on 30 August 1998
In the intervening years since Deleuze's death, Columbia University Press has turned out translations of the all the material Deleuze had published during his lifetime. Negotiations is a translation of Pourparles, published by Minuit at the beginning of this decade, shortly before Qu'est-ce que c'est la philosophie, and the death of his collaborator Felix Guattari. Like the latter work, Negotiations appears to be a kind of summation of Deleuze's work and also an introduction for the uninitiated. Why does Deleuze need introducing, then? It may be useful to draw a parallel between Foucault and Deleuze, contemporaries often considered together in the discussion of poststructuralist theory. The differences between them are largely matters of style, if one takes Deleuze at his word: in this collection he asserts that like Foucault and Lyotard, his aim with Anti-Oedipus was to turn over the despot of the signifier (21). But unlike Foucault and Lyotard, Deleuze's implicit rejection of structuralism scuttled his chances of winning as wide an American audience as Derrida and especially Foucault, whose work depends heavily of Saussurean distinction between signifier and signified. More to the point, Deleuze's relative obscurity in the Anglophone world is due mainly to two things: first, to the alien diffuseness of his project particularly in A Thousand Plateaus, advertised in other writings as "transcendental empiricism," which dismantles ontology, subjectivity, and any constructed conception of the human subject in favor of analyzing insects, wolves, and lobsters for clues to a picture of reality: second, to the mind-bending style Deleuze and Guattari employed in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, preventing all but the hardiest readers from getting a grasp on their thought. (In the interviews, one relievedly finds that Deleuze's speaking voice is pretty much like his writing, making his oracular pronouncements seem almost necessary.)
For the most part, Deleuze has been relegated to top-shelf status: his work is meant to be more appreciated than read, and is the province of philosophy or theology or French Studies rather than literary theory. It is doubtful that Deleuze will ever reach the influence of Foucault or Bataille, given the infinitely portable structuralist concepts of the former and the lurid sexiness of the latter. With the publication of Brian Massumi's guide to the work of Deleuze and Guattari (A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia, MIT Press, 1992), it seemed that Deleuze was due for coming-out party, but it appears that his time hasn't arrive. The principal problem is that his work speaks to precisely none of the categories used in cultural or literary criticism. Deleuze has nothing to say about race, relies on impenetrable anthropological texts for his critique of Marx (see the third section of Anti-Oedipus), and obscures structured questions of gender with the pansexual dismantling of Freudian symbology -- his discourse is of the polymorphous perverse, and his philosophical purposes to the contrary, it is not meant to be accessible. That said, Negotiations may be just the thing to introduce Deleuze to a slightly wider audience. Composed mostly of interviews, with some incidental journal articles, the collection serves as primarily an explanation (if not justification) for the bulk of his highly abstract work. If compared to the other English-language collection readily available of Foucault's work, the excellent Language, Counter-memory, Practice (Cornell UP, 1977), Negotiations is rather more an introduction to the major themes and works of Deleuze, a distillation and clarification, rather than a valuable addition. As such, that volume served as a kind of expansion of Foucault's theoretical concern and vocabulary, in the service of Saussurean concerns. This is not the case with this collection, which is cannily constructed to cover all phases of Deleuze's career. Neatly subdivided into subsections on his film work, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Foucault, and politics and philosophy (the latter with excerpts on Leibniz and Spinoza, two favorite topics), the articles as a whole compose an accurate picture of Deleuze in general, with some simplification, although nothing Deleuze ever said was simple by any estimation. Yet Deleuze's work is best "understood" by immersion, rather than comprehension. If one doesn't "get" or appreciate such concepts as "deterritorialization," "smooth/striated space," "war machine," "code," "flow," "desiring-machine," or "body without organs," Negotiations is not likely to clear up any confusion because, at bottom, the ideas advocated by Deleuze's work only take root within the areas mapped out by his discursive universe. Deleuze's work can best be explained as a kind of phenomenology, which simply describes rather than provides a kind of ethical directive or pragmatic imperative. No coincidence then, that his favorite subjects -- Leibniz, Spinoza, Bergson -- specialize in the same mode of philosophy: an elaborately stylized view of the world that reflects a private obsession with the model itself rather than clearheaded analysis. Deleuze probably would have liked nothing more than to be viewed as the master of a discourse that was the subject of admiration rather than appropriation. Ultimately, Deleuze retreats within the self-contained modernist aspect of the work of art: complaints of incomprehensibilty are met with claims of artistic license. The problem Deleuze's work faces in America is precisely of this nature: without the convenient structuralist Foucauldian hooks, Deleuze and Guattari's potentially monolithic opus remains on untold bookshelves, maintaining a felt presence, not necessarily intelligible. Like Bergson, it is possible that Deleuze may be forgotten and then one day rediscovered, to knowing hosannas, by an equally naive writer concerned with contemporary philosophical problems, or diagnosing the character of the century's last quarter. Until then, Negotiations serves as a yet another introduction to Deleuze's work (whether the individual reader needs it or not), and the insights Deleuze provides into his work, and the conditions under which they came into the world, cannot be had elsewhere.