‘Body without organs’ is a core concept in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s account of the genesis of the schizophrenic subject. This concept underwent a number of transformations from its first usage in Deleuze’s Logique du sens (1969), translated as Logic of Sense (1990) to its more well-known deployment in Mille plateaus (1980) translated as A Thousand Plateaus (1987). Interestingly, it fades almost completely from view in Deleuze’s work after his book on Francis Bacon, which was published immediately after A Thousand Plateaus. Guattari tends not to use the term much in his later works either, but one should certainly consult his recently published journals in The Anti-Oedipus Papers (2006) for an instructive account of how he used the term in relation to himself.
The phrase ‘body without organs’ was borrowed from schizophrenic French playwright and poet Antonin Artaud, but Artaud’s work taken in isolation cannot be used to explain the concept. Deleuze reads Artaud in counterpoint to Melanie Klein (and to a lesser extent, Gisela Pankow) and it is only in this context that the term becomes meaningful. As Deleuze explains in Logic of Sense, Klein proposed that in addition to the anal object in psychoanalysis there is a urethral or liquid object and whereas the former attracts our desire the latter absorbs it, effectively negating it. Deleuze regards it as a missed opportunity that Klein did not pursue this idea very far and adopts it for his own purposes to describe the schizophrenic subject who feels so persecuted by his or her desire that they decide to renounce desire altogether and become a body without objects (object and organ are the same thing in this context). In subsequent work, Deleuze adds a second function to this concept: when the subject has become a body without organs, the desire seems to issue from this body as a ‘miraculate’.