- Deleuze and Futurism: A Manifesto for Nonsense by Helen Palmer
Books on Deleuze and literature tend to fall into one of two camps: exegetical works on his own contributions to literary theory or applications of Deleuzian concepts to individual authors or groups of authors. Works such as these are important and necessary, but if we are ever going to be able to practice a Deleuzian literary criticism it behooves us to move beyond exegesis and application towards a consideration of poetics and form.
Deleuze (alone and in collaboration with Guattari) has furnished critical theory with a potent set of images—the nomad, the rhizome, the schizo versus the paranoiac, the body without organs, to name only the most well known. Ironically, however, it has been the very poetry of these concepts that has hindered the development of a Deleuzian criticism of the analytical scope of Derridean deconstruction or Foucauldian discourse analysis. Whether a Deleuzian critical practice is tenable will depend on our ability to resist the coruscating conceptual surfaces of Deleuze’s writings on such authors as Artaud, Kafka, Beckett, Proust, and Melville in order to unearth their analytical foundations.
Helen Palmer’s book attempts just this and is thus a very welcome addition to Deleuze studies. Her volume, subtitled ‘A Manifesto for Nonsense,’ is not really a manifesto at all but a fascinating effort to unearth a Deleuzian formalism through a reading of Deleuze’s (mainly sole authored) philosophical works in the light of Russian and Italian literary futurism specifically and the early twentieth century avant-garde more generally. Palmer considers futurism, with its emphasis on speed and movement, to be emblematic of the avant-garde’s obsession with the new. The manifesto is the formal manifestation of immediacy, of the ‘now’ of the flashing present. But the present eludes our grasp, and fate of the manifesto is to suffer a historicization as soon it appears. Its manifestation is its exhaustion, and this is precisely the tragedy of the avant-garde:
The ‘now’ expressed in any manifesto is problematic as soon as we begin to unpick its contextual particularities. … The ‘now’ of its creation is different from the ‘now’ of publication, dissemination, and every single ‘now’ of reading or performance that happens thereafter. … The manifesto suffers from instantaneous historicization.(77-8)
If futurism is singled out here, it is because ‘the futurist writer is often aware of this, and manipulates it for creative ends’ (78). Futurism is synecdochic of the avantgarde as a whole because it pushes the formal impasses of the new to their furthest extent in an attempt to dissolve them. This proceeds differently in futurism’s Italian and Russian variants, the former being more concerned with physical dynamisms and actual violence while the latter pursues a metaphysics more similar to Deleuze’s own. [End Page 533]
Deleuze himself rarely mentioned the futurists—although Marinetti’s disciples feature in the audience for Prof. Challenger’s lecture in ‘The Geology of Morals’—but Palmer insists that the formal problems they engaged with have many overlaps with Deleuze’s major philosophical concerns. Deleuze’s philosophy’s main claim is that difference is primary to, rather than derivative of, identities. To say that two things differ from one another is to derive difference from similarity, but Deleuze’s project involves inverting this view in order to see the world on the basis of a primary power of self-differentiating matter.
This way of seeing the world uproots tradition and puts ‘shock’ at the heart of semiotics. As for Henri Bergson, for Deleuze phenomena shock us into an encounter with the world. Deleuze attacks the framework of ‘representation’ as a means of putting distance between us and the encounter and insulating us from the shock of the outside. This is why he has generally been characterized as bucking the linguistic turn suffusing the intellectual milieu in which he emerged. Language features as a philosophical problem for Deleuze precisely because his philosophy is one that seeks the immediacy of matter in its becoming. This informs his approach to literature: modernist literary texts such...