The French Review 63.4 (1990): 701-702.

DELEUZE, GILLES, AND FELIX GUATTARI. A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated and Foreword by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Pp. xx + 612.

[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]

The translation of Deleuze and Guattari's -Mille plateaux-, the second volume of Capitalisme et schizophrénie (Paris: Minuit, 1980, following L'Anti-OEdipe. Capitalisme et schizophrénie I, published at the same press, 1972) would appear to be a thankless task given the formidable obstacles that this mammoth work presents. This is not merely a book divided into "plateaus" rather than chapters, it also contains quite evidently a highly specialized vocabulary drawing from an unusually diverse array of discursive fields. However, Brian Massumi is indeed to be thanked heartily not only for substantially clearing this dense terminological thicket, but also for enhancing the peripheral, yet crucial critical apparatus which now renders A Thousand Plateaus more accessible as a research document. In the introductory pages, Massumi's "Notes on the Translation" provide a brief, yet much needed glossary of particular terms encountered in the work. Furthermore, his translator's notes and bibliography provide clear references to writings by Deleuze and Guattari as well as to the many works on which they base their insights. Finally, the index (compiled by Hassan Melehy) is a precious tool for cross-referencing the writers and concepts in play throughout A Thousand Plateaus.

These interconnections bring us to the heart of the matter or, using Deleuze and Guattari's terms, to the functioning of the textual "assemblage" itself. The illustration on the cover the Minnesota edition is not merely decorative; it provides a means of visualizing the complex web of overlaps and continuations constituted by the various modes of discourse, knowledge and practice at work therein. Whatever fil conducteur one chooses -- aesthetic, literary, linguistic, semiotic, political, psychoanalytic, to name but a few --, one enters a domain, or "plateau," along one of several lines: of totalizing concepts and themes, a "molar line"; of more indeterminate, local or particular points, a "molecular line"; and of a disruptive, fragmented or subversive profusion of speeds and affects, a "line of flight." The latter is usually contained within the former, i.e. effects of rupture generally "territorialized" along limited, constrained coordinates, for example, literary themes and genres providing at once fixed points de repère and also a limitation of possibilities for straying, or "flowing," from canonic confines. Occasionally, however, by dint of local molecular effects/affects, a disruption can occur, a new "flow" can be set loose to disturb the
old; a Huysmans's A Rebours, for example, can overturn and desacralize (i.e. "deterritorialize"), however briefly, the prescribed mode of conceptualizing and realizing (cultural/literary) practices. But such lines of flight beyond limits are short-lived, are re-inscribed ("reterritorialized") within the limits defined by an institutional (State) apparatus of some sort, be it governmental or (in the case of my example) academic socio-cultural.

This sketch is admittedly partial, and doubly so. On one hand, by evoking only the lines of "stratification" which Deleuze and Guattari propose, I necessarily omit discussion of many adjacent plateaus that help conceptualize other domains, all of which intersect one another. For example, the chapter on psychoanalysis ("plateau" 2) connects in obvious ways to the chapters on linguistic and semiotic enunciation ("plateaus" 4 & 5), and these, in turn, dovetail quite directly into the chapters on literary ("plateau" 6) and political practices ("plateaus" 7, 12 & 13). On the other hand, my sketch assumes that the reader may have some use for this disturbing profusion of terms and models for practice and production. But what might that use be? Massumi's foreword suggests that "the best way of all to approach the book is to read it as a challenge," not just a textual one, but existential: "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?" (xv). The answer may indeed simply be "none," but for readers curious about new modes of conceptualization, even of being, that have emerged, and are still doing so, in the so-called "post-structuralist" period, then such a text and translation are certainly viable products for commodity exchange in the marketplace of ideas.

Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University

Return