Sunday, November 27, 2005

On beyond Deleuze & Guattari

In conjunction with the students in my graduate seminar, and in conversation with my fellow NCA panelists (see my post on Nov. 21, 2005, below), I've been wondering lately what it would mean to take up the writings of Deleuze & Guattari. As far as I can tell, there are or have been five principal modes of engaging their work:

(1) What I like to call, "rhizome spotting." Here, the analyst tries to find evidence of Deleuzoguattarian concepts at work in the world.

(2) Applications. In this case, the analyst takes up one or more Deleuzoguattarian concepts and "applies" them to an empirical object.

(3) Operationalizing/extending Deleuze & Guattari's work. A lot of interesting work operates at this level. Here, the analyst engages the work of Deleuze and Guattari and makes their work resonate with one or more empirical objects. Often this results in some kind of extension or elaboration of Deleuzoguattarian thought.

(4) Reading what Deleuze and Guattari have read and extending their work therefrom. My sense is that Brian Massumi and Greg Seigworth tend to engage in this kind of practice, as in, for example, where Seigworth reads Freud's early texts for evidence of the ways in which he sublimated affect.

(5) Implicit dialogue. I'm most tentative about this category, but I've long felt that people like Giorgio Agamben and Jean-Luc Nancy take up Deleuzoguattarian ideas without mentioning D+G's work explicitly. For example, both Agamben's "The Coming Community" and Nancy's "The Inoperative Community" seem to be responses of sorts to the Deleuzoguattarian insight, "the people are missing."

Obviously these aren't neat and tidy categories, and some very well may disagree with my categorizations or the way in which I've identified the work of specific authors relative to that of D+G. It also should be clear that there's something of a hierarchy here, and that I do not believe that the first few modes of engagement are particularly Deleuzoguattarian--at least in any interesting way. I'd be curious to hear how others feel about this schema.


Jon said...

Ted, though I recognize the distinctions you draw, I also recognize them a little too quickly and too easily.

After all, isn't this one of those irregular verbs?

I operationalize
You apply
He/she/it spots

Ted Striphas said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for writing. I'm wondering what prompts you to question the ease with which you recognize that categories I've outlined. Are you suggesting, in a sense, that something that could be called Deleuzoguattarian work happens in places that, and among scholars who, are not obviously Deleuzoguattarian? If that's so, then I agree with you completely. At minimum that would require my adding a 6th category to the list I've constructed, though I suspect there'd be some overlap with category #5. (Forgive me...I sound so sociological!)

Your quip about irregular verbs is amusing. What worries me, though, is the "she/it spots" conjugation. When I say there's a hierarchy on my list, I don't mean to suggest that it's a hierarchy that maps neatly or discretely onto any given identity categories (or pronouns, for that matter). With that said, perhaps some of the most interesting Deleuzoguattarian-inspired writing, research, and thinking occurs at the very limits of our subjects and predicates. Just a thought.

Jon said...

Ted, I've belatedly seen your response to my comment, prompted by your most recent post.

Regarding "ease," I just mean that distinctions very much like the ones you make are embedded within theory, or rather the discourse around theory, that announces itself as theory. So they go with the territory.

And I wasn't really meaning to say too much with the pronouns, except I was thinking something along the model of other irregular verbs such as "I am a traveller; you are a tourist; he/she/it is a disgrace." Which cover for a rather more fundamental similarity between activities that are given distinct names, precisely to maintain a sense of cultural distinction.

In other words, it's not so much that the hierarchy maps the identity categories, as that it helps produce them.