Pascal Michon

Preface – Elements of Rhythmology – Vol. 5

Article publié le 21 April 2021

Pour citer cet article : Pascal Michon , « Preface – Elements of Rhythmology – Vol. 5  », Rhuthmos, 21 April 2021 [en ligne].
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In 1980, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari published what would become their most famous book: A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia [1]. The result of seven years of hard labor, this new work was intended to expand the reflection they had initiated in their first four-handed book Anti-Oedipus, published in 1972 with the same subtitle. By deepening the notions of “flow” and “desire,” [2] but going this time beyond the sole discussion of Freudianism and Marxism, it provided a completely renewed theory of materialism. Being 645 pages long and featuring a colorful array of new concepts, it was at times obscure and confusing, but things start to lighten up when one selects and follows the rhythmic, or better, the rhuthmic thread and compare it with other contemporary works.

As a matter of fact, in the previous volume of this series, we found that a remarkable constellation of works interested in rhythm had just appeared within a very few years in the second part of the 1970s. We saw how these works attempted to construct alternatives to the structural and systemic paradigms, which were on the verge of collapse, but also, most remarkably, to the individualist, deconstructionist and postmodern paradigms, which would soon replace them. Instead of simply reversing previous holistic paradigms such as Marxism, Freudianism or Structuralism, instead of deconstructing them, or replacing them with some sort of weak ironic eclecticism, they developed a set of rhythmic perspectives, which escaped sterile oppositions and put the qualities of the becoming, its intensities, at the heart of their approaches. Moreover, while the essays of Lefebvre and Foucault, which aimed at the cadences of modern life, remained imbued with the antimetric spirit that had permeated critical thought from its earliest years in the 20th century, those of Benveniste and Barthes introduced the entirely new question of the ways of flowing or rhuthmoi of language, subjectivity and self, while those of Serres and Morin developed, on comparable bases, very broad neo-Democritean and neo-Lucretian views of the rhuthmoi of nature, machines and information. The old metric perspective, which had spread widely, from the 19th century, into the Western culture (Vol. 3), was strongly questioned and began to be replaced by an entirely rhuthmic perspective.

With the publication of A Thousand Plateaus and, two years later, of Meschonnic’s Critique of Rhythm, this new trend reached its peak. Both books obviously had a lot in common. Both sketched the outlines of a materialist conception of the world and of man. Both developed it on rhuthmic bases. Both provided a very broad synthesis of the knowledge available on the topics they covered. However, they never sought to confront their respective points of view. Superficial misunderstandings as well as deeper disagreements prevented any exchange between them and, consequently, the construction of the new scientific, philosophical and critical paradigm that one could have expected.

My objective in this volume will be to analyze Deleuze and Guattari’s particular contribution to the emergence of this innovative perspective, but also the elements which ultimately prevented its further development. We will see how they continued, in their own way, Serres’ and Morin’s endeavors to develop a new materialist perspective based on an atomistic conception of matter in constant flux, while nevertheless rejecting the contributions of their contemporaries more focused on the flows of language. This will help us clarify both the strengths and weaknesses of their naturalistic and anti-anthropological stand—I will address Meschonnic’s anthropological and anti-naturalistic contribution in the next volume. Thereby, I intend to provide a few guidelines for our own use of the notion of rhuthmos, which is currently rapidly spreading but which is likely to encounter great difficulties if we do not address the questions left unanswered by our predecessors.

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[1Trans. Brian Massumi, 1987. All page references will be made to this edition.

[2The first volume itself was “imagined as a flow-book.” “Deleuze and Guattari fight back...” (1972) in Deleuze, Gilles. Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974, p. 219.

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