1972: How to 'manage' Deleuze and Guattari

Dave Harris

Toolbox readings

We have already seen one way in which discussion can be foreshortened.  Particular interpretations are claim to be personal and authentic, so that any attempt to disagree with them can then be read as a personal attack, or a doubt about someone's authenticity.  This view is sometimes supported by a particular pragmatic or 'toolbox' reading, given much support by Massumi in his Translator's Foreword to ATP:

Deleuze's own image for a concept is not a brick, but a "toolbox".  He calls his kind of philosophy "pragmatics" because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system of belief…  [Which]…  pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops in energy of prying...  The question is not: is it true?  But: does it work?  What new thought does it make possible to think?  What new emotions does it make it possible to feel?  What's new sensations and perceptions does it open in the body?  (xv).

Deleuze uses the term "toolbox" in his dialogue with Foucault, Intellectuals and Power.  The context might be important to understand what the concepts as tools might be aimed at actually doing.  Deleuze and Foucault are discussing revolutionary theory and politics and their connection, and the issue is how concepts might go over into political practice.  Foucault says that the role of his theory is not to awaken consciousness, but 'to sap power, to take power…  A "theory" is the regional system of [political] struggle'.  It is this remark that actually produces Deleuze on the toolbox in response. The term 'tool' means that theory cannot be subordinated to some master signifier (like those found in Marxism).  In a remark which relates to the pragmatic reading below, he cites Proust as saying that readers should treat his book as a pair of glasses, and 'if they don't suit you find another player; I leave it to you to find your own instrument'.  However, the sentence concludes by saying that this instrument 'is necessarily an investment for combat'.  He goes on to say that we should not see theory as a new total explanation directly guiding political struggle, but rather that theory can be subversive if it multiplies and 'can erupt in a totally different area'.  This helps in particular to oppose the capitalist project to unify the 'forms of repression': this includes enrolling professionals 'to exercise functions that have traditionally belonged to the police'. Some examples of Foucault's concepts being used in practice are discussed, such as those involved in the formation of the Prisoners Information Group which lobbied for prisoner rights.  Deleuze can actually offer fewer specific examples, although he supports the politics of 'groupuscules', each of which would be agitating for greater freedom. Children are mentioned several times as potential groupuscules.   While we are here the sort of politics D&G were interested in is also hinted at in ATP, rather obscurely, in a footnote at the end of Chapter 13

Massumi (1992) goes on to add:   ‘A concept is a brick.  It can be used to build the courthouse of reason.  Or it can be thrown through the window.’ (5). However, it seems a Deleuzian would then philosophise about this act as follows: ‘What is the subject of the brick?  The arm that throws it?  The body connected to the arm?  The brain…  The situation that brought the brain and body to such a juncture?  All and none of the above. What is its object?  The window?  Edifice?  The laws the edifice shelters?  The class and other power relations encrusted in the laws?  All and none of the above’.

Discussing these statements, if we stop with the first  sentence of Massumi's Foreword, we can get the impression that literally anything goes, any project can be pursued, any kind of reading of D&G is permitted, that only the reader can decide  if it 'works'.  There is already a qualification following on soon afterwards,though, in that we are supposed to think new thoughts and feel new emotions, encounter new sensations and perceptions.  Quite a lot might turn on what is meant by this term 'new'. If it means anything that does not reproduce conventional thought, we have quite a serious restriction on what we can use the toolbox for: we are not permitted to use it to prop up thoughts, emotions, sensations and perceptions that have already been thoroughly criticized by Deleuze and Guattari.  Who would expect anything else -- that we can ignore the work and blithely think our own thoughts?  The extract from Massumi's book also rapidly goes on to suggest rather definite directions about what should happen once we have used the concept is a brick - we have to philosophize, and, specifically, to ask deleuzian questions.  It could be argued that that is always the outcome of D&G's provocations - to make us philosophize in the directions they have already sketched.
Deleuze describes his own personally costly philosophical path away from conventional thinking in chapter three of Deleuze (2004)... it is hardly credible that he would want someone to use his concepts to return to and strengthen that same conventional thinking, that he would accept that as a legitimate use of these concepts so that all his scholarship and isolation would be in vain.

Pragmatic readings

 The same might be said for a 'pragmatic approach', which you can sometimes see discussed   If people think that this means a common sense approach, or one that is guided by professional or lay opinions, perceptions and ethics, they might be surprised to read that Deleuze, and Deleuze and Guattari, have serious criticisms about 'common sense' and the slightly more formalized 'good sense' of scientists or professionals (especially in Deleuze 1990). Chaos is threatening to us, and the normal way is to stick to fixed opinions, joined by  flimsy ‘protective rules—resemblance, contiguity, causality’ (D&G 1994:201). However,  ‘the misfortune of people comes from opinion’ (206).

 More directly, D&G use the term 'pragmatic' in specific contexts, even  in ATP. We find a technical use for the term in the discussion of linguistic systems, for example: 'There is no language in itself' [that is, no abstract model existing independently of pragmatic uses of language, enunciations].  We're also told that 'There exist tree or root structures in rhizomes; conversely, a tree branch or root division may begin to burgeon into a rhizome.  The coordinates are determined not by theoretical analyses implying universals but by a pragmatics composing multiplicities or aggregate of intensities' (16). Later, 'RHIZOMATICS = SCHIZOANALYSIS= STRATOANALYSIS= PRAGMATICS=MICROPOLITICS' (24).  Again, this is clearly not a licence for us to use any concept from any systems that occur to us, and combine them with concepts from D and G to build some structure of our own; deleuzian pragmatics is clearly linked to the other terms in the equation,and to philosophical argument opposing the grand theories.

Philosophy has certainly had lots of rivals, especially sociology, but this arises from the false pursuit of universals, which clearly run the risk of being turned into the world views of different people.  Psychoanalysis was another rival.  Finally, among the other ‘insolent and calamitous rivals’ came computer science marketing and other ‘disciplines of communication’, all claiming to be able to invent concepts and have ideas (D&G 1994: 10).

Take it or leave it readings

There is also a quote from Deleuze (1990) himself in response that can be seen as expressing indifference  towards how his work is read -- his reply 'to a harsh critic'.  This particular response is cited in an article by St Pierre to justify personal and relativist readings, and that quote occurred in Rhizo15. Context seems important again here. The quote is preceded by arguing that the critic is suffering from ressentiment when accusing Deleuze of aspiring to be an academic celebrity, with Anti Oedipus.  The critic is accused in turn of being a typical carping left winger, always accusing people. Then the famous quote

There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers [ that is, try to explain the book in terms of some privileged language like marxism] ...And you annotate and interpret and question and write a book about the book [like the critic did] ... Or there’s another way: you see the book as a little non signifying machine [ that is, read it in its own terms], and the only question is “Does it work, and how does it work?” How does it work for you?  If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book’ (8). 

I think the context here suggests that Deleuze is dismissing criticism in a rather off-hand but strangely hurt manner (he also seems to have been upset about some remarks by the critic about his long fingernails). He is claiming to have written something really original that cannot be transcribed into any other approach.  And, basically, he is saying -- if you don't like it, do one, mate. This fits with his view that discussion with others is tiresome (discussed later) .

Fascist or liberal readings

Deleuze and Guattari are clearly not prepared to admit that any sort of reading can be made from their work
. They would not be at all happy with a fascist reading, for example. We can cite Foucault's introduction to AntiOedipus (AO)  here in support of ruling out such a reading: D&G are pursuing a particular style deliberately to rule out being dealt with in the usual academic way, being summarized, digested, turned into bullet points and so on. Calling this a 'fascist' approach is a bit strong, but the accusation from the harsh critic that D&G would become a philosophical school, to be processed by an HEI clearly worried our hero.  This worry would clearly follow from all the material D&G write, opposing the tendency for strata to form in assemblages, for striations to start dividing up smooth spaces, for the state to 'capture' various kinds of thought systems and so on.  Deleuze knows full well that the school system is becoming dominated by business and that we are heading towards a new form of societal control.  It would probably take a Baudrillard, however, to follow that implication and argue that the education system can offer at best a simulacrum of Deleuze and Guattari. 

Finally, in an interview with Guattari by Stivale in 1985, the following exchange took place:

Stivale:  ...schizoanalysis is a thought without any ideological specificity, if you will; that is, either the left
    or the right can make use of it. It's this question of the tool box: a little earlier, when I questioned you about the use of
    schizoanalysis, you said, yes, in the end, I continue to work, and what people do with schizoanalysis doesn't interest me,
    they can take it or leave it, but I'm busy with our work. That's all well and good, but here is French neo-liberalism, a rightist
    intellectual using it [he shows Guattari an article]. Still again, that may not matter at all to you...

Guattari: Oh, not at all because what does it mean to attach a name like that, to hook our names onto it as a reference? Is it true, does it correspond to anything?...
on the level of thought, it's not at all clear. Let's take a very simple example, the example of schools: I'm for free schools, not free schools run by priests, but I'm for the liberation of schools, I'm in favor of dismantling national education, etc.
So, is this a theme of the right or the left?

What we seem to have here is, first, surprise that liberals would want to read the work, then disbelief that anyone could think D&G were liberals, then lofty indifference, then an account of how conventional categories get it wrong and will never be able to label D&G adequately. There is no support for a liberal reading.

However, I have recently come across an interesting argument by Dyal that D&G do share a lot with New Right readings nonetheless, especially in their critique of Enlightnment thinking and modernity. You can't keep a good right-wing reading down!

Selective readings

I think this sort of remark also illustrates the difficulties of another popular reading of Deleuze and Guattari, which is to extract a sentence or two to admire. This is quite understandable as a reaction from busy people who do not have the interest or the stamina to penetrate the bizarre language of our heroes, especially if they are professionally obliged to get something out of it all.  Again this figured in Rhizo 15 from a participant who argued that we did not have to simply opt for or against Deleuze and Guattari, but could like some aspects of their work, maybe even one sentence.
We might be able to assume from this that Deleuze and Guattari would also resist being summarized in the form of a few quotes which then lead on to more conventional analyses. The dangers of isolating particular sentences for comment is discussed in the section below.

One problem for me is that D and D&G do actually say things that do not fit together, so selectively quoting can give a misleading impression . One thing I noticed while reading through was the constant vacillation about political action, for example. D and D&G are alternately pessimistic and optimistic about the chances of breaking capitalism. The chapters in ATP show this well -- we are urged to deterritorialize, explore lines of flight, become nomads and other things -- and then promptly warned of the terrible dangers if we do (alcoholism, drug dependency, insanity, isolation, subjective black holes and so on.  Chapter 13 offers a variant in that most of it is thoroughly pessimistic about how capitalism and its State capture almost every creative alternative -- but then we are urged to fight nonetheless. You could selectively quote to support either cultural revolution or cultural conservatism.

Perhaps the most relevant issue is what they say about childhood, however. Some quotes seem to support the notion of the child as a naturally creative person, cruelly repressed by psychoanalysts, educators or the State. Little Hans, a lad who was diagnosed indirectly by Freud and his father constantly appears as a hero cruelly forced back into the terms  of psychoanalysis and the Oedipus complex. The same goes for Little Richard, Klein's patient. It should be said immediately that D&G have only the records of Freud and Klein to go on. In Freud's case, these are notes based on what Han's father told him -- notes on notes. D&G add notes to those notes, but you would never think so from the confident tone of their discussion:  In ATP Chapter 1, we find, for example:

Look at what happened to Little Hans already, an example of child psychoanalysis at its purest: they kept on BREAKING HIS RHIZOME and BLOTCHING HIS MAP....In the case of Little Hans,studying the unconscious would be to show how he tries to build a rhizome, with the family house but also with the line of flight of the building, the street, etc., how these lines are blocked, how the child is made to take root in the family...how then Professor Freud's intervention assures a power takeover by the signifier, a subjectification of affects; how the only escape route left to the child is ... a becoming-animal [but this is] perceived as shameful and guilty (the becoming-horse of Little Hans, truly a political option)’ (16).

.. look what Melanie Klein did to Little Richard's geopolitical maps: she developed photos from them, made tracings of them...one way or the other your rhizome will be broken

Later, our heroes ask...'
whether Little Hans can endow his own elements with the relations of movement and rest, the affects, that would make it become horse, forms and subjects aside.Is there an as yet unknown assemblage that would be neither Hans’ nor the horse’s but that of the becoming–horse for Hans? An assemblage, for example, in which the horse would bare its teeth and Hans might show something else, his feet, his legs, his peepee maker, whatever? And in what way would that ameliorate Hans’ problem, to what extent would it open a way out that had been previously blocked?...When Hans talks about a "pee-pee maker" he is referring not to an organ or anorganic function but basically to a material.(284--5)

Deleuze (1997): Chapter 9 is on children and what they say, and again, Little Hans and Little Richard are the only examples.  These kids are forced to speak for children in general. D&G criticize Freud and Klein for making them into puppets expressing their own hang-ups, but D&G do exactly the same thing. Instead of being victims of Oedipal structures, they are now permitted a stage only as spokespersons for rhizomatic mapping and becoming.

More generally on children:

in ATP chapter 1 we find that:
Childish gestures and play can extricate kids from tracings, like that 'dominant competence of the teacher's language - a microscopic event upsets the local balance of power'.(17)

 In ch 4

We find reference to a  form of creativity 'confined to poets, children, and lunatics' (110)

Ch 10 argues that

‘Of course, the child, the woman, the black have memories; but the Memory that collects those memories is still a virile majoritarian agency treating them as “childhood memories”, as conjugal or colonial memories.’ (323)

 Ch 11 urges us to find
'the trace of creation in the created', immanent movement to explain the different aspects apparent in the world.  This requires a 'childish' approach ( 372)


In Ch 9 

We reproduce microfascism, for example when 'the mother feels obliged to titillate to a child, the father becomes a mommy' (252) [a warning against the dangers of 'supples egmentation']

In Ch 11 there is an ambiguity in

'the modern valorization of children's drawings, texts by the mad, and concerts of noise'.  They can be overdone and we end up 'reproducing nothing but a scribble effacing all lines, a scramble effacing all sounds', and this can prevent 'any event from happening.  All one has left is a resonance chamber well on the way to forming a black hole...'People often have too much of a tendency to reterritorialize on the child, the mad, noise'. ...'Sobriety, sobriety: that is the common prerequisite for the deterritorialization of matters, the molecularization of material, and the cosmicization of forces.  Maybe a child can do that.  But the sobriety involved is the sobriety of a becoming - child, that is not necessarily the becoming of the child, quite the contrary' (380), ...For there is no imagination outside of technique.  The modern figure is not the child or the lunatic, still less the artist, but the cosmic artisan' (381). Nevertheless, by page 386, 'the child has wings already, he becomes celestial' 

Some of these points will occur again when we discuss creativity in a later section

While we are here, try these:

‘A child never confines himself to playing house, to playing only at being daddy-and-mommy. He also plays at being a magician, a cowboy, a cop or a robber, a train, a little car. The problem has to do not with the sexual nature of desiring machines, but with the family nature of this sexuality’ ( Deleuze and Guattari 1984: 46)
'True pedagogical rectification consists in subordinating human relations to the relation of human beings to things' —as in the 'famous rule from Emile which demands only muscle: Never bring things to the child, bring the child to the things'.  This will avoid 'the [usual] infantile situation that gives him a stake in being mean'. (Deleuze 2004: 55)
‘it is hardly acceptable…  to run together a child’s nursery rhymes, poetic experimentations, and experiences of madness…  [And] justify the grotesque trinity of child, poet, and madmen’ (Deleuze 1990 :82-83. 
'we should take him quite literally when Godard says children are political prisoners' (Deleuze 1995: 41).
...small children have singularities without individuality, 'a smile, a gesture, a funny face' and are 'infused with an immanent life'.  (Deleuze 2005: 30)

Metaphorical readings

it is common again for people to insist that D&G's work should not be read in the same way as normal academic materials, and the Introductory sections to both AO and ATP make that clear. Deleuze 1990 is also written unconventionally as a sequence of  'series' rather than in chapters, and ATP is written as a series of plateaus. That whole book is described as a rhizome: 'We are writing this book as a rhizome', in a circular form 'but only for laughs'.(ATP cvh 1 24) The style is also called 'delirious' (a style permitting wanderings and digressions,  'off the point'  something like a flow of consciousnesss)  Both D&G clearly wanted to break away from conventional academic writing, partly to make their work more popular. They also cheerfully incorporate all sort of nonacacdemic (but not exactly popular) writing into their work, with extensive quotes from Henry Miller, Carlos Castenada, Antonin Artaud,and even HP Lovecraft I have suggested that in doing so, they actually unconsciously reproduced many of the features of a classic academic habitus described well by Bourdieu, widely held in French elite academic circles at the time. I once summarized the characteristics as:

Academic languages dealt in a ‘second order language of allusions and cultural complicities’ (Sociology Research Group, 1980: 46). This is seen as ‘second nature to intelligent and gifted individuals’, leading to seemingly ‘natural’ divisions among students. However, ‘academic judgments…in reality consecrate cultural privilege’ (Sociology Research Group, 1980: 46). There is, however, ‘a fiction that there is no misunderstanding’ (Bourdieu, Passeron and Saint Martin, 1994: 13).... There are also ‘verbal acrobatics, hermetic allusion, disconcerting references, or peremptory obscurity…  technical tricks...  such as the concealment of sources, the insertion of studied jokes…  the avoidance of compromising formulations [which might prove to be wrong]’

My favourite allusion, one that defeated just about everyone that tried to track it is this reference to : 'the glimmer of girls in a monologue by Charlus'( ATP 88) . Like an idiot, I thought this referred to De Charlus  a major character in Proust, but no-one could find any reference to glimmering, and De C wasn't into girls anyway. Latest thoughts are that Charlus was a French music hall performer -- so was it worth following the allusion or not?

This 'allusive' quality, can appear in forms that look poetic or metaphorical, with Freud's analyses described as trying to  'project [Little Hans's efforts]  back on to the family photo', or referring to Kant (or possibly Spinoza) as the 'Prince of the North' . There is also, as Foucault insisted, some humour, and I particularly like the more scabrous examples : at the end of the section on despotism and scapegoating in ATP we find, for example, 'the goat's anus stands opposite the face of the despot or god' (129). Other humorous bits are more allusive -- Derrida in his online lectures (on You Tube) finds a lot of hilarity in remarks made about dogs (for example in Ch. 10 of ATP) which are aimed at Freud and Lacan who owned dogs. Derrida also says that unless you understand Schelling, you won’t get the accompanying remarks about the apparently untranslateble term  la bêtise – and Schelling  isn’t even referenced anywhere in Thousand Plateaus.

More obvious metaphors actually abound in D&G of course -- rhizomes, trees, rivers, geological features, music etc. My favourite is another scabrous one -- 
‘God is a lobster’ (45). These examples also show that metaphors often come after a passage which uses more conventional language, as a kind of witty summary. However, there are important reservations about using metaphor for more serious explanatory purposes  -- it is a flawed philosophical technique to manage difference (Deleuze 2004),and instead we need to find (virtual) continuities beneath (empirical) differences, the proper relations between heterogeneous objects.

We are also told  that some sentences are definitely not to be read metaphorically. Taking  ATP again: 

On the plane of consistency, semiotic components of all kinds are found, chemical, electronic, genetic and so on, and some systems emerged like wasps and orchids.  We should not consider these elements as metaphoric, because 'all that consists is Real' (77) 
Language actually moves from one saying to another.  Narrative transmits 'what one has heard, what someone else said to you.  Hearsay' (85).  This means that indirect discourse is the basis of language, with metaphors and metonyms as mere effects, presupposing indirect discourse.
Interpretance (a technique to extend dominant codings)  is the corresponding apparatus of making sense in the paradigmatic dimension, working with leaps across systems of meaning in the form of metaphor, for example (127) .

Above all, in the key chapter on becoming (Chapter 10)

Scherer and Hocquenghem made this essential point in their reconsideration of the problem of wolf-children. Of course, it is not a question of a real production, as if the child "really" became an animal; nor is it a question of a resemblance, as if the child imitated animals that really raised it; nor is it a question of a symbolic metaphor, as if the autistic child that was abandoned or lost merely became the "analogue" of an animal. Scherer and Hocquenghem are right to expose this false reasoning, which is based on a culturalism or moralism upholding the irreducibility of the human order: Because the child has not been transformed into an animal, it must only have a metaphorical  relation to it, induced by the child’s illness or rejection ( 301)
My teeth have adapted; in fact, when I don’t eat glass or iron, my jaw aches like a young dog’s that craves to chew a bone. If we interpret the word "like" as a metaphor, or propose a structural analogy of relations (man-iron : dog-bone), we understand nothing of becoming, The word ”like" is one of those words that change  drastically in meaning and function when they are used in connection with haecceities, when they are made into expressions of becomings instead of signified states or signifying relations.  (302-3)
The conventional image operates with a dualism between true thinking from magical capture, and foundationalism, and 'a republic of free spirits...a legislative and juridical organization'(413).  The two are interrelated and necessary to one another, but this also allows for something happening between them, something outside the conventional model.  We are not operating with metaphors here - the imperium of truth and a republic of spirits are necessary components, and form a kind of interiority as a stratum.
Mumford is cited to support the view that machinism is to be taken literally not just metaphorically.  (504)

Poetic readings

Some members of Rhizo15, including Cormier, suggested we can read the work as a series of stories or as poetry, a collection of imaginative imagery or whatever. I have encountered a particular variant of this approach in some face-to-face discussions too. These insisted that we confine our collective readings and discussion to the 'actual text', usually a selected excerpt with all the problems of selectivity mentioned  already. An additional problem was also apparent, to me at least:  what was the original text? The original French? The prepublication versions (assuming the published version was copy-edited, which might not be true at all)? The notes Guattari sent to Deleuze? None of these objections seemed problematic, and it was almost petty and pedantic to raise them. Any discussion of context was also seen as somehow less important. No general themes found across the work were raised for discussion.
We focused exclusively on the 'original' excerpt we had in front of us

Discussion then seemed to turn on issues like whether we 'liked' or approved any particular words or sentences in the excerpt. Sometimes this turned on 'recognizing' similarities between the  words and sentences and those of other approved readings. Subjective meanings were attached to those words or sentences -- they reminded us of things we liked or disliked. Emotional reactions were accepted or actually encouraged - the text evidently 'spoke to' the feelings of some of those present, including supporting our preferred political positions. We felt D&G were somehow on the right side, supporting identity politics or 'progressive' teaching, even if those words did not actually appear in the 'actual text'. 
In practice, poetic readings rapidly turned into personal ones with all the problem mentioned earlier --disagreeing or challenging is seen as personal attack.However, poetic readings can be topped by even more poetic or personal ones,leading to some sort of infinite regress towards the personal,moving further and further away from D&G and their work, and focusing more and more on ours.
This can be engaging and it can build a sense of community among participants, but it is also flawed as a technique if personal meanings serve to close down any quite different meanings on offer. I have suggested several bits of D&G that are probably quite unconventional and it is easy to interpret those as conventional after all, as in the rhizome meaning only the sort of underground root we all know and love from our gardening.

In my view, grasping what D&G might have meant is more important. I have some more examples here

Instrumental readings

My guess is that most students nudged or forced into reading D&G will respond with one of these.  Bourdieu and his associates do not discuss D&G ,but in general they note that some srtudents admire professorial rhetoric and even think that they are getting 'the real thing'. However, they cope,especially in assignments with:

‘manipulation of the finite bunch of semantic atoms, chains of mechanically linked words... a discourse of an allusion and ellipsis... ‘magic to exorcise error...Prophylactic relativism [when nothing is ever true or false, everyone has their own opinions and so on]’ ’ ( Bourdieu et al 1994).

‘ rhetoric of despair... dualization or... resigned submission to exclusion...‘an impression of familiarity...emulating professorial rhetoric…  False generalities…  Prudent approximations of the “not even wrong”... echolalia’... (Sociology Research Group in Cultural and Education Studies 1980)  

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