Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 95–110 | Cite as

What is the body without organs? Machine and organism in Deleuze and Guattari

  • Daniel Smith


In the two volumes which make up Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari propose new concepts of “machine” and “organism.” The problem of the relationship between machines and organisms has a long philosophical history, and this essay treats their work as a contribution to this debate. It is argued that their solution to this problem is found in their difficult concept of the “body without organs,” a concept that is given some much-needed clarification in the essay. The first section details Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the machine, examining the ways in which it differs from the traditional concept as described by Canguilhem: (1) their machines do not have predictable movements, but instead produce events; (2) they do not have a purpose; (3) they are able to reproduce themselves. The second section details their conception of the organism through their account of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire: (1) organisms are bodies which normalize and which create hierarchies; (2) they also do not have a purpose; (3) they have a “unity of composition.” The final section argues that their concept of the “body without organs” shows us how to understand the relation between the two transformed concepts, and defines the body without organs as the becoming-machine of the organism.


Body without organs Machine Organism Deleuze Event Virtual Canguilhem Mechanism Vitalism Machinism Inorganic vitalism 



I wish to thank Leonard Lawlor for invaluable help with various drafts of this paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophy DepartmentThe Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA

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