Minor literature and the virtual (or, the infinitive of Kafka)

by on Aug.07, 2012

Because of the interesting and at times heated discussion on Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of a minor literature that has been going on the past few days, I’ve been thinking about how minor literature might relate to the Deleuzian concept of the virtual, the incorporeal. As I mentioned in the previous discussion, I have mixed thoughts on the concept of minor literature — and less because of the anything D & G wrote about it (I agree with a great deal of what they argue in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature), but more in terms of 1) the dominance it seems to have in anthologies about literary theory (and therefore the way it gets taken out of context of their larger work), and 2) the way it is occasionally misread, I would argue, as an essentialist argument (which would be quite a feat for two such anti-Platonic philosophers).

I largely agree with the way Michael and Johannes have been discussing it. But I thought it might be interesting to try to link minor literature to the virtual in order to argue why D&G are not making essentialist claims, nor letting in a Rousseau-ian cultural authenticity through the back door.

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze writes about a distinction the Stoics made about phenomena: somata (material bodies, the way they mix, clash, retreat from one another) and asomata (virtual events, the incorporeal). He argues that causality creates the mixing and clashing of the somata domain, and this is the world of Hume, of an inductive logic premised on the shaking ground that the future will be like the past (the sun will rise tomorrow because the sun has risen every other day). But he also claims the virtual, though it rises from the realm of somata, is not bound by the same causal laws, and instead has its own ways of mixing, clashing, retreating, what he calls “quasi-causality.” And yet Deleuze is not a mystic: the incorporeal is not a theological-sounding re-conception of Sartre’s lack.

Rather, he claims the virtual is not substance, but can best be understood by infinitives: to reach, to love, to war, to wound, to become, to revolt, etc. But the paradox (what is sometimes called the Stoic paradox) comes in here: the virtual is not substance, and yet it is embodied and engenders in the realm of somata, in the actual. An act of becoming is in the realm of somata and takes place in a certain here and now (or there and then); but “to become” in its incorporeal mode, as Deleuze says, “does not create, it ‘operates’ and wills only what comes to pass.”

A few minor points. First, he’s not talking about something stable and categorical here, and certainly nothing humanist. It’s not like the virtual gives us the category of “revolt” as a universal that we can then apply to individual instances and rank. “To revolt” is not an ideal, universal concept of revolt. Secondly, the virtual-infinitive does away with our usual notions of linearity by creating an alternative map that emphasizes becoming in contrast to human action. Here, we do not build toward a future. Rather, the virtual operates through us. (Not to digress, but this also relates to how the Stoics and Spinoza thought of freedom. We do not act out our freedom: rather we are free to accept our actions. To paraphrase Spinoza, we act as we will, and only afterwards explain why.)

For Deleuze, his interest in the virtual relates to art and literature too. He was fond of quoting the famous line by Beckett about how he wanted to drill holes into language in order to see “what was lurking behind.” This “lurking behind” isn’t Platonism: it is aligned to the virtual, the infinitive. Deleuze argued that writing should bring about “visions and auditions that are not of language, but which language alone makes possible.” Art edges toward the incorporeal: it brings about “nonhuman landscapes of nature.” Or as he says of film: cinema creates a ‘landscape’ that is “at once invisible and yet can only be seen.”

How might this relate to minor literature? First, he and Guattari begin with the corporeal, the conditions of minority literature. Kafka in Prague and “the impossibility of not writing, the impossibility of writing in German, the impossibility of writing otherwise.” Though in truth the infinitive is already here. To write. And when he says the second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political, I would argue we should not think of “political” in the liberal humanist sense (voting vs. not-voting, opinions on taxes, etc.) but in a more elementary sense. Minor literature does not “represent” a collective in the way that we might talk about this writer or that writer representing a given culture. Rather, “a whole other story is vibrating within” the individual story, and because of it “the family triangle connects to other triangles — commercial, economic, bureaucratic, juridical — that determine its values.”

And to me this is the absolutely crucial point, and what connects this essay to Anti-Oedipus. In that book, D&G collapse Marx and Freud. As critics have often pointed out, writers in the past have been Freudians with a Marxist orientation, or Marxists with a Freudian orientation. With Deleuze and Guattari, the house implodes. The Freudian “family triangle” is no longer closed off in the household, but released into the “other triangles”: the “commercial, economic,” etc.

In this manner, yes, Kafka is a political writer. His Law relates to the Father, relates to Trial, relates to God. And not through allegory either. The hunger artist does not starve himself for reasons that are higher and more abstract than his own narrative. We should take the hunger artist literally, and only in that way does the story become political.

The novel of manners and certain realist novels are built like a multi-storied house: the family occupies one floor, economics another, the courts yet another. They might be of the same house, but there are still divisions between them. In minor literature, the family triangle is de-Oedipalized: the house is of a single floor, and the family moves among the judges who move among the cops who move among the rabbis and priests who move among the teachers and professors. Masks and outfits are exchanged, roles reenacted, snatches of dialogue tossed about. Genet’s The Balcony comes to mind. In fact, all of Genet’s plays come to mind.

It should also be kept in mind, I think, that Deleuze never argues this type of literature, a literature that unfurls along the plane of immanence, can only be achieved under the corporeal conditions that create minor literature. In fact, in other essays and in some interviews, he discusses how some of his favorite English novelists (Woolf, Lawrence) are writers who connect the triangles, who write in a single-storied house. (He was also fond of quoting the famous line from Howard’s End: “Only connect.”)

There is also nothing essentialist in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. The incorporeal engenders all through the essay. As they write: “There isn’t a subject; there are only collective assemblages of enunciation, and literature expresses these acts in so far as they’re not imposed from without and in so far as they exist only as diabolical powers to come or revolutionary forces to be constructed. Kafka’s solitude opens him up to everything going on in history today.” In other words, instead of simply reading minor literature from the present backwards as happens in many literary essays (that is, back to Kafka’s corporeal world, the actuality of Europe during certain years) we could also read forward toward collectives and peoples who do not yet exist.

We could almost make Kafka’s name, his sign, an infinitive: “to Kafka” (in contrast of the Kafka-esque). In a like manner, they called May 1968 an act of clairvoyance: “The possible does not pre-exist the event; it is created by the event.”

22 comments for this entry:
  1. Matt

    I am interested in your multi-storied house analogy for major lit vs. the all-on-one-floor analogue for minor lit. Doesn’t this go against the idea of Kafka as minor lit, at least in his novels? In the Trial and Amerika especially, the rooms play a function much like what you describe. Think about the rooms in the courthouse when K first reports, how each room is a completely separate compartment: art in one, justice in another, sex in another, etc. It’s the same in Amerika–very stratified rooms and floors with quite specific thematic functions in different spaces. The Castle, let me think about that one…

    Now I’m thinking that maybe the almost cartoonish emphasis on highly distinct and autonomous rooms (each room a world) might in part be a satire of the novel of manners. Or of British novels in general. Amerika is said to be largely based on Kafka’s reading of Dickens.

    The rooms in Kafka also remind me of dreams, where going though a door can be going to an entirely new world, which relates, I suppose, to your Freudian argument.

    I find some intriguing idea in D&G on Kafka, but their reading is so formalist, it bugs me too.

  2. James Pate


    Really interesting comments.

    My own take on The Trail is that everything gets overloaded, that whatever allegories there are, as Johannes puts it, implodes, and the allegory by doing so loses whatever is behind it and becomes literal. Both The Hunger Artist and The Metamorphosis almost seem to want us to read them as allegories, but Kafka’s brilliance, to me at least, is that it’s impossible to. Or rather, people can, but the texts get greatly reduced in that move.

    Beckett, as the philosopher Simon Critchley has argued, operates in much the same way. Beckett used to say his work was site specific, that they aren’t meant to be a stand-in for abstract ideas, dogmatic points, etc.. I think the same could be said of Kafka.

    Along the same lines, I have to admit, I’ve never seen Kafka as a satirist — to me, he’s a comedian, which is very different.

    And D&G are often called formalists, no doubt about it, but they couldn’t more different from what we usually mean by that term. There is nothing closed off by their formalism.

    As Elizabeth Groz has pointed out, their idea of composition is simply that of a frame, but that frame consists of the vibrations and such outside of it. In fact Deleuze was nothing but critical of the classical formalism found in parts of French literature, a formalism based on representation instead of expressionism.


  3. James Pate


    I really like the idea of Kafka doing a kind of misreading of Dickens, which you seem to imply here. Dickens is already so strange, a strangeness that he seems to want to hide under a cloak of sentimentality…

    The Trial as a the ruins of a Victorian novel, with manners turning into social operations with no beginning and no end, with the human mask removed and a non-human expressionism shifting underneath…


  4. Matt

    No, not a satirist (that implies a single-mindedness or a grounding artistic identity in satire–I wouldn’t claim that about him). But there are certainly satirical elements. Or elements that refract previous discourse in such a way that satirical effects are produced. Probably the most obvious example is “Before the Law,” when read in context of the Trial. As a stand alone piece, when you do not see the speech being given by a Catholic priest, the effect is largely lost, especially for non-Jewish audiences. But in the context of The Trial, I believe it is quite clear that “Before the Law” is in part a satire or spoof Rabbinical discourse, of the Talmud. This is the language of Jewish mysticism and theology, spoken by a priest. He is clearly in part making fun of Jewish hermeneutics as they might apply to someone truly on the edge.

    Maddin isn’t “a satirist” either, like, say, the Southpark guys are. But I think you would agree that his films have satiric elements. My Winnipeg is probably the most clear example, though Saddest Music fits too.

    Of course this doesn’t cut off other applications or readings of “Before the Law,” but I hope it illustrates my point.

    This perspective/reading may also help clarify my beef with D&G on Kafka. “Before the Law” quite explicitly toys with Jewish theological discourse–not just “power” in general. Their microformalism, however much better it may be than classical formalism, still abstracts away from the historical and cultural specificity of the text and its author. In particular, Towards a Minor Lit, while it does teach us new ways to understand how Kafka’s writing as subversive, presumes too much and homogenizes power into a kind of abstract ideal.

  5. Matt

    Another interesting point of contention we seem to share regards the allegorical effects in Kafka. You wrote, “My own take on The Trail is that everything gets overloaded, that whatever allegories there are, as Johannes puts it, implodes, and the allegory by doing so loses whatever is behind it and becomes literal.” To me this is overstating the case. Yes, the allegorical source is wonderfully obscure and indeterminable, generating manifold possibilities. I also agree that his allegories are corrosive to the conventional idea of allegory, but I would describe the effect as more of a slow rot–a gradual breaking down more than an “implosion.” Also, from my perspective, the allegorical elements do not “become literal.” They remain as allegorical effects, insistently pointing to an empty center, to an impossibility of knowing. They do not, for me at least, flatten into the literal.

  6. James Pate


    By the literal I simply mean (and this should be clear from the context of how I use it) what Beckett called the “local situation.” Beckett disliked the symbolic, allegorical readings of his plays — and “the local situation” doesn’t flatten anything. It just takes it out of the Platonic, symbolic domain.

    I have to admit, I disagree with a lot of what you’re saying here. Personally, I’m not interested in such a positivistic approach to allegory — even as allegorical effects “pointing” to “an impossibility of knowing.” Pointing? That positions Kafka’s work in a much more abstract form than the “abstract ideal” you claim D&G argue for. D&G argue consistently against such Platonic notions of art. And I have to admit, I’ve never been interested in art that points.


  7. Matt

    I think we’re mostly misunderstanding each other here. For what it’s worth, I also didn’t mean “flat” in a positive or negative sense–just a description. The work in Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, for example, is flat in a way that I love. I was using the term “flat” in reference to art that abstains from allegory, metaphor, symbols. I see these elements as still present in Kafka, though being used in a new way. The allegorical status never goes away, as I see it, it just fucks with us differently.

    I also don’t think D&G argue for a Platonic ideal. That’s a strange idea. My point was that the way they describe power in Towards a Minor Literature strikes me as too far removed from the specifics of how it is really experienced. That’s not arguing for it. That’s describing it in a way that strikes me as unhelpful. We’re going to disagree on this one, methinks. C’est la vie.

    As for “pointing,” I was using that to mean art that gestures toward something without rhetoric or final meaning. Maybe you have a more specific theoretical definition in mind? Not sure.

    I don’t think we should avoid “reading minor literature from the present backwards as happens in many literary essays.” To the contrary, I believe that doing so helps us to “read forward toward collectives and peoples who do not yet exist.” Positioning these as either/or alternatives strikes me as a false choice. I will do both.

    Obviously I found your post stimulating!

  8. James Pate


    Thanks for the clarification — I have a much better sense of your arguments. I’m babysitting right now, and can’t go into detail, but I should make it clear I’m not against context by any means! I’m just against when it’s used to constrain meaning, or when context is given an exclusive, privileged position (the idea that the only “meaning” we can take from a text is a historical one, which, to me, reduces art to a series of historical documents and little else). Not that I’m claiming you’re making that argument..


  9. James Pate


    To a certain extent, I think you might be reading more into my arguments than I ever intended, giving them a Clement Greenbergian cast — which might relate to the formalism you brought up earlier. For example, I’m not against symbol or metaphor. Two of my favorite writers are Proust and Faulkner, who are metaphor crazy! But I am against symbols used in an overtly conceptual fashion. The symbols of the Symbolists and Genet are completely overloaded, occult-ish, and I love that style of symbolism. The symbols don’t point “out there” I would argue. They are a kind of dark matter in the poems and novels and plays instead.

    My problem with allegory is that it reworks the knot that writers like Nietzsche and Blanchot and Deleuze have tried so hard to undo (though obviously in different ways). If, from an anti-foundationalist point of view, there is no transcendental category standing behind art, than instead of examining what art points to we have to examine the nuances of how it operates.

    Beckett famously said that if he had meant Godot to be God, he simply would have named Godot God. (I’m not claiming you’re making such a simplistic argument, Matt — I’m only using this as an example of my problem with the classical notion of Allegory.) Anyway, one the things I think he meant by this statement is that we shouldn’t be looking for what Godot stands in for — rather, we should be looking about how the fact he never shows up operates through the play.

    If by “allegory effect” you mean an effect that seems allegorical but actually undercuts the metaphysics of allegory (Art over there, Idea over there) than I agree with you — but as I said before, I don’t think art should be in the service of transcendental ideas (and even “an empty center” can become, paradoxically, foundationalist within the dynamic of the classical notion of allegory).

    One last quick example: Freud of course saw dreams as having a symbolic function, or a loosely allegorical function (if we think of the drives as ideas). But he can never settle on one interpretation. He does one “reading” of a dream, and then a second, and then a third, and it’s not like one reading gets closer to “the truth.” Rather, to go back to my original argument — the disguises keep getting exchanged. And you can see the symbols go crazy despite himself! And again, there is no “over there” to reach, to point to — the process of the dream, the operations of the dream become (to use Beckett’s words in the different context) the local situation.


  10. James Pate

    By the metaphysics of allegory, I meant Art over here, Idea over there…

  11. Matt

    The “either/or” and “instead of [A] we must [B]” kind of argument bogs me down. Why can’t we both examine what art points to and examine the nuances of how it operates? Why not try to understand the historical situation of a work as well as try to apply it future uses? How are these things at odds for you? Or am I misunderstanding?

    I am particularly interested in this question of how we experience the allegorical or symbolic operations in Kafka differently (if we do at all). Is this a misunderstanding based on terminology or quickly conceived phrasing–using words in different ways–or a substantial difference?

    Perhaps the theory-inflection of some of the terms in this discussion are distracting or confusing us here. Could we, to some extent, put that aside for a moment and look at actual scenes and situations in his writing? I’m sure you agree that we shouldn’t assume Beckett and Kafka are the same in this regard. Molloy does not ask the same things of us as The Castle or The Trial, right? And Beckett wrote with the benefit of Kafka in his rear view mirror. I am interested in the specifics of Kafka’s writing itself.

    When you read The Trial, what do you do with the description of the painting of winged justice with a blindfold on? Symbol? How does that image go crazy? Or what about Titorelli the artist? Does he seem like a broader representation of decadent artists to you? Or just a specific artist without broader significance? Something different or in-between?

    Does The Judgment lead you to think of a psychological subtext? Is there a level of Freudian allegory there? What about the wound in “A Country Doctor”? Just a flesh wound, to quote Monte Python? Or the gate in “Before the Law”? Or the image of the Statue of Liberty holding a sword in Amerika?

    To me these are examples of … let’s call them “more stable” tropes in Kafka. Not entirely stable, but moreso than, say, the angels atop the pillars in the final scene considered and then dropped from Amerika (the Open Air Theater of Oklahoma chapter, which is included in the Muir translation but omitted–tragically, in my opinion–in the otherwise excellent Harman translation). The Open Air Theater of Oklahoma is one of the most mysterious and perplexing uses of semi-symbolic or symbolic-resonant imagery–very unstable, even more polysemous than, say the castle in The Castle.

    Here are a few things that seem persuasive to me: first, not all images perform the same kind of symbolic function in Kafka. There is no single concept of the metaphor, symbol, or allegory–he uses these tools in many different ways, fucks with them in different ways, and the status of the relation between art and idea varies. Sometimes the relation is fairly straightforward and even rather conventional–other times, not at all. So to try and pin one unified concept of symbolism down, for example, is to me painfully reductive. Better to discuss different scenes and images as unique and specific experiences. For example, to me “The Bucket Rider” seems closer to the model you have been describing than “Before the Law.” Though again, maybe I am simply misunderstanding you.

    I take it for granted that in any trope the idea is always entangled with the specifics of its presentation. Does anyone actually believe in an absolute severance of idea and representation? That’s not even worth discussing, right?

    I am also interested in how you understand history in relation to Kafka, though this is a different line of questioning than the one above. Personally, I find the experience of Kafka to be richer, more moving, and more instructive when I consider how his sisters died in the Holocaust and how he wrote during a time of ascendant, murderous antisemitism. I cannot, nor do I desire to, disentangle my historical awareness from my reading of his parables and stories–though, again, each is different, and the weight of history bears differently in different stories. My feeling is that historical context opens up rather than closes off meaning in Kafka.

  12. James Pate


    Super-inteteresting comments here…Just some thoughts off the top of my head (I’ll comment more later)…

    First, the context issue. As someone obsessed with reading bios of artists and writers (I’m currently reading Graham-Dixon’s life of Caravaggio), I’m not against context, and I certainly don’t want to make that impression. But a host of issues come up. First, the historical context is all too often thought of as a given. The writer does some research, looks into the archives, and wholla! context. But to carry out the anti-foundationalist idea a bit, history itself is a “fiction” (which is what Foucault used to call his histories). We have documents, and of course there are facts, but a huge amount of context, much more so than we tend to admit, is an act of imagination. Not that it’s false, but interpretation is always an act of the imagination. Anyway, too often “context” doesn’t highlight this element.

    Secondly, there is the slippery slope whereby the meaning of a text gets reduced to its historical origins. A few years ago, for example, I was at a conference where a scholar made the argument that the only viable interpretation of Kafka (the panel had discussed Kafka and nostalgia) was a historical one. Anything else was an over-reach, a misreading. This is an extreme to be sure. But my own take is that there are multiple Kafkas out there. The existential Kafka, the “postmodern” Kafka of Deleuzian philosophy, the Kafka adaptations seen in film (my favorite being the Hanake’s The Castle), the thousands of Kafkas readers all over the place have read and experienced, etc. I don’t think we should ignore the historical context by any means. But I would argue we shouldn’t see the historical Kafka as supplying us with the “authentic” Kafka, which might reduce the other Kafkas to being counterfeits. But yes, I do agree, in general, that historical context can open up a reading…


  13. James Pate


    Not that I’m saying all these Kafkas are equal by any means. But I’m arguing that these Kafkas should be seen as creations, as opposed to lacks.

    And to get back to the allegory issue: few critics would say there is an absolute severance between idea and representation, no, but there is plenty of not-very-good criticism that goes about as if literature was only worth reading for its ideas. And it goes to the heart of representation in general — does art really represent, or does it create new effects, new types of experiences, etc.? Again, I don’t think reality or ideas or history are out there waiting for us to represent them. (And I’m not saying you do either — I’m just trying to expand on this theme.) Rather we make them, we create them every single minute of the day.

    But to get back specifically to Kafka: “The Hunger Artist” to me is a good example of how Kafka might be said to use allegorical effects to go against allegorical readings. I’ve read several interpretations, as I’m sure you have to: the Lacanian reading, the Marxist one, one that argues it’s about the a certain notion of high art in contrast to popular art. It’s not that they are wrong. But what Deleuze does is to connect the various triangles. When the hunger artist says he never found a food he liked, it is a sign of revolt, of revolt so singular that it is hardly even disgust at that point. Like Bartleby, the hunger artist does not partake, and yet this lack of participation is also creative: the very title “The Hunger Artist” revels in this paradox. He experiments, dangerously, with his self: his body is his art. To me it even connects to Marina Abromovich’s work, and to some of the work by the Viennese Actionists…One situation echoing through and with other situations…


  14. Kim

    My favorite Kafka was always that little story about the tight-rope walker, I forget, and the image of him hanging out in the luggage rack between “performances”, art connecting life connecting art, and the sudden drama, the tears, before the doom of care. Kafka was such a drama queen.

    Love this post by the way. I agree that “We should take the hunger artist literally, and only in that way does the story become political.” Allegories and symbols are for the grown-ups and grown-ups don’t rebel much. For some reason watching the Russian gymnasts crying during the Olympics I thought of Kafka. Even when they weren’t crying the make-up made them look like they were going to, to the point where the crying itself seemed like a performance. Fabulous divas disrupting the suffocating chug-along American narrative of careful redemption. With eyeliner. Hah.

    I remember in high school we did a project film dramatization of The Trial now fortunately lost to the world which featured a soundtrack of Stockhausen and Jefferson Airplane and an explicit belt-whipping-school-bench dream sequence! We were so excited to be censored. Funnily I haven’t been able to read Kafka outside of pubescence. Oh well. Brilliant, thought-provoking post.

  15. Matt

    My feeling is that history and memory are the basis of imagination, and the most imaginative readings are ones sensitive to context. To me, one of the best examples of this is in the work of W.G. Sebald, all of whose “novels” respond to Kafka in some way, while at the same time creating dazzling new worlds.

    “The Hunger Artist” is a great example of how context supercharges the imagination. When I teach that story, my students are always shocked to learn that there were actual hunger artists prevalent during Kafka’s time. I know I was shocked myself to learn of the historical origins of Kafka’s story, when I stumbled upon a picture of a real hunger artist in Klaus Wagenbach’s marvelous book, Franz Kafka: Pictures of a Life. I had assumed Kafka’s protagonist was another extreme fantasy of privation, like the burrower in “The Burrow.”

    But no. Hunger artists, as you probably know, were real and were considered valuable parts of circus and sideshow routines. Other hunger artists worked tour circuits for the rich. Both men and women took up the vocation, and their act usually consisted of lying in near nudity, dying of hunger, while onlookers speculated if and when they would die. Hunger artists often claimed to “live on air” or on the will of God Himself. These “fasting wonders” (the original German is closer to “A Fasting Artist” than “A Hunger Artist”) were thought to be the skin and blood embodiments of divine grace, and the more skeletal and deprived they rendered themselves, the closer they were believed to being to God. Understanding the history of hunger artists added an incredible dimension to the story. So did learning that Knut Hamsun was one of Kafka’s favorite writers and that he had a near religious devotion to his novel “Hunger” (one of my favorite books, by the way).

    Personally, I read far more essays by writers oblivious to history than representing the viewpoint of the person you heard present at that conference. I don’t doubt your story–there are hacks everywhere–but personally I have never heard of anyone claiming that the only viable reading is a historical one. That’s such self-evident bullshit as to invite parody. I don’t think there is any threat of such a viewpoint dominating the discipline. A larger problem, it seems to me, are young scholars who are incredibly poorly read outside of the theorists they have been told will help them get jobs or who are completely oblivious to historical realities behind the work they discuss. (Please understand that I am not directing this comment at you personally.)

  16. James Pate


    Thanks for the comments. And yes, the Russians were great. I really liked it when the gymnast shrugged off her coach’s hand after a not-very-good performance. The American commentators seemed speechless before such an act. I think creative writing workshops should be run like such events…the tension, the whispered commentary, the bizarre music choices…


    I’m glad you brought up Sebald, who is one of my favorite writers. I had him in the back of my mind when I was talking about history being a kind of “fiction.” His work brilliantly works through that theme. Bolano does this too, especially in Amulet, which was based on a horrific experience a friend of his went through.

    And thanks for the information about real-life hunger artists. I’d heard things about it, but I’ve never come across much actual information about it. I plan to order Wagenbach’s book tonight. It sounds great.

    As for the theorists/historical research divide: there’s no doubt that the scholar I mentioned invites parody, but I was also struck by what a difficult time the speakers on the panel had in response to her. For the most part, they nodded their heads and didn’t really defend a more nuanced approach. To me, I think it’s important to think through what we might gain when we approach art through a philosophical lens. At the same time, there is a lot of cookie-cutter theory out there, no doubt about it…


  17. Kent Johnson


    Forgive this query, I hope it’s OK, because it IS related to “minor literature,” as you will see.

    So I have this actually existing, straight-up correspondence of eight or so emails from early 2011 with Craig Dworkin, the editor (with Kenny Goldsmith) of Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing. In his messages to me, Dworkin says some mean and even insulting things about my 2009 appropriation and re-purposing of Goldsmith’s DAY (things involving “sloppy stoner stickers” and a “skateboard); I answer him and propose a different way of viewing the matters, and with not a little barbed mirth. Chicago Review was interested in seeing the exchange for possible publication last year, but Dworkin declined to participate, for whatever reason. But after just looking it over again, a year and more since, I’ve thought that my side of the correspondence is really quite useful in parts, in terms of pushing at some largely undiscussed issues in relation to the ConPo phenomenon, all the rage, now, from NYC, to North Dakota, to New Dehli, it would seem. And that it might be of interest, even if I can’t get Craig to participate, which he still probably won’t, given this book he Conceptually attributed to me, and what that means, I guess, in regards his affections. So I wanted to ask if anyone out there would know of any journals who might have an interest to look at this text I have. For years now I only send my stuff when I’m asked directly, so I’ve really fallen out of knowledge about what is out there, journal-wise. Thanks if anyone can help.

  18. Johannes

    I can’t help but think you should leave this alone. I don’t think it’s right to publish someone’s letters they’ve written to you without getting their permission, no matter how “conceptual” they may be.


  19. Kent Johnson

    Johannes, I know one reads quickly in these threads and things get missed. Please note that I state above that I’m talking about *my side* of the exchange. I wouldn’t publish his side of it without his OK [“And that it might be of interest, even if I can’t get Craig to participate…”]. While the Conceptuals or (now apparently late) Flarfists have (and quite proudly) no scruples about re-presenting the work of others without authorization, I’m talking about publishing *just my side of it*. Wanted to make that clarification.

  20. Johannes

    Oh, I’m sorry, my bad.

  21. Kent Johnson

    John Tranter yesterday provided a “looking back” link at his blog, to issue 32 of Jacket, which contains lots of stuff on translation and its mysterious thickets, and one of the pieces there is this interview done with Forrest Gander and me, conducted by the magnificent Bolivian poety Nicomides Suarez-Arauz. The focus is on our two-book translation project of the great Bolivian writer Jaime Saenz. I’d forgotten all about the interview, in fact. But it seems to have some praxis-applicable and even maybe mildly amusing anecdotes within, though the references are probably too private to give amusement to anyone but Forrest and me. I thought I’d share it here, given that James has eloquently written at Montevidayo on the Saenz translations. Whether or not Saenz is an instance of “minor literature,” I do not know.

  22. Kent Johnson

    Scanning back over, I just noticed that I somehow said the following in the interview I mention above:

    >Saenz is indeed very playful, erotic, often knee-slapping funny, but he’s writing, always, even in those gorgeous “amorous” sections, out of a darker, total submission to his Master. A bit like Dickinson, to my mind, in that sense…

    What? I have no idea how I could have said such a wrongheaded, dumb thing like that about Dickinson, who was in submission to no one or nothing. Why did I say that? Now I wish I hadn’t shared the link to this interview! In penance and humility, I’ve just signed up for Al Filreis’s Coursera course on Modern Poetry, which looks pretty good, despite Charles Bernstein’s heroic, stern visage beneath those of ED and Whitman on the course home page. (Why is CB on the front page like that, I wonder, looking a bit like Patton surveying the field littered with all the dead? It seems a bit odd.) Though I can’t tell if one needs Facebook and Twitter to take it, in which case I’d be out of luck. But check out the intro video. I’m impressed by Filreis, who’s clearly a fine teacher– and his grad student co-curators seem smart and interesting, too.