Pink Vectors of Deleuze: Queer Theory and Inhumanism

Jeffrey J. Cohen and Todd R. Ramlow

I owe you lot nothing, nothing more than you owe me. I don't need to join you in your ghettoes, because I've got my own ... We have to counter people who think 'I'm this, I'm that' ... by thinking in strange, fluid, unusual terms: I don't know what I am ... no gay can ever definitively say 'I'm gay.' It's not a question of being this or that sort of human, but of becoming inhuman. [1]

[1] The evidence for the queerness of Gilles Deleuze is scant. He collaborated passionately with Félix Guattari, radical psychoanalyst and activist for the rights of gays and lesbians. He shared his work and interpenetrated ideas with Michel Foucault, the founding figure of contemporary queer theory. Yet the philosopher spent his life happily married to his wife, Fanny. They raised two children in what looks to us like the predictable structure of a bourgeois family. He was not even an especially spiffy dresser.

[2] Yet we find in Gilles Deleuze's work a provocative reconceptualization of subjecthood and desire, a becoming-queer lucidly evident when he refused the lonely authority of a single voice and hybridized with Guattari and Claire Parnet through writing. This essay explores the trajectories of the queer-in-motion of queer studies and of Deleuze. His greatest challenge to queer theory is something that seems almost recidivist in his work: his animism, his belief that the entire world constitutes a non-anthropomorphic, infinitely connective machinery of desire. There is a capaciousness to Deleuze and Guattari's exuberant conception of sexuality, a boundary-breaking that cannot be reduced to the merely human frame within which queer theory has sometimes allowed its ambit to be circumscribed. [2] We will therefore speak of Deleuze's inhumanism. Throughout his philosophical opus assemblages proliferate by means of which the human disaggregates, scattered across a molecular field of animals, objects, intensities in ceaseless movement. Even in his death, we find, Deleuze refused the weary categories of the merely human and sought some path that might lead away from the sedimentation(s) of decline, sickness, redemption. As the philosopher of middles Deleuze rejected determinative endings, especially when they were used to fix in place and thereby devalue what had been a vagrant and affirmative life.

[3] Like one of his favorite classical philosophers, Lucretius, Deleuze discerned in the cosmos movements of desire that intermingle our bodies, our intensities, our particles with the tropisms of the vegetal world, the ardor of stars, the passions of animals, a grand and molecular vitalism. At the farthest side of this process of radical dispersion might lurk death: in Lucretius's case, a ghastly demise borne of plague. To invoke mortality in a discussion of the queer is, we realize, to risk the pernicious linking of the queer to the fatal. [3] This heteronormative conjoining of queer sexuality to morbidity (especially post-AIDS) conceptualizes death as an individualized, judicial event. The queer trajectories we'll follow dismantle the notion of identity that buttresses such a conception, and will (in those famous words of Antonin Artaud that Deleuze loved so much) "have done with the judgment of God," [4] will attempt not to reinscribe mortality back into some reductive system of justice or tragedy. Deleuzian inhumanism opens up the queer to spaces that suddenly cease to stand as final resting places filled only by silence.

Pink Paint

The Pink Panther imitates nothing, it reproduces nothing, it paints the world its color, pink on pink; this is its becoming-world, carried out in such a way that it becomes imperceptible itself, asignifying, makes its rupture, its own line of flight. (ATP 11)

[4] The becoming-world of the Pink Panther might also be understood, in an appropriately deleuzian manner, as the becoming-world of the queer, the becoming-pink of the Panthers and the becoming-panther of the "pinks." Not the Pink Panther originally cited by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus, the Blake Edwards-spawned series of fumbling detective movies starring Peter Sellers, bookended by the animated antics of a queer cat. Rather, the Pink Panthers as imagined and produced by the unruly queers of the 1990s. Fed up with homophobic violence in New York and San Francisco, activists coming out of ACT-UP and Queer Nation organized neighborhood watch patrols in the pink ghettoes they'd fought so hard for in order to "take back the streets." The Pink Panthers spread rhizomatically to other metropolitan centers. Multiple becomings, multiple queerings. The Pink Panthers "imitated" nothing, "reproduced" nothing, although the groups did assemble and deploy tactics and identity particles connecting to a variety of minoritarian and urban-based political projects.

[5] The Pink Panthers represent one instantiation of what Deleuze and Guattari call the war machine, an assemblage produced in/through/from multiple connections across "smooth space" and time. [5] The war machine proliferates speeds, affects and desiring relations/productions to constitute a line of flight away from the State Apparatus at the same time that it takes that apparatus as object of attack: "It is always the assemblage that constitutes the weapons system" (ATP 399). But the attack and the violence are always secondary. The war machine functions primarily by producing new relationships among bodies, objects and groups in excess of institutional authority or control. The Pink Panthers, as war-machine assembled out of and within multiple minoritarian social and political movements, created novel coalitions and affects across identitarian boundaries that could react, sometimes violently, to institutional violence against queers. The Guardian Angels. The Pink Panthers. The Black Panthers. Black Power. Brown Power. Pink Pride. "Black is Beautiful." "Take Back the Night." "Take Back the Streets." "Out of the Closets and into the Streets." Multiple becomings-minoritarian of queer politics. But for all the paramilitary connotations, including fabulous pink berets, we must not mistake the Pink Panther war machine as a simple extension of patriarchal militarism and the American military-industrial complex. As D&G point out, we must not conceive of this war machine within the logic of the State and institutional power, for "it seems to be irreducible to the State apparatus, to be outside its sovereignty and prior to its law: it comes from elsewhere" (ATP, 352). This pink war machine comes out of minoritarian politics, rhizomatics, assemblages, and becomings; otherwise it would be just another army.

[6] Perhaps we rove too far afield. It's unavoidable for a pack of Pink Panthers. This restless roaming is, moreover, precisely one of the vectors of queer theory, as well as of D&G, whose vagrancy propelled their projects. The pack, the multiplicity (maybe even what Judith Butler has called "collective disidentifications" [6]), molecular identities and rhizomatic desires, the lines of flight away from, around and back into, through and in excess of molar, institutional, sedimented politics, desire and identity: these deleuzoguattarian formulations have been and continue to be some of the primary goals of queer theory. Queer theory has been invaluable to our engagements with Deleuze and Guattari, just as D&G have been integral to our own queer flights and queer theorizings, even when they might seem most absent from both. A return to some of the foundational texts of queer theory will show that, just as our return to D&G's Pink Panther was conditioned by queer theory, queer theory is and always has been deleuzoguattarian. [7]

[7] Inextricable from politics and activism, early formulations of queer theory insisted that the definition and status of "queer" must never be finalized, circumscribed, or unitarily representative. [8] As a critical insight, methodological tool and style of being, queer calls attention to the domination of norms in order to undermine and open up. It does not seek to institute some new norm large enough to accommodate itself. [9] Judith Butler has remarked that "if the term 'queer' is to be a site of collective contestation, the point of departure for a set of historical reflections and futural imaginings, it will have to remain that which is, in the present, never fully owned, but always and only redeployed, twisted, queered from a prior usage and in the direction of urgent and expanding political purposes." [10] Similarly, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick asserts that "queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive—recurrent, eddying, troublant . . . The immemorial current that queer represents is antiseparatist as it is antiassimilationist. Keenly, it is relational, and strange." [11] And in his introduction to the anthology Fear of a Queer Planet, Michael Warner describes queer theory as "the project of elaborating, in ways that cannot be predicted in advance, this question: What do queers want?" [12] Not what are queers, or who is queer and under what conditions, but what do queers want, which is in no way necessarily stable or universal. This is why Warner keeps the question open, and asserts that the contingent answer to this can never "be predicted in advance." This open-endedness is further propelled by Warner's claim that "heteronormativity can be overcome only by actively imagining a necessarily and desirably queer world." [13] That active imagination is, of course, ongoing and ever changing. It is, in deleuzoguattarian terms, a line of flight that marks a becoming-queer of the world and a becoming-world of the queer.

[8] These permutations of queer theory share at least an assertion of the non-teleological, non-unitary status of "queer," and in doing so directly echo many of Deleuze and Guattari's elaborations on "becoming." Deployed against, through, outside of majoritarian, molar aggregates, becomings are minoritarian, micro-political projects. Aleatory and ever-changing, becomings are always in excess of the normativizing processes of the State Apparatus, heteronormative Family, dualist Philosophy, Oedipalized Sexuality. Becomings imagine and put into practice new ways of moving through the world, new alliances and connections across fields of difference. They proceed by production/generation rather than mimesis or assimilation: "A becoming is not a correspondence between relations. But neither is it a resemblance, an imitation, or, at the limit, an identification" (ATP 237). A becoming is infection, alliance, intermingling like with unlike and erupting along trajectories no map can draw in advance.

[9] If becomings are not mimetic or assimilational, neither are they the arboreal product of heteronormative descent. Rather than a (con)descension, they are a con-dissension. Becomings are productive and connective: "Finally, becoming is not an evolution, at least not an evolution by descent and filiation. Becoming produces nothing by filiation; all filiation is imaginary. Becoming is always of a different order than filiation. It concerns alliance" (ATP, 238). Or contagion. Institutions like marriage that render humans predictable create descent; alliance unites the wasp to the orchid in an orgy of desire that brings sexuality very far away from genitality. A man and a woman and a child might partake of evolution, genealogy, filiation; a man and a woman and whip and a bridle that compose a "circuit of intensities," or a woman and a dog who share a love not framed by the supposed limitations of either species, embark upon a becoming. [14] Like the queer of queer theory, becomings are associational, never fully foreclosed and always on the move. Becomings have neither origin nor destination; like the queer, they are neither filial nor teleological. They do not confer identity—molar, sedimented, unitary—but produce an entity cobbled from disparate, provisionally allied parts, a relation of affects and speeds. Thus, becomings and their haecceities (thisnesses, herenesses, radical individuations) are always middles, never destinations. [15] This idea of middle without terminus also underwrites much that queer theory can attain, in theory and practice.

[10] One of the urgent needs of queer theory today, a need for which Deleuze and Guattari are indispensable, is to challenge the very norms and limits of the "human." Especially in a cultural climate where categories like the severely disabled limn the boundaries of humanity, a category built upon normalizing and exclusion. Our becoming-queer, becoming-world and becoming-Pink Panther (among other becomings) precisely depends upon our becoming-inhuman.

Inhuman Butler

[11] In her recent book Undoing Gender, Judith Butler offers an extensive rearticulation of the limits of the human as currently constituted. [16] Her work ably demonstrates recent trends in queer theory to which Deleuze and Guattari are well suited. Even if, as she herself asserts, Butler is at best problematically deleuzian, she also admits that her work has been influenced by Deleuze. She writes that "every year [she] receive[s] several essays and comments from people who insist that [she is] Deleuzian" (UG 198). Butler's reluctance to embrace the deleuzian descriptor comes from her anxiety that there is "no recognition of the negative in his work, and I feared that he was proposing a manic defense against negativity." [17] Yet even here Butler is becoming deleuzoguattarian. Akin to her own notion of what we might call a potentially subversive disloyal repetition, becoming isn't mimetic. [18] She is not "being," or reproducing, or regurgitating Deleuze and Guattari, but allying with them with a difference. Deleuze and Guattari are part of Butler's own queer assemblage, her war machine and line of flight. [19]

[12] In the first chapter of Undoing Gender, entitled "Beside Oneself: On the Limits of Sexual Autonomy," Butler engages in an elaborate dis-and-re-articulation of the limits of human subjectivity, and how, why, and what determines the very status of "the human." Butler begins with some brief excursus on the condition of subjectivity as intersubjective. She says, as the title of her chapter alludes, that to be a subject we are always already that subject for another, so that the very basis of subjectivity is that we are somehow always constituted as/by being "beside oneself": "In a sense, to be a body is to be given over to others even as a body is, emphatically, 'one's own,' that over which we must claim rights of autonomy," even if/as this autonomy if never finalized or monolithic. [20] The intersubjective status of subjectivity leads Butler into a number of observations and assertions that align rather neatly with D&G's notions of becoming, of the pack and multiplicity.

[13] The intersubjective status of the body and subjectivity fundamentally challenges the unitary, transcendental signifier/subject of phallogocentrism, and demands a critical engagement with our being ourselves for others, our being "beside ourselves":

The particular sociality that belongs to bodily life, to sexual life, and to becoming gendered (which is always, to a certain extent, becoming gendered for others) establishes a field of ethical enmeshment with others and a sense of disorientation for the first-person, that is, the perspective of the ego. As bodies, we are always for something more than, and other than, ourselves. (UG, 25)

Throughout this chapter and throughout Undoing Gender more generally, Butler deploys the term "becoming" in ways that are directly resonant of D&G. Her "becoming gendered for others" suggests a process formed of alliances with and through others, a process not collapsible to either side of a self/other binary, a process always in motion, changing (performatively) in multiple contexts. More radically, the pack or multiplicity establishes the very ground of possibility for politics and agency: "Multiplicity is not the death of agency, but its very condition. We misconstrue where action comes from if we fail to understand how multiple forces interact and produce the very dynamism of life" (UG 194). For Deleuze and Guattari, of course, the pack/multiplicity is the very condition of minoritarian micro-politics and is propelled by multiple and simultaneous becomings.

[14] For Butler, multiple becomings for others provide a possible reorganization of the norms that sort and give order to "natural" life: "As a consequence of being in the mode of becoming, and in always living with the constitutive possibility of becoming otherwise, the body is that which can occupy the norm in myriad ways, exceed the norm, rework the norm, and expose realities to which we thought we were confined as open to transformation" (UG 217). Here again, as we can suddenly see retroactively in Gender Trouble and Bodies that Matter, Butler's notion of becomings is tied to "citational" play that is neither a falsely conscious mimesis, nor secondary copy, but something else entirely, the difference that makes all the difference: "One surely cites norms that already exist, but these norms can be significantly deterritorialized through the citation" (UG 218). And earlier in Bodies That Matter: "[I]t seems to me that one writes into a field of writing that is invariably and promisingly larger and less masterable than the one over which one maintains a provisional authority, and that the unanticipated reappropriations of a given work in areas for which is was never consciously intended are some of the most useful" (19). It seems Butler has been deleuzoguattarian for much longer than we might have imagined. [21]

[15] Through these becomings for others and citational play Butler suggests that we might begin to dismantle the organizational binary human/non-human that currently oppresses those who find themselves on the wrong side of the viable and the valuable. Butler sets the stage for this possibility by recalling the poststructuralist principle of the (negatively) dialectical relationship between the norm and the deviant: "It is the inhuman, the beyond the human, the less than human, the border that secures the human in its ostensible reality" (UG 218). What Butler aims at is nothing short of the destruction of originary, disciplinary, violent, and continual reproductions of a limited—phallogocentric, heteronormative, able-bodied, dominantly raced—category called human: "We must learn to live and to embrace the destruction and rearticulation of the human in the name of a more capacious and, finally, less violent world, not knowing in advance what precise form our humanness does and will take" (UG 35). This, it seems to us, is precisely what Deleuze and Guattari have aimed at all along: not the death of the author, but the death of the human.

[16] These rearticulations often proceed by way of fantasy, of imagination and creativity put into practice, given material existence in and through our individual and multiple bodies. Fantasy, imagination, becomings all move "us beyond what is merely actual and present into a realm of possibility," the multiple possible becomings of the war machine (UG 28):

These practices of instituting new modes of reality take place in part through the scene of embodiment, where the body is not understood as a static and accomplished fact, but as an aging process, a mode of becoming that, in becoming otherwise, exceeds the norm, reworks the norm (UG 28).

This inability of the body to remain a "static and accomplished fact" is seen most brutally in the culmination of the "aging process," in the inescapable fact that no body endures forever. [22] This has been a major insight and avenue of critical engagement for disability studies, and we will merely draw attention here to the fact that the multiple alliances available and desirable between D&G and queer theory extend to and include disability studies in our ongoing disaggregation of what constitutes viable and valuable human embodiment.

[17] Given that the inhuman opens the body to all kinds of positive possibility, to numerous invitations for reinvention and becoming, what are we to make of the fact that beyond the limits of the human also dwells mortality, the blunt fact that even an identity which we might desire—as Pink Panther, as philosopher, as person—will not forever endure? Deleuze, like the queer, moves us beyond humanism. What happens when we move so far along this trajectory that we encounter that limit where subjectivity fades and the body literally ceases to be?

Inhuman Deleuze

[18] Plutarch wrote a famously influential book called The Lives of the Noble Romans. This text transformed into educational narratives the biographies of classical celebrities like Cicero and Brutus, extracting from their lives a parade of instructive virtues for his audience to emulate. People read this book for centuries, and found in its arts of living a model for the care of their own selves. It would be interesting to write a modern companion to Plutarch's Lives called The Deaths of the Famous French Philosophers. It would be full of gunshots (Guy Debord), a death in front of a pastry truck (Barthes), strangulation (Althusser), and a jump from a Paris window (Gilles Deleuze). No doubt such a book would be accused of sensationalism. Death is not supposed to be gazed at for long, especially when it occurs outside the sanitary confines of the hospital and old age. Suicide is especially problematic, because it potentially brings will into play against an event that is supposed to be unwilled. Death is supposed to arrive from an exterior, unknowable, even mystical realm. We die when our time has come; we are not supposed to hasten death's arrival—event and body are, in this case, forbidden to form an alliance. Unlike Plutarch's Lives, most deaths cannot furnish models for forming good subjects. To gaze at death is to be indulgent, morbid, to fetishize the negative, to glamorize suffering, to be naively romantic: the condemnations are so ready to hand that they are easily multiplied. We understand why death is so difficult to meditate upon: we live, after all, in a culture in which too many people have been consigned to the abject, have had their lives labeled "unlivable," have forcefully had their existence terminated. Yet we also live in a society that is death-phobic in the extreme, hiding the end of life away in sanitized and isolated spaces that prevent its penetration into life. Can death be thought in terms that do not arrive pre-judged and already dismissed? Can death be rendered an affirmative event, igniting a becoming?

[19] At the end of a lifetime committed to rethinking in relentlessly affirmative terms how desire envitalizes the cosmos, how "each individual is an infinite multiplicity" (ATP 254), Gilles Deleuze committed suicide. This undeniable terminus, whenever invoked, will have a teleological resonance, as if it were a final statement; anything that can be said in its wake smacks of funeral oration. Yet we have stressed repeatedly in this essay Deleuze's scorn for teleology. Beginnings and endings are two points that capture a trajectory of becoming and entrap it within a diminishing closed circuit, as if the world were a small place, as if an infinite intermezzo were inconceivable. What does one do with the fact of Deleuze's death? Did his demise erect a blockage that placed a final and diminished end to the proliferations that his life had catalyzed? Or did Deleuze's leap sustain that middleness against the definitive and reductive contours of a medicalized, moralized, pathologized terminus?

[20] In 1977 a strange little book was published in Paris. Dialogues had been "commissioned as a conventional book of interviews" (xi), in which Claire Parnet, a former student of Deleuze, would ask questions and the philosopher would respond. Both participants agreed, however, that such an exchange of queries and answers would force an unhealthy order on the shaggy multiplicity of Deleuze's thought. The book is composed of four chapters, each of which is broken into two sections. In chapter one, the first section is signed by Deleuze, the second by Parnet. In order to "undo dualisms" and avoid dialectic (Dialogues 35), all subsequent chapters are still divided into two sections, but they remain unsigned. Parnet writes: "Each chapter would remain divided in two, [but] there would no longer be any reason to sign each part, since it is between the two anonymous parts that the conversation would take place, and the AND Félix, AND Fanny, AND you, AND all those of whom we speak, AND me, would appear as so many distorted images in running water" (Dialogues 35). Not quite the death of the author, but certainly his transubstantiation, his unity scattered across a dispersed and lively expanse.

[21] Dialogues is a book of middles. It was composed between the publication of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia I, that great, polemical attack against the psychoanalytic conception of desire as fundamental lack, and A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II. These books, co-authored by Deleuze and Guattari, promulgated a schizoanalysis of subjectivity and culture so innovative that we who live in its aftermath are still scrambling to make sense of it. If Deleuze was so much against endpoints and origins, it seems to us best to seek him in the intermezzo of Dialogues, a book in which his voice vanishes in dialogue with another voice in between the multiplicities of voice that are Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. These three works, with their compound authorship, are everything Deleuze claimed to be about, even when he wrote alone. [23]

[22] At the beginning of Dialogues Deleuze states flatly, "Most of the time, when someone asks me a question, even one which relates to me, I see that, strictly, I don't have anything to say" (1). Likewise, in a piece variously published in English as "I Have Nothing to Admit" and "Letter to a Harsh Critic," Deleuze declares "There is nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret." [24] We know we won't get any straightforward answers from such an obstinate figure, especially not about what his own passing might signify, but at least we see a way of formulating the problem. Let's invoke a famous invocation of Spinoza:

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy the body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body. (ATP 257)

Deleuze, like his friend and fellow social activist Foucault, was not interested in ontology. [25] He does not speak of substances, of essences, of stable or fixed meanings. The deleuzian world is a cosmos in constant motion, a place of virtuality and possibility, where the primary question one asks is not "What is it?" but rather "What can it do?" "What is it?" prefigures an answer by invoking a system, and Deleuze is the philosopher of nontotalization, of open and fragmented—nomadic—space. The passage reveals as well what Stephen J. Arnott has aptly called "the Spinozist-Nietzschean-Deleuzian zest for life." [26]

An Art That Takes a Lifetime

[23] We would like to apply the deleuzian "What can it do?" to Deleuze's own death, surely the limit case not only of his philosophy, but of the human itself. What are its affects, its vectors, its possibilities, and how do they form an assemblage with other bodies, other forces that might, in their own way, change the world? How might his death be read, or become, otherwise than the limits of humanist discourse, which could only see in his suicide a final, tragic, individual signification? And is to seek alternative significance/signification in Deleuze's death merely to fetishize suicide (or might it, to return momentarily to Spinoza-Hegel-Levinas-Butler, transform the negative into something else)? Was Deleuze's death necessarily a human, all too human surrender to despair, or can his death serve as a potentially creative, constructive event act—a last and affirmative rejection of the normative—that renders such a query beside the point?

[24] First, the facts of his death. Deleuze had always been a heavy smoker, and his seminar room was famous for the narcotic haze that lingered in its atmosphere. Although he had a lung removed because of cancer, the disease spread throughout his pulmonary system. In the last months of his life he underwent a tracheotomy, and lost the power of speech. Silent and dependent upon machines to breathe, he spent his final days confined to his Paris apartment. On Saturday, November 4, 1995, he arose from his sickbed and hurled himself out the window, four floors to the pavement. He was widely mourned in France, although his funeral was, unlike that of many other famous Parisian intellectuals, strictly private. He was seventy years old.

[25] Reaction to Deleuze's death was swift, especially on the electronic discussion list devoted to his work. [27] Many of the responses disseminated about the event were personal, and quite touching. Much like Deleuze's own writing, they were also both provocative and poetic. Greg Seigworth described the leap through the window as "a final relay ... in that instantaneous switch of theory into practice" (7 Nov 1995). Steven Perella noted that he had been unable to find both "life" and "death" in the index to A Thousand Plateaus, appropriate enough for this "philosopher of all exteriority" (5 Nov 1995). Charles Stivale wrote of a mixed reaction to the news that amounted to a sad kind of joy ("this is the way he wanted to go"). He quoted a paragraph by Deleuze on Foucault, a passage that culminates in the suddenly prophetic words "You may be heading for death, suicide, but ... suicide then becomes an art that it takes a lifetime to learn" (5 Nov 1995). More acerbically, Douglas Edric wrote "Deleuze jumped out of a window and it must have been horrible and wonderful, or perhaps the most banal footnote in all of history ... Point final, if you really want to know. The rest is up to you, take your own responsibility damn it, write your own brilliant obituary if it's that important to you" (8 Nov 1995).

[26] The official media, meanwhile, was full of the predictable summations of Deleuze's life and works. In the French papers a parade of famous intellectuals offered pompous estimations of his importance, situating him within a history of philosophy that he disliked so much that he wrote several books about it. [28] In the United States, the New York Times spoke of his conservative family, his rebelliousness, his subversive charisma—the usual progress narrative (7 Nov 1995, D21). The Associated Press disseminated an obituary that remarked: "He [was] a familiar figure in the city's bohemian Latin Quarter, his trademark felt hat cocked at a rakish angle" (5 Nov 1995). [29] These are the kinds of elegies that Deleuze would have raged against. In "Letter to a Harsh Critic," he complained that Michel Cressole had singled out his "long and untrimmed nails" and "worker's vest" as affectations that he had adopted in order to grant himself an absolute particularity, like Greta Garbo in her sunglasses (Negotiations 5). [30] The danger of a memorialization that focuses upon a "felt hat cocked at a rakish angle" is that a self-autonomous, self-authorizing, humanist subject will be reinstated as the closing movement to a life spent insisting upon the reductive violence of this construct. Deleuze observed that "We are always pinned against the wall of dominant significations, we are always sunk in the hole of our subjectivity ... A wall on which are inscribed all the objective determinations which fix us, put us into a grille, identify us and make us recognized ... Our societies need to produce the face" (Dialogues 45). How appropriate, then, that Greta Garbo, his unwitting Hollywood counterpart, should have been called "the Face."

[27] This visage, this faciality as privileged marker of "humanness," is the very thing that Deleuze insisted one must lose. He argued that "One has to lose one's identity, one's face ... One has to disappear, to become unknown" (Dialogues 45). [31] For him this process of self-negation was primarily conducted through writing: "One only writes through love, all writing is a love-letter: the literature-Real. One should only die through love, and not a tragic death. One should only write through this death" (Dialogues 51). Love, writing, and death (not "tragic death," but a death that signifies otherwise) meld here into a difficult composite. The act of writing maps a trajectory that curves away from personal life, so that the particularizations of biography lose their explanatory functions: "It may be that a writer has delicate health ... He is nonetheless ... a sort of great Alive ... Writing carries out the conjunction, the transmutation of fluxes, through which life escapes from the resentment of persons, societies, and reigns" (Dialogues 50). If suicide takes a lifetime to learn, then it is a kind of correspondence course in which the letters bear the self unsentimentally away with them, into a "great Alive," a great but affirmative unknown.

[28] Deleuze and Guattari wrote at length of the function of minor literatures, of the necessity of entering into one's native tongue as if a foreigner, of the creative power of self-disaggregation: "It is not a question of speaking a language as if one was a foreigner, it is a question of being a foreigner in one's own language" (Dialogues 59). So affirmative is this theory of multitudinous identity that Félix Guattari chose these words as his epitaph, visible now on his grave at Père-Lachaise: Il n'y a pas de manque dans l'absence. L'absence est une presence en moi ["There is no lack in absence. Absence is a presence in me."] Guattari's tombstone is an act meant to rob what is supposed to be the ultimate terminus of its definitiveness by refusing to emplace that ending within conventional, humanist terms. This difference in worldview—where absence itself becomes presence, where death is forgotten because desire is so much more compelling—can also be glimpsed in the fact that, whereas Foucault could write in Discipline and Punish that the body was under torture a site for the enactment of a thousand deaths, Deleuze would affirm that the body is traversed by a thousand tiny sexes.

[29] We are used to being told by psychoanalysis that desire is produced through a primal lack, that if desire is related to pleasure, it is only by means of something called "enjoyment"—a phenomenon that always seems rooted in the obscene. Deleuze could not stand this kind of moralizing, this reinscription of Original Sin and the fallen nature of humanity through the priests of psychoanalysis: "By taking the path that it has, psychoanalysis is reviving an age-old tendency to humble us, to demean us, to make us feel guilty" (Anti-Oedipus 50). Desire, he argued, is immanent: "Desire and its object are one and the same thing ... The objective being of desire is the Real in and of itself" (Anti-Oedipus 26-7). Desire is not the same as libido, and may or may not involve sexuality. Sublimation has no place in Deleuze's work, because there is no primacy of an erotic drive to transform. Desire might best be glossed as an innate movement toward connection. The world of desire is molecular, with small assemblages constantly bumping into each other, conjoining and forming bigger assemblages, falling apart and moving toward other combinations. Bodiless desire, universal vitalism. Again, "The question imposed by desire is not 'What does it mean?' but rather 'How does it work?' How do these machines, these desiring-machines, work—yours and mine? ... It represents nothing, but it produces" (Anti-Oedipus 109). Desire is inescapable, it is everywhere, and it is constantly being forced into the molar or statistical identities that comprise the realm of the social. Desire, if it is anything at all besides this relentless movement toward multiplicitous connection, is queer. [32] In such a realm, where the human is simply beside the point, death barely seems possible.

De Fenestra

[30] Deleuze observed that the writers and philosophers to whom he'd always found an attraction were "of frail constitution," so that their bodies battled death even as they were "shot through with an insurmountable life" (Dialogues, 15). Among these figures was the Epicurean philosopher Lucretius, who in lively Latin verse described the underlying dynamism of the cosmos, a vitalism that eroded distinctions among the human, the animal, the elemental. Yet Lucretius's work ends in a horrifying description of the bodily putrefaction caused by an outbreak of plague. Deleuze once fantasized that he might write "a memorandum to the Academy of the Moral Sciences to show that Lucretius' book cannot end with the description of the plague, and that it is an invention, a falsification of the Christians who wanted to show that a maleficent thinker must end in terror and anguish" (15). Lucretius envisioned in his De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) an atomistic world humming with life, a world of motion and connectivity uncannily like the molecular, machinic deleuzoguattarian universe. The Lucretian cosmos held no fear of death, since death was part of the constant motion of the world. The third book of On the Nature of Things is even entitled "The Folly of the Fear of Death." And still the poem ends with a disturbing description of the victims of the Athenian plague, who lose first of all their ability to speak:

     Their throats,
Black on the inside, sweated oozy blood;
And the walled pathway of the voice of man
Was clogged with ulcers; and the very tongue
The mind's interpreter, would trickle gore,
Weakened by torments, tardy, rough to touch. [33]

It's a ghastly conclusion to a long affirmation of life, the kind of moralizing "Look what it all comes down to anyway" that reduces death to that punctuation mark beyond which there is no signifying. It is against this teleological reading of Lucretius that Deleuze positions himself, arguing that so definitive an ending could only be a later interpolation. And it is against this desire to blunt affirmative vitalism through tales of "the judgment of God" that Deleuze positions his own plague-struck body, similarly robbed of voice and "weakened by torments." He ended his life with a fall, an arc that somehow sought an escape from a teleology of the flesh—from its medicalization, its Christianization, its reduction into morality. Deleuze leapt from the window in order to write with his own body that memorandum about Lucretius, to show that maleficent thinkers do not end in the "terror and anguish" of deathbed conversions. Through a suicidal alliance the potentiality of at least two lives, two bodies was unleashed. In a passage that has nothing to do with Lucretius Deleuze once wrote, "It is not easy to be a free man, to flee the plague ... He may be ill, he may himself die; he knows that death is neither the goal nor the end, but that, on the contrary, it is a case of passing his life on to someone else" (Dialogues 62). And so, queerly, in this memorandum Deleuze passed his life on, and the challenge now is to ally ourselves with its refusal of reduction.

[31] The truth of Deleuze's inhumanism can be glimpsed in a trajectory of becoming that was his life, his death, whatever is beyond that death. It is a fall that keeps on moving, all middle, not a leap toward some determinative end, pavement. A century becomes Deleuzian (as Foucault famously put it) only by losing him, and continuing to lose him. Freud described two outcomes for grieving: mourning (successful incorporation of the lost object) or melancholia (a non-integration, a constitutive lack). Neither reaction suffices. Both reside under the sign of Oedipus—and if Nietzsche was the anti-Christ, Deleuze was the anti-Oedipus. To take the deleuzian inhuman seriously mandates an embrace of the philosopher in flight: never to stop becoming-Deleuze ("A line of becoming has only a middle"), never stop approaching Deleuze ("Becoming-revolutionary remains indifferent to questions of a future and a past"), never stop touching his fall, even to the point of forming a dangerous (dare we say queer) alliance with it. [34] Our ongoing and queer alliance with Deleuze is that we continually partake of his defenestration and what it might "do," to our understandings of the human, of viable and valuable lives. If we must, in order to become-Deleuze, always lose him (the molar, "moralized," aggregate), we are continually throwing him and ourselves (our preconstituted norms, bodily integrities, desires to reduce and convert and moralize) out the window and into the middle of that line of flight.

[32] As an additional apparatus of this assemblage/alliance, one that might illustrate the necessary becoming-deleuzian of queer theory and the becoming-queer of the world, we would offer the complicating vector of the suicide of David Reimer. [35] Reimer was the boy born Bruce, whose penis was burned off in a botched circumcision and who was subsequently raised a girl, Brenda, and subject to ongoing psychiatric and surgical sex/gender reconstructions throughout her childhood. Brenda struggled socially, physically and psychically as a child, until the time in her teens when she was informed of the conditions of her birth, after which she decided to resume her life as a boy, and chose the name David for himself. David continued to undergo psychiatric and medical procedures to "return" him to his "natural" sex/gender, got married to a woman, and adopted her children. Things were never so easy for Bruce/Brenda/David, however, and after subjecting himself to the competing and contradictory sexed/gendered norms imposed upon him violently and variously throughout his life, he finally found that he could live under none of these fully, easily, "normally." In May of 2004 David Reimer committed suicide. Judith Butler remarks on Reimer's death: "It is difficult to know what, in the end, made his life unlivable or why this life was one he felt was time to end. It seems clear, however, that there was always a question posed for him, and by him, whether life in his gender would be survivable" (UG 74). Survivable not only for David, but for us, those of us who live in abeyance and obeisance to the normal. What is also clear from the case of David Reimer is, as Butler observes, that the multiple narratives surrounding David interrogate "the limits of the conceivably human" (64), just as Deleuze's death, as we have suggested earlier, constitutes a similar limit case. These limit cases however are not limitations (to "truth," signification, the Real, etc), but rather the thresholds of new becomings. David's refusal to live (and his recognition of the impossibility of living) within any of the preconceived and delimiting categories of the sexed/gendered human as they are currently constituted, and Deleuze's refusal to submit to the final signification of a "tragic" or "moralizing" or "noble" death, demand that we throw our very normative ideas of the human out the window to see what they might become. This, it seems to us, is precisely what queer theory must be about today, and which might be effectuated by the deployment of a deleuzoguattarian inhumanism and the multiplicitous becomings-queer of the world.


[1] Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995) 11.

[2] We realize that we are speaking in somewhat unnuanced terms here to make our point, and admit that because of limitations of space this essay is painted with a rather broad brush. We emphasize from the start that the project of queering the queer is not unique to deleuzians, but has accompanied queer theory from its instigation - as the work of Leo Bersani, Judith Butler, Lee Edelman, Eve Sedgwick, Michael Warner, and many others makes evident.

[3] On the poisonous affiliation of queer desire and the morbidly tragic, see especially Judith Butler, "Sexual Inversions," Discourses of Sexuality: From Aristotle to AIDS, ed. Domna C. Stanton (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 344-61, esp. 346, Leo Bersani, "Is the Rectum a Grave?" October 43 (Winter 1987), 197-222, and Ellis Hanson, "Undead," Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Diana Fuss (New York: Routledge, 1991) 324-40.

[4] "To Have Done with the Judgment of God" was Artaud's last major work before his death. Originally commissioned for French Radio in 1947, it was an anti-American and anti-Catholic diatribe that was ultimately censored from radio play. It wasn't aired publicly until thirty years later, and was first published in America by Boston's Black Sparrow Press in 1975.

[5] For Deleuze and Guattari's most concentrated elaboration of the war machine see "1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine," and for their discussion of "smooth space" see "1440: The Smooth and the Striated" in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 351-423 and 474-500.

[6] See Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex" (New York: Routledge, 1993) 4, as well as José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1999).

[7] Compare Michael O'Rourke's similar comments about the Derrideanness of queer theory: "Like a ghostly figure Derrida haunts Queer Theory, always just beyond and outside it, his work being the condition of possibility for it. That is to say, queer theory is always already Derridean (and that Derrida is always already queer)" ("Queer Theory's Loss and the work of Mourning Jacques Derrida," Rhizomes 10 (May 2005) 5).

[8] Despite some distancing of queer theory from queer politics, especially in its formative stage, it is our understanding and experience that the theory and practice/politics are intimately, promiscuously bound together. See Teresa de Lauretis, "Queer Theory: Lesbian and Gay Sexualities. An Introduction," differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 3 (Summer 1991), in which de Lauretis makes the claim that the "queer theory" she is elaborating is divorced from the "queer activism" of which she "was unaware at the time" (v).

[9] As Judith Butler points out, though, to be radically outside of the norm is impossible. The norm, in its very status as such and a product of statistical variability incorporates all that would seem outside of it; only thus is a "norm" established. See Butler, Undoing Gender (New York: Routledge, 2004), Chapter 2, "Gender Regulations", esp. 41-51. What we are getting at here is rather the normative functioning of the norm and the processes of assimilation and social/political quietude.

[10] Butler, Bodies that Matter, 228.

[11] See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Tendencies (Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993), xii.

[12] See Michael Warner, ed., Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory (Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1993), vii.

[13] Warner, xvi. Several other texts that seem to us to deploy (whether wittingly or not) a specifically deleuzoguattarian molecular politics in the elaboration of queer theory are: Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (New York: Oxford UP, 1995), in which David Halperin makes the claims that "[q]ueer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which is necessarily refers. It is an identity without essence" (62), and that queer "marks the site of gay becoming" (79). For Robert McRuer in The Queer Renaissance: Contemporary American Literature and the Reinvention of Lesbian and Gay Identities (New York: New York UP, 1997), "queer" is "a critical perversion that continuously forges unexpected alliances and gives voice to identities our heteronormative culture would like to, but cannot, silence" (5), and that "at its best, the concept is unruly and undermines attempts at fixation or containment" (22). Furthermore, McRuer's most recent work brings queer theory and disability studies together and productively engages in a "queering" and "cripping" of both. See "Compulsory Able-Bodiedness and Queer/Disabled Existence," Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities, eds. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson (New York: MLA, 2002), 88-99, and "Crip Eye for the Normate Guy: Queer Theory and the Disciplining of Disability Studies," PMLA 120.2 (March 2005): 586-592. Similarly, Carrie Sandahl engages in a kind of deleuzian transformation of queer/crip theory in "Queering the Crip or Cripping the Queer? Intersections of Queer and Crip Identities in Solo Autobiographical Performance" GLQ 9.1-2 (2003): 25-56. Finally, Cindy Patton has remarked, in "Stealth Bombers of Desire: The Globalization of 'Alterity' in Emerging Democracies" (Queer Globalizations: Citizenship and the Afterlife of Colonialism, Eds. Arnaldo Cruz-Malave and Martin F. Manalansan IV [New York: New York UP, 2002]), that "'[q]ueer,' if it is to have any utility, is best understood, not as a model of identity and practice that can be imitated or molded to a local setting, but as evidence of a kind of unstoppable alterity" (210).

[14] On the equus eroticus in D&G see ATP 155-56 and Jeffrey J. Cohen, Medieval Identity Machines (Minnesota: University of Minnesota press, 2004) 41-44. On dogs and interspecies desire, see Donna Haraway, Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People and Significant Otherness (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003).

[15] We should not confuse the haecceity with individualism, that disciplinary norm and ideal of the Enlightenment and humanism. "A haecceity has neither beginning nor end, origin nor destination; it is always in the middle. It is not made of points, only of lines. It is a rhizome" (ATP 263).

[16] Indeed, Butler's rearticulation of the limits of the human is protracted throughout her most recent work. In addition to Undoing Gender are her considerations of deterritorialization in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997) and of the Levinasian "face"/faciality in Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence (London: Verso, 2004) in which the "face" becomes a figure of intersubjectivity; these are terms that have distinctly deleuzian resonance, as we shall specifically discuss in relation to Undoing Gender.

[17] See Butler, UG, 198. Butler's main resistance to D&G is her dedication to the negativity of Spinoza's Ethics (On the Improvement of Understanding, The Ethics, Correspondence [Trans. R. H. M. Elwes; New York: Dover, 1955]) and Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (Trans. A. V. Miller; Oxford: Oxford UP, 1977), as the former's conatus and latter's master/slave dialectic "signals" for her "a form of vitalism that persists even in despair" (235). More specifically, "Spinoza's insistence that the desire for life can be found nascent in the emotions of despair led to the more dramatic Hegelian claim that 'tarrying with the negative' can produce a conversion of the negative into being, that something affirmative can actually come of the experiences of individual and collective devastation even in their indisputable irreversibility" (236). It is questionable to us that Deleuze and Guattari do not also engage in the production of affirmative ways of being that are themselves produced out of systems of despair and devastation, or perhaps two other "d" words, dominion and delimitation. Additionally, aren't both Spinoza's and Hegel's transformations of despair about the production of something positive (a new/different way of being) out of the negative/negativity?

[18] See particularly the chapters "Gender is Burning: Questions of Appropriation and Subversion" and "Critically Queer" in Bodies that Matter.

[19] Much of this alliance, voluntary or otherwise, may derive from a formative engagement that Deleuze and Butler share with Bergson, a philosopher from whom they each derived several of their shared terms (including becoming).

[20] Butler, UG, 20. Butler's assertions here too are intimately connected to her understanding and embrace of the "negativity" of Spinozan and Hegelian dialectics (see above fn. 17) and the intersubjectivity of Levinas' "face" (see above fn. 16).

[21] Reconsider also Butler's assertion in BTM: "Indeed, some have argued that a rethinking of 'nature' as a set of dynamic interrelations suits both feminism and ecological aims (and has for some produced an otherwise unlikely alliance with the work of Gilles Deleuze)" (4); as "unlikely" as Butler's own unanticipated and unacknowledged alliance with Deleuze in her various becomings in Undoing Gender and elsewhere.

[22] Similarly, in the field of disability studies many scholars have undertaken the dismantling of the myth of the normal body, in particular Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, in Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (New York: Columbia UP, 1997), offers the neologism "normate" to describe the dominant ideological construction of the "normal" body. Additionally, in Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness and the Body (London: Verso, 1995) Lennard Davis discusses some of the many elisions and negotiations normate culture must make in order to efface and erase the troubling presence of disability within the social.

[23] Cf. the opening words of ATP: "The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd" (3). Deleuze elsewhere describes this process of interpenetration as love: "And then there was my meeting with Félix Guattari, the way we understood and complemented, depersonalized and singularized -- in short, loved -- one another" (Negotiations 7).

[24] We quote from the version reprinted in Negotiations 3-12, quotation at 8.

[25] Deleuze's relationship with Foucault was complicated, and the myth that they had some kind of falling out has often gotten in the way of understanding their continued, mutual intellectual indebtedness. See Deleuze's book Foucault (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), which stresses that even though towards the end of Foucault's life they went a long time without seeing each other Foucault was nonetheless insistently present.

[26] Stephen J. Arnott, "Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze's Ethics," Stephen J. Arnott, "Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze's Ethics," Contretemps 2 (2001) 111. 2 (2001) 111.


[28] Deleuze had been schooled in traditional philosophy. As Brian Massumi writes in his "Translator's Foreword" to ATP, "the titles of his early books read like a Who's Who of philosophical giants" (ix-x). Constantin V. Boundas makes observations about Deleuze's "rather orthodox ... molar, segmented line" of a philosophical career in ways that resonate with our opening depiction of his familial life in "Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995)" Man and World 29 (1996): 233-34.

[29] For reaction to Deleuze's death in the French media see André Pierre Colombat's perceptive "November 4, 1995: Deleuze's Death as an Event," Man and World 29 (1996): 235-49. Colombat's essay browses the proliferation of memorial writing in the wake of Deleuze's suicide to activate some of the potentials we likewise explore.

[30] See also Nick Millett's mischievous reading of the Cressole-Deleuze interchange in "The Trick of Singularity," Theory, Culture & Society 14 (1997): 51-66.

[31] Deleuze's reconceptualization of subjectivity and identity, especially in its relation to the ethical formation of community, is admirably explored by Stephen J. Arnott in "Solipsism and the Possibility of Community in Deleuze's Ethics."

[32] As evidence that even the most mainstream of GLBTQ activism is finally, after a long detour through the last ten years, starting to realize the limitations of a normalizing and delimiting political project, Kai Wright observes that "[t]hese days, rather than challenging the idea of sexual normality of any sort, we merely want to tweak its definition so that we're considered appropriate too," and implicitly calls for a more multiplicitous conception of desire and sexuality ("More Sex, Please," Out [April 2005], 56+).

[33] Titus Lucretius Carus, The Nature of Things, Book VI part IV. This translation by William Ellery Leonard is available online at «».

[34] Through a different methodology Michael O'Rourke eloquently makes a consonant argument about Derrida and queer theory in "Queer Theory's Loss," especially 25-39. See also Jacques Derrida's own words on the death of Deleuze, words that like ours here stress the saut sur place and encounter with the Event that was always a part of Deleuze's work: "I'll Have to Wander All Alone" (trans. David Kammerman and available at «».

[35] For an admittedly sensationalistic account of Reimer's life, as politically specious as it is illuminating, see John Colapinto's As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl (New York: Perennial, 2001). Also relevant here is Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak's rumination over the suicide of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri and the message it might bear in "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988) 307-8.