- Minor Writing and Minor Literature
What is the role of theory in a posttheoretical era? Or more specifically, what is the relevance of the Grand Theory of Poststructuralism for the set of analytic practices emergent in the last two decades that we might loosely label Cultural Studies? 1 The question is intriguing when considered in relation to the thought of Gilles Deleuze, whose philosophy is often regarded as poststructural, and whose concept of “minor literature” has been of some use to students of postcolonial, ethnic, minority and marginal literatures. As I hope to show, though Deleuze’s epistemology is anti-foundational, his views of language, matter and time put him at odds with much of poststructuralism, and though the concept of “minor literature” has been sympathetically received in cultural studies, the theoretical implications of the concept have not been generally recognized. It may be that Deleuze is simply an anomalous figure in French philosophy, but it is also possible that the movement from poststructural theorization to its application in cultural studies is less certain than might at first appear.
There can be no doubt that Deleuze likes “grand theories” and that he builds abstract systems with a kind of profligate abandon—Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus, and What Is Philosophy? would perhaps be the most striking examples of this aspect of his work. Is he a [End Page 99] poststructuralist? In many ways, yes. 2 His epistemology is certainly anti-foundational, as one can see from this 1985 interview:
This idea that truth isn’t something already out there we have to discover, but has to be created in every domain, is obvious in the sciences, for instance. Even in physics, there’s no truth that doesn’t presuppose a system of symbols, be they only coordinates. There’s no truth that doesn’t ‘falsify’ established ideas. To say that ‘truth is created’ implies that the production of truth involves a series of operations that amount to working on a material—strictly speaking, a series of falsifications.(N 126)
A book of philosophy, he says in Difference and Repetition, “should be in part a very particular species of detective novel, in part a kind of science fiction” (DR xx), a detective novel in that it “should intervene to resolve local situations” (DR xx), and a work of science fiction in that it should experiment on the real through an invention of concepts “at the frontiers of our knowledge, at the border which separates our knowledge from our ignorance and transforms the one into the other” (DR xxi). He describes his work with Guattari in Anti-Oedipus as that of a functionalist, for whom the question of meaning is irrelevant:
We’re strict functionalists: what we’re interested in is how something works, functions—finding the machine. But the signifier’s still stuck in the question ‘What does it mean?’—indeed it’s this very question in a blocked form. But for us, the unconscious doesn’t mean anything, nor does language.(N 21–22) 3
Deleuze also characterizes his thought as a form of constructionism, which he opposes to the reflective activity of traditional philosophy:
What for me takes the place of reflection is constructionism . . . . Creating concepts is constructing some area in the plane, adding a new area to existing ones, exploring a new area, filling in what’s missing. Concepts are composites, amalgams of lines, curves. If new concepts have to be brought in all the time, it’s just because the [End Page 100] plane of immanence has to be constructed area by area, constructed locally, going from one point to the next.(N 147)
If one exercises the term with some caution, one might call his thought “aesthetic,” and thereby ally him with the artist-metaphysicians whom Megill studies in Prophets of Extremity—Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida. Besides stressing truth as creation, Deleuze argues for example that what is important in philosophy is not whether a statement is right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate, but whether it is relevant, interesting and new:
But what someone says is never wrong, the problem isn’t that some...