Notes on: Deleuze, G and Guattari, F. ( 2004) A Thousand Plateaus.London: Continuum. Chapter eight. 1874: Three Novellas, or "What Happened?"

Dave Harris

As a literary genre, the novella is the opposite of the tale, in terms of its direction: the issue is what happened. The tale gets the reader asking what is going to happen, the novel operates in 'perpetual living present (duration)' (213). The detective novel is a hybrid since something has happened already, but we have to reconstruct it, to discover something. It is not just a matter of dimensions of time, because past and future can become immediate and connected with the present [citing Husserl here]. However, the novella presents something which is already cast into the past. We can see this in two pieces : a tale by Maupassant and a novella by d'Aurevilly tackle the same theme. Both novellas and tales require a great deal of attention and precision. The writer appears differently in both.

The novella doesn't just recall the past, but indicates that 'something unknowable and imperceptible' has happened. There are also particular 'postures of the body and mind' involved, [later referred to as states of the body], a attitudes or positions, which take the form of folds in the novella, and unfolding in the tale. Overall, the novella features 'What happened? (The modality or expression), Secrecy (the form), Body Posture (the content). Fitzgerald shows the genre by asking himself what could have happened that produced this in the present. It is not just a question of memory. It arises not just  at moments of fatigue and disillusion. It is like perceiving that something is already there in a room or has just happened, or is over: 'perceptual semiotics' (215). There is no guarantee of recovering those perceptions.

We're going to discuss the novella in terms of 'lines of writing', conjugated with other lines 'lifelines, lines of luck or misfortune, and lines productive of the variation of the line of writing itself, lines that are between the lines of writing'. All genres have these lines, but they take a specific form in the novella: living lines are used to deliver 'a special revelation'.

The first example is 'In the Cage' by Henry James [which I have not read]. The heroine is a telegrapher, and her normal life can be seen as plotted on 'the line of rigid segmentarity on which everything seems calculable and foreseen' [one segment ends at work and links to a segment of leisure, segments lead to an engagement and wedding and so on]. 'Our lives are made like that': the 'great molar aggregates' like the state or institutions; people as members of an aggregate, 'feelings as relations between people'(216). These lines control our identities 'including personal identity', and can provide the basis of our relationships with each other. This is the 'molar or rigid line of segmentarity' and it dominates our lives, 'and always seems to prevail in the end'. It can include tenderness and love, so it is not all bad. Events in the novella reveal the existence of another life, as a mysterious couple send coded telegrams. We now have a more 'supple flow', with 'quanta' seen as embryonic segments. The heroine tries to decode what is going on, and suspects a dangerous secret or 'dangerous posture'. The secret itself is not discussed, and might be completely unimportant: the point is not to discover it. What does matter is that 'a strange passional complicity, a wholly intense molecular life' develops for the heroine as she relates to the couple. It is not simply that this is imaginary, more that two kinds of politics are now available - the conventional macropolitics with classes or sexes, and a new micropolitics that sees the relationships in a different way. Couples are seen differently as an aggregate of molar factors, or as affected by 'less localizable relations' of flows and particles. Here, couples suggest doubles, including possible alternative selves. This is the 'line of molecular or supple segmentation', and the quanta refer to deterritorialization. The present becomes more vivid, ungraspable, molecularized, with things operating 'at speeds beyond the ordinary thresholds of perception' (217). This is 'not necessarily better'.

These two lines interweave, producing supple currents or rigid points [somebody French -- Sarraute -- praises English novelists as well as Proust for being particularly good at spotting these molecular lines that people follow, breaking with fixed segmentarity, developing 'micromovements' lots of fine segmentations, tiny cracks and postures, different agencies, all offered as a 'subconversation' at the micro level]. The heroine reaches a limit on this supple line as the secret itself takes over and puts an end to the micro relationship. Rigid segmentarity returns and people marry their existing partners, but still 'everything has changed'(218), in the form of the emergence of 'a kind of line of flight' challenging segments of all kinds, leading to 'a kind of absolute deterritorialization'. The secret itself was to do with love and sexuality, but the main issue was how it affected relationships, not its precise form. Somehow this leads to an absence of any kind of form, 'nothing but a pure abstract line', where there is nothing to hide, and we have 'become imperceptible' [because previously, having the secret came to define her subjectivity?]. Becoming imperceptible here means knowing how to become nobody, how to look entirely normal like the knight of faith [discussed elsewhere], while moving on a line that is far from conventional. Of the three lines, the first produces 'many words in conversations, questions and answers'; the second 'silences, allusions and hasty innuendoes'; the third means we can speak of anything at all, because 'it is no longer possible for anything to stand for anything else'. These three lines are intermingled [in life as well as in the novella?]

The second example is 'The Crack Up', by F. Scott Fitzgerald [which I have read]. The writer talks about his life and how it has run into disillusion and impotence [he still writes, but not with any passion]. His life has become 'increasingly rigid and desiccated', along his line of segmentarity. The major social changes from the outside that he describes have moved on his life and led to rigidity [he thinks that the talkie cinema, for example, will make novels redundant]. However, there is another type of cracking at the micro level, more subtle and supple, and this can arise [behind your back], even when things seem to be going well. One clear and noticeable example is the effects of ageing which creep up on you and affect yourself and your desires, and make you unable to engage in moments of intensity. These effects are not so perceptible and not clearly directional: they take place 'in the immanence of a rhizome' rather than as something 'determined by the transcendence of a tree'. These lead to a crack up that is suddenly realized when it is too late, and we see that there are connections with other segmentations as well, again rhizomatic, and micropolitical [I think this is referring to the other slow transitions that went initially unnoticed by Scott Fitzgerald, in his marriage, in his career, in his ability to write effortlessly and all the rest of it: he found himself having to cope with these more and more, which is, I suppose, a form of micropolitics].

Fitzgerald does consider following a third line of rupture, a clean break [heading off to somewhere remote], but he is aware that some apparent clean breaks end up in the old constraints again. Temporary breaks, as in holidays or voyages, used to work, but will not serve now [escape leads to returns to normality as we know]. Other writers have also known that no matter how far you travel, you still meet the same kind of people, 'always your daddy and mommy'(220). This is a comment on the limits of supple segmentarity. A proper clean break means the past no longer exists, and so 'one has become imperceptible and clandestine', and nothing can affect us any more - 'I no longer have any secrets, having lost my faces, form, and matter'. Even love no longer compels [or interpellates] us - we choose. We have become an abstract line, absolute deterritorialization, a becoming 'like everybody/the whole world' [by remaining indifferent to the world?]. A genius knows how to do this, how to enter 'becomings-animal, becomings- molecular, and finally becomings-imperceptible' (221) [so now the subsequent chapter on becomings makes a lot more sense?] [They also say that 'It should not be said that the genius is an extraordinary person, nor that everybody has genius']. Fitzgerald himself describes himself right at the end as an animal, but there is a despairing tone, indicating the dangers of true flight and its tendency to suicide.  Overall, we get from this novella the three lines that comprise a life: 'break line, crack line, rupture line'['break' here does not mean clean break, that is 'rupture']. The line of flight is 'abstract, deadly and alive, nonsegmentary'

Third example: 'The Story of the Abyss and the Spyglass' by P. Fleutiaux [which I have not read] . [We start with some amazing imagery -- D&G or PF?]. Some segments are near and others more distant; they encircle an abyss or black hole; each segment has on it two kinds of 'lookouts, near-seers and far-seers'. The nears have a simple spyglass and they are on the lookout for gigantic cells and great binary divisions and dichotomies, producing well defined segments like classrooms and barracks. Occasionally, they need to clarify things with 'the terrible Ray Telescope' which cuts out shapes [that is defines them, with signifiers, to preserve the molar order from ambiguity], overcodes. There is a denial of metaphor [by PF? ]in the interests of speaking or writing literally of a line of rigid segmentarity.

The long distance seers focus on microsegmentarity, details, possibilities, lines that might turn into shapes, a rhizome or molecular segmentarity that cannot be overcoded by a signifier. They operate on a second line, supple segmentarity, produced by 'anonymous segmentation', with no apparent goals, offering only becomings, or something that's already formed up. There is a parallel with some work in biology where the great movements of cell division are accompanied by all sorts of migrations and processes and impulses passing through thresholds of intensity. We can see this in societies as well, with rigid macro segments 'cross cut underneath' by other kinds of segments. Again these metaphors are resisted in the name of writing literally, developing lines of writing.

These lines are perceptual, but also matters of a 'semiotics, practice, politics, theory' (223), which are always connected. One's own line 'may or may not conjugate with others', and if it does not, there is no point in arguing - 'you should flee... It's no use talking; you first have to change telescopes, mouth and teeth, all of the segments'. Life follows lines like this, 'whether connectable or not': they don't always work even if they are homogenous'. Those with distance vision also can see the damage done by the cutting telescope, seeing something that others do not. They still collaborate with the project of control, but still 'feel a vague sympathy for the subterranean activity revealed to them', an ambiguity, that one day might lead to a line of flight.

Individuals and groups are all traversed by lines of various kinds or zones, all differing. Each of the three kinds of lines is actually best understood as a bundle. We tend to be more interested in one line rather than the others, and perhaps one line does indeed assume greater importance. Some lines are imposed from outside, others arise by chance or are invented, especially lines of flight. These might be the most difficult of all, and not all groups or people ever develop them, and some lose them. We can learn from the painter Julien, who abstracts lines from photographs, but these are very diverse lines. Lines can vary by species or by individuals. Deligny has mapped lines and paths for autistic children, distinguishing, for example lines of drift and customary lines, and these constantly cross and intersect, producing something unpredictable, a gesture that itself emits lines. [More on Deligny, who worked at La Borde with Guattari, in Dosse, ch 3] So there can be a line of flight with singularities on it, and a molar line with segments, 'and between the two (!), there is a molecular line with quanta that cause it to tip to one side or the other' (224). These lines have no energy in themselves, but they compose us. They can take the form of a rhizome. They are not governed by the rules of language, rather it is the other way round, and the same with writing which has its own lines. They can not be classified with a single signifier, since signifiers only occur after lines have become rigid. There is no structure, certainly not an arborescent one, no closed system which will prevent escape. In the case of Deligny, 'lines are inscribed on a Body without Organs', itself an abstract line, not a matter of imaginary figures or symbolic functions, but real.

It is this body that is 'the practical object of schizoanalysis' (225) which asks questions like 'what are your lines...what is your line of flight... Are you going to crack up?… Which lines are you severing and which are you extending or resuming?'. Schizoanalysis relates to these lines, as the analysis of desire which 'is immediately practical and political', and actively participates in the drawing of lines, as 'the art of the new'. There is 'no problem of application' because lines can be used to grasp a life, a work of literature or a society

There are 'many problems' however. The particular character of each line might vary, for example. We might be tempted to see rigid segments as over coded by the state; supple segments as something interior, 'imaginary or phantasmic'; the line of flight as 'entirely personal, the way in which an individual escapes on his or her own account' and takes refuge somewhere, in the desert or in art. All of these are 'false impressions'. Supple segments do not exist in the imaginary; micro politics are just as extensive and real as macropolitics, and politics on the grand scale must always operate at the micro level as well to overcome obstacles. The larger the aggregates, the more molecular the agencies that are required. Similarly, lines of flight do not mean running away from the world, but rather 'in causing runoffs, as when you drill a hole in a pipe'. All societies leak. Lines of flight are not just imaginary or symbolic, but require activity. There can be signifying breaks in society, following some new invention, especially one that disrupts the State [running away while seeking a gun etc.], like the lines of flight followed by the nomads who were to invent the war machine. A single group or an individual can display all the lines discussed here, and groups and individuals can create lines of flight for themselves. 'Lines of flight are realities; they are very dangerous for societies' (226), although they can be managed.

Lines can also vary in importance. Rigid segmentarity is the easiest one to detect, but we should also look for supple segments that cross cut, 'a kind of rhizome surrounding its roots'. Then we can look for lines of flight and the consequences. However, we can also start with the line of flight, as perhaps this is the primary one: they are certainly always there from the beginning. Supple segmentarity can be seen as a kind of compromise with relative deterritorializations and reterritorializations. Supple lines are ambiguous. Lines can also combine or contradict each other, so that one individual's line of flight 'may not work to benefit that of another group or individual' [congratulations! You have just discovered JS Mill]. One person's love can mean another person's imprisonment. There is no assurance that lines of flight will be compatible or even compossible, and 'there is no assurance that the body without organs will be easy to compose'.

Lines are mutually immanent. None is transcendent. 'Each is at work within the others'. In particular, 'lines of flight are immanent to the social field' (227). Supple segmentarity can reproduce on its own level 'micro oedipuses, micro formations of power, micro fascisms'. The line of flight can fall into a black hole, and thus reconstruct very rigid segments. [The example is a curious one, referring to sowing your wild oats as producing subsequent rigidity, apparently a rebuke to Melville from Lawrence]. Secrets are difficult to manage, whether they are a dirty secret of a rigid line, an empty secret in supple segmentarity, or a secret life on a line of flight.

Finally, there are dangers specific to each line. 'There is not much to say' about rigid lines, which will persist anyway. The second line is ambiguous. The line of flight can be 'imbued with such singular despair in spite of its message of joy', and this can lead to death and demolition because it strikes at our core. It is common to see how novelists can break after their artistic exertions [the example is Chekhov]. It might be impossible to avoid 'falling into a black hole of bitterness and sand', although it is difficult to judge overall. Certainly, 'nothing is easy on the lines that compose us'. We all have specific couples, doubles, clandestines, and mixes. Sometimes they complement each other, as when Fitzgerald said that his drinking somehow helped Zelda maintain a relationship with him, as a result of their complementary flaws [she was mad]. Relationships can remain even though individuals destroy themselves. All the lines are present in the discussion cited on 228. [Again the important thing here is that the line of flight makes you clandestine, that a couple becomes a double, and that this can be 'more successful now that nothing is importance any longer']. What matters is the conjunction, 'the AND that made one and the other imperceptible', a line of flight leading towards a new acceptance, not 'renunciation or resignation', but something aimed at happiness.

back to menu page