Helen Palmer & Stanimir Panayotov

“Transversality does nothing less than schizophrenize the transference.”
(Genosko, 1996, p. 14)

Transversality is a conceptual and clinical tool that was developed primarily in Guattari’s thought, activism and practice, and which he borrowed from Sartre, as a concept designed to transform institutions, beginning with the psychiatric hospital. Transversality is a key concept for the ongoing genealogies of new materialism whose rhizomatic history is rooted in Deleuze and Guattari’s two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Deleuze and Guattari, 1983, 1987) in general, and the work of Guattari in particular (Guattari, 1984, 2015).

Guattari theorized Transversality most clearly as early as 1964 (Deleuze introduced it in the second edition of Proust and Signs in 1970, Deleuze, 2000, p. 168), in a twofold manner (Guattari, 2015, p. 102-121; Guattari, 1984, p. 11-24). First, as a critique of the psychoanalytic notion of transference, through his work on group therapy with patients, where transversality was conceptualized to subvert the unconscious in institutional psychic lives. Secondly, the psychoanalytic critique inherent in transversality accommodated a political charge wherein transversal practices of communication and therapy lended themselves to political militant subjectivities, which unfolded after Guattari met Deleuze in 1968. Transversality begins for Guattari with the dismantling of the dual analytic relation between analyst/analysand in favour of a more collective psychotherapy. Rather than transference, which is the libidinal tie between analyst and analysand that allows for pathologies to be enacted and eventually cured, transversality opens previously closed avenues of movement and perception to produce an entirely new constitution of the institution or group. The degree of openness of these avenues is what Guattari calls the coefficient of transversality.

Just as the word itself signifies in terms of the type of line you might draw when writing by hand, transversality opposes both verticality (in the sense of hierarchies and leaders) and horizontality, in the sense of groups of people organising themselves within a particular “section” or compartment. For example, Guattari discussed how different wards in a hospital are organized and was involved in the psychiatric reforms in France, specifically concerning the psychiatric reform via “sectoring” of patients. The sectoring and the way it affected patients, when juxtaposed to the notion of transversality, served as a form of institutional critique of psychiatry and was later on seen as a political trope (see Genosko, 1996, p. 4-5). And while sectoring was later seen as reactionary, the political charge lies in transversality’s potential to create its own terms and affirm the singularity of everyone in the group. Part of the radicality in the notion of transversality lies in the reciprocal and interchangeable roles of clinician and patient. Suggesting that rather than searching for a cure, we need another society altogether where the concept of illness might reach its collective revolutionary potential.

As a new materialist concept, transversality is non-categorical and non-judgemental. It defies disciplinary categories and resists hierarchies. A transversal line cuts diagonally through previously separated parallel lines, as in the common garden gate.

Each of those horizontal planks in the gate could be an academic discipline, or a previously conceptualised categorical segregation. The diagonal or transversal line cuts through these. So you can see why it might be useful in contexts of the thinking of gender, race, class, disability, religion, or any other framework we might choose. In new materialism, transversality is mostly used in this sense of cutting through disciplinary boundaries (Dolphijn and van der Tuin, 2012, p. 93-115). It cuts across both text and matter; in terms of new materialism it undoes the said polarity, granting access to (or: intra-acting between) both constructivist-culturalist specificity and realist-ontological indifference of the inert (rather than the universal).

Because originally transversality reflected a group dynamic rather than a dual one, it conceptually diversifies the disciplinary dualistic constraints imposed by dualisms such as social-biological. Consequently transversality is hailed as a central tool in eluding dualism, and in essence substituting it. Transversality involves processes of becoming rather than being simply a new method (of, say, overcoming dualisms). However, it does focus on the production of the new. The reception of the term in new materialism therefore has pedagogical and political consequences for expanding the condition for practicing transversality.

See also: Transversal Practices - Special Issue of Studies in Material Thinking

Keywords: transversal, diagrammatic, rhizome, institutional therapy
Genealogies: Felix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze, Rosi Braidotti, Gary Genosko
Antonyms: transference, dual relation
Hypernyms: schizophrenia, singularity
Hyponyms: anti-logos style, machinic, the grid (la grille)
Synonyms: the new, pollination

Deleuze, Gilles. (2000). Proust and Signs: The Complete Text, translated by Richard Howard. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Vol. 1, translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Vol. 2, translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Dolphijn, Rick and Iris van der Tuin. (2012). New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Open Humanities Press.
Genosko, Gary. (1996). “Introduction,” in: The Guattari Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
Guattari, Félix. (1984). “Transversality,” in: Molecular Revolution: Psychiatry and Politics, translated by Rosemary Sheed et al. Middlesex: Penguin.
Guattari, Félix. (2015). “Transversality,” in: Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955-1971, translated by Ames Hodges. Los Angeles, California: Semiotext(e).

COST Action IS1307 New Materialism: Networking European Scholarship on 'How Matter Comes to Matter'.

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