Meaning versus inspiring

brainI’ve been thinking again about Cath Ellis’s blog post encouraging #rhizo14 participants to read D&G in the original and wondering if it really matters what an original meant when they wrote something, or whether it’s what it inspires in others that is important.  Serendipidously I found I’d bookmarked this Beginner’s Guide to Deleuze which says that he:

… is concerned, not with what a given text “really” means, but rather with what can be done with it, how it can be used, what other problems and other texts it can be brought into conjunction with.

Dave made a similar remark in the Facebook group about not caring less when purists accused him of misinterpreting D&G.  I used to have similar conversations with Ray Monk when I was an undergrad.  I’d mention a bit of Wittgenstein and say that it made me think of X, and Ray would say “ah, yes, but of course he meant Y”.  Ray was a kind, erudite man, and he taught me an awful lot about Wittgenstein, and I don’t wish to malign him or suggest that he was a pedant, because that would not be true.

So where am I going with this?  Well, it’s tricky.  I do think that it is important not to misrepresent what authors are saying, and it infuriates me when folk paraphrase poorly because they have not understood what they have read or not bothered to read the primary sources.  I always try to read things for myself in the original context if I am going to use them in my writing and, as an academic I think that I should do this whenever I can.

But I also think that it is absolutely fine to take a piece of writing that inspires you and to use it as a springboard for your own ideas.  As long as we distinguish, as well as we can, between Deleuze’s ideas and Deleuzian ones, I don’t see a problem.  Here’s one of my many favourite Wittgenstein quotes, by the way:

keyboard“Uttering a word is like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination.”  Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Section 6

I think that D&G, like Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, write in a style that encourages tangential use of their prose.

Writing has nothing to do with signifying.  It has to do with surveying, mapping, even realms that are yet to come.  D&G A Thousand Plateaus pp 4-5

I also think, as I’ve said before, that it is perfectly fine to talk about D&G’s metaphors without having read their writings.  The rhizome is a metaphor from botany, and you don’t need a PhD in philosophy to understand that!

A more radical position was suggested to me by Steve Draper recently.   Steve’s one of the brightest, well-read people I’ve ever had the good fortune to know, so when he suggested that I read Pierre Bayard How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read I laughed.  I’m reading it, though, and it is very good.  More about that later.

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15 Responses to Meaning versus inspiring

  1. jennymackness says:

    ‘How to talk about books you haven’t read’ – that sounds like cheating to me 😉

  2. I’m reminded of a comment overheard by a friend:

    “Read the book – I haven’t even taught it yet”

    Steve’s the ultimate cheat. He is un-doing this un-course by refusing to sign up but getting the low-down on it from me 😉

  3. francesbell says:

    My reading aim is fairly limited – to read enough of 1000 Plateaus to begin to apply some of the 6 principles or whatever they are called as a way into looking at what difference it might make to think of learning rhizomatically. This paper is helping too as it is quite applied (in area of service learning). I am struggling a bit with “community is the curriculum” so I cheated by doing a search for that term sorted by date,cdr:1,cd_min:01/01/1990,cd_max:31/12/2010 The earliest reference that I found was “Why Shop? Week”: Shopping, Service Learning, and Student Activism, by Kayann Short. When the Community is the Curriculum: Teaching Women’s Activisms and Organizations, by Judith McDaniel. Interesting that too is about Service Learning I am hoping that this will be a fruitful avenue as it seems to link to changes in education and ‘different’ knowledges.

  4. Thank you, Frances, I’ll look at those links. I seem to have committed myself to using D&G in my PhD thesis, so I will have to read an awful lot more than I planned. Thank goodness for #rhizo14 as the community is helping me very much 😀

  5. Maha says:

    Loved this post Sarah. Excellent points. It occurs to me that any reading we do of D&G is already interpreted in process of translation… Right?

    • Absolutely – and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just (imo) important to acknowledge it. Also, Ken Bruffee, another author I like (who says nothing about D&G, just reminds me of them sometimes) says that “[a] written text is a bit like a pueblo” ( and I like that – it’s impossible to attribute authorship to one specific person as we are all so influenced by our history and culture.

  6. Aaron says:

    Thanks for this. I am enjoying as many of your posts as I can keep up with 🙂 (it’s not you, it’s me). I like this idea of sorting Deleuzian ideas vs Deleuze’s ideas… I find it almost impossible to consider things I haven’t read / tried to read (perhaps this is a flaw and perhaps I must get this book on talking about books one hasn’t read?) and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to read D & G with other people. One of the things I think I am noticing is that in the talking about them as perceived ideas, at least in the rhizo14 context, they’re perceived as applicable to educational theory as in, how can we use D & G in our current classrooms? Whereas I think from reading them this might be a horrifying proposition – to be used to prop up one of the three identified tenets (by Marx and Engels) of capitalism? Burn the schools is quite different from fiddle a bit with the curriculum… and I haven’t ever seen D & G in an undergraduate (teacher training) education curriculum. My experience of them comes from reading ed theory and critical theory. I hope to not start another avalanche by saying this 🙂

  7. Thank you Aaron. Yes, I think that D&G want to turn away from the current system, as this post that you tweeted the link to suggests: They say (somewhere, or a Deleuzian friend told me), that we can’t change society from within it – we begin wanting to reform an institution but become “striated by the apparatus of the state”. So I think there’s various reasons why D&G would not think that their theory could be taught in our current classrooms. Well, they would not even think that they had a theory, I think. Look forward to talking to you a lot more about D&G

    • Aaron says:

      yes, this morning i was thinking about my previous graduate studies work in literature – a focus on minority literature and the idea of cultural geography – place as edge (the edges of continents, islands off the edge, etc.) – and through it all i kept wanting to really read and focus on Whitman, but kept feeling like i couldn’t quite focus on him. he eluded me and was an important source. in the end I decided not to pursue that degree and did something else, and was a bit discouraged but also very relieved (I really didn’t like the department) and i went off to my gulf island home and packed myself a lunch and went hiking and at a certain viewpoint i pulled out my sandwich and whitman and it fell open to “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood. Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.” and he suddenly made sense in a whole new way 🙂 I was also thinking i should read D & G in a tent 🙂

  8. jollyroger says:

    Hi Sarah, first of all… mushrooms are not evil!! They are just like rhizomes:

    Now one thing that I find inspiring in the discussion from your post is that it recalls the possibility of approaching philosophy in a different way than the usually crystallized approach of academic philosophy. After all, academic philosophy as it is practiced nowadays is only one of many possible language games of philosophical inquiry and practice. It would be good, I think, if more academic philosophers were open to the possibility of different textual forms.

  9. Haha, Andre, I keep forgetting that I wrote that there (when I was first setting it up). It’s a problem, because I do love rhizomes, but I am allergic to fungi.

    Yes, I’m realising that D&G are opening me up to looking at philosophy in a new way. I was trained as an analytic philosopher and for years now I have struggled to write about “continental” philosophy (for want of a better term). Viewing them as different language games is interesting. I need to unlearn a lot, though. Off to read your blog now 🙂

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