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Lewis Carroll et les mythologies de l'enfance

Pascale Renaud-Grosbras
Lawrence Gasquet
Sophie Marret

Deuxième partie. Démythifier le mythe

Désir d’Alice

Jean-Jacques Lecercle

Texte intégral


1I have already stated, more than once, that I am not interested in Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. This, of course, is an exaggeration. It is only an indirect and provocative way of saying that I am a literary critic, not a historian. But, as a literary critic, I cannot help being interested by anything I can learn about the author of my text. I am an avid reader of critical biographies, a genre the British have developed to almost perfection, and the history of Victorian mores and Victorian taste is not indifferent to me.

2My provocation, therefore, is merely a reminder that the sole object of my interest is the text of the Alice books: Lewis Carroll rather than Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. And my exaggerated formulation has one obvious advantage, and one possible defect.

3The advantage is that by getting rid of the person of the empirical author, and rejecting the metaphysical weight attached to a conception of the meaning of the text as a function of the empirical author’s intention of meaning, I am rid of the problem that contemporary biographers of Dodgson increasingly have, the problem of his possible paedophilia. As you know the paedophile is the current Saddam Hussein at the level of the family, a pretext for irresponsible media to grant themselves certificates of virtue—in other words the paedophile is a social construction in a given historical conjuncture. It is not enough, however, to be aware of the social and historical nature of the construction to be able to avoid it, if one is situated, as we are, in the said conjuncture. We all know that there is a shadow cast on Lolita, and potentially on Alice. With the consequence that Dodgson’s biographers will be tempted to exonerate Dodgson from the accusation of paedophilia at the cost of castrating the text. I am not sure I like that metaphor, but we all know the posturing: he was interested in Alice because he was in love with her governess, or similar nonsense. The main risk of the operation, beyond its quaintly revisionist stance, is that it risks denying what has ensured the survival of the text beyond the Victorian conjuncture, and its success beyond the audience of children, namely the erotic affect that pervades the text, and which accounts for its superiority over its contemporaries and its immediate predecessors, even the best of them, like The Water Babies. Or even over its present main competitor in the children’s-literature-also-read-by-adults category, Harry Potter. Where Alice is infinitely superior to Harry Potter is not merely the quality of the imagination, but also its independence from the doxa, moral as well as literary (whereas Harry Potter is a profoundly doxic text; I agree with A.S. Byatt’s strictures: it is nothing but Tolkien crossed with Enid Blyton). And the mark of the text’s independence from the doxa is the presence of desire within it. Hence the title of this paper, which I have given in French, in order to preserve the ambiguity of the genitive, which in French accommodates a subjective as well as an objective interpretation.

4But my exaggerated position also has a defect. Rejecting the author of the text qua empirical person (by contrast with Lewis Carroll, a persona, that is a fiction) is indeed eminently possible. All the more so in the case of that celebrated schizophrenic pair, Dodgson and Carroll. As we know, tradition has it that Dodgson refused to answer letters addressed to Lewis Carroll, and we may remember the author’s comment about the wilder interpretations that, in Dodgson’s lifetime, The Hunting of the Snark provoked: don’t ask me the meaning of the text, I am only the author. But strictly keeping to that strict separation between person and persona would prevent me from interpreting the text, as I am inclined to do, especially if I have decided to broach the subject of desire, as a series of love letters, couched in Aesopic language, written by an adult man to a girl child. In other words I too risk castrating the text (and I don’t like this metaphor any more than when I used it first). If the desire that circulates within the text is, according to the hypothesis I wish to defend in this paper, what keeps it alive, I need a concept of desire that will have the following two characteristics. 1) It must have the usual properties usually ascribed to desire: it must interpellate subjects, engage them in interpersonal relationships, involve the body and its affects. 2) But it must not be immediately ascribable to already constituted subjects, to an individual subject, but rather interpellate them as it circulates through the text. Textual, not sexual or possibly paedophilic desire, is what I am looking for.

Desire in Alice

5In order to substantiate my hypothesis, I shall try to proceed, to speak like Kant, through reflexive rather than determinative judgments. In other words, I shall proceed in a bottom up rather than in a top down fashion, by envisaging desire as I find it in the text of the Alice books, before looking for the concept that will account for the phenomena I shall have collected in my progress. And indeed, in Alice I can find traces of desire as inter-subjective, anchored in the body, in the actions and passions of bodies, and circulating within the text. By phrasing it in this way I am of course already cheating, since the formulation of my search is already couched in the theoretical language that will give me the concept of desire I need. But I have no other option: I am looking for a concept of desire which is not of the common and garden variety (that variety is broadly Freudian), and such concepts are rare.

  • 1 J.-J. Lecercle, “Un amour d’enfant”, in J.-J. Lecercle, ed., Alice, Paris, Autrement, 1998, p. 7-4 (...)

6Let us start with the inter-subjective relation that desire implies. The schizophrenic separation between Dodgson and Carroll may be taken as a symptom. If it was so compulsively necessary for Dodgson, is it not because of the blurring of the distinction between the real and the fictional, of the entanglement—a tangled tale indeed—between person and persona? For it must be confessed that the Alice books stage such blurring of frontiers with considerable zest. For this character of fiction bears the name of a real little girl, whose photograph adorns the last page of the manuscript version of the text, as the result of which the affect that the text carries always-already risks being interpreted as the disguised or sublimated expression of a real life affect. I have already said this elsewhere1: the text is the site for the covert expression of a passion, the subject of which cannot express it explicitly and the object of which is as yet incapable of grasping all its implications. In other words, the object of such passion, even if he may not be entirely aware of it and she is entirely unaware of it, is an object of desire.

  • 2 G. Genette, Figures III, Paris, Seuil, 1972, p. 243 sqq.

7This explains one characteristic of the Alice texts which I am not the first critic to notice, but which seems to me to be particularly striking: the text is the site of an endless metaleptic chain, with all the possibilities of blurring and short- circuit duly exploited. The concept of metalepsis, you will remember, is a narratological concept which I borrow from Gérard Genette2: it denotes the various ontological levels at which the personae of the text are situated, and their various ontological statuses. In Alice, we have an impressive number of levels.

8The first level is that of the empirical author, an Oxford don hopelessly in love with a real life girl of seven. Or rather, tradition has it that he was. In so far as the said tradition is based on the text, it is undeniable. And this is indeed why, in spite of what I have just said, the empirical author is part of a textual chain. In so far as the tradition is based on external evidence, which is scant and at best indirect, it could be disproved, but if it were, it would not change anything in my position, which is based on the reading of the text. Charles Dodgson appears here merely as the end of chain product of a metaleptic interpellation that starts with the text, that is with the fictional Alice. He is merely the fiction of a pen-bearer I need for Alice, in all her glory, to be inscribed on the page, as text or as picture. And this pen-bearer, being the same kind of angel as the speaker in structuralist linguistics, cannot be a paedophile.

  • 3 J.-J. Lecercle, Interpretation as Pragmatics, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1999. J.-J. Lecercle & R. Sh (...)

9On the second level, we have an author, Lewis Carroll, who signs his name on the title page, who has created a chain of texts, an oeuvre, within which Alice is inserted (so much so that the Alice books, as we call them collectively, are a composite, Janus-faced text), and within which it makes sense. This author, in contrast with Charles Dodgson, who lives on the ambiguous frontier (he is interpellated by the text, but as the fiction of a person), is entirely fictional. His is the fictional mind that must be postulated for the opponent in the game of chess that I, the reader, play in and with the text, and the result of which is my reading or interpretation. He is the extraordinarily astute and wily author who is à la hauteur of my extraordinarily astute and wily reading of the text. This fiction is the same fiction as the author of the text in genetic criticism, whose intention of meaning and plan for the text is what the geneticists reconstruct. I have developed this theory of interpretation, under the name of the ALTER model, in two of my books, and shall leave it at that3. What interests me in Lewis Carroll is mainly that I can ascribe to him the invention of my next three levels.

10The third level is the level of the first narrator, who speaks in the paratext, in the introductory poems, the mawkishness of which makes them painful reading, in spite of the acrostics. When Lewis Carroll turns mawkish, he can make the most mawkish of Victorian poets (there were many such) blush. But that is not the worst: the poems are not merely mawkish, they are deeply respectable. They express a disembodied affection for children, they are fully satisfactory to Mrs Grundy, and the only way to save them for literature is to read them as Aesopic protections, the Carrollian equivalent of the preface to Lolita ascribed to JohnRay Jr. Except it is not so easy to read irony into those texts, which strike me as deeply serious. The difference with the other poems inserted in the tale or with The Hunting of the Snark makes one wonder at the extent to which the schizophrenic separation between Carroll and Dodgson was pursued. In short, this first narrator is limited to the paratext, absent from the text proper. Which means that there is another narratorial level.

  • 4 L. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Harmondworth, Penguin Popular Classics, 1994, p. 13.
  • 5 Ibidem, p. 19.
  • 6 Ibid., p. 13.

11Accordingly, my next, and fourth level, is the level of the second, intratextual, narrator. This narrator does not have a name, but he addresses the reader as “you” in the text (although he fails to say “I”: “for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom4”). He it is that looks fondly on Alice, comments on her actions, quotes her, indulges in puns, like the celebrated pun on “curious” (“for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people5”: a “curious” trait she obviously shares with her author and admirer). And as we know those comments sometimes have sinister overtones, like the equally celebrated parenthesis, “(which was very likely true)6”, uttered when Alice rejoices at not being hurt after her fall, and utters the unconsciously ambiguous sentence: “Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” The essential characteristic of this second narrator is the quality of the gaze he directs at the child, a gaze both critical and fond, the gaze of the lover who is totally charmed by his beloved and, at the same time, entirely aware of her slightest shortcomings. The episode of Alice’s curl, which I have quoted more than once, is essential to this picture, even if at that point in the text, that is in the last page, it is not ascribed directly to the narrator (the almost explicit intensity of the affect probably forbids it), but to Alice’s sister, as she thinks fondly of the future. I have used the word “fond” twice: this fondness is the vector of desire, it allows it to circulate in the text, along the gaze that turns Alice into a love object. It is not part of the nonsense, but it allows it to emerge, at the next level, the level of the characters, and it introduces it.

12So my fifth and last level is the level of the intratextual world of the characters, the level of the third person pronouns. And I must note here that this level contains not only the object of desire, the little girl, but various representatives of the gazing narrator, some indirect (like the White Knight) and some explicit like the Dodo, that extinct bird who embodies Dodgson’s stammer. The presence of an almost explicit representative of the author-narrator in the world of fictional characters makes the metaleptic chain both uninterrupted and coherent. This fifth level is of course the world of nonsense, which escapes Victorian bons sentiments, and has allowed the text successfully to pass the test of time. And, in this world, desire freely circulates: it is freely expressed in a series of metonymic displacements.

13And this is my hypothesis in this paper. The intersubjective chain (which goes, according to the ALTER model, from author to reader, taking in the various narrators and the characters) is the plane of immanence for desire to circulate. And desire there is indeed at the five levels. At the first level, desire is both direct and ineffable, and therefore cannot circulate as such, except in the construction of a metaleptic chain, which is the task of the authorial pen-bearer. At the second level, the fictional author, desire is effable, but no longer direct, and can only be expressed through abstraction and sublimation, through the creation of a complex and multi-layered fictional world. At level three, where we find the first narrator, desire is denied, transformed into a sexless “love for children”, that is into social conventions of the sort Mrs Grundy approves, and highly moral bons sentiments of a nauseating kind—whereby it appears that the overtly respectable narrator is, like the paedophile, a social construction: it is in fact its perfect converse. At level four, the level of the second narrator’s gaze, desire is allowed because it is framed: the interpersonal relation, a mixture of fondness and lucidity turns the desiring subject into an etymological theorist. At level five, the level of the narrated fictional world, desire proliferates, at the cost of a tropic displacement. But there is freedom beneath the tropes. I must now describe this situation.

The circulation of desire in Alice

  • 7 Ibid., p. 147.

14There are moments of desire in the text. I shall start with the most explicit, the scene of the gaze. I have already evoked the episode of the curl (“she could hear the very tones of her voice, and see that queer little toss of her head to keep back the wandering hair that would always get into her eyes7”): a fine instance of amorous crystallisation, with the insistence on the reality of the vision (“the very tones of her voice”), and the emotional vocabulary of personal affection (“that queer little toss of her head”: the first three words are markers of emotional intensity). The fact that the vision is ascribed to Alice’s sister makes her another avatar of the metaleptic chain, a sort of third narrator, or rather onlooker.

15The second moment is a scene of seduction. It is the inverse of the scene of the curl: not a scene of love, but of direct and brutal desire: a scene of incipient paedophilia between a horrible adult and an innocent child. We all remember the Ugly Duchess:

  • 8 Ibid., p. 106.

Alice did not much like keeping so close to her: first, because the Duchess was very ugly; and secondly, because she was exactly the right height to rest her chin upon Alice’s shoulder, and it was an uncomfortably sharp chin. However, she did not like to be rude, so she bore it all as well as she could8.

  • 9 Ibid., p. 108.
  • 10 Ibid., p. 109.

16Alice is in the position of the potential object of violence, who fails to understand the adult’s behaviour, but feels uncomfortable at it. But we mustn’t exaggerate: Alice is more indifferent than really troubled, even if at the end of the scene, she answers the Duchess “sharply” (is this a reflection of the sharpness of the Duchess’s chin?) because she is “worried9”. But she pursues her train of thought, paying little attention to the Duchess’s emphatic agreement with everything she says, even if it is idiotic. The Duchess knows that flattery paves the road for seduction. The implicit, or subdued, violence of the scene becomes explicit at the end, when the Duchess, a smaller predator, is confronted with the Queen and hurriedly leaves the field (“But here, to Alice’s great surprise [...] the arm that was linked into hers began to tremble. Alice looked up, and there stood the Queen in front of them, with her arms folded, frowning like a thunderstorm10”). And we note that the Duchess’s attempt at seduction is not only made through body and body language (the chin and the arm are the main weapons) but through language proper. For the scene I have just quoted provides the narrative context for the Duchess’s famously unintelligible sentence, whose blurred a-grammaticality is usually taken as an example of pure nonsense. Indeed, saying meaningless nothings to the beloved object, talking nonsense to her is part and parcel of the seduction process.

17These two moments, or scenes, are direct scenes of desire: there is little tropicity or sublimation here. But desire circulates through other scenes by a tropic movement. Such scenes do not exemplify all the characteristics of desire I have formulated, but contain some of them. The most obvious are scenes of metamorphosis and corporeal transformation. Such scenes have been duly interpreted (and in some cases over-interpreted) by Freudian critics, so I need not go any further. I do not think that saying the rather rapid growing of Alice’s body turns her into an erect penis really helps, but it is clear that such scenes, where Alice’s identity is questioned, are metonymies for scenes of sexual desire, in so far as they exemplify one of my characteristics of desire: that it involves the body. This involvement of the body, incidentally, need not be exclusively sexual: we are dealing with bodily mixtures, which can be accounted for in terms of assemblages, as we shall see.

18The same applies to scenes involving food: for is not ingestion the outward manifestation of introjection? Traditionally, the craving for food (as in the childish dreams of gorging oneself with illicit fruit) is the form desire takes where children are concerned: sugar and spice and all that’s nice are what little girls desire. And we note that scenes involving food in Alice are notoriously strange: they tend to be scenes of frustration, where the prospective eater fails to partake; they are scenes of at least potential danger, as phials containing appetising liquids may be marked “poison”; and they are scenes of unnatural personal relationships: I am alluding, of course, to the banquet scene at the end of Through the Looking-Glass, where you are not allowed to cut the joint because you have just been introduced to it.

19We find another metonymy of the interpersonal aspect of desire in scenes of verbal battle, of agon. These always correspond to moments when desire is expressed (even if it undergoes a process of tropic translation), frustrated, exhausted. Typical of this is the riddle without a solution, where a metonym of desire, the reader’s desire to know the meaning of the tale, is duly, and definitively frustrated. So the reader experiences the same sort of frustration as the dreamer whose erotic dream refuses to come to a conclusion (which is also a climax) and ends in disappointing awakening. Or, the refusal of meaning as a form of coitus interruptus or rather the reverse, since what I am suggesting is that the tropic displacement does not operate necessarily from sexual desire to a sublimated substitute, but from a more general form of desire to its various embodiments.

  • 11 Ibid., p. 99.

20This is why games are also scenes involving desire: the body is again involved (in the Alice books, even the most intellectual of games, chess, becomes incarnated, the site for the encounter and transfiguration of living bodies). And we find the same mixture of elation, intensity of affect, and dream-like frustration. As is well- known, Carroll, in his game-scenes, combines ludus, where the expectations created by the constraints of the rules are duly frustrated, and paidia, a merry because childish dismantling or dissolution of rules. The game of croquet is the archetype of such Carrollian games: everything, if we wish to keep to the rule book, goes wrong, and “Alice soon came to the conclusion that it was a very difficult game indeed11”. And yet, the account of the game she gives the Cheshire Cat, although given “in a complaining tone” demonstrates that, even if unruly, the game is not without its interest:

  • 12 Ibid., p. 100-101.

“I don’t think they play at all fairly,” Alice began, in rather a complaining tone, “and they all quarrel so dreadfully one can’t hear oneself speak—and they don’t seem to have any rules in particular; at least, if there are, nobody attends to them— and you’ve no idea how confusing it is all the things being alive; for instance, there’s the arch I’ve got to go through next walking about at the other end of the ground— and I should have croqueted the Queen’s hedgehog just now, only it ran away when it saw mine coming12”.

21It is not impossible to read this passage as the exposition of the Carrollian theory of desire: it involves bodies, it circulates in the most literal sense (in the guise of wandering hedgehogs), and it causes the subject to engage in inter­subjective relationships, not only with other persons, like the Cat, but with so called “things”, which are very much alive. Games, therefore, are to be taken not only as sites for the deployment of desire (which makes them metonyms of desire), but as metaphors of desire: the Carrollian hedgehog, or flamingo, or playing card, is an incarnation of desire.

22The same could be said of scenes of trials and allusions to death. I am not the first to have noticed that in the Queen’s threat, “Off with his/her head!” the acme of violence and danger also announces a form of climax (the metaphor of la petite mort being well nigh universal). The link between desire, death and the encounter with the Real is well established in the Freudian tradition. But what is striking, I think, in the Alice books, is that such link is taken lightly: for the Queen is as ineffectual as she is violent, and no head is ever cut off. Perhaps because desire circulates in a positive manner, that is one unaffected by the finality of death. So that the best instance of the circulation of desire is yet to come.

  • 13 J.-J. Lecercle & D. Riley, The Flesh of Words: A New Philosophy of Language, Basingstoke, Palgrave (...)
  • 14 G. Deleuze, Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969.

23I am alluding, of course, to episodes of linguistic nonsense. For in such games with language, and instances of play with words, the inter-subjective element of desire is exemplarily exemplified. This is too well known to need development, except perhaps to note that there is a philosophy of language implicit behind this nexus between desire and language that I seek to establish. For it does not merely mean that language is an inter-subjective phenomenon, that if anything circulates, it is precisely language. It also suggests that language so conceived is embodied, that it involves the clashing and the unholy mixing of bodies. It suggests, therefore, that language is not merely an instrument of information and communication, nor a mental organ, but a praxis, a social relationship in which meaning is created as a circulation of thought, an affect, a strange mixture of the corporeal and the mental. Such a philosophy of language, which I intend explicitly to defend in my next books13, has its origin in Deleuze’s Logique du sens14.

24As a conclusion to this section, I would like to insist, contrary to the critical doxa (to which I have myself contributed), on the joyous character of this Carrollian circulation of desire. Frustration, tears and sour jokes about death there are in the text (as in all children’s tales, especially at that time), but my overall impression, in re-reading the text for the umpteenth time, is of the altogether pleasing nature of the experience. Thus, food is frustrating and dangerous: it can indeed be poisonous. But this is how Alice views the matter (with entirely positive consequences):

  • 15 L. Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, op. cit., p. 17-18.

It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. “No, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not”; for she had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long, and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison”, it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.
However, the bottle was not marked “poison”, so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off15.

25The experience is all the more positive, of course, that it is explicitly contrasted, through parody, with the awful experiences of heroes of terroristic cautionary tales, such as Struwwelpeter. What I need to understand the Alice books, therefore, is a positive concept of desire, one that is not predicated on lack and frustration.

Deleuze’s desire

  • 16 G. Deleuze & C. Parnet, Abécédaire, Paris, Éditions du Montparnasse, 1997.

26In Abécédaire16, the series of interviews that Deleuze, shortly before his death, gave Claire Parnet, there is a section jokingly entitled “D is for Deleuze”, and immediately re-entitled “D is for Desire”. The pretext for this change is an encyclopaedia entry that introduces Deleuze as a “philosopher of desire”. The object of the section is a justification by Deleuze of the main positions of Anti-Oedipus, in the course of which he gives an account of his concept of desire.

27Deleuze wants to distance himself from the usual definitions of desire in so far as they are too abstract, as they proceed by the extraction of an object of desire (for a subject). His point is that one does not desire an object, but a multiplicity; that one desires within a multiplicity, un ensemble (a set). You do not desire a woman, he claims, without desiring the landscape enveloped in her (the Leibnizian metaphor is his), that is a multiplicity, woman-plus-landscape, what he calls “a context of life”.

  • 17 On the theory of assemblages in Deleuze, see J.-J. Lecercle, Deleuze on Language, Basingstoke, Pal (...)

28A second characteristic of desire derives from the first. Desire, he claims “flows within an assemblage”—he puts forward a constructivist theory of desire. To desire is to construct. And what one constructs are machines and assemblages. Hence the dual nature of Deleuzean assemblages, both Machinic Assemblages of Desire and Collective Assemblages of Enunciation17.

29The justification of Anti-Oedipus concerns Deleuze and Guattari’s opposition to psychoanalysis. There are three points on which, Deleuze says, he will not give in: 1) the unconscious is a machine, not a theatre; 2) delirium (délire), which is linked to desire, has nothing to do with the Oedipal triangle—its object is history, or the world: delirium is both geographical and political; 3) desire is multi-factorial, it is not necessarily predicated on sexuality. Hence the collective character of desire: there is no more desiring individual subject than there is desired individual object. And the assemblage within which one desires has four components: states of affairs, utterances (both processes of utterance and their results in discourses), territories, and processes of de- and re-territorialisation.

30The question of course is: to what extent does this concept of desire help us to read and understand the Alice books? And the answer is: it enables the critic, at least this critic, to understand the characteristics of desire that I have exemplified within the text (the creation of inter-subjective relationships and the interpellation of subjects, the involvement of the body, the circulation of a positive and joyous form of desiring affect). Hence, as a conclusion, five brief points.

31First point: desire in Alice has nothing paedophilic about it, in so far as the little girl is not an object of desire. The desire that circulates in the text concerns an assemblage (the Caucus race is a fine figure of a Deleuzean assemblage; or the boating party on the Isis).

  • 18 On the Deleuzean concept of haeccity, or haecceity, see J.-J. Lecercle, Deleuze and Language, op. (...)

32Second point: the result of the construction of an assemblage of desire is the interpellation not of two subjects (lover and beloved) but of a multiplicity. The metaleptic chain, where subjectivity is distributed on a gradient that begins with Charles Dodgson and finishes with the Dodo, is a fine figure of a multiplicity. What emerges as elements of the multiplicity, of the metaleptic chain, are not so much subjects as singularities that are pre-individual, impersonal and a-subjective, what Deleuze calls “haeccities18”: a perfect day in July (in actual life it rained), an encounter with a Cheshire Cat, a game of croquet.

33Third point: this assemblage is what Deleuze calls a “machinic assemblage of desire”. The Carrollian chessboard with its many idiosyncrasies, is a fine figure of a machinic assemblage (remember it literally involves trains). Desire in nonsense is always nonsensical, it involves the same kind of constructions as a Heath Robinson picture. Corporeal transformations are only the symptoms of the presence of such machinic assemblages.

34Fourth point: an assemblage is always dual; it is not only an assemblage of machines, but always also an assemblage of enunciation. Which means that desire circulates not as direct affect, but as words, the words of nonsense (the Duchess’s sentence is a typical example of the productions of such an assemblage; and remember it is explicitly part of a machinic assemblage of desire). And the words of nonsense are not immaterial conveyors of information, they are material, they emerge in the midst of the things that they denote. So the slogan, for instance “Off with her head!” is a typical utterance within a collective assem­blage of enunciation. It is the Carrollian equivalent of Melville’s “I would prefer not to”.

35Fifth point: and of course the tale is the site of a constant process of de- and re-territorialisation, to the point that such processes are par excellence the theme of the text. The main question in Alice is how to enter the garden, how to find one’s place at the tea-table (“No room! No room!”, they all exclaim when Alice appears), how to cross from one chapter, or one square, to another (sometimes one does it by railway). In other words the question is: how to find one’s rightful pace in the community one has just entered. Hence the two contrasted critical accounts of the tale (briefly: Rackin vs. Kincaid): either the Queen’s oppressive state apparatus against the nomadism of the child (this is Rackin’s gloomy reading of the tale), or the oppressive state apparatus of Victorian conventions, incarnated by Alice, against the nomadism of the characters of nonsense, including the Queen (this is the less gloomy, and more original interpretation by Kincaid). I must say, and I shall end on this note of self-criticism, that the more I read the text (always with the same pleasure), the more I sympathise with an account of the world of nonsense as a world of liberation and joyous circulation of desire.


1 J.-J. Lecercle, “Un amour d’enfant”, in J.-J. Lecercle, ed., Alice, Paris, Autrement, 1998, p. 7-48.

2 G. Genette, Figures III, Paris, Seuil, 1972, p. 243 sqq.

3 J.-J. Lecercle, Interpretation as Pragmatics, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1999. J.-J. Lecercle & R. Shusterman, L’Emprise des signes, Paris, Seuil, 2002.

4 L. Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Harmondworth, Penguin Popular Classics, 1994, p. 13.

5 Ibidem, p. 19.

6 Ibid., p. 13.

7 Ibid., p. 147.

8 Ibid., p. 106.

9 Ibid., p. 108.

10 Ibid., p. 109.

11 Ibid., p. 99.

12 Ibid., p. 100-101.

13 J.-J. Lecercle & D. Riley, The Flesh of Words: A New Philosophy of Language, Basingstoke, Palgrave, to be published; J.-J. Lecercle, Pour une philosophie marxiste du langage: “Chirac est un ver”, Paris, PUF, to be published.

14 G. Deleuze, Logique du sens, Paris, Minuit, 1969.

15 L. Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, op. cit., p. 17-18.

16 G. Deleuze & C. Parnet, Abécédaire, Paris, Éditions du Montparnasse, 1997.

17 On the theory of assemblages in Deleuze, see J.-J. Lecercle, Deleuze on Language, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2002, chap. 5.

18 On the Deleuzean concept of haeccity, or haecceity, see J.-J. Lecercle, Deleuze and Language, op. cit., p. 93.


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