ANTI-OEDIPUS (1): the first sentence

Reading Deleuze and Guattari’s breakthrough book ANTI-OEDIPUS one can feel lost as to the genre of its prose, the logical status of its assertions and of their relation to the real, and the relation of continuity or rupture between this work and earlier texts by Deleuze in particular, especially to his LOGIC OF SENSE.

We are fortunate that from the start, in the opening paragraph Deleuze and Guattari give us precious indications of the answers to these questions. These indications as to the uses of the book have been largely overlooked or misinterpreted.

Let us examine the first sentence

Ça fonctionne partout, tantôt sans arrêt, tantôt discontinu.

In the official translation this reads

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts.

This translation is linguistically correct (although more long-winded), but conceptually unsatisfying. A more literal rendering would be

« It functions everywhere, either nonstop or discontinuous ».


1) « it »

We shall examine this point in more detail later, from different points of view. Suffice it to say here that Deleuze’s immediately preceding book LOGIC OF SENSE already contains a discussion of the impersonal pronoun « it » (French « il », « cela », or « ça »). Deleuze affirms  that « it » does not designate a subject, but that in combination with a verb functions as a dummy-subject to express an event.

We shall see that « it » in this first paragraph is employed with the « equivocation » between designation and expression that Deleuze analyses in the 4th series of  LOGIC OF SENSE. Deleuze makes use of a striking example taken from ALICE IN WONDERLAND:

and even Stigand, the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury, found it advisable—' »

« Found what? » said the Duck.

« Found it, » the Mouse replied rather crossly: « of course you know what ‘it’ means. »

« I know what ‘it’ means well enough, when I find a thing, » said the Duck: « it’s generally a frog or a worm. The question is, what did the archbishop find? »

Deleuze remarks that these two dimensions of the proposition are like the two sides of a mirror and that there is no relation of resemblance, or even of continuity, between the two:

To pass to the other side of the mirror is to pass from the relation of denotation to the relation of expression — without pausing at the intermediaries, namely, at manifestation and signification. It is to reach a region where language no longer has any relation to that which it denotes, but only to that which it expresses, that is, to sense. (LOGIC OF SENSE, 27)

ANTI-OEDIPUS begins on the other side of the mirror, we are in the dimension of sense, and not of reference. We are in the domain of the creation of concepts, and we shall see that « desire » in this perspective does not designate an a-theoretical real but a noetic real. Desire is not some simple-minded empiricist biological « real ».

Desire is the creation of concepts.

2) « functions »

The official translation reads « It is at work, functioning ». This has the disadvantage of separating the conjoined evental subject from its conjoint evental verb. In the French they are juxtaposed: « Ça fonctionne ». Given the equivocation between the denotative (or actualised) pole of language and the expressive (or virtual) pole, my impression is that the published translation comes down more on the actualised side. We have implicitly a concrete present in BE + -ing (« It is…functioning »).

A translation that emphasises the other pole would be

« Functioning everywhere, nonstop or discontinuous ».

This sounds rather clumsy, but it would highlight the event of « functioning » rather than a putative subject. Given that there are always two poles (expression/event, denotation/ object or state of affairs), I propose « It functions ». The use of the simple present here puts the accent on the intemporality, and the fronting of « functions » highlights its importance in relation to a whole network of related words (functional, functionalism, function –  noun, dysfunction).

3) « non- » and « dis-« 

The translation unfortunately elides the presence of negative particles (adverb: « sans », without; prefix « dis-« ) in the very first sentence, and so contributes to the naive dualist reading of ANTI-OEDIPUS as affirming a positivity without any trace of negation within it. Negation is present from the very beginning, reinforced by the third sentence’s use of « mistake » (« What a mistake… ») and the fourth sentence’s « not » (« not figurative ones »).

One of the key concepts in ANTI-OEDIPUS is « anti-production », which is an integral part of desiring machines – including books, paragraphs, sentences, which are also machines. It is good to have this anti-production on display as a reminder, whenever possible.

So « nonstop » and « discontinuous » have my preference here.

4) « or »

The French expression « tantôt…tantôt » can have either a temporal sense of chronological succession or a logical sense of a distribution of alternatives, different possibilities.

If one wishes to capture the equivocation that Deleuze analysed between denotation and expression, the published translation (« sometimes…sometimes ») does this well enough, but I have given another version « or » to bring out the sense of different cases or states that may be distributed diachronically (succession) but also synchronically (alternatives). This version brings the first sentence into relation with the « disjunctive synthesis » that Deleuze and Guattari describe a few pages later.

Whereas the « either/or » claims to mark decisive choices between immutable terms (the alternative : either this or that) , the schizophrenic « either . . .or . . . or » refers to the system of possible permutations between differences that always amount to the same as they shift and slide about (12).

5) « nonstop…discontinuous »

In line with the equivocation between denotation and expression the French reads « sans arrêt [nonstop]…discontinu [discontinuous]). These two expressions seem to function as adverbs here, qualifying the verb « fonctionne ». This use is unproblematic for « sans arrêt » but unusual for « discontinu », which is grammatically an adjective. The translators bring coherence to the sentence by translating both expressions adverbially: « smoothly…in fits and starts ». Their status is no longer equivocal, but univocal, qualifying « functioning ».

This translation once again opts more (it is a question of degree) for the actualised face of temporal succession, and the « at times…at times » reinforces that temporal resonance.

The translation I propose (not for creating a readable book, but for conceptual analysis) is: « either nonstop or discontinuous ».

This translation captures the ambiguity, as the two adverbial terms could also be seen as adjectival, qualifying the dummy-subject « it ». Ending the sentence on « discontinu » allows Deleuze and Guattari to create a shifting impression as the word is lexically an adjective but grammatically seems to be an adverb. It functions as a « duck-rabbit » gestalt figure, as it oscillates between adjective and adverb, denotation and expression.

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3 commentaires pour ANTI-OEDIPUS (1): the first sentence

  1. Ping : ANTI-OEDIPUS (1): the first sentence – The Philosophical Hack

  2. landzek dit :

    You know what? Just last night I was pondering more into “mirror Ness” and I was realizing a really odd thing:

    When one looks into the mirror,of course we know the mirror thing about how the left is the right and the right is the left.

    But why is not the top the bottom and the bottom the top if we were to step in to the reflection of the mirror there?

    It makes a perfect nonsense!

    Actually the mirror image is not giving us a perfect correlation of the “mirror image“ itself! For only one dimension that we’re looking at it is reversed while the other factors are not.



  3. landzek dit :

    And actually we could really only say that it is kind of a “perfect line of center” and not some vanishing point, as though a point of center, gives us, so to speak, the truth. There’s an imaginary line of center in the mirror image that the point of center is actually kind of a non sequitur or incorrect rendering of the mirror situation.


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