Iain Campbell – Rhythmic Bodies, Rhythmic Relations: Renegotiating Deleuze & Guattari's Hierarchy of Rhythms with Eshun and Goodman

Event date: 29 October 2011 
King’s Anatomy Theatre & Museum, 
6th Floor, King’s Building
King’s College London, 
Strand Campus, 
London, WC2R 2LS



Rhythm and Event


Iain Campbell (Kingston University):
Rhythmic Bodies, Rhythmic Relations: Renegotiating Deleuze & Guattari’s Hierarchy of Rhythms with Eshun and Goodman

In A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari use the figure of rhythm as a means of explicating the event of a communicative and transformative relation between heterogeneous bodies. There are, however, in fact two forms of rhythm at work in these relations. The first, which in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms is rhythm properly speaking, is the rhythm which is involved in this event of deterritorializing transformation, and is presented as non-metrical, unfixed and unbounded by the structure and form imposed by regular pulsations. The second is that of metrical rhythm – pertaining to the individual territorial body considered in terms of  unified and self-identical enclosure, it allows the body a fixity and stability which protects it from its outside in non-communicating, non-relational isolation. In their philosophy of becoming, Deleuze and Guattari strive to escape the restrictive fixed form which metrical rhythm imbues on a body and emphasise the perpetual transformative flux of the non-metric – that is to say, a body defined in terms of metrical rhythm is presented only as something to be overcome. This coupling of a strong distinction and an assertion of a hierarchical relation between the terms, however, opens Deleuze and Guattari to the criticism that the creativity valorised in their philosophy amounts to a shapeless detachment from the actual world.

In this paper I will explore Deleuze and Guattari’s distinction between these types of rhythm and consider its consequences, moving towards a rethinking the role of metrical rhythm in Deleuze and Guattari’s thought through reference to the influence of Deleuzo-Guattarian concepts in sonic culture studies, particularly in Kodwo Eshun’s figure of the rhythmachine. I will begin by explicating the roles that the two types of rhythm play in processes of becoming for Deleuze and Guattari, highlighting how metrical rhythm is rendered only in terms of its overcoming by and subordination to non-metrical rhythm in the transformative relation between bodies. I will then briefly summarise how this relation between types of rhythm can be considered under the terms of critical assessments of Deleuze and Guattari, namely those of Peter Hallward and Steve Goodman, which suggest that theorising concrete activity and relations between actual bodies in the world becomes problematic in a Deleuzo-Guattarian philosophy of pure creation.

To respond to these criticisms I will move to develop a more robust and productive definition of metrical rhythm through reference to the work in the field of sonic culture by Goodman and Eshun, who articulate a concept of metrical rhythm which positions it in a productive relationship with the forces it brings into stable consistency. In their work, I will argue, there emerges a conception of metrical rhythm as a tool for shaping intensive bodies, a process defined through the figure of the rhythmachine, which is applicable within a Deleuzo-Guattarian framework of rhythm. I will argue that this notion of the rhythmachine does much to marginalise the elements of Deleuze and Guattari’s thought which neglect bodies at the expense of the relations between them and in turn detach the creative event from activity in the actual world. Having developed a denser and more active notion of metrical rhythm, then, I will close by rearticulating what the relationship between metrical and non-metrical rhythm can be for Deleuze and Guattari, and consider how this redressing of the hierarchical imbalance between types of rhythm can provide a more powerful tool for thinking through the event of bodies in transformative relation and the creative emergences thereof.

Iain Campbell recently graduated from the University of Dundee with an MLitt in Continental Philosophy and has now started his PhD, looking at individuation, rhythm, and other musical themes in Deleuze, at the CRMEP in Kingston.


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