Broglio, "Wandering in the Landscape with Wordsworth and Deleuze"

Romanticism and the New Deleuze

Wandering in the Landscape with Wordsworth and Deleuze

Ron Broglio, Georgia Tech

audio version (in MP3 format)

  1. I would like to address where the work of Gilles Deleuze can open up neglected issues in Romanticism. That is to say, I would like to use Delueze to intervene in a particular figure of Classic Romanticism: the figure of an interior self as constructed in poetry. As an example of this interior structured through poetry, simply think of the mansions in the mind created in Tintern Abbey. Notice how power and authority moves from the church or abbey as exterior social structure now in ruins to inside the individual—the mind as "a mansion for all lovely forms, Thy memory be as a dwelling-place" (Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads 120, ln 141-2).

  2. I believe Deleuze is useful in exposing how the privileged interiority of the subject is just another surface without depth. I am interested in using Deleuze to "flatten" Romanticism and deflate the humanist subject at its center. In place of the subject, I see the physicality of bodies and effects of environmental forces as significant agents. In a sense, Deleuze gives us a phenomenology without the privileged interiority of the human subject. He gives us agency extended over a whole scene or environment. I'll explain this in the closing of my analysis. For now, I'd like to begin by looking at the privileged subject in Wordsworth and his typical crafted "encounter narratives."

  3. Wordsworth's landscape is that of the poet's mind. One can simply think of the Prelude as constructing images of interiority or the growth of the poet's mind. Time and again Wordsworth, as the poet who embraces nature, also keeps nature at a distance. In the Lyrical Ballads, poetry is defined as "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling" that is then "recollected in tranquility" (Lyrical Ballads 756). It is at such a tranquil distance that Wordsworth contemplates dancing with the daffodils "when on my couch I lie/ In vacant mood" ("I wander lonely as a cloud" ln 19-20). So, Wordsworth has his encounter with nature but moves next to retreat and regroup, using the encounter as a metaphor for constructing the interior subject. The same interest in but remove from nature can be found in his 1812 tour guide. His guide to the Lake District maintains a basic distinction between observer here and objects over there. Each object is considered abstractly by the observer. He takes the object in and discusses its aesthetic merit; following William Gilpin, Wordsworth includes a chapter on lakes, rivers, and lesser bodies of water and another on mountains, hills and valleys, and still another on trees and other vegetation. Then, again like Gilpin, Wordsworth mentally arranges these individual objects together to compose a typical picturesque scene of harmony and unity. During his tour of the Lakes, he arrives at stations that function like military posts; these observation "stations" serve as a strategic points that allow the tourist to make advances upon nature while remaining at a safe distance. 

  4. Now, there are moments that disturb this harmony and where another agency appears. Occasionally the poet is actually confronted with objects or people that will not remain beyond arm's length—such as the Leech Gatherer of "Resolution and Independence" and the angler in "Poems on the Naming of Places." Wordsworth deflates the physicality of these encounters, a physicality where he is troubled by the body of the vagrant. He turns other humans into mirrors through which the poet reflects upon himself and his state of mind. At this point, it is worth noting several characteristics of the poet's representation of nature.  1) While the land is experienced through a bodily walk, the representation of the space always removes the poet from the scene.  2) Objects are clearly demarcated and any thing or person who threatens to impose upon the narrator gets appropriated as an object for the poet's self-contemplation. Timothy Morton might say, Wordsworth eats nature. He incorporates it.

  5. Turning to Deleuze: how different Deleuze's meanderings are from the Wordsworthian stroll.  A meandering walk first appears in the opening pages of Anti-Oedipus, an early work by Deleuze and Guattari.  There the schizophrenic's motion through space is juxtaposed to the neurotic on the couch—think here of Wordsworth contemplating daffodils "when on my couch I lie."  There is a shift from what is happening in the mind (very Wordsworthian) to what is happening to bodies (more Deleuzian).  Anti-Oedipus works against the Oedipal machinations in Freud.  One of the major twentieth-century critiques of Freud has been his inversion of the political.  For Freud, power gets played out in the psyche rather than on the streets: 

    Oedipus says to us: either you will internalize the differential functions that rule over the exclusive disjunctions, and thereby "resolve" Oedipus, or you will fall into the neurotic night of imaginary identifications.  Either you will follow the lines of the triangle [mother, father, me]—lines that structure and differentiate the three terms—or you will always bring one term into play as if it were one too many in relation of identification in the undifferentiated.  But there is Oedipus on either side.  And everybody knows what psychoanalysis means by resolving Oedipus: internalizing it so as to better rediscover it on the outside, in the children. (Anti-Oedipus 79)

    Deleuze and Guattari move from the interior to pure exteriors—what they call a body without organs. Furthermore, Anti-Oedipus takes aim at the Symbolic of Lacan by siding with the schizophrenic.  For Lacan the schizophrenic disavows the Oedipal and so refuses to enter the Symbolic and thus culture; instead, for the schizophrenic, everything that happens takes place on the surface of the Real: "The true difference in nature is not between the Symbolic and the Imaginary, but between the real machinic (machinique) element, which constitutes desiring-production, and the structural whole of the Imaginary and the Symbolic, which merely forms a myth and its variants" (83).  Contrasting the neurotic stuck within the Symbolic to the schizophrenic operating on the Real serves as a useful distinction for Romantic criticism since much of Wordsworth's self-fashioning and a good deal of criticism afterwards leaves the poet on the couch where his theater of the mind can be examined.  By contrast, for the schizophrenic "Everything is a machine. Celestial machines, the stars or rainbows in the sky, alpine machines—all of them connected to those of his body.  The continual whirr of machines" (2).  The schizophrenic gets out into the world. Whereas the Wordsworthian walk is designed to reflect the inner workings of the mind and the mind in relation to language, the schizoid stroll as described by Deleuze and Guattari is meant to show relations between bodies.  Each body acts as an assemblage that gets defined by how it is hooked up to other assemblages.  As Brian Massumi explains in his introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, a brick is used for constructing a building, but when coupled with hand and smashed window, a brick is part of a machine of political protest (Massumi xiii). So, an object is not defined by an interior, a property of identity and self-reflexivity (A = A, a brick is a brick); rather it is  defined by its difference, by what it gets connected to and aligned with. 

  6. Another way of thinking of pure exteriors and desiring machines is to ask what grounds meaning within a language system. For the schizophrenic, both desire and meaning leap from the personal to the outside (what Lacan calls the Real) while leaping over the social network which serves to normalize desire and linguistic meaning. For everyone other than the schizophrenic, signs and desires have meaning only as they function within a social or cultural system and only as one is able to assimilate one's interior "selfhood" with that system.  To use language is to work within a set of social structures. For Deleuze and Guattari, the schizophrenic is a challenge to the political and linguistic systems simultaneously since he utilizes language in unsocial and antisocial ways.

  7. The good metaphor and obedient literary image works because of a social agreement based on selection. Selection signals the culturally proper relationship between vehicle and tenor. The well regulated metaphor manages elements to be included and those to be discarded in the relationship between vehicle and tenor. Considering pure exteriority entails misplacing these proper relations between inside the metaphor and outside, as well as confusing what is proper within the social system and what belongs outside it. The result is the death of "all metaphor, all symbolism, all signification, no less than all designation. Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor. There is no longer any proper sense or figurative sense, but only a distribution of states that is part of the range of the word. The thing and other things are no longer anything but intensities overrun by deterritorialized sound or words that are following their line of escape" (22). Sound or words or even, one might add, gestures and bodies, can lead us away from established social configurations, away from metaphors we have forgotten are metaphors, now inscribed as social truths. We are lead instead to meanings and marks of signification whose selection is based on the hybridity of the Real and Symbolic, the desires assembled from the Real and socially inscribed desiring.

  8. Because the schizophrenic is not "properly" hooked up to the Oedipal machine of Imaginary desires and Symbolic values, (that is, he is not within Culture) he is free to roam outside of predictable social paths and create new arrangements of objects:

    we are all handymen: each with his little machines. For every organ-machine, an energy-machine: all the time, flows and interruptions. Judge Schreber has sunbeams in his ass. A solar anus.  And rest assured that it works: Judge Schreber feels something, produces something, and is capable of explaining the process theoretically. Something is produced: the effects of a machine, not mere metaphors. (Anti-Oedipus 2-3)

    Schreber's case is the first in which Freud analyzes schizophrenia, and his case is taken up by Lacan in his seminar where he lays down the Law of the Symbolic in contrast to the schizophrenic's fascination or hallucination of messages from the Real. But for Deleuze and Guattari, Judge Schreber has created something. Rather than shutting down production or connecting production to the politics of Oedipal family and the Oedipal State, Deleuze and Guattari's Shreber has connected himself to the world in a new fashion. He has created new couplings and assemblages in the Real.

  9. Returning to the Romantics and to Wordsworth, we can ask, how is the poet hooked up to the world? What assemblages does his walking create that are not subsumed within the Oedipal, within the Imaginary and Symbolic? This means taking his strolls literally at times. The Penrith beacons passage in The Prelude connects the wandering boy to the landscape in new ways; he is not the tourist invested in the military beacon but rather he sees this world with visionary dreariness that creates new couplings, new assemblages with gibbet, woman and pool that surround the beacon. New couplings frighten the narrator in "The Discharged Soldier."  Wordsworth is shocked by an ill or sickly figure which he describes as only half-human. The other half, the non-human half, derives from the organs of the human body malfunctioning and getting caught up in a relationship with the surroundings, that is, with a nature that has agency. For Wordsworth, it is in illness that one becomes most aware of one's body. Such awareness prevents ethereal flights of fancy and brings a return to the material and even animal nature of being human. A poet bent upon greatness through a soaring imagination has every right to fear the implications of such bodiliness since through the body the poet may be led astray and his poetry may never cohere, never unify, and never satisfy common sense and good taste. He must be disciplined to stay "on the public way" as the Discharged Soldier poem urges (Lyrical Ballads 277, ln 2). By finding lodging for the wandering soldier, Wordsworth leads the man into a path like his own, into a public way of being. By the poem's end the narrator proclaims that the man giving lodging is "my friend" and the soldier "my comrade" (282, ln 150, 165). All are brought together under the banner of filial kindness. The same is true of many potentially disturbing Judge Schreber-esque figures. The Leech-gatherer's strange connections to the landscape are absolved by the invocation of God at the end of the poem. The Cumberland Beggar is likewise tamed by social and religious laws. Each of these characters disturbs by his literalness and physicality. Their nomadism, their wanderings, are contained by a language of religion and moral law as well as by turning the encounters into a reflection on the poet's own interiority, identity, and imagination which coopts and shuts down the radical potential of these vagrants.

  10. My hope is that we can not stop the madness, that is, we can open up the assemblages in Wordsworth rather than focus on the unifying narrative that shuts down the anti-Oedipal assemblages and the revolutionary potential of the bodies on the road. The work of Deleuze and Guattari opens the way for reassessing and reassembling bodies and desires outside of social machinery and toward what Paul Youngquist refers to as "monstrosity": "Not only do they jam cultural machinery that produces the norm of the proper body, but they challenge its performative authority, inserting the material fact of bodily difference into the circuit of its reenactment" (xv).  From a reconfiguration of language to a revaluation of the (im)proper body, the schizo-stroll produces something that cannot be adequately assessed by the social subject and the moral, religious, and even aesthetic norms of which it is a part.

Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

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

---. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Massumi, Brian. "Translator's Introduction." Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.

Youngquist, Paul. Monstrosities: Bodies and British Romanticism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

Wordsworth, William. The Lyrical Ballads, and Other Poems, 1797–1800. Eds. James Butler and Karen Green. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992.