Deleuzian Catharsis

I’ve probably written before about my history with Deleuze, but I can’t think where exactly. For those who don’t know, I began my PhD thesis with the intent of working on Deleuze’s metaphysics and its implications for the philosophy of language, with an eye to combining it with Wittgensteinian pragmatism. The story goes that I couldn’t find the methodology I needed to adequately explain (let alone justify) Deleuze’s metaphysics, and so took a detour into Heidegger to acquire it. This was supposed to last a month or so, and ended up consuming four years of research and my entire thesis. I was also converted to Brandom’s Hegelian pragmatism in that time, and that has monopolised a lot of my other research efforts in the meantime. I’ve written the odd thing about Deleuze on this blog, but I haven’t seriously touched the books (let alone kept up with the secondary literature) in a good few years.

However, courtesy of my good friend (and prominent Deleuze scholar) Henry Somers-Hall, I recently got invited to give a paper at Manchester Metropolitan University on Deleuze’s theory of time. This was part of a larger workshop on Deleuze that was very successful indeed. A great event all around. Lots of things kept me from writing my paper until far too close to the deadline (I was working on it right up until the last minute), but it was a cathartic experience from beginning to end. Three years or so of pent up Deleuzian ideas came out all at once, and it produced a paper that is very dense, but not for that matter unaccessible. Moreover, the paper served as a wonderful vindication of my methodological detour, insofar as it displays the power of the critical framework I’ve been developing here and elsewhere. I’ve sometimes been accused of getting stuck at the level of critique, and never getting to the actual metaphysics. I think this is a pretty performative refutation of those criticisms.

I’m enormously pleased with the paper, and I was enormously gratified by the positive reception it received from the people at the workshop. There were some excellent questions and some great discussions afterwards. I’m reliably informed that the video of the various talks will be going up online soon, including Q&As, but I’ve decided to make minor revisions to my paper and post it up on the blog (here) while it’s still at the forefront of my mind. It’ll no doubt get revised further and turned into a proper publication at some point, but for now, enjoy!


14 thoughts on “Deleuzian Catharsis

    • I’m working on it as we blog. Finishing of final reading tasks and regimenting structure. Fingers crossed!

  1. Wonderful work, Pete. Kept me up way past my fucking bedtime, though.

    It brought to mind a quote that describes the virtual as well as your paper: “like an intelligent author who encloses the most of reality in the least possible compass…” DoM, V

  2. Hello Peter 🙂

    I remember once that you expressed vividly how you had or were in the process to overcome heideggerianism, but maybe you have retaken it inadvertently considering this MMU lecture, I don’t know to which degree you have contemplated or not the fact that Deleuze despised Heidy. In this sense, I don’t see in which direction is worth to correlate their work, if not only for sterile scholastic purposes (and mostly if Deleuze never really wrote a word about him). With this specific respect, I don’t really see the point to assert as you do, that ‘the plane of immanence is Deleuze’s post-heideggerian transformation of Spinoza’s substance’. This gesture of indirect attribution is very distasteful. There Heidy again, in the very heart of the love between Spinoza and Deleuze. Pfff. It is clear that Deleuze overcame Heidy’s philosophical influence in many respects, but why to bring him now in this specific point? why still giving him an importance that he no longer has? why to give importance to a post-heidegger that makes no great reference anymore? why in this lecture you still are fulfilling this bureaucracy of the scholastic text? While you clearly explained that Heidy was helpful for you to achieve your methodological aim ‘of explaining Deleuze’s metaphysics’, it’s clear that Heidegger is still above your shoulder, and that he is still distorting your word. Where is the advance here?

    Deleuze never meant to please heidegger nor heideggerians. I really don’t remember in which part of his abecedaire (what letter would it be?) Deleuze says that philosophy (and even science) has nothing rigorously to do with Universals, but with something plural which word you do not even mention in your lecture: Singularities.

    • Overcoming something means taking it seriously, and thereby seeing the truth as well as the falsity in it. Have you overcome Heidegger, or do you simply ignore him? Deleuze didn’t ignore him. He didn’t want to please him, but then, if you think agreeing with someone about something is a matter of ‘pleasing’ them (or ‘loving’ as between Deleuze and Spinoza), then maybe it’s your conception of what philosophy is that is at fault. Truth over affect, or nothing.

      Deleuze wrote a hole minor history to counter Heidegger’s history, because he *understood* Heidegger’s history. He wrote a book on Kant which is in direct dialogue with Heidegger’s book, and a book on post-Kantian metaphysics (D&R) that is perhaps in even greater dialogue still. He also does talk directly about Heidegger at several points in that book, and though he minimises his references, they are incredibly important ones. Do you simply want to ignore these too?

      I fulfil the ‘bureacracy of the scholastic text’ through ‘explaining Deleuze’s metaphysics’ (what an *awful* thing to do to anyone! Pfft), because Deleuze *is* a pure metaphysician. He is to be read alongside Spinoza and Leibniz as making a contribution to the ongoing philosophical project, rather than ending it. This is Deleuze’s biggest disagreement with Heidegger: systematic metaphysics of the form Heidegger now thinks is impossible (because of a spurious radicalisation of pragmatism) is still possible. If you think that there is something awry about the very project of reconstructing Deleuze’s *eminently* classical work in the form he intended it, as trying to say something true about the nature of reality, rather than as making some *eminently* ironic performative gesture and ‘creating concepts/deterritorialising/etc.’ then you’re the one reading him closer to Heidegger than me. If you’re unwilling to let Deleuze speak truth, and to speak it clearly and succinctly, then you’re the assassin of philosophy, not me.

      • Hey Pete Hello again 🙂 !

        Why would I overcome someone that is not influential in me, and of who am not subjected? Why are you asking me such question like trying to boomerang a critique in which the one who is openly involved is you? Why it is pertinent to bring me into question? It seems that you are using the austere formula of someone who does not want to accept its part, or that such part it is too big or to granted so to accept it. But there’s no trap as i am not involved in your specific subjections: I just shared my rant on my right, because I was expecting something different when i decided to read your 21 pages stuff, and I when I did, i found very interesting things, yes, but not what I expected or imagined in deleuzian terms (which might not be your fault at the end of the day, I admit).

        It is as simple as that, and I wanted you to know how unconvinced I was about you signing Deleuze’s plane of immanence as a ‘post-heideggerian transformation of Spinoza’s substance’, because it is also suggested there that Deleuze needed Heidy to effectuate such operation, while he never did. My comment was also to see if you can absorb my reaction while I did bothered to read you, and I wanted to be frank and straight regards to my comment.

        Oh well, however, I do not think anything of what you suspect I do, and am not unwilling neither to let anyone speak anything, whatever it might be. I am sorry if i don’t see the point of this accusing language (of terror, and pretty heideggerian, i may say) that you are wielding to me: take notice that out of the academic frame, ‘being’ is for me an obsolete term, and inside it, a fantasm invoked to just make a ‘good’ note and to feed heidegger’s constrictive influence. It’s your job, not mine.

        And with regard to what is philosophy, you may want to know that ‘truth over affect’ is not what happens in fact, I promess 😉 How do you like to know how happy I am to have achieved for my own frankness, a conception of philosophy that would always be at fault to understand the event that means life? Oh man, literally, that’s my joy 😉


  3. Hi Pete, thanks for posting your paper: I found it very interesting and I’ve learned a lot from it. I’ve finally got round to attempting to articulate the main problem I have with it, so here it is:

    The problem I have is that you seem to have given a very good Deleuzian account of science but not an account of Deleuzian philosophy. This seems to come from your definition of metaphysics, on the one hand, and your determination to avoid a “theology of contingency”, on the other. On my reading of Deleuze, it is not the aim of philosophy to allow us to grasp “the fundamental structure of nature”: this is the task of science, which aims to actualise the virtual. Far from wanting to actualise the virtual, philosophy wants to investigate the virtual surface itself, and so is concerned with examining the transformations of concepts (and their “zones of indistinction”) rather than the application of functions (and their “determinable relations”). (See the concluding chapter in What is Philosophy?)

    This brings us to the issue of contingency: I think philosophy, for Deleuze and Guattari, is subject to chaos, to a radical contingency, in a way that science is not. However, because philosophy has to do with the virtual surface and not with its actualisation, this does not mean that Deleuze and Guattari support a “theology of contingency”, since this chaos is nothing actual (it is not an unknowable god that determines the outcomes of actual occurrences). That is to say, since philosophy is about the creation of concepts, and so with thinking rather than with Being, the fact that we cannot finally individuate our concepts tells us something of the fluid nature of philosophical thinking but does not require us take the mystical approach of a “theology of contingency” that you seem (rightly, in my view) to want to avoid, since our inability to finally individuate concepts does not imply that we cannot individuate physical objects.

    I’m well aware that by stating from the start that I don’t think philosophy has to do with trying to discover the fundamental nature of Being I’m taking a very different position to yours. But my question for you would be: how do you reconcile the claims you make about Deleuze’s metaphysical project with the approach that Deleuze and Guattari take in What is Philosophy? And: Have I understood the later Deleuze correctly, in your view? As regards the latter question, I’m certainly going to give What is Philosophy? another read now and make sure I’ve got this right, and also because I have a suspicion that the account you give in your paper is going to shed enormous amounts of light on the account of science that Deleuze and Guattari give in chapter 5, which I’ve always found very difficult. (So thanks again for that!)

  4. I’m enjoying the paper.

    The insight that Deleuze reworks actual infinity as “potential infinity” is a good insight. While we can conceive (or imagine something that conceives) all possible relations it is not necessary for all or any of such relations to exist. What makes this conceivable is the posing of an adjunct to the domain of that which exists: that which insists. We can take infinite relations out of existentialism and put them into insistantialism instead 🙂 Relations will be something that insist on becoming rather than exist as being. And would also require an infinite amount of time for all relations to become so.


  5. I might also agree with Lee Watkins that too much emphasis is put on what Deleuze might offer some aspects of science.

    It is always tempting to translate Deleuzian terms as if they matched certain ideas in Science. Deleuze borrows extensively from Science but what he does with such seems difficult to give back to Science without corrupting his creation.

    For example, it is tempting to equate quantitative difference with digital or numerical difference and qualitative difference with analog difference. But in science/maths there is no particular hurdle in accomodating the translation of analog to digital and back again.

    In Deleuze however, a qualitative difference is where you would not be able to convert it into a quantitative one. The difference between yellow and blue is quantitative because the categeory Colour allows one to vary yellow to blue and back again. But what is the difference between colour and size? As a scientist we might quickly start thinking of something like wavelengths or amplitudes in order to bring the terms into some domain in which numerical difference could then obtain.

    What is the difference between a mathematical table and a dinner table? There is a difference but it’s not quantitative. The difference is what Deleuze would call a qualitative difference.


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