minoritarian | majoritarian


What strikes me with Bachelard is that, in a way, he plays against his own culture with his own culture. 

In traditional education and also in the culture we receive there are a certain number of established values, things one must read and others one must not read. Oeuvres that are estimable and others that are negligible. There are the small people and the big people, there is hierarchy. You know, the whole celestial world with its thrones, dominations, angles and archangels -- all this is well hierarchized, and roles are very precisely defined. 

And Bachelard knows how to separate himself from this ensemble of values. He knows how to separate himself form it by reading everything and by confronting everything with everything. He reminds me of skilled chess players who manage to take the biggest pieces with the little pawns. Bachelard does not hesitate to oppose Descartes to a minor philosopher or an imperfect or eccentric eighteenth century scholar. He doesn't hesitate to bring together in the same analysis the most important poets and a minor poet he might have discovered by chance, browsing through a small bookshop. 

By doing that, he does not mean to reconstitute, if you like, the great global culture, which is that of the West, of Europe, or of France. It's not about showing that it is always the same great mind that lives and swarms everywhere. On the contrary, I have the feeling that he tries to trap his own culture with its interstices, its deviances, its minor phenomena, its dissonances. 

Michel Foucault on Gaston Bachelard (1972)



(Youtube comments on Foucault on Bachelard, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=am6TghIrYEc)


Throughout their major work, A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari draw a distinction between minoritarian and majoritarian. Like all their ‘distinctions’ what looks like a simple opposition is far more complex. Minoritarian and majoritarian are ways of drawing distinctions. A majoritarian mode, for example, presents the opposition as already given and based on a privileged and original term. So, ‘man’ is a majoritarian term; we imagine that there is some general being – the human – that then has local variations: such as racial, sexual or cultural variations. The opposition between man and woman is majoritarian: we think of woman as other than, or different from, man. A minoritarian mode of difference does not ground the distinction on a privileged term, and does not see the distinction as an already-given order. Deleuze and Guattari describe ‘woman’ or ‘becoming-woman’ as minoritarian (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). This is not because women are a minority; it is because, for the most part, there is no standard or norm for woman. If we really acknowledge the possibility that there is something like becoming-woman, then we acknowledge that there is some- thing truly other than man: that human life is not defined by the male ideals of reason, strength, dominance and activity. ‘Woman’ opens the human to new possibilities. ‘Woman’ is a minoritarian term only if it remains an open term in becoming, as it was in the early days of the women’s movement when there was much contestation about just what women were fighting for. Once a term becomes expressive, rather than creative, of identity it becomes majoritarian. Once ‘woman’ is appealed to as a new standard, as the embodiment of caring, nurturing, passivity or compassion it becomes majoritarian: capable of excluding those who do not fulfil the criteria.

Literature, when it fully extends its power of being literature, is always minoritarian. Minor literature is great literature, not necessarily the literature of minorities, although this can be the case. Kafka was a great writer, not because he captured the unrepresented spirit of the Czech people, but because he wrote without a standard notion of ‘the people’. He wrote, not as a being with an identity, but as a voice of what is not given, a ‘people to come’. But the same goes for all great writing. Shakespeare can be considered a ‘minor’ author precisely because his works do not offer a unified image of man, or even a unified image of Shakespeare. His texts are more like question marks, with each production or reading raising new questions. Of course, when Shakespeare becomes an industry (of tourism, culture and academia) he becomes a major author: we seek to find the real Shakespeare, the origin of his ideas and the true sense of his works. He becomes minor, again, only if we recognise the potential in his work to be read as if we did not know who Shakespeare was. ...

Deleuze and Guattari... make a distinction between subject groups and subjugated groups, and this is directly connected to the politics of style. In keeping with transcendental empiricism we need to think of language as an act or event that produces the effect of underlying speakers or subjects. There are no speakers or subjects who precede the event of their becoming. A subject group forms as an act of speech or a demand, as an event of becoming. (Imagine, for example, the inauguration of the women’s movement, which began by speaking differently, by not recognising the norms of male reason.) The subject group forms itself through speaking or becoming. (The women’s movement was, from its very beginning, a literary movement, the very notion of ‘woman’ being created through novels and women’s writing.) A subjugated group, by contrast, speaks as though it were representing, rather than forming, its identity. This occurs when, say, we start to think of women’s writing as the expression of an underlying femininity that was lying in wait for literary inscription. The group becomes subjugated to an image of its own identity; its becoming is no longer open but is seen as the becoming of some specific essence. Writing becomes prescriptive and majoritarian; it is now based upon an identity and demands recognition, rather than the constitution, of that identity .

The distinction between minorities and majorities (or between a molecular and molar politics) is therefore not one of numbers, but of types of quantity. A majoritarian identity has established its extended unit of measure – its notion of a proper or representative number. It makes no difference how many men or humans there are; we all still know what ‘man’ is. This is an extensive multiplicity. Adding more members does not alter what the group or multiplicity is. It is therefore possible for humanity to include or recognise women or blacks as ‘equal’. It did so, not by changing its notion of the human (as rational, individual and goal-oriented), but by arguing that women and blacks could also be rational, democratic, economically-motivated and moral, ‘just like us’. A minoritarian politics does not have a pre-given (or transcendent) measure or norm for inclusion or identity. Each addition to the group changed what the group is. (When non-middle-class women were included in the women’s movement feminism had to change its image of femininity as domestic, well-mannered, refined and ‘lady-like’ to include women who worked and laboured outside the home. When women of colour were included this led to a challenging of women being ‘equal’ to men, for many of the norms of masculinity were tied to white Western culture.) An intensive multiplicity cannot increase or decrease without changing its quality. You add more light to a colour and it becomes a different colour. This is an intensive multiplicity. You take one red thing out of a box of red things and you still have a box of red things. This is an extensive multiplicity.

Following on from this, a minor literature does not write to express what it is (as though it had an identity to repeat or re-produce). A minor literature writes to produce what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as a ‘people to come’. Its identity is always provisional, in the process of creation...

Clare Colebrook, Gilles Deleuze (2002)