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Reviewed by:
  • Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974
  • Eugene Thacker
Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974 by Gilles Deleuze. David Lapoujade, ed. Michael Taormina, trans. Semiotext(e), distributed by MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, U.S.A., 2003. 328 pp., illus. Paper. ISBN: 1-584-35018-0.

Desert Islands is, at first glance, a collection of essays, reviews, interviews and miscellany from the early to the middle part of Deleuze's career. Arranged chronologically, the texts include philosophical investigations of Hume, Nietzsche and Bergson, literary reflections (on Rousseau, Jarry and crime novels) and engagements with contemporaries (such as Simondon, Guattari and Foucault). Stopping just after the publication of Anti-Oedipus, the collection contains mostly previously untranslated material.

So then, what does one gain from a collection of miscellany, after the dense, thick tomes of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense? What more can one know about Deleuze's philosophy by reading book reviews, interviews and fragments? In one sense, nothing. A reader looking for insights into Anti-Oedipus or other books will be disappointed here. But, at the same time, Deleuze's writing always attempts to de-totalize itself, to insistently and energetically open itself to still other concepts. From this perspective, Desert Islands is actually quite significant, and much more than a collection of previously untranslated texts. Desert Islands does not contain any neat summaries of Deleuze's major concepts; it does, however, "capture" something of Deleuze's thought: the fleeting, itinerant and errant quality of the concept. In this sense Desert Islands does for Deleuze's work what Dits et Écrits has done for Foucault, and indeed what the whole of Blanchot's work expresses. Desert Islands is not a "themed" collection, or an attempt to gather into a new book—a sort of meta-book—those utterances that have escaped. Rather, it is an attempt to do something extremely difficult: to let the errant quality of thought express itself in something as inclusive and enclosed as a book. Blanchot and Jabès, among others, have noted the tensions inherent in the concept of the "book": it is at once a proliferation of thought and at the same time that which always encloses, expands, encircles. Arguably, Deleuze's thought operates in a similar manner, deterritorializing at the same time that it constructs concepts.

This, of course, makes writing a review somewhat pointless, since one of the tasks of the reviewer is to thematize, summarize or otherwise represent the work in a way that makes obvious its inherent organization or relevance. This ends up taking Desert Islands as a sort of secondary text, a text whose sole function is to be read by the "experienced" Deleuzian scholar or student. Instead, Desert Islands would be better [End Page 258] served by a highly idiosyncratic selection of quotes:

"Geographers say there are two kinds of islands . . . .Continental islands are accidental, derived islands. They are separated from a continent . . . . Oceanic islands are originary, essential islands. Some are formed from coral reefs . . . others emerge from underwater eruptions . . . . These two islands, continental and originary, reveal a profound opposition between ocean and island" (p. 9). "Dreaming of islands . . . is dreaming of pulling away, or being already separate, far from any continent, of being lost and alone—or it is dreaming of starting from scratch, recreating, beginning anew" (p. 10). "Hence the fundamental list of the senses of the word planetary: global, itinerant, errancy, planning, platitude, gears and wheels" (p. 75). "Who speaks and who acts? It's always a multiplicity, even in the person that speaks or acts. We are all groupuscules . . . there is only the action . . . in the relations of relays and networks" (p. 207). "If we look at today's situation, power necessarily has a global or total vision" (p. 210). "Imperial unity gave birth to philosophical discourse . . . . Philosophical discourse has always maintained an essential relation to the law, the institution, and the contract . . . traversing the ages of sedentary history from despotic formation to democracies" (p. 259). "Whoever reads Nietzsche without laughing, and laughing heartily and often and sometimes hysterically, is almost not reading Nietzsche at all" (p. 257). "An island doesn't stop being deserted simply because it is...


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