Michel Foucault once said that the twentieth century might eventually be considered Deleuzian, and he still may end up being right. Gilles Deleuze, and his frequent cowriter, Félix Guattari, wrote some unignorable books in the late decades of last century, the two volumes Anti-Oedipus (University of Minnesota Press, 1983) and A Thousand Plateaus (University of Minnesota Press, 1987) being the two most prominent in either’s canon. Each has an extensive body of work in his own right, but Deleuze casts a large shadow over his friend and colleague. Such a shadow in fact, that it prompted Ian Bogost to Tweet the following on March 3rd, 2012:
@ibogost: Earnest, snark-free question: how did Deleuze get so popular? What is it about Deleuze that is so appealing to so many?
Assemblages, rhizomes, bodies-without-organs, repetition, difference… I can’t claim to have an answer to Bogost’s question, as I can’t claim to understand much of the Deleuze that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of it, and a lot of it more than twice). I do know that a lot of it is difficult simply by dint of the contrarian angle on subjectivity: These books challenge the fundamental way(s) most of us tend to feel that being in the world works. Holland (1999) opens his book with the obvious: “The Anti-Oedipus is not easy to read” (p. 1). About writing it with his coauthor, Deleuze said, ”Between Félix and his diagrams and me with my verbal concepts, we wanted to work together, but we didn’t know how” (2006, p. 238). And about A Thousand Plateaus, he mused, “Now we didn’t think for a minute of writing a madman’s book, but we did write a book in which you no longer know, or need to know, who is speaking…” (quoted in Nadaud, 2006, p. 19). On page 22 of the latter, they even write it out, in black and white: “We are writing this book as a rhizome. It is compose of plateaus. We have given it a circular form, but only for laughs.” How is one to make sense of bastard philosophy such as this?
I once asked my friend and mentor Steven Shaviro what path to take as I embarked upon the plateaus alone for the first time. He suggested using Claire Parnet’s Dialogues (Columbia University Press, 1987) as a sort of crib notes to the two major volumes mentioned above. Dialogues was compiled between the writing of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze talked about the book’s in-betweenness (i.e., its being between both the two books and the three authors), writing that what mattered was “the collection of bifurcating, divergent, and muddled lines which constituted this book as a multiplicity and which passed between the points, carrying them along without going from one to the other” (Deleuze & Parnet, 1987, p. ix). And so it goes. My Deleuzian delusion is that I’ll ever get a handle on this stuff.
Somewhat thankfully, there is now Gilles Deleuze: From A to Z (Semiotext(e), 2012), a three-DVD set of those liminal lines between Deleuze and Parnet. Covering topics alphabetically, from A for “Animal” to Z for “Zigzag,” it’s a rare and interesting look at the man and his letters. Unlike the film Derrida (Jane Doe Films, 2002) on Jacques Derrida, of course, this is not really a documentary. Parnet, a former student of Deleuze’s, knew him well, and director Pierre-André Boutang likens Deleuze and Parnet to a Jazz duo, playing off of each other in an improvisation of concepts and cons, using the alphabet as a grounding framework. “Deleuze had taken into account the fact that each reel lasted ten minutes,” Boutang (2004) wrote, ”which produced a rhythm. And the charm of 16mm film is that the sound reel lasts longer than the image. With some people, you cut once the image stops. You don’t feel like doing that with Deleuze” (p. 7). During the discussion about culture (C is for Culture), Deleuze says, “Talking is dirty. Writing is clean.” If you snuggle in to watch this DVD, get ready for four hours of dirty, dirty talking.
Many others have tried to make sense of Deleuze in book form, with various tropes and varying degrees of success. The most recent being Gregory Flaxman. Flaxman is not new to Deleuze: His previous book was The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2000). His latest, Gilles Deleuze and the Fabulation of Philosophy: Powers of the False, Volume 1 (University of Minnesota Press, 2012), uses the idea of friendship as an initial condition from which to reexamine Deleuze’s philosophy. Covering everything from Deleuze’s apprenticeship with Friedrich Nietzsche to his vow to overthrow Plato, Flaxman reintroduces aesthetics to Deleuzian studies, showing how Deleuze situated fiction in the center of a minor philosophy. He writes, “Deleuze declares no abiding loyalties: not only does he mingle with countless philosophers, but he flirts with just as many writers, filmmakers, and artists” (p. 181). This nomadic “promiscuity” is one more reason that the well of Deleuze’s ideas isn’t likely to run dry any time soon, and Flaxman’s is a deep and welcome reconsideration. Moreover, his focus on friendship is intriguing. Stivale (1998) wrote, “This rapport of friendship lies, I believe, at the very core of these authors’ collaborative engagement…” (p. ix). Nietzsche freed Deleuze from the arid areas of academe, and Deleuze focused Guattari without truncating his thoughts too much (which, if you’ve read any Guattari without Deleuze, you know they needed a trim here and there; though Deleuze might not agree with my assessment: He speaks highly and fondly of Guattari in A to Z [L for Loyalty]).
Speaking of friendship, if you’d like a more personal — and historical — look at Deleuze and his main co-conspirator, there’s François Dosse’s Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari: Intersecting Lives (Columbia University Press, 2010), which, appropriately enough, is 651 pages long. The duo met shortly after the revolts of May, 1968 (to which Anti-Oedipus is largely a reaction: “Initially it was less a question of pooling knowledge than the accumulation of our uncertainties,” Guattari said in Chaosophy [2009, p. 69]). Guattari had just been passed over as Lacan’s successor, which sent him into a deep depression tempered only by throes of mania. With a milder manner and more comfort within his confines, Deleuze was the calm of their storm, a storm that still surges through classes and discussions in philosophy, postmodernism, post-structuralism, cultural studies, film studies, net criticism, and so on. So, what was their beef with Marx, Freud, Plato, and every other thinker (save Nietzsche and Foucault, of course) that preceded them? It’s all here. Dosse’s book is the definitive story of these two major collaborators, thinkers, writers, jokesters, and, perhaps above all, friends.
Desire is under it all, according to the iconoclastic French duo. The capitalism machine creates layers and layers of desires and subsequently splits selves into schizophrenia (hence the subtitle of both volumes of their two-volume work: Capitalism and Schizophrenia). William Carlos Williams (1923) once wrote, “The pure products of America go crazy.” That’s not exactly what they meant, but maybe that’s why Deleuze, along with Guattari, have such a hold on the academy’s mass mind: Our spirits are all spiraling apart in so many separate ways, just as they said they would all those years ago. But maybe, as they were, we can still be friends.
Boutang, Pierre-André. (2004, February). Everything About Gilles Deleuze and Nothing About Gilles Deleuze. RevueVertigo, no. 25.
Boutang, Pierre-André (Director). (2012). Gilles Deleuze: A to Z, with Claire Parnet [DVD]. United States: Semiotext(e).
Deleuze, Gilles. (2006). Letter to Uno: How We Worked Together. In Two Regimes of Madness. New York: Semiotext(e).
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire. (1987). Dialogues. New York: Columbia University Press.
Foucault, Michel. (1995). [front cover copy]. In Gilles Deleuze Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press.
Guattari, Félix. (2009). Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977. New York: Semiotext(e).
Holland, Eugene W. (1999). Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Introduction to Schizoanalysis. New York: Routledge.
Massumi, Brian. (1992). A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Nadaud, Stéphane. (2006). Love Story between an Orchid and a Wasp. In Guattari, Félix, The Ani-Oedipus Papers. New York: Semiotext(e), p. 11-22.
Stivale, Charles J. (1998). The Two-Fold Thought of Deleuze and Guattari: Intersections and Animations. New York: Guilford.
Williams, William Carlos. (1923). Spring and All.
I am indebted to Steven Shaviro, Katie Arens, and Ken Wark for what little I understand about the subject(s) at hand.