«In primitive families, the father, mother, and sister always also function as something other than father, mother, and sister; families are coextensive with the social field. (8)
Deleuze and Guattari present Victor Turner’s case of a shamanistic cure in “An Ndembu Doctor in Practice” (Turner 1964) as an example of a primitive cure that, unlike psychoanalysis, works through a wide range of social investments rather than remaining fixated on a personal story about familial positioning. (9)
When Kamahasanyi, a resident of a small village of the Ndembu tribe in northern Rhodesia studied by Turner in the 1950s, became ill (rapid palpitations of the heart, severe pains in the back, limbs, and chest, and fatigue after short spells of work [Turner 1964, 255]), Ihembi, a “ritual specialist” was called in to rid Kamahasanyi of the ancestral “shades” that his illness indicated were afflicting him. Turner emphasizes Ihembi’s skill in studying the various networks of relationships affecting Kamahasanyi, diagnosing “the incidence and pattern of tensions” (Turner 242) in those relations, and reducing them by presiding over collective rituals in which a general atmosphere maximizing sympathy for the patient is generated through drumming, singing, prayers, and the airing of grievances (259). Some of the tensions in the various networks of relations arose, according to Turner’s description of Ihembi’s diagnosis, from colonial relations between whites and blacks (the chieftainship that entitled the village to certain resources from the British had been abolished, creating various resentments due to resulting shifts in power), power struggles between two branches of the lineage of chieftainship (affected by the colonial situation), relations among the villagers that threatened to divide the village, and Kamahasanyi’s life’s history (which included shirking duties toward his matrilineal kin [Turner 1964, 253]). As Turner explains,
the Ndembu “doctor” sees his task less as curing an individual patient than as remedying the ills of a corporate group. . . . The patient will not get better until all the tensions and aggressions in the group’s interrelations have been brought to light and exposed to ritual treatment. . . . The doctor’s task is to tap the various streams of affect associated with these conflicts and with the social and interpersonal disputes in which they are manifested—and to channel them in a socially positive direction. (262)
Deleuze and Guattari point out that Ihembi’s analysis is never oedipal, but rather directly plugs into social organization and disorganization. Through the intense affect created in hours of drumming, the patient’s rhythmic shuddering as the afflicting shades are exorcised, rituals various participants are asked to perform, and induced confessions testifying to hidden resentments, social synergy is revitalized. Ihembi creates “a veritable group analysis centering on the sick individual” that discovers
the preconscious investments of a social field by interests, but — more profoundly — its unconscious investments by desire, such as they pass by way of the sick person’s marriages, his position in the village, and all the positions of a chief lived in intensity within the group. (AO 168)
It is never a question for Ihembi of determining Kamahasanyi’s desires and position in an oedipal triangle considered independently of his position in multiple social networks, but rather of directly accessing those social networks through rituals that tap into various flows of the social field in order to address blockages and thus allow the various members of those networks to successfully perform their allotted social roles. (10)
Deleuze and Guattari add that the Ndembu analysis only becomes oedipal “under the effect of colonization”: “The colonizer says: your father is your father and nothing else, or your maternal grandfather—don’t mistake them for chiefs . . . your family is your family and nothing else” (AO 168–69).
Ihembi’s purpose, contrary to a psychoanalytic analysis, is to reveal the hidden tensions and unconscious investments of the social field as they converge on the specific location of the affected individual. It follows that the cure also must address the social field itself rather than the psychic structure of an individual subject considered in isolation from the assemblages of which that individual forms a part.»
– Lorraine, Tamsin E., “Deleuze and Guattari’s immanent ethics: theory, subjectivity, and duration“, 2011.
8. “[T]he individual in the family, however young, directly invests a social, historical, economic, and political field that is not reducible to any mental structure or affective constellation” (AO 166).
9. They call this cure an example of schizoanalysis—their preferred alternative to psychoanalysis (AO 167).
10. As Turner puts it, Ihembi’s “main endeavor was to see that individuals were capable of playing their social roles successfully in a traditional structure of social positions. Illness was for him a mark of undue deviation from the norm” (1964, 262).
Turner, Victor. 1964. An Ndembu Doctor in Practice. In Magic, Faith, and Healing, Ari Kiev, editor. New York: Macmillan.