Salman Rushdie, “Midnight’s Children”

1988

Midnight’s Children seems to thwart Jameson’s idea that all third world literature is a national allegory. Its twists and turns of structure are coherent enough to form a web (as James Wood says of this foundational text of hysterical realism, it engenders and enacts a paranoid logic), but erratic enough that they can’t quite be pathologized, almost like the fake illnesses of his grandmother in the first chapter of the novel. The characters’ name changes, too, work in this multifaceted novel as double-down acts of theatricality Monkey becomes Jamila, and people are always stopping or starting talking, striking poses and performances that are multiply legible.

Rushdie claimed Jane Austen and Charles Dickens as “Indian novelists,” and his nods to Joyce are as a fellow victim of colonialism: “O ineluctable superiority of northernness!” 355 and “Mute autocracy of a less-than-two-year-old infant” 515 are just two. The novel’s ending, “to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace,” seems to rework Eliot’s ending to The Waste Land.  [Nabokovian nods include “the pickling of time!” 529, the theme of incest (Saleem and his sister).]

Rushdie’s narrator purports to be a telepathically connected one presenting a sort of collective fiction of India, but he is awfully narcissistic and solipsistic. He was born at exactly midnight on India’s independence day, and he shares magical realist traits with thousands of other children – his is at first to speak to them, and later to lose this power to a sense of smell instead. His face is said to look like a map of India and Pakistan.

Zadie Smith, “This is How It Feels To Me”

“THIS IS HOW IT FEELS TO ME” – The Guardian, October 13, 201

The byline of Zadie Smith’s piece, “Last week James Wood blasted modern fiction, calling for a return to feeling from self-conscious cleverness in the wake of the terrorist attacks,” promises a bolder and braver response than the young Smith delivers. Though she explains her point of view, she says later that this interaction shaped and changed her writing – her later novels are far more “modernist” and “realist” in tone (NW is a “London novel” in the olden sense). Here is Smith’s self-effacing beginning:

The critic James Wood appeared in this paper last Saturday aiming a hefty, well-timed kick at what he called “hysterical realism”.It is a painfully accurate term for the sort of overblown, manic prose to be found in novels like my own White Teeth and a few others he was sweet enough to mention. These are hysterical times; any novel that aims at hysteria will now be effortlessly outstripped – this was Wood’s point, and I’m with him on it. In fact, I have agreed with him several times before, in public and in private, but I appreciate that he feared I needed extra warning; that I might be sitting in my Kilburn bunker planning some 700-page generational saga set on an incorporated McDonald’s island north of Tonga. Actually, I am sitting here in my pants, looking at a blank screen, finding nothing funny, scared out of my mind like everybody else, smoking a family-sized pouch of Golden Virginia.

At least she’s funny. Here Smith begins to explore with a bit more nuance some of her issues with Wood’s critique:

The first is this: any collective term for a supposed literary movement is always too large a net, catching significant dolphins among so much cannable tuna. You cannot place first-time novelists with literary giants, New York hipsters with Kilburn losers, and some of the writers who got caught up with me are undeserving of the criticism. In particular, David Foster Wallace’s mammoth beast Infinite Jest was heaved in as an exemplum, but it is five years old, and is a world away from his delicate, entirely “human” short stories and essays of the past two years, which shy away from the kind of totalising theoretical and thematic arcs that Wood was gunning for. If anyone has recently learned a lesson about the particularities of human existence and their separation from social systems, it is Wallace. But even if this were not true, frankly, literature is – or should be – a broad church. Whatever the weaknesses of the various writers Wood mentioned, I don’t believe he would wish for a literary landscape missing a book such as Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children or DeLillo’s White Noise; the very books, in fact, which have cast such a tremendous shadow over two generations of American and English fiction.

What Smith points to again is a kind of multiplicity at the intertextual level of readership that her own novel seeks to create in a world she has written:

I read Flaubert and Nabokov for the varicoloured intimacies of life; I read Zora Neale Hurston to hear the songs of love and earth, and I read White Noise to experience, yes, a Frankfurt school comedy, in which every boy, girl, man, woman, black, white, lesbian, Jew and Muslim speaks in exactly the same way: like DeLillo.

Here she does the same move as Wood on what writers “can” and “cannot” do, which I don’t love:

We cannot be all the writers all the time. We can only be who we are. Which leads me to my second point: writers do not write what they want, they write what they can.

She discusses the pains of writing, the resistance to encyclopaedic knowledge, the call to arms in Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow for “a look to power sources.”

Except… er… it turns out that the plot is horrendously simple. It has to do with things like faith. Revenge. Poverty. God. Hatred. So what now? Does anyone want to know the networks behind those seeming simplicities, the paths that lead from September 11 back to Saudi Arabia and Palestine, and then back to Israel, back further to the second world war, back once more to the first? Does anyone care what writers think about that? Does it help? Or shall we sing of love and drawing rooms and earth and children and all that is small and furry and wounded? Must we produce what you want, anyway? I have absolutely no idea.

But still I’m going to write. If only because Wood is right; there are still books that make me hopeful, because they function as human products in the greatest sense. Bellow’s Seize the Day, Melville’s “Bartleby”, Nabokov’s Pnin – works that stubbornly speak and resonate, even in these image-led, speechless times. But it is a trick of the light that makes us suppose these books exist in soulful opposition to more recent examples of “dialectical devilry”. These books are works of high artifice, and there isn’t a decent novel in this world that isn’t; their humanity derives from their reverence for language, their precision, their intellect and, more than anything, from their humour.

It’s all laughter in the dark – the title of a Nabokov novel and still the best term for the kind of writing I aspire to: not a division of head and heart, but the useful employment of both.

But he might see even that question as too intellectual in approach. I think Wood is hinting at an older idea that runs from Plato to the boys booming a car stereo outside my freaking window: soul is soul. It cannot be manufactured or schematised. It cannot be dragged kicking and screaming through improbable plots. It cannot be summoned by a fact or dismissed by a cliché. These are the famous claims made for “soul” and they lead with specious directness to an ancient wrestling match, invoked by Wood: the inviolability of “soul” versus the evils of self-consciousness and wise-assery, otherwise known as sophism.

Thus Wood’s advice to Smith is “be more human… I wonder what to do with that one.” This becomes the strongest part of Smith’s response – how she demonstrates the way in which these novels are working with cultural materials in exciting ways Wood does not see:

I want to defend the future possibility of some words appearing on pages that will be equal to these times and to what I feel and what you feel and what James Wood feels; that is, this fear that has got us all by the throat. He argues against silence and against intellectual obfuscation. He says: tell us how it feels. Well, we are trying. I am trying. But as DeLillo dramatised (again, in White Noise), it is difficult to discuss feelings when the TV speaks so loudly; cries so operatically; seems always, in everything, one step ahead. Yet people continue to manage this awesome trick of wrestling sentiment away from TV’s colonisation of all things soulful and human, and I would applaud all the youngish Americans – Franzen, Moody, Foster Wallace, Eggers, Moore – for their (supposedly) small but, to me, significant triumphs. They work to keep both sides of the equation – brain and heart – present in their fiction.

Even if you find them obtuse, they can rarely be accused of cliché, and that – as Amis has argued so well recently – is the place where everything dies… I truly hope they are not cowed by these renewed assaults on “clever writing”, calls for the “death of irony”, the “return of heart”. There was always a great deal of “heart”, of humanity, in these writers.

Smith seems to give a credit to American tradition, rather than accusing it of corrupting her work: “Sometimes it seems purely an American trick, this ability to draw the universe, as Carver and Fitzgerald did, into a circumscribed artificial, yet human, space.” Smith considers whether the novel itself still has value as a genre, something 9/11 has made her think about:

Most mornings I think: death of the novel? Yeah, sure, why not? The novel is not an immutable fact of human artistic life, after all, just a historically specific phenomenon that came and will go unless there are writers who have the heart, the brain and, crucially, the cojones to keep it alive.

She turns to the shorter novel (reminds me of what Woolf says about women’s writing!): “Personally, I find myself more and more struck by controlled little gasps of prose, as opposed to the baggy novel… Which seems the exact opposite of the American/ English instinct: I must cover the world in my shit immediately.” Her conclusion is uncertain and multiple, for which I am grateful. She speaks to Wood, but she is also speaking back:

Is it this reverence, this care, this suppression of ego that Wood wants to see from us? It is what I want to see from myself, but whether I will manage it is another matter. It will take sympathy – a natural instinct, a sentimental reflex – but it will also take empathy, which I still contend is largely a matter for the intellect. Your brain must be up for it, for making that necessary leap. At the moment, my brain feels like catfood. So I may never prove to be much of a writer – a real writer, the kind I like to read – but then again, maybe I will. I’m not sure how much it matters any more. But we shall see.

 

 

James Wood, “Human, All Too Inhuman” & “Tell Me How Does it Feel

“HUMAN, ALL TOO INHUMAN” – August 30, 2001 – New Republic

Taking its title from the first work of aphorisms by Nietzsche (Human, All Too Human), James Wood’s review of Zadie Smith’s first novel, White Teeth, is most famous for its coinage of the term “hysterical realism” (a term of dubious value in any case, but especially, I think, because he coins it in reviewing a female novelist). Wood begins by diagnosing a “hardening genre” of novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens:

A genre is hardening. It is becoming easy to describe the contemporary idea of the “big, ambitious novel.” Familial resemblances are asserting themselves, and a parent can be named: he is Dickens. Such recent novels as The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Mason & Dixon, Underworld, Infinite Jest, and now White Teeth overlap rather as the pages of an atlas expire into each other at their edges. A landscape is disclosed–lively and varied and brightly marked, but riven by dead gullies.

(The image of the atlas here would make a fascinating comparison with David Mitchell… It’s so close to the goal of that book that one almost wonders if it was his inspiration!)

The big contemporary novel is a perpetual-motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. It seems to want to abolish stillness, as if ashamed of silence–as it were, a criminal running endless charity marathons. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page, as these novels continually flourish their glamorous congestion. Inseparable from this culture of permanent storytelling is the pursuit of vitality at all costs. Indeed, vitality is storytelling, as far as these books are concerned.

Creating an imaginary description of a novel culled from many styles, James Wood jokes about improbable names like Toby Awknotuby (perhaps as in Pynchon), twins in Delhi with the same “genital mutilation” (perhaps as in Rushdie), the cult study of Wordsworth by Hell’s Angels (perhaps as in DeLillo), and weird character traits that occurred at specific moments in history (perhaps as in David Foster Wallace). The problem with this for Wood is that it occurs before the character has “done a thing, or thought a thought!”

Zadie Smith is added to this tradition because of her own twins, “silly acronym[s],” and farfetched scientific claptrap. “This is not magical realism,” Wood famously says, “It is hysterical realism.”

“Storytelling has become a kind of grammar in these novels; it is how they structure and drive themselves on. The conventions of realism are not being abolished but, on the contrary, exhausted, and overworked. Appropriately, then, objections [by whom?] are not made at the level of verisimilitude, but at the level of morality [oh dear]: this style of writing is not to be faulted because it lacks reality–the usual charge against botched realism–but because it seems evasive of reality while borrowing from realism itself. It is not a cock-up, but a cover-up.

Underworld’s “calm profusion” has “a soothing sense that it might never have to end, that another thousand or two thousand pages might easily be added.” This fearful continuity (what I want to consider as vital to seriality and faceting), conceals a sort of mindlessness for Wood, as he reveals when he puns on the “lights are on, but nobody’s home” cliche: “Bright lights are taken as evidence of habitation.”

What are these stories evading? One of the awkwardnesses evaded is precisely an awkwardness about the possibility of novelistic storytelling. This in turn has to do with an awkwardness about character and the representation of character… they clothe real people who could never actually endure the stories that happen to them… they are stories which defy the laws of persuasion… what above all makes these stories unconvincing is precisely their very profusion, their relatedness. One cult is convincing; three cults are not.

I find myself rather confused about what it is, for Wood, that distinguishes these recent works from earlier postmodernism, such as White Noise, The Crying of Lot 49, even Pale Fire or The Golden Notebook! This obsession with network and profusion seems to me a hallmark of the fiction of the era, rather than a swerve of the 1990s. Take this description, which is not only a perfect description of The Crying of Lot 49, but also the essence of its genius (which Wood, apparently, does not admit):

An endless web is all they need for meaning. Each of these novels is excessively centripetal. The different stories all intertwine, and double and triple on themselves. Characters are forever seeing connections and links and plots, and paranoid parallels. (There is something essentially paranoid about the belief that everything is connected to everything else.)

What interests me in Wood’s critique is the way that his critique of these novels seems to me to be their very strength; he seems to want to hold to a model of the novel as a fixed, unchanging genre. And it’s not even so much that this is all new; it is rather its return to 19th century convention with a contemporary twist that irks him:

These novelists proceed like street-planners of old in South London: they can never name a street Ruskin Street without linking a whole block, and filling it with Carlyle Street, and Turner Street, and Morris Street, and so on.

In a mode similar to the social realist novel of the 19th century, these novels emphasize forces or ideas over characters, for Wood:

Life is never experienced with such a fervid intensity of connectedness… real humans disaggregate more often than they congregate. So these novels find themselves in the paradoxical position of enforcing connections that are finally conceptual rather than human. The forms of these novels tell us that we are all connected–by the Bomb (DeLillo), or by myth (Rushdie), or by our natural multiracial multiplicity (Smith); but it is a formal lesson rather an actual enactment.

Paradoxically, this is what I find so formally interesting about the novels Wood criticizes. In fact, I think their multiple characters, which drop in and out of lives, are more like a certain kind of realism (we try to make patterns around characters that disappear), and the emphasis on ideas and forces clearly has something to do with a rising awareness of and interaction with systems, technology, and globalization, which the novel cannot help but assimilate and explore. The novel, as Bakhtin points out, swallows up genres and ideas and modes of parlance. Its form of mimesis must change as the world changes (think of Benjamin’s argument about society, or Stendhahl’s mirror vs faceting…) What if the experiment of David Mitchell is the “Time Passes” section of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse taken to its most fecund point for a new age? Wood argues that these characters have no character (I almost think he means morality…):

All these contemporary deformations flow from a crisis that is not only the fault of the writers concerned, but is now of some lineage: the crisis of character, and how to represent it in fiction. Since modernism, many of the finest writers have been offering critique and parody of the idea of character, in the absence of convincing ways to return to an innocent mimesis. Certainly, the characters who inhabit the big, ambitious contemporary novels have a showy liveliness, a theatricality, that almost succeeds in hiding the fact that they are without life: liveliness hangs off them like jewelry.

Smith is ‘not as bad’ as some of the others, like Rushdie. Sometimes we feel sympathy and interest for her characters. “Clearly, Smith does not lack for powers of invention. The problem is that there is too much of it.” What he finally betrays is his distrust of the novels’ surfaces:

As realism, it is incredible; as satire, it is cartoonish; as cartoon, it is too realistic; and anyway, we are not led toward the consciousness of a truly devoted religionist. It is all shiny externality, all caricature.

Wood acknowledges that many great writers used types (I’m yawning at Dostoevsky and Tolstoy as the examples he gives, not only because it’s dull to extol the 19th century Russian writers at the expense of Dickens, etc., but because it’s not even true, especially of Tolstoy. Two writers could not differ more than they do…). The novels he offers as counterexamples include Buddenbrooks, “written by a writer only a year older than Zadie Smith” (yes! by Thomas Mann! In 1901!), as well as the “less great” Nausea by Sartre and Camus’ The Plague. Wood’s praise is that these engage the same “unreal, symbolic vitality” of hysterical realism, but attach it to ‘real’ characters.

Wood’s problem with the style of the contemporary novel seems mainly to lie in its abandonment of the Jamesian ideal of the individual bourgeois ego unfolding in a psychically complex way to the reader over time. The modernist novels he cites are all written this way; thus he implicitly endorses contemporary novels in the vein of Ishiguro and McEwan – replays of realism and modernism, for which I find them far less interesting – rather than the likes of Smith, Mitchell, and the American writers. (Where would Byatt fall, in his view? She does both so expertly…) Of course this is where we arrive at Dickens:

Many of Dickens’s characters are, as Forster [in Aspects of the Novel] rightly put it, flat but vibrating very fast. They are vivid blots of essence. They are souls seen only through thick, gnarled casings. Their vitality is a histrionic one. Dickens has been the overwhelming influence on postwar fiction, especially postwar British fiction [Spark, Naipaul, Smith].

Here again, Wood prioritizes Forster’s ancient idea of “flat” and “round” characters over any new and vital possibilities for the novel (he also folds Bellow and De Lillo in at this juncture). Here’s where it gets really rude:

One obvious reason for the popularity of Dickens among contemporary novelists is that his way of creating and propelling theatrically alive characters offers an easy model for writers unable, or unwilling, to create characters who are fully human… He shows a novelist how to get a character launched, if not how to keep him afloat, and this glittering liveliness is simply easier to copy, easier to figure out, than the recessed and deferred complexities of, say, Henry James’s character-making. Put bluntly, Dickens makes caricature respectable for an age in which, for various reasons, it has become hard to create character.

But it gets worse:

Yet that is not all there is in Dickens, which is why most contemporary novelists are only his morganatic heirs. There is in Dickens also an immediate access to strong feeling, which rips the puppetry of his people, breaks their casings, and lets us enter them.

For Wood, no one cries and has outbursts of feeling in these novels (I feel like we are reading different novels… What of all the tears in Zadie Smith? Or Jack and his wife in White Noise? Oedipa’s tears in Lot 49?) Here again with the priority of the individual psyche:

It is now customary to read 700-page novels, to spend hours and hours within a fictional world, without experiencing anything really affecting, sublime, or beautiful.This is partly because some of the more impressive novelistic minds of our age do not think that language and the representation of consciousness are the novelist’s quarries any more. Information has become the new character.

Wood doesn’t seem to consider that perhaps it isn’t that these authors can’t write a certain way, but that they want to explore the world this way. His horrible dismissal of pop culture and film makes it clearer still that he seems to fall on the aesthetic side of the curmudgeonly Adorno (rather than fun-having Benjamin): “It is this, and the use made of Dickens, that connects DeLillo and the reportorial Tom Wolfe, despite the literary distinction of the former and the cinematic vulgarity of the latter.” Zadie Smith heself, Wood points out, admits that “none of us” have yet gotten the balance of information and character right… yet.

Ironically, the moments of Smith’s novel that “glow” for Wood, that are “better” than Rushdie, are actually the descriptions of “a recognizable English type… receding,” another weird way in which even his valorizations (of an old white dude in a young novel bursting with multiculturalism) seem to completely miss the point of the text at hand.

About her, one is tempted to apply Orwell’s remark that Dickens had rotten architecture but great gargoyles. The architecture is the essential silliness of her lunge for multiplicities–her cults and cloned mice and Jamaican earthquakes. Formally, her book lacks moral seriousness.

Its best moments, for Wood, are again where it regurgitates the formal tropes of modernism:

When Smith is writing well, she seems capable of a great deal. At several moments, for example, she proves herself skilled at interior monologue, and brilliant, in other passages, at free indirect style:

There’s a disturbing way in which the novel seems to be unreal for Wood because he simply refuses to recognize the reality it seeks to portray. He refuses to enter the suspension of belief that fiction invites and entails. Characters “binging in any kind of allusion” might actually be what those characters think, but Wood does not want to be convinced:

Nothing we know about Samad… convinces us that Smith is telling the truth when she tells us that this hot-headed Muslim sat talking about women’s breasts; the topic seems, instead, to have been chosen by Smith from a catalogue of cliches called “Things Men Talk About in Bars”… The language is oddly thick-fingered, and stubs itself into the vernacular: that juvenile verb “squished,” for instance… corrupts… it is bewildering when… she seems to leave Samad’s interior, and watch him from the outside, satirically (and rather crudely).

Wood reduces all of these to the old dialectical binaries, erasing the multiplicity they try to represent: “And so it goes on, in a curious shuffle of sympathy and distance, affiliation and divorce, brilliance and cartoonishness, astonishing maturity and ordinary puerility.” When characters change their minds, there is no Jamesian depth; “It as if the novel were deciding at these moments whether to cast depths on its shallows, and deciding against.” Once more, we’re reminded that this is ‘even worse’ than Dickens:

It is quite clear that a general message about the need to escape roots is more important than Irie’s reality, what she might actually think, her consciousness…This is problem-solving, all right. But at what cost? As Irie disappears under the themes and ideas, the reader perhaps thinks wistfully of Mr. Micawber and David Copperfield, so uncovered by theme and idea, so uninsured, weeping together in an upstairs room.

“Which way will the ambitious contemporary novel go? Will it dare a picture of life, or just shout a spectacle?” For Wood, these are diametrically opposed values, and though the novel he’s reviewing contains both, it shouldn’t, mostly because he refuses to believe that it can.

“TELL ME HOW DOES IT FEEL” – October 5, 2001 – The Guardian

Lambasting Zadie Smith wasn’t enough for James Wood. Two months later, following the 9/11 attacks, in a bizarre rerouting of his theory, James Wood writes another article on the topic of hysterical realism. This time the subheading is “U.S. novelists must now abandon social and theoretical glitter, says James Wood.”

How we swerved from Wood’s first theory, originating in the work of Naipaul, Rushdie, and, above all, Smith in the UK and somewhat well-connected to Wallace, Pynchon, and DeLillo in the US over to a transparently anti-American theory of national artistic corruption that somehow has something to do with 9/11 – after the fact – is mind-boggling. Wood ironically enacts the same paranoid overconnectedness of facts that he critiques in fictions. The article begins with Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis saying they’re shamefully glad they don’t have a book coming out this month. In my mind, Wood should be ashamed he did have a review a month beforehand.

“Will the horrid alteration of America’s greatest city also alter the American novel?” Wood wonders (as if it could not). Stranger still, Wood claims a skepticism about the value of the information fiction he was already preaching before 9/11 even happened: 

“One is naturally suspicious of all the eschatological talk about how the time for trivia has ended, and how only seriousness is now on people’s minds – not least because the people saying it are usually themselves trivial and, as in McInerney’s piece, are thus unwitting arguments against their own new-found seriousness. Doubtless,  trivia and mediocrity will find their own level again, in novel-writing as in everything else. And besides, the “New York novel” – as opposed to the novel set in New York – is a genre of no importance at all. If I live the rest of my life without having to come across another book like Bret Easton Ellis’s New York novel, Glamorama, I will have very happily been what Psalm 81 calls “delivered from the pots”.

He goes on to admit that “there has, of course, been great fiction set or partly set in New York” – thanks, Wood, I really couldn’t figure that out by myself – glad we all have your blessing to agree. These are “already dark books” – how would they accommodate 9/11? Once again, their great value is that “their foci are human and metaphysical before they are social and documentary” – the modernist rises again. “They are stories, above all, about individual consciousness, not about the consciousness of Manhattan.” Once again, too, he attacks the “tentacular” Underworld: 

he DeLilloan idea of the novelist as a kind of Frankfurt School entertainer – a cultural theorist, fighting the culture with dialectical devilry – has been woefully influential, and will take some time to die.

The reviewer, mistaking bright lights for evidence of habitation, praises the novelist who knows about, say, the sonics of volcanoes. Who also knows how to make a fish curry in Fiji! Who also knows about terrorist cults in Kilburn! And about the New Physics! And so on. The result – in America at least – is novels of immense self-consciousness with no selves in them at all, curiously arrested and very “brilliant” books that know a thousand things but do not know a single human being.

This is a lot like the piece on Zadie Smith, and he goes on to attack her next. What’s so bizarre here is the mention of curry and Kilburn even as the insults fly toward specifically American novels – oh, and Zadie Smith. And Rushdie. And… What Wood hopes is that

This idea – that the novelist’s task is to go on to the street and figure out social reality – may well have been altered by the events of September 11, merely through the reminder that whatever the novel gets up to, the “culture” can always get up to something bigger. Ashes defeat garlands.

Wood again deploys a modernist image of backward-looking mimesis to claim an “explosion” that the contemporary novel already explores and values, though he doesn’t seem to see it:

Fiction may well be, as Stendhal wrote, a mirror carried down the middle of a road; but the Stendhalian mirror would explode with reflections were it now being walked around Manhattan.

He even takes on a Yeatsian “Surely, the Second Coming” tone as he wishes this change into existence:

Surely, for a while, novelists will be leery of setting themselves up as analysts of society, while society bucks and charges so helplessly. Surely they will tread carefully over their generalisations. It is now very easy to look very dated very fast.

He cites the irony of Franzen’s The Corrections, which ends with the line “disasters of this magnitude no longer seemed to befall the United States.” More death wishes:

he other casualty of recent events may well be – it is to be hoped – what I have called “hysterical realism”. Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism’s next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence.

And for the grand finale, Wood’s hopelessly modernism-loving conclusion:

It ought to be harder, now, either to bounce around in the false zaniness of hysterical realism or to trudge along in the easy fidelity of social realism. Both genres look a little busted. That may allow a space for the aesthetic, for the contemplative, for novels that tell us not “how the world works” but “how somebody felt about something” – indeed, how a lot of different people felt about a lot of different things (these are commonly called novels about human beings). A space may now open, one hopes, for the kind of novel that shows us that human consciousness is the truest Stendhalian mirror, reflecting helplessly the newly dark lights of the age.

Edmund Burke, “A Philosophical Enquiry”

1756

Burke sets out to define and explore beauty with greater precision than has been done before. He defines taste as the judgment of imagination and art 13. He gives language as a sort of proof for universal taste, and locates sight as perhaps the simplest aesthetic source of agreement: we all prefer sunshine and swans to clouds and geese, he claims 15. Taste is a composite, moving from the senses through the imagination up to the level of understanding – it is not a separate faculty.

Burke argues that our minds are more apt to trace resemblances than differences “because by making resemblances, we produce new images, we unite, we create, we enlarge our stock, but in making distinctions we offer no food at all to the imagination” 18. Though knowledge has increased over time, Taste has not changed 19. Aesthetics are common across nations and classes of men through “the pleasure arising from a natural object, so far as each perceives it justly imitated… the sympathy proceeding from a striking and affecting incident” 20. We differ in the degree, not the manner, of our response, either through closer attention to the object or greater natural sensibility to its charms 21.

Bad taste arises from “a defect of judgment” which is either “a natural weakness of understanding” or “a want of proper and well-directed exercise” 23. For Burke, like Kant and Schiller, aesthetic training promises what Kant calls a sensus communis, where the “common sense” that unifies man’s faculties is translated to communal taste.

Curiosity is the first of our emotions, but it is fickle and unfaithful in its pursuits 29. Burke separates pain and pleasure, holding that both are positive – but that the removal of one does not cause the other. Rather, each is something instantly felt as a positive value, not merely something that occurs in the other’s absence 31. Delight is the removal of pain, whereas pleasure is the positive experience.

The passions surrounding individual preservation hover around pain and danger, and they are the ones we feel most powerfully 36. For Burke, anything that excites terror is sublime. The preservation of mankind must be incited by a great pleasure (sexual pleasure), but its absence is not significantly painful 38. Men do not make love in seasons because reason already moderates the frequency of sex. The pleasure of sex is a mixture of love and lust, and the object of this feeling is women.

Burke wonders why beauty, which is separable from the sexual, should inspire feelings of tenderness in us – why God ‘designed’ it so 39. He turns first to sympathy, which is “a sort of substitution, by which we are put into the place of another man, and affected in many respects as he is affected… it is by this principle chiefly that poetry, painting, and the other affecting arts, transfuse their passions from one breast to another, and are often capable of grafting a delight on wretchedness, misery, and death itself” 41. I’m struck by how this model of sympathy poses it as a form of metaphor or figuration.

But we also take delight in the pain of others, namely when it occurs in artifice, for imitation “is never so perfect, but we can perceive it is an imitiation” 43. Imitation is a pleasure in itself. When the object is something we would otherwise not have interest in, an artwork has its strength mainly in mimesis (form, not content) 45. When the object is something spectacular, then the artwork is mainly about the object itself (content, not form) 46. Burke concludes the section by acknowledging that if he has made mistakes, he at least “clears the way for others” 50.

The next section investigates the sublime and the beautiful. Burke once again emphasizes the primacy of the visual. The sublime must be something we cannot fully know, but this is actually better effected by language than visual imitation 54. “A clear idea is therefore another name for a little idea,” since a great idea will appear boundless 58. God, for this reason, is sublime. Burke compares length, height, and depth as modes of the great dimension of the sublime [these are also the visual dimensions of cinema – think Linda Williams on Avatar!] Depth is more sublime (looking down) than looking out or up can be 66. “No work of art can be great, but as it deceives,” and this it does by dimensions that appear boundless, but, paradoxically, not in excess 70.

Magnificence, which is the profusion of things, is also sublime [faceting]. Stars are not beautiful as one, but in their number.

“In works of art, this kind of grandeur, which consists in multitude, is to be very cautiously admitted; because, a profusion of excellent things is not to be attained, or with too much difficulty; and, because in many cases this splendid confusion would destroy all use, which should be attended to in most of the works of art with the greatest care; besides it is to be considered, that unless you can produce an appearance of infinity by your disorder, you will have a disorder only without magnificence” [Jameson, postmodernism, hysterical realism] 72.

“There are also many descriptions in the poets and orators which owe their sublimity to a richness and profusion of images, in which the mind is so dazzled as to make it impossible to attend to that exact coherence and agreement of the allusions” 72.

Smell and taste have a lesser role in greatness than sight and even sound [think of Vivian Sobchack: cinema is not touch itself, but s(t)imulates it]. Burke turns to beauty next. He contends, vs the Greeks, that beauty is not in proportion or measurement. He uses the scientific method to claim that if “two bodies produce the same or a similar effect on the mind,” the properties in which they agree, rather than disagree, should be examined 85. Beauty is varied not just between species of flora and fauna, but individuals of the same species (women). Still, “there is a certain proportion in each species absolutely essential to the beauty of that particular kind,” and “the beautiful in each kind will be found in the measures and proportions of that kind” 90. (This is where Kant will divide beauty and free beauty.)

If beauty were utility – the suitedness of a particular being to “answer its end,” then we would find many things beautiful that we instead find ugly 95. To be beautiful, the imagination must “revolt against the reason” 99. Burke considers that women affect weakness and silliness because “beauty in distress is much the most affecting” 100. We do not love the father’s authority as we do the mother’s tenderness 101. Beauty is “some quality in bodies, acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the senses” 102. Thus beauty is the mediated sensual experience of the object. Beauty is usually small, whereas the sublime is usually large (TV/cinema).

Burke then moves on to claim that every lovely thing is smooth: leaves, flowers, streams, “coats of birds and beasts in animal beauties; in fine women, smooth skins; and in several sorts of ornamental furniture, smooth and polished surfaces” 104. (Already underlying this idea seems to be the lack of challenge beauty presents, vs. the sublime – it is facile.) “Any ruggedness, any sudden projection, any sharp angle, is in the highest degree contrary” to beauty 104. He even imagines the suturing of the gaze across a woman’s body – the smooth maze around her neck and chest where the eye wanders 105.

Burke finally turns to touch. He claims that pleasing surfaces “are so by the slightness of the resistance they make” – “bodies which continually vary their surface,” but never “suddenly… squares, triangles, and other angular figures, are neither beautiful to the sight nor feeling” 110. In the end, beauty and the sublime are so explicitly gendered in Burke that to state it is an embarrassment.

Burke admits that many of these are his own personal conclusions. He also writes, in advance of Sobchack, as it were: “Our minds and bodies are so closely and intimately connected, that one is incapable of pain or pleasure without the other” 121. Some have periodized this as a loss in postmodernism, but it would be interesting to counter that with “cinesthetic bodies.” Love is one such connection of the mind and the body (beauty and lust) 136. Burke ends by beginning to prioritize poetry, since “words… [are] capable of being the representatives of these natural things… able to affect us often as strongly as the things they represent, and sometimes much more strongly” 161. (Think of Forster and sympathy, as well as how Burke himself makes sympathy a figuration…) Still, the purpose of the treatise, he asserts, was to create a standard of taste across genres.

 

Mikhail Bakhtin, “Discourse in the Novel”

1981

In “Epic and Novel,” Bakhtin argues that the novel flourishes on diversity, making it uniquely suited to post-industrial society. The novel can “swallow” and ape other genres without losing the integrity of its form (unlike the epic, for example). In “Discourse in the Novel,” Bakhtin introduces his idea of heteroglossia, based on “extralinguistic” features common across languages, like perspective, evaluation, and ideology, so that language cannot be fully neutralized because it is always defined by context. The focus of this essay is the insistence that literary study must neither be “formal” nor “ideological,” but that form and content are unified in discourse. The fixation on style, cut off from the sociality of discourse, is flat and abstract and the two must be put in conversation. “The novel as a whole is a phenomenon multiform in style and variform in speech and voice” 1192. Its “structured artistic system” is made up of direct narration, stylized narration, stylized everyday forms like the letter or diary, other literary but extra-artistic forms like scientific or journalistic texts, and stylized individual speech of characters 1192. They form together “a higher stylistic unity of the work as a whole, a unity that cannot be identified with any single one of the unities subordinated to it” 1192.

“The stylistic uniqueness of the novel as a genre consists precisely in the combination of these subordinated, yet still relatively autonomous, unities (even at times comprised of different languages) into the higher unity of the work as a whole… the language of a novel is the system of its ‘languages'” 1192.

“The novel orchestrates all its themes, the totality of the world of objects and ideas depicted and expressed in it, by means of the social diversity of speech types and by the differing individual voices that flourish under such conditions” 1192.

Because of this, critics often treat style or genre, not both, which the novel requires – the novel is often treated as ‘epic,’ and is therefore undervalued. (I wonder if James Wood’s idea of the novel isn’t as outdated as calling it an epic… the contemporary novel still adheres to most of Bakhtin’s aesthetic categories, just differently so.)

“At the time when poetry was accomplishing the task of cultural, national and political centralization of the verbal-ideological world… on the lower levels, on the stages of local fairs and at buffoon spectacles, the heteroglossia of the clown sounded forth, ridiculing all ‘languages’ and dialects… all ‘languages’ were masks and where no language could claim to be an authentic, incontestable face” 1200.

(It’s interesting to consider that he uses the word ‘face’ – also what about The Waste Land?) The problem with readings of the novel, for Bakhtin, is that they seek the same unity in diversity that languages themselves show, rather than dialogism between the text and outside world.

“No living word relates to its object in a singular way: between the word and its object, between the word and the speaking subject, there exists an elastic environment of other, alien words about the same object, the same theme, and this is an environment that is often difficult to penetrate… The word, directed toward its object, enters a dialogically agitated and tension-filled environment of alien words, value judgments and accents, weaves in and out of complex interrelationships… this may crucially shape discourse, may leave a trace” 1202.

“A word forms a concept of its own object in a dialogic way… It encounters an alien word not only in the object itself: every word is directed toward an answer and cannot escape the profound influence of the answering word that it anticipates… oriented toward the listener and his answer” 1205.

For Bakhtin, poetic discourse is closed off to alien languages, indisputable, whereas novelistic discourse is open to them, variable.

“At any given moment of its historical existence, language is heteroglot from top to bottom: it represents the coexistence of socio-ideological contradictions between the present and the past, between differing epochs of the past, between different socio-ideological groups in the present, between tendencies, schools, circles, and so forth, all given a bodily form… each… requires a methodology very different from the others” 1214.

(I wonder if you could consider The Wire as attempting to do this televisually.)

“The poet strips the word of others’ intentions, he uses only such words and forms (and only in such a way) that they lose their link with concrete intentional levels of language and their connection with specific contexts… Everything that enters the work must immerse itself in Lethe, and forget its previous life in any other contexts: language may remember only its life in poetic contexts” 1217.

This seems like a sort of “poetic suture” for Bakhtin. I think it is overstated, to be sure, especially given the existence of Eliot, but it is interesting to think about how this could be compared with the especially heteroglot, object-oriented worlds of the contemporary novel or TV series, which take Bakhtin’s and Kristeva’s ideas about heteroglossia to their most fecund point.

“When heteroglossia enters the novel it becomes subject to an artistic reworking. The social and historical voices populating language, all its words and all its forms, which provide language with its particular concrete conceptualizations, are organized in the novel into a structured stylistic system that expresses the differentiated socio-ideological position of the author amid the heteroglossia of his epoch” 1220.

 

Deleuze & Guattari, Introduction: “One Thousand Plateaus”

1987

Translator’s Note (Brian Massumi): Deleuze “discovered an orphan line of thinkers who were tied by no direct descendance but were united in their opposition to the State philosophy that would nevertheless accord them minor positions in its canon. Between Lucretius, Hume, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Bergson there exists a ‘secret link constituted by the critique of negativity, the cultivation of joy, the hatred of interiority, the exteriority of forces and relations, the denunciation of power'” x. Guattari is a practicing psychoanalyst. Versus phallogocentrism as pointed out by Cixous and Irigaray (“what the most privileged model of rocklike identity is goes without saying”), “Deleuze & Guattari describe it as the ‘arborescent model’ of thought (the proudly erect tree under whose spreading boughs latter-day Platos conduct their class) xii. “Nomad thought does not immure itself in the edifice of an ordered interiority; it moves freely in an element of exteriority” xii.

“The space of nomad thought is qualitatively different from State space. Air against earth. State space is ‘striated,’ or gridded. Movement in it is confined as by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points. Nomad space is ‘smooth,’ or open-ended. One can rise up at any point and move to any other. Its mode of distribution is the nomos: arraying oneself in an open space (hold the street), as opposed to the logos of entrenching oneself in a closed space (hold the fort)” xiii.

For Massumi, nomad thought is comparable to Spinoza’s ethics, Nietzsche’s gay science, Artaud’s crowned anarchy, Blanchot’s ‘space of literature,’ or Foucault’s ‘outside thought’ xiii. “On a formal level, it is mathematics and music that create the smoothest of the smooth spaces” xiii. (Philosophy is more “music with content” than the opposite.) The book, then, is more like a record – one can skip tracks, repeat, etc. “Plateau” has its origins in a sexual reference – to a world of “plateaus’ in sexuality, rather than “the West’s orgasmic orientation” xiv.

“A plateau is reached when circumstances combine to bring an activity to a pitch of intensity that is not automatically dissipated in a climax. The heightening of energies is sustained long enough to leave a kind of afterimage of its dynamism that can be reactivated or injected into other activities, creating a fabric of intensive states between which any number of connecting routes could exist” xiv.

Thus, ‘consistency’ or ‘style’ here is a holding together, rather than a homogeneity. The particular dates of particular chapters “correspond to the point at which that particular dynamism found its purest incarnation in matter… that never lasts more than a flash” xiv.

“The reader is invited to follow each section to the plateau that rises from the smooth space of its composition, and to move from one plateau to the next at pleasure. But it is just as good to ignore the heights. You can take a concept that is particularly to your liking and jump with it to its next appearance. They tend to cycle back. Some might call that repetitious. Deleuze and Guattari call it a refrain. Most of all, the reader is invited to lift a dynamism out of the book entirely, and incarnate it in a foreign medium, whether it be painting or politics. The authors steal from other disciplines with glee, but they are more than happy to return the favor” xv.

“Deleuze’s own image for a concept is not a brick, but a ‘tool box.’ He calls his kind of philosophy ‘pragmatics’ because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to a system of belief or an architecture of propositions that you either enter or you don’t, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying… read [this book] as a challenge: to pry open the vacant spaces that would enable you to build your life and those of the people around you into a plateau of intensity that would leave afterimages of its dynamism that could be reinjected into still other lives, creating a fabric of heightened states between which any number, the greatest number, of connecting routes could exist. Some might call that promiscuous. Deleuze and Guattari call it revolution” xv.

Interesting how the text enacts “refrain” here! “The question is not: is it true? But: does it work?” xv.

1:  INTRODUCTION: RHIZOME

In the process of writing together, “We are no longer ourselves… We have been aided, inspired, multiplied” 3.

“A book has neither object nor subject; it is made of variously formed matters, and very different dates and speeds. To attribute the book to a subject is to overlook this working of matters, and the exteriority of their relations. It is to fabricate a beneficent God to explain geological movements… articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories… lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification… rates of flow… phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity… acceleration and rupture… an assemblage… It is a multiplicity” 3-4.

“One side of a machine assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” 4.

“What is the body without organs of a book?… there is no difference between what a book talks about and how it is made… as an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs… [not] what it means, as signified or signifier… with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge” 4.

“A book exists only through the outside and on the outside… this literary machine to a war machine, love machine… All we talk about are multiplicities, lines, strata, and segmentarities… writing as always the measure of something else” 4.

“Writing has nothing to do with signifying. It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come” 5.

The authors describe “the root-book… the classical book, as noble signifying, and subjective organic interiority (the strata of the book)” 5.  ”

“The book imitates the world, as art imitates nature… The law of the book is the law of reflection, the One that becomes two… whenever we encounter this formula, even stated strategically by Mao or understood in the most ‘dialectical’ way possible, what we have before us is the most classical and well reflected, oldest, and weariest kind of thought… [but] in nature, roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one… Binary logic is the spiritual reality of the root-tree… this system of thought has never reached an understanding of multiplicity… [but instead a dualism based in] a strong principle unity…” 5.

“The binary logic of dichotomy has simply been replaced by biunivocal relationships between successive circles. The pivotal taproot provides no better understanding of multiplicity than the dichotomous root. One operates in the object, the other in the subject. Binary logic and biunivocal relationships still dominate psychoanalysis… linguistics, structuralism, and even information systems…” 5.

Deleuze & Guattari point to the “radicle-system or fascicular root” (interesting that radical has as its root the word “root,” and that fascicular is the same root, fascista, as gives us fascist) 5 and William Burroughs’ “cut-up method: the folding of one text onto another, which constitutes multiple and even adventitious roots… implies a supplementary dimension… of folding… the most resolutely fragmented work can also be presented as the Total Work or Magnum Opus” 6.

“Most modern methods for making series proliferate or a multiplicity grow are perfectly valid in one direction, for example, a linear direction, whereas a unity of totalization asserts itself even more firmly in another, circular or cyclic, dimension. Whenever a multiplicity is taken up in a structure, its growth is offset by a reduction in its laws of combination. The abortionists of unity are indeed angel makers, doctores angelici, because they affirm a properly angelic and superior unity. Joycce’s words, accurately described as having ‘multiple roots,’ shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge: 6.

“The fascicular system does not really break with dualism, with the complementarity between a subject and an object… the world has become chaos, but the book remains the image of the world… A strange mystification: a book all the more total for being fragmented… The multiple must be made… Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n-1 dimensions. A system of this kind could be called a rhizome” 6.

“The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers… the best and the worst…” 7.

The authors go on to delineate 6 characteristics of the rhizome:

1. & 2. “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be” 7. They want to differentiate this from other systems, including Chomsky’s on language, which holds a central symbol. “Our criticism of these linguistic models is not that they are too abstract but, on the contrary, that they are not abstract enough… A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles… a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages… no ideal speaker-listener” 8. The rhizome decenters and destabilizes language.

3. “It is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, ‘multiplicity,’ that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world” 8.

“Multiplicities are rhizomatic, and expose arborescent pseudomultiplicities for what they are. There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows). Puppet strings, as a rhizome or multiplicity, are tied not to the supposed will of an artist or puppeteer but to a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions… the weave… An assemblage is precisely this increase in the dimensions of a multiplicity that necessarily changes in nature as it expands its connections. There are no points or positions in a rhyizome, such as those found in a structure, tree, or root. There are only lines… making the whole piece proliferate.” 8.

“Unity always operates in an empty dimension supplementary to that of the system considered (overcoding). The point is that a rhizome or multiplicity never allows itself to be overcoded, never has available a supplementary dimension over and above its number of lines, that is, over and above the multiplicity of numbers attached to those lines. All multiplicities are flat, in the sense that they fill or occupy all of their dimensions… a plane of consistensy of multiplicities… the dimensions of this ‘plane’ increase with the number of connections… Multiplicities are defined by the outside… the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities… flattening all of the multiplicities on a single plane of consistency or exteriority, regardless of their number of dimensions” 8-9.

“The ideal for a book would be to lay everything out on a plane of exteriority of this kind, on a single page, the same sheet: lived events, historical determinations, concepts, individuals, groups, social formations… a broken chain of affects and variable speeds, with accelerations and transformations, always in a relation to the outside. Open rings [versus] the classical or romantic book constituted by the interiority of a substance or subject. The war-machine book against the State apparatus-book. Flat multiplicities of n dimensions are asignifying and asubjective… partitives… some…” 9.

4. “Against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines… ants… lines of segmentarity… as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees… one can never posit a dualism or a dichotomy” 9.  “Groups and individuals contain microfascisms just waiting to crystallize” 10. ‘We form a rhizome with our viruses, or rather our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with other animals… The rhizome is an anti-genealogy” 10-11.

“The same applies to the book and the world: contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can). Mimicry is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature” 11. (hysterical realism!)

“Always follow the rhizome by rupture; lengthen, prolong, and relay the line of flight; make it vary, until you have produced the most abstract and tortuous of lines of n dimensions and broken directions… Follow the plants: you start by delimiting a first line consisting of circles of convergence around successive singularities; then you see whether inside that line new circles of convergence establish themselves, with new points located outside the limits and in other directions. Write, form a rhizome… extend the line of flight to the point where it becomes an abstract maching covering the entire plane of consistency” 11.

D & G idealize music somewhat because it so often overturns its own structures.

5. & 6. “Cartography… The rhizome is… a map and not a tracing… entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real… does not reproduce an unconscious closed in upon itself; it constructs the unconscious… connections between fields, the removal of blockages on bodies without organs… open and connectable in all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification… Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways… the burrow… performance [vs competence]” 12 (think of Silko and Pynchon, as well as of Jameson’s critice of the Hotel Bonaventure).  Applied to psychoanalysis, this approach pushes against approaches that treat drives as “entryways and exits,” not facile labels and structures to which patients easily adhere 13. “Take a look at psychoanalysis and linguistics: all the former has ever made are tracings or photos of the unconscious, and the latter of language” 13. “Plug the tracings back into the map,” suggest the authors 14.

“If it is true that it is of the essence of the map or rhizome to have multiple entryways, then it is plausible that one could even enter them through tracings or the root-tree, assuming the necessary precautions are taken… one will often be forced to take dead ends, to work with signifying powers and subjective affections, to find a foothold in formations that are Oedipal or paranoid or even worse, rigidified territorialities that open the way for other transformational operations. i tis even possible for psychoanalysis to serve as a foothold, in spite of itself… there are very diverse map-tracing, rhizome-root assemblages, with variable coefficients of deterritorialization… a tree branch or root might begin to burgeon into a rhizome… aggregates of intensities” 15.

(This sounds a lot like Foucault’s suggestion for resisting power structures.) “Accounting and bureaucracy proceed by trancings: they can begin to burgeon nonetheless, throwing out rhizome stems, as in a Kafka novel. An intensive trait… challenging the hegemony of the signifier” 15. The child has freedom in his movements from dominance (think Lolita!).

“To be rhizomorphous is to produce stems and filaments that seem to be roots, or better yet connect with them by penetrating the trunk, but put them to strange new uses. We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, radicles… from biology to linguistics” 15.

“Thought is not arborescent, and the brain is not a rooted or ramified matter. What are wrongly called ‘dendrites’ do not assure the connection of neurons in a continuous fabric… the leap each message makes across these fissures, make the brain a multiplicity immersed in its plane of consistency or neuroglia, a whole uncertain, probabilistic system (‘the uncertain nervous system’). Many people have a tree growing in their heads, but the brain itself is much more a grass than a tree” 15.

D & G differentiate between short-term memory as rhizome and long-term memory as tree:

“The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts. Short-term memory includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome” 16.

“The tree and root inspire a sad image of thought that is forever imitating the multiple on the basis of a centered or segmented higher unity… even if the links themselves proliferate, one can never get beyond the One-Two, and fake multiplicities… even when one thinks one has reached a multiplicity, it may be a false one – of what we call the radicle type – because its ostensibly nonhierarchical presentation or statement in fact only admits of a totally hierarchical solution.. the structure of Power” 16-17.

“Psychoanalysis… subjects the unconscious to arborescent structures, hierarchical graphs, recapitulatory memories, central organs, the phallus, the phallus-tree… a dictatorial conception of the unconscious… there is always a leader (General Freud). Schizoanalysis, on the other hand, treats the unconscious as an acentered system, in other words, as a machine network of finite automata (a rhizome), and thus arrives at an entirely different state of the unconscious… and linguistics… never to reduce the unconscious or to interpret it or to make it signify according to a tree model… [but to] produce the unconscious… new statements, different desires: the rhizome is precisely the production of the unconscious” 18.

(How ironic that Saussure came up with the argument for sign, a unity made of the binary signified/signifier, with the arbor/tree example.)

“Transcendence: a specifically European disease. Neither is music [in the East and the West] the same, the music of the earth is different, as is sexuality: seed plants, even those with two sexes in the same plant, subjugate sexuality to the reproductive model; the rhizome, on the other hand, is a liberation of sexuality not only from reproduction but also from genitality. Here in the West, the tree has implanted itself in our bodies, rigidifying and stratifying even the sexes. We have lost the rhizome, or the grass” 18.

“America is a special case. Of course it is not immune from domination by trees or the search for roots. This is evident in the literature, in the quest for a national identity and even for a European ancestry or genealogy… nevertheless, everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the underground, bands and gangs, successive lateral offshoots in immediate connection with an outside. American books are different than European books, even when the American sets off in pursuit of trees. The conception of the book is different. Leaves of Grass. And directions in America are different: the search for arborescence and the return to the Old World occur in the East. But there is the rhizomatic West, with its Indians without ancestry, its ever-receding limit, its shifting and displaced frontiers. There is a whole American ‘map’ in the West, where even the trees form rhizomes. America reversed the directions: it put its Orient in the West, as if it were precisely in America that the earth came full circle, its West is the edge of the East” 19.

“[America] proceeds both by internal exterminations and liquidations (not only the Indians but also the farmers, etc) and by successive waves of immigration from the outside. The flow of capital produces an immense channel, a quanitification of power with immediate ‘quanta,’ where each person profits from the passage of the money flow in his or her own way (hence the reality-myth of the poor man who strikes it rich and then falls into poverty again): in America, everything comes together, tree and channel, root and rhizome. There is no universal capitalism, there is no capitalism in itself; capitalism is at the crossroads of all kinds of formations; it is neocapitalism by nature. It invents its eastern face and western face, and reshapes them both – all for the worst” 20.

This seems relevant again to Foucault’s idea of how to fight fire with fire, so to speak.

“There are knot of arborescence in rhizomes, and rhizomatic offshoots in roots… the root-tree and canal-rhizome are not two opposed models: the first operates as a transcendent model and tracing, even if it engenders its own escapes; the second operates as an immanent process that overturns the model and outlines a map, even if it constitutes its own hierarchies… not a question of this or that place on earth, or of a given moment in history… a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself, breaking off and starting up again… not a new or different dualism… we employ a dualism of models only in order to arrive at a process that challenges all models” 20.

“Arrive at the magic formula we all seek – Pluralism = Monism – via all the dualisms that are the enemy, an entirely necessary enemy, the furniture we are forever rearranging… it is composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion… neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of consistency, and from which the One is always subtracted (n-1). When a multiplicity of this kind changes dimension, it necessarily changes in nature as well, undergoes a metamorphosis” 21.

“Unlike a structure, which is defined by a set of points and positions, with binary relationships between the points and biunivocal relationships between the positions, the rhizome is made only of lines: lines of segmentarity and stratification as its dimensions, and the line of flight or deterritorialization as the maximum dimension after which the multiplicity undergoes metamorphosis… it is a short-term memory, or antimemory… operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots… a map that must be produced, constructed, a map that is always detachable, connectable, reversible, modifiable, and has multiple entryways and exits and its own lines of flight… an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton… What is at question in the rhizome is a relation to sexuality – but also to the animal, the vegetal, the world, politics, the book, things natural and artificial – that is totally different from the arborescent relation: all manner of ‘becomings'” 21.

“A plateau is always in the middle… a rhizome is made of plateaus… a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end… [Balinese] mother-child sexual games… ‘Some sort of contintuing plateau of intensity is substituted for (sexual) climax’… a book composed of chapters has culmination and termination points. What takes place in a book composed instead of plateaus that communicate with one another across microfissures, as in a brain? We call a ‘plateau’ any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities by superficial underground stems in such a way as to form or extend a rhizome” 22.

“Rhizomatics = schizoanalysis = stratoanalysis = pragmatics = micropolitics. These words are concepts, but concepts are lines, which is to say, number systems attached to a particular dimension of the multiplicities… all we know are assemblages… machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation” 22.

“It’s not easy to see thinkgs in the middle, rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below, or from left to right or right to left… never is a plateau separable from the cows that populate it, which are also the clouds in the sky” 23.

The authors oppose Nomadology to History – not the sedentary, unified product of the state apparatus, but a moving, diverse one of multiple narratives. “Why is a model still necessary?” 24.

“Rhizomatics = pop analysis, even if the people have other things to do besides read it, even if the blocks of academic culture or pseudoscientificity in it are still too painful or ponderous… any precarious and pragmatic framework is better than tracing concepts, with their breaks and progress changing nothing. Imperceptible rupture, not signifying break” 24.

“A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjuncion, ‘and… and… and…’… proceeding from the middle, coming and going rather than starting and finishing. American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the and, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings” 25.

Again, this would be an interesting linguistic/national/periodizing gesture to include in the justification of the works I’m choosing – mostly American but also British novels and television series.