If literary criticism is defined simply as the study of works of literature, then Deleuze’s Proust and Signs (1964) and his Presentation of Sacher-Masoch (1967), an extended introduction to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel Venus in Furs, would be classified as works of literary criticism. If, however, literary criticism is concerned primarily with the analysis of such things as plot, characterization, theme and style, then these studies must be assigned to another category. Although Deleuze touches on traditional literary questions in these works, his primary concern in each case is to delineate the system of thought that informs the corpus of each author’s works. In his study of Proust, Deleuze shows that Proust’s remarks on art and essences in the final volume of A la recherche du temps perdu provide the key to the interpretation of the Recherche as a whole, and reveal Proust to be a kind of anti-philosophical idealist for whom the central activity of thought is the interpretation of signs.1 In his examination of Sacher-Masoch, Deleuze tries to revive the reputation of Sacher-Masoch, a celebrated and prolific novelist of the 1870s and 1880s now remembered only as the eponymous exemplar of masochism, by demonstrating that Sacher-Masoch is an astute psychologist and a profound thinker whose works, along with those of the Marquis de Sade, articulate a perverse idealism aimed at a subversion of the Kantian conception of law. Clearly Deleuze regards Proust and Sacher-Masoch as Nietzschean philosopherartists who make of thought and creation the exploration of new possibilities of life. Deleuze’s reading of Proust holds an important place in Proustian criticism, and his study of Sacher-Masoch and masochism is highly suggestive from both a psychoanalytic and a critical perspective.2 But what is perhaps most significant about both analyses is Deleuze’s demonstration of the
way in which writers can reconfigure the relationship between literature and philosophy.