Theoriography – On the writing of concepts

… in which a new student of Deleuze attempts a commentary on/using his methodology.

“There is no sharper point than that of Infinity. What bliss to plunge the eyes into the immensity of sky and sea! Solitude, silence, incomparable chastity of the blue! … monotonous melody of the waves, all these things think through me or I through them … I say they think, but musically and picturesquely, without quibblings, without syllogisms, without deductions.” — Baudelaire, “The Artist’s Confiteor,” Paris Spleen.

– to begin in the middle, experiencing the sea not as one does from the shore – the water first touching a toe, then a knee, then perhaps the shoulders, and after a while wading back out; tension rising and falling as a narrative arch, rising and falling as the waves, which, by keeping one’s head out of the water are always clearly visible from above. No. Instead, plunging into the water. Perhaps at night, perhaps upside down. Trying at first to orient oneself, to find the surface, but then, acclimating, acquiescing. The waves are not now visible as distant, discreet entities with beginnings and endings, but rather are felt, as flux and flow that pass over and affect.

This is to read Kafka. And to read Deleuze. I was impressed to learn Kafka’s method of writing “The Judgement”: in one sitting, overnight, flowing, writing almost continuously, “thinking through things,” or at least, thinking through writing, “without syllogisms, without deductions.” When Deleuze writes about Kafka, he writes about blocks and lines of flight. As someone currently working on a thesis project, I know about blocks – which is why I was so intrigued by Kafka’s methods and Deleuze’s reflections on them: they gave me a new inspiration to just write. Having already done much research and already constructed many thoughts on my topic, reflecting on this method of writing initially made me feel that all I needed to do was write and transfer those internal concept structures into a written form.

But this is where my initial understanding was slightly off. Deleuze would not be interested in this idea of some internal structure that writing simply transfers to the page, nor do I think this would be his interpretation of Kafka’s method. This is what Deleuze would call a tracing rather than a mapping. The tracing attempts to copy the internal to external; “to explore an unconscious that is already there from the start, lurking in the dark recesses of memory and language.” (TP, p. 12) This is the thought that seems perfect at 4am but then melts at the first light of day. The Baudelaire passage poignantly illustrates this: his beauty is always lost and distant. Baudelaire’s “incomparable chastity of the blue” connects with what Rebecca Solnit calls “the blue of distance”: “the light that does not touch us … that gets lost [and] gives us the beauty of the world.” Baudelaire watches the waves from the shore. This is the desire always out of reach that Walter Benjamin describes as the “Blue Flower” in his essay on Surrealism “Dream Kitsch.” When thinking about Kafka writing “The Judgement”, I initially thought of the automatic writing of the Surrealists, but now I realize that this too is more of a tracing than a mapping. About the Surrealists, Benjamin writes: “They seek the totemic tree of objects within the thicket of primal history” (TWoA, p. 238) clearly not a rhizomatic pursuit.

Deleuze contrasts the map to the tracing: “The map does not represent an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious.” (TP, p. 12) In his introductory notes to A Thousand Plateaus, Brian Massumi clarifies his translation of “lines of flight”: the original French term fuite conveys “not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking and disappearing into the distance.” (TP, p. xvi) Indeed Kafka (and Deleuze) is not content to contemplate infinity from afar in quiet reverie, but instead is always moving towards it. So my task then is not to write some predefined internal structure but instead to create the structure through the act of writing it.

[Added paragraph, 5/17/2012. -rory] The distinction here is the difference between the map and the tracing. Mapping involves a transfer from one domain into another — which requires the collapsing or consolidating of certain dimensions (as in from 3D to 2D), and/or the selective filtering, ignoring or abstracting of certain details. Each of these operations require some kind of subjective decisions at each step (the introduction of perspective, for example). That means that maps are productive, create power, can be expressive of ideology and so on — and as such, mapping can be an operation that consciously challenges all those things. On the other hand, tracing is intended to be value neutral and thus can only pass those things through, not challenge or recast them. My impression is that “automatic writing” is intended to be this kind of “pass through”: a tracing of the unconscious onto the page. By contrast, in “The Judgement”, K was flowing but not ignoring reflection or critical judgements; or rather, he was trying to cultivate a process that did all these things through the process of flowing.

But all this brings me to my one confusion / critique of Deleuze so far, and that is: how does one sustain the time or duration that is essential to his process ontology? How does a becoming not simply reduce into a new fixed category? [This example updated, 5/17/2012. -rory] For example, a droplet of water. As a fixed identity it is just a molecule. But it always exists in motion, as a part of some flow or process of becoming — for example, falling as rain. Is this then a fixed category “rain”? No because that too is in motion: into a stream, into a river, into the sea — in process and becoming. And yet, this entire process of becoming could be defined as another fixed thing, for example, the water cycle (precipitation, percolation, evaporation, etc). How does process resist always falling into a fixed static identity or concept? Even the wave can exist as a standing wave — a flowing that becomes a fixed thing. Perhaps I am misunderstanding something. Though really it probably doesn’t matter. As Brian Massumi advises in his introduction: “The question is not: is it true? But: does it work? What new thoughts does it make possible to think? … What new sesnsations and perceptions does it open in the body?” (TP, p. xv) Perhaps, at least in my case, it may at least help make possible the thinking (and writing) of my thesis first draft.

– Rory Solomon

Baudelaire, Charles. Paris Spleen. New York: New Directions Pub. Co., 1988.

Benjamin, Walter et al. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus : Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, Minn.; London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Solnit, Rebecca. A Field Guide to Getting Lost. New York: Viking, 2005.


One Response to “Theoriography – On the writing of concepts”

  1. My experience of Kafka before this course was predominantly negative. I had read Metamorphosis as a college freshman in a class with a professor that failed to illuminate its beauty. Pre Art After Deleuze, I thought Kafka was stream of consciousness mumbo jumbo.
    My understanding and appreciation of Kafka has totally changed. The act of reading and writing is a performative transformation. As this notion was raised, I looked to my own work. I could entirely relate. Nearly every essay, letter or presentation, I have ever written came from a loose vague idea. This idea transforms by the act of writing to an insightful and cohesive project. I often truly had no idea what I was writing, until the act began to unfold.
    Rory’s analogy of the of experiencing the sea from within is particularily useful. The amount one can guess about a form from observation is trivial to what one can learn from emergence in that same form.

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