Major-Minor Lines of Flight (Deleuze & Kafka)

I’m still thinking through the Deleuze book on Kafka and “minor literature.” Am trying to sort through what I like and don’t like about the book. A lot of the conceptual work is brilliant, particularly the close readings of the texts. I like a lot the close focus on animality in the stories and the introduction of machine-like assemblages in the novels, and the emphasis on “lines of flight” and “becoming other.” Turning animal-machine-molecular provides a conceptual avenue along which to think past the confining structures of individuated Cartesian subjectivity and regimes of representation (linguistic, symbolic, psychoanalytic). One thing I learned from my colleague Gail Hamner is Deleuze’s deep aversion to Sartre, Heidegger, and Lacan –which I find simpatico.

Alas, I could not keep myself from bumping into “Jewish” walls. This put me into the very uncomfortable (bad) place of feeling the need to “represent” “the Jews.”  And yet, I am still stuck thinking that Deleuze flubs here regarding both Kafka and Kafka’s German-speaking Jewish milieu. His Kafka is too French. While I also shy away from psychoanalytic readings of Kafka, I don’t see the deep joy that Deleuze sees in him. (The guilt I continue to read in The Trial is juridical-moral-cosmic-religious, not psychological). Perception, I guess, is everything, except when it’s not.

So here I have to do what I don’t want to do, which is to assert some vague Jewish difference which I really I really have no right or interest in claiming to own. At the end of the day, it seems to me that Deleuze does not get the difference between majoritarian versus minoritarian lines of flight.

One way to frame this difference is like this. Majoritarian lines of flight move out into the open, out into what Deleuze would call “smooth spaces” (in 1000 Plateaus). It’s where the subject goes to deterritorialize the confines of subjectivity vis-à-vis motions that trade upon imagelessness. Minoritarian lines of flight re-territorialize, clawing deeper into the burrow, claustrophobically into one’s own skin, flesh, or star, to reconstruct duration around more crystallizing images.

This is a basic modal difference that goes under-thought by Deleuze in his reading of Kafka. It reflects an essentialism I’d like to leave behind, even if I don’t think the German Jews were able to do it in the 20th century. Maybe it will be easier in 21st centuryAmerica, where “the Jews” have found and secured a firmer territorial footing than proved possible in Europe. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d look to the literary critic Alfred Kazin as a good example of how to secure new, more open lines of Jewish “flight.” I think we’re beginning to see something like it in Ken Koltun-Fromm and Shaul Magid’s recent and forthcoming work on American Jewish thought.

From the Deleuze side of things, I am trying to see his own immersion into the world of cinematic image-work (in Cinema 1 and Cinema 2) as a model for digging deep into the type of platonic cave-places which all systems of religious thought, including Jewish religious thought, would seem to always inhabit. One could read Talmud or Zohar in the same way Deleuze reads twentieth century film history, i.e. with the same or a kindred theory centered around images. The “plane of immanence” is allied to Spinoza’s concept of substance. Though it resists any single image, it is, for all that, constituted only out of a concatenation of images organized into overlapping little clusters across the micro-levels of lived place and thought.

It’s best not to reify concepts or assign them fixed referents. “Minor” and “major” are labile conditions. Internal to any body of major literature are strange minor places (as per Deleuze on Kafka; as per Deleuze himself). And internal to any body of minor literature are major (more open) and minor (more closed-in) sub-forms and sub-places. And then again it is always possible that as the historical wheel turns a “literature” that was once minor might reconstitute itself as a major phenomenon (in absolute or relative terms) while an assemblage that was once major might one day find itself placed into a more minor position.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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1 Response to Major-Minor Lines of Flight (Deleuze & Kafka)

  1. The distinction you are sharing here reminds me of a (psychological) distinction in trance work, two very different types of trance that have been called “uptime” (externally oriented,and associated with peripharel vision) and “downtime” (more what we may think of when we use the word hypnosis, internally oriented and associated with foveal vision). Probably no actual connection, just my own filters at work.

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