Deleuze, Critical and Clinical
Charles J. Stivale(bio)
Review of Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.
Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller (eds.), Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.
The availability of the translations in Essays Critical and Clinical (ECC) is a boon not only to aficionados of Deleuze and Guattari studies, but also to readers more generally who seek yet another accessible entry point to Deleuze’s thought and philosophy. Moreover, the additional collection of critical studies edited by Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller provides further evidence of the mini-boom in D&G studies occurring in the latter part of this decade.
Besides direct access in English to Deleuze’s texts, some dating back to the early 1960s but updated for this collection, what makes ECC all the more valuable is the admirably comprehensive introductory essay by one of the two translators, Daniel W. Smith, entitled “‘A Life of Pure Immanence’: Deleuze’s ‘Critique et Clinique’ Project.” In the introduction’s opening sections, Smith carefully situates the two focal terms of the collection’s title: for Deleuze, the term “critical” refers both to literary criticism and “to critique in the Kantian sense of the word” (ECC xxiv), while for Deleuze, “the question that links literature and life, in both its ontological and ethical aspects, is the question of health” (ECC xv), understood not as robust or fragile physical health, but literature linked “to its ‘vitality,’ that is, the ‘tenor’ of Life” (ECC xvi). Deleuze’s approach thus offers an alternative symptomatology that shows how the clinical symptoms of new modes of existence (e.g. of sadism and masochism) are inseparable both from literary style and techniques (e.g. of Sade, of [End Page 192] Masoch) and, in turn, from political acts of resistance (ECC xviii–xix). Smith concludes that the essays in ECC are precisely “literary-clinical studies of specific writers,” in which “the proper name does not refer to a particular person as an author but to a regime of signs or concepts, a determinate multiplicity or assemblage” (ECC xx).
Deleuze’s own Preface situates his approach more succinctly: drawing upon a Proustian dictum that writers invent (or must invent) a foreign language within a language and thus render language delirious (la fait délirer), Deleuze argues that the “visions and auditions that are not of language, but which language alone makes possible,” constitute a process of delirium that invents “driving words from one end of the universe to the other,” all the way “into the clinical state, [where] words no longer open out onto anything” (ECC lv). Thus, the texts in ECC form for Deleuze “a set of paths,” external and intersecting, constituted by problems, texts, and their authors, along which one travels “only by virtue of the internal paths and trajectories that compose [a work], that constitute its landscape or its concert” (ECC lvi). The two general statements of this approach may be found in the essays “Literature and Life” and “He Stuttered.” Particularly in the latter, Deleuze explains different ways in which a writer makes language foreign, especially in making language stutter by creating “an affective and intensive language, and no longer an affectation of the one who speaks” (ECC 107). This creative approach connects to the destabilization of a major language by rendering it minor, i.e. to “make the language take flight [by] send[ing] it racing along a witch’s line, ceaselessly placing it in a state of disequilibrium, making it bifurcate and vary in each of its terms, following an incessant modulation” (ECC 109). Brief examples abound here as Deleuze points to effects created by different writers—notably Kafka, Gherasim Luca, Beckett, Péguy, Melville, Artaud. However, these effects all relate to Deleuze’s particular definition of “style” as “the foreign language within language,” i.e. “to make one’s language stutter, face to face, or face to back, and at the same time to push language as a whole to its limit, to its outside, to its silence—this would be like the boom...
The final work of this essential thinker.
Essays Critical and Clinical is the final work of the late Gilles Deleuze, one of the most important and vital figures in contemporary philosophy. It includes essays, all newly revised or published here for the first time, on such diverse literary figures as Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Alfred Jarry, and Lewis Carroll, as well as philosophers such as Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
For Deleuze, every literary work implies a way of living, a form of life, and must be evaluated not only critically but also clinically. As Proust said, great writers invent a new language within language, but in such a way that language in its entirety is pushed to its limit or its own “outside.” This outside of language is made up of affects and precepts that are not linguistic, but which language alone nonetheless makes possible. In Essays Critical and Clinical, Deleuze is concerned with the delirium-the process of Life-that lies behind this invention, as well as the loss that occurs, the silence that follows, when this delirium becomes a clinical state. Taken together, these eighteen essays present a profoundly new approach to literature by one of the greatest twentieth-century philosophers.
Translation rights: Éditions de Minuit