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Deleuze and the philosophy of resistance

ANTI-OEDPUS / It is approx. 50 years since the French book Anti-Oedipus – capitalism and schizophrenia was published. We are therefore printing here a new essay by Professor Knut Stene-Johansens about, among other things, this book he translated from French to Norwegian in 2002. According to him, the book is colourful, a red cloth in the fray of self-congratulatory philosophy and other analytical greats. Anti-Oedipus is an exemplary 'desire machine' – understood as a system of violations. The work displays a strong and constructive opposition to Freudian psychoanalysis as well as traditional philosophy's claims to truth. Their positive concept of desire contrasts with the concept of Freud and Lacan, which is seen negatively as a lack. At the same time: All of Deleuze's texts represent a form of resistance.


'Resistance' is a term which, on the one hand, links to various forms of activism, such as rebellion, mobilisation, struggle against excessive forms of power, civil disobedience. On the other hand, the term has a theoretical dimension, as something creative, creative. In the following will resistanceThe term – or terms – can be read with and against the flow in several works by Gilles Deleuze, with and without Félix Guattari, as well as tentatively in relation to a bunch of other theorists, such as Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière.

There is, for example, a lot of resistance that is expressed in Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus – capitalism and schizophrenia# from 1972. In this work, the opposition to us formally shines linguistically and stylistically as well as thematically and academically, with the insistent interdisciplinarity and the diverse conceptual apparatus from which the works' composition springs. The term composition is not randomly chosen, it points to that Anti-Oedipus is a work of art. According to Michel Foucault in his famous foreword to the English-language edition of the book (and which is included in the Norwegian one), can Anti-Oedipus considered an "introduction to non-fascist life". Not only the political and historical fascism, but also "the fascism in all of us, in our minds and our everyday behavior, the fascism that makes us love power, and to desire the same thing that rules over us and exploits us." As an introduction to non-fascist life is Anti-Oedipus a handbook in resistance. Anti-Oedipus plays on:

The two great Oedipals, Proust and Kafka, are just oedipale for fun – and those who take Oedipus seriously feel free to add to them deathly sad novels or commentaries. But guess what you miss: the comic of the superman, the schizo laugh that makes Proust and Kafka shake behind the Oedipal grimace – a 'become-spider' or a 'become-beetle'.

for a minor literature

Deleuze and Guattari's Weasel Sequel Kafka – for a minor literature from 1975, on the other hand, can be said to have been written to resist the urge to define, define and categorize an authorship. It's experimental and innovative, and definitely about resistance. The 'minor literature' is a genuine one resistance literature, opposition to the dominance of institutionalized literature, and where the fact that it is 'less' is, as it says in the book's third chapter, "one of the revolutionary prerequisites for all literature within so-called great (or established) literature". The three characteristics of minor literature are "the deterritorialisation of language, the individual's link to the immediately political, as well as the collective arrangement of the statement". The concept minor literature, moreover, in French has a built-in resistance component, as minor can also mean 'undermine'.

For Deleuze, a line of escape is synonymous with a line of resistance.

Through French television's coverage of the war in Ukraine have we been reminded that a deminer is someone who clears mines in a war zone. But it is on the linguistic level that the smaller literature exerts its resistance, in that its language breaks through the larger language, for example Goethe's German, breaks with its powerful currents – and creates lines of escape, lines of flight: cracks, breaks, cuts and splits. Thus, literature, or the literary machine, becomes "the network for a future revolutionary machine". One line of flight is for Deleuze synonymous with a line of resistance, and it is important to be clear that this does not point out of this world: "Already in the animal short stories, Kafka draws lines of escape, but he does not flee 'out of the world', it was rather the world and its representation that he chased off along these flight lines (to spread it outward or leak it)'.

In the terminology from Anti-Oedipus og Kafka – for a minor literature the large language is pierced and 'deterritorialized' by the smaller language, for example the dry and metaphor-poor German that Kafka unfolds according to Deleuze and Guattari. Naturally and productively enough, the concept of minor literature is rather controversial.

The resistance poets

I Anti-Oedipus is it Artaud and Beckett who appear as the most central resistance poets. Although these writings do not specifically have rebellion or resistance as their theme, the forms of resistance are active in these modernist texts. Like when Artaud coining formulations that are taken up in the concept of 'the body without organs', or as when Beckett supplies the work with countless illustrations for the schizoanalytical work. Anti-Oedipus is itself an exemplary machine of desire, understood as a "system of violations". The book is colourful, a red cloth in the fray of self-congratulatory philosophy and other analytical greats. Just listen to one of the first passages of the magnificent first chapter of the Desire Machines: "A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic stretched out on the sofa. A little fresh air, a relationship with the outside. For example, Lenz's wanderings, as Büchner reconstructed them."

"A schizophrenic out for a walk is a better model than a neurotic stretched out on the sofa. A little fresh air, a relationship with the outside.”

In this way, the work exhibits a strong resistance to it freudian psychoanalysis as well as the truth claims of traditional philosophy, with all its exercise of scientific authority. References to art and literature abound, creating a resistance to unambiguous interpretation. Deleuze himself has called the work a political philosophy, and here as in Kafka – for a minor literature, the resistance is not mobilized as an activism, but rather as a thought process. Foucault writes in his preface to Anti-Oedipus that being anti-Oedipal is a way of life, and precisely, "a way of thinking". We learn to imagine resistance with these works, exercise rhizomatisk reflection, connect us directly to the immediately political, preferably in euphoria or laughter. For the matter is that in the Kafka book and in the two volumes about capitalism og schizophrenia humor is an important and perhaps slightly overlooked move. It may also be the case that these works primarily disarm themselves, something Foucault touches on by saying that the play and humor in Anti-Oedipus is the authors' attempt to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse.

Being anti-Oedipal is a way of life, a way of thinking” – we learn to think resistance.

Does resistance come before power?

On the whole, all of Deleuze's texts, with and without Guattari, represent a form of resistance. In his book Resistance and the Politics of Truth. Foucault, Deleuze, Badiou from 1989 notes Iain MacKenzie correspondingly, the concept of resistance has a significant presence in Deleuze's works, from the book on Nietzsche that was published in 1962, to the partly posthumously published video interviews with Claire Parnet. The French philosopher Françoise Proust (1947–1998) at least suggests the central role of resistance in Deleuze in The Line of Resistance (1997/2000), where she, like so many after her, highlights what she herself calls a surprising affirmation in Deleuze's book on Foucault. It is an important point in Deleuze's resistance thinking that emerges when he here comments on Foucault's well-known formulation in the first volume of The History of Sexuality on power and resistance, in the chapter on method, where it reads: "Where there is power, there is resistance, and yet, or rather because of this, this resistance is never in an external position in relation to power". It is a formulation that can be regarded as a transposition of physical laws into the social and humanistic field: The laws of physics dictate that when a force meets an opposing force, a resistance will always be triggered that counteracts the movement of the first force. IN The punishing society from 1973 Foucault emphasizes, according to Knut Ove Eliassen, that resistance is coinciding with the power, not given prior to it, but also irreducible to it. For Françoise Proust, on the other hand, it is surprising that Deleuze, in his commentary on Foucault, precisely emphasizes that resistance comes first: "la résistance est première". Now it is true that Foucault himself has formulated something along the same lines on several occasions. In an interview from 1974, Foucault says interesting words about the position of resistance in relation to power:

«You see, if there was no resistance, there would be no power relations. Because it would simply be a matter of obedience. You have to use power relations to refer to the situation where you’re not doing what you want. So resistance comes first, and resistance remains superiour to the forces of the process; power relations are obliged to change with the resistance. So I think that resistance is the main word, the key word of this dynamic.»

Then it may happen that resistance comes first, and that powern are subjected to forms of resistance. But Foucault does not elaborate on it, and later seems not to be interested in the problem. John Hartman points out, however, in a lecture in 2003 that Foucault's concept of resistance changes after the first volume of The History of Sexuality, that it is reshaped in the light of his analyzes of biopolitics and Western state fascism, and that the term becomes more substantial and operative. Hartman refers to Foucault's Tokyo lecture from 1982 on the subject and power as a new version of the method chapter in The History of Sexuality. Resistance is here positively defined, not just as a by-product of power.

​Resistance as immanent force

The Françoise Proust Deleuze's idea that the resistance comes first becomes a statement like "[…] could be said to summarize the whole work". She is probably thinking of the work that encloses this statement, the book Foucault (1986), but the commentary also opens the door to include Deleuze's entire philosophical work. For isn't resistance as an immanent force part of the distinctive form of vitalism we find in Deleuze? Aren't the very titles "Anti-Oedipus" and "Kafka – for a minor literature" characterized by a resistance? Françoise Proust regards Deleuze's statement about the primacy of resistance as paradoxical, because, she writes, either resistance can co-exist with power (or power) or it can follow it but never precede it.

​So what does it mean then, that resistance comes first? Proust argues that resistance is a kind of double negation. Resistance stands up against the power that provokes it, but also against its own opposite, and thus creates a new movement. The resistance is this movement or action, the affirmative reversal of its own opposition (“reversal of the counter”), a destabilization of power relations. To claim that "resistance comes first" is, according to Proust, to say that figure of thoughta resistance is like a line, on the outside of power relations, or as the outside of power itself, a kind of pure exteriority, perhaps even a form of indifference.

The figures of resistance in Deleuze are not based on any heroic rebellion against injustice or struggle against oppression, rather they are the expression of an original and anonymous existence.

The figures of resistance in Deleuze are not based on any heroic rebellion against injustice or struggle against oppression, Proust claims, rather they are the expression of an original and anonymous existence, similar to the one Foucault touches on in his preface to the unrealized book project The Lives of Infamous Men ("The lives of dishonorable people"). Proust links these anonymous existences to literary figures Deleuze, for his part, has a sense of, among others the figure of Herman Melville Bartleby, where the copyist's moderate statement "I prefer not to" appears as a distinctive form of resistance, or also Samuel Beckett's molloy, with the non-stop chatter and repetitions.

​Resistance nevertheless becomes a central concern. It can, like Albert Camus says in the essay The rebel from 1951 be "one of the essential dimensions of man". But it can also turn against itself and end in nihilism, as Camus illustrates with his discussion of resistance, both in the form of metaphysical and historical rebellion. In conclusion, in her article, Françoise Proust raises the question of whether the power of resistance is linked to death or life.

The medicine of literature

It is perhaps not so surprising that Deleuze claims that resistance comes first. No death without first having been life, life comes before death, and is resistance to death as long as it lasts. For Deleuze, literature and art also become a question of health, of (mental and cultural) immunity and resistance to shame, death, slavery, exploitation.

Deleuze is very clear when he comments on the illusory nature of the tendency to want to write in order to tell about memories, journeys, love stories, sorrows, dreams or phantasms, or in being preoccupied with literature as a rewarding form of expression of neuroses or psychosisr. Illness and mental disorders are not passages of life, they are not themselves any kind of process, but rather the cessation of the process, "states one falls into when the process is interrupted, prevented and blocked".

Jean Paul Sartre's readings of Flaubert and Baudelaire could also be thought of as falling into the same category, together with Julia Kristeva's analysis of Duras, where she Black sun (1987/94) warns fragile souls against reading Duras, because the melancholy in her novels is without catharsis and therefore contagious.

This, like the many comments on Nietzsches madness, the "case of Nietzsche", as Deleuze mentions, or perhaps also Hölderlin, Strindberg, Hemingway, Hesse, Plath, Woolf, Keruac. The list can be made long. If we add other art forms, the list becomes almost endless – Munch, van Gogh, Beethoven – and it becomes meaningless.

Deleuze writes: "The author is additionally and as such not sick, but rather a mediciner, a doctor for himself and for the world". The literature thus appears as a therapeutic, healing project, "une entreprise de santé". However, Deleuze quite obviously offers a different way of thinking than that which we find in, for example, Alain de Botton and his popular science book on art as therapy.

Nor is the power of resistance and defense possessed by literature based on the author having a superior constitution or health (great health). Rather, the author can benefit from an "irresistible, fragile health" that makes it possible to take in and open up to experiences and experiences with overwhelming, exhausting impressions that a dominant health would make completely inaccessible. The role model is Spinozas fragile health, "because it is persistent and until the end bears witness to a new vision that it opens up to in the course of the process".

A revolutionary community of resistance

Og health as literature and writing is about "finding a missing people". What does this mean?

Deleuze repeats the idea that literature and art are aimed at a coming people, a people who are missing. In the article on literature and life, the incomparable ability of American literature (Herman Melville, Thomas Wolfe) to convey a common experience belonging to a people from all over the world is highlighted, but note less people, in the sense that there is no question of American world dominance, but a conglomerate of voices and statements which is rather a revolutionary community of resistance. The power of resistance does not lie in the dominant, large language, but in the literature which, with reference to Marcel Proust, appears as "a the alien species language, which is not another language, or a rediscovered dialect, but a language's bleven-annen, a minorisering of the dominant language, a delirium that drags it along, a spell line that shirks the dominant system”.

Deleuze writes that literature causes a decomposition or destruction of native languaget, but at the same time, through syntactic innovation, it invents a new language within the language. He refers again to Proust, and quotes: "The only way to defend language is to attack it [...] Every writer is obliged to shape his language."

It is Nietzsche and Kant who are the forerunners Anti-Oedipus, not Marx and Freud.

​The line of resistance is a line of escape, according to Deleuze. This is central, because it shows how resistance is already built into Deleuze's ontology, which lies behind the conceptual clarifications with Foucault. Anti-Oedipus is known for the idea that Marx's political economy and Freud's libidinal economy coincide. However, Daniel W. Smith points out that it is Nietzsche and Kant who are the forerunners Anti-Oedipus, not Marx and Freud. And this, he believes, makes it possible to see the difference between Foucault's and Deleuze's view of resistance more clearly: Kant's theory of desire in the light of Nietzschean inspiration. In this context, it is interesting to note that for Deleuze, the Nietzschean affirmation more than an acceptance or an affirmation of life: it is to create, and to "liberate, set free what lives".

As mentioned, Deleuze uses the terms 'line of resistance' and 'line of flight' synonymously, among other things in the text "Désir et plaisir" (desire and pleasure), which is actually a note left behind in the form of a letter addressed to Foucault. Here he comments on Foucault's above The History of Sexuality volume I, which also bears the subtitle The Will of Knowledge, a work which had recently been published. Deleuze writes that while Foucault prefers the term fun before desire, which he could not fail to associate with lack and consequently appears repressive. This despite the fact that he admits that Deleuze uses the term differently. IN anti-
For their part, Deleuze and Guattari emphasize that their concept of desire in contrast to how the concept is understood by Freud and Lacan is precisely not based on any deficiency. Lackone is the domain of interests, while desire, i Anti-Oedipus, far from being an individual affair rather forms part of a social formation. The line of resistance in Deleuze is one avant-garde, a way further from , territorialization of power formations. But this resistance is drawn up innenfor a regime of power.


See also the case

Knut Stene Johansen
Knut Stene Johansen
Stene-Johansen is professor of literature at the University of Oslo. The essay is based on a recent small seminar in Italy with MODERN TIMES' editor, Erland Kiøsterud and Lars Holm-Hansen.

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