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Barbetta&Nichterlein 2010 ((Re)LearningOurAlphabet DeleuzeAndBateson)

Barbetta&Nichterlein 2010 ((Re)LearningOurAlphabet DeleuzeAndBateson)

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Human Systems: The Journal of Therapy, Consultation & Training

(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson1
1. Centro Milanese di Terapia della Famiglia and Università di Bergamo, Italy. 2. AIM/CAMHS, Austin Hospital in Melbourne and University of New South Wales, Australia

Pietro Barbetta1 and Maria Nichterlein2

This paper discusses some of the concepts that shape the philosophical project of Gilles Deleuze and explores their possible applications within the field of systemic therapy. We propose that Deleuzian ideas connect in significant ways to the more familiar ideas of Gregory Bateson. They constitute a powerful and affirmative critique of the dominant understanding of knowledge, science and practice. As Deleuze would express it, lines of flight. In his work with the anti-psychiatrist Felix Guattari, Deleuze used the term plateau – an explicit reference to Bateson – to develop an entire philosophy of life and creativity that has significant heuristic possibilities in our field to both consolidate and expand Bateson’s early insights. The paper is organised in two parts: an overview of Deleuze’s project, and a possible integration of some key concepts into systemic practice. This is done through the concrete clinical exploration of one theme: alcoholism. The direct connection is with the letter B (“B for boisson [drink]”) in Deleuze’s Abecedaire, an improvised dialogue with Claire Parnet recorded during his last years of life. This example allows us to reflect on Deleuze’s account of alcoholism in a way informed by Bateson’s notion of the cybernetics of self. We will also be referring at that point to Foucault’s notion of dispositive. Deleuze, Bateson, Foucault: not yet “the usual suspects”, and very different in many ways amongst themselves both as to substance and as to style, but sharing the same bottle nevertheless.
1. We would like to thank John Morss for his help in smoothing our English grammar and

helping us to shape the literary style of this article.
© LFTRC & AIA

Volume No 21, Issue 3, 2010, pp. 399-419

400

Human Systems

Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein

Key words: Bateson, Deleuze, therapy, psychoanalysis, systemic therapy The problem is not one of being this or that in man, but rather one of becoming human, of a universal becoming animal: not to take oneself for a beast, but to undo the human organization of the body, to cut across such and such a zone of intensity in the body, everyone of us discovering the zones which are really his, and the groups, the populations, the species which inhabit him (Deleuze, 1973). Deleuze is a philosopher who still is almost unknown in the field of family therapy. He belonged to the generation that saw Derrida and Foucault emerge in the French philosophical milieu yet, unlike them, he had no time to travel or to go conference-ing. Deleuze – like Bateson – was perceived by some as an abstruse if not aloof thinker. Yet, this is not a thoughtful – let alone respectful – view of him for perhaps, more than many of this generation – the generation of May ’68 –, he was the one who did philosophy with most innocence (Derrida, 2001, p. 193) and, like such a child, he was deeply committed to the optimism and the puissance sketched in the revolutionary project of the Enlightenment (Foucault, 1984).2 So why is it that Deleuze seems to be taking such a critical presence in these current times? This is an important question to ask because it addresses a more fundamental ethical question that arises from reading Deleuze: how might one live? May’s introduction to Deleuze’s work (2005, p. 4-5) points quite well to this, indicating that this is a philosophical question that is of relevance to our times as a result of the effects that thinkers like Nietzsche and Sartre had in the shaping of the Western mindset.3

2. Deleuze warns us however that one has to separate this revolutionary project from actual revolutions which, he is consistent in stating, have all ended up miserably by consolidating totalitarian regimes as their result. The revolutionary spirit that Deleuze is invoking is – as Foucault indicates in his writing – closer to what Kant referred to with his definition of Enlightenment. 3. It is no longer, May clarifies, the question posed in ancient philosophy – how should one live? – which, in turn, was transformed during the modern period to how should one act?

. Which is done by reading unconscious activity as perverse desires that ultimately have to do with mummies and daddies. The outside cannot but present itself as a problem since it is itself fluid. at times angry. 2002.. 446).] an active and productive force of desire” (Foucault & Raulet.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 401 The connection between Deleuze and Guattari is of relevance to us because Guattari was a renowned anti-psychiatrist who – although trained with Lacan – had an ambivalent relationship with psychoanalysis being far more positive about the possibilities offered by the emergent field of family therapy (Guattari. Foucault’s prologue to the book defines it as “the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time”. a limit in its applicability. 1983. Their first collaborative book Anti-Oedipus (Deleuze & Guattari. Thought in this thesis is no longer a representation of a stable reality – of well defined identities and quantities – but an active and productive encounter with the outside. the expansive and creative wanderings of the desiring-machine are captured into a pre-established mould. 1983) – the first of two volumes on Capitalism and Schizophrenia – was very influential (Colebrook. 4. thus its name: Nomadic. 5. And like the outside to which it relates. a solution to the problem presented through living. sooner rather than later one is doomed to encounter difference. It is a book with a passionate. The critique was targeted at the psychoanalytic unconscious: “it is not theatre but a factory producing the delirium we call reality [. These ideas in Anti-Oedipus had already been pre-shaped in Deleuze’s doctoral thesis – Difference and Repetition (Deleuze. So whatever image one has of what the world is. xvii). He carried out this critique by questioning the prevalence of identity and asserting that what is central to life is not the stability of an image/thought. an “introduction to the Non-Fascist life” (Foucault. This is in close connection with Foucault’s ideas on the construction of docile and governable bodies. 1983. p. appropriate to the State in which the individual is living5. Their critique also invoked the vital and intimate function that the psychoanalysis of that time had within the capitalist machinery: by forcing interpretation back into the family4. this alternative thought is equally fluid and fragmented. an outside that is experienced as a problem in search of an answer. where he articulated a critique of representational thought – what he called a static image of thought – and its manifestations: common and good sense. xiii). p. style that offers a strong Nietzschean critique of the then prevalent Marxist and psychoanalytical ideas upheld by French intellectual circles. Thought then is a complementary process to the outside: a response. . 1989). 1994). but difference and variation. p. the psychoanalytical Oedipal psyche. fragmented and essentially undecidable.

in our field. more popular (Hoffman. 1987. 1984. does it? In Anti-Oedipus as well as in a number of other essays and interviews (Lapoujade.402 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein Deleuze makes a distinction between the static – State-like – thought that allows governability and this nomadic thought that is intimately connected with life. Rather than presenting a critique. perhaps completing it as an intellectual project. It is composed of playful plateaux6 . There are an infinite number of potential plateaux that can be formed. For. p. in understanding how the world out-there in all of its complexity works (for a late summary of these ideas see “what children say” in Deleuze. 1987). It constituted a very different and “much more complex project than Anti-Oedipus” (Deleuze. The rhizome is a type of knowledge that is decentralized yet highly contingent and contextual. like the earlier book. This notion of multiplicities of coexisting plateaux resonates with another – and. 6. As we indicated above. This is a concept that they borrowed from Bateson. with its most intriguing aspect perhaps being its structural openness. 7. where each plateau articulates a whole field of resonances and intensities that channel flows into different forms of organizations/assemblages. A Thousand Plateaus (Deleuze and Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari criticized the family model of psychoanalysis – the Oedipic triangle mom-dad-child – for its totalizing and capturing gesture: they criticized its claims that the family was the source of everything in the psychic life. We will touch on this point later in the paper. constantly expanding in unpredictable yet highly complex ways. Deleuze’s question seems to refer us back neither to family nor to systemic thinking as we know them. their only condition for existence being that “they work”. 2004. for Deleuze and Guattari psychoanalysis was not a representation of the human psyche but a reductionism of the child7 who is in fact far more interested. p. The same argument is used for adults too. . after all. This distinction is more clearly presented in their second volume. 3-25). The nomadic thought that Deleuze defined in his thesis organizes itself through rhizomes. 2006). Troubling/problematizing the Clinic Before addressing Deleuze’s response to the question posed earlier – how might one live? – we see some further value in referring to what it does not show us as professionals in this field. it proposes a positive project. 2008) – of their concepts: the rhizome (Deleuze & Guattari. published eight years after Anti-Oedipus. 239). as (s)he grows. 1997).

As mentioned earlier. where subjectivity is inherently social and inevitably transient in that such definitions are deemed to end and change in our ongoing – assemblage-like – relation with the world. is there a way for psychoanalysis to transcend the dangers of “familialism”? And. . To live a life therefore means that we need to be open to line(s) of derivation. Note that this is a singular definition. But what is a line of flight? Like with any of Deleuze’s concepts. as individuals – especially so in the globalized society we are currently living in – we are constituted as a multitude and. there is no simple and straight definition. Such a definition helps to articulate the subtle and dynamic tension involved in the constitution of our subjectivities. a wandering of sorts. we are still in need of a line of flight for therapy. Connecting with Bateson And we are stuck in familialism as we indicated earlier. as such. not a straight line but a line that folds. comprising a multitude of lines that include lines of flight10. An answer can perhaps start by indicating that in considering the expression “line of flight”. In his friendship towards Foucault. life is instead a sinuous and indefinable line. Foucault would argue that this is done for purposes of governmentality. 9. This treatment of life as lineal is a result of social “manipulation”. which is socially treated as a straight line9.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 403 With this in mind one could argue that the Anti-Oedipal question is this: is there. is Family Therapy the new way out of the Oedipisation of everything? The response offers an interesting opening: Family Therapy has not been able to entirely answer this question because in many ways it still remains attached to the idea that everything in life happens in the family: familialism as Deleuze and Guattari call it. taking care not to get stuck. in the realm of life. Although social life appears as a straight and ordered line. socially co-ordinated. For Deleuze. life for Deleuze is not a straight line within an ordered world that could be grasped/understood rationally by an independent individual. we co-exist in a multitude of such dispositives. So. we have to bear in mind the idea of derivation in mathematics8 and variation in repetition. in perhaps a less confrontational style. as such. something that flees (the famous line of flight) the psychoanalytic Oedipus? Or. a perhaps more direct and relevant question for us in this field. and. A concept that Deleuze surely borrowed from Bergson. it is not necessarily all bad. 10. the effects of living within what Foucault defines as Dispositives. Deleuze (Deleuze. 1988) defines a Dispositive as a set of heterogeneous elements. Perhaps confirming 8.

As indicated before. “what is” for Deleuze then is not identities but forces of differentiation. through its endless and ever-changing manifestations. 7) – Deleuze warns us of the danger of metaphors of identity and representation. There are a number of connections traversing through the work of both Bateson and Deleuze that help us understand the power of the double bind as a line of flight.404 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein Bateson’s intellectual force in the field. creating a meaning. His focus was rather on the process and the mechanisms that account for what we observe. he was not interested in defining specific contents. The notion of thought as a process In our opinion. we can find in his idea of double bind something that can help us to move forward. that is. The actualization of particularities In a similar way that Bateson warns us of the use of physical explanations to describe the world of Creatura – the world of differences (Bateson. his major thesis was an attempt to position difference – instead of identity and representation – at the centre of philosophical investigation. a more . These are: 1. Deleuze is not far from this position in his own investigations which seemed to have been developed at around the same time. 1992) and from Nietzsche (Deleuze. Thus. 2. 1986). The centrality of difference A second common point between Bateson and Deleuze is the importance that they attribute to Difference. Deleuze’s understanding of the world is as an organic whole that is constantly actualizing itself through the emergence of unique particularities that are constantly changing and differing. This was also a preoccupation for Deleuze as we indicated above. you see a difference. The world is not a static world where stable beings struggle to express their identities. There is also a further variation on this point in that both Bateson and Deleuze saw thought not only as intimately connected with the world – not as a separate activity based on the brain – but as fundamentally dynamic. and such a difference makes a difference in your own mind. Thought is not about static realities but about evolutionary processes (for Bateson) or nomadic trajectories (for Deleuze). Very much in line with the Batesonian notion of an evolutionary ecology of Mind. it is not the individual that is stable but the wholeness of this world. The Batesonian dictum of “a difference that makes a difference” is well known in the field: any difference makes another difference. p. 2002. 3. Bateson was not interested in Systemic theory but in Systemic thinking. Drawing from Spinoza (Deleuze. Rather than a stable self.

was intrigued by observing and describing systems in their actual workings. Neither Deleuze. 1987. Deleuze and Guattari will quote this exact statement in A Thousand Plateau translating the word climax as orgasm (Deleuze and Guattari. the behaviours and their contexts – that construct them so as to be in search of alternative combinations. 13. In other words. The immanency of systems is central for both thinkers: a fundamental respect for the autonomy of the observed systems. One could argue that this is a connecting thread throughout the history of the radical ideas that defined family therapy. In the English version. and in finding their immanent lines of flight12. It is this potential – rather than a stable essence – which is of value to our work as therapists and thus it is important not to get caught in the “ready-made” images that present to the session but to break these images down to the particulars – the emotions. the translation adds “[sexual]” in front of climax)13. 4. The notion of Plateaus There is also great affinity between Deleuze and Bateson in terms of their interests and methods of investigation. This has been the reason for many readers – of Deleuze and Guattari as well as of Bateson – thinking that they were hetero-sexual intercourses. as Deleuze. so there is some logic in stating that there is a similarity between Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of assemblage. Bateson. Foucault’s ideas around the Dispositive and the Batesonian idea of a System. It is in this context that Bateson’s words – “He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars” (italics are ours. Bateson. Bateson uses this concept to describe some of the phenomena he was identifying in his ethnographic research. 22. Deleuze chooses Plateaus directly from the work of Bateson (Deleuze & Guattari. Perhaps a way of understanding this is by commenting that many of the therapists in psychoanalysis and in family therapy have adopted Parsons’ structural functionalist approach to systems. p. 1966. p. 445 where he is quoting William Blake) – make sense. including clinical praxis – as questions of style. our condition involves an openness to endless opportunities to be other(wise). 85). 12. . p. in opposition to Bateson’s view. In a twist of irony. It is also in this context that both Bateson and Deleuze position practical matters – praxis. He writes: “some sort of continuing plateau of intensity is substituted for climax” (Bateson. p. 1949. 21-2). The irony is double when we are reminded that 11. 1987. comparing Western practices with oriental ones.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 405 accurate representation of our condition is one of an ambiguous and fluid self that is intimately connected to its circumstances. nor Foucault nor Bateson were interested in the constitution of systems as such11.

Deleuze and Guattari suggest a line of flight to explore how far one can go exploring life outside the Oedipus. in fact. p. which is always “becoming other”: the emphasis is not on the expression of “what we are” but in the creation. of what we could become. through encounters with the other.406 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein the observation was. 1983. 2). Life is an ethical becoming – artists seeking to create not individuals but individuations that are constantly in the process of becoming (devenir). 2005. 462-3).. Barbetta & Toffanetti. cannot be thought as separate from its ecology. This is a similar conception to the one expressed by Heinz von Foerster when using the term Human Becoming instead of Human Being (Cecchin et al. about mother-child interactions. For Deleuze. as with Bateson’s ideas. 2006). p. To Live as an Author How might one live? This was the question we stated at the beginning of this paper and one that perhaps we can now start to address. an active engagement with the world in the constitution of a Joycean chaosmos: “a composed chaos. this was a similar line to the one that Bateson had taken when he distanced himself from the Strategic movement in order to chart a connection between madness and creativity. a return to the Oedipus and the problem of psychoanalytic interpretation. The Deleuzian becoming is also a becoming of the assemblage for there is no becoming of an individual that does not imply an equal process on the other side: the becoming of oneself is paired with the becoming of the other in such a way that any distinction between these two processes is highly arbitrary. neither foreseen not preconceived” (Deleuze & Guattari. and of the use of therapeutic power (Bateson. This is what Deleuze and Guattari refer to with their concept of becoming. They call this exploration Schizoanalysis. Life as Experimentation in Plateaux. p. The self and the world are byproducts of the same desiring machine (Deleuze & Guattari. 1991. This arose from the well known argument between Bateson and Haley. For Deleuze. 1969. This process of experimentation with one’s life is evaluated by its ability to engender unique – not before known – relationships with the outside that not only work (make sense) but also elude established forms of knowledge. the individuation that Deleuze calls for. 204). becoming is an individuation that is not self-centred but event-centred and constitutes a “logic of impersonal individuation rather . life is an experimentation. But. In many ways. about “power” as constitutive of pathology.

stubbornly asserts life without any heroic humanism. p. 2) comment that perhaps a more fitting image of life is that of a schizophrenic going for a walk – encountering the outside: continents. the lawyer who employed the scrivener: “Ah. again Deleuze and Guattari are close to Bateson and his interest in understanding mind within an ecology that is larger than the individual. Like Deleuze clarifying that their use of schizophrenia is of a different kind to the clinical presentation – which for them is a failed schizophrenic process14 – Bateson saw in the Double Bind a matrix that not only accounts for pathology but also could be profoundly therapeutic (Bateson. 74) A Batesonian abecedaire: a joyful encounter? In the last years of his life. Melville finishes his story with the somewhat exasperated exclamation given by the narrator of the story. Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street by Melville. 26). completely preoccupied with an interiority that has no external references other than the nuclear family. p. This was an opportunity for him to present his ideas in an accessible format. Deleuze was filmed in a documentary where he was interviewed by Claire Parnet and asked to talk through the letters of the alphabet – in French: abecedaire15. 1853. an ecology that continues to be seriously endangered by this obsession to cut. nevertheless. Rodney 14. A Deleuzian becoming transcends the person and presents a singularity – a moment and a circumstance – that is unique and intimately associated with a time and place outside. in particular part III). . p. Nobody thought to interview Bateson in the way Claire Parnet interviewed Deleuze. Bartleby! Ah. alienate and exploit. Deleuze and Guattari (1983. It has all the elements constitutive of a schizophrenic process but it fails to work. 15. 1977. The becoming then that both Deleuze and Bateson call for through their theories. it collapses into a heap. 2001. 8). 1995. 1987).(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 407 than personal individualization” (Rajchman. Perhaps its best exemplification is one of Deleuze’s preferred pieces of literature. Bateson was able to complete much of his project thanks to Mary Catherine Bateson (Bateson and Bateson. We have chosen to keep the use of the French word for it is a well recognized reference amongst Anglo-Saxon scholars. 2001. humanity!” (Melville. p. races and politics – rather than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. “a gust of wind” (Deleuze. In this.

As a philosopher. I want to know what did it mean when you drank. a choice of sorts.. 2010). one who creates concepts. a synthesis of the previously described experience. never ceases reaching the last drink”. who has finished a documentary about her father (Bateson. And how important is the penultimate (pain-you’llwith-mate) in that list! The pain of staying with my mate: the bottle. Not that anyone that is a drinker does not have their own favourite drink.408 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein Donaldson (Bateson. A 16. more recently. We chose to start with the letter B of Deleuze’s abecedaire because we find a kind of unique voice connecting The Cybernetics of Self (Bateson. is not casual because it refers us to a further commonality between Bateson and Deleuze: the ways of thinking of alcoholism as a life entangled in a paradox. amongst the other letters in his abecedaire. Deleuze was for a period of his life a big drinker. Nevertheless for the alcoholic the very issue is quantity and repetition. 1991). something to which we can always add new perspectives. The alcoholic knows that everything is a question of quantity. In this question. like in Nietzsche’s perspectivism (Nietzsche. and. 1990). the two things run together: an alcoholic philosopher. A living thought. a philosophic alcoholic16. On the contrary: each drinker has their own qualitative preference. the last is the repetition of the first and vice-versa. It is as if the two pieces could vibrate in a common plateau of intensity never getting climax. our choice for Boisson. It refers to “boisson” (drink/booze). Again in a twist of irony. Furthermore. The marvellous statement he creates is: “An alcoholic never ceases to stop drinking. Bateson also comments that “[a]lcoholics are philosophers in that universal sense that [they] are guided by highly abstract principles” (Bateson. a person who drank a lot. p. the symmetry with the bottle. Did it mean pleasure? What was it?” This was the question posed by Claire Parnet: “You have drunk a lot…what did it mean when you drank?” The question is posed to a philosopher. 291) . 1971) with the word Boisson in Deleuze’s abecedaire (as a reference in English see Stivale.. Deleuze creates a concept. Nora Bateson. Well… you have drunk a lot and now you have stopped doing it. at the same time it is posed to an alcoholic. B as in Drink/Booze (Boisson) “B is something particular. 1971. 2000).

From Naven on.. and probably die as a consequence of it. It is an ordinary life of living a life as stranger. Ego. I am inhabited by a chasm. converted in a healing/perfect/academic country with a lot of ghosts hanging around as Nathaniel Hawthorne has taught us18. like Korsakoff disease. . 2009). as belonging to a Dispositive. as when we talk about “borderline” which is a word that has been vastly used – if not abused – from DSM to Joni Mitchell17. It is not that in other cultural worlds people don’t drink. “tie”. Notwithstanding this. liver cirrhosis. the philosophy of alcoholism: there is no ground. or “connection”. means “bond”. we have to rethink every social phenomenon as a consequence of multiple contexts (Pearce. As it were. of course is not a geographical border but one that has a use as we will soon see. observing it from the position of a Batesonian/Deleuzian anthropologist: a Puerto-Rican family that is living its life in Massachusetts. this dynamic is not supposed to be necessarily a social drama. In this spirit. Puerto Rico can be seen as a borderline country and Massachusetts as an old malign narcissistic country.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 409 philosophical concept about alcoholism. the US/ Puerto Rican border which. 1958) Bateson tried to show that ideas like Self. What has to do all this with drink/Booze (boisson)? If we follow the DeleuzianGuattarian invitation to get rid of the Oedipal triangle (mom-dad-child) as a universal model. and so on were cultural constructions of the Western world. Since the period of Naven (Bateson. The centre of the chasm is the penultimate glass. we are going to present a narrative about a family session. 17. the word border must be seen as a metaphor.. delirium tremens. In this sense.through novels like The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables. that. they probably also get the physical consequences of drinking. Bateson argues that there is no such self-making-man that can reach the conscious purpose of stopping to drink. he was convinced that en arché (at the beginning) there was logos: the Greek word that comes from the verb legein. Her song being a far richer and interesting use as compared to the DSM! 18. . among the other things. For drinking to be a social drama we need the cultural context of passing through the border that separates a successful Self from a social disaster.

in which any kind of ties are destroyed and where any kind of particularity concerning the subject is erased. The couple had two teenage nieces (Linda and Madalena) and a five year old boy (Pedro). The consultation was done in a program organized by Marcelo Pakman. living with them. Julio (the name we gave to the father) was an alcoholic in remission. in jails. they were reporting in front of Pietro the issues of the social services. The first part of the conversation was done by Puerto-Rican subjectivated people in Massachusetts and even Pietro was sharing this subjectivation in this early moment. One of the nieces was not actually with them at the time because she went missing in a pregnant state. the five year old boy in their care. They reported that this woman was supporting a change from a fostering situation into an adoption. 1981). at least by Massachusetts standards). even when there was a need for movement. with the same language that social services usually use for the assessment of this type of situations: standardized clusters. perhaps more of a stranger than them for he was a practitioner. an ambiguity inside himself. . using italics means that we are using the discourse of the welfare systems in order to construct with it a kind of Heteroglossy (Bakhtin. One of us (Pietro) remembers a consultation in Massachusetts with a PuertoRican family19. Gracia (the mother’s name we chose) was (again. Pietro was a stranger there. In other words. He was feeling a mixture. we are attempting to put ourselves in an ironic position towards the Dispositive. We not mention neither the name of the program nor the period and places involved to preserve the privacy of the people involved. As you see from this short description. Pedro. This was a good time for spreading out a line of flight for. they all had some things in common that would create this as a possibility: 19. was the only child of a woman who was addicted to crack. in asylums and. These are the kind of practices of subjectification that happen in hospitals. The family was getting benefits from welfare for many reasons. and he had (as per his clinical file) a mild cognitive retardation [sic!]. in concentration camps. like the people in the social service. according to the clinical file) obese and paraplegic (fortunately. perhaps the most terrifying of its manifestations. With this gesture. she had enough intelligence.410 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein A Month of Grace (A “Clinical” Story and Reflections) In the coming narrative we are working with different levels of discourse and we will use italics whenever we are referring to words that are not “ours”.

Lines of flight The issues the family was talking about with Pietro in therapy were several: 1. The conversation was hard for Pietro could not understand a word of their Spanish. the ‘real’ is indistinguishable of the ‘royal’. everything becomes immediately fascinating. but Linda – Madalena’s sister – spoke English fluently. coming back later as if nothing happened. Whilst Pedro – the five year old boy – was sleeping on a chair.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 411 he has something in common with the services even when he does not use its classificatory language and they also have something in common with the service because they use its language. something minor with no relevance since it is not related with the “Real Social Service”20. Perhaps. But they did not quit. Linda explained that Madalena is often going away. very American. perhaps thinking that that is the language he is going to understand. 2. This was the first opportunity for stepping inside the affective – desiring – elements of the dialogue. they have something in common. the young pregnant woman who had gone away. Linda was sure this time was going be the same. Gracia and Julio were showing preoccupation about Madalena. By his positioning as a foreigner. In the second part of the conversation. he could not impose a(ny)-thing. Madalena’s wellbeing. Pietro had no power to do anything about it. And. They share something. one could consider that Madalena is secretly in contact with her sister. They were creating an (un)useful space for free speech. Linda can understand Madalena’s way of living and her relationships with people. Sometimes 20. they could consider this to be an un-useful conversation. he could not become part of the Massachusetts Institute of Subjectification. so he needed a translator. This was the first line of flight: “If I cannot do anything about your social situation. A sister knows how the other sister operates. From this point of observation. not even liberate them. why then are we here?” From this point on. In this example. since Pietro was un-useful for them and the System they were entangled with. They were generous with Pietro: welcoming. . The possibility of transforming the fostering into adoption. This part of the colloquium was felt by Pietro as a shift: they were talking about how to live a life in Deleuzian terms. A good example of the totalizing effects that ‘the real’ has . the choices she can do. Linda’s speech is fast.

a demand strongly contested by Gracia: “If we go back there we lose all the benefits we get from Massachusetts. he was following the connections by the words in italics – decent. In his view.412 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein Pietro has problems to follow her even when he can grasp everything. The third and most important argument was Julio’s demand to go back to Puerto Rico. she’s intelligent and sensible. These utterances. he was far from speaking a decent English and he neither knew many details of the lifestyle over there. In other words. Apparently he knew the limits of expressing his affections and moods. his way of smiling at Pietro as “el Doctor”. his way of moving and looking around. or a scientist. y me consuela la nostalgia de mi casa”21 – was typical of a child who makes tantrums and then tries to repair. shaped by the social services of Massachusetts. or a scholar. trabajé una vida y me van a negar una vaso de Ron!”. In a certain sense. Pietro cannot but think: “what a fantastic Wille zur Macht she is spreading!” 3. I like baseball and I get consolation from my nostalgia for my home” . all of these gestures seemed to be shaped to stay under the limits of toleration of Social Services Dispositive. he had been there in a period of study. I worked all my life and they deny me a glass of rum?” “Well. as in a stream of (un)consciousness. we could see Julio as a social body. and he starts drinking again! We never will do that! He is a dangerous person. “I am forty-seven years old. Pietro did not think he was mentally retarded at all in Puerto Rico. I’ll stay here. like Julio. in trying to destroy himself.. a gentile discrimination. This is a conflict that involves the politics of the body and of the mind: Gracia’s body and Julio’s mind… but also Julio’s body and Gracia’s mind. he also had no manners and. And this way of subjecting himself was successful. he was not behaving properly. etc. “Bueno estaré aqui todavia. not properly – he suddenly felt the dissonance he was feeling when he was there back 21. At the time. And as he was watching Julio at the same time. he ruins all of us!” Here is coming the conflict between Gracia (the Massachusetts part-taking) and Julio (the Puerto-Rican one). me gusta el baseball. he became mentally retarded in Massachusetts. And this constituted a mismeasure: he was paying the price of being accepted in Massachusetts. she has all her life to live and she could become an artist. Pietro was thinking for himself: many years earlier. no manners. His way of talking – “Tengo cuarenta y siete años.

So we can continue funding the family.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 413 in 1991: a person who had lived all his/her own life until that point elsewhere. at the exit of one side I see a Hospital. He was keeping. The team was composed of many Latino people. Let’s put his words as poetry: I see a tunnel that connects and disconnects two places. and that’s Massachusetts. So Pietro was in the good position of being the counsellor whereas Julio was in the bad position of being mentally retarded. Latinos. the core of all the issues spreading out from the conversation. . was a clever student. he has no idea what he says and his statements have no consequences. Pietro felt he was sharing something with Julio for he also – in living there in 1991 – sometimes got the same childish attitude of needing to ask others – in his case. a vision. Cristobal Bonelli. and that’s Puerto Rico. as in a dream. What he said was a kind of delusional discourse. eager to learn good manners. colleagues – whether he was being proper in doing such or such thing. Yet. said something that moved Pietro very much. It is in such position that Julio can express his own desire to go back to Puerto Rico and to do so with no consequences about his own declarations for one could imagine the Social System – the Dispositive – commenting: “you know this man… he is mentally retarded. they were not too far from each other: both being strangers and. a Family Therapist and Anthropologist from Chile. the childish Pietro – unlike Julio. To the other side I see a Bar. probably helpful for the family.” After more than one hour of conversation. In that moment. Pietro decided to talk with the other colleagues of the team. a stranger who was assuming that his/her way of living a life was proper – and appropriate – to the social environment and who suddenly realizes that what he took for granted – even with simple phrase like “I met a girl who is studying Anthropology” – was no longer available for the academicians around him – his peers in the new environment – where secretly laughing because the word “girl” was not proper and so on. After all. in a wide sense of the word.

Would I be in the same position having to apologize? Probably. a colleague from Puerto Rico approached Pietro to apologize in the name of the family. who are able to be so creative so as to get attached and detached to the United States in such a creative and deterritorialised way. by their docility… and ours. Maybe they are betrayers. Bartleby says “I prefer not to” and this negative opens up for a response that suspends the certainties and the scripts already too rehearsed. not just the clients – who will receive the so called benefits – but also the professionals whose practices will enable them to get a salary (that partly pays for the benefits). this is a position that is of interest. a pound of a woman’s flesh coming from her belonging to the PuertoRican community in Massachusetts. for each of the definitions assume someone – the expert(s) – defining via the use of standard tools of assessment and observation such a patient. How then to respond so as not to reproduce these endless mechanisms of subjugation? A way to say something could be “I would be proud to belong to such a group of Deleuzian people. For. as part of writing this paper. if there is any power in Deleuze’s idea of plateau it is that.414 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein On top of all these things. the file represent more than just the patient. there is hardly any bigger power of resistance in the modern State than the one depicted in Melville’s Bartleby. the Scrivener. The institution is not “out there” but is actualized by their participation. All are acting in good faith. As Pietro indicated earlier. Maria could not but appreciate its beauty – the beauty of a graceful (Gracia) moment (a month?. all hoping that somehow their efforts will help without suspecting that their actions are not as innocent and uncertain as they would wish. as a member of this collective in search of a creative exit. Further deterriotarialisations Maria heard Pietro’s case as many of us practitioners do: as an afterthought and in the midst of a (practitioner’s) conversation. Like in any service industry. let’s say fifty years earlier. For Deleuze. He was touched about her apologizing: he felt a sort of mark on her body. embedded in the constitutive definitions of any of these . As a therapist. Julio) – and to wonder about the endless possibilities that this event offers us once we move away from the official story – the clinical case as is described by the system of files with clinical definitions of this family. with an Italian family. but they are not tricksters”. during the interval after the session was finished. it is a very effective institutional dispositive – as Foucault would say – that allocates status and space to all the parties. People are recruited into these roles with a frightful docility. He thought: what about me had I been following a consultation by another colleague...

And.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 415 domains (territories). Pietro resonates with this and comments that in Primo Levi’s Se questo È Un Uomo (chapter 9. like Pietro caught in a series of reflective recursions. she thought that at the time she was seeing this family she was reading Bateson’s Angels Fear (Bateson & Bateson. of becoming another story. still. they “needed to give way for mother to become mother of the child”. Perhaps this is what Maturana. But the mother got angry and the child acted out as if they both did not want to change the arrangement. that gesture of the child. The grandparents felt that. She asked him if her reading was right and he nodded. Henri can be considered the opposite of Bartleby’s “I prefer . many years ago. using any ethological expedient): Henri. It was a better arrangement for the child and all parties were happy until the mother got sick and moved into grandparents’ house to be looked after. 1947). Levi. makes a lot of sense. meant when he commented that perhaps more than asking our clients what they want to change we might need to ask them what they want to keep. Just to open up further to such possibilities – for Pietro already commented about a dream that cuts across cultures and times – Maria commented that nothing has yet been said of the way this family of apparently disfigured people can function across time and space and present a form of life that allows a child to sleep (can we think of a gesture of more innocence?). After close to thirty years since she saw this family. he was ever able to stay under the threshold. of what was considered tolerable by him from the point of view of the Nazis. The child had gone to live with the grandparents after the mother started a new relationship. out of love to both their daughter and her son. and his way of fake became soon the way he believed. This gesture reminded Maria of a family she saw many years ago in Chile: maternal grandparents and a grandchild. other from the ones of docile bodies that construct us/them as either clinicians or patients in (anti)heroic positions. 1987) and now thinks of a sentence written by Bateson that his daughter – Nora – has included in her recent website: “the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think”. there is a description of a prominent (the word Levi used to describe a person who was trying to survive. there are possible lines of flight – or movements of deterritorializations – that are open for variation. Henri learned fast the way of capturing pity from “son type”. Maria mentioned this to the grandparents in the session and the child – who had not wished to talk until that moment – started to cry.

Julio’s soul contains both Bartleby and Henri. then the question is: why Julio is not Charles Bukowski. mental retardation. We mean: this is not a case that could be grasped by the Oedipus narrative. in putting abstinence as a condition (a kind of a dead-line. Not because of the problem of alcoholism but because – in the welfare’s order of discourse – if Julio drinks they lose everything. because as we all know Puerto Rico is an island – between the two places and/or – as in the case of the Chilean family – sets of definitions. Julio cannot live other than this life of mentally retarded in Massachusetts. just not to waste his life collecting tips in a bar of Massachusetts in change of drinks he cannot drink. But she has marks on her body: she is paraplegic and obese. abstinence is the only way to continue to live in Massachusetts and. At the same time. Gracia is trying to cooperate. The same seems to happen in the session held by Maria with the child and the abuelos. The reference is the hospital. Mental retardation is his own admitted line of flight. That is what happens in many cases like this. so they are bound to adopt Pedro as a second generation Puerto-Rican guy in Massachusetts. This is an issue that has to do with the cultural borders – not at all the “real” borders. Is this something that matters substantially in a Deleuzian line of observations? If yes. social. Henri was a dealer. is there in the hospital (and not the single practitioners entangled in the system) a trick? Yes. So alcoholism is the order of discourse in which they are entangled. the hospital (that is. he was able to make friendship with everybody who could be useful to take advantage. to survive. paraplegia. by thinking of Julio’s triangle with mother/father. she knows that they must survive. alcoholism is maybe the most important problem. because. of course. taking care for obesity. where the family lives now: not the bar-red bar but the hospital is the dispositive that shapes the family as it is now. This could be a Deleuzian line of questioning. drinking becomes the only way to leave to Puerto Rico: tretium non datur – a stuck system – as Cecchin liked to say. and the way he was attached/abandoned by his mother. From the hospital’s point of view. the Social Service) behaves as a humanitarian institution: protecting them economically. he got goods from the English sector of the camp. He has only one chance – going back to Puerto Rico – but this chance is bar-red. linguistic and cultural problems of the family. So she was . But.416 Human Systems Pietro Barbetta & Maria Nichterlein not”. that life must go on. Let’s take for granted Julio had an abandoning mother and an alcoholic father. with no date of expiring) to live in Massachusetts. or the way his father was authoritarian/absent from the family and so on. Antonin Artaud or Marilyn Monroe.

com References Bakhtin. being fat are metonymies for her body to keep Julio out of the bar and save their own lives. No way out using reality and rationality: what is rational is real and what is real is rational (wrote Hegel). the regimes and dispositives that transform our desires and our dreams into docile bodies are not of a concrete place but belong to a style of life that does not respect our ecology of mind. Barbetta. G. that’s the double bind of the Ethic State. the Mount Gracia (la montaña Gracia) with a tunnel bar-red: not to “really” go to Puerto Rico but to create an imaginary line of flight for Linda and Madalena. that is Massachusetts. Naven: A Survey Of The Problems Suggested By A Composite Picture Of The Culture Of A New Guinea Tribe Drawn From Three Points Of View.it and Maria Nichterlein m. & Toffanetti. at least for some. for they can still fly. they still have good wings. Stanford : Stanford University Press. A month of grace. Austin. with her wheelchair and with all her – Pietro supposes – 80 pounds extra. M. . Cristobal’s dream is a poetic way to describe the system. G. paraplegic. alcoholic.) Steps To An Ecology Of Mind. M. Bali: The Value System Of A Steady State. (1958). Bateson. obese. In: Bateson. and they subject themselves.. just to stay fixed. Bateson. The Dialogic Imagination. But let us not be fooled in thinking that this is something that happens only to Latinos in Massachusetts. Please address correspondence about this article to: Pietro Barbetta barbetta@ mediacom. (2006). they answer the interpellation. They are needy persons. they fit. This is the grace of Gracia: if she had a dancer body and they were in some bar in Puerto Rico – dancing – probably this would be a dis-grace. (1981).nichterlein@bigpond. Roma: Meltemi. Divenire Umano: Von Foerster E L’analisi Del Discorso Clinico. It would a relief if this is the case. D. and so on. Not walking. to stay stuck. behaving as if they were like these definitions. they dispose themselves like docile bodies.(Re)Learning our Alphabet: Reflecting on Systemic Thought Using Deleuze and Bateson 417 at our session as usual. they can now continue to fake: like faking to be welcomed in a comfortable hospital. University Of Texas Press. (1949). P. and to derail it from reality to imaginary. Frogmore: Paladin. The dynamics of the Order of the discourse. The only way the institution can manage this case – to manage this presentation of life – is by defining them by clusters: mentally retarded. G. (Ed.

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