Deleuze: Some Common Misunderstandings

To carry on the general theme of the last post, I thought I’d list in brief a few other common misunderstandings that I have encountered a number of times in Deleuze scholarship. These are my pet peeves.

1. Deleuze is not a transcendental philosopher

A lot of people do a double take when I mention this one, but its very true. Deleuze is indeed a transcendental empiricist, but the sense of transcendental here is different. There are really two different senses of the transcendental, a methodological sense (hence ‘transcendental philosopher’) and a more ontological sense (e.g. the ‘transcendental field’). To pursue a transcendental methodology is to inquire after conditions of possibility. Traditionally this is the Kantian project of the conditions of the possibility of experience, but there can be different objects of transcendental enquiry. The ontological sense refers to the conditions themselves, for instance, Kant’s categories, his pure forms of intuition, and the rest of his transcendental apparatus. These two senses neatly overlap in Kant, because what is sort in a transcendental enquiry is the transcendental conditions (conditions of possibility).

Deleuze’s method (insofar as he has a method) is certainly not that of searching for conditions of possibility. The sense of transcendental in transcendental empiricism is the ontological sense referring to the conditions themselves. However, precisely the innovation that Deleuze takes himself to have over Kant is his transposing of these conditions from conditions of possible experience to conditions of real experience. The transcendental in Deleuze is just the virtual. The conditions of real experience cannot be uncovered in a methodologically transcendental way, because they are purely specific to the situation in which they are actualised. They are the real factors governing the genesis of a certain state of affairs, rather than the general forms in terms of which any state of affairs is thinkable. One might then argue that it is not the specific make up of the virtual, but the structure of virtuality as such which is uncovered in transcendental enquiry. This is a far more sensible claim, but I cannot find any evidence for it. Insofar as Deleuze has an argument for the necessity of the virtual (or any other aspect of his metaphysical system), he does not explicitly deploy a transcendental argument for it. Ultimately, it is this form of argumentation that makes a philosopher ‘transcendental’, rather than sharing a certain subject matter (experience) and terms for discussing it with Kant.

2. The Concept is Not the Idea

This one crops up everywhere. I even recently found it in an otherwise very interesting piece on Deleuze by Laruelle (kindly translated by Taylor Adkins for Pli). The confusion is to a certain extent understandable, because the terms ‘concept’ and ‘idea’ play shifting roles in Deleuze’s work. For instance, in Difference and Repetition (D&R), he seemingly opposes the Idea to the concept (with such marvellous phrases as a lack in the concept is an excess in the Idea), rejecting talk of concepts altogether. There are obviously other non-technical uses of the term ‘concept’ (such as talking about A Thousand Plateaus (ATP) as a conceptual toolkit), but the term is only resurrected in a technical fashion in What is Philosophy? (WIP). It is then hard to place the exact role that it plays in relation to the metaphysics constructed in his early work (and rephrased and tinkered with in his work with Guattari and The Fold), because WIP is not explicitly a metaphysical book. It deploys much of Deleuze’s metaphysics (indeed, abandoning a lot of the hybrid Deleuzo-Guattarian terminology in favor of earlier concepts such as ‘Idea’ and ‘Event’), but does not really comment upon it.

Given this exegetical problem of where to situate the concept in relation to Deleuze’s metaphysical system, and the difficulties incurred by the less than explicit role that system plays in WIP, many interpreters try to place it within Deleuze’s metaphysics, identifying the concept with the Idea in D&R (or with the event in the Logic of Sense (LOS)), as if Deleuze had indeed been giving a theory of concepts all along, but used the term Idea to emphasize his break with previous accounts of the conceptual. What this approach does is to equate the concept with the virtual structures underlying the production of actual things. This is a truly maddening prospect, as it makes Deleuze into something like Hegel: the real intelligible structures underlying the genesis of the actual are just the structures of thought (this is objective, not subjective idealism). Moreover, it violates the principle of univocity, because it essentially conveys an ontological privilege on those beings (namely, us) who can think conceptually, i.e., it gives us some kind of special access to the real intelligible structures underlying the production of things.

I suppose what I find most galling about this interpretation is not just that it violates the principle of univocity (not everyone thinks this is as important for Deleuze as I do, c.f., the previous post), but rather that it blatantly contradicts the most famous thesis of WIP, what could even be thought of as its catch phrase: Philosophy is concept creation. Concepts are created! (By us, no less) How then can they be the real intelligible structures that already underlie the production of things? These claims together make about as much sense as a lactose intolerant lampost. Beyond these obvious contradictions, there is plenty of other textual evidence that the concept is not the idea. For instance, the claim at the beginning of the chapter on concepts, that concepts are multiplicities, but not all multiplicities are concepts. There is also the fact that the terms of ‘Idea’ and ‘event’ makes an appearance at several points in the book, as distinct from ‘concept’, and indeed, they turn up in the explanation of what concepts are.

What is the correct way to think about concepts? Well that is a whole post (if not a paper, if not a book) in itself. However, a brief sketch can be made. The best way Deleuze explains them is in terms of their function: they capture events. Notably, this is not a matter of corresponding to, or representing events/Ideas. Whatever this relation of capturing is however, it needs to be understood as not something ontologically special, lest it give us conceptual beings a backdoor ontological privilege. Nevertheless, concepts need to be understood as something which is specific to us, not something that rabbits, doorknobs and weather systems create and deploy.

In brief, I believe that the more general ontological mechanism of which capturing is what Deleuze would call counter-actualisation. I should point out here that perhaps even more people who take the concept and the Idea to be equivalent take counter-actualisation to be something unique to us (or at least non-ubiquitous); this is a more forgivable interpretative error, but I still believe it is an error. An example of non-human counter-actualisation is the way in which species adapt to develop sensitivity to salient features of their environment, for instance, the way in which a small mammals can adapt to respond to and avoid brightly coloured (poisonous) snakes. I take this to be a case where the population of small mammals, which is a larger scale process (a population dynamic), counter-actualises the Idea or event which is immanent within the population of snakes. The individual creatures produced by the population dynamic thus acquire a certain discriminatory response based on the genuine virtualities of snakes. Conceptual counter-actualisation is just a far more powerful (that is adaptive) version of the same ontological process, and this adaptive power is provided by the specific way it is structured.

What about the specifics then? Again, in brief, it is important to recognise that concepts are virtual multiplicites, even if not all multiplicities are concepts. This means that concepts are neither actual, nor are they processes of production of actual states of affairs. Rather they are virtual forms which insist (immanently) within processes of production, which are thus actualised in actual states of affairs. I think there is an interesting way of interpreting this, which, although I think it definitely stretches Deleuze’s account beyond what he intended, best handles the subject matter itself. This is to claim that concepts are the virtual forms governing reasoning. The actual states of affairs produced are the concrete instances of asserting, inferring and arguing, and the processes of production in which the forms insist are the wider distributed social interactions consisting in the use of the concept, which through both implicit and explicit reciprocal correction maintain the stability of the concepts usage (as well as allowing it to adapt).

This promises a kind of bizarre synthesis between Deleuze and Brandom, which for the moment can remain only a promise (and I think it definitely goes beyond Deleuze’s own conception, although taking what I think is good about it). The interesting thing about thinking of concepts in these virtual terms is that you get something slightly different from Conceptual Role Semantics, which only treats concepts in terms of how they can and must be used. Although the ‘can’ and ‘must’ here are obviously normative (one can use a concept incorrectly if one wants) we can basically assume that it is only through using the concept correctly that anything can be achieved. As such, we can see CRS as thinking of concepts in terms of their possibilities for use, or even, their capacities. What this Deleuzian alternative allows is for us to think of not only the capacities of concepts, but also of their tendencies. This allows for a similarly bizarre Deleuzo-Brandomian slogan: the space of reasons is a phase space (with all of the interesting topological terrain that implies (attractors and all)). If this seems too out there for you, think of a phrase we often use in an argumentative context: ‘slippery slope’. This is used in cases where there is indeed a range of possible positions between two or more stable points (think of ethical debates about when a foetus counts as a person), but there is a marked pressure on anyone occupying the unstable ground in between to tend towards the stable points (It is possible to claim that a foetus counts as a person at precisely 17.4573 weeks, but it is not easily occupied). This is just a very simple description of the virtual terrain of a certain kind of argument, as produced by the concepts involved.

3. Deleuze is a Panpsychist

This doesn’t take the form of a ‘Deleuze is not…’ statement, but it is a oft overlooked, or misunderstood point. It also follows fairly well from the last point, as it picks out another possible motivation for the interpretation I argued against there. The salient point is the fact that the term ‘thought’ in Deleuze is quite ambiguous, and used in several distinct senses (even just in D&R). The passages which cause the most confusion are those on the faculties in D&R, and the chapter ‘Repetition for Itself’ in the same book. These tend to encourage a reading of Deleuze as giving an account of subjectivity, where subjectivity (or the psychic) is some special kind of being, as distinct from say the biological, the chemical, or the physical. I think particularly of Ray Brassier’s reading of Deleuze in Nihil Unbound (and the slightly altered treatment in his article in Pli), along with the interpretation I’ve heard from Christian Kerslake before. I think that it is the sheer number of influences, interlocutors, and goals that Deleuze pursues in D&R which produces this interpretative pitfall. I won’t excuse Deleuze’s unclarity of expression here (or indeed elsewhere) as I have been tortured by it enough myself. Nonetheless, I think that it is possible, and indeed, in light of the principle of univocity, obligatory to read Deleuze’s use of ‘thought’ as having three distinct senses: two interrelated ontological senses, and one casual sense (which is then made less casual by WIP). These are as follows:-

i) Contemplation: This is the basic building block of Deleuze’s panpsychism, and its something he shares with Whitehead, who called it prehension. Everything contemplates its environment insofar as it stabilises itself in relation to it. This deserves to be called thought insofar as it is problem solving. In this sense, everything solves problems: a beating heart is a process which keeps blood flowing in a body, but it is sensitive to a whole range of factors in doing so, these factors making up the elements of the virtual ‘problem’ it solves with each beat. Even a seemingly inert lump of steel is composed by a complex process of distributing heat through its fine-grained molecular structure.

ii) The Thinking within Thought: Deleuze talks about this in relation to Heidegger’s book What is Called Thinking?, and there is indeed connection there (and to his own Cinema books, with the concept of the shock to thought), but this should not be seen as indicating a Heideggerian antropocentrism, wherein only some beings (Dasein) can truly think (even if they might not be on Heidegger’s lights). If contemplation is stabilisation in relation to one’s environment, then the thinking within thought is adaptation in relation to one’s environment. When Deleuze says that such thinking can only ever be forced, what he indicates is that it is through disrupting the ordinary processes of contemplation that those processes may be forced to change and adapt (or die, as is the two-sided character of death in Deleuze’s third synthesis of time). Just as everything contemplates, all contemplation is a stable thinking which is produced out of a radical creative thinking. These first two senses of thought are simply two sides of the same coin: one is former is produced out of the latter and the latter is occurs from within the former.

iii) Human Thought: This is just the casual sense of thought that most philosopher’s, including Deleuze at times, use without thinking. It is not ontologically laden, nor should we take it to be. But if we confuse it with the previous senses (which Deleuze’s unclear expression can invite us to) then we end up taking what is merely one form of thought among others (the thought of humans as opposed to that of galaxies, population dynamics, etc.) as being the only genuine kind of thought. This is further complicated by the fact that at the same time that Deleuze is engaged in pure ontology (in working out the three syntheses of time) he is also engaging in debates with psychoanalysis. The three syntheses of time should be taken as applying to everything equally, even though psychoanalysis proper does not claim to apply its concepts to the whole myriad of entities. The crucial point is that if the syntheses apply equally to all beings, then they very well apply to humans, and thus they can provide insight into psychoanalytic debates. Ideally, this is how it would occur, rather than in the heavily intertwined way that Deleuze takes. Some (such as Brassier and Kerslake) have argued that Deleuze’s claim that the third synthesis is the properly psychic synthesis entails that it is only a certain kind of entity, namely, psychic (read human) beings that go through it. Not only does this ignore univocity, but it also ignores the abundant textual evidence that the third synthesis (the eternal return) is equated with Being as such (this is prominent at several points in LOS).

As point (2) was meant to show, Deleuze domesticates this third casual sense of thought by providing an account of how specifically human (or more specifically, discursive) thought occurs. Ultimately, in Deleuze’s metaphysics, the term thought only plays two roles, and those are the ontological roles of (i) and (ii) above, which, as noted, are two sides of the same coin.

Ultimately, Deleuze’s position can be stated fairly succinctly: Thought is problem solving. Problem solving is the actualisation of the virtual. In this sense, every being thinks, or rather consists in thinking. Thus, Being and thought are identical. However, this is different to Hegel’s identity of Being and thought. There is no particular structure of thought (i.e. that of the concept) which is taken to be the structure of Being. It is simply the case that to be is to think.

One can see how getting confused about these points could lead one into treating Deleuze as an idealist (as Brassier does, indeed as a ‘biological idealist’), indeed how well such a misunderstanding fits with the identification of the concept and the Idea argued against in (2).

4. The Event in Deleuze and the Event in Badiou are Incomparible

I’ll keep this one brief, as I really need sleep, but here is the gist of it: the event in Deleuze and the event in Badiou do not play the same role in their two systems, to the point at which the fact that the same word is used is effectively contingent. This particular misunderstanding drives me up the wall, because any discussion of the relation between Deleuze and Badiou inevitably seems to focus on comparing their respective conceptions of the event. Badiou has even written a piece on this directly, which I find quite disingenuous, insofar as it finds Deleuze’s conception of the event lacking in relation to a set of criteria it is not meant to meet.

Nonsense/Intensity/Difference-in-Itself/Noumenon/Object=x, these are terms that pick out that which, in Deleuze’s system, plays the same role as the event in Badiou. Nonsense is a disruption. It is precisely what produces what we earlier called the ‘thinking within thought’, or what forces processes to change and adapt. It is unpredictable by definition. It is a point of excess.

This is where the debate between Deleuze and Badiou is to be had, and yet it seems that Deleuze is always made to fight with one hand tied behind his back. Interestingly, if one conducts the debate on these terms, Deleuze’s notion of Nonsense has at least one obvious advantage over Badiou’s notion of Event. This is that, for Deleuze, Nonsense is everywhere. There are disruptions on all spatio-temporal scales, in all kinds of processes. Whereas, as many commentators have pointed out, the only disruptions that occur in Badiou’s system are those that are indexed to human thought: revolutions in politics, art, science and love. But a supernova is not an event, even if it wipes out all life on earth.

There are probably more of these misunderstandings to discuss, but for now I must sleep. This is the most I’ve written about Deleuze for a few years, and its obviously been building up inside me in that time. I will be back soon with something on Brandom or Badiou (for real this time). I think I’ve figured out a way to add epistemic modals to Brandom’s incompatibility semantics. We will see.

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25 Responses to “Deleuze: Some Common Misunderstandings”

  1. I’ve come here from twitter.

    Very cool post. Well written, too.

  2. deontologistics Says:

    Thanks very much. I’m not too sure about the well written bit, but I’m glad someone finds this interesting. I’ll hopefully write a little something about Deleuze’s monism and the principle of sufficient reason at some point soon, though I appear to be a bad predictor of what I actually write about.

    Also, feel free to voice any disagreements. They are often very helpful.

  3. Like Glen I picked this up from twitter, interesting post – I think the reactiveness that appears with the unnecessary Badiou\Brassier references is really not necessary. Given Deleuze’s constuctivism the idealism does follow, but I do not think this matters, it’s certainly not a problem. Brassier’s claims for realism are a more tragic blind alley…

  4. deontologistics Says:

    I’m glad so many people are coming from Twitter, I had no idea I had been mentioned there. Thanks for dropping by.

    I didn’t mean to come across as reactionary, and if I did I must appologise. I have a great deal of respect for Ray, even if I strongly disagree with his interpretation. With regard to Badiou, I simply find it frustrating that the comparisons drawn between his and Deleuze’s positions seem to be drawn on the wrong terms (in a way which he seems to encourage to my mind). This does not mean that Deleuze must necessarily be proven right over Badiou, just that the choice between them should be presented in the right terms.

    As for idealism, I’m afraid I can’t disagree with you further. I honestly think that one can’t legitimately accuse Deleuze with idealism. His system might be inconsistent, it might not achieve what it sets out to achieve, it might have a multitude of internal problems, but one can’t accuse him of idealism.

    To respond to your argument more specifically, I would say that Deleuze’s constructivism is motivated by his metaphysics (a fact perhaps attested to by the chronology of his work, from D&R to Capitalism and Schizophrenia). His metaphysics precludes their being any single form or method of human discursive thought from having a privileged relation to the structure of reality, precisely because he precludes any kind of entity or process from having any such privileged relation. For Deleuze, human thought, just as everything else, is caught up in a process of adaptation without end or goal. It is for this reason that he advocates a sort of conceptual creation without bounds (or at least seems to at times).

    Of course, this leads to the question of the extent to which Deleuze thinks metaphysics itself is bound by the consequences of such constructivism. Deleuze does not cop out on this point, but admits that the metaphysics from which this constructivism follows is itself constructed, not deduced from some special ground. If Deleuze did not embrace this consequence he would undermine his position, by reintroducing some privileged mode or method of thinking (and thus necessarily of being as well).

    However, I see no good reason to take this to weaken the metaphysical conclusions he draws. This would be to demand that all metaphysical positions should underwrite their own necessity, and I see no reason to make such a demand.

  5. My point about idealism was really to say that it simply doesn’t matter. That frequentlly when the issue is raised, when the ‘accusation is made’ it is founded on a fundamental misunderstanding which cannot be corrected. However I would add that those who use the concept carelessly, as all those who argue that Deleuze is an idealist are, placing all idealisms as being in the most extreme form and rejecting the concept as such, simply misunderstand what is being said. There have been so many statements and restatements about Deleuze’s constructivism that it is unnecessary for me to add my own understanding to the line, but I have no objections to the metaphysical variant you produce.

  6. deontologistics Says:

    It seems that we are mostly on the same page, I just think that the challenge of idealism does matter. Claiming that Deleuze is an idealist does represent a fundamental misunderstanding of his work, precisely because it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of his metaphysics. It is thus very important to be make clear those features of his metaphysics which preclude any reading of him as a idealist, be it as an empirical idealist, transcendental idealist, or objective idealist. I happen to think that his panpsychism is the best place to make these features clear.

  7. Where we probably differ on this may be that I think it is more problematic to read Deleuze as a realist… or as I have come across occasionally as someone who fails because they are not a realist.

  8. [...] Deleuze: Some Common Misunderstandings [...]

  9. De: “The conditions of real experience cannot be uncovered in a methodologically transcendental way, because they are purely specific to the situation in which they are actualised.”

    Kvond: You do not see instructions on how to build a Body Without Organs to be transcendent of the “specific situation”? You do not see the reading of Spinoza’s Substance as one Great BwO, as transcendental/transcendent?

  10. deontologistics Says:

    I must be honest, and say that I find the concept of the BwO somewhat unhelpful, but I will do my best to respond.

    Firstly, it is of the utmost importance that we not confuse the terms transcendental and transcendent. There is of course a relation between them, but in order for the transcendental to have any proper significance it must be kept separate from the transcendent.

    Secondly, my point was that the virtual is not a homogeneous totality. It is ‘differentiated’ to use Deleuze’s own term. What this means is that we in trying to understand a particular situation, we are trying to grasp the specific virtualities which underlie its production, the capacities and tendencies of the various elements that are involved. It is not quite as straightforward as this, because indeed, the whole of the virtual is involved in the actualisation of each an every individual situation, but to say this is not to deny that there are some specific part of the virtual that correspond to and define the contours of it (I believe this is Hallward’s misreading). So for instance, in trying to understand the way in which an economy functions, we try to grasp the singularities underlying (or perhaps ‘on the surface of’) it, and those of the elements that compose it, but we are for the most part uninterested in the singularities underying the rapid promulgation of snails in my back garden (which is an unrelated situation, except in the sense in which every situation is in the limit related to every other).

    This does not deny that there are more or less general procedures that can be described, such as ‘making yourself a body without organs’. What enables such a generalised procedure is the fact that notions such as stability and adaptability are general ontological notions applicable to all entities in virtue of Deleuze’s process metaphysics. There can thus be a rough guide to ‘making oneself more adaptable’ (I understand this is a simple, and somewhat crude way of putting it). However, I think Deleuze would agree with me here in saying that these rough general guidelines cannot be applied without a grasp of the specific virtualities that one is involved with. Deleuze’s instructions for making oneself a BwO are precisely not applicable independently of being located in a given situation. One must always get ones hands dirty with the specifics of ones environment (this is where Hallward’s reading of Deleuze as an ascetic is just totally off).

    A final point though, I’m not entirely happy with the reading of Substance as a Great BwO. I really need to read Capitalism and Schizophrenia more thoroughly in order to justify this, but I can make the essential point that motivates my discomfort with this terminology (as opposed to ‘plane of immanence’). Precisely because there is the talk of particular entities as BwO, it tends to encourage a reading which would take Substance to be an entity, albeit an entity which is composed of the totality of other entities. Put another way, it sees it as a process composed of the totality of all other processes. This cannot be the case. For one, there is nothing that such a process would be stabilising itself in relation to. Thus, it could not have anything resembling conatus. Secondly, this would imply that it had an intelligible structure on par with beings (singularities, et. al.) which would undermine what in my earlier post I took to be Deleuze’s major innovation over Spinoza. One need not read it in this way, one can read in precisely the opposite way, as that which has precisely NO structure and thus cannot be an entity, can have no conatus, etc. This is the way it should be read, but as such, I would prefer simply to jettison the terminology of BwO and use something that isn’t shared with beings.

    • I know this is old, but I have stumbled upon such a wonderful post I can’t help but comment.

      With regards to your comment on the BwO, specifically that “great BwO” which can be read as “a process composed of the totality of all other processes,” I must question the conclusion that this reading is verboten. I really only take issue with your first warrant, that “there is nothing that such a process would be stabilising itself in relation to.” I understand that, as you have constructed the argument, stabilization and adaptation could be read as necessary features of thought. However, I would like to propose that perhaps stabilization could be thought of, in the case of the Whole, as a sort of internal relation. Of course, this might be precisely the mutant child of Hegel that Deleuze was so loathe to produce, that Deleuze was so quick to bury by announcing empiricism as an account of relations externalized, but perhaps this is one avenue into which Deleuze drives himself. And of course, this breaks everything, for suddenly there would be a being with privileged ontological status–and this status would consist in its being its own being-in-relation to which Deleuze’s account of stabilization and adaptation accord.

      • izak: I understand that, as you have constructed the argument, stabilization and adaptation could be read as necessary features of thought. However, I would like to propose that perhaps stabilization could be thought of, in the case of the Whole, as a sort of internal relation.

        Kvond: Indeed this internal reference is a big aspect of just what a BwO is, both as a thing (type), but even more so as a process. And Deleuze/Guattari of course make this point forcefully through many examples and by suggesting that everything might be best thought of as a BwO.

  11. De: “A final point though, I’m not entirely happy with the reading of Substance as a Great BwO. I really need to read Capitalism and Schizophrenia more thoroughly in order to justify this, but I can make the essential point that motivates my discomfort with this terminology (as opposed to ‘plane of immanence’)…I would prefer simply to jettison the terminology of BwO and use something that isn’t shared with beings.”

    Kvond: So, I am unclear. Are you interpreting Deleuze (and Guattari) or simply making up your own, improved version of them (correcting his/their mistakes)?

    (I don’t know if this is the case, but I have found that those who have read too much Difference and Rep, and not enough Deleuze/Spinoza, not enough Deleuze and Guattari have this tendency of correction through interpretation, especially on the question of the Body Without Organs – they simply don’t know what to do with it)

  12. deontologistics Says:

    I should have perhaps been clearer. I put forward a tentative interpretation of what is meant by a great BwO (which indicates precisely what I’ve been saying in my other post, i.e., that the totality cannot be understood as a being), but I also expressed my discomfort with the terminology of BwO, because it can encourage precisely the opposite reading.

    I do believe there needs to be a certain amount of revisionism when reading Deleuze, in order to make him as consistent as possible. This is the same attitude that Deleuze takes to Bergson in Bergsonism. However, much of this is about settling on a consistent set of terminology that avoids some of the potential confusions that Deleuze’s own terminology can sometimes engender.

  13. De: “However, much of this is about settling on a consistent set of terminology that avoids some of the potential confusions that Deleuze’s own terminology can sometimes engender.”

    Kvond: This is interesting of course, for it implies that Deleuze had no control or intention over the very mulitipicities (otherwise called “potential confusions”) in the choice of his terms. One has to clear-up what he meant, rather than explore the potentialities of what he meant. Put in brief, the Body Without Organs has to be properly given its Organs (or be done away with altogether).

    I’m not saying that such purging of the terminology is illegitimate as a Will to Power move over the man-thought Deleuze, for Deleuze even speaks of giving Kant the ass-baby he would never want. But I suppose one should know when there is ass-fucking and when there is not.

    Such clearing-things-up also of course involves working some rather sharp incisions on the surface of the philosophy. You, for instance, might feel that the Body Without Organs brings (cloudily) into view, obscuring what Deleuze *really* meant, while I might feel that the Body Without Organs is one of the more productive of his/their concepts, the one in which he (and Guattari) escape to the most thorough degree the Idealist tradition all the way down to Heidegger, indicating a praxis and methodology quite far from the binary conceptualisms of Presence that have weighed Continental Philosophy down. It would be hard to tell where the baby and the bathwater begin and end, or even which is which.

    Thanks for your blog though, I look forward to reading its considered thoughts. Forgive me if occasionally I resist or question some conclusions.

  14. deontologistics Says:

    I’m afraid I stand with those who take Deleuze to be a classical philosopher first and foremost (a metaphysician at that) and an unbounded experimenter in conceptual creation second. Everything flows from the metaphysics, and this means that we must grasp the properly systematic character of this metaphysics in order to truly understand the other aspects of his work (ethics/politics, aesthetics, philosophy of science, philosophy of philosophy etc.).

    If we are to grasp the metaphysics properly, we must do to Deleuze what he did to Bergson, and make his system more coherent than he himself ever managed. This means divesting Deleuze of his own rhetorical and political strategies and styles (most evidently at work in Capitalism and Schizophrenia). This shouldn’t be seen as giving a BwO its organs, but, to use a perhaps ill-advised Thousand Plateau reference, as more like the construction of a War Machine. If all we do is ‘explore the potentialities’ of what Deleuze means, insofar as that is opposed to systematic reconstruction, we will never give ourselves the resources to DO anything worthwhile with his work. As Spinoza himself understood, systematic understanding leads to the maximization of one’s power.

    Thanks for the comments, they are appreciated. I’ll be putting up a post to respond to your question about Heidegger shortly.

  15. So you separate out Deleuze’s strategies and rhetoric from his metaphysics. I suppose every wonderful philosopher becomes classroomed like this. I rather see no divergence. Deleuze is conducting his philosophy AS he is expousing it, like all great philosophers since Socrates, the form IS the content. It wasn’t that Deleuze wasn’t smart enough to be clearer. Its that being clearer would confuse what he was doing, or saying.

    As you say: “As Spinoza himself understood, systematic understanding leads to the maximization of one’s power.”

    Spinoza too understood that the form is to exemplify the content. And for Spinoza too, the text is meant as a causal pedagogy upon the mind of the reader. Spiinoza’s rhetoric matched, and enacted his message, as does Deleuze’s (in my opinion).

    But I look forward to your more geometrico Deleuze

  16. deontologistics Says:

    I do not entirely separate Deleuze’s rhetorical strategies from his metaphysics. The strategies Deleuze takes up in his work with Guattari are rooted in his metaphysics (just, as I’ve said to SDV above, his constructivist approach is rooted in it). Nonetheless, one must distinguish between the two. We must recognise that one is motivated by the other, but not necessarily necessitated by it.

    This is not to deny that there is something philosophically interesting and important about philosophical style. The form of expression can often indeed tell us important things about the content. I can entirely agree with your point about Spinoza, and there are similar lessons to be learned about many philosophers, including Wittgenstein and Heidegger for instance. However, there is indeed more to a philosopher than their style of exposition, and if this is the case then it must be amenable to different forms of expression.

    I think that a lot of people who are interested in Deleuze’s work need to admit the possibility of understanding Deleuze’s philosophy, and especially his metaphysics, in terms other than his own. Yes, there is also the danger that any particular attempt to do so will distort his philosophy, but this must be dealt with on a case by case basis, rather than through some blanket statement that Deleuzian philosophy is inseparable from a particular kind of style and/or terminology. I am entirely aware of this danger, and that I am skirting it.

  17. De; “I am entirely aware of this danger, and that I am skirting it.”

    Kvond: Any interesting statement of interpreative hubris. Perhaps it would be better to say, “I am aware of this danger, and I believe I am skirting it”, for those who think that they are entirely aware of anything, probably aren’t skirting what they think they are.

    All the same, much good will to your theoretical journeys! Look forward to reading on.

  18. [...] as I’m still nominally Deleuzian, there’s a good sense in which I endorse it (see here). My disagreement with Graham, and where I do think he’s illicitly anthropomorphising [...]

  19. 3 out of 4 points good, but the no. 3 doesn’t go.

    A fast logical point: from the proposition “thought is problem solving” it doesn’t result that “all problem solving is thought”. Yet this is the whole argument you make in claiming Deleuze being a Panpsychist:

    You say: “Ultimately, Deleuze’s position can be stated fairly succinctly: Thought is problem solving. Problem solving is the actualisation of the virtual. In this sense, every being thinks, or rather consists in thinking. Thus, Being and thought are identical.”

    This is utterly wrong claim for the reason I said. Deleuze’s exact point is to produce the thought through the material world: thought exists in time, thought exists in world, not the other way around. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not overlooking the point that all thought isn’t human thought. It is just that when you say “Panpsychist” you suppose some sort of “Psyche” for the thought, which turns the claimed equivalence of thought and being from a simple “being is problem solving and any problem solving can be called thought, because by thought we mean nothing but problem solving as such” into “being is problem solving [etc.] and this implies that everything that exists does have some psychic-interior being that experiences the world”. So, the problem isn’t in “being is problem solving”, but in that you call this “Panpsychism”, because it really isn’t “thought” that problem solving presupposes, but affecting and being affected, action and reaction.

  20. deontologistics Says:

    I think you’re slightly over determining the argument I made. ‘Thought’ is one of those concepts in philosophy that’s used in a very hazy fashion. It’s used to mean everything from conscious awareness, propositional representation, information processing, to explicit inferential reasoning. Any philosophy which seriously uses the word thought can’t appeal to a presupposed conception of what it is, but needs to define precisely what it’s talking about (Deleuze was aware of this (c.f. the Image of Thought chapter in D&R), even if he wasn’t as clear as he could of been in my opinion).

    Similarly, panpsychism is not a single position that is defined in terms of some proper definition of what ‘thought’ consists in. As I said in a more recent post, the claim of panpsychism is never “this chair thinks in the same sense I do”, but rather that there is some minimal and common sense of ‘thought’ which both it and I share. Every panpsychist position needs to adequately specify what this minimal and common sense is, and they all do it differently. This means that if you think ‘thought’ is something stronger than this minimal sense, then pretty much any form of panpsychism you go after will not hold that the chair thinks. If you think that thought proper is a matter of reasoning, then obviously Deleuze (and Leibniz, Nietzsche, Whitehead, etc.) do not think everything thinks. However, they do all think that there is some feature usually ascribed to ‘thinking beings’ or ‘psyches’ that is common to all things, even if they differ on what precisely it is.

    In short, what I’m arguing is that the first two senses in which Deleuze uses the word ‘thought’ I outlined above are redefinitions of the term on Deleuze’s part. In effect, panpsychism is somewhat of an explanatory strategy, insofar as what Deleuze says about the Being of entities should be able to be redescribed in different terms.

    The additional point I would make is that Deleuze’s panpsychism really appeals to two different notions usually restricted to ‘thinking beings’: problem solving on the one hand, and sensation on the other. So, although I didn’t specify it above, Deleuze does also hold that everything does in some sense have “a psychic interior which experiences the world”, at least in _some_ minimal sense. This is because he takes the process of problem solving (the actualisation of the virtual) to consist in the constitution and functioning of entities as signal-sign systems (which correspond to the intensive dimension between the virtual and actual). I’ve written about this in a bit more detail elsewhere (, although I wouldn’t take my thoughts to be exhaustive.

    To summarise, Deleuze is a panpsychist, but panpsychism can mean various different things.

  21. Aw, this was an extremely good post. Taking
    the time and actual effort to make a good article… but what can I say… I
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