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Jana Evans Braziel, Assistant Professor
229B Mc Micken Hall
Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of Cincinnati
ML 210069
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0069
Office # (513) 556-0834
Fax # (513) 556-5960

Notes on "What is a Minor Literature" from Kafka:  Towards a Minor Literature

« Qu’est-ce qu’une littérature mineure? » /“What is a Minor Literature?” 

Deleuze and Guattari outline the three characterizing elements of a ‘minor literature’:

1) the deterritorializations of a major language through a minor literature written in the major language from a marginalized or minoritarian position;

Discussing the first element of a ‘minor literature’, Deleuze and Guattari explain that it does not arise from a literature written in a ‘minor’ language, or in a formerly colonized langue.  Rather, a ‘minor literature’ is written in a major language, or as in the case of formerly colonized countries, the colonizers’ langue.  According to Deleuze and Guattari, “the first characteristic of a minor literature in any case is that in it language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization” (16).

2) the thoroughly political nature of a ‘minor literature’;

The second characteristic of a ‘minor literature’, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is its political nature.  Everything
in them is political,” they explain.  The individual is inextricable from the socius, the subject linked to the political: “its cramped space forces each individual intrigue to connect immediately to politics.  The individual concern thus becomes all the more necessary, indispensable, magnified, because a whole other story is vibrating in it” (17).

3) and its collective, enunciative value.

This political nature of a ‘minor literature’, then, is inseparable from the third characteristic of a ‘minor literature’, its collective value.  Deleuze and Guattari explain the inextricability of the political and the collective:

What each author says individually already constitutes a common action, and what he or she says or
does is necessarily political, even if others aren’t in agreement.  The political domain has contaminated
every statement (énoncé).  But above all else, because collective or national consciousness is ‘often inactive
in external life and always in the process of break-down,’ literature finds itself positively charged with the
role and function of the collective, and even revolutionary, enunciation.  (17)

Its enunciative value is both political and collective; thus, ‘what each author says individually . . . [is] necessarily political . . . and even revolutionary’ (17).  The individual, then, speaks in a collective voice—a voice nevertheless ‘contaminated’ by the political domain.  A ‘minor literature’ is skeptical, yet produces “an active solidarity” (17) among the members of the collective group.  The evolutionary potential of a ‘minor literature’ is written from the margins, deterritorializing the “fragile community” from the border from whence it is possible “to express another possible community and to forge the means for another consciousness and another sensibility” (17)].

Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s Concept of a Minor Literature: 

Deleuze and Guattari adopt the linguistic theories of Ferguson, Gumperz, and Henri Gobard, which distinguish four languages (vernacular, vehicular, referential, and mythic).  This tetralinguistic model is delineated by function: 

  1.  the vernacular language, also referred to as the maternal or territorial language, functions within the rural realm (and is a language of territorialization);
  2. the vehicular language operates within the urban, governmental or commercial realms (Deleuze and Guattari argue that is “a language of the first sort of deterritorialization” (23).
  3. Referential language is the language “of sense and of culture” and entails “cultural reterritorialization” (23).
  4. Mythic language, also a language of reterritorialization, is involved in the spiritual and the religious.

Notes on the Tetralinguistic Model: 

Each of these language functions, the authors maintain, should be assessed and evaluated for the degrees of territoriality, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization.

Deleuze and Guattari do just that in Kafka’s writings,  assessing his uses of Czech (the rural or vernacular language), Hebrew (the mythic language), Yiddish, “a nomadic movement of deterritorialization the reworks German” (25), and Prague German, the vehicular or major language by which “he will make the German language take flight on a line of escape” (25).  Within a ‘minor literature’, the writing-machine operates when the writer assumes a “a sort of stranger within his own language” (26); within the writing-machine, Deleuze and Guattari write, “there is nothing that is major or revolutionary except the minor” (26).  This process of “becoming-minor” (devenir-mineur) within the writing-machine of a ‘minor literature’ involves making the plurilingualism within one’s own language resound.

At the close of the third chapter, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that making use of the “to make a minor or intensive use of it”), opposing “the oppressed quality of this language to its oppressive quality” and finding “points of nonculture or underdevelopment, linguistic Third World zones by which a language can escape” (26-27).  A ‘minor literature’, then, is political and subversive: “Create the opposite dream: know how to create a becoming-minor” (27).

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