Surface and Depths

Desire, Thought

Introduction to Variation: On Desire

by / 2 December 2019


The courier is an outstanding figure. One of those figures who stimulate imagination. The courier is a character that is not defined by his work. Instead, he is determined by the carried message, which is, in its content, unknown by the courier. A body carrying a message; this is the courier. This figure is, thus, a figure of relation between a sender and a receiver. The courier is the medium.  In this sense, as McLuhan taught us, and for our metaphor, the (content of the) message is itself quite a poor object. Should our courier be overwhelmed by the curiosity for that which is inside the box he carries? Once opened nobody can ensure that the message is decipherable. In fact, the message exists in its secret loneliness, as a disclosure of pieces of information between two lonely realities, two monads. If the courier is a means of relation between the sender and the receiver, then what is the relation between the messenger and the message? The messenger’s task is to deliver the message. This implies that the message cannot be delivered without a transporter – namely, the message is not a self-standing object. It is itself, thus, a relation, although one which needs an actuator to constitute itself as an actual relation. Therefore, the courier is a figure of relation: the concrete transit of the message. The courier and the message exist under a bond of dependency; there is no messenger without a message, there is no message without a messenger. We could naturally be tricked by the thought: “even if there is no medium, the message still exists”. However, a message sent to no one is not a message. Even if there exists a bond between medium and message, this connection is tricky. It is so because it maintains both polarities bounded together as well as independent. The medium is the message if we have a medium and a message.

Let us consider a particular type of courier: Plato’s winged chariot. In the Phaedrus, sections 246a-254e, in order to describe human soul, Plato utilises an allegory. A chariot is pulled by two horses, one of them is black and the other is white. The black one represents the part of the soul related to earthly desires and needs (epithymetikòn), the white one represents spiritual desires (thymoeidès). The chariot is guided by a charioteer, a figure who represents the principle of reason, the guide (logistikòn). The white horse moves vehemently toward the World of Ideas, whereas the black one tries to descend towards the sensible world. The charioteer has the hard task to control both of them and guide the chariot toward the contemplation of pure Ideas. Another interesting perspective of this myth is found in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad.

Know that the Atman is the rider in the chariot, and the body is the chariot. Know that the Buddhi (reason) is the charioteer, and Manas (mind) is the reins. The senses are called the horses, the objects of the sense are their paths. Formed out of the union of the Atman, the senses and the mind, him they call the ‘enjoyer’” 1.

In the example we are considering, one can grasp a structure similar to the courier-message dynamic. Given, in fact, that the role of the guide and the role of that-which-is-guided can be simplified to the perspective of a desire-and-regulation system, we can see the importance of the differentiation of the body “chariot” in single, self-standing “functions”. Where is the message, in the myth of the chariot? Why is this a courier-message dynamic? And why do we keep talking about this dynamic? In the metaphorical chariot system, the message is the charioteer. To some extent, we can say, the charioteer is the one who listens to the tension in the reins and balances the proceeding of the engine. The balance, however, produces another tension instantiated on a balancing point, medietas, toward homeostasis. In Plato’s myth, the horses are hassles to the charioteer (“[…] the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome”2). The position in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad is not that different. To not use the power of reason (the guide) is to resign to chaos. In this perspective, our courier is represented by the chariot and the horses – namely, the body of the engine. The message, which has a sender and a receiver – given as its conditions of existence – is the head. Have anyone ever wondered where these horses would run toward, without the charioteer? Do we really have to believe in Plato? Where would this acephal chariot wish to run towards? And, what does the chariot wish?

Apologies, these are stupid questions. It happens, to forget something; we were about to forget that everything, in our chariot, is supposed to be necessarily part of the chariot – a homeostatic dependency. We have already other questions to answer, such as: Why is the myth of the chariot a courier-message dynamic? The charioteer’s task is to balance the machine and proceed, clean and smooth. The white horse flies too high, and the black one tends to fall. Passions and affects are necessary, suggests Plato; there is no movement without the horses. However, they are irrational, indeterminable and dangerous. The image we are driven to is that of Chiron the Centaur, master of princes.

At the centre of the labyrinth […] we will find, not a Minotaur, stupid beast with his monstrous appetite, but a Centaur, a monster more intelligent  than the most intelligent of men, the image of the marvellous dissimulation of signs into one another, supreme wisdom which includes the stupidity of bestiality” 3.

The Centaur is the image of the unity of functions; everything in one, everything integrated forming an excessive, divine individuality. We have a chariot instead, which can fall apart at any time, and where every part of it could take too much initiative. It is an inhomogeneous body. Does a relation between these parts exist? Same question goes for our courier and his message. The courier is not – wishes to be, because of curiosity – all-in-one with the message. Same as Thymos, Eros, Logos. The charioteer is the representation of Logos, rationality and discourse. The latter conveys a message, the message of our messenger. This courier is, however, hungry, angry, tired. He is aroused by a colleague of his, so… why leave right away? He should remain a little bit more with the colleague. For an innocent (what does innocent even mean?) chat. The courier is the body where intensities instantiate. This body, the libidinal body, the chariot and the horses, chases affects and intensities. The message and the courier, instead, are the aim and the instrument; the immobile engine who screams to be delivered, and the instrument of guidance, of direction – and of negation, of courier’s and horses’ affects.

This dynamic courier-message – apologies for the play on words – carries a message. Of course it does: we are playing in a paradox. We are challenging the message being completely inside the message ourselves.  The message is pure relation, and specifically a relation between things; it is mathematical in the sense Poincarè suggested. We are not talking of objects, in mathematics, but of relations between objects. Same here. It is the same because our message is not only a relation but is the relation which composes the image of the Centaur. The charioteer desires (!) to be Chiron, because Chiron is the optimization of the chariot. All-in-one. Can the charioteer – can Reason – desire something for itself? Should it do so? What is, then, if it is not exclusive of the horses, this desire which can be instantiated on the charioteer himself?


Let us play on another level of metaphor, one that is common today: cinematographic narration. Let us consider one example, a bloody fresh novelty: Todd Phillips’ Joker. How does Arthur Fleck’s chariot work? “Bring laughter and joy to the world” 4 is his self-imposed task. It is a tension toward homeostasis, exchange of recognition and production of a system of exchange between Fleck and the world. In fact, in the movie we can assume Fleck’s desire for validation and recognition – the desire to be part of the social body. However, the pathological laughter and his naïveté seem to deny this integration into the symbolic order. Arthur Fleck is not part of the norm; he laughs when is sad, happy, frightened, anxious. There is no rule, no territory which he can stand on. The horses are completely free, the charioteer cannot follow a paradigm. Better: the body does not allow any integration and any guidance. It is the one who, unrestrainable, decides for the head. Thinking with desire. Arthur’s imagination is powerful; it takes care of unfulfilled desires instantiating enjoyment on images where the chariot is keen to follow the horses (or the package to follow the courier). It is, however, the silent space of loneliness; a message in which sender and receiver are the same. It is hard to not feel empathy for Arthur Fleck, and to not be part of the clowns. It is hard, though, to look at the mirror and understand that we, in front of a computer or a smartphone, are more likely to be Arthur’s enemies. Is it pity, this kind of empathy? I do not think so. Arthur Fleck represents a dynamic where the libidinal body and the head are split; he looks for being part of a social body which does not accept him as an organic body. Arthur affirms a negation; he negates himself to re-find himself into the symbolic order. The head, the charioteer, points to the unity of the social body – not as a desire, but as a belief. Arthur Fleck does not exist until the charioteer discovers to have the horses’ reins in his hands. Now, the consequences of Arthur’s actions are, of course, destructive, because of homicides and violence. I am, however, not questioning the obviousness of the evil coming from the character. I am, conversely, questioning the reason why Arthur is not the antagonist, but the main character, the hero. This would need an entire article for itself, but we can trace here some connections with our main discourse. The head is occlusive; the charioteer task is ungrateful but he himself is dangerous too. The chariot metaphor is, in this sense, too simplistic. It is, in fact, a matter of an insanely complex system of chariots who drive other, smaller chariots and are driven by multiple, bigger ones. All of them claiming to be one and part of one social body. Arthur Fleck is giving himself to the social body; the latter refuses him; the social body’s negation affirms the social body and denies Arthur’s identity. “It is not too venturesome to read the history of the West at least as the contradictory movement in which the set of different social units […] seeks and fails to find unity with itself” 5. A unity, we can add, that is Chiron’s unity, charioteer’s hope.

Arthur becomes nothing – his loneliness is deprived of a message. Howsoever, it is never deprived of the courier/chariot. Simply, there is no possible denial of it, it is ultimately not a matter of negation. As a necessary instrument, the charioteer/message is still part of the engine. The courier will eventually find a message. In this sense, in this perspective, re-modulating McLuhan we can say that yes, the medium is the message. Arthur becomes Joker. Recently, Zizek has written about Joker: “The movie shows sad social reality and a deadlock of the nihilist reaction. In the end, Joker is not free. He is only free in a sense of arriving at a point of total nihilism” 6. As I read it, the last sentence does not add anything; Joker is simply not free. He is as such because of the impossibility of the deliverance of the message. Joker’s discourse is not part of any order. With no “zero” of exchange, the body of Joker is dismembered and catapulted in all directions; his existence becomes completely immanent to the becoming of events he, unexpectedly, triggered. Joker is lonely, incapable of any sort of exchange and expression – because nobody can listen. Our concern here must be: how great is the biological importance of having and delivering the message, for the courier? The affirmative strength of desire, here seen as a medium, must lead us to reflect properly on all the possibilities it encapsulates, as well as on all the tracks it has beaten throughout thinking’s path. Putting, thus, reason a little aside but still keeping it part of the walk – just, not as the main character.


Strangely enough, man – the study of whom is supposed by the naïve to be the oldest investigation since Socrates – is probably no more than a kind of rift in the order of things, or, in any case, a configuration whose outlines are determined by the new position he has so recently taken up in the field of knowledge. Whence all the chimeras of the new humanisms, all the facile solutions of an ‘anthropology’ understood as a universal reflection on man, half-empirical, half-philosophical. It is comforting, however, and a source of profound relief to think that man is only a recent invention, a figure not yet two centuries old, a new wrinkle in our knowledge, and that he will disappear again as soon as that knowledge has discovered a new form.” 7

All along with “man” or “human” and the Centaurs (the enhancement of our condition) we hear screaming in the woods these days, such as posthumanism and transhumanism, we need to beat a track that is “new” only insofar it is really obscure to every configuration we tried to set in the understanding of what and who we are. Every anthropology presupposes already a unified science of man, which yet presupposes its peculiar object: man. Where do we frame this “man”? Is it the charioteer, as a long tradition have suggested? Or is it nothing more than the chariot and the horses and the illusion of a guide? Or even, is it just the black horse, because we are nothing but instincts, masked with some elegant discourses? These are questions that must be addressed paying attention to the relational means we ourselves have, that is language or discourse. We must address the fact that there is no transparent relation, there is no pure intersubjectivity and the message is always opaque. It is a game of monads who share a secret loneliness. And between them: relations in the form of messages – heads who talk discourses. The vector I am trying to follow depicts a pathway in the mist, chasing the horses, or the courier. Thinking with desire against thinking with reason, that is: thinking through affects. What if the charioteer gives up with his homeostatic tension, and feels the reins? We have to ask ourselves what remains of the human and all his post/trans cousins when we switch the experience of our mind into a sounding board for libidinal tensions. The matter is not, however, a merely causal investigation of a dualist vision regarding subject and object (of desire). I want to stress this: thinking with desire, which we can define as “the movement of something that goes out toward the other as toward something that it itself lacks. This means that the other […] is present to what desires, and is present in the form of absence” 8. The chariot proceeds out of an organic assortment of absences which invest the horses that move the chariot and determine the regulatory behaviour of the charioteer. The courier himself loves, eats, cries and laughs, but the message stands beside him as a censor: it must be delivered. Our fetishism for the figure of “the guide” has no explanation – outside the domain of desire itself. How can we imagine calling ourselves humans, to even propose an overcoming of our humanity towards an optimization of our guidance, if we plainly assume to hold a unified knowledge of what a “human” is? Isn’t every beyond-humanity discourse an indisputable charioteer’s narration? Isn’t it an annoying refrain of political and ontological assumptions we do not manage? Why do we desire to go beyond? Beyond what? And: “Who, we”?

For an ancient Greek tradition, from Socrates and his dàimon, we clearly see the importance – and even the necessity – of Eros as life-giving and vital force that allows the movement of thought. Plato image of Eros depicts a restless soul, stretched between the impossibility of a certain and definitive knowledge and the irresistible push toward that very knowledge. The winged toddler, magnificent example of polymorphous perversity, is the incarnation of the ambiguity of desire. Thus, is for us particularly interesting his engine-like work, analogous to Aristotle’s primum movens which moves everything out of love. We should focus primarily on the fact that Eros is a tension (it is not important the object of this tension) and that it is the cause to the movement of thinking. And, particularly, as Lyotard suggests, this attention we should pay to desire – we, who claim to be “thinkers” – is determined by the fact that “it is desire that has philosophy in the same way that it has absolutely anyone. […] It is the movement of desire which, yet again, holds together what is separate or keeps apart things that go together” 9.

This essay is an attempt to introduce a program, although the introduction is useless if it is not already part of the walk. That is why I do not want to describe this writing as an out-of-text regarding what will come in the future. This program is a hazard – does something that is not a hazard exist? – which plays with the body instead that talking with the head. The desire, the Trieb, is our object, the one which composes the chariot and produces the schizophrenic movement the charioteer must balance. The one that, in the form of the courier, accelerates, endangers, delays the deliverance of the message. We cannot understand the problem of Reason, of its relationship with all the supposed layers of our psyche, and our psyche itself, if we do not investigate that which appears to be uninvestigable. It is a paradox, indeed, to look for a rational, understandable – for our actual language – pattern in the irrational. It is perhaps matter of rearticulating, of deviating. Paradoxes are not contradictions, but they make us witness contradiction’s genesis 10. It is the motivation to think about new tracks.

How does the charioteer know a priori where to go, if he does not desire to go there? But – who is the one who desires? To Lyotard’s invite to conceive the answer of “Why philosophize” as an asking-back “Why desire?”, we should, in the spirit of the end of philosophy, ask: “Why thinking?”. Do we think because we desire?


  • G. Deleuze, Logic of Sense, Bloomsbury, 2015
  • J. Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. A. Bass, University of Chicago Press, 1982
  • M. Foucault, The Order of Things, Vintage Books, 1994
  • J. Lyotard, Libidinal Economy, trans. I. H. Grant, Indiana UP, 1983
  • J. Lyotard, Why Philosophize?, trans. A. Brown, Wiley, 2013
  • M. Muller, The Upanishad Part I, Dover Pubs, 1962
  • Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 9 trans. Harold N. Fowler, Harvard UP, 1925
  • Plato, Symposium, trans. C. Gill, Penguin Classics, 2003
  • T. Phillips, S. Silver, Joker; an Origin, movie script, Warner Bros prod., 2018
  • C. Sini, Il Simbolo e L’uomo, EGEA, 1991

  1. M. Muller, 1962, pp. 12-13
  2. trans. H. Fowler, 1925, s. 246b, my italic
  3. Lyotard, 1983, pp.84-86
  4. T. Phillips, S. Silver, 2018, p.3
  5. Lyotard, 2013, p.29
  6. Zizek
  7. Foucault, 2005, p. XXIII
  8. Lyotard, 2013, p.20
  9. idem, p. 39, my italic
  10. Deleuze, 2015, Twelfth Series of the Paradox

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