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Reviewed by:
  • Deleuze and Literature
  • Andrew Brown
Deleuze and Literature. Edited by Ian Buchanan and John Marks. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2000. vi + 288 pp. Pb £28.99.

‘It is so disgusting to judge’, Deleuze pointed out. ‘What expert judgement, in art, could ever bear on the work to come?’ (quoted on p. 3). Pour en finir avec le jugement humain? Not quite, but certainly to move away from traditional ‘criticism’ (let alone reviewing) towards a meditation on the use-value of the stuff commonly known as art. The contributors to this volume are suitably inspired by Deleuze’s attitude to literature (roughly: ‘So you want to make something of it?’). André Pierre Colombat sets the scene in an essay on ‘Deleuze and Signs’, which focuses on Spinoza (‘much closer to Byzantium than to the Baroque’, in one of Deleuze’s exhilaratingly gnomic pronouncements) and suggests why it should be in avowedly ‘clinical’ essays that Deleuze should have gathered his thoughts on literature. This idea is also explored by Gregg Lambert, who brings out the higher form of health promoted by writers who themselves are so often ‘ill’ (or hypochondriacal), and by Eugene W. Holland, who densely, and rather elliptically, ‘diagnoses’ the role of death in the novels of Nizan. Bruce Baugh funkily hops over to music, lyrically bringing out the ‘minoritarian’ force of James Brown’s 1965 classic ‘Papa’s got a brand new bag’. T. Hugh Crawford offers a sensitive (and again suitably clinical) examination of Paterson, by William Carlos Williams, MD. John [End Page 370] Marks teases out the ‘in-between’ spaces of DeLillo’s Underworld, while Claire Colebrook sets Deleuze’s irony against other forms (Socratic, Hegelian, Kierkegaardian). Kenneth Surin illuminates the reasons for which Deleuze categorizes his favourite literature (including Kleist and Kafka) as ‘Anglo-American’. In a highly imaginative piece Marlene Goldmann traces out a set of Deleuzian themes in the work of Canadian novelist Timothy Findley, who melds writing with theatre acting, becoming, and cross-dressing. Timothy S. Murphy uses Beckett to understand Deleuze (notably his ‘transcendental empiricism’), instead of vice versa (none of these essays merely ‘applies’ Deleuze to ‘literature’). Characteristically, too, almost every essay talks not just of literature but of other art forms as well, especially cinema (Antonioni and Carné shed light, both technical and thematic, on DeLillo, whose novel Underworld explicitly alludes to an imaginary film by Eisenstein called Unterwelt): literature simply cannot be viewed in isolation from other arts or other semiotic systems, and any ‘literary space’ is criss-crossed by other forces (the spacing of Carlos Williams’s poems is sometimes a symptom insisting from somewhere outside language, a lacuna produced by the pressure of another voice, a beautiful hesitation akin to Deleuze’s stutter). In the last essay Tom Conley wonders to what extent Deleuze’s own work is ‘literature’. This may be true, but probably less so of Deleuze’s essays on literature than of his larger-scale work with Guattari. The Franciscan epic Mille plateaux, with its cast of thousands (human and conceptual) and its panoramic affections, was the War and Peace of the twentieth century, possessing an almost Tolstoyan grandeur and humanity.

Andrew Brown


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