Félix Guattari (1930-1992): Biography, Famous Works and Influences

Félix Guattari (1930-1992) was a highly influential figure in the realms of French psychoanalysis, political activism, and philosophy. Félix Guattari was born on April 30, 1930, in Villeneuve-les-Sablons, France. He grew up in a period marked by significant social and political change, which later influenced his activist and intellectual pursuits. He is best recognized for his groundbreaking collaborations with the eminent French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, which produced a series of seminal works, including “L’Anti-Oedipe: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie” (1972), translated as “Anti-Oedipus” (1977); “Kafka: Pour une Littérature Mineure” (1975), translated as “Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature” (1986); “Mille Plateaux: Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2” (1980), translated as “A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia” (1987); and “Qu’est-ce que la Philosophie?” (1991), translated as “What is Philosophy?” (1994). However, Guattari was not merely a collaborator but also a prolific author in his own right, producing significant works such as “Psychanalyse et Transversalité” (1972) (Psychoanalysis and Transversality), “La Révolution Moléculaire” (1980), translated as “Molecular Revolution” (1984), and “Cartographies Schizoanalytiques” (1989) (Schizoanalytic Cartographies).

Before his collaboration with Deleuze, Félix Guattari had already established a reputation in France as a passionate political activist. In the French media, he earned the moniker “Mr. Anti-” for his fervent advocacy on an array of issues. His causes included decolonization efforts in Algeria, campaigning for better treatment of prisoners in French penitentiaries (where he was an integral part of Michel Foucault’s Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons), championing improved care for the mentally ill in French asylums, advocating for the establishment of free radio, supporting gay rights, and promoting green politics. In a particularly controversial move in 1973, Guattari published a special issue of the journal “Recherches,” edited by Guy Hocquenghem and René Scherer, provocatively titled “Trois milliards de pervers: Grande Encyclopédie des Homosexualités” (Three Billion Perverts: An Encyclopedia of Homosexualities). French courts not only banned this publication but also ordered the destruction of all copies. Guattari was fined 600 francs but defiantly refused to pay. Furthermore, he engaged in a controversial collaboration with the Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Negri, who was arrested in 1977 on charges of terrorism due to his association with the Red Brigades. Guattari also vehemently opposed the extradition of Klaus Croissant from Germany to France, a German lawyer sympathetic to the Baader-Meinhof Group. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he carried funds for the Front de Liberation Nationale Algérien, the guerrilla army striving for independence from French colonial rule in Algeria.

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Guattari’s activism was profoundly informed by his clinical practice as a psychotherapist at the private psychiatric clinic La Borde, founded in 1953 by Jean Oury. La Borde was at the forefront of reimagining mental health care by seeking to “de-institutionalize the institution.” At La Borde, a unique approach was adopted, where all staff members, from cooks to cleaners, actively participated in patient therapy. Many of the patients at La Borde suffered from psychotic disorders, and this inclusive approach allowed doctors, nurses, and other staff members to engage both in patient therapy and the maintenance of the hospital. Guattari’s exceptional organizational abilities made him a valuable asset at La Borde. He received formal psychoanalysis training from Jacques Lacan, a renowned Freudian interpreter in France, earning the status of “analyste membre” (member analyst) in 1969. However, his relationship with Lacan and Lacanian psychoanalysis was characterized by ambivalence. The publication of Guattari’s notebooks, “The Anti-Oedipus Papers” (2006), revealed the strained relations between them, especially after the release of “Anti-Oedipus.”

Guattari’s intellectual trajectory was also influenced by Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, even though he did not wholly align with Sartre’s strategies. Guattari employed the term “schizoanalysis” to describe his psychotherapy approach, with his primary objective being the reformation of psychoanalysis, especially Freudian and Lacanian forms, from within. He argued that conventional psychoanalysis was excessively normative, attempting to restore the patient to a presumed prior state of normalcy. In contrast, Guattari believed that there was no returning to such a state after a psychotic episode; instead, one had to forge a path forward.

In the later stages of his life, Félix Guattari developed a theory of “World Integrated Capitalism,” an early precursor to globalization theories. This theory significantly influenced the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, particularly their concept of “Empire.” Guattari’s multifaceted contributions continue to influence and inspire critical thought in philosophy, psychoanalysis, and political activism. His legacy remains an enduring and impactful part of contemporary intellectual discourse.

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