Deleuze spends a lot of time in On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature writing about writing – and when that’s caught up with his ideas about lines of flight and becoming, then it starts to read to me as writing advice. Or maybe writer advice – advice to help you think like a writer, or even to become one…

It is possible that writing has an intrinsic relationship with lines of flight. To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary, and which one is indeed forced to follow, because in reality writing involves us there, draws us in there. To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer. That is to become something else.

Again, “To write is to trace lines of flight which are not imaginary.” I just wanted to linger on that for a moment. I write science-fiction, so of course the things I write are entirely imaginary, but at the same time they’re not, because I’m trying to root them in something real, and to bring to life those characters and their world. Maybe I don’t always do that for the reader, but when I do it for myself then I know I’m on to something. For instance, I can’t even think about the closing chapters of my novella trilogy without getting misty-eyed; these aren’t characters that I created, they’re people that live in my mind and who I care about so fucking much. Perhaps they started off imaginary, but they’re very real to me now. And I think that is a huge part of the ‘trick’ of writing a compelling narrative – however imaginary it is, it has to be real as well, it has to be taken seriously. If you aren’t losing yourself in the work to some degree, you’re not on a line of flight with your work.

Now, back to the last part of that quote: “To write is to become, but has nothing to do with becoming a writer.”

A lot of aspiring or new writers struggle with the idea of becoming a writer – they think it’s an identity that’s beyond them that they wish to grasp, but the simplest interpretation of what Deleuze is saying here is that it’s through the process of writing that one becomes. But it’s not the becoming-hyphen-writer you should concern yourself with. The writer is the first thing you become as soon as you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, but the act of writing starts you on the line of flight because – I would argue – writing means seeing your thoughts, ideas, prejudices, etc, on paper and having a chance to think about them, to deconstruct them, and to reconsider them in the way that should help you in becoming that which you are supposed to be. That’s not even necessarily what Deleuze is saying – this is not an essay on self-actualisation through the act of writing – but it’s something I’ve chosen to take out of the essay.

The great and only error [lies] in thinking that a line of flight consists in fleeing from life; the flight into the imaginary, or into art. On the contrary, to flee is to produce the real, to create life, to find a weapon.

God I love that last bit – to find a weapon. Whether that’s your mind, your voice, your persistence, your community, or something else, you’re going to need a weapon if you’re to have any chance of getting through life as the person you truly want to be. And I think with the talk of becomings, Deleuze is arguing that writing without purpose is not really writing:

In writing one always gives writing to those who do not have it, but the latter give writing a becoming without which it would not exist, without which it would be pure redundancy in the service of the powers that be.

The writing does not stand alone – it is part of a rhizome. The assemblage is not complete until the writing has been deterritorialised and reterritorialised in the act of being read. Without forming that connection, it’s redundant, lifeless. It has not become anything. Elsewhere he calls writing the “means to a more than personal life” – and perhaps he means a public life, or perhaps he means a communal one, because writing is indeed a great way to find and build a community.

And one last thought to finish on…

Writing always combines with something else, which is its own becoming.

That something else should be a spark from deep inside you, a fear you are forcing yourself to face, or some of your own blood spilling out on the page. That will make it real.

Lines of Flight and the Inward March

The line of flight would be the central idea of Deleuze’s essay On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature. Even before he mentioned Joseph Conrad, the “line of flight” immediately put me in mind of Heart of Darkness and then Apocalypse Now, and the anabasis represented by each (he also mentions Aguirre, Wrath of God, the historical figure, though Herzog’s film certainly fits the anabasis definition). Anabasis means “inland march,” but in these examples that inland march parallels an inward journey toward the heart of darkness inside the narrators themselves. Deleuze refers to the flight as a sort of delirium, which we certainly see in both Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – the narrators realise the line of flight might kill them, but they are driven onwards anyway, desperate to see what lies at the end of this becoming.

There is something […] demonic in a line of flight. Demons are different from gods, because gods have fixed attributes, properties and functions, territories and codes: they have to do with rails, boundaries and surveys. What demons do is jump across intervals, and from one interval to another.

When Deleuze mentions demons, he isn’t referring to anything evil, and indeed, the trickster seems like the real comparison. The demon, or trickster, is a force that might influence people to embrace something chaotic, or something that might normally be outside of their range of likely responses. Staying withing the boundaries of the rule-bound god will not help you embrace a line of flight, but by breaking out, one might find a new line. This is presented quite literally in Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now – our narrators embrace the chaos of the jungle, leave behind their civilised selves (which are possibly only fiction-suits, where their true self is something they are frightened of as much as they are seduced by it) precisely because it is only by embracing a madness like Kurtz’s that they might have a chance to find and confront the man.

But there’s a lot more to the line of flight than embracing madness – indeed, I would argue that any journey or discovery would entail a line of flight, that any undertaking entered into consciously and with a strength of desire is a line of flight. It is anything that pushes one beyond one’s boundaries and into becoming. Deleuze denigrates French literature, because it represents the opposite of the line of flight – it is insular, static.

Deleuze mentions the clean break, which is an idea I would have liked him to dwell on more as he touches on it only briefly here. He quotes F. Scott Fitzgerald as saying “A clean break is something you cannot come back from; that is irretrievable because it makes the past cease to exist.” I would argue that when Deleuze talks of the line of flight he’s not necessarily talking about something you can’t come back from, but rather getting yourself to a place where you do not want to return –you become something truer to yourself and would never go back. (And I think this “clean break” maybe sits at odds with the French dwelling on history and secrets that Deleuze talks about elsewhere in the essay.)

But then Deleuze speaks also of what I’ll call the dirty break: “How can one avoid the line of flight’s becoming identical with a pure and simple movement of self-destruction […]?”

Here again is where he takes issue with French literature. “They are happy to stink personally, since what they write will be all the more sublime and significant.” To my mind both these quotes connect to the bullshit romanticisation of the drug-fucked artist, the idea that self-destructive habits will make you a better writer or musician or whatever. Getting bogged down in addiction seems to me the opposite of the line of flight – how can you be a person-becoming when every waking moment is spent in communion with your drug of choice? You are instead addiction-becoming.

Deleuze argues against these secrets and degradations in favour of the power of life. He doesn’t specify precisely what he means by this term, but from context I think it’s safe to say it’s related to embracing the line of flight.

But the line of flight, the clean break, can be vulnerable: “A true break may be extended in time, […] it must constantly be protected not merely against its false imitations, but also against itself, and against the reterritorializations which lie in wait for it.” The simple metaphor for this one is the drawn-out break-up. When you know that you need to make that clean break, but you find yourself being drawn back to that old relationship and those old patterns. But then the final part, the “reterritorialisations which lie in wait for it” is something to be aware of – the diversions and mistakes that can lie in wait for you when you’re trying to make those lines of flight – when you’re focused on becoming.

And maybe this sounds too much like I’m turning this essay into Deleuze’s self-help manual, but as someone who is intent on not seeing myself as a final product but rather as a process – an ongoing becoming – this is some of what I took from the essay.

Are you on a line of flight now, or are you stuck? Are you embracing self-discovery or self-destruction?

I’m still in my early days of reading and understanding Deleuze, but one thing I’m already glad of is the absence of nihilism in his writing. There is instead a sort of joy at finding the rhizomatic connections, the reterritorialisations, and the lines of flight, a pure excitement at exploring these ideas. As someone prone to general depression and a sort of nihilism concerning our collective fate, it feels like reading Deleuze is part of a line of flight that I need…

*Who* Does the Earth Think It Is?!: Notes on Geology of Morals

My first appearance on this illustrious podcast might have been a little clumsy – I’ll be the first to admit that – but I did in fact have some decent notes prior to recording. Matt pre-empted some of what I wanted to say in his opening section, and I didn’t want us to be repeating ourselves, so instead I kinda jumped haphazardly into my notes (I’ll get better at this podcasting business, mark my words). Below you’ll find said notes, focused on the theory-fiction aspect of this essay, along with a couple of other bits that I wanted to post here for posterity.

When Sean first suggested The Geology of Morals he said something along the lines of “We’ll have fun with this one.” Fool that I am, I thought that meant this was going to be a light or easy essay. But it’s not, not at all. It is however fun, and a big part of that comes down to the narrative framing device Deleuze and Guattari use here. That device is of sitting in on a lecture given by Professor Challenger, which is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, it means that Challenger becomes a stand-in for Deleuze and Guattari themselves because he is the one presenting their ideas, which means it also gives them a chance to pre-empt their critics:

Besides, the professor was not a geologist or a biologist, he was not even a linguist, ethnologist, or psychoanalyst; what his specialty had been was long since forgotten. In fact, Professor Challenger was double, articulated twice, and that did not make things any easier, people never knew which of him was present. He (?) claimed to have invented a discipline he referred to by various names: rhizomatics, stratoanalysis, schizoanalysis, nomadology, micropolitics, pragmatics, the science of multiplicities.

Secondly, it allows them to put a variety of thinkers in conversation with each other. Obviously a framing device isn’t necessary here, because any number of philosophical texts do the same thing without it, but, again, it’s a fun way to do so, and even brings in an element of hyperstition. Arthur Conan Doyle is mentioned at the very opening of the essay, so even if you’re unfamiliar with When the World Screamed, the simple mention of ACD means it’s fair to assume that Challenger is a fictional character. It gets interesting then when D&G start to bring in these other “characters” in conversation with Challenger, but when you check the endnotes you find these are real scientists and thinkers. There’s something about the light presentation of these dense ideas reinforced by this web of research that gives the essay a certain, shall we say, je ne sais quoi (hey, D&G are French, so it works). It gives the essay an extra feeling of depth, which is one of the ways that I can feel hyperstition – when I feel unmoored, unsure of what’s real and what’s fiction.

(Some other things that give me that hyperstitional feel:

  • Luke Rhineheart’s The Dice Man
  • The film The Fourth Kind

And other experiences that are immediately lesser if you open up wikipedia and go looking for truth…)

Third, the essay on the whole is about content and expression, and the tension and connection between those two modes. So what do D&G do with this subject matter – with this content? They write it as theory fiction. They use a form of expression that might bring attention to itself and reinforce the content for the reader as they go through the essay. The piece itself acts as a meta-metaphor for the content of the essay (and seeing as most of the talk of strata in this essay went over my head, it was the other metaphors that I really latched onto, meaning I couldn’t very well miss or ignore this one).

And lastly, I’m coming back to this, I know, but it’s fun. It’s a dense essay, but throughout they’ll bring you back to the framing device and give you a breather before carrying on. It’s simple but really effective. As that framing story unfolds, we see Challenger’s authority challenged, his lecture become a puppet show and a shambles, and the man himself turns into a lobster – a lobster giving a lecture to an empty room. (This ending is peppered with Lovecraft references, but Challenger’s transformation just pet me in mind of William S. Burroughs’ All American De-Anxietised Man.)

For more on theory-fiction, A Theory Fiction Reading List.

And while we’re on the topic of theory and also literature…

What’s the art, if I can say that, what’s the literary dimension of writing theory? It’s a genre of literature, Marx is a literary genius. We sort of lose track of that, creating language to describe new situations but in ways that don’t lose track of their genesis and genealogy. To write theory as a literary genre, to tackle that, rather than recycle these terms we picked up from the great famous names.

Mckenzie Wark, interviewed at Believer Magazine

That might not always be easy to see if we get lost in the theory itself – in the ideas and the intellectual aspect apart from the aesthetics (if we get caught up in the content and forget the importance of expression), but I think this essay does a great job of reinforcing her point.

There were also a couple of quotes in this essay that put me in mind of Object-Oriented Ontology, which is something I got interested in largely in regards to my novel Repo Virtual, but which I want to read more on if only because it seems like an effective battering ram against anthropocentric thinking…

To express is always to sing the glory of God. Every stratum is a judgment of God; not only do plants and animals, orchids and wasps, sing or express themselves, but so do rocks and even rivers, every stratified thing on earth.

And this:

The development of the associated milieus culminates in the animal worlds described by von Uexkull, with all their active, perceptive, and energetic characteristics. The unforgettable associated world of the Tick, defined by its gravitational energy of falling, its olfactory characteristic of perceiving sweat, and its active characteristic of latching on: the tick climbs a branch and drops onto a passing mammal it has recognized by smell, then latches onto its skin (an associated world composed of three factors, and no more). Active and perceptive characteristics are themselves something of a double pincer, a double articulation.

And lastly, there was a vein in this essay about evolution and/as deterritorialisation that really grabbed me, but I might end up expanding on those thoughts at a later date. So for now, I shall say goodbye and that I’m glad to be here with all you buddies.