Deleuze and Guattari

Assigned: Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. From Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, from Chapter 3. “What Is a Minor Literature?” (1371-74); from A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, from “Introduction: Rhizome” (1374-82). Also read the editors’ introduction (1367-71).

From Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1975)

From Chapter 3. What Is a Minor Literature?

1. On 1371 (“A minor literature doesn’t come from…”), what do Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari identify as the first characteristic of a minor literature? What is meant by the term “deterritorialization” in connection with a people’s language? Why, for Jews living in Prague, Czechoslovakia (as of 1993, Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic), was it both absolutely necessary and yet “impossible” to write in German? Why, according to Deleuze and Guattari, was this question of language such a vital one for Jews living in Franz Kafka’s era (1883-1924)?

2. On 1371-72 (“The second characteristic of minor literatures…”), Deleuze and Guattari identify as the second of minor literature’s characteristics the fact that it is thoroughly “political” (1371 bottom). What explanation do they offer for this quality? In what sense are even literary treatments of the Freudian “family triangle” political rather than simply familial?

3. On 1372-73 (“The third characteristic of minor literature…”), Deleuze and Guattari identify as the third of minor literature’s characteristics that it is “collective” (1372) rather than individual. How do they further explain this quality, both with regard to minor literature’s role as creator of a sense of community and with regard to the kinds of authorial and character-based subjectivity it presents to its readers?

4. On 1373-74 (“The three characteristics of minor literature…”), in what sense, according to Deleuze and Guattari, do minor literatures embody “the revolutionary conditions for every literature within the heart of what is called great (or established) literature” (1373)? Why is the possibility of a minor literature so necessary if one is to arrive at a sense of “popular” literature or “marginal” (1373) literatures alongside a major tradition? In addition, what two ways do the authors say exist to advance even more the kind of deterritorialization one finds in minor literatures, and what is the result of each, based on the work of the authors whom Deleuze and Guattari mention as examples? (1374)

5. On 1374 (“How many people today live in…”), Deleuze and Guattari ask, “How many people today live in a language that is not their own?” They say that this, and variants thereof, is the problem immigrants and more particularly their kids have, but in what way do they broaden this problem to all who would employ a major language in radically new ways? Ultimately, what value do our two authors appear to bestow upon the ability to “become a nomad and an immigrant and a gypsy in relation to one’s own language”?

6. General question: In our selection from Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari pose the open question, “How many people today live in a language that is not their own?” How would you respond to that question in the context of the United States, whose “major language” is English but whose overall linguistic environment is quite complex? What “marginal” literatures can you identify as existing in the United States, and how aware does the broader public seem to be that such literatures exist?

From A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980)

From Introduction: Rhizome

1. On 1374-75 (“The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus…”), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari evoke for us a sense of the kind of subjectivity they mean to cultivate in the writing of Anti-Oedipus. What kind of “I,” then, do they say they believe they have escaped, and what kind do they embrace? Why would they want to do so, at least by inference in this brief first paragraph—what advantages might it confer?

2. On 1375-76 (“A book has neither object nor subject…”), Deleuze and Guattari serve up a “postmodern purple passage” to describe how they view the workings of a book. That view bears little resemblance to the everyday notion of a book as something solid, with an attributable author, a discernible subject or topic, and some message that will be conveyed if only we read it correctly. How, then, should we think about a book? Use some of the authors’ most innovative terms (“bodies without organs” and “assemblages,” to take two examples among many ) to arrive at a sense of what they are getting at here. Why do they need such a multiplicity of figures to build up this description?

3. On 1376-77 (“A first type of book is the root-book…”), Deleuze and Guattari describe the “root-book,” by which they apparently mean the classical notion of the book as being like a strongly rooted tree, the organic metaphor par excellence. How does the phrase “One becomes two” (1376) capture the logic of this “weariest” conception of what a book is or ought to be? What do our two authors have against this way of talking about books—how is it in error?

4. On 1377-78 (“The radicle-system, or fascicular root…”), Deleuze and Guattari now describe the “radicle-system, or fascicular root” (1377) as the second conception of the book. In what way does this mark an advance over the previously discussed “root-book”? Even so, how do our authors analyze the fatal flaw in this conception as well? What authors does he connect with it, and in what way do they assert unities and totalities, or ultimate coherence, even as they appear to embrace fragmentariness and chaos? Why, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is it absurd to think of a book as “the image of the world” (1378) whether that world be chaotic or coherent?

5. On 1378-79 (“Let us summarize the principal…”), Deleuze and Guattari sum up the main characteristics of the “rhizome” (1378). How are rhizomes different in their structure from trees with main roots? How does rhizomatic structure challenge our understanding of the traditional purpose, structure and function of books? What figures and terms do the authors use here to emphasize the non-centered, open quality of a “rhizomatic” text?

6. On 1379-80 (“A plateau is always in the middle…”), Deleuze and Guattari introduce the term “plateau” (a high, mostly level place; high ground) as a way of talking about how their innovative book is put together. What do they apparently mean by “plateau” (1379) in connection to books, and how does this word relate to the notion of rhizomatic structure and function? How do our authors use these key terms in describing the manner in which they wrote A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia?

7. On 1380-82 (“History is always written from…”), what models of nomadic and rhizomatic writing (1381) do Deleuze and Guattari refer to, models that might move us in the direction of a much-needed “Nomadology” (1380) that would understand this new way of writing? How does the new kind of writing handle its inevitable “burden” (1381) of the culture of the past and present? Our authors say that “History has never comprehended nomadism, the book has never comprehended the outside” (1381). On the basis of what Deleuze and Guattari write on 1381 bottom to 1382 top, how do you interpret the optimism coded into this statement about the nomadic war machine in opposition to the State, to Reason, and all that supposedly keeps humanity in thrall?

8. On 1382 (“Write to the nth power…”), Deleuze and Guattari advise writers to “Write to the nth power, the n-1 power, write with slogans…,” etc. What kind of writing, then, do they promote in this peroration or closing statement favoring rhizomatics over the classical conception of books and writing? What maneuvers and questions are to be avoided, and why? What moves are to be embraced in one’s writing, and why so?

9. General question: In their 1980 volume, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari advocate a radical new way of conceiving of the act and product of writing. This kind of advocacy is of a piece with the calls during the 1960s for the destruction of older, “classical” ways of thinking and perceiving and hailing the coming-on of truly liberatory ways of writing and reading, ones that might spur social and political change for the better. As you read this selection well into the twenty-first century, how much faith do you put in such calls?  Do you think there has been any change (whether because of the Internet or other factors) in the way we read and in what we expect to get from our encounters with the written word? Or are authors like Deleuze and Guattari, whatever their radical hopes and with due respect for their efforts, more or less engaging in academic fantasies? Explain your view and the rationale for it.

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake