Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) and Felix Guattari (1930-92) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) and Felix Guattari (1930-92)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

It is rare in literary theory to come across a team of theorists whose work extends over a long period of time and focuses on a variety of complex problems in literature, psychoanalysis, Marxism, and philosophy. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari are that rarity, and it is impossible to separate them when discussing their theoretical ideas.

Gilles Deleuze was born and educated in Paris. He studied philosophy at the Sorbonne and taught in Parisian lycees until 1957. At this time, he started teaching the history of philosophy at the Sorbonne and then worked as a researcher for the Centre National Recherche Scientifique (1960-64). He also taught at the University of Lyons, and then finally at the experimental University of Paris VIII (Vincennes), at the behest of Michel Foucault. He remained there until he retired in 1987. His earliest works were philosophical critiques of Nietzsche, Spinoza, Bergson, Kant, and others. In 1968, he published Difference and Repetition, which constituted the larger part of his dissertation. He also wrote on literary figures like Kafka and Proust.

Felix Guattari was born in Velleneuve-les-Sablons, France, and gravitated to the study of psychiatry as a young man of twenty. He practiced a form of psychiatry influenced by philosophy, linguistics, literature, and Lacanian psychoanalysis. Along with his collaborator, Jean oury, he performed research and trained students in a private clinic, La Bord at Court-Cheverny. In the mid-1960s, he was active in the Association of Institutional Psychotherapy and along with others founded the Federation of Groups for Institutional Study and Research.

In May 1968, in the midst of student protests and rioting, the two men met at Vincennes. In the next few years they developed the material that became Anti-Oedipus (1977) and Thousand Plateaus (1983), which together constitute one of the most controversial and complex critiques of capitalist culture and its links to Psychoanalysis. Crucial to their understanding of the social body and social spaces are innovative concepts like TERRI- TORIALIZATION, which refers to the ways bodies and spaces are inscribed or demarcated by social, political, and cultural networks of power. Such networks are structured either hierarchically or “rhizomatically,” with the latter's centerless, crabgrass-like extensions and complexities offering more freedom of expression and resistance. DETERRITORIALIZATION and RETERRITORIALIZATION are processes which erase or reconstruct, respectively, the limits and boundaries of the social space. Another important concept is the “body without organs,” which Deleuze and Guattari argue is free of the repressive mechanisms of desire articulated in Psychoanalysis. In place of the psychoanalytic model of SUBJECTIVITY, signified by the Freudian theory of Oedipus, is the “anti-oedipal” condition of schizophrenia, a condition in which desire is the free and fluid expression of desiring machines along the surface of the body without organs. Deleuze and Guattari also worked together on other projects, notably Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1988), which explores the use of a dominant language (German) by the Jewish Czechoslovakian novelist, Franz Kafka. Anti-Oedipus remains their enduring contribution to literary and cultural theory.


Deleuze, Gilles. The Deleuze Reader. Ed. Constantin V. Boundas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

---- . A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. London: Athlone, 1988.

---- . Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature. Trans. Dana Polan. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.