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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DEN BERG, Cilliers. Outlining a quartet configuration: Notes on minor and major literatures. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.4-2, pp.955-975. ISSN 2224-7912.

Since their publication of Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature in 1986, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's concept of minor literatures has become a very productive critical tool within the context of literary theory. Usually minor literatures are defined with reference to three core characteristics that would determine any literature as being minor: 1) the language of minor literatures is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialisation, 2) it always is political and has a political immediacy and 3) it represents a collective assemblage of enunciation. However, if the general use of this theoretical concept is set against the background of the collaborative philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari, it quickly becomes evident that literary theorists often simplify its rather nuanced meaning. Deterritorialisation, its political nature and collective enunciation become shorthand to describe any number of literary works that are believed to undermine given normative values, whether it be linguistic or otherwise. This article endeavours to do exactly the opposite to what usually transpires, i.e. it undertakes a philosophical contextualisation of minor literatures mainly with reference to the collaborative work of Deleuze and Guattari, with a special emphasis on relevant ideas from A Thousand Plateaus. This could seem rather problematic, since the philosophy of both thinkers is infamously rhizomatic in nature and their philosophical motifs also tend to evolve over time. There is, however, one theoretical concept of theirs that lends itself to be used as a way to frame the argument presented here. Their conceptualisation of assemblages, i.e. their "model" to describe the inner workings and dynamics of the elements of societies, is used as the main point of reference. Assemblages have gained some theoretical traction in recent times, with the best example being the work of Manual DeLanda, who, with his Assemblage Theory (2016) sets out to develop a realist social ontology inspired by the work of Deleuze and Guattari. Assemblages refer to both the non-essentialised elements or parts of any societal whole and the extrinsic relations between them. According to Deleuze and Guattari assemblages comprise horizontal and vertical axes, which determine the nature of all collectivities or groups. The vertical axis refers to what they call forms of content and forms of expression. These two kinds of forms relate to the two extremes of the axis and (using an extremely crude simplification) represent societal bodies and the ways these are expressed. The vertical axis slides from a deterritorialisation extreme to a (re-)territorialisation extreme and refers to the less or more pronounced normative stability of the respective content-expression continuum involved. Literary discourse not only forms part of (various) assemblages, but its dynamics can also be mapped onto both its horizontal and vertical axes. Using these and other theoretical conclusions about assemblages, it should become clear that minor literatures are to be conceptualised in a much more nuanced manner: it becomes evident, for instance, that its purported political nature and its status as representing a collective enunciation cannot be regarded as being exclusive and defining features. The argument concludes with the suggestion that the underrepresented theoretical analysis of the interaction between minor status and the nature of minorities could be one reason why the definition of minor literatures sometimes runs into difficulties. An alternative model is therefore presented, where a quartet of concepts is suggested with reference to Deleuze and Guattari's horizontal (deterritorialisation-(re-)territorialisation) and vertical (forms of content-forms of expression) axes structuring all assemblages. These four concepts are consequently brought together and related in a quartet configuration, similar to the two axes of assemblages: minor-minority-major-majority. Mapping literary discourse or literary assemblages onto the linear relations formed between the four concepts will represent a much easier way to define and think about minor literatures.

Keywords : Deleuze; Guattari; minor literature; assemblage; deterritorialisation; collective enunciation; political nature of literature; minority-minor; majority-major.

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