- Difference, bodies, desireThe collaborative thought of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari
The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. We have made use of everything that came within range, what was closest as well as farthest away. We have assigned clever pseudonyms to prevent recognition. Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. Also because it is nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everyone knows it's only a manner of speaking. To reach not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is of no importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. Each will know his own. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (3).
With these bold assertions, Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) and Félix Guattari (1930–92) prepare their launch into high conceptual orbit in the opening paragraphs of A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1980). As with their other collaborations, including Anti-Oedipus (1972) and What Is Philosophy? (1991), they consume most everything in their path – the western philosophical canon being no exception – in the generation of novel concepts. As poststructuralist thinkers writing in the heady days leading up to and following the political disruptions of 1968, it is no surprise that Deleuze and Guattari set out to challenge what they felt to be the restrictive orthodoxies of traditional philosophical procedure, including the emphases on identity and similitude. In consonance with their notion of 'minor literature', generated in their book Kafka (1975), Deleuze and Guattari seek the 'minorization' of philosophy: 'Is there hope for philosophy, which for a long time has been an official, referential genre?' (27).
The epigraph draws our attention to Deleuze and Guattari's rejection of normative notions of bounded identity and subjectivity in favour of something more expansive, multiple and, ultimately, more playful. In their thinking around subjectivity, identity and individuation, Deleuze and Guattari turn away from the possible – that which on some level has already been conceived, such as the normative bourgeois individual subject or any other self-contained object of scrutiny – towards that which resonates with unexpected potential. [End Page 93] Their tone of almost blithe indifference in the face of dogma should not lead us to assume, however, that their dismissal of more conventional philosophical concepts is in any way simplistic, inconsequential or easily ignored. On the contrary, their collaboration is subtended by some of Deleuze's early work in texts such as Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), Bergsonism (1966), Expressionism and Philosophy (1968) and Difference and Repetition (1968). His project in these texts builds on the existence of an occluded tradition of thought within western philosophy – one that privileges difference over identity – thus permitting the tone of assurance that underpins the later collaborations with Guattari.
In the same way that Deleuze and Guattari understand themselves to be 'multiplied', this overview must begin with the acknowledgment that a variety of emphases can be traced in their overall project depending on the orientation of one's investigation. That said, for sf theorists interested in the construction, manifestation and visioning of different notions of identity and subjectivity – with applications to cyborgism, emergence of future species and supra-individual forms of identity, amongst other things – a thorough introduction to the roots of the logic of difference in Deleuze's early philosophical texts, especially how these notions inform renewed configurations of difference and association in the later 'applied' collaborative texts, is useful. Additionally, some sense of how these concepts interact with Deleuze's thinking on the cinema can elucidate the media through which much sf is consumed.
Deleuze's project of difference is based on his understanding that much of the history of philosophy is anchored by a 'transcendental illusion' (Difference 334) that systematically subordinates difference to identity, largely via representation. Deleuze understands this transcendental movement of thought to not simply be a contingency of one particular strain of philosophical inquiry, but...