First published in 1975, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Kafka: Toward a Theory of Minor Literature (1) draws on many of the themes of their earlier works; a critical stance towards psychoanalytical hegemony, an emphasis on the continuities between human and animal, and most significantly, an understanding of the shifting nature of identity.
Opposed to the psychoanalytic tradition in Kafka scholarship, Deleuze and Guattari set out to offer a new way of seeing his work. Through this process their theory of a revolutionary ‘Minor Literature’ emerges.
One of the most notable aspects of this theory is its inclusion of “great works” like those of Kafka, into minority discourse. While some critics have taken exception to this jumbling together of “minorities” to include not just marginal literatures (the literature of minorities) and secondary literatures (that of a minor nation or movement in relation to a larger tradition) but also experimental literatures, which linguistically “minorise” a major language of which the author is a part. In stressing the revolutionary nature of minor literature and its role in visualising and thereby creating new futures over and above differentiating factors such as nation or race, minor literature carries fewer problems than terms such as “third-world” literature or even “post-colonial” literature.
So, what actually is Minor Literature? Deleuze and Guattari describe it thus:
The three characteristics of minor literature are the deterritorialization of language, the connection of the individual to a political immediacy, and the collective arrangement of utterance. Which amounts to this: that “minor” no longer characterizes certain literatures, but describes the revolutionary conditions of any literature within what we call the great (or established). (p18)
1) The Deterritorialization of Language:
Prague German is given as an example of a deterritorialized language: ‘a language cut of from the masses’ (p16). It is a minority utterance within the territorialized major language of German. But what of authors writing in a territorialized language?
In true post-structuralist form, Deleuze and Guattari argue that a territorialized language can undergo a process of deterritorialization through a rejection of the concept of words as signifiers. Freed from the constraints of signification, Deleuze and Guattari argue, language can enter into the process of ‘becoming’; a process that ‘directly links the word to the image.’ (p23)
In speaking of Kafka’s use of language, Deleuze and Guattari write, ‘Kafka deliberately kills all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification. Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor.’ (p22) This process of linguistic becoming echoes what for Deleuze and Guattari is the aim of all minor literature; a state of individual/political/national becoming that decodes all fixed identities and tears down the boundaries between them.
2) The Connection of the Individual to a Political Immediacy
In Minor Literature, the individual becomes the political; ‘its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately with politics.’ (p17) The connection here to Fredric Jameson’s conception of “third-world literature” as a form of national allegory cannot be overlooked. The key distinction between Jameson and Deleuze and Guattari, however, is the latter’s willingness to bestow political and national consciousness on writers from anywhere in the three-worlds model.
3) The Collective Arrangement of Utterance
The scarcity of Minor Literature in the public sphere creates for Deleuze and Guattari a necessary collectivisation of enunciation; the individual writer inevitably speaks for the collective experience. In this way, minor literature produces an ‘active solidarity’ amongst the collective through which its revolutionary potentiality is felt. (p17)
The draw of Minor Literatures for Deleuze and Guattari is their ability to promote a state of community and becoming as an escape from majoritarian nationalism. In privileging ‘becoming’ over a secure sense of national identity, they create a democratic vision of a collectivity without hierarchy. In writing Minor Literature, Deleuze and Guattari see the author as writing potential futures–nations yet-to-be–and that is what makes them so revolutionary.
(1) Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix (1986) Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press