Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 14. Nr. Februar 2003

From Comparative Cultural Studies to Post-literary Study.
Gilles Deleuze and Central-European Thought. Post-literature. An Essay

Constantin Severin (Suceava, Romania)


  "Axiome: le synthetisme est la grande loi del'ontologie".
(Gustave Flaubert, 1855.)

During recent decades philosophy has been besieged by multicultural studies, art and literature by new theoretical challenges, and science/technology by avant-garde artistic experiments. Many thinkers seem to have been convinced that art had become inseparable from technology and information. A phenomenon of hybridization appeared, attempting to produce cultural mutation, resulted in a trans-aesthetic paradigm: post-literary studies in "post-literature."

The concept of post-literature describes metamorphoses and tensions in contemporary creation, the co-existence, even merging of fields heretofore exhibiting autonomous profiles in time: that is, philosophy, art and science/ technology. The trend became frequent and striking in the era of "virtual reality," characterized by various non-classifiable texts by such writers as Nietzsche, Joyce, Musil, Deleuze, Barth, Beckett, Derrida, Pynchon, Barthes, Zukovsky, Cartarescu (in "Orbitor"), etc. The term, post-literature, widely used, has not been taken up in Romanian culture, although it was echoed by Serban Foarta in 1991, albeit in another context and with other connotations (1); as with any new concept, its name is less important than what it may suggest, its hidden essence. In the absence of a theoretical framework, the new paradigm attempts to impose itself through independent achievements around the world, against a background of heated discussion regarding the crisis of literature, well summarized by Adrian Marino in a recent book. A short quotation may suggest our approach: "Surrendering literal literature becomes in many critical-theoretical circles the major trend. The whole <literalist> tradition of literature is both undermined and contested. The crisis of the idea of literature reaches in a way an essential moment, not yet well pointed out" (2).

The scientist and the philosopher and the artist are each interested in knowing more about the universe (by which is meant the "communication universe," as Ernest H. Hutten asserts); in their search they meet on intersecting roads. Occasionally literature anticipates significant scientific events. The multivalent logic opens new perspectives interesting to literary and artistic creation.

"Kinetic organizations," temporary projects by teams dedicated to interdisciplinary work, emerge often. Industries specializing in the manufacture of objects are being rendered secondary by the industries of communication, which create striking psychological phenomena in post-industrial societies, as many writers have noticed.


Gathering the Three Chaoids

In his late works, Gilles Deleuze, fascinated by the dissolution of the ego, the linguistic pragmatism and "les machines desirantes" ("desire machines") imagined by his friend, Felix Guattari, tried to found an ontology of multiplicity and a metaphysics of event, which could be considered aspects of post-literature. Their keywords were image, figure and concept (which might be important for the theory of post-literature, too). It occurred in a period marked by vivid debate on the need to shift the emphasis from gnosiology (in modern art) to ontology (in postmodern art). In the book written by the two close friends, "Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?", we read: "Briefly the chaos has three daughters depending on the plane it crosses: these are Chaoids-art, science and philosophy - as thought or creative patterns. The Chaoids are the realities born in the planes that cross chaos."(3) Therefore we may consider post-literature as a gathering of the three Chaoids, though the authors do not forget to mention that the three planes and their components seem to be irreducible (the immanence plane of philosophy, the composition plane of art, and the reference or functions plane of science). They believe "the three modes of thinking cross, interlace - but without synthesis or identification". Deleuze & Guattari discuss the possible interferences between them: "A first type of interference appears when a philosopher tries to create the concept of a sensation or the concept of a function (for example the concept specific to Riemannian space or to irrational numbers), or when a scientist tries to create functions of sensation, like Fechner, or theories of color or updating virtual concepts in mathematics"; or when an artist succeeds in the creation of pure sensations of concepts or functions, as with various forms of abstract art, or as with Paul Klee. In all such situations the rule is that the interfering discipline must use its own resources". They even foreshadow a new paradigm, asserting that there are three types of interference: extrinsic, intrinsic, and non-localized. Extrinsic interference occurs when any discipline remains fixed in its own plane and uses its own elements (this is the case of some texts signed by Deleuze or by both Deleuze & Guattari). Intrinsic interference is manifested when concepts and conceptual characters "seem to appear out of their immanence plane in order to slip into another plane between functions and partial outlooks, or between sensations and aesthetic figures". Non-localized interference makes possible communication between genres through components easily alienated from themselves, their planes being related to a common chaos into which the mind falls.

If we accept the concept of post-literature (in the absence of a more suitable term), the gathering of the three Chaoids could happen in a place called an "assembling node" (text, movie, installation, exhibition hall, show hall, site, Internet site, etc.). In such an assembling node, the signs of some events, sensations and state of things may be abandoned to a spontaneous communication and free, uncontrolled coexistence, - a communion of three Chaoids. The assembling node may be closed (the three Chaoids communicate only amongst themselves) or open (the three Chaoids communicate both amongst themselves as well as with the universe).

A sample of post-literature to be found in the virtual galaxy may be self-evident. Leila Rae gained a Master of Arts in English in 1997, with the project of a virtual magazine stimulated by a Deleuzian concept - RHIZOME. She gathered at the same site (the assembling node) the images of some art works, philosophical essays, literary and scientific texts. Rae defined a concept, "versioning" ("the ability to create and manage different versions of the same document") and recommended that we begin to "read" the rhizomatic magazine anywhere. On the screen there are many links; behind them we find, in an aleatory order, the spectral buds of rhizome: images of art works and supermodels, photos, short stories, autobiographical texts, postal cards, press news, stories for children, quoted passages from the works of Leila Rae's preferred authors (Deleuze, Derrida, Barthes, Iser), ecological calls, etc., and of course, the necessary feed-back for "readers"(4).

Steven Totosy de Zepetnek also prefers a systematic and empirical approach, with a stress on methodology. One of his favorite concepts, "in-between," may be used by theorists of post-literature. Its different components are in fact in an "in-between" position, each being "in" the genre proceeding from, but at the same time "between" genres, on account of a de-territorialization process permitting cohabitation and interference. Deleuze & Guatari seemed to be persuaded in their work, "Qu' est-ce que la philosophie?" that empiricism is a strong maker of concepts. Steven Conner (5) wrote about the "illicit brotherhood between spheres which could be separated," and Scott Lash took a further theoretical step along this post-literary road, when he referred to "de-differentiation of the distinct spheres of art and deliberate exploration of existing things - so striking in Fried's opinion - in the space between different forms of art rather than inside their secure body" (6).

Stephen Pfohl anticipated the new paradigm when he spoke of "the forced delimited fields of philosophy, literature, linguistics, history, economy, feminist study, psycho-analysis, iconic or interpretative arts and even theoretical physics" (7).


A Language Closed to Inner Speech

Howard Fox agrees that postmodernism allows an immense number of points of access, of infinite interpretative reactions. Such a thing is available especially to post- literature. Many statements by now have illuminated the difference between postmodernism and post-literature. Postmodernism is not a new aesthetic paradigm, rather a radical, as many theorists assert, or a critical dialogue with past styles within the same art genre. It is not programmatically interested in interdisciplinary dialogue, and a unified or integrative vision (often utopian) of the distinct spheres of art and knowledge. In most of cases postmodernism, which also belongs to the old culture of resentment, as Nietzsche would say, is an aesthetical cul de sac.

In recent Romanian literature, such a thing is evident in examining Mircea Cartarescu's experience of "The Levant," a non-transmissible model. The parodied replay of different styles from the past of a literature could become a ridiculous and mocking work, made by many authors, or even one, when produced by a continuous effort like this. Post-literature is a concept easy to imagine in a period characterized by an aesthetics of complexity. It is not post- modernism, but a complex and actual face of literature after literature, compelled to pass on from linguistic rhetoric to image rhetoric and disciplinary creation. Postmodernism continues to be fascinated by the discursive, like modernism. Post-literature is a culture of multiple contingencies, mainly non-discursive and tragic.

We may ask if the attempt to publicize the three Chaoids could be useful to an attempt to surpass the culture of resentment. Maybe yes, through a more important role granted to chance, a catalyst of plasticity and metamorphosis, substitution of confrontation between interfering disciplines by dialogue and cohabitation among them, corporalization of thought, diminution of reactive forces on account of a synthesis effort, shifting from text to context, etc. The significant role offered to concept in the last cultural paradigm may contribute to the proliferation of some "conceptual characters" in order to impose it.

We do not need to choose between theory (like the metaphysician) or literature (like the ironist), but we both de- territorialize them to rebuild in an assembling knot or on the territory of one of them. If theorists have asserted that up to now we have had two canons, the Plato-Kant canon (metaphysicians) or the ironist canon (ironists), from now on we can speak of the post-literary canon (metaphysician ironists). Richard Rorty remarked earlier that the German philosopher Martin Heidegger was tormented by the idea of finding the way "to combine irony with theory"(8). Geoffrey Hartman and J. Hillis Miller plead for interchangeability between literature and criticism, and Gina Puici is more radical in "The force of the concept I": "It's enough to listen very attentively today to the general atmosphere, <l'air du temps>, to be convinced that in the present world the movement of ideas concerning art tends to replace in some cases even the art"(9). A distinguished Romanian writer who lives in USA, Andrei Codrescu, appears to thrive in this post-literary atmosphere: "My religion is Creolisation, Hybridization, Miscegenation, Immigration, Genre-Busting, Trespassing, Border-Crossing, Identity-Shifting, Mask-Making and Syncretism"(10). His personal inclination may be considered a useful characterization of post-literature, and it illustrates the effect of Deleuze's thought on the evolution of a new cultural paradigm, at least insofar as Codrescu finds it helpful to himself. Perhaps the creation of works of post-literature requires such Deleuzian conceptualization...


From Comparative Cultural Studies to Post-literature

It is not very difficult to detect multiple similarities betweencontemporary trends in comparative studies as practiced even in Central Europe and Deleuze's writing of "post-philosophy" (a term provided by Richard Rorty). The French philosopher is a "contemporary of the future," who succeeds in transcending both comparative literature (in his studies of Proust, Kafka, Melville, Carroll, Lawrence, Beckett, etc.) and philosophy through a personal écriture in which may be seen links between different domains of knowledge and the arts. Deleuze's method as well as the new trend in contemporary comparative studies is based on the same strategy: to look for singularities in various fields of thought and art, then to find intimate connections between them and impose new visions and concepts. I consider that such a new empiricism, with a focus on holism and with a stress on the creative and not on the interpretative effort, could open a way from comparative literature and comparative cultural studies to a framework for post-literary study. Literature, in which creativity is governed by rules, is slowly being replaced by a rule-changing post-literature ("rule- changing creativity" - Noam Chomsky). Fragmentary wholes. Radical deviances. Friable compositions.

In post-literature the sentence ceases to be the "image of reality" (L. Wittgenstein); it is reality itself. A sort of stained- glass window language, which is opaque to reality, but interposes its own aesthetic "reality."

We assist in the displacement from text (left in a secondary position) to the image, from discursive to non-discursive "language". Post-literature aims at a language closed to inner speech - a cohabitation of images, a montage or collage of discursive and non-discursive terms or artifacts of language.

All these vectors coincide with the principles of the non- separability and wholeness (David Bohm) of complexity science. David Bohm thinks language has become permeated by the dividing principle; though reality flows continuously, thought is discontinuous and fragmentary. He recommends that scientists replace partition analysis by a multistratum description of interdependencies. In post- literature, knowledge of the world (specific to Modernism) is substituted for by knowledge of the interaction between worlds and their way of being. Post-literature is an ironist canon of multiple contingencies, which tends to the unification of culture, based on poetics and on art that enhances moral sensibility, with culture focused on philosophy and science technology.

In the triad artist/art object/public, attention now centers on the special experience of the public in the presence of the artistic project. Instead of art or literature's mimesis of the real, in post-literature we sometimes experience "the real which imitates art" (Brett Yviet).


Virtual Textualism

The aesthetic-matrix field of post-literature nourishes the atmosphere of the epoch considered by Virgil Nemoianu as post-modern, post-colonialist, post-industrial and post- Christian. A society in which "community was replaced by communication", pure information creation surpasses manufactured objects; televisual and virtual presence overshadow the printed text; relations between people and perhaps human nature itself are modified; tensions occur, "a parodic game with history"; and, finally, regarding religious life -the mystical, spiritual component grows more important than the theological/dogmatic one(11).

Literature is dominated by scriptural textualism and post- literature by the media, or virtual textualism. The second proposes "a displacement of the narrative stress to the means and proceedings of cybernetic art: virtual images, 3-D simulations, <fractal> images, inter-active games, etc."(12). As Ion Manolescu asserts in the same study, in the case of virtual textualism we may not refer anymore to the reader, but to a reader/onlooker, and "the fascination, exercised by media textualism on the reader/onlooker, results from the annulment of the borders between desire and reality: the image dictatorship abolishes any scriptural convention transforming reading into a seduction act and visual hypnosis; between the graphic sign and its acoustic image a fault appears in which guided by the Freudian principle of pleasure we penetrate more and more deeply"(13).

One of the most important theorists of virtual reality, Michael Heim, the author of some extraordinary books like "The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality" and "Virtual Realism," (Oxford University Press), warns us about the impact of "machine language" on human beings and literature: "But the truth of the matter might well be that the language machine takes language into its management and thus masters the essence of the human being [...] Literature, too, changes as the written word migrates to electronic text. On computers literature presents an unlimited cross-reference system for all symbol creations"(14). The American philosopher believes that hypertext, inter-textuality and infomania favor non-linear and associative style - the jump, intuition, synthesis - and erode our capacity for understanding the means.

A well-known American professor and writer, Jascha Kessler, noticed that after 50 years of teaching modern literature and creative writing, the young people of the new generations are "hardly less intelligent, less informed or worse prepared for understanding language than they used to be. The contrary is perhaps true; they are cleverer, more experienced and much better informed about the nature of the world and the varieties of human experience than they used to be"(15). Kessler remarks in the same essay that the aesthetical experience regarding objects created by human beings for contemplation, has been altered "in ways that challenge poetry and even the other arts".

Many art projects expounded by Michael Heim in his book "Virtual Realism" may be integrated into the concept of post- literature. Out of the common is the OSMOSE group in Montreal, coordinated by Char Davies and supported by SoftImage (Microsoft). The other members of the team are the graphic artist George Mauro, the specialist in soft/virtual reality, John Harrison, the musician Rick Bidlack and the design and sound processing expert Dorota Blaszczak. "OSMOSE is an immersive virtual space exploring the interrelation between exterior Nature and interior Self. The work explores the potential of immersive virtual space as a medium for visual/aural expression and the kinaesthetic experience of philosophical ideas. In biology osmosis is a process involving passage from one side of a membrane to another. Osmosis as a metaphor means the transcendence of difference through mutual absorption, the dissolution of boundary between inner and outer, the intermingling of self and world, the longing for the Other," assert the members of the group(16). Some literary or non-literary texts, virtual landscapes and a strange music are intermingled in such a way that the reader/spectators "become re-sensitized to their own being" (Char Davies, idem, pag. 165).

Philosophical meditation, art, literature and science/technology, all the components of post-literature may be found in the works made by the interdisciplinary team OSMOSE.

From one day to another the phenomenon amplifies, and we may already assert there are no isolated people interested in the dream and virtuality as in the Romantic age, but a whole world that's shifting in the middle of the dream, of virtual reality. There is always the risk of a "mixtum compositum." That is why disputes are bitter. Monica Spiridon considers that "a traffic of concepts and methods with two directions of circulation appears - the risky, the bizarre"(17). With such a new paradigm, not called post- literature and not delimited to post-modernism as with the previously-cited authors, Spiridon is firmly convinced that "in the name of pluralism the result is the super- simplification of literature, theory and arts as well as sciences by fixing them in a monolithic, exclusivist and non-profitable cultural framework" (idem).

Unaffected by such divergent opinions, groups like OSMOSE will multiply in the future and will become an alternative to traditional literary/artistic disciplines (they will not disappear, but their audience will be drastically reduced in a world dominated by media language).


Post-literature and Time

Any new cultural canon has a specific relation with time; Contrary wise, for Henri Bergson time is synonymous creation. In recent morphology theories, time as a vehicle of differences, rarified, with different modulations, even becomes the substance of things. Maybe even the generation of natural shapes is a secret confrontation between different forms of time. The relations between spirit and time, energy and time remain yet unknown. It is possible in any aesthetic success that time fuses with spirit, and in the contrary case we cannot refer to the sweet Bergsonian duration, but to a zombie - time and a spectral art.

"If modernity spatialized time then postmodernity re- temporalizes space; the solidity of space and of the place in the space is submitted to the de-centered mobility of information and investment," remarks David Harvey(18). Post-literature is a rhizomatic literature - art belonging to postmodernity - an epoch of "intensive, telecommunications time" (idem.). The "acceleration of time," observes Michael Heim in "Metaphysics of Virtual Reality"(19), is also an attempt to obtain temporal simultaneity, as in that VISIO DEI mentioned by Leibniz. Perhaps temporal simultaneity is the ideal of some post-literary teams like OSMOSE.

In his essay "The Tragedy of Central Europe" (NYRB, 1984), Milan Kundera thought people in Central Europe are defined especially by culture and destiny, not by geography. If we follow his idea, it is easy to assert that Central Europe is a civilization of temporal senses, marked by the impalpable, the immaterial, the unstable, by the inwardness of metaphysics. Time means succession.

Perhaps Western Europe and USA belong to a civilization of spatial senses, with the stress on wholeness, matter, equilibrium, outward and pragmatism. Space is characterized by simultaneity.

One might say Western people have the genius of space (virtual reality, without temporal dimension, which is apparent in the USA) and Central Europeans the genius of time, although such formulations may not be relevant. The synthesis, "the big law of ontology", may transform a succession into simultaneity. Probably the time of communion between East and West has come, and the experiments of post-literature are part of a common destiny.

© Constantin Severin (Targu-Mures, Romania)

TRANSINST       Inhalt / Table of Contents / Contenu: No.14


(1) Revista "Orizont", Timisoara, nr. 43, 1991.

(2) Adrian Marino, "Biografia ideii de literatura", vol. 6, partea IV, Editura Dacia, Cluj-Napoca, 2000, pag. 62.

(3) Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, "Ce este filosofia?", Editura Pandora, T`rgoviste, 1998, traducere de Magdalena Marculescu-Cojocea.

(4) Leila Rae,"One Zero One-a magazine-rhizome",

(5) Steven Connor, "Cultura postmodern. O introducere `n teoriile contemporane", Editura Meridiane, Bucuresti, 1999, traducere de Mihaela Oniga, pag.18.

(6) Scott Lash, "Post-modernism as a <Regime for Significations,> "Theory, Culture and Society," 5:2-3, 1988, pag. 312.

(7) Stephen Pfohl, "Death at the Parasite Cafe: Social Sciences (Fictions) and the Postmodern", Basingstoke and London, Macmillan, 1992, pag. 78.

(8) Richard Rorty, "Contingenta, ironie si solidaritate", Editura ALL, Bucuresti, 1998, pag. 222.

(9) Gina Puica, "For]a conceptului I", "Obiectiv-Arte," supliment cultural al cotidianului "Obiectiv-Vocea Sucevei," Suceava, 6 martie 2002.

(10) Andrei Codrescu, interviu realizat de Lidia Vianu, 31 ianuarie 2001,

(11) Marcel Cornis-Pope, "Narrative Innovation and Cultural Rewriting in the Cold War Era and After," Palgrave Press, 2001.

(12) Virgil Nemoianu, "Notes sur l'etat de postmodernite", "Euresis-cahiers roumains d'etudes litteraires", nr. 1-2/1, 1995, pag. 17-19.

(13) Ion Manolescu, "La prose postmoderniste et le textualisme mediatique," "Euresis-cahiers roumains d'etudes litteraires," nr. 1-2, 1995, pag. 197.

(14) Idem, pag. 200.

(15) Michael Heim, "The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality," Oxford University Press, 1993, pag. 9.

(16) Jascha Kessler, "Between Alpha and Omega," Anthology of the XXIInd World Congress of Poets, Iasi, Romania, October 2002, pag. 21.

(17) Monica Spiridon, "Post-modernismul: o batalie cu povestiri", "Observator cultural," Bucuresti, nr. 129, 2002.

(18) David Harvey, "The Condition of Postmodernity", 1989, pag. 317.

(19) Michael Heim, "Virtual Realism," Oxford University Press, 1998, pag. 162.

For quotation purposes - Zitierempfehlung:
Constantin Severin (Targu-Mures, Romania): From Comparative Cultural Studies to Post-literary Study. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 14/2002.

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