by James Pate 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.”