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Class, embodiment, and becoming in British working-class fiction: rereading Barry Hines and Ron Berry with Deleuze and Guattari.

This essay offers a new reading of two post-war working-class British novels, Barry Hines's A Kestrelfor a Knave and Ron Berry's So Long, Hector Bebb, in light of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's ideas about the body and subjectivity. What is at stake in these narratives, as in the theoretical edifice constructed by Deleuze and Guattari, is a possibility of being--in this case, of social, class-marked being--that does not necessarily commence and conclude with fixed positions and functional roles, or with already formed subjectivities and identities. The class figures that we encounter in these novels call for a careful reappraisal of political agency outside of these sanctioned parameters, and for an alternative understanding of marginality in a context of crisis of Fordist social and productive relations.


In this essay, I pay attention to literary constructions of the working-class body and working-class subjectivity that go beyond traditional forms of proletarian identification and representation. I am particularly interested in figures of embodiment and Laclau subjectivation that are not primarily defined by conformity to the functional logic of capitalism (or by an endorsement of essentialist socialist constructions of the working class), but by a fluid and dynamic modality of being without predetermined consequences or established trajectories. I will propose a speculative reading of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's ideas on the body, becoming, and subjectivity (2011), through an analysis of two British novels of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Barry Hines's A Kestrel for a Knave (1968) and Ron Berry's 1970 novel So Long, Hector Bebb (2006), in which the figures of embodiment and subjectivation, whilst remaining thoroughly rooted in a specific class context, point to an emergent and transformative logic of being that cannot be contained within any functional definition or "identity."

The proletarian universe reconstructed in these novels is one in which the socio-symbolic structures of belonging and identity formation are effectively suspended. In Hines's and in Berry's texts, the traditional solidarities of working-class community, and the functional dynamics of ideological interpellation on which the latter are founded, are replaced with "lines of flight" pointing to an alternative ontological space of subjective constitution, to an immanent outside in which the hegemonic valences of social representation are estranged and subverted. These novels offer a particularly apposite rehearsal of some of the themes and ideas that prove central to the development of Deleuze and Guattari's project.

The theoretical perspective developed by Deleuze and Guattari (2009; 2011) and Guattari (2011) marks a turning point in the radical thinking of emancipatory processes of subjective constitution, insofar as it mobilizes a logic of multiplicity and ontological construction from which modern critical paradigms--including Marxism--had traditionally shied away These thinkers' version of post-structuralism (which would prove seminal for a variety of critical strands, from third-wave feminism to queer theory)' transcribes a discontent, which became widespread in the late 1960s, with social and political forms--both hegemonic and oppositional--that prescribed a reduction of multiplicity, unruly desire, and social autonomy, to so many structures of functionality and representation (from the factory to the "socialist" and "communist" parties and unions). The vindication of transversality and immanent proliferation thus represented an ontological as well as political wake-up call, an invitation to re-think the social as an emergent dynamic without pre-determined outcomes.

Admittedly, this theoretical invitation to re-think the dynamics of resistance and transformation along more processual lines has been criticized by contemporary Marxist thinkers such as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Zizek, among others, for what they regard as its tendency to dispel the specificity of revolutionary politics. In parallel ways, Badiou and Zizek have read the political ontology of becoming and rhizomatic/nomadic multiplicity proposed by Deleuze and Guattari as an operation of avoidance of the disruptive logic of truly revolutionary "events," and as a way of advancing, conceptually, the exigencies of postmodern capitalism with its ongoing invocation of autonomous multiplicities. (2) These criticisms stem from a philosophical definition of politics that privileges "truth" and "Ideas" over the constructivism of material (especially corporeal) processes. There is a strategic centralism characteristic of traditional Marxist politics in these approaches, a hierarchical logic that, despite its theoretical power, runs the risk of overlooking the real possibilities of resistance embedded in the immediate and non-formalized dimensions of the proletarian experience. What the work of Deleuze and Guattari offers to the analysis of working-class texts is precisely a way of valorizing those moments of uncoordinated disruption, of anarchic rupture with the continuities of the system which, on a different reading, might be disregarded as ideological distractions. In effect, what these novels introduce is a corporeally driven elaboration on discontinuity, an exploration, from the material margins supplied by forms and figures of undisciplined and dysfunctional embodiment, of the possibility of an immanent politics of immediacy. For what is at stake in these fictions is not the extraction or projection of an essence, of a continuous and internally coherent truth about working-class life (which historical forces may have distorted or alienated), but the possibility of opening up the latter to a multiplicity of combinations and compositions, to an ontological state of flux in which the fixed and essential positions of being are secondary or peripheral to the dynamics of transformation.

In this sense, the work of Deleuze and Guattari represents a productive critical tool that may help us unlock the complexities of a kind of social writing whose utopian potential no longer resides in the construction of monolithic figures and transcendent categories (of class, gender, etc.), but in the proliferation of immanent processes of "becoming." Deleuze and Guattari's reflections on the body are particularly useful in the search for a critical alternative to all those obsolete or inadequate categories of analysis from which the recognition of such decentralized and immanent processes of ontological constitution is absent. The Deleuzo-Guattarian body points towards an alternative configuration of subjectivity altogether, and consequently, towards a radically altered ontology of the relations between individual and collective. This version of the body represents a constructivist counter to the essentialist forms of organization and representation on which social functionality and utility (whether capitalist or "socialist") had been predicated. By positing the body as a "Body without Organs"--or more precisely, as they note, as a body without organization (2011, 176)--Deleuze and Guattari disavow the conceptual articulation of class and gender as molar categories oriented by an "organized," functionalist, and transcendent definition of the social. The Body without Organs (or BwO) announces a processuality of being, of social and individual being (reconstructed as becoming), in which affective intensities and compositional possibilities replace fixed and functional positions within an organized form of the social:

A BwO is made in such a way that it can be occupied, populated only by intensities. Only intensities pass and circulate. Still, the BwO is not a scene, a place, or even a support upon which something comes to pass.... The BwO causes intensities to pass; it produces and distributes them in a spatium that is itself intensive, lacking extension.... That is why we treat the BwO as the full egg before the extension of the organism and the organization of the organs, before the formation of the strata; as the intense egg defined by axes and vectors, gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving energy transformation and kinematic movements involving group displacement, by migrations. (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 169)

The body qua BwO is thus the pure energy of uncrystallized embodiment, the virtual being of a life defined by its lines of intensity--that is, by its capacity for unfolding and self-invention. The labor proper to this body (insofar as we place the focus on a working/working-class body) is therefore an abstract quantity of immaterial prospection--of sheer intensity--advancing towards a material actualization of unpredictable dimensions and consequences. There is nothing strictly rational--or rationalizable in a Weberian sense--about this body. Its inassimilability to social utility, functionality, and organization, makes it opaque and thus essentially irreducible to the disciplinary regimes of capitalist society. At a time (the 1960s and 1970s) when the Fordist regime of the factory was going into crisis, when the general subordination of society and social productivity to the industrial dynamics of capital was being contested by a new plurality of subjects (women, colonial subjects and other proletarianized sectors), the irrational and irreducible body theorized by Deleuze and Guattari presents a conceptual blueprint of autonomous subjective transformation beyond the jurisdiction of capitalist normality. (3) Despoiled of any remnant of heteronomy or extrinsic determination, this body deploys itself as a consistency of forces which no overseeing principle of instrumental order can modulate or harness.

If the body can no longer be put to a specific instrumental use, if it is no longer a cog in the technical machine of industrial production, then the identitarian form with which it had been fixed in the normative regime of capitalistic production loses its sharp contours and is gradually replaced by a contingent relation of forces, by an indeterminable "alliance" from which being itself will not emerge unchanged: this is the precise sense of the notion of becoming. Becoming is not a matter of identification or correspondence between fixed points on a series or continuum; nor is it an imaginary projection beyond the "real" terms involved in the relation. Rather, as Deleuze and Guattari note, "What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes" (2011, 262). In becoming, a multiplicity of seemingly contradictory or incompatible elements converges on a new plane of existence, engaging in a multidirectional traffic of "molecules" or molecular intensities, and thus producing or composing being beyond its normative and socially sanctioned valences. Becoming does not mark a linear passage from one molar--or organized-- state to another. It does not dictate a movement of progress along a line of externally determinable positions, but rather it issues in a non-evolutionary trajectory of novel and creative developments:

the term we would prefer for this form of evolution between heterogeneous terms is 'involution', on the condition that involution is in no way confused with regression. Becoming is involutionary, involution is creative. To regress is to move in the direction of something less differentiated. But to involve is to form a block that runs its own line 'between' the terms in play and beneath assignable relations. (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 263)

Becoming thus creates transversally, across heterogeneous and non-sequential realms of being. It is a co-creation of multiple vectors of existence in which identity gives way to singularity and organization to intensity. No individual term can rise to the position of a hegemonic signifier from which being will result as a coherent articulation or "sutured" field (Laclau and Mouffe 1985; Laclau 2004). In the order of becoming, being is an immanent field, a plane of consistency in no need of hierarchical closure, fixation or identification. Its viability is thus not given by the external imposition of significational order (organization), but by the internal "stickiness" of its elements in a zigzagging voyage of discovery and creation.

In the critical period of transition of the 1960s and 70s, the body of the worker increasingly appears as a BwO, as a corporeal dynamic of becoming, of "involutionary" being developing "without reference to any exterior agency" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 170-71) or principle of instrumental rationality. In the figurations of working-class life drawn by Hines in A Kestrel for a Knave and Berry in So Long, Hector Bebb, subjectivity is presented in these terms, as a molecular process or plane of immanence defying the plane of organization on which the factory system of capitalist modernity had been erected. In Hines's novel, proletarian subjectivity is reframed (in a telling gesture that announces a fictional shift of emphasis from organized instrumental production, to fluid ontological production) through the figure of a teenage boy who rejects the instrumental fate and identification--as a working miner--that society has reserved for him. Against this extraneous determination on the capitalist plane of organization, the trajectory of subjectivation followed by Billy Casper involves a molecular alliance, a non-human becoming, with a kestrel hawk. Far from offering a bland sentimental account of a reclusive adolescence, Hines's narrative presents, through the relationship between the boy and the bird, an alternative diagram of embodied subjectivity where the "real is the becoming itself" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 262), where the molecular traffic between the human and the animal redraws the boundaries of individuality and sociality beyond the formed structures of the system.

Berry's novel, for its part, explores working-class subjectivity through the figure of Hector Bebb, a boxing champion from the South Wales mining valleys who kills his wife's lover and then goes into exile. The portrayal of both the excessive corporeality of the boxer and of his subsequent transformation into a fugitive points towards an "involutionary" trajectory of becoming in Deleuze and Guattari's sense. The hypermasculine and feral qualities of this characterization indicate a radical movement away (in Deleuze and Guattari's terminology, a "deterritorialization") from the structures of legitimization and operationalization of the sanctioned social process, opening working-class subjectivity to a fresh realm of ontological possibility.

In both cases, the molecular realm of bodily transformation and flight (from organization and structure) clearly announces an anarchic turn in the political articulation of working-class subjectivities: a "turn" that is arguably not made to last, but which nevertheless inscribes the political (understood in properly working-class terms, as antagonism, as conflict, as resistance) into the "backward" areas of social experience.


Set in a mining town in the North of England, A Kestrel for a Knave avoids any direct engagement with the industrial process or with the general social dynamics of capitalism. Its focus is placed, rather, on the experiences of a young boy who rejects the disciplinary logic of socialization and turns his relegated position into an occasion for becoming. Billy's outsiderness is initially defined by his refusal to identify with the functional roles prevalent within the community. In contrast with his older brother Jud (who is a far more standard representative of working-class identity), Billy is determined, for example, to avoid work in the mines as an adult. His path of subjective constitution is not marked or defined by submission to a functional determination within social organization, but by a transfer of affects and desires to the animal world.

Billy's discovery of a nest of kestrel hawks in a nearby field soon turns his subordinate existence against a background of familial decomposition and social hostility into an uncharted exploration in what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as becoming. Becoming, as we have seen, does not take formed subjectivity as its point of departure. Nor does it necessarily posit it as the teleological horizon of its processual nature. Rather, becoming decomposes the relational structure imposed by social organization--the "natural" hierarchy of subjects and objects--and sketches or diagrams an alternative configuration. The outcome is thus neither subjective nor objective (in the molar, functional sense), but rather mixed and metamorphic, larval and transversal, human and non-human. Its constitutive principle is the alliance of heterogeneous elements in a "consistent" formation which does not organize or structure its elements according to utility or identity, but rather displays them intensively as an emergent realm of being.

Through the hawk, Billy sheds his working-class identity (as a problem child and future miner) and constitutes, in its place, a Body without Organs in which prescribed roles lose their meaning and are replaced by the intensive tonalities of autonomous desire. There is, in his relationship with the hawk, no utilitarianism or domesticity, no anthropomorphism or moralism. Its logic is that of a contingent assemblage of affects that have ceased to operate according to an imposed discipline or pre-defined subjectivity. The recurring conflict between Billy and his environment expresses a radical dissymmetry between life projected as a non-utilitarian creation (as an "involution," in Deleuze and Guattari's sense) and its construction as goal-oriented and "useful." From the outset, "useful" life is associated, in this deprived working-class setting, with the brutal and brutalizing existence of Billy's mother and brother. Class identity surfaces precisely at the point where misery is most visible, at the level of subordination to prescribed roles or functions (single mother, young working miner), which most clearly announces the eradication of subjective autonomy. On the contrary, Billy constructs, through his relationship with the kestrel, an enabling outlet for the most immediate frustrations generated by this environment, in addition to a fresh course of subjective exploration. Thus, we soon witness Billy "confiding" to the kestrel his feelings about his family and acting out his flight toward this alternative sociality provided by the non-human world:

Did you hear her, Kes, making her mouth again?.... Gooby old cow. Do this, do that, I've to do everything in this house.... Well they can shit. I'm fed up o' being chased about ... There's alius somebody after me [...] An' our Jud, he's t'worst o't'lot, he's allus after me ... allus has been. Like that day last summer when I fetched you, he was after me then.... (Hines 1968, 21)

Billy's vernacular expression simultaneously signals the subordinated position of his class and the horizon of becoming which every "minor" use of language entails.

As Deleuze and Guattari observe, the dialect, the patois, do not constitute a minor language in themselves, but do so only in so far as they "send the major language racing," in so far as they break the regularity and rule-based continuity of the major language (2011, 116). This means that minority cannot be assumed as a fixed or stable position, as a matter of identity (it cannot be reconstructed into a set of regularities, linguistic, cultural, social, or otherwise), lest it suppress its transformative potential. A minor language--or more precisely, a minoritarian use of language--is always a becoming, a molecular trajectory of transformation through which the social and the subjective are recreated in an open and fluid manner. If Billy's vernacular expression, in contrast to that of his mother and brother, is profoundly minoritarian, this is not because of any dialectal quality which would reinforce the identity of the speaker, but because it underlines a movement of flight from the fixity of any subordinated (or hegemonic) position. Billy's language is in this sense irreducible to any form of social utility or functional normalization. It is then no surprise that dialect alternates so fluently with the technical jargon of falconry, which he soon appropriates as a central element of his becoming. Thus, when Mr. Farthing, a sympathetic teacher who shows an interest in Billy's predicament, asks him to tell the class about the kestrel, his social inadequacy and linguistic backwardness are converted into an alternative order of technical proficiency and functionality:

I started training Kes after I'd had her about a fortnight, when she was hard penned, that means her tail feathers and wing feathers had gone hard at their bases. You have to use a torch at night and keep inspecting 'em. It's easy if you're quiet, you just go up to her as she's roosting, and spread her tail and wings. If t'feathers are blue near t'bottom o' t'shaft, that means there's blood in 'em an' they're still soft, so they're not ready yet. When they're white and hard then they're ready, an' you can start training her then. (Hines 1968, 64-65)

Vernacularity is no longer a sign of submission here, but an enabling feature of a processual subjectivity that finds in the specialized knowledge and language of falconry a powerful tool of resistance and transformation, as well as an alternative rationality of the useful. During his presentation, Billy manages to subvert the hierarchy of intellect on which the school institution rests, offering, in lieu of an instrumental knowledge adapted to the needs of the social machine (which will naturally lead to the boys' meeting with the Youth Employment Officer towards the end of the novel), a non-utilitarian functionality, complete with a specialized language and technology, through which both the human and the animal bodies are transformed. His knowledge of falconry--which this scene further underscores through Billy's utilization of such technical terms as "jesses" and "bating," which Mr. Farthing in turn asks him to provide the definition and spelling of (65, 67)--is in this sense a minor knowledge for which the social space and role assigned to the working class has no use. This "useless" knowledge can thus only be matched to a "useless" corporeality in becoming, to a Body without Organs before which the system (and its programmatic logic of identifications) is impotent and at a loss--a corporeality that, like the "minor sciences" with which it can ally itself, (4) subverts and mystifies the system whenever it comes in contact with it.

Perhaps the crucial aspect of the inassimilability and heterogeneity of Billy's minor knowledge and position vis-a-vis the system concerns the distinction he makes, when confronted by outsiders, between the notions of "tame" and "trained." The kestrel (and by extension, himself) is not tame; it/he is not a pet rendered instrumental by the systemic logic of utility or functionality, but is, on the contrary, a constituent element of a becoming, a subject in process, an intensive fragment in an immanent assemblage that remains deaf and blind to the subordinating exigencies of social order and organization. As Billy points out to Mr. Farthing:

That's why it makes me mad when I take her out and I'll hear somebody say, "Look there's Billy Casper there wi' his pet hawk." I could shout at 'em; it's not a pet, Sir, hawks are not pets. Or when folks stop me and say, "Is it tame?" Is it heck tame, it's trained and that's all. It's fierce, an' it's wild, an' it's not bothered about anybody, not even about me right. And that's why it's great. (Hines 1968, 118)

His suggestion is that the kind of compact or alliance into which he and the kestrel have entered has nothing to do with the social logic of appropriation and utilization. What is at stake, rather, is a corporeal co-creation, a molecular transfer of intensities that cannot be reduced to the instrumental schema of subject and object (or, in other words, of master and slave). This is, strictly, a relation based on training, which is to say, based on becoming. As Deleuze and Guattari observe, training is "a question of force" that has nothing to do with imitation or with identification (2011, 172). A becoming-animal thus supposes a distribution of intensive forces that relinquish the functional identity they had been accorded under the regime of social utility. In this sense, Billy's "becoming-kestrel" does not involve a molar exchange or passage from one fixed identity to another, from one position in the sanctioned scale of being to another, but a diffusion or erosion of these ontological monoliths in favor of an ethical fluency oriented by impersonal affects and attractions, and by the possibility of a radical reconfiguration of subjectivity as an unfinished and meta-human process.

Training, unlike taming, is an assemblage, a consistent heterogeneity of transmitted forces that converge on a plane of immanence that no external logic can overcode as the exclusive property of a normalized subject. This assemblage breaks down the barriers of capitalist subjectivity/corporeality, releasing the transformative potentia of non-human affects and gearing them to an unscripted dynamic of constitution: "affect is not a personal feeling, nor is it a characteristic; it is the effectuation of a power of the pack that throws the self into upheaval and makes it reel. Who has not known the violence of these animal sequences, which uproot one from humanity.... A fearsome involution calling us toward unheard-of becomings" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 265). This involutionary sequence unveils the singularity of becoming as the irreducible nucleus of non-transcendent being--a singularity that should not be confused with the socio-symbolic identity of the individual, or with the abstract, normative self of liberal humanism. Mr. Farthing captures this singularity of becoming in the kestrel's "independence": "It's like an awareness, a satisfaction with its own beauty and prowess. It seems to look you straight in the eye and say, 'Who the hell are you anyway?' It reminds me of that poem by Lawrence, 'If men were as much men as lizards are lizards they'd be worth looking at.' It just seems proud to be itself" (Hines 1968, 119).

With his invocation of D. H. Lawrence, Farthing underlines the limit of functional ascriptions and identifications, noting the alternative potentiality of a (non)human singularity made free from capitalism's general law of equivalence. The animal's intractability lies in its irreducible "creatureliness," (5) in its contingent deployment as specimen and exemplar, rather than as abstract genus or mass aggregate. This capacity for singular being is what the modern human subject has lost by dint of systemic abstraction and rationalization, losing the constitutive dynamism of open, molecular and multi-componential becomings. The animal, as Deleuze and Guattari note, is also primarily the "anomalous," that is, the inassimilable element departing from and breaking down every possibility of an integrated and normative series. The animal as anomalous--as cancellation of molar identities and mass aggregates--is not, however, a further occasion for abstract individualization, but a point of access to the fresh multiplicity that unfolds in becoming: "If the anomalous is neither an individual nor a species, then what is it? It is a phenomenon, but a phenomenon of bordering" (2011, 270).

The kestrel, the lizard: these are not constituted poles in a communicative scenario, in a linear model of equivalence or identification, but material markers of passage to a multiplicity of degrees of being, none of which will take abstract precedence over the others or crystallize as a fixed pole of identity and authorized reference. The animal as anomalous enacts a bordering event (that is, a becoming) from which neither animal nor human will emerge intact as "molar" and individualized entities, and which will effectively erase every remnant, every trace of organization in the utilitarian-systemic sense.

The world of order and regularity, the world of the school, of the Youth Employment Office, of familial trouble and pseudo-Oedipal tyranny (principally represented by Billy's bullying brother Jud), appears in the narrative as a desertion of desire and fluidity, as a repression of the productive possibilities of becoming. The school in particular is cast as the archetypal expression of an extensive spatial logic marked by deprivation and subordination, by a segmentation and preemptive exhaustion of creative multiplicities and affective compositions:

Afternoon quiet. Darkening sky. Cloud skittering low in thickening hues. The rooms along the front of the school were lighted: rooms i to 6, two bright blocks divided by foyer and offices. From the road, looking through the railings across the grass, silent pictures from room to room; same story, different players: the teacher at the front, the profiles of the window row. Rooms 6 and 5, teachers seated. 4, standing at the board. The Deputy's office, the Deputy at his desk. Foyer dim, deserted, like the Headmaster's room next to it. (Hines 1968, 126)

In contrast to the "smooth" spaces where Billy's becoming-kestrel is habitually set, the school enacts a form of "striation," of utilitarian segmentation and compartmentalization from which all fluidity is evicted. (6) Billy's tortured perception of the architectural structure of the school evokes its disciplinary organization and functionality, a repressive logic by which the recognizable identities of people like his own brother have been shaped. This is a space that, unlike the richly textured fields and forests where Billy trains the kestrel, appears deserted, barren, and prison-like. The disciplinary logic of industrial capitalism is ferried back and forth, in this working-class community, between the factory (or more precisely, the mine) and the school, between the productive hub of capital itself and the institutional apparatus where the subjects that will render the system operational are themselves produced and normalized. Desire must yield, in such a space of segmentation and stratification, to the abstract rule of utility; and singularity (the true subjective face of processual being), to identity, to individuality, to the worker's subordination to the system's instrumental needs.

Billy's interview with the Youth Employment Officer is a telling instance of the incommensurability between desire and functionality, between the overcoding logic of capitalist injunction (to choose a job, define your preferences, find a place in life) and the ontological intractability of becoming. What the interview stresses in a definitive manner is the irreconcilable rift between Billy's subjective vocation and the rigid instrumentality imposed by the system. Confronted with a dynamic of flight and unruly ontological creation (that only Mr. Farthing manages to glimpse), the representatives of the system (in this case, the Youth Employment Officer), must disparage and censor what they can only regard as a case of indiscipline and failure: "Well I've interviewed some lads in my time, but I've never met one like you. Half the time you're like a cat on hot bricks, the other half you're not even listening" (Hines 1968, 140).

If the book ultimately arrests its transformative movement and ends up stamping its plot with the mark of tragic normalization, this is not as a consequence of any intrinsic limitation in the constitutive possibilities of Billy's becoming-kestrel, but because the molar law of sociality (cast in the form of gratuitous cruelty and mindlessness) intervenes to impose order on what had been a successful experiment in subjective transformation. When Billy fails to place a winning bet on behalf of his brother, the latter takes revenge by killing the kestrel and thus returns Billy to his original position as a lonely and miserable youth in an "organized" and tragically subaltern working-class world. The effect of closure thereby arrests the movement of becoming, reinserting the minor subject into his identitarian slot.

The ontological horizon of body politics is thus torn between the opposing logics of organization and in-organization, centralization and bordering, individualization and multiplication. The molar axis ends up, in this particular text, containing the transformative drift (that is, the constitutive impulse) of an unmediated potentia of possible forces and connections, assemblages and intransitive becomings, from which the body can only emerge as an immanent surface of inscription of freely circulating affects. (7)


Berry's novel of boxing life in the mining valleys of South Wales takes the ontological problematic of embodiment and subjectivation to a different level. The prospects of resingularization, of ontological reconstruction beyond the functional limits of the social organism, are welded to what Deleuze and Guattari would call a process of deterritorialization, that is to say, to a process of radical disorganization of the stable forms of identification on which the industrial working class had been modeled. From a strictly linguistic point of view, Berry's novel extends and deepens the trajectory of flight drawn by Hines. Beyond the minoritarian turn exerted by the vernacular (which in this text also plays a central role), the break with expressive normalization is given an even more radical twist, permeating the syntax of the narration, tampering with its formal utility and sanctioned 'literary' shape. There is a sense in which the language of this novel already announces the deterritorializing movement of its plot. Not unlike the body it will chart, the language lends itself to a myriad of contortions and mutations. (8)

Berry's protagonist, Hector Bebb, is described from the outset in terms of an excessive, inassimilable corporeality, as a machine defying the structured and structuring codes of discipline and submission. His exceptional qualities as a fighter make his embodied subjectivity incompatible with the tame interiorities of private and public life on which the symbolic universe of the mining areas rests. As his manager Abe Pearson notes: "Who'll spoil a machine?" (Berry 2006, 22). Or, in other words, how can such a radical assemblage of primal and super-human intensities be reduced to or corrupted by, the organized dynamics of social incorporation? "He makes his own rulings. Typical jungle master type" (21). The main turning point in the plot is triggered, in tragic fashion, by this irreducibility, by this impossibility to reconcile the intensive nature of Hector's machinic qualities to the "tame" logic of the surrounding social codes. The source of his wife Millie's marital infidelity--which leads Hector to the murdering of her lover--lies precisely in this incompatibility, which is first personal and soon transmutes into a general, ontological incompatibility between the two "natures" (one molar, extensive and settled, the other, molecular, intensive and nomadic) reclaiming the hearts of this precarious social universe. Millie offers a precise formulation of this divide, opting for the normalized pole of naturality, thus unwittingly setting the novel on an accelerated course of deterritorialization:

Shows how wrong a girl can be, don't it. After all's said and done, I mean you only got to watch him stalking like a panther in his knicks and boots. You'd think him terrific. Ramping-tamping for a husband is what I mean. The shock came first time and no improvement ever since. Dead loss very nigh. Hardly any resemblance to himself inside the ring when he's up against some fella trying to knock lumps off his face. Like a fool I went on the assumption he'd improve, change round to expectations, I mean from seeing him smashing fellas all over the place.... He defied human feelings. I warned him often, "Hector, you're acting contrary to nature, neither is it safe for you to do the dirty on our married life," and then he'd come back with, "I'm a professional fighter not a professional effer"--using that expression. Before long I went out and about for company. Sheer force of circumstances. Emlyn Winton at least shows respect as regards human nature. Emlyn's barman in Cymmer Hotel. Lives with his mother down on Coldra Crescent. Maisonette style, spotless inside, all pastel shades. (Barry 2006, 36-37)

The paradox here concerns a damning fracture in Hector's hypermasculinity, a discontinuity between his "ring" and "bedroom" identities. Thus Millie faults Hector for his alleged inability to sustain his stature as an unbeatable boxing champion in the domestic territory of wedlock, and thus for what she regards as a structural deficiency in his phallic persona. His lack of interest in feeling (read: coded or territorialized sexual conjugality) thus translates as disrespect for "human nature" (read: stratified or organized sociality). It is significant that Millie's choice for sexual replacement should be Emlyn Winton, who works at the town hotel and lives with his mother in a polished Oedipal environment. There is no greater contrast in ethicality and topology in the novel than that between Hector's ever contingent, intensive, and constitutively untamable habitation of the boxing ring (and later, of the wild moorland), and Emlyn's secure, familial and familiar settling between the public house and the private hearth.

We are told that Hector lacks a father and that the surrogate family function had been filled from an early age by his mentor Sammy and his wife Sue. However, as the novel unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that the Oedipal model falls far short of Hector's machinic (that is, anti-Oedipal) nature. His being is not determined by the evolutionary logic of filiation and descent--by the eminently stratified institutionality of the family--but, rather, by the intensive contingency of transversal alliances. In this sense we observe that, after he commits his crime, the bonds linking Hector to Sammy, Sue, and his new elective family on Bryn farm (the mountain refuge he will intermittently inhabit) (9) are not defined by Oedipal or filiative continuities--or by the appropriate enactment of a phallic identity--but by the deterritorializing pull of a collective becoming through which these and other individuals are brought together. (10) Nor is Hector's becoming, like Billy Casper's, focalized on a dimension of transformative animality, but on a geo-topological condition (a deterritorialized territory, as it were) in which subjectivity becomes external to the physical and ethical boundaries of state-sanctioned sociality.

Hector's deterritorializing instinct leads him away from the closed circuitry of town life (where the likes of Emlyn Winton of course thrive) and far into the semi-wilderness of Bryn mountain and the farm owned by mutilated war veteran Prince Jenkin Saddler. It is early on in the relationship between the two men that a radically "other" ethical tone is introduced into the dynamics of valley life (not insignificantly, this becoming commences on the top of a mountain). Jenkin says: "I admired the man running alone on Bryn mountain, this strange alien in his maroon track suit. He ignored two NO TRESPASSING notices coming up from the Evass cottage. Three miles each way, three rolling miles of privacy" (Berry 2006, 59). It is precisely in Hector's disrespect for the territorial boundaries of privacy and institutionality as a whole that Saddler recognizes a kindred soul, an indomitable and warlike subjectivity in becoming: "Bebb reminded me of comrades who relished war as the supreme existence. Sleepless, thirsty, hungry men, controlled by loyalty, by blind purpose, accepting fatigue, sand-sores, death, desolation" (60).

Hector's embrace of the semi-wild heights of Bryn mountain defines his subjective transformation as a topological surpassing of the appointed boundaries of social interiority, as a relocation to "the outside" (of normality, acceptability, functionality) where intensive forces can expand and configure themselves in a subjective becoming no longer governed by settled forms (Oedipal/phallic, instrumental, or otherwise heteronomously determined). As Deleuze points out, in contradistinction to the exteriority against which social forms are defined, and which is still a formal marker of passage, "the outside concerns force" (2013, 72), and hence, the unmediated circulation of intensities that inaugurates the possibility of subjective transformation. The outside inhabited by the subject in becoming is thus a non-place, an uncodifiable locus of unfolding composition which does not fall under the sovereign rule of composed (that is, codified) sociality. In Deleuze's words, "becoming, change and mutation affect composing forces, not composed forms" (2013, 73; translation modified). The subject of a becoming is thus very precisely that which breaks down formal identities, extracting the molecules or particles of their constituent materiality and reassembling them in a dynamic, and forever unfixed construction.

The flight from social inferiority, organization, and "form" is territorial in the sense that it seeks to compose a contingent, mobile, and in-formal territory from which the ontogenesis of subjectivity may recommence. (11) This territory of the outside is thus experienced as an intensive nucleus of liberation, dictated by the immanent rhythm of autonomous forces and attractions. This is not to say that the path followed by Hector after committing his crime leads to an alternative configuration of individuality (one which may be finally experienced in personal plenitude and without the exploitative mediation of imposed symbolic demands). Rather, his transgressive act marks his entry into an "other" space of material creation--in Michel Foucault's terms, a "heterotopic" dimension of being outside the coded boundaries of social organization (2001): "The essential thing is the disjunction noticeable between the code and the territory. The territory arises in a free margin of the code, one that is not indeterminate but rather is determined differently" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 355).

In this sense, the deterritorializing flight of the outcast, of the madman or the criminal (ex-phallic hero and admired embodiment of archetypal masculinity), does not entail a dissolution of territoriality altogether, but rather a cancellation of the hegemonic valences of the organized territory and its laws of spatial distribution. The crime against the social organism (and its Oedipal/phallic/capitalistic law) is thus a transgressive option for mobile being, for transformation and becoming. The immanent laws this movement inaugurates remain unbeknown to the transcendent rationale of the social organism-- to the rules of functionality and identity--cracking its structured interiority open and releasing new flows of intensity, new matters of contingent territoriality: "Two schizophrenics converse or stroll according to laws of boundary and territory that may escape us. How very important it is, when chaos threatens, to draw an inflatable, portable territory. If need be, I'll put my territory on my own body, I'll territorialize my body" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 353).

This contingent territorialization posits the body as a topological repository of ungovernable affects, as an intensive assemblage (12) traversed by bare forces that no organized power, no stable social form, can appropriate or naturalize. The hitherto archetypally masculine body of the boxer is thereby freed from the representational shackles of phallic power and reconfigured as a relay of intensities and energy differentials--strictly, as a Body without Organs. This transformation from middleweight champion and public hero to nomadic fugitive is punctuated by a loss of the measurable physical qualities that had previously defined his normalized identity. In this sense (which is only paradoxical at first glance), the intensive release of forces in becoming presupposes a dismantling of the formal/formed properties of masculine strength. This transacts in the novel, as a literal "weakening" of his former self, and as a replacement of his symbolically charged body with an emaciated-- intensive--embodiment: "No resemblance to the fighter who beat Jesse Markham for the middleweight title. Ages ago, by Jesus, long-long ago. I felt dead ropy, gone softened, all power drained from the muscles. Old monkey-face watching myself in the clear water" (Berry 2006, 192).

Stripping the body of its organic functionality, of its coded physical properties and extensive qualities, results in a clean, intensive break through which subjectivity can free itself from the oppressive logic of the hegemonic determinations of power. The outcome is a nomadic, schizophrenic, "non-representational" body inscribing itself topologically, and hence, ethically, beyond the organizational forms of social institutionality (Thrift 2007). The irreconcilable antagonism between intensive force and organized form, between potentia and potestas (Negri 1999), reaches its climax at the end of the novel as Hector is hunted down and killed by the police. Having lost its regulative grip on the body as an internalizable form, as an object of governmental control, the capitalist State intervenes to reterritorialize the outside and arrest the radical becoming initiated by Hector. As the social "organism" recognizes the impossibility of re-branding the nomadic BwO with the marks of order and regularity, it sets out to destroy it altogether, tacitly conceding the defeat of its coding/subjectifying machine before the intensive ontology of becoming and deterritorialized subjectivation.


The overall process of intensification and defunctionalization in which the body is caught up in these narratives points all along to a radical opening of the modalities of being, to an ontological overhaul of the parameters of subjective constitution. The result, as we have seen, is not a confirmation of the identitarian regularities under which class and gender customarily operate, but rather a destabilization and replacement of its molar coordinates with molecular intensities and affective movements that turn the body into a site of passage and transformation, processual unfolding and immanent creation. The intractable version of the working-class body, of the embodied working-class subject, that emerges in both Hines's and Berry's novels offers a revealing rejoinder to the (exclusively) molar conception of politics espoused by radical thinkers such as Badiou and Zizek. What these texts announce is the possibility of politicizing exclusion and flight, of rehearsing nomadism and exodus from the formalized institutionality of the political as valuable and irreducible (albeit not necessarily exclusive) modes of struggle.

Far from indicating a point of signifying closure in a general articulation of identity/subjectivity, the de-instrumentalized bodies of Billy Casper and Hector Bebb mark instead an infinitesimal point of consistency, a molecular opening at the root of being: "it is a question here of an essentially precarious undertaking, of a continual creation, which does not have the benefit of any pre-established theoretical support" (Guattari 1995, 71). In this sense, becoming traces a hitherto unexplored trajectory of being, composing a new cartography of subjectivity that is no longer determined by external factors or by the overarching dictates of an abstract capitalist machine.

The previously hegemonic mode of identification under which working-class existence had been forced to operate gives way, in the new, diagrammatic trajectories delineated by Hines and Berry, to an autonomous modality of embodiment, to a contingent crystallization of affective movements and passages, of energetic circulation and autopoietic or self-constructive impulse. In the decentered ontological universes inhabited by Billy and Hector, where all functional/systemic imperatives have been (however momentarily) neutralized by the immanent thrust of deterritorialization, capitalist dualities founder and the prevalent dialectic of oppression/resistance gives way to a fresh enactment of material life. There is no utopianism in these radical figurations, but merely the acknowledgement of a possible discontinuity with the valences of power. Intensive embodiment or becoming is thus no metaphor, no attempt to construct a scene of redemption beyond the reality of life, but a wager on the capacities of human corporeality to form new assemblages, new combinations of forces beyond those formally dictated by a universalizing system of utility and regulation.


(1) See, for example, the work of Elizabeth Grosz (1994; 1999) and Rosi Braidotti (2002; 2006; 2011).

(2) Badiou's most extensive critical engagement with Deleuze's (and Guattari's) ideas is to be found in his book Deleuze: the Clamor of Being (1999). For a recent reappraisal of this philosophical confrontation, see Clayton Crockett (2013). Zizek, for his part, has taken Deleuzian politics to task at various points throughout his career. See, for example, Zizek (2003; 2008). Peter Hallward, a theoretical ally of Badiou's and Zizek's, has offered a similar critique of the Deleuzo-Guattarian project (2006).

(3) For a detailed analysis of the crisis of Fordism and its relation to the new forms of proletarian struggle in the 1960s and 70s, see Mario Tronti (2013) and Antonio Negri (2005). See also Guattari's own contributions to the "Autonomist" tradition (2012).

(4) Deleuze and Guattari define "minor sciences" as those whose "model ... is one of becoming and heterogeneity, as opposed to the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant" (2011, 398).

(5) Although decidedly more Lacanian than Deleuzian, Eric Santner's reflections on the animal--or, as he names it, following Rainer Maria Rilke, "the creature"--offer an insightful analysis of the irreducibility of being ("the mute 'thingness' of nature") which ruptures the ideological illusion of an integrated, continuous and self-identical human universe (2006, xv).

(6) "Smooth" and "striated" function as rough equivalents to "molecular" and "molar" (and more strictly, "nomadic" and "sedentary"), in Deleuze and Guattari (2011, 408-11).

(7) As Braidotti notes: "affects are the body's capacity to enter relations-- to be affected. Relations therefore are the virtual links that a body can form with other bodies. A body here indicates merely a dosage and an assemblage of forces, a portion of spatio-temporally framed affects: it is a multiple phenomenon" (2002, 104). Following Brian Massumi's exploration of the concept, Patricia T. Clough has further insisted that affects indicate a passage of the body beyond equilibrium, a transformative opening of its underpinning sources to fresh and non-linear connections, hence configuring it, in our terms, as a defunctionalized surface of inscription: "Affect refers to the metastability of a body, where the unstable pre-individual forces, which make up the body's metastability, are neither in a linear relationship nor a deterministic one to it ... As such, affect refers to the openness of a body" (Clough 2010, 209-10); see also Massumi (2002).

(8) As Niall Griffiths observes in his foreword to the novel, after quoting a short but characteristic extract from the opening: "I mean, what's that? It's not really English, of any recognisable sort (and, of course, thank God for that). But see the fun the language has, when twisted into such shapes? See how it loves to be mauled in a miner's hands, a boxer's hands, how it loves to be allowed to run riot? Here we have the English language pushed, pummelled, roughly played with, made utterly unfamiliar" (2006, x).

(9) On Bryn farm, Hector will even find a new "wife," Doreen, with whom he will have a child. However, there is no true Oedipal gesture in this contingent sexual assemblage, no promise of sedentarism or filiative continuity.

(10) In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari insist that "becoming is not evolution, at least not evolution by descent and filiation. Becoming produces nothing by filiation; all filiation is imaginary. Becoming is always of a different order than filiation. It concerns alliance" (2011, 263).

(11) For a detailed discussion of their concept of "territory," see Deleuze and Guattari (2011, 346-356).

(12) "The territory is the first assemblage, the first thing to constitute an assemblage; the assemblage is fundamentally territorial" (Deleuze and Guattari 2011, 356).


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Berry, Ron. 2006. So Long, Hector Bebb. Cardigan: Parthian.

Braidotti. Rosi. 2002. Metamorphoses: Towards a Materialist Theory of Becoming. London: Polity.

--. 2006. Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics. London: Polity.

--. 2011. Nomadic Theory: The Portable Rosi Braidotti. New York: Columbia University Press.

Clough, Patricia T. 2010. "The Affective Turn: Political Economy, Biomedia, and Bodies." In The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, 206-225. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Crockett, Clayton. 2013. Deleuze Beyond Badiou: Ontology, Multiplicity, and Event. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 2013. Foucault. Translated by Sean Hand. London: Bloomsbury.

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 2009. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane. London: Penguin.

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Guattari, Felix. 1995. Chaosmosis: An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Translated by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis. Sydney: Power Publications.

--. 2011. The Machinic Unconscious. Translated by Taylor Adkins. New York: Semiotext(e).

--. 2012. La Revolution Moleculaire. Paris: Les Prairies Ordinaires.

Hallward, Peter. 2006. Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. London: Verso.

Hines, Barry. 1968. A Kestrel for a Knave. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Laclau, Ernesto. 2004. On Populist Reason. London: Verso.

Laclau, Ernesto and Chantal Mouffe. 1985. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. London: Verso.

Massumi, Brian. 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Negri, Antonio. 1999. The Savage Anomaly: The Power of Spinoza's Metaphysics and Politics. Translated by Michael Hardt. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

--. 2005. Books for Burning: Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy. London: Verso.

Santner, Eric L. 2006. On Creaturely Life: Rilke, Benjamin, Sebald. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Thrift, Nigel. 2007. Non-Representational Theory: Space, Politics, Affect. London: Routledge.

Tronti, Mario. 2013. Operai e capitate. Roma: Derive Approdi.

Zizek, Slavoj. 2003. Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. London: Routledge.

--. 2008. In Defense of Lost Causes. London: Verso.

ROBERTO DEL VALLE ALCALA is a Postdoctoral Fellow in English Literature at Uppsala University, Sweden. He is the author of British Working Class Fiction: Narratives of Refusal and the Struggle Against Work (2016).
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Title Annotation:Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari
Author:Del Valle Alcala, Roberto
Publication:College Literature
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2016
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