Monday, February 20, 2006

Deleuze: The new Lacan?

Last week, the review section of The Chronicle of Higher Education contained an intriguing piece by Krin Gabbard entitled, "Cinema and Media Studies: Snapshot of an 'Emerging' Discipline." He just came off a stint as program chair of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS), which is the major professional organization representing scholars in those fields. The piece makes a pitch for the Council of Learned Societies' formally recognizing media studies as a discipline. Even more intriguing to me, however, was his discussion of trends he saw in programming for the upcoming SCMS convention. He had this to say:
The work of [Laura] Mulvey and those who extended her theories on the gender politics of representation is hardly forgotten, but it is no longer front and center. Indeed, Mulvey's name is nowhere to be seen in the stack of proposals for the 2006 conference. And I found only one mention of Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst who was a major influence on Mulvey. . . . Lacan is no longer a central figure. Even Slavoj Zizek, the flamboyant theorist who revived Lacan in the 1990s, is absent from the proposals. The one theorist who pops up repeatedly in the proposals is Gilles Deleuze, another Frenchman, but one with little patience for the old therapeutically based models of psychoanalysis and cultural politics.

I was at once thrilled and saddened to read these words. When I taught my graduate seminar, "The Problem of the Media in Deleuze and Guattari," last term, I felt like my class and I really were on the cutting-edge of work in media studies. I still think we were. On the other hand, I'm somewhat bothered by the prospect of such cutting-edge work going mainstream. What put me off more than anything in Gabbard's Chronicle piece was his subsequent explanation of Deleuze's work, which (a) reduced it merely to the concept of the rhizome, and (b) forgot that Guattari was an integral party involved in advancing that concept.
I worry that, like Lacan before him, Deleuze might be spawning something of an industry. And here I'm reminded of Ken Wark's prophetic words in his Hacker Manifesto:
D+G [Deleuze and Guattari] describe in somewhat formal, general terms the space of possibility of hacker thought. But their version of escape from history can easily take on an aristocratic form, a celebration of singular works of high modernist art and artifice. These in turn are all too easily captured by the academic and cultural marketplace, as the designer goods of the over-educated. D+G all too easily become the intellectual's Dolce and Gabbana. (n. 91)

Is a Deleuze industry something to be welcomed or something from which to recoil in horror?


Glen Fuller said...

Isn't there already a Deleuze industry? ;) What about all the "Deleuze and so-and-so" books.

I wish the 'Deleuze' industry would republish Guattari's Molecular Revolutions!

Ted Striphas said...

Hey Glen,

Yeah, I suppose you're right--there already is a Deleuze industry, and there's been one for some time. For me the concern isn't the industry per se, though I don't think that was clear from my post. Indeed, the prospect of a "Deleuzian century" would be a welcome one, as far as I'm concerned, and I mean that both theoretically and politically. What irked me about the Chronicle piece I talked about in my post was the prospect of Deleuze's (and D+G's) work getting watered-down. I had this vision of subtitles in the SCMS program--"A Deleuzian Analysis of XXXXX." You get the picture.

I don't mean to hold myself up as an arbiter of what's good in the world of Deleuze-Guattari studies. I'm sure many would consider me to be a come-lately to that world. Even so, on the cusp of D+G's work becoming even more popular, and potentially more intellectual mainstream, the question of quality and uptake seems to me an urgent one to debate. Wouldn't you agree?

P.S. You should check periodically on for copies of The Molecular Revolution. There's only one available right now, for US$99, but I picked up a copy for less than a third of that price a few years ago. They're out there.

Anonymous said...

The Associated Humanities Research Council (the main UK humanities postgrad funding body) said the following in its report on last year's applications:-

"in Cultural Studies there was a preponderance of research projects framed by poststructuralist – especially Deleuzean – theory, and the panel wondered whether this was a true representation of the full range of work in cultural studies"

Jeff Lee.

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the note. I was curious to hear about the situation in the UK and elsewhere, since my impression is that the U.S. has been leading the Deleuze industry as such (though I very well may be wrong about that).

The other thing that occurs to me, amid all these conversations, is Deleuze's discussion of becoming. To become some-one or some-thing means that the one/thing you're becoming always is in the process of becoming something else. What might that portend for Deleuze scholarship?

I'll add, in passing, that I'm taken with Brian Massumi's scholarship, in part because, in my estimation, he never tries to "capture" D+G. Instead, he's always moving in relation to their work, but always knowing full well that their work is moving in turn

Jonathan said...

You know, I tend to agree with the assessments that Deleuze is everywhere these days, but I think it's mostly that he's in the drinking water up here. I might mean that literally.

Much more disturbing to me was the claim by the head of SCMS that media studies is a "new" "discipline" and that SCMS has any business being its official professional organization.

Ted Striphas said...

Thanks for the comment. Out of curiosity, why are you suspicious of SCMS? I haven't been to the conference, but I'm considering joining the organization......

Jonathan said...

Hi Ted,

The issue is that until recently, SCMS was SCS. Cinema Studies. Which is a field with a very particular intellectual history and which historically didn't deal all that well with media that weren't film (or even film that wasn't able to be considered as "art"). Of course times have changed. It's a good conference, and WAAAAYYY better than NCA for people like us. But is it ready to assume the mantle of media studies? Are there enough people in the organization who don't study film as their primary medium?

Anonymous said...

"I don't mean to hold myself up as an arbiter of what's good in the world of Deleuze-Guattari studies."

Why not?

You know, when the (Boston) Globe reported that the (New Bedford) Standard Times had been taken in by the "Little Red Book" hoax, they explained that the Globe had interviewed the dishonest student, "but decided not to write a story about his assertion, because of doubts about its veracity." They added that Dan Rosenfeld, managing editor of the Standard Times, declined to comment because it was a "competitive newspaper story." This quotation is of course a dig. If Rosenfeld was speaking honestly, then readers should conclude that the Globe is a better newspaper because they don't believe everything they hear, and they are in no hurry to print what they don't believe is true--op eds notwithstanding. If Rosenfeld was not speaking honestly, that speaks for itself.

From what little I know of Krin Gabbard (I've read several of his essays, though not the piece for the Chronicle) he's not above taking digs at fashionable thinkers. Now, it seems to me, the essence of your rejoinder is that you're a better authority than Gabbard is on the truth, or goodness if you prefer, of D&G. Your selfless concern for the dryness of Deleuze and Guattari studies doesn't quite lead away from that conclusion, anymore than the Globe's selfless concern for accuracy in reporting leads away from the conclusion that they're claiming to be a better newspaper than the Standard Times.

As to your concern itself, I believe the genie's out of the bottle.

Ted Striphas said...

Thanks for the note, though I wish you had included your name. It's always odd to address someone who's anonymous.

I appreciate your "appendix" to my December post. I wouldn't claim to be a journalist; blogging is, ideally, a cooperative effort, so thanks for helping to shore up some of the gaps in the "reporting" on D&R. Do you have a link to the Globe's revelation of the hoax? Clearly, it's important to confirm these kinds of claims when they come from elsewhere.

I'm a little surprised by the tone of your response. I seem to have struck a nerve, and I'm not altogether sure why. For my part, my concern with the quality of Deleuze-Guattari scholarship is "selfless," as you say, to the extent that I believe what counts as good ought to be determined by a community, not by lone individuals. Indeed, having an opinion doesn't make one an arbiter, much less an authority. It simply makes one someone with an opinion.

neal said...


I'm not sure how things are in media studies, but in philosophy (the field of my research), it looks as though there isn't any escape from the commodification of the proper name. On the one hand, it is probably the case that capitalism imposes this fate in advance and, until theoretical practice can be liberated from a model of private consumption (or until a new, more "fashionable" designer label comes along), D & G may (somewhat cynically) be reduced to "Dolce & Gabbana". On the other hand, however, I find the work of these two thinkers incredibly productive and if their industrialization is nothing specific to their thinking (and I don't think it is), then I welcome a proliferation of scholarship on their thought. I doubt that all of the work being done on D & G can be reduced to theoretical fashion fads (though that definitely exists). On yet another hand, you point out a kind of eclipse of Guattari that has taken place in the wake of the D & G boom. I wonder if there are certain kinds of issues particular to media theory that are more readily accommodating to the background that you find with Deleuze (although given Guattari's more thorough relation to semiotics, that seems a little strange). In philosophy, this eclipse is more understandable given Deleuze's work on ontology and and his engagements with thinkers out of the philosophical cannon, but this would seem to make it more difficult to hold him above Guattari when it comes to the study of media.

neal said...


sorry, I just noticed your response to Glen, where you said that your isse wasn't with the industry per se...

But, I don't know of any thinker whose thought hasn't been watered down in the process of its dispersion. Again, I also wonder if that doesn't have something to do with the way academia functions so as to constantly generate artifacts of theory for the purpose of validating its own existence. In any case, i'm curious: why isn't Guattari enjoying the popularity of Deleuze in the specific context of media theory?

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Neal,

Thanks for your comment. This discussing does involve a little stretching back in time for me, but I'm glad that you want to re-open it.

Your point about uptake is a good one. It's impossible, I suppose, for any serious thinker's work not to metamorphose when it begins to take on a life independent of that thinker. And indeed, given the state of the (academic) book publishing industry, it's hard to imagine any way to preserve the integrity of a particular author's work--were that even desirable.

For me, ultimately, and I think I got at this in one of my previous comments, the issue at stake involves theoretical formalism--i.e., refusing to allow the work of Deleuze and Guattari to become just another perspective from which to do X. That to me would be the least desirable outcome of an "industry" which, in general, I otherwise support and indeed contribute to.