"Postface 1980: From Anti-Oedipus to A Thousand Plateaus.

Bob Wilson philosopher"

by Catherine Clément

translation: Charles J. Stivale, November 30, 1999

In 1972, when the first issue [of L'Arc, 49] devoted to Gilles Deleuze appeared, he was just publishing Anti-Oedipus with Félix Guattari. Since the two publication dates were nearly simultaneous, we could not have then foreseen the immense success of this book, nor especially the lasting influence that it has exerted ever since - first, on a large student audience, at Vincennes and elsewhere; then, and more profoundly, on the audience of psychoanalysts, always ready to defend themselves - or to cry mea culpa. Anti-Oedipus was only the subtitle of a broader undertaking, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the second volume of which has just appeared. And yet, it is the title Anti-Oedipus that remains: the initial critique of "doxa" that has been understood [entendue].

This is certainly not to say that the philosopher and the psychoanalyst, Deleuze and Guattari, were the first to attack the bastion of the Oedipal structure within the Freudian doctrine. But before them, the time was not yet right, at least in France. Anti-Oedipus achieved its renowned success because, through the conjoined and mixed pensée [thinking] of the two authors, it gathered the fruit of May '68, without making this rupture into an explicit reference. Nonetheless, Anti-Oedipus appeared as the first theoretical book produced from the May '68 movement. It attacked the notion of structure, the signifier, and in fact, beyond the concepts of the preceding period, it attacked the notion of order. This rigorously reflected anarchism would conjoin both the final political phases of May '68 and the beginning of a disarray in thought that continues still.

And Deleuze and Guattari, they continued as well. From time to time, we heard one or the other making public statements - at momentous occasions. In an effective little pamphlet, Gilles Deleuze stated what he thought both about the New Philosophers and the use of the media. Félix Guattari was alarmed on a number of occasions, every time about the Italian Autonomists, notably at the moment of the Toni Negri affair. Without really expecting it, we awaited the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Sometimes it was also mentioned that what happened to Sartre could even happen to them, not to succeed in completing the "huge" enterprise: the second volumes of Being and Nothingness, the second volume of Critique of Dialectical Reason still had not yet appeared when Sartre died, in April 1980.

We were wrong. The following fall, this book A Thousand Plateaus appeared, larger than the first one, and even more surprising. As I write this, the book still has not been publicly circulated; and as with the first one, in 1972, we still do not know what its fate will be, although we sense that it could hardly be different. Still, history is no longer the same: in 1972, pounding one's fist while criticizing Oedipus was possible since it was only the beginning. Today, all violence, verbal or written, has been defused all by itself from overuse: everything has been attacked. Moreover, already in 1972, when I objected to Gilles Deleuze precisely that all these attacks against Freud were not new, I recall him replying: "Yes, but we, we are stylists."

It was true, and it's still true. Anti-Oedipus is as effective by means of its critical strength as by its exceptional writing, first because, written with two hands, it allows no individual indices to appear. Or very few… A Thousand Plateaus is even stronger still: a strength at once gentle and infinitely motivating, pulling and even shoving one along, persuading and aggressing, seducing and raping. Each of these terms will be carefully rejected by the very thought of these two authors, but if we want to understand, one must first, perhaps, translate, although it may mean finally concluding that even translation no longer makes sense.

A Thousand Plateaus: a series of fifteen chapters about which it is clearly indicated that they are all autonomous and that they can be read in any order whatsoever. Each "plateau" brings forth its own intensity, its own language, has neither beginning nor end, but always, in the middle. This is, therefore, the opposite of a traditional philosophical demonstration: what collapses immediately is an immense, rhetoric that has been permanent in philosophy since the Greeks -- the rhetoric of the beginning, of logical succession, of linking [enchaînement], of causality. Instead, there is a broken, aleatory logic, encompassing possible openings, that are developed, or not. Few philosophers have tried to think the multiple as such; nearly all, with a few rare exceptions, have first thought unity, then its opposite, the multiple. These exceptions belong to Gilles Deleuze's own philosophical heritage, as philosophy professor who never could, knew how to, or wanted to teach like others: the Stoics who founded a logic of possibles, Leibniz, philosopher of the combinatory, Bergson, philosopher of becoming.

Becoming, a pass word. I won't say "an order word" since precisely the order word is rejected in its very being, rejected as an approach, as politics, as morality, and as mode of functioning. It's not that it is reprehensible, but that it just does not even function. On the other hand, the password works better since, from one end to the other - excuse me, there is neither one end nor the other… -- Deleuze-Guattai thinking [la pensée de Deleuze-Guattari] "nomadizes." So, becoming is one of the passwords in A Thousand Plateaus: it is defined, soberly, as "anti-memory."

Anti-memory, anti-Oedipus: things are getting clearer. Deleuze and Guattari substitute one language for another, one lexicon for another; one real for another, another world for ours. Out of convenience - or just for a laugh - I have created a "table" - they would despise this binary term - of the two languages, the old and the new, our world and theirs, which no doubt will soon be ours. We will call their languages: the language of Intermezzo. The word recurs frequently, never randomly: about girls, about Virginia Woolf, about sonorous blocks, and even about the musical form we call Intermezzo. Intermediary, nomadism, indefinite between-two: "the only way to get outside the dualisms is to be-between, is to pass between…" (ATP 277/MP 339).

DUALISMS INTERMEZZO
Tree and root Rhizome
to signify, make meaning to make maps [cartographier]
to trace [calquer] work at the worker's level, earth [sol]
Rootlet, radicle Crabgrass
Family Pack, gang, horde
Order word "Black hole"
I Body without organs (Bwo)
Direct discourse Indirect discourse
Linguistics Chromatics
Unique language Bilingualism
Semiology Trans-semiotics
Melody, harmony Refrain [ritournelle]
(Magic) Spell [Sortilège] Contagion
Individual A-nomal, outsider
Limit Edge, waves, girls
Memory Becoming
State Nomad, vagabond
Logos Pathos
sedentary Blacksmith
Embroidery Patchwork, Quilt
Euclidean space Reimannian space
Striated space Smooth space
"Conjugations of the axiomatic" "Revolutionary connections"

… They are laughing it up, of course: nothing is more "dualist" than this noble table in two columns, diabolically binary, the opposite of the development of thought across "plateaus." And they have some great [thoughts]. If they are stylists (their absolute weapon), they reject - and this must be indicated "quite deliberately" - any rational and pedagogical presentation of their A Thousand Plateaus. At least this table has the advantage of exposing the slippage of ground: in terms of plateaus, the upheaval caused by their approach also makes thought collapse into valleys: black holes, they would say. Classical thought gets depressive, so it gets excavated.

Let's proceed differently, for example, by grabbing hold of the middle of the writing. "Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come" [ATP 5/MP 11]. Writing has nothing to do with signifying: note well that this teaches the exact opposite of Saussure and sons. As for the writer-surveyor, he develops Kafka. Kafka, but also Beckett, Godard, whose style Deleuze and Guattari like. These are bilingual authors: bilingualism -- sliding from one language to another, without being haled by the other language - distances the monolithic nature of a single language and, despite its etymology, constructs "machines"/"intermezzo". We have to come back to this term, "machine," which already was great hit when coupled with the adjective "desiring." Now, machines are no longer merely desiring, nor crazy: they are war machines, or love machines, so immediate that we end up considering them to be concepts already well integrated into a philosophy we may have once read, long ago, later: in a plateau, anywhere, any way… The important thing is that this word produces an impression of familiarity, one that is no longer disturbing. So it's not in the machines that the innovation of A Thousand Plateaus is located. Rather, it's in the writing, first of all.

Second of all: in the mad chronology of the chapters. Each chapter corresponds to a date. "1914: One or Several Wolves?"; "10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals…"; "1730: Becoming -Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible". A mind tamed by the structuralist exercise will search these dates in vain for the law of construction: no, this isn't progressive - who do you take us for? - nor is it a zigzag either, one point AD, another BC. That's how it is, not linear. Each date is based on an event mentioned in the chapter. This is no mere detail: A Thousand Plateaus is an impressive history book, in which the history of the Jews, of the janissaries of the Ottoman Empire, of the Ottoman Empire itself, of the…

But this is not a history book! It's a book of economy, of ethnology (nomadism, blacksmiths, mining peoples), of politics (the State, war machines, war), of aesthetics (Artaud, Messiaen, Klee, Beethoven), of women's work (patchwork, embroidery, quilts), of linguistics… And of philosophy? Yes, yes, and yes. Because at last, they dare quite gaily to patrol all the paths; to linger there with all the boldness of a Diderot doubled as Jacques the Fatalist and his Master, with only the Innkeeper's Wife missing [reference to Diderot's novel Jacques le Fataliste]. Because true philosophy could care less about genres and constraints, and like Jankelevitch, like Derrida, like Lyotard, [Deleuze and Guattari] could think as they truly wished. To such an extent that - you may have guessed - politics, ethnology, music, women's work, all that ceases to exist: it's philosophy. Or maybe not. It's writing, and thought. Fretful minds [esprits chagrins] - those that keep shrinking, you know? [ceux de la peau, a pun on Balzac's title] - will fret in their corner, getting smaller and smaller. The rest, philosophers, or not, will enjoy themselves, and even seriously so.

Their garden, which is not at all an enclosed territory, is immense. They don't cultivate it: they watch it grow. In this book, there is a difficult term, "black hole," in Kleist, in Artaud, in thought, in the real. The hole that does not really interrupt, but [as] resource and product. Like the lights of Bob Wilson, in Edison, or like the stammering, dislocated words that he makes available in Queen Victoria. Or yet again, like the mute images in Gaze of the Deaf. Both Deleuze and Guattari resemble Bob Wilson in all [in his works] that is twisted, deliberately offbeat, exhausted, broken, beautiful. And strange, without some extra special "other scene." They think as do ataxics, as do dylexics, as do anorexics; or, and it's the same, as do long-distance runners, as so chatterers in [novels by] Louis-René Des Forêts, as do boulimics. They think "a-nomally", and very normally, as one might be able to think in a sleeping France, lazy in the head, ruminating its old concepts.

…. They create the egg, the egg of the Dogons, that leaks on all ends and is round nonetheless. The egg which, in classical thought, was used only for one thing: to follow, or to precede (your choice), the chicken tail in the demonstration of causality. "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?", repeated by generations of philosophy professors. The egg was used to contradict the question. But the egg is much stronger than that: it's the egg all alone, without mother hen, without cause, and without a chick inside. Without beginning or end, but always in the middle, as one among the thousand plateaus.

… They create funny words, using indifferently the Pink Panther, the White Horse Inn, or God as lobster claw.

… They even create summaries, at the end. With an awful word that had already, at the time of Anti-Oedipus, given rise to unnamable mumbling in everyone's mouths: "deterritorialization." A word made to create a short-circuit: this device is typical of them. A word that cancels the territory, even in its pronunciation. We suspect that they did this deliberately, creating this word which is not one, in order to end on a burst of laughter a thought that, through all ends of the egg, the big one and the little one, connects with the Gay Science.

L'Arc 49, 1980 (new edition) pp. 94-98

 

D & G on the Web

 D & G Links

 D & G Texts

 Deleuze's ABC's

Deleuze's Translations
Stivale Publications

 Stivale Papers

 Stivale Home Page