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Department of English, NTNU


By adopting an experimental approach to observe his society in mutation, Zola seeks to conceptualize the status of “homme modern” by enquiring into an inner motive (milieu intérieur) that puts into question critical analysis. This inner motive involves an alterity in the dynamic construction of modern subjectivity. We take La Bête humaine as an example by which to approach Zola’s concept of an inner motive, and we enquire into the notion of “limit” in Deleuze’s interpretation of Zola. In his preface entitled “Zola et la fêlure” (Logique 373), which is dedicated to Zola’s La Bête humaine, Deleuze explains that the term “instinct” actually refers to the immobility that perpetuates a given way of life, or a given mode of being that combines desire, life, labor and language. Deleuze then describes the fracture of modernity as a “cerebral void” that functions as a transmitter between the modes of seeing and speaking. We consider how Deleuze’s reading alters our understanding of Zola’s view of modern man in the 19th century in regard to his ethical relation with himself and with others. We argue that for Zola, the fracture is actually a passage leading to force in the matter (la puissance dans la matière), which is the very structuring force of Life. This fracture should be conceived more in terms of a limit, in which modern man is pushed to confront the alterity (or unknown nature) within himself.