative sense.

For instance, nomadic desire for a diasporic subject, signifying the ontological hunger of an exile dreaming of home, something to be overcome and quenched, is not

purely destructive: a one-handed desiring machine. Rather, it is a two-handed machine:

one machine marks a new homeland territory while the other periodically erases the mark; one is always coupled with the other. Accordingly, there is always a flow-producing machine2 connected to a flow-interrupting machine, which draws off part of the first flow. The homeland which nomadic desire desires is always “out-of-joint” and yet always “to-come”—an imaginary homeland, there. As Susan Stanford Friedman, in “Bodies on the Move: A Poetics of Home and Diaspora,” rightly point out, “[h]ome comes into being most powerfully when it is gone, lost, left behind, desired and imagined” (202). Such an imagination of a lost home, lying in the domain of the subjectivity of transference, which is the very product of desire, then becomes the affirmative source of a subject-in-process (sujet en procès). “Desire constantly couples continuous flows and partial objects that are by nature fragmentary and fragmented. Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flows” (Anti-Oedipus 5). That is, the discontinuity irrevocably breaks off part of the continuity, but the continuity disseminates across the discontinuity. The productive and affirmative synthesis of nomadic desire is thus inherently infinite—an infinite progress. This two-handed desire machine also illustrates the function of writing. In Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Deleuze and Guattari write: “Writing has a double function: to translate everything into assemblages and dismantle the assemblages. The two are the same thing” (47). If so, we may say that diasporic writing in general and Asian American writing in specific with their schizo-desire often demonstrate just this kind of double function of the two-handed machine.

The Deleuzo-Guattarian politics of revolutionary desire to construct the economy of nomadic desire is not unproblematic, however. In Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations, Steven Best and Douglas Kellner point out: “Like Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari fail to articulate a normative position. Whereas Foucault failed to account for the legitimacy of radical politics, Deleuze and Guattari have no theory of why revolutionary desire is preferable over fascist desire” (108). That is, just as Foucault argues that power is not only repressive but also productive (Power/Knowledge 119), so Deleuze and Gauttari accept that desire can be both subversive and fascistic (Gauttari, Molecular 86). However, celebrating the subversive drive of the unconsciouness, Deleuze and Gauttari obviously prefer the revolutionary desire to the fascist desire. The problem is—if there is a possibility of a better and newer identity for a nomadic subject in the operation of the two-handed desiring machine, then one must admit that some form of territorilization in accordance with the social codes in its context of existence is surely necessary. Thus, the core problem of the Deleuzo-Guattarian project of schizoanalysis is: On what ground precisely does Deluezo-Guatarrian radical politics rest its subversive force?

Best and Kellner explain their criticism: “How nomadic desire is compatible with new forms of social organization is not specified, nor do Deleuze and Guattari ever state what kind of social codes they would accept as legitimate.” (Best and Kellner 107).

Best and Kellner therefore state that if there is an ethics of radical politics in all three postmodern theorists [Deleuze, Guattari and Foucault], it is in favor of the aesthetics that are typical of postmodern theory (107-8).3 To put it into another perspective, one may contend that Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis promotes what Derrida calls an “economy of violence,” “violence against violence” (Writing

117) but without telling us its specific ends. More exactly, if Oedipalization is the violence of fascism, one must fight against violence with a certain other violence; a violence of revolutionary action against a violence of police action. It is this endless cycling of violence which makes the economy of violence irreducible. And yet, Deleuze and Guattari’s irreducible economy of violence tends to reduce the politics of resistance to an endless signifying movement of life, like the endless flowing meaning of text, without any direct and clear guidance of moral consciousness or messianic hope. As a result, one may argue that the predicament of Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of schizoanalysis is that the territory of both literature and literary criticism can only ever be a battlefield of violence, a schizo-turmoil, an everlasting displacement of their radical political potential.

Since even a roundtable dialogue doesn’t imply that all interlocutors are equal in power, to put the violence-using politics of schizoanalysis into question doesn’t imply a case for a non-power and non-violent resistance. Doubtless, using violent action to combat evil is necessary. Where there is the violence of repression, there is also the violence of resistance—and to pursue a violence-free resistance is certainly very utopian. However, radical politics needs a clear ethical end to justify its means, to draw on violence against violence in a human society or an ego-centered subject.

Focusing on the liberation of desire and the theory of becoming, Deleuze and Guattari, in a sense, refuse to offer any clear “end” of their desire-producing politics of schizoanalysis. To this criticism, their possible response would be: “The means is itself its own end.” Yet, in coping with the problem of diasporic identity, decentering politics by depriving it of an end (which is always already an “imaginary homeland”) is like today without tomorrow to come, often producing the fear of “fallenness” (to use a Heideggerian term) and a destructive void in the dark without hope. Accordingly, we must clarify the Deleuzo-Guattarian politics of schizoanalysis in developing the idea of nomadic desire here lest it is misunderstood as a kind of nihilistic revolution or desire.

It is important to know that to promote the radical politics of nomadic desire certainly doesn’t mean to embrace a negative destruction (I will discuss a positive destruction later), in which all established values and orders are smashed by a single destructive stroke of a hammer, or a postmodern nihilism, in which one ends up becoming a shapeless and aimless signifier floating in the nebulous world of Baudrillardian simulations and hyperreality. On the contrary, without pretending that the essence of the identity problem can be smashed by a single heavy stroke, the schizophrenic politics of nomadic desire attempts to remedy the situation of fascism planted in our heads in multicultural societies via constant and positive destruction as a rigorous self-re-shaping. It is a breaking-through, not a breaking-down. If anything is destroyed in the process of deterritorialization, it is the habitual Oedipalization of the ego, not the ego itself. That is why, at the end of On the Line, Deleuze and Guattari claims that “[t]he question of revolution’s future is a bad one, because, as long as it is posed, there are going to be those who will not become revolutionaries. It is precisely why it is done: to prevent the becoming-revolutionary of people everywhere and at every level” (114). Nihilistic revolution or negative destruction is surely not the aim of nomadic desire.

Instead, a schizo-identity of nomadic subject always tries to avoid turning itself into an ontological purity or closure. It is a dialectical result of a “recognition” (to use Taylor’s word) of active differences or radical virtuality. That is, owing to the schizo-desire of the nomadic subject, the Deleuzo-Guattarian subjectivity of the nomadic subject is neither a crystallized identity nor nihilistic indifference. Rather, it always flows. It always differs and defers to constantly construct a new fixed identity as a productive synthesis. Therefore, if the revolutionary politics of nomadic desire is structured to articulate a normative position, it is structured, but not organized, by dialectical moments of breaking-through and synthesis. While admittedly accepting a normative position or fascist desire of the ego, nomadic desire opens up a space that the former cannot subsume. It always safeguards this space for the unknown newness to come, albeit a subject-in-process, allowing the Deleuzo-Guattarian type of the nomadic subject to hear and answer for the various heterogeneous voices in our age of multiculturalism.

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