A guide to reading a guide to reading Deleuze

Kalle Jonasson
Högskolan i Halmstad

Pirkko Markula
Deleuze and the Physically Active Body
186 pages, inb.
Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge 2019 (Routledge Research in Sport, Culture and Society)
ISBN 978-1-138-67673-2

Prologue: I studied French one semester in high school. In a written exam, I failed to remember the French word for “power”, and instead went for the word for “force”. It succeeded and I was complimented by my teacher for my resourcefulness. This fatefully set a seal on my scholarly career starting around 15 years later. When I started my doctoral studies, Foucault (the philosopher of “power” par preference) was waning while Deleuze (the philosopher on “force” par preference) was waxing. I have by now read several books by and on Deleuze, but very few on and by Foucault. I have written several texts on sport inspired by the former, none by the latter, save for the en passant name-dropping and mandatory reference to “panopticon”. What if I would have gone for ‘le pouvoir’ that time, instead of ‘la force’!? To start with, I would perhaps not be writing this review of Pirkko Markula’s Deleuze and the Physically Active Body.

Markula, a Finnish/North American dancer/researcher, came the opposite way from me: from Foucault to Deleuze. I think this is important to note when approaching her comprehensive take on Deleuze and what his thinking could imply for the study of physical culture. Why? Because theory is personal, physical, and practical. By cherishing and acknowledging the history of one’s discipline (in this case the critical study of sport, body, movement, and physical culture), and the individual researcher’s place in that history, we might better and more easily appreciate the achievements and merits of the scholarly endeavor. When I came to the chapter on Foucault, late in Markula’s book, I got it: Where she came from, where Deleuze came from, what Foucault did, how Deleuze succinctly condensed what Foucault did, and how Deleuze’s philosophy might appear as a logical next step for Foucault scholars; how Foucault’s historical approach was finalized with a discussion of subjectivity as resistance, and how Deleuze’s spatial/geographical approach appears as an apt operationalization of how to understand, cope with, exist in, and resist the broken present Foucault left us with. I get their mutual admiration and friendship, emblematized by Foucault’s (1970), remark that: “One day, perhaps, this [the 20th] century will be called Deleuzian.”

However, Deleuze’s oeuvre, or rather the applications of it, is, to my mind, full of pitfalls, and those are to be found in everything he wrote with Felix Guattari (henceforth D&G.) I loved their books, some parts of them at least, namely the parts I fully comprehended, and more precisely the parts on spatiality. But the applications in the secondary literature often seem too dogmatic, the expertise too exegetic, and the alleged inventiveness too stale and steered. Yes, I am guilty, I too have “constructed concepts” (following Deleuze & Guattari, 1994) in this vein: ‘Minor sport’, ‘dromography’ & “be.com/ing” (Jonasson, 2013), plus the ones that didn’t make it (Jonasson, never). It’s fun, to be sure, but inventive? Not so sure about that, but fully comparable with experiences of user-friendly Apple apps, such as composing a song on Garageband, or making a movie in iMovie: neat, nice, tidy, and kind of classy and cool.

Yes, I am guilty, I too have “constructed concepts” (following Deleuze & Guattari, 1994) in this vein: ‘Minor sport’, ‘dromography’ & “be.com/ing” (Jonasson, 2013), plus the ones that didn’t make it (Jonasson, never).

The chapters in Markula’s book, save for the one on Foucault, are named after the conceptual constructions of D&G, the collaboration of which was wild and productive; the style of which, in their four joint books, was uncanny. The knowledge D&G unlocked drew upon wildly differing sources and disciplines, such as: biology, anthropology, mathematics, semiotics, ethnography, physics, etc. This qualified them for surviving the end of the millennium transitions from poststructuralism, via postmodernism, to posthumanism/postconstructionism/post-qualitative studies. The postmen always come in pairs. The result of these hotchpotches and unholy alliances meant conceiving, bearing, giving birth to, and baptizing concepts such as becoming, rhizome, affect, assemblage, stratum, body-without-organs, desire, territorialization, minor, major, state philosophy, arborescence, nomad, machine, molarity, segmentarity, immanence, diagram, representationalism, faciality, haecceity, etc. 

The analyses D&G made, and the concepts they constructed were honed to challenge Marxism, Capitalism, Psychoanalysis, Phenomenology, Structuralism; perspectives described as adhering to a loose family of strawmen called “State philosophy” which purportedly rigidifies identities and collectives, which is not good according to Deleuzian doctrine (which favors ‘opening’ up ‘the new’ and ‘unthought’ from the ‘unfinished materials’ of ‘the outside’). To critique a compound such as “State philosophy” is a tad dated and not all beneficial for Markula since the term is so specific to the time and place of D&G’s writings (roughly produced during the time span 1970-1990). But she adjusts the list slightly based on her own disciplinary experiences of the hegemony of the perspectives of Functional Structuralist Sociology and Kinesiology which, then, helps to position her book. She also offers a fairly nuanced discussion of Wetherell’s psychologically based critique of the use of ‘affect’ by Deleuzian scholars. 

The problem is also that this, now, rather aged, revolutionary repertoire of punk concepts gave rise to a cult, that, paradoxically, was counterintuitive to what the concepts were meant to achieve, namely to sidestep and provoke authoritarian thinking. D&G: We describe how not to follow. Us: Let’s follow them! And, citing anthropologists Da Col & Graeber (a minor d&g), is it really that cool nowadays to wield such terms?

In such a world, name-dropping becomes almost everything. The fact that it usually reduces academics to the embarrassing situation of considering themselves hip for recycling French theorists from the period of roughly 1968 to 1983, in fact, exactly the period of what we now call “Classic Rock” (in other words, for reading to the intellectual equivalents of Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin) seems to go almost completely unnoticed. (Da Col & Graeber, 2011) 

To be able, as Deleuze dictates, to ‘fold the line’ (Markula, p. 156) suddenly doesn’t seem so avantgarde anymore. Love isn’t always on time, indeed. But, there are definitely fruitful analyses of sport and creative composites of physical/practical/pragmatic units to be made with inspiration from Deleuze: His take on space (rather than on the physical body and organism); why psychoanalysis never made it to Sport Psychology; his endless analogies between thinking and athleticism; his ontology as one of movement and flux, etc.

So, I plead with you, becoming (ugh!) Deleuzian doctoral students (and the occasional roguish professor) of the physically active body, sport, movement and physical culture, don’t get D&Gmatic; don’t write that article named “Downward facing D&G: The chthonic subjectivities of a minor Yoga” ([Family name], [Year of publishing]). Instead, get inspired by Deleuze and try to implement nimble revolutions in your faculties, cherishing life and movement, enhancing and intensifying experiences and friendships. Deleuze is vital, and I think both that he would have liked that, and that that is what Markula wants you to do. My service, in relation to the coming readings of Deleuze by my fellow sport scholars via the book at hand, is therefore to offer some steps, below, that suggest another disposition of how to read the book. Since Markula introduces some nice lists, based on a set of encouraging (rather than D&Gmatic) imperatives, I would like to return that favor. 

De Lizt

      1. Begin reading Pirkko Markula’s Deleuze and the Physically Active Body by going to the lists on pages 120-121 in order to get where the author comes from practically to write this book [My following of the steps writing this review essay is offered within square brackets].
          1. “Stop the WorldAsWeKnowIt. [Resist stockpile applications of French philosophy]
          2. Cherish derelict spaces. [Publishing review essays in provincial open access web journals]
          3. Study camouflage. [Write Philosopher of movement in your bio to get expensive hardback philosophy books from your editor]
          4. Sidle and straddle. [Refer to anecdotal evidence such as personal biography and Classic Rock]
          5. Come out.” [Unnecessary, everyone/no one always already knows/cares about what I do]
      2. Proceed by going to Chapter 7 in order to get where the author comes from theoretically to write this book, and in order to situate it temporally and ontologically.
      3. Proceed by reading pages 62-69 in chapter 3 in order to get where the philosopher accounted for in the book comes from philosophically.
      4. Then go to pages 134-139 in order to get a nice example of an interesting analysis of sport from a Deleuzian perspective of movement and images.

Finally, read at will, but look for the examples Deleuze draws from the world of physical culture in order to demonstrate his concepts: Fencing, Sumo-wrestling, Swimming, Dancing (plus the ones not mentioned in Markula’s book, such as Surfing and Hammer/Javelin Throw). These are veritable Easter eggs for philosophically interested sport scholars. Good luck!

Copyright © Kalle Jonasson 2020


Da Col G., & Graeber D. (2011). Foreword: The return of ethnographic theory. HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. 1, vi-xxxv.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1994). What is philosophy?. London: Verso.
Foucault, M. (1970). ‘Theatrum Philosophicum’. Critique 282 (885-908).
Jonasson, K. (2013). Sport has never been modern. Göteborg: Acta universitatis Gothoburgensis.
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