The "body without organs" (French: corps sans organes) is a concept used by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. It usually refers to the deeper reality underlying some well-formed whole constructed from fully functioning parts. At the same time, it may also describe a relationship to one's literal body.
Deleuze began using the term in The Logic of Sense (1969), while discussing the experiences of playwright Antonin Artaud. "Body without Organs" (or "BwO") later became a major part of the vocabulary for Capitalism and Schizophrenia, two volumes (Anti-Oedipus  and A Thousand Plateaus ) written collaboratively with Félix Guattari. In these works, the term took on an expanded meaning, referring variously to literal bodies and to a certain perspective on realities of any type. The term's overloaded meaning is provocative, perhaps intentionally.
The term originates from Antonin Artaud's radio play To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947):
When you will have made him a body without organs,
then you will have delivered him from all his automatic reactions
and restored him to his true freedom.
Deleuze first mentions the phrase in a chapter of The Logic of Sense called "The Schizophrenic and the Little Girl", which contrasts two distinct and peripheral ways of encountering the world. The Little Girl (whose exemplar is Alice), explores a world of 'surfaces': the shifting realm of social appearances and nonsense words which nevertheless seem to function. The Schizophrenic (whose exemplar is Artaud) is by contrast an explorer of 'depths', one who rejects the surface entirely and returns instead to the body.
For the Schizophrenic, words collapse, not into nonsense, but into the bodies that produce and hear them. Deleuze refers to "a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission (the superior body or body without organs of Antonin Artaud)." This body is also described as "howling", speaking a "language without articulation" that has more to do with the primal act of making sound than it does with communicating specific words. Cotard’s Syndrome Cotard’s syndrome is the unique mental illness where the patient holds onto beliefs associated with them being dead and rotting away. The patient normally perceives of themselves as dead and putrefying, having lost all internal organs, or being hollow and rotten on the inside of their bodies1. Interestingly, Cotard’s syndrome occurs in two distinct forms where the patient either holds on to the belief they are immortal but putrefying on the inside, or have already died and are hollow. Such discordant mental states have led some scholars to refer to this mental illness as the Cotard delusion. The history of Cotard’s syndrome can be traced back to 1880 when French neurologist Jules Cotard discussed a form of mental illness associated with self-loathing, personal feelings of death, and chronic depression and an association with the feeling of death and putrefaction. These characteristics of the mental illness, coupled with Cotard’s interaction with Mademoiselle X’s symptoms, led to his depiction of the affliction as the delirium of negation. His decision to name Cotard’s syndrome in that peculiar manner was informed by the fact that many patients denied being in existence or alive, or even denied being in possession of certain body parts. One of the most peculiar facts about Cotard’s syndrome is that it is not mentioned in the DSM or the ICD-10. Seemingly, the majority of psychiatrists and neuroscientists do not consider it a stand-alone mental illness. Many of the current schools of thought seem to group the symptoms under other more generalized mental illnesses such as schizophrenia2. However, the symptoms are slightly different from those of the most generalized form of such common mental illness. These symptoms seem to develop incrementally in a linear fashion and end their development at certain stages. The spectrum of development begins with mild feelings of self-loathing and continues through stages of negation where the patient refuses to acknowledge of their existence. Eventually, patients begin to adopt feelings of lacking various body parts, refusing to eat as they feel it is useless, before the last stages of developments ensue. Eventually, Cotard syndrome patients acknowledge that they are dead and rotting from the inside, or have already died and decomposed therefore lack internal organs. Several scholars have researched the causes of Cotard’s syndrome after Cotard himself advanced theories related to the mental illness. The majority of these scholars agree to the presence of neural misfirings in the fusiform face part of the brain which is on its flat underside portion3. Trauma caused by motor accidents, neural development issues while young, and certain drugs have been identified as possible causes of these neural misfirings that lead to symptoms related to the inability to recognize and relate with the self. Therefore, the affected person experiences neural processes that exclude the ability to relate with the self, which causes self-negation. An interesting school of thought among scientists researching Cotard’s syndrome states it as an advanced form of the Capgras delusion. Coincidentally, the Capgras delusion is a mental condition where the patient harbors feelings that someone close to them, either a spouse, sibling, or friend, has been replaced with an impostor whose physical attributes resemble the original person. The cognitive science body of knowledge categorizes both Cotard’s syndrome and the Capgras delusion as delusional misidentification syndromes, which probably explains why the former is not in the DSM or the ICD-10. Psychiatrists and cognitive scientists have identified two main effective methods of treating Cotard’s syndrome. The first one is pharmacological, meaning certain drugs are used on the patient. These drugs are administered either as a mono-therapeutic treatment process, or a multi-therapeutic one. Herein, the doctor prescribes anti-depressants, mood balancing drugs, and antipsychotics depending on the extent of the patient’s affliction. Another method of treatment which has demonstrated marginally better results in even the most serious cases of Cotard’s syndrome is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Cognitive scientists state that this method of treatment appears to work better because of the main cause of Cotard’s syndrome, which is an erratic neural firing sequence in the brain. Therefore, there is a distinct relationship between ECT and the neural system making the therapy adequate for correcting the misfiring neural sequences. Although Cotard’s syndrome is not mentioned in the DSM, Cotard delusions appear under somatic delusions. The main reason for this state of affairs is that the entire categorization of these delusions has not been recognized internationally as a distinct mental illness. Rather, majority of cognitive scientists and psychiatrists consider the illness as part of somatic delusions associated with misrepresented mental associations targeting sensations and other bodily functions. However, scholars have pointed out the need to be careful not to confuse Cotard delusions with other similar disorders that involve delusion. Such confusions could result in mixing up the symptoms because such delusional disorders are characterized by a different set of symptom, most of which are not as serious as those exhibited by Cotard’s delusions. Most medical personnel make sure to identify the exact delusional disorder first before commencing treatment because of the symptomatic overlap between them.
Capitalism and Schizophrenia
In Deleuze and Guattari's collaboration, the term describes an undifferentiated, unhierarchical realm that lies deeper than the world of appearances. It relates to the proto-world described in the mythology of many different cultures. Deleuze and Guattari often use the example of the Dogon egg, based primarily on anthropological reports from Marcel Griaule. Describing the Dogon story of the origins of the cosmos, Griaule writes:
These primordial movements are conceived in terms of an ovoid form—'the egg of the world' (aduno tal)—within which lie, already differentiated, the germs of things; in consequence of the spiral movement of extension the germs develop first in seven segments of increasing length, representing the seven fundamental seeds of cultivation, which are to be found again in the human body ...
According to Griaule, the basic patterns of organization within the egg reappear within all domains of Dogon life: kinship structures, village layout, understanding of the body, and so forth. The egg metaphor helps to suggest the gestation of a formation yet to come, and the potential formation of many actualities from a single origin.
In Anti-Oedipus Deleuze and Guattari expand the Body without Organs image by comparing its real potentials to the egg's :
The body without organs is an egg: it is crisscrossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings, the destinations of the subject developing along these particular vectors (Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 19).
For Deleuze and Guattari, every actual body has a limited set of traits, habits, movements, affects, etc. But every actual body also has a virtual dimension: a vast reservoir of potential traits, connections, affects, movements, etc. This collection of potentials is what Deleuze calls the BwO. The full body without organs is "schizophrenia as a clinical entity" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 310). This drop in intensity is a means of blocking all investments of reality: "the unproductive, the sterile, the unengendered, the unconsumable" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 9). Unlike other social machines such as the Body of the Earth, the Body of the Despot or the Body of Capital, the full body without organs cannot inscribe other bodies. The body without organs is "not an original primordial entity" (proof of an original nothingness) nor what is remains of a lost totality but is the "ultimate residue of a deterritorialized socius" (Anti-Oedipus, p. 309). To "make oneself a body without organs," then, is to actively experiment with oneself to draw out and activate these virtual potentials. These potentials are mostly activated (or "actualized") through conjunctions with other bodies (or BwOs) that Deleuze calls "becomings".
Deleuze and Guattari use the term BwO in an extended sense, to refer to the virtual dimension of reality in general (which they more often call "plane of consistency" or "plane of immanence"). In this sense, they speak of a BwO of "the earth". "The Earth," they write, "is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles" (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 40). That is, we usually think of the world as composed of relatively stable entities ("bodies," beings). But these bodies are really composed of sets of flows moving at various speeds (rocks and mountains as very slow-moving flows; living things as flows of biological material through developmental systems; language as flows of information, words, etc.). This fluid substratum is what Deleuze calls the BwO in a general sense.
A Thousand Plateaus
In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari eventually differentiate between three kinds of BwO: cancerous, empty, and full. Roughly, the empty BwO is the BwO of Anti-Oedipus. This BwO is also described as "catatonic" because it is completely de-organ-ized; all flows pass through it freely, with no stopping, and no directing. Even though any form of desire can be produced on it, the empty BwO is non-productive. The full BwO is the healthy BwO; it is productive, but not petrified in its organ-ization. The cancerous BwO is caught in a pattern of endless reproduction of the self-same pattern. They give a rough recipe for building yourself a healthy BwO:
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 BwO. (Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980/1987, p. 161)
Deleuze and Guattari suggest restraint here, writing that drug addicts and masochists may come closer to truly possessing bodies without organs—and die as a result. The 'healthy BwO' thus envisions the actual body without organs as a horizon, not a goal.
- Colombat, André Pierre (1991). "A Thousand Trails to Work with Deleuze". SubStance (66).
The juxtaposition of these two incompatible fields and explanations creates a non-sense, an excess of sense, that puts in motion the intellect and the imagination of the reader.
- Antonin Artaud. "To Have Done with the Judgment of God" in Selected Writings. Susan Sontag (ed). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976, p. 571. OCLC 473004317
- Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 101
- Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, p. 102
- Colebrook, Claire (2002). Understanding Deleuze. Crows Nest, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1865087971.
- Marcel Griaule; Germaine Dieterlen (1954) . "The Dogon". In Cyril Daryll Forde. African worlds; studies in the cosmological ideas and social values of African peoples. LIT Verlag. p. 84. ISBN 3825830861.
- Buchanan, Ian (1 September 1997). "The Problem of the Body in Deleuze and Guattari, Or, What Can a Body Do?". Body & Society. 3 (73): 73–91. doi:10.1177/1357034X97003003004. Retrieved 31 August 2012.
Through their activities, the masochist, the anorexic or alcoholic, reduces his or her capacity for affection. Accordingly, their plateau of intensity, which is singular, and therefore incapable of making new connections or entering into new compositions, is reactive, deadly. The body, in other words, is not and cannot be a body without organs, but must forever grapple with the BwO as its conduit to the real.
- Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1972. Anti-Œdipus. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. Vol. 1 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols. 1972-1980. Trans. of L'Anti-Oedipe. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. ISBN 0-8264-7695-3.
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- ---. 1980. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. Vol. 2 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols. 1972-1980. Trans. of Mille Plateaux. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit. ISBN 0-8264-7694-5.
- Guattari, Félix. 1984. Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics. Trans. Rosemary Sheed. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-055160-3.
- ---. 1992. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Trans. Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1995. Trans. of Chaosmose. Paris: Editions Galilee. ISBN 0-909952-25-6.
- ---. 1995. Chaosophy. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Ser. New York: Semiotext(e). ISBN 1-57027-019-8.
- ---. 1996. Soft Subversions. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. Trans. David L. Sweet and Chet Wiener. Semiotext(e) Foreign Agents Ser. New York: Semiotext(e). ISBN 1-57027-030-9.
- Massumi, Brian. 1992. A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Swerve editions. Cambridge, USA and London: MIT. ISBN 0-262-63143-1.