The Artist as a Child: Becoming a Self-Propelling Wheel

This  paper elicits an encounter between artists and children by exploring the role of the latter in Deleuze’s philosophy, where they become creators, thinkers, and experimenters. Deleuze has claimed that artists say what children say; in some sense, both create trajectories and becomings, engage in cartographic activity, and trace out a dynamic, intensive map of desires. And they ceaselessly talk about these explorations and adventures (children, at least). Children’s maps are populated by different milieus which they traverse on their journeys and in which their unconsciouses are invested, juxtaposing the real and the imaginary and bringing about a becoming, a zone of proximity and indiscernibility where they no longer distinguish themselves from what they are encountering. The artist’s maps are quite different, recreating trajectories of the imagination, outlining vast distances from the most immobile and confined scenes, and also evoking real voyages, either actual or virtual, and not necessarily experienced by the artists themselves.

I argue that the two do not exactly operate simultaneously, but in fact the artist performs a complex repetition of the cartographic activities initiated effortlessly and regularly by children throughout their voyages, in which they draw lively, dynamic maps, both real and imaginary, extensive and intensive, that are a function of their very movements and the trajectories that are formed. In other words, there is a becoming-child in art that is in a constant state of unfolding. What I wish to explore is a possible communication and engagement between two kinds of becoming—the becoming child of the artist and the many becomings of the boy and the girl, occurring under a single childhood-block that undoes the distinctions between adults and children by releasing dormant child-particles from the grown artist and active ones from the child.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche famously presents  the  three  metamorphoses  of the spirit: it becomes a camel, the camel a lion, and the lion a child. The child, claims Zarathustra, is innocence, forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelling wheel, a first movement, a sacred Yes.

I  argue  that  Deleuze  takes  this  formulation  literally  and  evokes  real  children  in his philosophy of immanence and affirmation, particularly in The Logic of Sense, in which the child appears to be a conceptual persona formed in the image of Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Deleuze shows how Carroll traces the little girl’s trajectory from the abyss to the surface of language in order to create the adventures and becomings of Alice in Wonderland. Alice and Carroll can therefore serve as an example of how the artist follows the movements and becomings of a child and repeats them to discover his or her own becomings.

I unfold the encounter between the artist and the child in three stages: First I examine the logic of the voyage favoured by children, in which even the most trivial events are dramatised and raised to a transcendental level, charging the unconscious with affects and intensities that spur their cartographic abilities. I also examine how this logic is employed in plastic arts, in what ways artists form their own dynamic, movement-based maps in their work, and how these two practices of mapping coincide and differ in their inciting of the actual, the virtual, and the imaginary.

In the second stage I introduce two little girls, the one who is climbing to the surface     of language in The Logic of Sense (sens), experiencing and experimenting with the very genesis of sense; and Lewis Carroll’s Alice, whose adventures are a becoming-child of Carroll himself.

In the third stage I provoke another encounter, between Nietzsche and the child, by imagining the latter as the over-human (Übermensch), the artist-player who is already reaching another kind of sensibility, outside morality and judgement, a true antichrist in a constant state of becoming.

Political Affect and Becoming-Child: The Case of Marlene Dumas

Marlene Dumas is a prominent artist of our times whose work, consisting largely of figures and portraits of minority subjects, such as people of colour, women, and children, has been characterised as both emotional and political. In this paper I would like to examine Dumas’s work through the lenses of Deleuzian theory, by making use of the latter’s affective dimension.

Specifically I would like to analyse two paintings produced during the period around Dumas’s own pregnancy, Helena and The Baby, as materialising processes of becoming- child, and examine the latter under the light of contemporary theories on the political significance of affect. Combining Deleuze’s non-human, machinic agency and becoming as affective imperceptible process with the idea of “ugly feelings” as indicators of obstructed agency, I would like to explore how the above artworks contribute in new ways of sensing, perceiving, and intervening in the world.

Abstracting the world from elements of signification and meaning, Deleuze and Guattari reveal the latter as an interplay between affective functions and relations of movement and rest, speed and slowness. Children, according to them, can act as mediums carrying us away towards worlds of affects and intensities, leading us to liberating minoritarian processes, namely becomings, potentially guiding us from child-becomings to becomings that are molecular and ultimately imperceptible.

Following Deleuze’s view on aesthetics as creation of experience rather than representation and perceiving the children depicted in Dumas not as subjects or molar entities, but as powerful affective sites where vulnerability and defiance become assembled, I would like to consider her works as providing us with new ambivalent models and ways of sensing and encountering states of dependency, weakness, and need. By shedding light on the emotional weight of dependency, Dumas permits us to perceive the unavoidable state of relationality, that we are already immersed into, and therefore creates an affective political base for the deconstruction of subjective models built around the concept of personal sovereignty and of social models centrally relying upon the value of individualism. On the other hand, creating a space of child-becomings opens up a potential for a politics of care.

Moreover, Dumas’s works offer a new perspective on the importance of minor negative emotions as potential liberating forces revealing cases where the power to act is obstructed or taken away altogether.  The  immersive  figures  of  the  above  paintings, by expressing emotions of irritation, hostility, mistrust, and subtle anger as possible reactions to power subordination, affirm the effectiveness of radical passivity and create states of in-betweenness where the meaning of what is considered socially productive emotion becomes transformed.

Ultimately by bringing to the fore the child’s subtle and complex affective power, Dumas puts the viewer in a process sweeping away the poles of  the adult–child distinction in a zone of indiscernibility that transforms both, liberating them from the tyranny of measuring themselves in relation to the universal, majoritarian ideal of subjectivity. Ultimately by destabilising our conceptions about the passivity–action polarization and producing new ways of affective interaction, Dumas is potentially altering dominant conceptions of what constitutes socio-political agency.

The Politics of Intimate Grammar: A Literary Symptomatology of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

This presentation is part of an emergent, larger research project of founding an experimental “literary clinic,” which studies a diverse body of literary works as both clinical symptoms of and critical interventions in the ongoing experience of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The project takes its cue from Deleuze’s approach to literature, and offers a dynamic theoretical practice that constantly revises and invents the concepts it employs to read literature. By attending both to specific effects and lived contexts of the literary work, the literary clinic strives to engender critical readings that question and explore the uses of literature for life and of theory for literature in the reality of the Israeli Occupation.

Deleuze states that “literature begins only when a third person is born in us that strips us of the power to say ‘I’” (1997, 3), and that “narcissism in authors is odious” (1995, 134). Should we assume that Deleuze precludes the possibility that the “I” could function as a means of political resistance and express the revolutionary demand of the people to come? This paper argues that we may conclude otherwise once Deleuze’s approach to literature is plugged into the literary machine of David Grossman, a contemporary Israeli author, whose works will be presented here as both symptomatic maps of the illnesses of the Occupation and critical minoritarian experimentations that resist the majoritarian Israeli “state grammar”—the current dominant expressive mechanism of Israeli culture whose constructions of reality function as means for legitimising and justifying the Occupation.

In the framework of the literary clinic, the aim of this paper is therefore twofold: (1) to delineate a form of writing the “I” as a strategy of resistance to state grammar, hence as an artistic research practice that both critically rethinks the Israeli oppression and creatively fabricates (through language) an alternative vision of life. By reading Deleuze with Grossman’s novel The Book of Intimate Grammar (first published 1991), this paper will show how the intimate grammar of writing the “I”—effected by the becoming-child of the author and the becoming-imperceptible of the character—not only undermines the negative logic of enmity that dominates the Israeli state grammar but also transforms and politicises the expressive power of the literary first person, with its newly discovered capabilities of seeing and knowing reality. (2) To offer a preliminary conceptualisation of “reading-with” as a creative practice (and in this sense “artistic”), in contrast to “reading-through” as a practice of interpretation that subjects the literary work to already established criteria and values. By outlining three aspects of “reading with”—onto-methodological, ethical, and political—this paper will describe the potential uses of Deleuze’s philosophy for a dynamic literary theory; one that is committed to critically evaluating its concepts and procedures, as well as to constantly experimenting with its capacity to produce diverse practices of reading in changing contexts.


Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Negotiations 1972–1990. Translated by Martin Joughin. New York: Columbia University Press.

—. 1997. Essays Critical and Clinical. Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Grossman, David. 2010. The Book of Intimate Grammar. Translated by Betsy Rosenberg. London: Vintage Books.