Deleuze and Pop Music | Humanities Research |

It seems clear to me that philosophy is truly an unvoiced song,
with the same feel for movement music has.
Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations.


Rightly or wrongly, Deleuze has been labelled a snob for his high-brow taste in music, art and literature. For the most part, Deleuze depicts the popular as the undesirable other, or worse, an enormous homogenising machine depriving art of its place and value in contemporary society. 1 In this respect, at least, Deleuze is very much like Adorno, utterly modernist.

Yet I believe Deleuze's work, despite his personal taste, can account for the peculiar events and phenomena of popular culture if we can disentangle popular cultural texts and practices from the amorphous matrix of capitalism Deleuze identifies them with, and treat them with the same respect and affection he accords to Kafka's writing, for instance. This would amount to the discovery and articulation of a form of creativity unique to mass culture.


Rather than contrast art and popular culture, and rehearse a procedure Deleuze is known to have loathed, what needs to be found is a way of avoiding such distinctions altogether, something Deleuze himself made his life's work. His way out of dialectics was abstraction, or the discovery of the artistry of any text. This is particularly necessary in the case of popular music, because to many it is nothing but a giant exercise in money-making, and thereby completely devoid of aesthetic value. 2 In other words, it stands in need of abstraction.


While it may be true that Kafka never intended publishing his work, and can rightly be said to have written for himself not profit, it is nevertheless also true that he wrote from within a capitalist milieu. Kafka could not avoid thinking about capitalism, no matter how much he might have tried. The most important claim in the whole of Deleuze & Guattari's book on Kafka states Kafka was intrinsically anti-capitalist in his mode of writing. 3 What it does, which I cannot but find curious, is subordinate Kafka's writing to gesture, namely his refusal to publish; curious because it deforms the complexity of Kafka's response to his environment in a way that it is against the grain of Deleuze's thought.

To begin with, it makes the artist all but impervious to the vagaries of everyday life in a socio-historical sense, as though to say, not only did Kafka write for himself, but he also worked from within himself; this, in turn, allows Deleuze and Guattari to pursue the psycho-dynamic indices in Kafka's writing with the same relish and hermeneutic flexibility Freud enjoyed (and which they chide him for). In the end, this excision puts too much emphasis on the significance of capitalism and not enough on the relation between the writer and his world....


Via Vincent DUBOIS