Romeo, Juliet, and Deleuze: Together at Last!
by Joseph Suglia
“Zu wenig Liebe, zu wenig Gerechtigkeit und Erbarmen, und immer zu wenig Liebe…—das bin ich.”
—Georg Trakl, in a letter to Ludwig von Ficken, June 1913
THE PRODUCTIVITY OF DESIRE
One of the great lessons of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1972) is that most of our desires are not our own. Despite the turbidity of their language, I believe that this is what Deleuze and Guattari mean when they suggest that most desire is embedded in the social order itself: “The truth of the matter is that social production is purely and simply desiring-production itself under determinate conditions. We maintain that the social field is immediately invested by desire… There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.” That is to say: Most desires are not individual; they are social. They are manifest in the world; most of our desires are already part of the world as such. Deleuze and Guattari make no distinction between social production and the production of socially conditioned desires.
It is not the case that desire is geared toward an absence. It is not the case that we want what we don’t have. Quite otherwise: We don’t long for what we don’t have—for the most part, what we want is already part of the really existing concrete landscapes of the cultures in which we live. We want what others want; we want what we are prescribed to want. Most of our desires are premanufactured and mass-manufactured, herd-desires, group-desires. The Platonic-Lacanian theory of desire which posits that desire is based on absence is erroneous. Desire is not empty; it is already full. Nothing is missing from desire; it already has all that it needs.
Needs do not produce desires. The exact opposite is the case: Desires produce needs. Most of our desires do not respond to preexisting needs. No one is born wanting an Automated Robotic Friend. Desire creates the need for an Automated Robotic Friend. Desires rapidly convert into needs; in consumerist culture, there is an infinitely accelerating and multiplying conversion of our desires into needs. Now, it becomes a need for me to have the newest Bluetooth-compatible selfie stick. Such things, such commodities, are appendages without which I cannot live.
There is a different kind of desire for Deleuze and Guattari, a desire that they denominate “real desire.” Real desires would not be desires for our own repression, desires for our own persecution, desires for our own exploitation, desires to reproduce an army of docile consumer-workers, but an altogether different kind of desiring—a desiring that is not socially configured or designed. I will use the word “love” to describe this other-desire.
Love means the undoing of the community, since love is not reducible to the norms of any community. This thought is metaphorized beautifully in Shakespeare’s The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (circa 1591-1595).
The desire of Juliet Capulet for Romeo Montague and the desire of Romeo Montague for Julie Capulet are not herd-desires; they are not collective desires. Both Romeo and Juliet are created by the desire that they have for each other. It is only a social desire in the self-productive sense—for do Romeo and Juliet not form a society of two? Though their social is desire, their desire is not the social. In other words: The love of Romeo for Juliet and of Juliet for Romeo is not familial desire, is not collectivized desire, is not acculturated desire. It is the subversive desire of each for the other (I will return to this subject below).
The desire of the young lovers is spontaneous (self-productive) and active: As soon as they see each other, they are transformed. There are at least two signs of this transformation: 1.) Romeo is willing to repudiate his own birth name for the sake of Juliet. 2.) Romeo immediately forgets his erstwhile beloved, Rosaline, as soon as he fixes his eyes on Juliet. From the moment that they see each other, Romeo and Juliet become entirely other.
Now, Romeo would not be Romeo outside of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, as Juliet would not be Juliet outside of the relationship between Juliet and Romeo. Who are they apart from their desires? From this point forward, they do not exist apart from the desires that they have for each other. Their amatory desire for each other gives birth to Romeo. Their desire for each other gives birth to Juliet. The relation precedes the relata. In other words: The impulsions and propulsions of real desire imply the loss of the self-sufficient subject. I believe that this one of the things that Deleuze and Guattari mean when they write: “Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack an object. It is, rather the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject.”
We see this clearly in the second scene of Act Three. Juliet asks the maddeningly tangential Nurse: “Hath Romeo slain himself?” [III:ii]. Juliet is No One without Romeo, as Romeo is No One without Juliet: “I am not I if there be such an ‘Ay’” [III:ii]. Such is the subjectlessness of the desire, the asubjective character of all real desire.
JULIET IS A NOMINALIST
I am not the first literary critic to notice that Juliet Capulet is a nominalist: The title of Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose is predicated on this premise. A nominalist is one who thinks that words are generalities that, in order to signify anything at all, must transcend any particular context. (The deconstructionists are therefore nominalists by another name.) A word is only a word—and does not refer to any being or object in the world. My question to the nominalists would be: Can a word not also be a thing in the world? When a word is written, is it not a thing?
Juliet refuses to accept that Romeo is defined and confined by, restricted and reducible to the name “Montague,” the name of the familial clan that opposes her familial clan. From the window, she serenades Romeo:
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy. / Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. / What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot, / Nor arm nor face nor any other part / Belonging to a man. O be some other name! / What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet; / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without the title. Romeo, doff thy name, / And for thy name, which is no part of thee, / Take all myself [II:ii].
The olfactory sensation—the aroma of the rose—is independent of the word “rose.” What is this if not nominalism? Juliet is suggesting that the word “rose” is an abstraction that is abstracted from the referent, the physical rose, as it is from any other referent. She implores Romeo to retain his “dear perfection”—his essence, his character, his quiddity, his haecceity, his ipseity—even if another surname were substituted for “Montague” and even if another given name were substituted for “Romeo.” Charmingly, Juliet has an intuitive understanding of the arbitrariness of naming. Names are artificially grafted to things and to people; they are mere universals that never touch particulars. That it is possible to “doff [one’s] name”—this is Juliet’s charmingly naïve belief that beings are beings without language. Endearingly, she pleads with Romeo to strip away his name in exchange for any other. And Romeo agrees. He hates his own name since that name is hateful to Juliet and, were it written, would rend it to pieces: “Had I it written, I would tear the word” [Ibid.]. Her distrust of language shows itself again when she implores Romeo not to swear his love to her: “Well, do not swear” [Ibid.]. A contract between them would have no more weight than the words “It lightens” [Ibid.]. Much as the lightning that ceases to be before one can say, “It lightens,” the contact between them might cease to be before the terms of the contract have been uttered.
The fact that Romeo is willing to discard—and, if necessary, mutilate—his surname implies that he does not see himself as reducible to his clan or definable by his clan. Again, his desire for Juliet is not a communalized desire.
THE INVISIBLE CENTER OF THE PLAY IS ROSALINE
Readers should note that the seemingly minor characters in Shakespeare are often the most significant characters. In The Most Lamentable Roman Tragedy of Titus Andronicus, the most significant figure in the play is, arguably, Alarbus, who is a superficially peripheral character: Without Alarbus, the sequence of vengeance would never be instigated. I believe that the key to understanding the play is Rosaline, though “key” is probably the wrong metaphor. Better: I believe that the invisible center of the play is Rosaline.
When we first meet him, Romeo is mooning over Rosaline:
O brawling love, O loving hate, / O anything of nothing first create, / O heavy lightness, serious vanity, / Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms, / Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health, / Still-waking sleep that is not what it is. / This love feel I that feel no love in this [I:i].
Such is the Shakespearean paradoxology of love. The use of antiphrasis (the combining of opposites) is remarkable: “love” blends with “brawling,” “loving” blends with “hate,” “heavy” blends with “lightness,” “serious” blends with “vanity,” “misshapen chaos” blends with “well-seeming forms,” “feather” blends with “lead,” “bright” blends with “smoke,” “cold” blends with “fire,” “sick” blends with “health,” “still-waking” blends with “sleep.” Opposites are interlaced. There is a coalescence or interpenetration of opposites, which means that love, for Shakespeare, is unsystematizable—for only that which is simple and undifferentiated can be systematized.
Rosaline is not named explicitly until the second scene of the first act, when Romeo recites the list of invited guests to Capulet’s feast. She is first anonymous and then, the audience of readers / spectators only learn of her name from the recitation of the guest list, which foretokens her imminent departure from the thoughts of Romeo. On the guest list, her name is nothing more than one name among other names. She will quickly be replaced by Juliet Capulet, who is not listed on the guest list, since she is not a guest at all, but the only child and daughter of the great rich Capulet.
Oppressed by his love for Rosaline, Romeo cannot forswear Rosaline until he falls in love—instantaneously—with Juliet. Sunday night, when Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo are masquerading themselves for the feast, Juliet will supplant Rosaline in Romeo’s mind. This substitution of Juliet for Rosaline will take place in the span of no more than one hour—both Scene Four and Scene Five of the first act take place Sunday night, the night of the feast. There is no more than an hour or so between the scenes. The new beloved, Juliet, quickly kills off, interchanges with, the old beloved, Rosaline. As the Chorus phrases it: “Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie, / And young affection gapes to be his heir” [II:0].
At the beginning of Act Two: Scene Three, it is the dawn of the day, and Friar Laurence is gathering baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers into an osier cage. Friar Laurence sights Romeo and asks the young man if he spent the night with Rosaline. Romeo’s response:
With Rosaline, my ghostly father? No, / I have forgot that name and that name’s woe.
Friar Laurence is understandably shocked: “Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!” [Ibid.]. The change that Romeo undergoes underscores the mutability and the malleability of love. The fact that Rosaline is unnamed in the first act and is easily interchangeable likewise highlights the ductility of love—it is articulative of the thought that desire persists for as long as life persists. If love is mutable yet ductile, it cannot be systematized and what is unsystematizable cannot be socially integrated. Romeo’s desire is mutable and therefore his desire is revolutionary. More precisely: The love of Romeo and Juliet issues in a revolution, literally.
DESIRE IS REVOLUTION
There is a war in the play between two Veronese families, the House of Capulet and the House of Montague, as is well-known. The love of Juliet and Romeo is, above all, a subversive love. The offspring of one rivaling clan falls in love with the offspring of another rivaling clan. What is this, if not transgression / subversion / insubordination? Juliet’s and Romeo’s transgressive, subversive, insubordinate desire remind us that all amatory desire is transgressive, subversive, insubordinate. Romeo and Juliet are insubordinate to their respective families, transgressive of the laws of familialism, subversive to the will of their respective fathers. For contemporary examples of this, one has only to think of current practices of exogamy, of interracial, interreligious, or transgenerational sociosexual / conjugal relationships.
No wonder that Romeo’s uninvited presence at the feast is decried by Tybalt as an “intrusion” [I:v], as the trespass of private property. Romeo is there to seek out Rosaline, not Juliet, but no matter: He is a lover, and lovers are intrusive; they are interlopers. No wonder that Romeo himself claims to “profane” the “holiest shrine” of Juliet’s hand [Ibid.]. Romeo’s desire for Juliet is metaphorized as blasphemy, as intrusion, as the infringement of the holy. Desire profanes the sacred, for the sacred is nothing if not that which should not be desired. Seconds after they fall in love at first sight and kiss at the feast—easily one the most romantic scenes in the history of Western literature—both Romeo and Juliet use the language of “trespass” and “sin” [Ibid.] to describe their mutual fascination. And they say these words even before they know that they belong to enemy camps, reminding us that love is the transgression and profanation of the social order.
To return to Deleuze and Guattari: Real desire is revolutionary. They argue: “Desire does not ‘want’ revolution, it is revolutionary in its own right, as though involuntarily, by wanting what it wants.” In a culture wherein citizens are labile, wherein citizens are neurotic subjects who are subject to the desires of capitalist culture, psychoanalysts, psychologists, psychotherapists are enlisted to keep them in line. The analysand is kept in line by the psychoanalysts, psychologists, psychotherapists who direct one’s neuroses to the father or to the mother. “What are your problems?” the psychotherapist asks. No matter what your problems might be, the cause of your problems will forever be named “The Father” or “The Mother.” Deleuze and Guattari are intimating that psychoanalysis supports fascism, since both systems of thought relegate singularities to authority.
Even before draining the ampoule of sleeping potion, Juliet has already infringed the social order. Such is love’s unfettered character. The desires of Romeo and Juliet are still social—but they are not the desires of the herd, of the family, of the clan. Just as today, cult leaders, marketing firms, parents, teachers, bosses, psychiatrists tell you what to desire, Capulet and Lady Capulet tell Juliet who she should desire: the mediocre Paris. For this reason, the desire of Romeo and Juliet for each other is anti-familial, Anti-Oedipal, explosive, liberated, and liberating and realigns the whole of the Veronese society. Their desire for each other reminds us that desire is resistant, recalcitrant, renitent.
The Prologue summarizes the entire play:
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.
Romeo and Juliet’s love for each other, “their death-marked love,” a love which inescapably ends in death, is transgressive and literally revolutionary. It effects radical political change: the harmonization of the House of Capulet and the House of Montague.
Dr. Joseph Suglia