From Deleuze and Guattari’s words to a Deleuzian theory of reading

From Deleuze and Guattari’s words to a Deleuzian theory of reading

by Daniel Haines

What we’re after certainly isn’t … any theory of reading. (Deleuze 1995: 22)

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s passion for certain literature is well known.1 Nonetheless, as Aidan Tynan notes in Deleuze’s Literary Clinic, comparatively few literary critics have engaged with their work and the nature of a properly ‘Deleuzian’ literary criticism still remains an open question (Tynan 2012: 12-14). Claire Colebrook made a similar observation a decade earlier (Colebrook 2001: 150) and Tynan is right to let it stand.2 Despite a small but steady stream of publications over the last 15 years there is nothing one can call a ‘movement’.3 What exactly a ‘Deleuzian’ reading is and how his own readings work remain matters for further discussion, even if that discussion has intensified. There is no question that recent works by authors such as Ronald Bogue, Mary Bryden, Alan Bourassa, Gregg Lambert, Jean-Jacques Lecercle, and Beatrice Monaco have provided new insights about Deleuze and Guattari’s relationship with literature and what this means for
1. This is evident throughout their solo and joint work but the key texts with a specific focus include those on Sacher-Masoch (Deleuze 1991), Proust (Deleuze 2000), Carroll (Deleuze 1990), Kafka (Deleuze and Guattari 1986), as well as a range of authors in Deleuze 1998.
2. For some critics, such a movement would be undesirable in any case. In his essay ‘On the Uses and Abuses of Literature for Life: Gilles Deleuze and the Literary Clinic’, Greg Lambert asks: ‘could we imagine something like a “Deleuzian school of literary theory”’? ‘For any student of Deleuze’s writings, and especially those works written in collaboration with Guattari,’ Lambert suggests, ‘the response to the above questions might seem all to obvious; however, in the academy today … we must always hold out the possibility that anything can be perverted against its own nature’ (Lambert 2000: 136). Lambert picks up this argument in Who’s Afraid of Deleuze and Guattari? (2006). There are some similarities between Lambert’s position and the one articulated in this paper; a key difference is the way the importance of textuality is understood.
3. Monographs and articles of note include those by Baugh (1997, 2000), Bogue (1996, 2003, 2010), Boundas (2000), Bourassa (2009), Bryden (2007, 2009), Colebrook (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002), Colombat (1997, 2000), Crawford (1997, 2000), Hughes (1997), Hicks (2001), Holland (1993, 1996, 2000), Lambert (2000, 2002, 2003, 2006), Lecercle (2002, 2010), Nealon (2003), Marks (1997, 2000), Monaco (2008), Smith (1996, 1998, 2003), Stivale (1981, 1984, 1998), Tynan (2012), and Uhlmann (1996).
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literary criticism. Deleuze’s Essays Critical and Clinical has, in particular, received a great deal of attention and Tynan’s work spells out the importance of concepts of ‘the clinical’ and ‘health’ in a compelling way. Or, at least, in a way that is compelling for philosophers and critics whose interest is in what might be called ‘the ontological Deleuze’.4 As Tynan’s own comments suggest, it is likely to be less compelling for those literary critics whose interest is less ontological and more textual. Like most critics, Tynan appears to accept the view of Deleuze and Guattari, best summed-up by Daniel W. Smith in his introduction to Essay Critical and Clinical, as rejecting modes of reading that focus on ‘textuality’ (Smith 1998: xv-xvi). This paper argues that this widely held view of Deleuze and Guattari as offering an ontological alternative to the textual focus of deconstruction is only one possible reading of their texts. The possibility of a different reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s admittedly discouraging comments on reading, interpretation, and meaning is made apparent by interrogating the difficult style of their own texts. This paper reads Deleuze and Guattari’s work in a different way and offers literary critics with an interest in textuality exactly what Deleuze claims not to: a theory of reading. Is this theory of reading truly ‘Deleuzian’? Perhaps not from the perspective of an ontological reading that sets itself against textuality. Nevertheless, it produces new possibilities for one kind of Deleuzian movement in literary criticism.5
4. Alain Badiou’s Deleuze: The Clamor of Being is the most prominent example of this way of reading Deleuze (Badiou 2000).
5. It will be interesting to see how the approach discussed here relates to the work collected in the collection Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Literature, edited by Ian Buchanan, Tim Matts, and Aidan Tynan, which is forthcoming from Bloomsbury in 2015.
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Deleuze and Guattari’s words
The source for the widespread reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s work as ‘anti- textual’ is clear. In ‘Letter To A Harsh Critic’, Deleuze summarises the position of Anti-Oedipus on reading and interpretation as follows:
There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first or containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on. Or there’s the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is ‘Does it work, and how does it work?’ How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or it doesn’t. There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. (Deleuze 1995: 7-8)
For most commentators, these kinds of statements, which are frequent throughout Deleuze and Guattari’s work, appear to write-off the whole enterprise of contemporary literary criticism. It is hardly surprising that their ideas have remained relatively unexplored within literary criticism compared to many other fields such as, for example, film and architecture.6
Ian Buchanan and John Marks’ edited collection Deleuze and Literature provides a useful reference point for gauging critical responses. When Deleuze and Guattari actively reject terms like ‘signifier’, ‘meaning’, and ‘interpretation’, André- Pierre Colombat sees them as rejecting a focus on language and representation (Colombat 2000: 22). Kenneth Surin frames this apparent move away from a focus on language and textuality as a restoration of the privileges of various ontological problems (Surin 2000: 172-174). Surin and Eugene Holland offer the widespread view of Deleuze and Guattari as an alternative to Derrida (Holland 2000: 260-261),
6. Gregg Lambert’s work is useful for understanding the Anglo-American critical reception of Deleuze and Guattari. See Who’s Afraid of Deleuze and Guattari? (Lambert 2006).
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while Bruce Baugh passes by deconstruction without comment (Baugh 2000: 34-56).7 Similarly, when John Rajchman notes in his book The Deleuze Connections that Deleuze’s work is not at all ‘textualist’ and makes ‘no attempt to abandon philosophy in favor of art or text, or to undo all the distinctions between the two’ (2000: 116) at one level his message appears to be that ‘Deleuze is not the same as Derrida… thank goodness!’. In short, one hope of a ‘Deleuzian century’ appears to be that in it philosophy will flex its ontological muscles once again, and the textual tangles of deconstructive literary criticism will wither away. And, in Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, many passages similar to the one from ‘Letter To A Harsh Critic’ cited above seem to support this hope clearly and directly.
At the same time, the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia both have what seems best described as a highly ‘literary’ style. Anti-Oedipus begins:
It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines – real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections. (Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 1)8
Even by the standards of post-World War II French philosophy, which requires a considerable adjustment for the Anglophone reader, these books also overflow with allusions to and citations of literary texts. The first twenty-five pages of Anti-Oedipus, for example, quote or allude directly to literary texts by Georg Büchner, Samuel Beckett, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Henri Michaux, Antonin Artaud, Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Roussel, Alfred Jarry, Villiers, and Friedrich
7. Baugh does however engage with Derrida’s work in ‘Making the difference: Deleuze’s Difference and Derrida’s Différance’ (Baugh 1997).
8. See Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s Deleuze and Language for a detailed discussion of this opening paragraph in terms of literature (Lecercle 2002: 8-19).
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Hölderlin.9 The density of such explicit references is entirely typical and there is also a great deal of more indirect allusion, such as, for example, the ‘solar anus’ mentioned in the first paragraph, which is the name of a text by Georges Bataille (1985: 5-9). In A Thousand Plateaus, things are taken even further: the third ‘plateau’, entitled ‘10,000 B.C.: The Geology of Morals (Who Does the Earth Think It Is?)’, is framed as the narrative of a lecture given by ‘the same Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 40).10 In a move beyond citation or allusion, a literary character is given new life as a ‘conceptual persona’ within the text.11 Similarly, the title of this plateau, with its unexplained date, its inspired pun on Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals,12 and the strange question it poses in parenthesis, indicates the working of a remarkably ‘literary’ sensibility.
For readers of Derrida, this unusual mode of address actively draws attention to questions of style and textuality when reading Deleuze and Guattari. Next to their statements that reject meaning, interpretation, and textual theories of reading we must place another set of statements, which indicate that Deleuze and Guattari pay a very particular sort of attention to words, both their own and those of others. Deleuze hints at this necessity in a number of ‘marginal’ texts. In the same interview that he rejects
9. These quotations and allusions can be found in Deleuze and Guattari 1984 as follows: Georg Büchner (2); Samuel Beckett (2-3, 12, 14, 20, 23); D. H. Lawrence (5, 24); Henry Miller (5); Henri Michaux (6-7); Antonin Artaud (8-9, 14-15); Franz Kafka, Edgar Allan Poe, Raymond Roussel, Alfred Jarry and Villiers (18); Friedrich Hölderlin (21). The name ‘Villiers’ refers to French writer Jean Marie Mathias Philippe August Villiers de L’Isle-Adam (1840-89), author of The Future Eve.
10. Professor Challenger first appeared in The Lost World (1912). He also appears in the novel The Land of Mists and the short stories ‘The Disintegration Machine’ and ‘The Poison Belt’. The story that Deleuze and Guattari refer to in A Thousand Plateaus is ‘When the World Screamed’, in which Professor Challenger drills down to the core of the Earth in order to prove his hypothesis that the planet is itself a living being. All these stories are collected in Doyle 1995, sadly without the original illustrations.
11. The idea of ‘conceptual persona’ is discussed by Deleuze and Guattari in What Is Philosophy? (1994: 2-3, 61-83).
12. Nietzsche’s Zur Genealogie der Moral, first published in 1887, is commonly known in English as The Genealogy of Morals, from the 1956 Francis Goffling translation (Nietzsche 1956) or as On The Genealogy of Morals, from the 1967 Walter Kauffman and R. J. Hollingdale translation (Nietzsche 1967).
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the idea of a ‘theory of reading’, for example, Deleuze also suggests that A Thousand Plateaus introduces ‘elementary novelistic methods into philosophy’ (1995: 25) and appeals to literature: ‘what we find in great English and American novelists’, he immediately suggests, ‘is a gift, rare among the French, for intensities, flows, machine-books, tool-books, schizo-books’ (1995: 23).13 Likewise, his prefaces to Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense both invoke literary models: the former describes itself as ‘part detective novel’, part ‘science fiction’ (Deleuze 1994: xx), while the latter claims to be a ‘psychoanalytical novel’ (Deleuze 1990: xiv).14 Less marginal are the concepts of a ‘minor literature’ elaborated in Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature and of philosophical ‘style’, which is most developed in Essays Critical and Clinical. In both cases, Deleuze and Guattari emphasise deterritorialising uses of language, which they argue becomes revolutionary through a certain kind of nonsense or ‘stuttering’. While these ideas have been widely discussed, it is not often asked what these concepts mean for Deleuze and Guattari’s own texts.15 It is hard to reconcile their suggestion that ‘becoming stranger to oneself, to one’s language and nation’ is ‘the peculiarity of the philosopher and philosophy, their “style,” or what is called a philosophical gobbledygook’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 110) with a view that treats their rejection of textuality, interpretation, and meaning as the whole story.
Where they have considered Deleuze and Guattari’s own style, Anglo- American critics and philosophers have usually seen it as an obstacle to understanding
13. These kinds of statements are no doubt what led Julia Kristeva to note, in Revolution in Poetic Language, that while Deleuze and Guattari: ‘are right to stress the destructuring and a-signifying machine of the unconscious … their examples of ‘schizophrenic flow’ are usually drawn from modern literature, in which the ‘flow’ itself exists only through language, appropriating and displacing the signifier to practice within it the heterogeneous generating of the ‘desiring machine’’ (1984: 17).
14. Amended translation. As Jean-Jacques Lecercle has pointed out, Lester and Stivale choose, rather strangely, to translate ‘psychanalytique’ as ‘psychological’ rather than ‘psychoanalytical’ (personal communication).
15. But see Joe Hughes’ Philosophy After Deleuze: Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation II for an interesting discussion of Deleuze and Guattari’s style in relation to the idea of the philosopher as ‘friend’ (Hughes 2012: 1-26). Unusually, Hughes offers a positive explanation of their style, but his account remains focused on style as a detour to ontology rather than a consideration of textuality.
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‘what they are really talking about’. Richard Barbrook sums up the general view admirably when he suggests that Deleuze and Guattari’s style is nothing more than ‘hermetic language and tortured syntax’ (Barbrook 2001: 161). The most prominent example of this perspective is provided by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s best- selling book Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science, which attacks Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? for its ‘lack of clarity’ (1999: 145). Intellectual Impostures suggests that Deleuze and Guattari’s allusions to science are ‘so brief and superficial that a reader who is not already an expert in these subjects will be unable to learn anything concrete’ while ‘a specialist reader will find their statements most often meaningless, or sometimes acceptable but banal and confused’ (1999: 146). It is not only the alleged misuse of science that draws fire. In Sokal and Bricmont’s view, this is an abuse of philosophy too:
We are well aware that Deleuze and Guattari’s subject is philosophy, not the popularization of science. But what philosophical function can be fulfilled by this avalanche of ill-digested scientific (and pseudo-scientific) jargon? In our opinion, the most plausible explanation is that these authors possess a vast but very superficial erudition, which they put on display in their writings. (Sokal and Bricmont 1999: 146)
Intellectual Impostures’ response is to quote lengthy passages from What is Philosophy? and then declare them to be ‘nonsense’ (148), ‘absurd’ (149), or ‘totally devoid of meaning’ (150).
No doubt many objections can and have been raised concerning Sokal and Bricmont’s approach; what is interesting is that Deleuze and Guattari’s words have appeared just as problematic to their supposed defenders. In Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, for example, Manuel Delanda, in defence of Deleuze and Guattari (although he adopts the common practice of only referring to Deleuze), declares that:
I will not be concerned in this reconstruction with the textual source of Deleuze’s ideas, nor with his style of argumentation or his use of language. In
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short, I will not be concerned with Deleuze’s words only with Deleuze’s world. (Delanda 2002: 3)
Delanda says he wants to dispel any negative impression created by Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘experimental style’, since he is addressing an audience of ‘analytical philosophers of science’ and ‘scientists interested in philosophical questions’, and:
When confronted with Deleuze’s original texts this audience is bound to be puzzled, and may even be repelled by the superficial similarity of these texts with books belonging to what has come to be known as the ‘post-modern’ tradition. Although as I argue in these pages Deleuze has absolutely nothing in common with that tradition, his experimental style is bound to create that impression. (Delanda 2002: 1)
In defending Deleuze and Guattari, Delanda concedes the terrain of Sokal and Bricmont’s critique. Unlike Jean-François Lyotard, who expressed outrage at French critics who responded to the publication of Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus by asking for ‘a bit of sense’ (Lyotard 1992: 11), Delanda shifts the argument to other grounds: ‘ontology’ (2). Although Deleuze and Guattari were just as scornful of the ‘postmodern’ as Delanda would like, this approach does not address the question of how this ‘experimental style’ should be understood if not as a sign of postmodernism.16,17
When it comes to Deleuze and Guattari’s words, the tendency on both sides is towards effacing the textual dimension of their work as far as possible.18 Writers like
16 Guattari called postmodernism ‘the paradigm of all submission and every sort of compromise with the existing status quo’ (Guattari 1996: 110).
17. Delanda acknowledges this to a degree, noting that: ‘There is a certain violence which Deleuze’s texts must endure in order to be reconstructed for an audience they were not intended for’, and that this includes ‘the violence done to Deleuze’s fluid style, to the way he fights the premature solidification of a terminology by always keeping it in a state of flux. Fixing his terminology will seem to some akin to pinning down a live butterfly. As an antidote I offer an appendix where I relate the terms used in my reconstruction to all the different terminologies he uses in his own texts and in his collaborative work, setting his words free once again after they have served their purpose of giving us his world’ (2002: 6- 7).
18. Brian Massumi’s ‘Translator’s Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy’ occupies an ambiguous position that deserves further discussion in this context. It begins by posing the book’s style as a problem—‘It is difficult to know how to approach it’ (Massumi 1988: ix)—but, while Massumi certainly does not disapprove of it on this account, his response seems to be to reassure. The message of his foreword seems to be: if you find the style of this book difficult, then just don’t read it. Using the analogy of listening to a record, he suggests that ‘there are always cuts that leave you cold. You skip them’ (xiii).
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Delanda have used Deleuze and Guattari to produce a new philosophy of science, while, simultaneously, Sokal and Bricmont fume over their ‘abuse’ of science; both are equally eager to dispense with any analysis of textuality and style. But can we really forget about Deleuze and Guattari’s words? One of the few critics to suggest we cannot is Michel Foucault. In his 1977 preface to the English translation of Anti- Oedipus, Foucault writes that:
It would be a mistake to read Anti-Oedipus as the new theoretical reference (you know, that much-heralded theory that finally encompasses everything, that finally totalises and reassures, the one we are told we ‘need so badly’ in our age of dispersion and specialization where ‘hope’ is lacking). One must not look for a ‘philosophy’ amid the extraordinary profusion of new notions and surprise concepts: Anti-Oedipus is not a flashy Hegel. I think that Anti- Oedipus can best be read as an ‘art,’ in the sense that is conveyed by the term ‘erotic art,’ for example. (Foucault 1984: xii)
If, as Foucault suggests, Deleuze and Guattari’s texts are to be approached more like ‘art’ than ‘philosophy’, then consideration of their ‘difficult style’ is key to any interpretation of their work. The next three sections develop a reading of the meaning of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘style’, through texts by Plato and Nietzsche, and using the concepts of major and minor use. As this interpretation of their writing style is developed, it becomes clear that, contrary to the widespread idea that they are anti- textualists, and despite Deleuze’s remarks to Clément, his work, with and without
Thus, although the style is recognised as a positive aspect of the book, Massumi falls into a highly subjectivist interpretation: ‘The best way of all to approach the book is to read it as a challenge … The question is not: is it true? But: does it work? What new thoughts does it make it possible to think? What new emotions does it make it possible to feel? What new sensations and perceptions does it open in the body? … The answer for some readers, perhaps most, will be “none.” If that happens, it’s not your tune. No problem. But you would have been better off buying a record’ (xv). Invoking the ‘tool box’ metaphor, Massumi thus seems to reduce the idea of use to an ‘anything goes’ version of postmodernity that rests on an idea of ‘individual choice’. On the other hand, some justification for this position might be taken from Deleuze’s own ‘Letter to a Harsh Critic’, which makes some similar points (Deleuze 1995: 7-8).
Mark Seem’s introduction to Anti-Oedipus does not touch upon style except even more indirectly through references to Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘joyously unorthodox use of many writers and thinkers’ (Seem 1984: xvii), which he calls ‘more poetic’ but ‘more fun’ (xix), likening it to ‘stoned thinking’ (xxi). Like Massumi, Seem thus appears to celebrate the style of the text only insofar as it represents an ‘anything goes’ eclecticism.
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Guattari, offers a well-developed and intriguing ‘theory of reading’ that opens up new possibilities for textual and literary criticism.
Style in Philosophy
Right from the beginning of the Western philosophical tradition, born precisely as it distinguished itself from the less scrupulous discourses of the Sophists and rhetoricians, the assignment of ‘style’ to poetry and literature, and their exclusion from any part in a discourse that aims at truth, is a constant. Not only should language’s affective, sonorous, and metaphorical qualities be confined to literature, but also, if at all possible, they should remain under the jurisdiction of reason even within literature. In Book X of The Republic, for example, Socrates suggests that poetry is acceptable only insofar it serves the State and reason:
the only poetry that should be allowed in a state is hymns to the gods and paeans in praise of good men; once you go beyond that and admit the sweet lyric or epic muse, pleasure and pain become your rulers instead of law and the rational principles commonly accepted as best. (Plato 1987: 437; 607a)
Differentiating between a philosophical and poetic use of language is not enough: even within poetry, Socrates distinguishes a proper use of language under the power of ‘rational principles’ and an improper use of language that rules the body through ‘pleasure and pain’.
Today, the consensus in Western philosophical discourse remains that style should be characterised by qualities like clarity, simplicity, and economy. Both analytic and continental philosophers generally view the kind of blurring between literary and philosophical uses of language that occurs in Capitalism and Schizophrenia with deep suspicion. As Habermas puts it, philosophy deals with ‘the validity claims raised within the text’ and ‘does not refer to the text’ (1992: 224). On this view of language, ‘style’ is what defines literature and the literary but it is both
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supplementary to and threatens to corrupt philosophical discourse – it may lead to people mistaking a representation for the thing represented or a copy for the Idea. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze, in agreement with Derrida, argues that precisely this separation is essential to the philosophical tradition:
It is correct to define metaphysics by reference to Platonism, but insufficient to define Platonism by reference to the distinction between essence and appearance. The primary distinction which Plato rigorously establishes is the one between the model and the copy. The copy, however, is far from a simple appearance, since it stands in an internal, spiritual, noological and ontological relation with the Idea or model. The second and more profound distinction is the one between the copy itself and the phantasm. It is clear that Plato distinguishes, and even opposes, models and copies only in order to obtain a selective criterion with which to separate copies and simulacra, the former founded upon their relation to the model while the latter are disqualified because they fail both the test of the copy and the requirements of the model. (Deleuze 1994: 264-5)
For Deleuze, a simulacrum is a kind of ‘dangerous supplement’ to the Idea, rather than its faithful copy, since it ‘challenges both the notion of the model and that
of the copy’, just as, for Derrida in Of Grammatology, the supplement of writing challenges the primacy of speech.19 In writing, the danger of the copy becoming a simulacrum, i.e. a copy that exceeds and threatens rather than reproducing the Idea or model, begins with style (Deleuze 1994: 68-9, 126-8). What could be worse for the integrity of philosophical discourse than a beautiful utterance being mistaken for a true one, or a signifier for a signified?
Book X of The Republic makes this point by assigning literature a role in contradistinction to philosophy. Socrates declares that realistic representations ‘definitely harm the minds of their audiences, unless they’re inoculated against them by knowing their real nature’ (Plato 1987: 422; 595b). The subtext seems to be that when art convincingly represents appearances it threatens not just the distinction
19. In an analysis of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Essay on the Origin of Languages’, Derrida describes the way writing has been thought about as a ‘dangerous supplement’ to speech (1997: 141-64). At the close of Of Grammatology, in ‘The Supplement of (at) the Origin’, he develops a logic of the ‘originary supplement’ (1997: 313).
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between the true and the false, or between the original and the copy, but also between philosophical and literary language, only the former of which is meant to be able to provide real knowledge. Socrates later adds that:
We must ask ourselves whether those who have met the poets have, when they see or hear their works, failed to perceive that they are representations at the third remove from reality, and easy to produce without any knowledge of the truth, because they are appearances and not realities; or are they right, and do good poets really know about the subjects on which the public thinks they speak so well? (426-7; 598e-599)
His answer is that the poets do not know anything but illusion: ‘all the poets from Homer downwards have no grasp of truth but merely produce a superficial likeness of any subject they treat’ (429; 600e-601). Just how dearly poetry is expected to pay for presuming to represent the ‘real nature’ of things—for usurping the role of philosophy—can be seen in Socrates’ conclusion that when you ‘strip it of its poetic colouring, reduce it to plain prose … I think you know how little it amounts to’ (429; 601b).
This whole progression is important in respect of at least three things it fails to acknowledge. First, Socrates’ argument cannot account for philosophy itself always being either spoken or written, or for the fact that it too relies on a representation of an appearance – that is, on language, on signifiers. The ‘plainness’ of prose is a fallacy: take away the language philosophy shares with poetry, and it too amounts to very little. Second, Socrates’ own method of argument frequently relies on hypothetical situations and analogies that do not refer to anything ‘real’, not even to appearances, and which are frequently based on simile and metaphor. Indeed, Socrates’ very next utterance (after ‘I think you know how little it amounts to’) provides a fine example of this. ‘Like a face which relied on the bloom of youth for its charm’, he says, ‘and whose lack of beauty is plain to see when youth deserts it’ (429; 601b). This utterance involves a poetic simile (‘like a face’), and it uses two metaphors relating to age: the
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‘bloom’ of youth, and the idea of being ‘deserted’ by one’s youth. Particularly notable is how much this poetic flourish does lose when ‘reduced to plain prose’, as it does not yield up much ‘sense’, and only creates a striking image. How can poetry reduced to prose be like an aged face? It seems to imply that prose is the ‘old age’ of poetry – a very puzzling formulation that does not seem to be ruled by ‘rational principles’ but by another metaphor.
Third, not only does Socrates’ argument seem to deny the philosopher recourse to signifiers and language, but, at a meta-textual level, Socrates’ own position as a ‘character’ in a written text which itself employs at least some of the conventions of realistic representation becomes problematic. Although the text is not presented as if ‘it really happened’, it is based upon a historical person, known to the author, and implicitly claims to be giving an accurate picture of Socrates’ philosophical position and method. This being the case, that it does not present itself as a historical account but explicitly as a fiction, a dramatic dialogue, is the most striking thing of all: the text is itself an example of precisely what is being criticised. It is not an ‘original’ instance of Socrates’ philosophy, but only Plato’s ‘copy’ or simulacra. Socrates’ conclusion that ‘the artist knows little or nothing about the subjects he represents and that the art of representation is something that has no serious value; and that this applies above all to tragic poetry, epic or dramatic’ (431; 602b) also applies to the philosophical text that proposes it.20
20. These points are not new. A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance describes very similar arguments in the writings of Girolamo Fracastoro (1478-1553), who: ‘answers Plato’s charge that, since poetry is three removes from ideal truth, poets are fundamentally ignorant of the realities they attempt to imitate, by pointing out that the poet is indeed ignorant of what he is speaking of, in so far as he is a versifier and skilled in language, just as the philosopher or historian is ignorant of natural or historical facts in so far as he, too, is merely skilled in language, but knows these facts in so far as he is learned, and has thought out the problems of nature and history. The poet, as well as the philosopher and the historian, must possess knowledge, if he is to teach anything; he, too, must learn the things he is going to write about, and must solve the problems of life and thought; he, too, must have a philosophical and a historical training. Plato’s objection, indeed, applies to the philosopher, to the
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This passage from The Republic illustrates both the way philosophy attempts to constitute itself in a relation of difference with literature and style, and the impossibility of really drawing this distinction without at the same moment reintroducing the literary (if it was ever absent). In this sense the philosophical text is forced not only to remain at the level of signifiers but also to use ‘literary’ language in order to deny that it is a text. Since it remains discursive, ‘philosophical’ language is always already supplemented ‘literary’ language; a text that claims its object is ‘the truth’ or ‘the good’ does not, merely by virtue of saying so, refer to anything outside itself. As Derrida writes: ‘if a text always gives itself a certain representation of its own roots, those roots live only by that representation, by never touching the soil’ (1997: 101). In The Republic this cleavage of literature and philosophy hinges on a rational subject (understood in relation to empirical objects and to Ideas) and the most important source of knowledge is said to be that based on ‘use’ (as the mastery of an object). During the course of the argument discussed above Socrates asks, ‘isn’t the quality, beauty and fitness of any implement or creature or action judged by reference to the use for which man or nature produced it?’ (Plato 1987: 430; 601d). This rhetorical question encapsulates the sense in which philosophical discourse both constitutes itself as what can be termed, following Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of major and minor literature in Kafka, a major use of language that re-inscribes a sovereign and rational subject. But considered as an utterance, as a textual example of how ‘Socrates’ is represented as speaking, it also shows how contradictory the self- image of this philosophical major use of language is, how strange this elision of textuality is in assigning ‘style’, ‘the poetic’, and the ‘literary’ a role as antithetical to truth and reason. In the very act of claiming the status of a major use of language,
orator, to the historian, quite as much as to the poet’ (Spingarn 1963: 22). See also ‘The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy’ (Deleuze 1990: 253-79) and ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ (Derrida 1981: 63-171).
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philosophy also makes a poetic, literary, and consequently a minor use of language that moves away from simple reference.
To make Plato’s text stand in for all Western philosophy would be too simplistic. Every philosophical text negotiates the relationship between the literal and the metaphorical use of language in its own way. Nonetheless, the extent to which Plato’s view of representation has persisted cannot be underestimated. The success of Sokal and Bricmont’s book is only one of the latest indications that the demand for language to be used clearly and according to ‘rational principles’, especially when it comes to philosophy or science, remains dominant in Western culture. In both analytic and continental philosophy, a clear division between the philosophical and the literary is still demanded. Where this has been challenged, for example in texts produced by Derrida, Lyotard, and Deleuze and Guattari, it has been under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s work.
Truth and dancing
In advancing a radical ‘perspectivism’ that acknowledges only relative knowledge and dismisses the idea of unchanging or ideal truths, Nietzsche recast philosophy as a discourse of competing styles. As early as 1873, in ‘On Truth and Lying in a Non- Moral Sense’, the venerable idea of ‘truth’ was dismissed as follows:
What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations which have been subjected to poetic and rhetorical intensification, translation, and decoration, and which, after they have been in use for a long time, strike a people as firmly established, canonical, and binding; truths are illusions of which we have forgotten that they are illusions, metaphors which have become worn by frequent use and have lost all sensuous vigour, coins which, having lost their stamp, are now regarded as metal and no longer as coins. (Nietzsche 1999: 146)
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In this passage, ‘truth’ is not the object of a philosophical or major use of language that can be defined in opposition to the ‘falsity’ of literature, but the worn-out product of social relations, ‘intensified’ by literary use itself. Inasmuch as this literary, poetic origin has been forgotten, the coins have ‘lost their stamp’ and all ‘sensuous vigour’, all power to affect the senses (as the poetic did in The Republic). However, that truth is a matter of ‘metaphors, metonymies, [and] anthropomorphisms’ has been ‘forgotten’ by a particular kind of use: a philosophical use that ignores textuality. The concept of abstract or universal ‘truth’, of a truth that can be expressed by, or extracted from, a text without loss is thus contested in this passage. Truths are instead presented as simulacra, signifiers without signifieds, copies without a model or ‘original’: the very thing philosophy attempts to exclude from truth.
In Deleuze’s reading of Nietzsche, this contestation of ‘truth’ and philosophy rests on Kant’s previous critique of the metaphysical ‘use’ of reason. He sees Nietzsche as extending and ultimately undercutting Kant’s critique by attempting a ‘true critique’ that works ‘in terms of values’ (Deleuze 1983: 1); what Nietzsche called the ‘transvaluation’ of values. Where Kant was content to establish the proper use of reason, the ‘rules and limits of its use’ (Kant 1993: 7; Axv) as a means to establish truth,21 Nietzsche tries to establish the value of ‘truth’ as a concept, and of what is claimed to be ‘true’ on the basis of reason. The passage quoted above from Nietzsche’s ‘On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense’ continues:
Yet we still do not know where the drive to truth comes from, for so far we have only heard about the obligation to be truthful which society imposes in order to exist, i.e. the obligation to use the customary metaphors, or, to put it in moral terms, the obligation to lie in accordance with firmly established convention, to lie en masse and in a style that is binding for all. (Nietzsche 1999: 146)
21. ‘An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?’ is also greatly concerned with the proper uses of reason (Kant 1983).
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For Nietzsche, it is a set of unquestioned, unconscious moral assumptions, the very belief in morality itself, which have bestowed value on what are held to be ‘truths’ and on the very idea of ‘truth’. Philosophers have been ‘building under the seduction of morality … apparently aiming at certainty, at “truth”, but in reality’ aiming at ‘majestic moral structures’ (Nietzsche 1982: 3).22 This is the point where Nietzsche steps beyond Kantian critique, since, as Deleuze argues in Difference and Repetition:
Kantian Critique is ultimately respectful: knowledge, morality, reflection and faith are supposed to correspond to natural interests of reason, and are never themselves called into question; only the use of the faculties is declared legitimate or not in relation to one or other of these interests. Throughout, the variable model of recognition fixes good usage in the form of a harmony between the faculties determined by a dominant faculty under a given common sense … Critique has everything—a tribunal of justices of the peace, a registration room, a register—except the power of a new politics which would overturn the image of thought. (Deleuze 1994: 137)
However, when the image of thought conserved in Kant’s philosophy is overturned, in Nietzsche’s texts, the point is reached where, as in ‘such works as Mallarmé’s Book or Joyce’s Finnegans Wake … everything has become simulacrum’ (Deleuze 1994: 69).23
Nietzsche’s work constructs an image of a Dionysian philosopher-artist who affirms a singular vision as the most life-enhancing, strengthening ‘style’ of positing truths. In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze argues that:
Nietzsche creates his own method: dramatic, typological and differential. He turns philosophy into an art, the art of interpreting and evaluating. In every case he asks the question ‘Which one?’ The one that… is Dionysus. That which… is the will to power as plastic and genealogical principle. The will to power is not force but the differential element which simultaneously determines the relation of forces (quantity) and the respective qualities of related forces. It is in this element of difference that affirmation manifests itself and develops itself as creative. (Deleuze 1983: 197)
22. Nietzsche is quoting Kant when he uses this phrase.
23. Deleuze makes the same argument about the limits of Kant’s critique in Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983: 89-90).
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Truth is not ‘discovered’ beyond sensible appearances, but affirmed, as a style, within or of ‘appearances’ considered as simulacra, appearances no longer opposed to a solely intelligible, determining logos. Truth becomes a matter of differences of forces, not of correspondence or description; at which point, it is no longer ‘truth’ in any conventional sense.24
Rather than leading to an anti-textualist position, this perspective, by locating ‘truth’ in the simulacra of ‘metaphors’ and ‘metonymies’, ‘poetically and rhetorically intensified’, gives writing and style a central place in Nietzsche’s philosophical project. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche describes philosophical thinking as a ‘style’ that his contemporaries no longer understand:
Learning to think: our schools no longer have any idea what this means … Read German books: no longer the remotest recollection that a technique, a plan of instruction, a will to mastery is required for thinking – that … thinking has to be learned in the way dancing has to be learned, as a form of dancing … (Nietzsche 1990: 76-7)
The argument here is that his contemporaries have no sense that style is required in thinking, or that it might be a style. Rather, they think it is a natural faculty; that ‘common sense’ is the beginning and end of thinking, its basis and ultimate destination. It is of course debatable whether or not German philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century (or philosophy in any age) is quite so heavy-footed. But that Nietzsche should critique philosophy on the basis of its style indicates a radical shift has taken place: philosophical discourse has been re-constituted on the basis of the very element it attempts to exclude. Twilight of the Idols reinvents philosophy as a style, a play, a dance:
For dancing in any form cannot be divorced from a noble education, being able to dance with the feet, with concepts, with words: do I still have to say
24. In ‘Differance’, Derrida cites Deleuze’s suggestion in Nietzsche and Philosophy that ‘difference in quantity is the essence of force, the relation of force with force’ (Derrida 1973: 148). In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze’s follows his claim that ‘the sole origin is difference’ (1994: 125) with a note referring to Derrida’s essay ‘Differance’.
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that one has to be able to dance with the pen – that writing has to be learned? – But at this point I should become a complete enigma to my German readers… (Nietzsche 1990: 77)
In privileging style and writing in this way, Nietzsche challenges the dominant discourse, breaking with the epistemological frame that excludes precisely these things (and with them difference, variability, and singularity) from philosophy. And his emphasis on style, on the textual as an order of signifiers without a final signified, renders him, to this day, largely incomprehensible within the philosophical discourse he is challenging, one in which reading and writing are still organised in relation to an idea of transcendent ‘truth’ positioned somewhere ‘outside’ language.25
Major and Minor Styles
Considered from the perspective of Plato’s Republic and Nietzsche’s deployment of ‘style’, criticisms of Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘tortured syntax’ begin to take on a clearer significance. To write philosophy in a way that draws attention, deliberately and playfully, to ‘style’, is to challenge the very foundation of philosophy, to problematize the division of philosophical and literary uses of language, and to disrupt the possibility of treating language as transparently referential. ‘Style’, in philosophical discourse, reveals the irreducible materiality and opacity of language that always frustrate the possibility of using language to discover a truth ‘outside’ representation; a truth which, nonetheless, language itself seems to offer the subject.
These ideas are familiar within deconstructive criticism; the point here is not, however, to suggest that the same textual strategies are at work in Derrida and in Deleuze and Guattari. Rather, like Foucault’s remarks in his preface to Anti-Oedipus,
25. In ‘Force and Signification’, however, Derrida argues that ‘Nietzsche recommends a dance of the pen in vain’ since ‘writing cannot be thoroughly Dionysiac’ (Derrida 1990: 29). And it will always be possible to read Nietzsche, or any text, as if style were not important. As Lyotard asks on the final page of his profoundly Nietzschean text, Libidinal Economy, ‘is the dance true? One will always be able to say so. But that’s not where its force [puissance] lies’ (Lyotard 1993: 262)).
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Derrida’s work should alert critics to stylistic, textual, and interpretative questions within Deleuze and Guattari’s texts. Daniel Smith, John Rajchman, and many others are quite right when they stress that Deleuze and Guattari are not attempting to deconstruct the opposition between literary and philosophical discourse (Smith 1998: xv; Rajchman 2000: 116). Rather, they attempt to construct or constitute a different ‘image of thought’ (Deleuze 1994: 129-67), a minor philosophy that is a matter of conceptual creation rather than validation or reference, and which is no longer opposed to the literary, nor literary itself in the conventional sense (of being ‘false’ or a fiction). The ‘experimental style’ of Capitalism and Schizophrenia is neither ‘literary’ nor ‘philosophical’ in the ordinary senses of these words (it cannot be understood either as metaphorical or as propositional). Rather, this style attempts to put language to a minor, revolutionary use, one that challenges the position of the subject as using language like a tool, and detaches discourse from a referential function. In this sense, and with this aim, Deleuze and Guattari extend Nietzsche’s thought by inventing a new style of philosophising, a ‘Nomadic Thought’ that involves conceptual creation and the deterritorialisation of language that moves it away from a referential use.26
The kind of criticisms of Deleuze and Guattari’s style of writing discussed earlier continue to judge their texts against a more traditional philosophical use of language that assumes it is a discourse governed by ‘truth’. If both critics and advocates largely ignore the question of style in Deleuze and Guattari’s texts, this seems to stem from a shared investment in the philosophical ideal of knowledge as a transparent discourse, operated by a rational and sovereign subject, whose object is truth. In other words, from a wish to preserve the major use of language intact, and to
26. The strand of Deleuze and Guattari’s work related to the idea of ‘Nomadic Thought’ offers the strongest challenge to readings that privilege ontology at the expense of textuality. See ‘Nomadic Thought’ (Deleuze 2004).
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continue viewing ‘style’ as a distorting factor, best exorcised, rather than as constitutive of language. It is a rejection of this view of language, knowledge, and thought, rather than an anti-textual position, which leads Deleuze and Guattari to make the statements they do about meaning and interpretation. What they reject is the idea that language is a form of transparent or mimetic representation. That is, they reject the major use of language that has dominated Western philosophical discourse, based as it is on the idea of a unified subject who dutifully interprets and masters well-ordered meanings at the level of representation in relation to the ‘truth’ it always already lacks. The question of style is thus in essence a political one, since the effacement of style within philosophical discourse is not a matter of ‘error’ but presupposes and re-inscribes a set of values. Philosophy’s attempted effacement of style underwrites the sovereignty of the subject by treating language as a tool, always already subordinate to a rational subject’s aims, and so simultaneously shoring up the possibility of ‘truth’. Privileging style, however, as Deleuze and Guattari do, is a way of asserting the independence of language and texts from the use for a subject, truth, or reference. It gives texts, and therefore reading and criticism, a different value.
A theory of reading
Writing about Foucault, in ‘Letter to Reda Bensmaia’, Deleuze says:
I think great philosophers are also great stylists. And while a philosophical vocabulary is one element in a style, involving as it does the introduction of new words on the one hand, or giving an unusual sense to ordinary words on the other, style is always a matter of syntax. But syntax is a sort of straining toward something that isn’t syntactic nor even linguistic (something outside language). (Deleuze 1995: 164)
Despite Deleuze’s gesture towards something extra-linguistic, this ‘something outside language’ is not an ontological referent, but ‘the movement of concepts’ (164). In other words, that syntax ‘strains towards’ something extra-linguistic does not mean
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that language is just ‘in the way’ or a means to an end, since, as Deleuze and Guattari argue in What is Philosophy?, ‘the concept is real without being actual, ideal without being abstract … it has no reference: it is self-referential; it posits itself and its object at the same time as it is created’ (1994: 22). On the other hand, ‘the concept is not discursive and philosophy is not a discursive formation, because it does not link propositions together’ (22). What is Philosophy? argues that philosophy concerns neither external referents nor the content of propositions, but non-discursive concepts. That concepts are ‘non-discursive’ does not mean that philosophy is not ‘a kind of writing’, however, since philosophy still ‘proceeds by sentences, but it is not always propositions that are extracted from sentences’ (24). Instead:
from sentences or their equivalent, philosophy extracts concepts (which must not be confused with general or abstract ideas), whereas science extracts prospects (propositions that must not be confused with judgments), and art extracts percepts and affects (which must not be confused with perceptions or feelings). In each case language is tested and used in incomparable ways—but in ways that do not define the difference between disciplines without also constituting their perpetual interbreeding. (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 24)
In rejecting ‘propositions’ Deleuze and Guattari reject unified, totalised meanings. And in distinguishing concepts from ideas, prospects from judgements, and percepts and affects from perceptions and feelings, they reject the indexing of philosophy, science, and art to the mastery of a subject who merely uses language to its own ends.27 What remains a key part of the picture, however, are texts and reading.
In ‘1914: One or Several Wolves?’, Deleuze and Guattari chide Freud for ‘filling the void with associations’ and using ‘the word to reestablish a unity no longer found in things’ in his interpretation of the Wolf-Man (1988: 26, 28). Freud’s procedure in
27. While Deleuze and Guattari appear to assign literature, and therefore literary criticism, to the domain of percepts and affects, distinct from philosophy’s concern with concepts, the reality is that they themselves do not respect these divisions. In their own texts, the ‘perpetual interbreeding’ Deleuze and Guattari allude to allows philosophy to extract affects and literature to extract concepts at every turn. Even in the essay that has become a touchstone for ontological readings of Deleuze, ‘Immanence: A Life’, we find that the philosophical concept of immanence is best described in literature (Deleuze 2001: 28).
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interpreting one of the Wolf-Man’s dreams, concerning ‘six or seven wolves in a tree’, is read as follows:
He has decided that this is neurosis, so … it is always a question of bringing back the unity or identity of the person or allegedly lost object. The wolves will have to be purged of their multiplicity. This operation is accomplished by associating the dream with the tale, ‘The Wolf and the Seven Kid-Goats’ (only six of which get eaten). We witness Freud’s reductive glee; we literally see multiplicity leave the wolves to take the shape of goats that have absolutely nothing to do with the story. Seven wolves that are only kid-goats. Six wolves: the seventh goat (the Wolf-Man himself) is hiding in the clock. Five wolves: he may have seen his parents make love at five o’clock, and the roman numeral V is associated with the erotic spreading of a woman’s legs. Three wolves: the parents may have made love three times. Two wolves: the first coupling the child may have seen was the two parents more ferarum, or perhaps even two dogs. One wolf: the wolf is the father, as we all knew from the start. Zero wolves: he lost his tail, he is not just a castrator but also castrated. Who is Freud trying to fool? (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 28)
In passages like this one, Deleuze and Guattari seek to demonstrate that psychoanalysis does a poor job of ‘reading’ of the unconscious by offering an alternative, counter-method of reading. The plateau re-reads the Wolf-Man in terms of desire as multiplicity that invests wolves at the level of intensity rather than as representations of something else (i.e. ‘coitus between parents’, castration) that relates desire to a unified subject. Deleuze and Guattari argue that:
The wolf, as the instantaneous apprehension of a multiplicity in a given region, is not a representative, a substitute, but an I feel. I feel myself becoming a wolf, one wolf among others, on the edge of the pack … It is not a question of representation: don’t think for a minute that it has to do with believing oneself a wolf, representing oneself as a wolf. The wolf, wolves, are intensities, speeds, temperatures, nondecomposable variable distances. A swarming, a wolfing. Who could ever believe that the anal machine bears no relation to the wolf machine, or that the two are linked only by an Oedipal apparatus, by the all-too-human figure of the Father? (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 32)
While desire is not textual for Deleuze and Guattari, they continue to read desire in texts, and the ‘misreadings’ of psychoanalysis are not presented simply as errors.28
28. Partly in response to Anti-Oedipus, Jean Baudrillard suggests, in Symbolic Exchange and Death, that the concept of the unconscious should be abandoned altogether (Baudrillard 1993).
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For them, just as much as for psychoanalysis, reading of texts is a matter of reading desire. ‘1914: One or Several Wolves?’ acknowledges that:
Of course, there are Oedipal statements. For example, Kafka’s story, ‘Jackals and Arabs,’ is easy to read in that way: you can always do it, you can’t lose, it works every time, even if you understand nothing. The Arabs are clearly associated with the father and the jackals with the mother; between the two, there is a whole story of castration represented by the rusty scissors. But it so happens that the Arabs are an extensive, armed, organized mass stretching across the entire desert; and the jackals are an intense pack forever launching into the desert following lines of flight or deterritorialization (‘they are madmen, veritable madmen’); between the two, at the edge, the Man of the North, the jackal-man. (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 37)
It is the phrase ‘but it so happens that’ which signals the critical point of divergence from Freud’s method of reading. The key difference is whether texts are read in terms of immanent or transcendent selections – that is, what kind of unconscious is constructed and affirmed in or through the text. By assuming Oedipus as a universal abstract principle, psychoanalysis makes exclusively Oedipal, transcendent selections and ‘misreads’ the unconscious.
A very different approach to reading desire in texts based on immanent principles of selection is at the heart of what Deleuze and Guattari can offer literary criticism.29 It is both original in approach, and potentially far-reaching in its consequences, since it is a way of reading that aims to contest fundamental ideas within Western thought and culture. Unlike psychoanalytic readings, Deleuze and Guattari’s approach to reading attempts to affirm the immanence of desire by rejecting the use of such abstract universals (unity, totality, the subject) as criteria of selection, arguing that they are illegitimate, transcendent principles. As Deleuze describes it in ‘On Philosophy’:
29. Colebrook (2002: especially 51-71) and Tynan (2012: especially 10-12, 15-16) note the importance of ‘immanent criticism’ to Deleuze and Guattari and, like many authors, identify the Niezschean genealogy of this approach. However, in these texts the concept of immanence is understood in relation to ontology, rather than in relation to textuality.
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Abstractions explain nothing, they themselves have to be explained: there are no such things as universals, there’s nothing transcendent, no Unity, subject (or object), Reason; there are only processes, sometimes unifying, subjectifying, rationalizing, but just processes all the same. These processes are at work in concrete ‘multiplicities,’ multiplicity is the real element in which things happen. (Deleuze 1995: 145-6)
In his preface to the English translation of Dialogues II, Deleuze characterises this approach as an ‘empiricism’, or ‘pluralism’ concerned with multiplicities (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: vii). Unlike ‘so-called rationalist philosophies’, where ‘the abstract is given the task of explaining’, Deleuze says he approaches things ‘with a completely different evaluation: analysing the states of things, in such a way that non-pre-existent concepts can be extracted from them’ (vii). By ‘states of things’, he means ‘neither unities nor totalities, but multiplicities’ (vii). Elaborating the differences between these two approaches—a rationalism that moves from the abstract to things, and an empiricism that moves from things to the abstract—Deleuze writes that:
To extract the concepts which correspond to a multiplicity is to trace the lines of which it is made up, to determine the nature of these lines, to see how they become entangled, connect, bifurcate, avoid or fail to avoid foci. These lines are true becomings, which are distinct not only from unities, but from the history in which they are developed. Multiplicities are made up of becomings without history, of individuation without subject (the way in which a river, a climate, an event, a day, an hour of the day, is individualized). That is, the concept exists just as much in empiricism as in rationalism, but it has a completely different use and a completely different nature: it is a being-multiple, instead of a being-one, a being-whole or being as subject. (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: viii)
Although he does not use the terms here, this distinction can be related to a major (rationalist) use and a minor (empiricist or pluralist) use. Similarly, in Essays Critical and Clinical, Deleuze’s essay ‘Plato, the Greeks’ suggests that philosophy is essentially selective, and the difference between rationalist and empiricist philosophies depends upon the criteria used to make that selection (1998: 136-7). What Plato invented, he argues, was a way of making selections that is based on transcendent determinations such as the one, the totality, and the subject, and so the
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‘poisoned gift of Platonism is to have introduced transcendence into philosophy, to have given transcendence a plausible philosophical meaning’ (137).30
In ‘Plato, the Greeks’, Deleuze argues that:
Every reaction against Platonism is a restoration of immanence in its full extension and in its purity, which forbids the return of any transcendence. The question is whether such a reaction abandons the project of a selection among rivals, or on the contrary, as Spinoza and Nietzsche believed, draws up completely different methods of selection. Such methods would no longer concern claims as acts of transcendence, but the manner in which an existing being is filled with immanence (the Eternal Return as the capacity of something or someone to return eternally). Selection no longer concerns the claim, but power: unlike the claim, power [puissance] is modest. (Deleuze 1998: 137)
Deleuze and Guattari’s theory of reading rests upon the refusal of transcendent criteria of selection (Ideas), and proceeds by constructing ‘completely different methods of selection’ based on immanent criteria. A minor reading of this kind has ‘a completely different use’, since it is no longer motivated by claims to the truth or the need to affirm the sovereignty of a unified subject. The hostility towards meaning, interpretation, and the subject that are found in Deleuze and Guattari’s texts are all part of this project of ‘reversing Platonism’, by refusing the epistemological or ontological primacy of the representational categories of the negative, unity, the subject, and totality. These categories govern the major use of language and turn reading into an effacement of textuality, since ‘when you invoke something transcendent you arrest movement, introducing interpretations instead of experimenting’ (Deleuze 1995: 146).31 They govern the philosophical language-game that ignores style, or assigns it to ‘literary’, metaphorical language, while attempting
30. This is an argument that Deleuze also makes in a 1966 essay, ‘The Simulacrum and Ancient Philosophy’, which proposed that philosophy must ‘reverse Platonism’ (Deleuze 1990); in Difference and Repetition (Deleuze 1994: 60-1), and with Guattari in What Is Philosophy? (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 9-10).
31. As discussed earlier in relation to What is Philosophy?, the ‘movement’ referred to here is that of concepts (Deleuze and Guattari 1994: 22).
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to treat ‘non-literary’, philosophical language as if it were a matter only of propositions that related to transcendent truths.32
For Deleuze and Guattari, a minor reading is also affirmation of the immanence of desire. The term ‘affirmation’ is used in the sense described by Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols:
To divide the world into a ‘real’ and an ‘apparent’ world, whether in the manner of Christianity or in the manner of Kant (which is, after all, that of a cunning Christian –) is only a suggestion of décadence – a symptom of declining life…. That the artist places a higher value on appearance than on reality constitutes no objection to this proposition. For ‘appearance’ here signifies reality once more, only selected, strengthened, corrected…. The tragic artist is not a pessimist – it is precisely he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian… (Nietzsche 1990: 49)
Against a division of the world into the intelligible and the sensible, where the sensible (including representation) is merely an ‘appearance’, and the intelligible is the true, transcendent reality it ‘refers’ to, Nietzsche proposes the affirmation of appearances, of multiplicity, becoming, and difference, which, in being affirmed, are no longer ‘opposed’ to reality. Affirmation thus gives the simulacra their full ‘power of the false’, and overturns the logic of representation as such (of the hierarchical difference between representing sign and represented thing). In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze argues that ‘overturning Platonism, then, means denying the primacy of original over copy, of model over image; glorifying the reign of simulacra and reflections’ (Deleuze 1994: 66). When multiplicity and becoming are affirmed in their immanence ‘every thing, animal or being assumes the status of simulacrum’ in a ‘universal ungrounding’ (67). Nietzsche’s ‘Dionysian affirmation’, the essence of ‘the tragic’, is precisely this empowering of the simulacra, in that it is no longer concerned with affirming the unified subject in relation to the objects of knowledge, or with
32. While it could be argued that this argument concerns philosophy rather than literature, it also breaks down that precisely distinction. It must also be noted not only that Deleuze chose to place ‘Plato, the Greeks’ within Essays Critical and Clinical, but also that his examples of ‘overturning Platonism’ are as likely to be drawn from literature as from philosophy.
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stabilising meaning in relation to the subject. Instead, as a minor reading, it is the affirmation of desire and difference.
Conclusion
Arguing against an anti-textualist reading of Deleuze and Guattari, this paper has developed ideas about their style of writing and approach to reading in relation to the concepts of a major use of language, dominant within the philosophical tradition, and a minor use. Although the term ‘style’ has been associated with a minor use of language (in writing and reading) because of its potential to draw attention to the very textuality a major use effaces, both major and minor uses of language are ‘styles’. As a language-game, philosophical discourse constitutes itself as a major language by attempting to exclude style, metaphor, and poetry from the realm of knowledge and attributing them to literature; but this major use of language itself remains a style, and the literary is always already at work in philosophical discourse. The work of reading as affirmation is to trace the way texts immanently constitute these major and minor styles, and reveal the way that the minor, when affirmed, undoes the major.
Within this major style, language is understood as a kind of tool used by a rational subject for specific purposes: the transparent representation of external referents (objects) and internal referents (states of mind, thoughts), or the formulation of propositions that refer to an ‘outside world’. The model is the same whether one is writing or reading, inscribing unified meanings or decoding them in a symmetrical way. While no philosopher has ever believed that this ideal of a perfectly transparent language could be fully attained—meaning can never be fully decoded because language, in its materiality and opacity, gets in the way—it has nonetheless remained a guiding principle for thinking about the use of language, at least since Plato, right up
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to the present day. It is from the perspective of this ideal transparency that problems concerning language are posed: how to reduce confusion and increase clarity, how to represent or interpret accurately, or how an accurate representation is possible, have been the dominant kind of questions. In fact, this model of language-use is so dominant that it is completely naturalized: that language is a tool for a subject and that the work of reading is to decode, as accurately as possible, the meanings put there by the authors of texts is ‘common sense’. On the other hand, a minor style or way of reading shows that no use of language can avoid the metaphorical or ‘non- literal’; referential and mimetic transparency or interpretation is impossible because textuality always ‘gets in the way’: every language-game is a ‘style’. The stubborn materiality and opacity of language thus challenges the sovereignty of a rational subject, whether a writer or a reader, in relation to both external and internal objects of knowledge. In troubling this investment in a unified subject, the ‘minor’ use of language or minor approach to reading, as a form of deterritorialisation of the major use that treats language in terms of sense and reference, is therefore very much a matter of politics.
Where critics and defenders of Deleuze and Guattari read them as if their style was a mere inconvenience, they reveal a shared political investment in a philosophical language-game that Deleuze and Guattari themselves attempt to disrupt. They also overlook the passages where Deleuze and Guattari articulate – despite their claims to the contrary – a ‘theory of reading’ based on the principle of immanent selections and motivated by the philosophical project of ‘overturning Platonism’. Applying this theory of reading, as a way to explore and interpret this conservative investment in maintaining the separation of the literal and the metaphorical, is one of the essential tasks of a Deleuzian literary criticism. It also has implications for the philosophical
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trajectory that, over the last two decades, has used Deleuze and Guattari’s texts to restore the privileges of ontology.
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