The High Magick of Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari
by yemeth

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Philosophy Chapel Perilous

Often good information on high magick and the cracks it opens on the texture of reality isn’t contained in dark middle ages grimoires, neither in secret texts from suspicious organizations, not even written by those we would recognize as “magicians” according to the pre-conceptions through which we also judge the world surrounding us.

There are several authors in western philosophy whose ideas intertwine with the interests of those who seek to deconstruct themselves and what we consider “real”. But in this article I would like to focus in three of them, who belong to the french philosophy of the second half of the XX Century.

Jacques Lacan and the creation of the subject as an entity

The initiatory path could be considered as walking in the opposite direction to the enslaving flow that tries to lead us in our life process. To revert such flow, to unlearn what was learned, to break down conditionings. Those are quite appropriate ways to describe the path.

The french philosopher Jacques Lacan, often considered the second most influential personality in psychoanalysis (obviously after Sigmund Freud), corrected, improved, generalized and even reverted Freud’s ideas. For him, the subject doesn’t exist until the human reaches an advanced stage in its development as a child.

We first have a stage in which the child doesn’t identify himself with anything he perceives, existing in a sort of primordial “lack-of-being”, that is to say, lacking a solid idea of himself. Then he reaches a phase characterized as the “mirror phase”, in which he identifies himself with his own image, that of his reflection. That is to say, something that comes from outside.

The mirror is a metaphor. There comes a time in which the child considers himself the same as an image, a specific portion of his perception of realty that is divided and isolated. Thus, a limited part of the child’s experience will become “I”, and the child will end up calling such part by that very name, “I”. But according to Lacan, this identification is deeply alienating -we could call it our first big error-, since this dooms the individual to exist outside himself, and so to search outside for himself.

Difficulties do not end up here, since the artificial separation between “self” and “Other” (which is everything that I am not) is the root of this very human thing we call “desire”, which is an unceasing search for something that can finally complete us. The ambitions of desire are, however, useless. We can’t make ourselves complete, because we don’t lack anything, it is us who are in excess, since we are nothing. The problem is we have identified ourselves with an external image, we have given some specific part of our experience the label “I”, and as we do so we feel alienated, we feel like we are missing something. This terrible misunderstanding leads us to try to find through desire that which would bring us back to an unrealistic state of completeness. Which is unrealistic because we ourselves are nothing.

And things may get worse!

Because until now, there were just these two characters in our world, “I” and “Other”. Them who Freud shoddily called the child and the mother. The deeper nature of this would later be uncovered by Lacan.

Now the freudian “father” enters the game. And the father is the patriarchal order itself; that which provides order and disciplines reality, that which structures and tames the “Other”.

Since our perception is divided between “I” and “Other”, we have a problem even worse than desire. It is the unpredictability of such great Other. What does that thing that isn’t me want from me? How can I handle it? How do I appease Her wrath? How can I predict her behaviour? Life experience -that which happens to the “I”- can bring us both beauty and terror. How could I acquire some kind of certainty over reality? How to avoid the brutal anxiety an unpredictable reality brings?

The patriarchal order comes to confront such uncertainties. That is what the social, cultural and authoritarian structures are for. To bring us weak-minded humans the safety we need. A complex framework which will chain us to a society of discipline, regulated through timetables and rules and production targets. In fact, so regulated in every aspect of our lives, that we’re going to become fully dependent on such Order. When this order breaks down in the head of an oedipized person -a normal, “sane” person-, when that which chains him does suddenly fall, he’s inevitably facing a terrifying and conveniently medicalized word: psychosis.

But that which looks like a curse, might as well be the exit.

The psychotic cure

It is difficult to determine if Lacan was fully convinced this or that way was the best way to solve these problems related to society and the human condition. However, he suggested more than once that psychosis could be a way to escape the blind alley into which standard development in our current societies leads us.

Our advantage here is that this structure through which we have disguised the chaotic otherness that seems to surround us, is extremely fragile. Jacques Lacan called this nail that keeps the disguise together, consistent and stable, “Name-of-the-father”. The Name-of-the-Father is that which seemingly stops the chain of signifiers from the unconscious, the unending productions from the unconscious. It builds an apparently consistent reality that seems to make sense, and a coherent narrative to describe it.

Jacques Lacan wrote as well about the “foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father”, which is the banishing of this mechanism that hinders the productions from the unconscious, the mechanism that clogs the desiring machines. The banishing of the Name-of-the-Father from the symbolic universe of the subject, is the mechanism that gives birth to what we call psychosis.

What is the psychotic phenomenon? It is the emergence in reality of an enormous meaning that has the appearance of being nothing at all - in so far as it cannot be tied to anything, since it has never entered into the system of symbolization - but under certain conditions it can threaten the entire edifice
[Seminar III]

Obviously, falling unexpectedly into psychosis can be a problem. Basically, whatever ties the world together loosens in psychosis, and our personal narratives on the way reality behaves do not work anymore. Suddenly we face the world as it really is; chaotic and terrible. We don't know what it is going to do to us, neither how can we make it do what we want it to do.

Such is indeed a terrifying sight! So our reaction is we start compulsively creating stories to explain out that huge thing that isn’t us. Mythical stories, paranoid stories, terrifying stories. This is because we cannot bear a world without order, once we’ve become too used to it.

Also, when we achieve the foreclosure of the Name-of-the-Father, a process we call Initiation in high magick, we’ll find yet another obstacle. Reality itself is going to behave in a very very strange way.

According to Jacques Lacan, when we short-circuit our narrative on reality in the psychotic process, the unconscious is going to manifest. It will come back to us through the Real. This thing he calls “Real” is trickier than it looks, since Lacan here is pointing specifically to our subjective experience of reality. He doesn’t take risks, so he doesn’t refer to objective changes in reality. But he does assert that the contents of our unconscious (more specifically, that which Jung would call the Shadow) are going to come back to us with razor sharp teeth through our subjective experience of reality. Anyone who’s gone through this experience, Robert Anton Wilson’s “Chapel Perilous”, knows the synchronicities pile up to bring us an experience of reality which features our worst nightmares, the deepest and most terrible contents in our unconscious. Such is the price to pay for the repression of the unconscious through Law and Order.

However, we can of course survive this trial by fire. And if we do, it will be the first step in a very very long path that will go on undoing knots in our heads. But at least we will have crossed the threshold.

Beyond this experience, Jacques Lacan is very cautious. He is fully conscious that things do not end up here. We still mistakenly identify ourselves with an “I” that we aren’t, and our perceptions are divided between what I am and what I am not. So he occasionally gives pointers on how to get done with such separation. Obviously, he points out that any efforts to chase the object of desire, the elusive “objet a”, are useless. Such is the illusion of the “objet a”, the object of desire which looks like it would make us complete. But everytime we reach it, it runs away and ends up inhabiting some other host.

An interesting pointer Lacan gives to get closer to the undoing of the limits between what I am and what I am not, is redirecting our sexuality towards some representation of the Other, of that which I am not. Such a mechanism is also pointed out in high magick; magicians like David Shoemaker recommend this redirection of sexuality as one of the most effective exercises for the initiate in his way towards the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.

Before proceeding with Deleuze and Guattari, there’s another interesting detail from the philosophy of Jacques Lacan. And it that since our unconscious manifests through the Real in mechanisms such as psychosis, this could help us learn about the way magick tools like (Chaos Magick) sigils work; the insertion of a specific content deep inside the unconscious (the desire is encoded in a way the unconscious can ‘understand’ it), so that it returns to us through our subjective perception of reality. We could also quote here Deleuze and Guattari, ”whatever is symbolically abolished returns in reality in a hallucinatory form”.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari: Líbido, Numen, Voluptas

“The schizophrenic process is a voyage of initiation, a transcendental experience of the loss of the Ego”

Deleuze and Guattari aren’t as cautious as Jacques Lacan. We’re trapped in the oedipal structures, in the child-mother-father triangle. Reality has been painfully chained by a suffocating order. And the only way out is to tear down such order, to escape to a pre-oedipal state in which Law and Order become just a bad memory of an enslaving system which we should overthrow.

That which we find in the depths of psychosis -first as horrific, then as bliss- the Lesser and Greater Guardians of the Threshold that Steiner wrote about, the Shadow which becomes an Angel, our Holy Guardian Angel. This immanent God is their “body without organs” which just spills over the desiring production and confiscates it. This God is a bewitched surface which claims every productive force, making us believe her deception: That it is her who gives them life and movement. For Deleuze and Guattari, this is the mystical equivalent to Das Kapital and the productive forces. The God is an undifferentiated kingdom which underlies the world of appearances: The Dogon Egg, the seeds of everything that could exist.

So, the real divine for them isn’t this body-without-organs, this fluid substratum over which things move at varying speeds (a mountain moves slowly, words can move really fast). The “divine”, if we are to use such a word, would be the very disjunctive energy they call Numen (a word that suggests divine will, divine presence), the energy that kickstarts that which synchronizes and supplements the economy of production with an economy of circulation. That which routes our realities. Numen energy ultimately comes from us who are able to configure reality. Psychosis-initiation changes the structures of desire and allows the transformation of Libido energy into another kind of energy which significantly increases our ability to create realities. Even as such ability is claimed by the body-without-organs pretending to be a divine thing, pretending it is God, pretending that everything depends on him.

For the fully oedipized subject, desire consists in wanting things for himself, like the perfect consumer in a buying frenzy. However, the schizo has liberated himself from the yoke that paralizes the desiring machines from his unconscious. He has a desire that is qualitatively very different, a desire-production which clashes with the compulsory capitalist production mechanisms and helps him understand that ”factories are prisons, they do not resemble prisons, they are prisons”

The schizo doesn’t want things for himself. His desire is desire-production. His desire consists in creating realities. He knows he cannot produce realities unless he uses external mechanisms like the coincidence/synchronicity we know in magick. These are alterations in the fluxes which traverse the body-without-organs. Such is the power of his own desires to manifest reality. His desire is desire-production, and there he confronts the repressive system that wants slaves to obey and lock themseves up within the parameters of already existing realities. A system which doesn’t want schizos who go creating their own realities. The schizo finds out that the repressive system is the only cause of insanity. It is only when this system that could turn him into a mentally disturbed person. The schizo isn’t crazy! The crazy ones are the “normals”, those who remain oedipized. Insanity is the consensual hallucination men are enslaved to, and the schizo-initiate becomes insane only if repressed. The schizo is repressed because desire threatens society, because his desire-production is revolutionary, because instead of fleeing to some other reality, the schizo who manifests his desire disturbs reality.

You could take this like an unstoppable drive towards that which is often called “True Will”. Also the inevitable development some warn about when they say an Initiate can never go back; that he will never be able to do anything but proceed further in the path he’s opened in his head, ”let’s go further, we still haven’t dismantled the self enough”. The schizo needs to live his desire-production, beyond the restrictions that his social order has set around him. Anything else would make him insane.

But in the moonlit state following Initiation, self-pleasure isn't possible ”for a subject who can’t orient himself but through the disjunctions in a registry surface”. The ‘clues’ given by moonlit reflections which occasionally coagulate over the surface of that which is perceived are not enough. It is not enough with this relationship with a reality that seems to be alive. He must appoint ”a new alliance between the desiring machines and the body without organs so as to give birth to a new humanity or a glorious organism”.

The alliance between the Initiate and his Angel, between the schizo’s desiring machines and the body-without-organs, manifests a “solar power” according to Deleuze and Guattari, a machine that produces “intensive quantities”, an energy that is not Libido neither Numen, but a third type called Voluptas. This is, connective synthesis instead of the disjunctive synthesis that Numen was. From these forces of attraction and repulsion, the authors affirm, emerge these intensive elements which carry us to almost unbearable exaltations.

With this wedding, a new alliance is born. A new link between the desiring machines and the body-without-organs. The self is lost in the "solar force" of this sudden density. The whole body devours in self-erotic pleasure the “intensive quantities” liberated in the process which transforms the energy from Numen to Voluptas. This is the “I feel” that precedes the subject/object relationship. Just as the subject and object precede all narratives and discourses on reality.

”This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers, find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continua of intensities segment by segment, have a small plot of new land at all times. It is through a meticulous relation with the strata that one succeeds in freeing lines of flight, causing conjugated flows to pass and escape and bringing forth continuous intensities for a Body-without-Organs.”.

Obviously, this is just a brief introduction to the ideas of these authors, whose work is immense. Many things have been simplified, but I’ve done everything I could to stay loyal to their spirit. At least I hope it works as an introduction to a series of aspects of their philosophy which might be particularly relevant to those interested in the path of high magick.