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Deleuze and his sources: Response to Anneleen Masschelein


Anneleen Masschelein puzzles very fruitfully over the nature of the relation between Deleuze and D. H. Lawrence. As she points out, Deleuze is simultaneously a close, careful, and knowledgeable reader of Lawrence, as well as a highly selective, subtly distorting, and even negligent reader of Lawrence. He not only ignores the great novels, he also ignores Lawrence’s ‘misogynistic attacks on modern women’ and his ‘peculiar ideas on the education of children’ (Masschelein). He favours instead the critical and psychological works such as Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Fantasia of the Unconscious, and the essays in the posthumous collection Phoenix. He makes occasional mention of minor novels like Aaron’s Rod and novellas such as The Plumed Serpent, but as Masschelein rightly observes these references are always of ambiguous intent and purpose. Deleuze simply extracts resonant catch-phrases, slogans, and tag-lines like ‘dirty little secret’ from Lawrence, rather than fully formed ideas. Masschelein’s critique of Deleuze’s treatment of Lawrence directs us to a question well beyond this specific case: that of his relation to his sources in general, be they literary, historical, philosophical or scientific. This issue extends to all of Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) concepts. I will take as my test case a concept which Masschelein describes as one of the

most notorious, namely the body without organs (BwO) which appears to have been inspired by literature (Artaud), philosophy (Spinoza), and science (Weismann). The BwO will, via a circuitous route through Artaud and Lewis Carroll, take us to Lawrence and Freud. Here I will state baldly what I think Masschelein suspects, that Lawrence provides Deleuze with a suitably anti-psychoanalytic rhetoric with which to disguise or at least estrange a profound engagement with Freud himself. Deleuze’s project has always been to lead psychoanalysis to

autocritique and thereby re-engineer it from the inside (Deleuze and Guattari 2004: 90, 128). Lawrence is essential to this project, which in Jameson’s terms is fundamentally modernist, because like the many great modernist artists Deleuze is inspired by, he conceives of a mental life that is richer and stranger than Freud’s ultimately normative conception. Deleuze explicitly links Lawrence and Artaud in the title of his essay on Lawrence, ‘ToHave Done with Judgement’, which borrows from Artaud. He also attributes to Lawrence an explicit role in making the BwO visible to us. ‘Lawrence paints the picture of such a body, with the sun and the moon as its poles, with its sections, and its plexuses’ (Deleuze 1997: 131).1 Lawrence’s characters also seemed to Deleuze to give life to the concept. ‘Lawrence ceaselessly describes bodies that are organically defective or unattractive – like the fat retired toreador or the skinny, oily Mexican general – but that are nonetheless traversed by this intense vitality that defies organs and undoes their organisation’ (Deleuze 1997: 131). But as evocative as these observations are, it is not immediately clear how they clarify the BwO in an analytic rather than descriptive sense. For this reason I want to foreground the problematic relation between Deleuze and his sources that Masschelein so usefully draws our attention to. While it might seem that we should simply return to the original sources and

read Artaud or Lawrence for ourselves, we are effectively barred from doing so by Deleuze and Guattari’s theorization of how philosophy works, as laid out in their final collaborative work, What is Philosophy? Their central implication is that ideas, concepts, and models drawn from other sources do not retain their original meaning once they are incorporated into another thinker’s work. Of course we can and should read Artaud and Lawrence for ourselves, but we can’t then treat their work as though it supplies a missing referent for Deleuze and Guattari’s work. This is made explicit in their discussion of the plane of immanence, which is effectively a ‘sense-regime’: it is the ‘atmosphere’ or ‘environment’, unique to each philosopher, in which a concept is able to function. Philosophers can co-exist on the same plane and therefore share concepts, but great philosophers – and is not Deleuze a great philosopher? – are defined by the originality of the planes of immanence they institute. The problem becomes more acute when we move outside of philosophy. Art doesn’t create a plane of immanence, it creates a plane of composition; science doesn’t create a plane of immanence either, it creates a plane of reference; thus any ‘concepts’ philosophy takes from these nonphilosophical sources undergo a radical transformation when they are brought into their new environment.2 If we cannot read Artaud or Lawrence as a referent, then how can we read them? My answer, drawn directly from Deleuze, is that we should read Deleuze’s sources as he does: clinically. That is, we should read them as symptomatologists, specifically of mental illnesses. The BwO is a symptom, that is its first and proper meaning, and this fact must guide us in our analyses of its subsequent permutations in Deleuze and Guattari’s work. It is no coincidence that the BwO, which Deleuze first used in The Logic of Sense

(1969), is one of the concepts which drew Guattari to Deleuze.3 He evidently saw something crucial to the understanding of schizophrenic experience in the

concept of the BwO that had been overlooked in both clinical and critical discourse. In their subsequent collaborative work, one senses that Guattari brought his clinical experience to bear to confirm Deleuze’s original critical insight.4 Two observations can substantiate this intuition: first, although the concept becomes more complicated in Deleuze and Guattari’s collaborative work, its meaning doesn’t change; second, in his 1975 entry on ‘Schizophrenia’ for the Encyclopaedia Universalis Deleuze treats the concept in a clinical fashion – that is to say, clinical more in Guattari’s therapeutic sense of the term than his own hermeneutic or literary sense. In their different ways, both pieces conform to the more general idea of the clinical Deleuze elaborated in his earlier work onMasoch, which proposed to bring the medical and the literary together in order to form a ‘new relationship of mutual learning’ (Deleuze 1989: 14). Read together, then, these two pieces make it clear that the BwO should be understood as a condition, something affecting the psychical apparatus rather than a constitutive feature of it. The fact that no psychical apparatus is considered free of its affects shouldn’t deter us from seeing the secondary nature of it. Indeed, if we do not take note of this we cannot grasp what is perhaps its most important trait, namely its uncanny ability to rise up and fall back on the operations of the unconscious, or what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as desiring-production, and make it seem that it is the true source of its productivity. Remarkably, the BwO’s debut in The Logic of Sense is basically unmarked,

appearing first in a mere parenthesis. In fact, at this point, it doesn’t even amount to a genuine concept; it is more the description of a symptom or condition. Although it will in due course become a fully fledged concept, it is important to keep sight of its pre-philosophical origins.5 My implication is that Deleuze doesn’t take the BwO from Artaud as a ready-made concept – it only becomes so in his own work. Therefore, one cannot use Artaud as a reference point if by that one means his work functions as its signified. The BwO crops up, as it were, in the midst of a comparative discussion of Carroll and Artaud. Deleuze’s question is this: is the nonsense of the one the same as the other? Are Carroll’s madeup words the same as Artaud’s breath-words (mots-souffle) and howl-words (mots-cris)? Deleuze thinks not. ‘A little girl may sing “Pimpanicaille”; an artist may write “frumious”; and a schizophrenic may utter “perspendicace”. But we have no reason to believe that the problem is the same in all these cases and the results roughly analogous’ (Deleuze 1990: 83). The works of these three subjects are not organized in the same way: their sense-regime is different in each case. Artaud’s attempt at translating Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ is an indicative case in point. At first, Deleuze says, we have the impression that Artaud’s translation conforms with the rules of translation espoused and adhered to by Carroll’s other French translators.