Friday, November 17, 2017

Poetry by Ellen Orner


A lovely symptom
of multiple lesions
scattered strategically
in who knows what matter -
gray, white? -

was laughing
as never before -

annulling all efforts
to yell at my offspring,
who had my number
and dialed it often,
batting absurdly long
lashes at my frustration.

My kinship with Chief
Inspector Dreyfus
was a joy to behold, Inspector Clouseau’s
antics beyond
his control
like mine

Drugs aided Dreyfus:
le rire, ce n'est pas plus moi.
But I cannot do
what I hate


The lesions, my Legion of mangled defenders,
repel all duress.

Disciplined racketeers,
they wait to collect
their cut.

                        2009, 2017

Real Art

If I were a painter, of paintings
not houses, I would paint
a giant mural of grand, pained
gestures, abstract and fierce and fast,
angry fat smudges, and angst-ridden furrows
in the parts where too much pigment condensed —

If I were a painter, an artist, I would sigh deeply,
wiping my brow, and step away a few yards, daring
to look at my fury with detachment —
only to wring my paint-smudged hands in despair
at the mis-gouged furrows and gestures flailing
the wrong way —

If I were a painter, a real artist, I would sit on the floor,
my back against the furious mural, and take a long
respite from being a painter of paintings. Perhaps
my kind neighbor will hire for me
a real painter of houses.


Definition Exercise

The Nose:
presents a united front
in front of the face;
it holds two nostrils,
both equally runny
or ardent in
sensing dinner,
seduction, stink.
Well, not exactly:
one may be clogged while
the other breathes, and
still the nose,
the single nose,
is said to be stuffed
up or clear, one or
the other, smelling
roasting garlic
or not a thing.
The nose is a fraud
of sorts, unlike the
honest dog of a mouth,
guarding the pairs
all by itself: the eyes, the ears.
The nose shows us
one but keeps
two, just in case it needs
to blame a thing or two
on the other nostril. 

Credits: First published in The View From Here.

About the poet

Russian-born Baltimorean Ellen Orner, by way of mastering the art of losing -continents, profession - violinist, bits of health - has found unexpected pleasure and some success in writing and translating poetry. Her work has been published in Barnwood International Poetry Mag, The View From Here, Little Patuxent Review, MiCrow and Danse Macabre.

Ellen loves being an amateur - as in loving the skin she is in. Her only ambition now is creating a garden for "garden bathing", akin to forest bathing practiced in Japan, for herself and for any friend who needs a breather.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Desire Was Everywhere

Adam Shatz

The ‘philosophy of desire’ was born in 1969, Serge Gainsbourg’s année érotique, when the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari met the philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Today, it’s hard to imagine them not knowing each other, and easy to forget how unlikely their partnership was. François Dosse begins his biography of the two men with their first encounter, a year after the ‘events’ of 1968, which, more than anything, inspired their collaboration.

Guattari was not quite 40 when he drove to the Limousin to meet Deleuze for the first time. He had grown up in La Garenne-Colombes, outside Paris, where his father ran a chocolate factory. By the age of 15 he was going to Communist Party meetings and selling copies of L’Humanité. Within three years he’d joined the Trotskyist opposition. While studying for a degree in pharmacology, he made pilgrimages to Yugoslavia and China, organised protests against French colonialism in Vietnam and Algeria, and wrote articles for a dissident Communist paper under the pen name Claude Arrieux. Among Guattari’s enthusiasms, Freud ran a close second to Marx. He attended Lacan’s seminars at Sainte-Anne psychiatric hospital and went into analysis with him. In 1955 he began working at the La Borde clinic in the Loire Valley as a committed Lacanian.

At La Borde, however, as Dosse reveals, Guattari’s thinking evolved away from Freudian psychoanalysis, and, much though he tried to deny it, away from his maître à penser. The clinic itself had grown out of an experiment in group-centred institutional psychotherapy: patients and staff lived together, to promote a sense of community; decisions were made collectively; all employees had to perform a mix of manual and intellectual labour; responsibilities, tasks and salaries were distributed on an egalitarian basis. ‘Transversality’ was the term Guattari used to describe La Borde’s programme for disrupting the ‘binary structural oppositions’ that governed life in a psychiatric clinic: between patients and analysts, between individual and group consciousness, between mental illness and normality. Transversality, he argued, would allow patients to ‘take up speech’ and achieve a sense of collective power: they would go from being ‘subjugated groups’ to ‘subject groups’; the authority of the analyst would be thrown into question. After May 1968, when he’d ridden to the barricades on a motorcycle at four in the morning and then rushed back to La Borde to encourage the patients to join him, Guattari stepped up his efforts. He devoted himself to fomenting unrest, assigning staff members to tasks for which they weren’t trained – ‘Félix really liked to declassify people,’ as one of them put it. Employees slept till noon, ‘denouncing everyone who was already at work as alienated by capitalism’.

But the doctors didn’t appreciate doing the dishes, and the maids weren’t comfortable providing treatment. Staff members were put under further strain when Guattari organised ‘erotic kamikazes’ to break up couples who grew too close (monogamy was a ‘capitalist’ perversion). His own marriage to the mother of his three children had broken up, and now he was jeopardising his romance with Arlette Donati, a nurse at the clinic, with his compulsive womanising. He encouraged her to take a lover to counteract the ‘oppressive conjugality’ of their relationship, and when she did, he became even more depressed. He’d also suffered a professional crisis when Lacan passed him over as successor at the Freudian School in favour of his son-in-law, Jacques-Alain Miller, the ringleader of a Parisian cell of Maoist psychoanalysts.

Guattari had great plans to write, but he could never sit still, especially with all the distractions which life at La Borde presented. His soixante-huitard friends (La Borde’s director, Jean Oury, called them ‘the barbarians’) staged regular invasions of the clinic. During the day, there were performances in the courtyard: a Japanese mime troupe, a Maoist magician, sometimes the patients themselves – on Bastille Day, they dressed up as sans-culottes. The ‘Guattari gang’ held seminars in the attic on Marx, Freud and the Revolution well into the night. Guattari was manic. ‘He needed something like Ritalin,’ his colleague Jean-Pierre Muyard recalled. ‘We had to find a way to calm him down.’ It was Muyard, who had studied philosophy with Deleuze at the University of Lyon, who arranged the first meeting between the two men. Guattari had drawn on Deleuze’s critique of structuralism in a paper he’d delivered at the Freudian School, and Deleuze had expressed keen interest in Guattari’s studies of group fantasy at La Borde. Muyard thought that they would have a lot to talk about. He also hoped Deleuze might get Guattari to focus on his work.

Deleuze was 44 when they met. Born in 1925 and brought up in Paris, he hated his father, a right-wing, anti-semitic engineer. When the Nazis occupied France, Deleuze’s older brother, Georges, joined the Resistance; he was captured by the Germans, deported, and murdered en route to Auschwitz. According to Deleuze’s friend the novelist Michel Tournier, Deleuze’s parents ‘created a veritable cult around Georges’, for which Gilles never forgave them. A sickly, asthmatic boy, he grew his nails long because of a skin disease which left his fingertips painful to the touch, and he wore a scarf all summer. ‘It was like visiting Marcel Proust in his bedroom,’ a friend recalled.

Philosophy became his refuge, from the moment he read Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. But he soon abandoned Sartre – and indeed anything influenced by Hegel and dialectics – in favour of vitalist thinkers like Spinoza (the subject of his doctoral thesis) and Nietzsche: he was captivated by ‘their critique of negativity, their cultivation of joy, their hatred of interiority’. Inner life (la vie intérieure), he argued in one of his first published essays, was a bourgeois delusion: not for nothing did it sound like ‘domestic life’ (la vie d’intérieur). This put him at odds with the phenomenologists and Marxists who dominated postwar philosophy departments, and he taught in a lycée until 1957, when he was hired as an assistant professor of history by the Sorbonne. At Vincennes, where he moved in 1969, the Spinozist with the vampire nails and dandyish manner overcame his shyness. His lectures ranged across philosophy and flirting, Mozart and Edith Piaf, Proust and the Série Noire, and he was adored by his students, not so much a professor as a ‘spiritual guide’.

For someone who frowned on la vie d’intérieur, Deleuze led a life of unruffled domesticity, and rarely strayed far from the home he shared with his wife and two children. Poor health kept him there: he’d had a tubercular lung removed, and was having trouble breathing, a problem made worse by too much alcohol and too many cigarettes. He loathed socialising – ‘two was a crowd’ – and though he supported the May revolts, he did so from a distance. Yet the tranquil surface of his life concealed a subversive streak. In his writing, he had long been waging a playful but determined battle against the foundational concepts of Western philosophy: identity, metaphysical transcendence, the distinction between subject and object. He had enlisted Bergson as well as Spinoza and Nietzsche in this campaign, paying homage to them in adventurously interpretative monographs he called ‘portraits’ and later likened to ‘buggery’: ‘I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet at the same time monstrous.’ When Guattari came to visit, he had just published his two most personal books, The Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition, in which he declared war on Platonic philosophy. Yet these books only hinted at the radicalism of his intentions.

Deleuze and Guattari had an instant intellectual rapport. Both men were frustrated with the ‘Mummy-Daddy’ focus of psychoanalysis. By understanding desire in terms of the family romance, psychoanalysis had become (in Guattari’s words) a ‘capitalist drug’, individualising collective problems and neutralising the disruptive effects of desire. Freud’s big mistake, they agreed, was to see desire as something rooted in lack, as an attempt to fantasise a missing object (the mother’s breast, for example). As a result, Freud had imagined the unconscious as a theatre of representations, in which the same grimly repetitive Oedipal drama was performed night after night. In Deleuze and Guattari’s view, the unconscious was better understood in political terms as a productive and potentially transformative force – a force that could change the world. The unconscious, as they saw it, was a deliriously innovative ‘factory’, ceaselessly producing new and transgressive combinations of desires. In the book that eventually came out of this meeting, Anti-Oedipus, they would portray desire as a relentless and impersonal flow, an electric current moving through the social body and interrupted only by ‘desiring machines’ that sought to direct and channel it. A desiring machine could be anything from a breast (‘a machine that produces milk’) to a revolutionary political movement, and its aim was always the same: to connect with other machines (the infant’s mouth, the masses), and produce a shift in reality. Desire had virtually no limits: like power in Foucault, it was everywhere, and it passed through everyone without belonging to anyone.

A second meeting was promptly arranged at Guattari’s château in Dhuizon. As they discussed their project, friends and family dropped in, ‘buzzing around the daily primal scene, in which Félix and Deleuze create intensely’, one witness wrote. ‘In a word, it’s working.’ Deleuze was beguiled by Guattari’s energy: ‘He always seems to be in motion, sparkling with light.’ Yet he also recognised something about Guattari that few others did: ‘When you examine Félix more closely, you realise how alone he really is. Between two activities, or in the midst of people, he can plunge into the deepest solitude.’

The challenge was getting Guattari to endure the solitude of working at his desk: otherwise the book would never be written. That was Deleuze’s first rule. His second rule was that the collaboration would be monogamous: no other parties could be involved, nor would he take part in any of Guattari’s many other militant activities.Anti-Oedipus emerged from their correspondence over the next two years: ‘long, disorderly letters’ that Deleuze would fashion into Deleuzo-Guattarian prose. In recent years, Dosse notes, there has been a tendency to ‘de-Guattarise’ the collaboration and to canonise Deleuze at Guattari’s expense, but Deleuze always insisted on the centrality of his friend’s contribution. In his words, ‘Félix was the diamond miner and I was the polisher.’ As they worked on Anti-Oedipus, he recalled, ‘we no longer knew who had written what … We were more like two streams coming together to make a third.’ The diamond miner took a less sentimental view of the collaboration. ‘We’re really not of the same dimension,’ he complained in his diaries. ‘I’m sort of an inveterate autodidact, a do-it-yourself guy, a sort of Jules Verne.’ Guattari resented ‘being strapped onto Gilles’, and felt ‘overcoded’ by the ‘perfection that he brought to the most unlikely book’. What he really wanted to do was ‘say stupid shit. Barf out the fucking-around-o-maniacal schizo flow.’

Guattari needn’t have worried. If Deleuze brought a certain formal polish to Anti-Oedipus, which was finally published in 1972, no one would have mistaken it for a work of academic philosophy or psychoanalytic theory. The massive volume drew on ethnology as much as philosophy, literary as much as psychoanalytic theory, but it read more like a sprawling work of experimental fiction, a futurist epic. There are echoes of Naked Lunch in its opening sentence:

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id. Everywhere it is machines – real ones, not figurative ones: machines driving other machines, machines being driven by other machines, with all the necessary couplings and connections.

Deleuze and Guattari were hardly alone in thinking that the unconscious might have something to add to left-wing politics, and that it might even speed the revolution. Attempts to fuse Marx and Freud were very much in vogue. But Anti-Oedipus had little in common with Freudo-Marxism, with its lyrical dream of a revolution that would, in a single stroke, free individual desire from bourgeois repression and the proletariat from capitalism. The individual was of no interest to Deleuze and Guattari, and though they referred to the proletariat the mention seemed dutiful. Their goal wasn’t to liberate human beings, but rather the current of desire that happened to flow through them.

Like Marx in The Communist Manifesto, Deleuze and Guattari portray capitalism as a turbulent system whose revolutionary effects threaten its own need to reproduce itself. On the one hand, it dissolves rigid structures of authority and hierarchy (‘decoding’, they called it), generates new and transgressive desires, and presides over radical forms of what they called ‘deterritorialisation’, which could mean everything from uprooting people from the land to overturning the systems of belief to which they have been anchored. At its most extreme, they suggest, capitalism encourages a kind of generalised schizophrenia, a shatteringly intense fracturing of subjectivity. On the other hand, to survive it has to contain these effects through oppressive fictions like the nuclear family and psychiatry, which attempt to ‘reterritorialise’ desire: to put it safely back inside the home and to keep it there. The project of ‘schizo-analysis’, therefore, would be to harness revolutionary desiring machines that liberate desire from the family and Freudian psychiatry.

Desire, they admit, is not always good: ‘Hitler got the Fascists sexually aroused. Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused.’ The appeal of reactionary politics lay in its ability to neutralise the ‘deterritorialising’ effects of capitalism with ‘reterritorialising’ narratives of God and country. All the more reason, then, for the ‘revolutionary machine’ to ‘acquire at least as much force as these coercive machines have for producing breaks and mobilising flows’. But who would take part? The revolutionary machine in Anti-Oedipus is a band of outsiders, made up of avant-garde writers (Michaux, Artaud, the Beats), non-Western tribes, outlaws, gays, minorities, freaks and, not least, the mentally ill. The book was subtitled ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’, and it described the schizophrenic as capitalism’s ‘inherent tendency brought to fulfilment, its surplus product, its proletariat, and its exterminating angel’. Were they really celebrating madness as a revolutionary force? Deleuze denied this, insisting not altogether plausibly that their message was ‘don’t become wrecks. We were terrified of producing hospital products.’ The aim of ‘schizo-analysis’, he said, was to liberate the ‘multiplicity’ of the unconscious. (‘We are all groupuscules,’ he said.) But Guattari was much more ambivalent: he had treated schizophrenics, and had a soft spot for them.

Anti-Oedipus was an instant sensation in France. It sold out in a few days, got a two-page spread in Le Monde, and turned Deleuze and Guattari into the Rolling Stones of radical theory, giddy prophets of the philosophy of desire. Some weren’t so thrilled. Lacan had long smelled heterodoxy and once the book appeared, banned all discussion of it at the Freudian School, while his allies launched a smear campaign against its authors. The left was nearly as hostile. Of all the soixante-huitard thinkers, Deleuze and Guattari were the most radical: combatants in struggles over the rights of prisoners and the mentally ill; passionate supporters of national liberation struggles in the Third World. Yet in Anti-Oedipus they appeared to be renouncing everything that had defined revolutionary left politics: the vanguard party, the working class, the critique of ideology, dialectical analysis, reason itself.

At the peak of his Maoist fervour, Alain Badiou, Deleuze’s colleague at Vincennes, denounced the authors as ‘hateful adversaries of all revolutionary politics’, and dispatched his followers to break up Deleuze’s lectures. (Deleuze serenely put his hat back on, and walked out.) For those who thought of revolutionary politics in terms of organising the party and building socialism, Deleuze and Guattari were dangerous ultra-leftists. Guattari, at La Borde, had tried to enable subjugated groups to become subject groups, and he and Deleuze had come to believe it was patronising, authoritarian, even fascist, to speak on anyone else’s behalf, which is what intellectuals in France had always done. As Foucault noted in his introduction to the American edition of Anti-Oedipus, their true adversary was not so much capitalism as ‘the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviour, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us’.

It was not in France but in Italy that Anti-Oedipus made its deepest impact. The autunno caldo of 1969 had developed, by the early 1970s, into a sweeping attack on all forms of authority: bosses and politicians, the Church, the education system, the family, the Communist Party, trade unions, psychiatric institutions. Anti-Oedipus, translated into Italian in 1975, resonated with many of Italy’s young desiring machines, notably Franco Berardi (‘Bifo’), a radio broadcaster in Bologna, who read the book in a prison cell – he’d been charged with placing a bomb in the headquarters of the Christian Democrats in Bologna. By spring 1977, Bifo was leading a movement that, in his own words, ‘was more inspired by Dadaism and Anti-Oedipus than by political revolutionary manuals’. When Guattari came to Bologna that autumn to attend a far left conference, ‘everyone rushed to greet him, touch him, kiss him,’ shouting: ‘Down with Oedipus, Long Live Deleuze and Guattari!’ Bifo, by then, had fled to Paris and moved into Guattari’s flat – one of a number of exiled radicals who would take refuge there. Antonio Negri, who escaped to France in 1983 after being condemned for his alleged involvement in the Red Brigades, was another. For the next four years, he went by the name Antoine Guattari. ‘Félix paid for everything,’ Negri recalled of his time underground in Paris. ‘He looked after me like a brother.’

Like many professional subversives, Deleuze and Guattari worked well in institutions. Vincennes was an ideal setting for Deleuze: an experimental university that had quickly acquired a reputation as the ‘anti-Sorbonne’, an enclave of radical professors and student revolutionaries. Recruited by Foucault, who was the head of the philosophy department, Deleuze taught there until his retirement in 1987, and rarely felt a need to travel: his followers came to him, and his lectures were so popular you had to arrive an hour early to get a place in the front ten rows. Guattari was more peripatetic: he was often on the road, strategising with fellow revolutionaries and ‘schizo-analysts’ in the Middle East, North America and Brazil. Yet he maintained his affiliation with La Borde, continued to treat patients, and ran a number of Paris-based institutes, notably the Centre for Institutional Study, Research and Training, which conducted research on social alienation and the psychological effects of urban growth, and at the height of its influence in the 1970s had a staff of 75 and a steady flow of government contracts.

As Dosse shows, Deleuze and Guattari used their influence and institutional resources to assist insurgent groups. Guattari made the offices of CERFI available for some of the earliest clandestine meetings between Israeli anti-Zionists and PLO officials in the mid-1970s, and Deleuze helped a young Palestinian intellectual, Elias Sanbar, set up the Revue d’études paléstiniennes. The pair were generous, but they weren’t always circumspect. Their relationship with the armed left in Italy and Germany troubled some of their friends, particularly when another of Guattari’s organisations mobilised on behalf of Klaus Croissant, the lawyer for the Red Army Faction, who in 1977 was threatened with extradition to Germany. Croissant was not just the Red Army’s lawyer: he was a co-conspirator. (Foucault joined the protests against Croissant’s deportation, but he refused to sign the petition because he considered it far too sympathetic to the RAF.) In Dosse’s view, Guattari refused to condemn the Red Brigades and the RAF so that he could maintain the trust of radicals attracted to violence, and dissuade them.

The warmest welcome Deleuze and Guattari received outside Italy’s Red Belt was in underground America. In 1975, Guattari’s friend Sylvère Lotringer, a professor at Columbia, organised a conference on ‘schizoculture’ in their honour and put them up at the Chelsea Hotel. They were beginning work on A Thousand Plateaus, the sequel to Anti-Oedipus, an alluring, enigmatic essay on the ‘rhizome’, a non-hierarchical, hyper-connective open system in a state of constant flux and transformation, without origin or destination; they contrasted it with the root-obsessed ‘arborescent’ or tree model. (‘We’re tired of trees,’ they wrote. ‘They’ve made us suffer too much.’) Radical New York – Black Panthers and gay activists, Marxist professors and anti-psychiatrists – turned out en masse for the symposium; John Cage and William Burroughs came along; and Foucault flew in from Paris. It quickly became a circus.

Deleuze and Guattari had long envied American writers like Henry Miller and Allen Ginsberg, with their ‘gift for intensities, flows, machine-books, tool-books, schizo-books’: now it seemed as if the desiring revolution’s future was in America. ‘Everything important that has happened or is happening takes the route of the American rhizome: the beatniks, the underground, bands and gangs,’ they announced in A Thousand Plateaus, which appeared in 1980. An even stranger (and longer) work than Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus was a chaotic bricolage of anthropology, fractal geometry, music theory, psychoanalysis, literature, art history, physics and military history. It emerged, they said, from ‘hallucinatory experiences’ and read as if it had been written under the influence. They had signed their names, they said, ‘only out of habit’: ‘Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd.’ Their celebration of ‘multiplicity’ generated a barrage of new concepts: rhizomes, war machines, striated and smooth space, nomadology, planes of immanence, faciality. Yet the book was recognisably a continuation of Anti-Oedipus, a hymn to the micro-political weapons of the weak, the ‘lines of flight’ and ‘nomadic’ resistance practised by subjugated groups in their struggles with state power. Once again they criticised psychoanalysis for reducing desire to the ‘family tree’ (the arborescent model), praising the rhizome’s ‘liberation of sexuality not only from reproduction but also from genitality’. Passages of fearsome theoretical density were punctuated with trippy slogans: ‘Make rhizomes, not roots, never plant! Don’t sow, grow offshoots! Don’t be one or multiple, be multiplicities!’

These were untimely suggestions in France in 1980. This was the moment of the New Philosophers – led by André Glucksmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy – and the French were too busy discovering the Gulag to consider the rhizome’s revolutionary potential. In 1972, Deleuze and Guattari were rebels: now they were embarrassing reminders of 1960s burn-out. Lévy accused them of producing ‘a defence of what is rotten in the manure of decadence’. Deleuze, usually publicity shy, said in an interview with Le Monde that the New Philosophers were notable mainly for having ‘introduced France to literary or philosophical marketing’, but he couldn’t conceal the fact that, politically, the philosophers of desire were now on the defensive. What Guattari called ‘the winter years’ had begun. Deleuze reacted by turning to questions of aesthetics. He published two strikingly original books on the experience of time in cinema, much indebted to the work of Bergson, and began to write, with his usual mix of panache and opacity, about music and painting. He was a careful, humble listener, Dosse says, and picked up a number of his ideas on the arts from friends like Pierre Boulez and the painter Gérard Fromanger. From Fromanger, for example, he learned that the blank canvas is not white, but rather ‘black with everything every painter has painted before me’ – an idea he would explore in his book on Francis Bacon, The Logic of Sensation.

The winter years were much harder for Guattari, who’d never shared Deleuze’s ability to find solace at his desk. When Mitterrand came to power in 1981, he served briefly as an informal adviser to Jack Lang, the minister of culture, but he was soon disappointed by the Socialist government, particularly its failure to fight on behalf of French North Africans and other racial minorities. Though he continued to write on ecology, the struggles of various minority groups (Uighurs, Basques, Kurds, Palestinians), and what he called ‘the molecular revolution’ (a scattered, micropolitical series of transformations that he contrasted with an older, state-centred model of ‘molar revolution’), he was slipping into a gloom from which he would never emerge. His collaboration with Deleuze was on hold, and now Deleuze seemed to be getting all the credit for their work together. His personal life, too, was falling apart. He lost his house near La Borde and was evicted from his Paris flat. His second wife, Joséphine, whom he married in 1986, spent his money on drugs and slept with other men. She also set strict rules of admission to their new flat in Paris. The ‘Guattarian network’, the large, informal group of nomadic intellectuals, artists and revolutionaries who were used to stopping by at a moment’s notice, particularly if they were on the run from the law, discovered they were no longer welcome. Neither were Guattari’s children, who were forced to see him at La Borde. ‘I am not saying that Joséphine destroyed him,’ his friend Jean-Jacques Lebel said. ‘I’m saying that he used Joséphine to destroy himself.’ When he wasn’t staring at the television, he scribbled away at a Joycean novel about an Oedipal triangle, 33.33.33, an allusion to the date of his birth, 30 March 1930. The book was published after Guattari’s death by Agnès B (who had run a sewing group at CERFI).

Partly because of Guattari’s depression, the last book bearing both their names, What Is Philosophy? (1991), was written by Deleuze. But Guattari’s signature was there for a reason: as a friend said, ‘Guattari is in it throughout, in the way that aspirin in water is everywhere.’ It was an uncharacteristically sombre and subdued book: more lamentation than revolutionary call to arms, written, as they conceded, at a time when ‘we lack resistance to the present,’ when ‘creation’ has given way to journalistic ‘communication’. Philosophy, like art and science, they argued, is an act of invention, not of contemplation. And what philosophy – and philosophy alone – creates are concepts. These ‘centres of vibration’ are ‘signed’, the creations of ‘a specifically philosophical taste that proceeds with violence or by insinuation and constitutes a philosophical language within language – not just a vocabulary but a syntax that attains the sublime or a great beauty’. And who would create these sublime concepts for ‘a new earth and people that do not yet exist’? Not ‘populist writers’ like the New Philosophers, mired in the ‘clichés of opinion’ and in vapid ‘communication’, but rather ‘the most aristocratic’, those blessed with superior taste. This claim was hard to square with their insistence that thinking (or ‘geophilosophy’, as they called it) is a subjectless process that ‘takes place in the relationship of territory and earth’ – but it had a certain romance. So did their vision of philosophy as one of the three ‘rafts’ – together with art and science – from which the brain dives into and confronts chaos, not in an attempt to eliminate or control it, but to allow one to be transformed in the encounter.

What Is Philosophy? was, in essence, a lyrical description of the adventure they had taken together, and now it was almost over. A year after it was published, Guattari died of a heart attack. (Joséphine Guattari died of an overdose a year later.) More than a thousand friends turned out at Père Lachaise. Deleuze, connected to an oxygen tank, suffering awful coughing fits, was too ill to attend. Three years later, when he could no longer speak or write, he caught a train from the Limousin to his flat in Paris, and jumped to his death from the window.

Their names are invoked more often today than they were when they were alive. D&G have a rhizomatic afterlife online, cited in articles on art and film, anthropology, avant-garde jazz, colonialism, disability and military strategy; WikiLeaks has been described as an exemplary ‘rhizomatic, deterritorialised, itinerant war machine’. Politically, their ‘tool kit’, as they liked to call their work, has proved useful to everyone from Hardt and Negri, the authors of the alternative globalisation manifesto Empire, to the counter-insurgency theorist Shimon Naveh, a retired general who teaches at an Israeli military academy and speaks in fluent Deleuzo-Guattarese, describing his effort to ‘smooth out’ spaces that are ‘striated’ in Palestinian towns.

What would Deleuze and Guattari have made of this domestication – this perversion – of their arguments? It seems that the further their ideas have travelled from their roots on the far left, the more they have been incorporated by the system they opposed. Indeed, the language of desire, multiplicity and all the rest is no longer the language of revolution. It is the language of cyberspace, and of neo-liberal capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari’s desiring machines, constantly seeking out new sensations, look a lot like today’s permanently distracted consumers and web-surfers. François Dosse is keen to portray his subjects as visionaries, but they anticipated a future neither of them would have wanted to live in.
Credits:  This review originally appeared in December 2010 in The London Review of Books.

Monday, November 13, 2017


Jackie Lopez

Good things come in open hand-bags.
Better things come when they are closed.
The change came in my blood.
My DNA  was activated by the morning sun.
I pray for patience.
I smell a desert in its wake.
I taste a leopard’s race.
My body, now, seldom aches.
I’ve caught a good news on a whim.
I’ve stolen pearls from a library once again.
I’ve got hopeful threats about me.
I take time to dance more often.
No one is saying that the change is coming, but it has already arrived.
The priest asks for forgiveness.
The tailor measures your soul beat body.
The answer is worn thin.
The dancer is measureless-she is air.
I have contrived to be a master musician.
I take turns on the loud speaker.
I mimic an Empire State Building.
I have cause for claustrophobia.
Some things I remember one thousand times.
Like all those years of samba bliss.
Like the wedding bells that never rang.
Like an omelet that has no form.
Like the coffee that was once worn.
I remember lipstick in the midnight.
I remember hairspray in confusing nights.
I heard blood carries hearts.
I have many of those memories coursing through my body.
My ancestors rebuild my body.
I’m horsewhipped on certain occasions.
I plagiarize when I give credit.
I take precaution however.
I make sure I melt into a word.
Love is freedom!
I hear a fresh start is among us.
I heard the powers that be are now desperate for us.
I think I’m going to learn sacred  geometry.
I’ve felt a pillow give me comfort.
Better still, I felt God give me comfort.
When I was a little girl,  I took to  hiding in closets.
If you want to hear that story, call me telepathically.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Kathryn A. Kopple

As I tip the jar of molasses and wait
I think of you in far off Costa Rica.
How eager you were to see a sloth
in the jungle.  Strange that one
so sluggish could be so elusive.
If it were not for the molasses
I’m not sure I could quell the world
wild with agitation long enough
to ponder the ways of a treacle
limbed mammal that dwells
thirty or more years in the same tree,
suspended upside down.  Such
eloquence, you said, in all
that slowness, to be alive
and not to sprint to the finish.

Credits:  This poem first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of The Threepenny Review.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A Domestic Existentialist: On Mercè Rodoreda

Natasha Wimmer

I can’t remember the first time I read Mercè Rodoreda’s The Time of the Doves. It might have been when I was 13, living with my family in the high-rise suburbs of Madrid. It might have been when I was 17, back in Madrid with my mother for a few weeks in a sweltering rented room. Or it might have been when I was 19, on my own in the city, sharing an apartment near the train station with four South American girls. In any case, I read it in Spanish, under the title La plaza del diamante (the original Catalan title is La plaça del diamant). And I read it at about the same time as I read Nada, by Carmen Laforet. These were the first serious books I read in Spanish, and I’ve never forgotten them.

Certainly, few books have been as gorgeously sad. On a personal list of misery-inducing favorites including Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea and Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, The Time of the Doves ranks near the top. Set in Barcelona around the time of the Spanish Civil War, it’s tragic simply as a function of its setting, but Rodoreda plumbs a sadness that reaches beyond historic circumstances, a sadness born of helplessness, an almost voluptuous vulnerability. This condition will be familiar to readers of Rhys’s novels, to which Rodoreda’s novels bear a certain resemblance. Rodoreda’s women are notable for their almost pathological lack of volition, but also for their acute sensitivity, a nearly painful awareness of beauty.

This, of course, is what made them so appealing to my moody adolescent self. In the midst of great upheaval, Rodoreda’s characters–and Laforet’s–lead cloistered, almost solipsistic lives, oblivious of politics and warmaking. Natalia, of The Time of the Doves, is an unworldly girl swept off her feet by Quimet, a charmer with a cruel streak who joins the Republican army and leaves her with two small children and a roof full of doves. Andrea, of Nada, comes to Barcelona just after the war to study at the university and moves into a crumbling Gothic apartment that houses three generations of her troubled family. Both women are immersed in the squalid details of domestic life, as famished for a glimpse of beauty as they are for a decent meal. With their senses sharpened by hunger, they’re almost overwhelmed by the intensity of daily existence.

Though I didn’t realize it back then, The Time of the Doves and Nada are part of a small canon of coming-of-age novels by Catalan women published in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. This was a remarkable flowering of talent and a bounty yet to be fully appreciated by English-language readers. If anyone has heard of Rodoreda, it’s probably because of the award-winning 1982 film adaptation of The Time of the Doves, by the Catalan director Francesc Betriu, though even that has mostly faded from memory by now. The Time of the Doves and a collection, My Christina and Other Stories, are still in print, both in translations by David Rosenthal published by Graywolf Press in the 1980s, but Rosenthal’s translation of Rodoreda’s novel Camellia Street is out of print. Laforet has fared better, with an excellent new translation of Nadaby Edith Grossman, recently issued by the Modern Library. This brought Laforet some well-deserved attention, but the sense persists that she is part of a generation lost to American readers.

It was a generation lost to itself, too. When the Spanish Civil War ended in 1939, many of Spain’s writers (and publishers and critics) fled into exile or were intimidated into silence. Most had supported the short-lived Republic, and their prospects were dismal under the new fascist regime. Literary organizations were shut down or co-opted, fiction was expected to cleave to the fascist cause and even the greats of Spanish literature were tossed on the trash heap of history. In 1942 one young journalist wrote that Spaniards should no longer look to Don Quixote as a model, because he represented decadence and defeat; better to look to Hernán Cortés, conquistador and man of action.

Barcelona, of course, was the capital of Republican Spain, and the situation of Catalan writers was particularly bleak. Catalan language and culture had been undergoing a revival since the nineteenth century, but when Franco came to power, regional languages were banned. A generation of children grew up in schools where Castilian was the only language taught, and writers who wrote in Catalan (a language most closely related to the French dialect of Provençal) were marooned in the past, their future uncertain.

Mercè Rodoreda, born in 1908, never considered writing in any language but Catalan. Her grandfather was a writer for La Renaixença, the journal of the Catalanist movement, and her father loved to read aloud from the works of the Catalan poets, especially Jacint Verdaguer. Despite the family’s literary inclinations, Rodoreda was sent to school for only three years, until she was 10, because it was assumed that she would marry. Her mother’s brother, a successful businessman recently returned from Argentina, was a suitor close at hand, and when she was 20 they were wed. They had a son, but Rodoreda, eager for independence, began to write and sought entry into literary circles.

After self-publishing a novel and writing short stories for various newspapers, Rodoreda managed to establish herself as a regular contributor of political articles to the Catalanist journal Clarisme. A few more novels were published (which she would later repudiate), and she began to get to know other writers and journalists, notably Andreu Nin, a translator of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, who would become her lover. Then came the war, in 1936. Rodoreda never said much about her life in Barcelona during the war years, but The Time of the Doves stands as testament to the hardships endured by those living in the city in the late ’30s. Nin was killed in 1937, and Rodoreda separated from her husband. In 1938, remarkably, she had her first real literary success, with the autobiographical novel Aloma.

When Barcelona fell in early 1939, Rodoreda went into exile, but she expected to return soon. She and a group of fellow writers left the city in a bus belonging to the Institució de les Lletres Catalanes, as if on some grim field trip. They took up residence in a castle designated for refugees in the town of Roissy, near Paris. There, Rodoreda began an affair with the married writer Joan Prat, who went by the pseudonym Armand Obiols. Their romance caused the group of writers to break up, and when war came to France, Rodoreda and Obiols fled to Limoges and later Bordeaux, where Rodoreda supported herself by sewing. After the war, they moved to Paris, and in 1954 they settled in Geneva, where Obiols worked as a translator for UNESCO.

The fate of refugees from Franco’s Spain was cruel. War followed upon war with just a few months of respite, and those who had barely survived the destruction of their country were ill equipped to piece together an existence in war-torn France. During World War II, as during the civil war, Rodoreda often went hungry. Few writers have written as starkly and convincingly about hunger as she does in The Time of the Doves. One night, lying in bed with her two starving children, Natalia decides to kill them rather than watch them slowly die. Not only is there no food, but she’s lost the strength to go looking for it. “What’s a crust of bread when you’re starving?” she asks. “Even to eat grass you’ve got to have the strength to go out searching for it.”

In the early 1950s, at perhaps the low point of her career, Rodoreda mysteriously lost the use of her right arm and was unable to write much but poetry. She took up painting instead, until a collection of her stories won a prize and she was encouraged enough to write what would be her masterpiece, The Time of the Doves. It was published in Catalan in 1962 and translated into Spanish in 1965. Like Nada (published in 1942), it was a popular and critical success. Around the same time, she wrote La mort i la primavera, a very different book, which didn’t find a publisher until 1986 and has only just now been translated into English, as Death in Spring, by Martha Tennent.

For those who’ve only read The Time of the Doves, Death in Spring will come as a surprise. In it, Rodoreda works in an entirely different register, heavily symbolic and fable-like. Signs of this tendency are visible in a number of her short stories, some of which are collected in My Christina and Other Stories. In this collection, Rodoreda’s full range of expression is on display, from the almost banal realism of a later novel, A Broken Mirror, through the exquisite impressionism of The Time of the Doves and Camellia Street, to the garish symbolism of Death in Spring. In Rodoreda’s more symbolic fictions, nature comes to the fore and humans mimic animals or morph into them, as in the short story “The Salamander,” in which a woman who sleeps with a married man is burned to death and turns into a salamander, returning to live under her lover’s bed.

The use of symbolism is a form of sublimation, in the same way that the ruthless elision and economy of Rodoreda’s writing in The Time of the Doves is a form of sublimation. In both cases, Rodoreda heightens and transforms the brutal reality of existence in a world of endless war. The artfulness of the latter method, however, stands in contrast to the often garbled myth-making of some of the short stories and Death in Spring. Like “The Salamander,” Death in Spring is set in a village that’s part medieval, part contemporary and part infernal. A river runs beneath it, through a rocky passage, and every year one man must swim it to make sure the village isn’t about to be washed away. Most emerge near death, their faces torn by the rocks, but even this is benign compared with the village’s rituals of death, in which living villagers are stuffed full of pink cement and entombed upright in trees.

These savage customs are related by a young man who watches his father try in vain to escape the death ritual, and then marries his 16-year-old stepmother, a dwarflike girl who gnaws on balls of horse fat. They have a daughter, who’s born deformed and who transfers her affections from her father to the nihilistic son of the village blacksmith. From this point on, the protagonist’s fortunes (such as they are) decline, and he loses everything he loves before finding himself chosen to swim under the village. In outline (and in full), this reads like a nightmare, but it lacks the inexorable logic of dreams. Without this logic, the novel disintegrates into disjointed scenes, sometimes terrifying and sometimes simply risible.

The Time of the Doves is to Death in Spring what a Vermeer is to a clumsy expressionist painting. Natalia’s voice is a creation of genius: naïve, stubborn, unself-consciously lyrical. Upon her first appearance, she says: “I was dressed all in white, my dress and petticoats starched, my shoes like two drops of milk, my earrings white enamel, three hoop bracelets that matched the earrings, and a white purse Julieta said was made of vinyl with a snap shaped like a gold shellfish.” Unlike Rodoreda, she is unsophisticated, a clerk in a pastry shop until she marries a man named Quimet. Her world is her apartment, her block, the nearby plazas, the little stand where her friend Senyora Enriqueta sells chestnuts and peanuts. When the war comes, she refers to it only obliquely. Quimet is involved in mysterious activities, and there’s no more cooking gas. All the passion that might have been roused by the war is expressed in her battle with the milling pigeons that Quimet raises on the roof.

Rodoreda’s novel is distinctly and defiantly antiheroic. There’s nothing gallant or stirring about the war as she sees it. In fact, the war is barely visible except in its effect on those behind the lines. When Quimet is killed and Natalia is left alone with her starving children, she struggles for a long time (“that night for supper the three of us shared a sardine and a rotten tomato”) but finally creeps to the grocer’s to beg for hydrochloric acid, which she plans to funnel into her children’s mouths while they’re asleep. Even her rescue at the last minute is by a markedly unheroic character, the grocer who spots the desperation in her eyes and offers her a job–and, ultimately, marriage.

If there’s heroism in the novel, it’s all Rodoreda’s. This was a heroic novel to write at a time when Spain clamored for a Cortés, not a Don Quixote. It was a heroic novel to write in Catalan, when it was unclear whether the language would survive the next few decades. It was a heroic novel–a feat of the imagination–to write from the antiseptic safe haven of Geneva. Rodoreda seems to have indulged fatalism in her fiction in a way that she wouldn’t allow herself in life, most notably in the bleak novel Camellia Street, about an orphan, Cecília, who becomes a prostitute and then a kept woman, the willing agent of her own degradation. The novel bears a striking resemblance to Jean Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, with its furnished rooms, miscarriages and abortions. A long sequence in which Cecília is virtually kept prisoner, drugged and spied upon by a couple of ostensible protectors, is one of the most perfectly pitched and devastating descriptions of victimhood ever written.

It’s curious that Rodoreda is so esteemed by feminists (she’s the frequent subject of academic papers), when her novels revolve around the abdication of control by women and their subsequent humiliation. And yet there’s something steely and thoroughly modern about the way Rodoreda acknowledges the unsentimental deal-making that masquerades as love. In the novel Aloma, Aloma’s brother explains his marriage to his sister: “Let’s not fool ourselves: I was never in love with Anna. She was just the kind of woman I could bring home.” When Natalia marries the grocer, who is unfailingly kind but nothing like Quimet, she falls into a black mood. “Nothing pleased me: not the shop, or the hallway like a dark intestine.” She did love Quimet, but she was afraid of him, too, and though she knows he’s dead, the fear that he’ll come back and catch her with the grocer haunts her for years.

Love, often withheld from human beings, is lavished on places and things, on flowers and shades of light and coffee pots. Rodoreda has a particular fondness for household objects, much-handled and familiar: the grocer’s bedspread is “all crocheted with roses on top and a fringe of crocheted curls you could wash and iron and either they wouldn’t come uncurled at all or they’d immediately curl up again like they had a mind of their own.” On the grocer’s bureau, between two bell jars full of flowers, there’s a seashell. “That shell with all the sea’s moaning inside it was more to me than a person. No person could live with all those waves coming and going inside them. And whenever I dusted it I’d always pick it up and listen to it for a minute.” Rodoreda is a domestic existentialist, a brilliant composer of interiors, both physical and mental. Only The Time of the Doves and, to a lesser degree, Camellia Street are fully realized expressions of her skill, but those two books–like Natalia’s children, as she realizes at a moment when she is suddenly able to see them objectively–are two flowers.

When a book in translation doesn’t catch on the first time around, it seldom gets a second reading. And yet at a cultural moment when the recycling of past greats has become commonplace (John Travolta, say, or the rescued classics issued by New York Review Books), the smaller masterpieces of the past are more accessible. Recognition fifty years late is different from recognition in the historic moment. The names Rodoreda and Laforet may never occupy a place in the American consciousness like that of García Márquez or even Vargas Llosa (all four authors were first published in the United States at more or less the same time, in the mid-1960s to early ’70s; incidentally, García Márquez was one of Rodoreda’s early champions, and Vargas Llosa wrote the introduction to the Modern Library edition of Nada).

But there is room for a resurgence, even a resurrection. Rodoreda lived until 1983, beloved by readers around the world and a role model for writers in Spain and Catalonia, where she finally returned. Since The Time of the Doves, many thousands of books have been written about the experience of the Spanish Civil War, but none has equaled it. Rodoreda’s novel deserves a place in literature as the homefront equivalent of All Quiet on the Western Front, and perhaps someday it will be granted it.

Credits:  This article was first published in 2009 in The Nation

Monday, November 6, 2017

Your Voice

Jackie Lopez

Your voice sounds like a large bell ringing from a church tower.

Your voice beats the drum of my heart with power.

Your words light a fire under me.

Your compassion shows me a mirror of myself.

Your philosophies send me flying.

Your humility provokes me to believe in magic.

I am devoted to our conversations.

I seek out music to hear your voice when you are not around.

I have memorized every single word you have ever spoken to me.

I witness your beauty across two thousand miles.

I hear the children crying, laughing, singing, dancing in the background

but I only adhere to your voice.

The angels are whispering around me.

They know what I only dream about.

Hug me.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Poetry by Asher Orner

the mud-lands are ripe
churning splatter
the theater of war
holds minefield
a rough weapon --
mirror-neuron visceral
held at arms'-length
sparkling barrier
carnage over distance.
all art reveals the human form.

to make
is to let slip the self,
the gory self,
brutal-crude beyond words'
capacity to know --
a brushstroke here, rip and build
paint like clay, color;
to unnerve.

this theater of war is, too,
a holy temple built for
spiritual bombardment.
there is no unmooring soul
from skin, or all inside;
a cellular soul in a minefield
every painted line
a shard of shrapnel.

there is no beauty without fear.
disquieted, we stare
at painted altars, battlegrounds,
burning offerings.

To Perceive


Seeing time, time, time

As a sheer swath of night

There some half-formed shape

Shadowed shape half-alive

A true unknown

There’s rhythm and there’s rhyme

Unseen but for slivers, shivers,

What might we find?

There’s humor in superstition

A glisten in the mind,

What’s not known

Can’t be known, just owned

By suspicion

Best see what we want

Through broken windows

With a clouded eye



the ripening autumn brews its chill,

hanging low on its boughs, a dirty fruit.

I am rotting and rotting,

wrought from the muck, curled up

shielding against the light

at the far edge of summer.

About the author:

Asher Orner is a musician and poet from Baltimore, MD. He is a first-time contributor to TLY, and we hope he will send more work our way.

Poetry by Ellen Orner

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