A Thousand Plateaus

A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (French: Mille plateaux) is a 1980 book by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the French psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. It is the second and final volume of their collaborative work Capitalism and Schizophrenia. While the first volume, Anti-Oedipus (1972), sought to "short-circuit" a developing "bureaucracy of analytic reason" in France (between leftist political parties and psychoanalysis), this book was intended to be a "positive exercise" in nomadology and rhizomatic philosophy[1] - philosophy with utility that freely moves between addressed subject matters.

A Thousand Plateaus
Cover of the first edition
AuthorsGilles Deleuze
Félix Guattari
Original titleMille plateaux
TranslatorBrian Massumi
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages645 (French edition)
610 (English translation)
Preceded byAnti-Oedipus 

The book has been considered to be a major statement of post-structuralism and postmodernism, especially starting in the late 20th century. Brian Massumi's English translation was published in 1987, a year after the twelfth "plateau" was published separately in English as Nomadology: The War Machine (New York: Semiotext[e], 1986).


Like the first volume, Anti-Oedipus (1972), A Thousand Plateaus, as the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, is politically and terminologically provocative,[2] but focuses more so on systematic, environmental and spatial philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari discuss concepts such as the rhizome, performativity in language, smooth and striated space, the state as systematic variables and as the capitalist and centralized apparatus, face and faciality, the body without organs, minority languages and literature, binary branching structures in language, deterritorialization and reterritorialization, arborescence, pragmatics, lines of flight, assemblages, events of becoming, strata, stratification and destratification, the war machine, the signified, signifier and sign, abstract machines, and coding.[3]

The book is written in a non-linear, allusive fashion. The reader is explicitly warned not to set down roots and read A Thousand Plateaus in order, but to choose a new "plateau" or page and begin again "from ground zero" at each plateau, as long as they read the introduction first and the conclusion last.[4]:25

Discussed figures and subjects

In plateaux (chapters) of the book, they discuss psychoanalysts (Freud, Jung, Lacanwho trained Guattari,[5]:x and Melanie Klein), composers (Chopin, Debussy, Mozart, Pierre Boulez, and Olivier Messiaen), artists (Klee, Kandinsky, and Pollock), philosophers (Husserl, Foucault, Bergson, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Gilbert Simondon), historians (Ibn Khaldun, Georges Dumézil, and Fernand Braudel), and linguists (Chomsky, Labov, Benveniste, Guillaume, Austin, Hjelmslev, and Voloshinov).[3]

The book starts with an introduction titled "Rhizome" that explains rhizomatic philosophy (addressing not just the book itself but all books as rhizomes), and ends with a conclusion, "Concrete Rules and Abstract Machines", that makes the abstract/concrete binary clear. In between are thirteen chapters or plateaux, each dated non-linearly, sometimes precisely ("November 20, 1923: Postulates of Linguistics), sometimes less so ("10,000 BC: The Geology of Morals"). In the sixth chapter, "Year Zero: Faciality" (visagéité), the notion of face is discussed as an "overcoding" of body,[5]:170 but also as being in dialectical tension with landscape (paysagéité).[5]:174

Dismantling the face is no mean affair. Madness is a definite danger: Is it by chance that schizos lose their sense of the face, their own and others', their sense of the landscape, and the sense of language and its dominant significations all at the same time? [...] Dismantling the face is the same as breaking through the wall of the signifier and getting out of the black hole of subjectivity.[5]:188

In the same mode as Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari evaluate and criticize psychoanalysis: in the first plateau, they discuss the work of Sigmund Freud, especially referring to the case histories of the Wolf Man and Little Hans.[4]:26-38

Owing to their mode of literary theory, A Thousand Plateaus also frequently discusses literature. In "1874: Three Novellas", they discuss Henry James' In the Cage (1898) and "The Story of the Abyss and the Spyglass" by Pierrette Fleutiaux, but they also evoke F. Scott Fitzgerald's essay The Crack-Up (1945) (which Deleuze previously discussed in The Logic of Sense), because as a famous novelist, his depression and frustration in the essay is dramatized.[4]:192-207 Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, Goethe, Heinrich von Kleist, William Faulkner, Carlos Castaneda, H. P. Lovecraft, William S. Burroughs, Herman Melville and Shakespeare are also discussed.[3]


A Thousand Plateaus is considered a major statement of post-structuralism and postmodernism.[6] Mark Poster writes that the work "contains promising elaborations of a postmodern theory of the social and political."[7] Writing in the foreword to his translation, Massumi comments that the work "is less a critique than a positive exercise in the affirmative 'nomad' thought called for in Anti-Oedipus." Massumi contrasts "nomad thought" with the "state philosophy... that has characterized Western metaphysics since Plato".[8]

Deleuze critic Eugene Holland suggests that the work complicates the slogans and oppositions developed in its predecessor. Whereas Anti-Oedipus created binaries such as molar/molecular, paranoid/schizophrenic, and deterritorialization/reterritorialization, A Thousand Plateaus shows how such distinctions are operations on the surface of a deeper field with more complicated and multidimensional dynamics. In so doing, the book is less engaged with history than with topics like biology and geology.[9] Massumi writes that A Thousand Plateaus differs drastically in tone, content, and composition from Anti-Oedipus. In his view, the schizoanalysis the authors practice is not so much a study of their "pathological condition", but a "positive process" that involves "inventive connection".[10]

Bill Readings appropriates the term "singularity" from A Thousand Plateaus, "to indicate that there is no longer a subject-position available to function as the site of the conscious synthesis of sense-impressions."[11] The sociologist Nikolas Rose writes that Deleuze and Guattari articulate "the most radical alternative to the conventional image of subjectivity as coherent, enduring, and individualized".[12]

In 1997, the physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont argued that the book contains many passages in which Deleuze and Guattari use "pseudo-scientific language".[13] Writing about this "science wars critique," Daniel Smith and John Protevi contend that "much of their chapter on Deleuze consists of exasperated exclamations of incomprehension."[14] Similarly, in a 2015 interview, British philosopher Roger Scruton characterized A Thousand Plateaus as "[a] huge, totally unreadable tome by somebody who can’t write French."[15][16] At the beginning of a short essay on postmodernism, Jean-François Lyotard lists examples of what he describes as a desire "to put an end to experimentation", including a displeased reaction to A Thousand Plateaus that he had read in a weekly literary magazine, which said that readers of philosophy "expect [...] to be "gratified with a little sense". Behind this "slackening" desire to constrain language use, Lyotard identifies a "desire for a return to terror."[17]:71-72, 82

Digital media theorist Janet Murray links the work to the aesthetic of hypertext.[18]

Gaming and electronic literature expert Espen Aarseth draws parallels between Deleuze and Guattari's idea of the rhizome and semiotician Umberto Eco's idea of the net.[19]

Christopher Miller criticizes Deleuze and Guattari's use of "second-hand" anthropological sources without providing the reader with contextualization of the colonialist "mission" that led to their writing. Timothy Laurie says that this claim is inaccurate, but that Deleuze & Guattari should extend that same "rigor" to uncovering the political and economic entanglements which contextualize academic philosophy.[20]:10


A Thousand Plateaus was an influence on the political philosophers Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's book Empire (2000).[21]

The sociologist John Urry sees Deleuze and Guattari's metaphor of the nomad as having "infected contemporary social thought."[22]

The philosopher Manuel DeLanda, in A New Philosophy of Society (2006), adopts Deleuze's theory of assemblages, taken from A Thousand Plateaus.[23]

See also


  1. Brian Massumi (1987). "Translator's Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy". A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. xi.
  2. Stivale, Charles J. (1984). "The Literary Element in "Mille Plateaux": The New Cartography of Deleuze and Guattari". Substance. Johns Hopkins University Press. 13 (44–45): 20–34. doi:10.2307/3684772. JSTOR 3684772.
  3. Melehy, Hassan; Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1987). "Index". A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 589–610. ISBN 978-0-8166-1402-8.
  4. Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-1402-8.
  5. Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-1402-8.
  6. See, for example, Steven Best and Douglas Kellner, Postmodern Theory (Guilford Press, 1991), which devotes a chapter to Deleuze and Guattari.
  7. Poster, Mark (1990). The Mode of Information: Poststructuralism and Social Context. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 135. ISBN 978-0226675961.
  8. Massumi, Brian; Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix (1993). A Thousand Plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. xi. ISBN 978-0-8166-1402-8.
  9. Eugene W. Holland, "Deterritorializing 'deterritorialization'—From the Anti-Oedipus to A Thousand Plateaus", SubStance #66 (Vol. 3, No. 9), 1991, accessed via JStor.
  10. Massumi, Brian (1993). A User's Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. pp. 1–4. ISBN 978-0-262-63143-3.
  11. Readings, Bill (1997). The University in Ruins. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0674929531.
  12. Rose, Nikolas (1996). Inventing our Selves: Psychology, Power, and Personhood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 170. ISBN 978-0521646079.
  13. Sokal, Alan; Bricmont, Jean (1999). Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals' Abuse of Science. New York: Picador. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-312-20407-5.: "Should the reader entertain any further doubts about the ubiquity of pseudo-scientific language in Deleuze and Guattari's work, he or she is invited to consult [...] pages 32-33, 142-143, 211-212, 251-252, 293-295, 361-365, 369-374, 389-390, 461, 469-473, and 482-490 of A Thousand Plateaus."
  14. Daniel Smith; John Protevi (2018) [First published in Summer 2008]. Edward N. Zalta (ed.). Gilles Deleuze. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 ed.). Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University.
  15. Roger Scruton (10 December 2015). "These left thinkers have destroyed the intellectual life". Spiked Online. Retrieved 12 January 2018.
  16. Roger Scruton (2015). Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. London: Bloomsbury. p. 189. ISBN 978-1-4081-8733-3.
  17. Jean-François Lyotard (1993). "Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?". The Postmodern Condition:A Report on Knowledge. Translated by Régis Durand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp. 71–82. ISBN 978-0-8166-1173-7. "Under the general demand for slackening and appeasement, we can hear the mutterings of the desire for a return of terror, for the realization of the fantasy to seize reality.
  18. Murray, Janet (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Free Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0684827230.
  19. Aarseth, Espen (1997). Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0801855795.
  20. Laurie, Timothy (2012), "Epistemology as Politics and the Double-Bind of Border Thinking: Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze and Guattari, Mignolo", Portal: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, 9 (2): 1–20, doi:10.5130/portal.v9i2.1826, Deleuze and Guattari do recognise many of these concerns in their discussions of ethnologists.
  21. Hardt, Michael; Negri, Antonio (2000). Empire. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. p. 424. ISBN 978-0674006713.
  22. Urry, John (2000). Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty First Century. New York: Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 978-0415190893.
  23. DeLanda, Manuel (2006). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity. New York: Bloomsbury Academic. p. 120. ISBN 978-0826491695.
  • Preview of A Thousand Plateaus available on Google Books
  • April 10, 2006 article by John Philipps, with an explanation of the incomplete translation of "agencement" by "assemblage" ("One of the earliest attempts to translate Deleuze and Guattari’s use of the term agencement appears in the first published translation, by Paul Foss and Paul Patton in 1981, of the article “Rhizome.” The English term they use, assemblage, is retained in Brian Massumi’s later English version, when “Rhizome” appears as the Introduction to A Thousand Plateaus.")
  • Faciality: The concept of faciality discussed by Michael Hardt.
  • Story of the Abyss and the Spyglass: Deleuze and Guattari's study of the story discussed by Ronald Bogue in Deleuze on Literature (2013).
  • Nomadology discussed by Christopher L. Miller.
  • The Smooth and the Striated. The penultimate chapter of ATP discussed by Flora Lysen and Patricia Pisters.
  • "Drawings from A Thousand Plateaus" presents a paragraph by paragraph diagrammatic interpretation of the first two chapters of A Thousand Plateaus, by artist Marc Ngui.
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