Friday, December 15, 2023

A Thousand Plateaus, Chapter 8

Summary of Chapter 8: 1874: Three Novellas, or “What Happened?”

In this brief chapter, D&G use their idiosyncratic definition of “novella” to explore the concept of lines of rigid segmentation, supple segmentarity, and (in particular) lines of flight. The image at the beginning is from a Buster Brown cartoon, the complete version of which is here. I haven’t found any explanation of the date, “1874.”

They begin with their apparently quite original temporal distinction between novella, tale, and novel. Novellas look back over the past and ask, “What happened?” Tales are progressive, beginning at the beginning and proceeding forward, keeping readers wondering, “What is going to happen?” The novel, for its part, “integrates elements of the novella and the tale into the variation of its perpetual living present (duration)” (192). [Necessarily a reference to the Bergsonian concept.] Characters in the novella enact postures which are like folds, but the tale plays out attitudes or positions that are unfoldings. “The links of the novella are: What happened? (the modality or expression), Secrecy (the form), Body Posture (the content)” (194).

They discuss three novellas, by Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Pierrette Fleutiaux. In each case these involve relations between 1) a molar, macropolitical “rigid line of segmentarity” (195), 2) a micropolitical “line of molecular or supple segmentation, the segments are which are like quanta of deterritorialization” (196); and 3) lines of flight. These correspond to territorialization/stratification, relative deterritorialization, and absolute deterritorialization; rigid segmentation invokes relations between units of a Couple, while supple segmentation those between Doubles. Most of the discussion of the novellas illustrates how these three kinds of lines interact and are not to be judged too simply; the first kind are not dead, but involve life just as much as the others; the line of flight does not necessarily lead to escape but could “bounce off the wall” and lead to a black hole.

In short, there is a line of flight, which is already complex because it has singularities, and there [is] a customary or molar line with segments; and between the two (?), there is a molecular line with quanta that cause it to tip to one side or the other. (203)

They discuss the work on lines of Fernand Deligny (a sometime colleague of Guattari) in relation to schizoanalysis, then delineate four “problems” which arise regarding the three types of lines. First, the particular character of each line (which is not to be taken too simplistically, nor is the clear distinction between each to be assumed to be necessarily clear); second, the respective importance of the lines: rigid segmentation is not necessarily first, nor is the line of flight necessarily last, nor first; though the supple segmentarity does exist between the two, flipping to one side or the other. Third, there is a mutual immanence of the three kinds of lines, and fourth, there are dangers specific to each line, including the line of flight (as mentioned above).

Part of the main point is that we (both as individuals and as groups) are traversed and composed of lines (202), which means much more than written lines, but all kinds of lines. They end with a discussion of written or spoken lines (drawn out of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical Crack-up) that links to the related theme of [articulation]:

When one person says to another, love the taste of whiskey on my lips like I love the gleam of madness in your eyes, what lines are they in the process of composing, or, on the contrary, making incompossable? (206)


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