Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.
The link that Deleuze and Guattari make between thinking and witchcraft takes us out of the self-contained territories of philosophy practiced as a solipsistic discipline. Witchcraft is little understood, uncanny and disturbing, it makes us wary and inspires mistrust. It puts us “on the lookout”, as Deleuze calls this state in his ABC Primer (A as in “Animal”), which is already a sorcerous state, a state that Deleuze finds more appropriate to philosophy than the conventional idea of “wonder”. Witchcraft has to do with transformation and flight, with powers and demonic forces, going against Nature as we ordinarily understand it.
“Thinking provokes general indifference”. In general, people are “indifferent” to thought. This indifference is the opposite of being on the lookout. People are blind to what is outside their stereotypes, they cannot recognize thought if it is not sanctioned by academic diplomas and status. In Deleuze’s sense of “recognition”, they only recognize officially structured and sanctioned thought. Yet thought as the object of recognition has little to do with thought as the subject of witchcraft. People are blind, but they are also uncomfortable about the “wrong” sort of thought, they may dip into it a little, but they don’t take it seriously.
We see this every day with our blogs. As noetic bloggers we practice witchcraft twice over, because writing and maintaining a blog is a magical practice too. Given all the work it takes to write, the “recognition” we may get from time to time is small recompense indeed. I practice blogging not out of narcissism, nor even to communicate, I do it because I can’t stop, just as I can’t stop reading, I’m constantly trying to transform myself and my thinking.
It is often said that people are indifferent to the dreams of others, that only the dreamer finds the story he is recounting of any interest; I have always been perplexed, even shocked, by such received wisdom. I usually find people’s dreams very interesting, even the seemingly banal ones where nothing strange or untoward happens. I like Deleuze and Guattari’s association of dreams and philosophy, for I find dreams very philosophical, and Deleuze’s philosophy very oniric. I used to (30 years ago!) express this by saying that Deleuze’s philosophical style incarnates a constant “pulsation between the conscious and the unconscious”, but though I still agree with the thought I find the vocabulary too academically “recognizable”.
People are indifferent to others’ thoughts, just as they are indifferent to an other’s dreams. Until some danger crops up, and their attitude changes. If the danger is to them, they panic and run, or at least give a wide berth. If the danger is to the dreamer or the thinker, people may find an unhealthy interest in observing al that from afar. But it is not the recognizable, “obvious”, dangers that count, recognition is for the indifferent. The dangers, the risks, are in the experimentation, the doing of things outside correct thought that are tied to getting one thinking. If you are not on the lookout you will perceive nothing: “they often remain hidden and barely perceptible”. Hidden in plain sight, if you are willing to use the eyes of the mind.
The paragraph from WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? reminds me of Deleuze’s “Letter to a Severe Critic”, in reply to Michel Cressole’s accusation that Deleuze was not really a risk-taker, but rather a profiteer of other people’s experiments: “someone who’s always just tagged along behind, taking it easy, capitalizing upon other people’s experiments, on gays, drug-users, alcoholics, masochists, lunatics, and so on, vaguely savoring their transports and poisons without ever taking any risks” NEGOTIATIONS, 11). In his reply Deleuze distinguishes between an outer “correct” marginality based on indifference to the singularity of the other’s experiments, and a more “clandestine” and “imperceptible” marginality tied to one’s “inner journeys” and measured by one’s emotions.
(Note 1: Deleuze is usually hostile to the term “inner”, especially in the expression “inner voyage”, and on the rare occasions that he uses it favorably it is to be understood in the sense of “intensive”).
(Note 2: Unfortunately the English translation effaces this notion of marginal correctness when it translates “all that crap where everyone’s supposed to be everyone else’s guilty conscience and judge” (11). A more literal reading would be: “all that crap where everyone’s supposed to be the bad conscience and corrector of the other”).
The message in both cases is the same: to think is not so much to follow the tenure track, but the witch’s flight (and so much the better if you can do both). There is more to the life of the mind than the academy. Although there is no necessary opposition between the two, and no magic power in affirming marginality for its own sake, thinking is disreputable.
Up to now I have commented this text in a way that is perhaps too rational and too reasonable, by focusing on the explicit conceptual content; Yet the text also performs that content: it does not only speak of dreams and philosophy, but also seems to be a dream and its interpretation (and one must recall Jung’s dictum “the dream is its own interpretation”). There is a pulsation between image and concept here, that needs to be brought out.
The thinkers are unreasonable and head for the horizon. We know that in science the horizon is only relative: “What is primary in science is relative light or the relative horizon” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, 42, translation modified by me to bring out the idea that the light of science is relative too, and not just the horizon). The philosopher “heads for the horizon”, that is to say “plunges into the infinite”., his or her horizon is absolute, as is the light. This movement is both physical and mental (“in this respect chaos has as much a mental as a physical existence”, 42). If we “return with bloodshot eyes” it is not only because of an excess of alcohol or of light (this is the physical side of the “unreasonable”, pathological or esoteric measures) but also because of our vision of a power that is almost too strong for us. I say “almost too strong”, because in this text the thinker comes back, only changed, with “bloodshot eyes” and with new vision and new concepts. The eyes of the mind have been opened and strained to their limits.
Both these movements (heading out to, and coming back from ,the infinite) are necessary to thinking. Heading out unreasonably, dangerously and coming back bearing the mark (bloodshot eyes, or in some cases worse) of the voyage towards (which is “inner” only in the sense of being noetic or intensive), or of the encounter with, the horizon, but bearing also the vision, the percepts and the concepts. This double movement is what gives consistency to our philosophical territory: a territory is constituted by the movement of leaving it, which also means exposing oneself to risk, and also by the movement of returning back with a new song or a new colour, a new posture, or a new scent.
Already by heading off outside we risk indifference turning into “disapproval” (42), because the danger becomes obvious. Academic philosophy is not usually very perilous , but there is the danger to one’s career and to that of one’s friends or allies. This is what Deleuze and Guattari call “obvious” danger, easily recognizable. The disapproval is redoubled when one brings back “outlandish” concepts (according to Deleuze in the ABC PRIMER “outlandish” is a good synonym for deterritorialised).
The piece describes a movement typical of philosophy, different from the extensive movement of “travel”. In the ABC PRIMER Deleuze talks about such movements and calls them “immobile voyages” or voyages in intensity:
I feel no need to move. All the intensities that I have are immobile intensities. Intensities distribute themselves in space or in other systems that aren’t necessarily in exterior spaces. I can assure you that when I read a book that I admire, that I find beautiful, or when I hear music that I consider beautiful, I really get the feeling of passing into such states… Never could traveling inspire such emotions. So, why would I go seek emotions that don’t suit me very well, since I have more beautiful ones for myself in immobile systems, like music,
like philosophy? There is a geo-music, a geo- philosophy, I mean, they are profound countries, and these are more my countries, yes?
Parnet: Your foreign lands.
Deleuze: My very own foreign lands that I don’t find by traveling.
I think it may be useful to pay attention to the particular words used. The passage begins:
Thinking provokes general indifference.
This “indifference” is a sort of de-differentiated doxa, that just after the passage cited, in the same paragraph, Deleuze and Guattari call “opinion”. “Difference” is a key word for Deleuze, and we know that each intensity envelops an internal difference. So indifference means also without intensity, without affect, what Badiou calls the a-tonal world of democratic materialism. “Thinking” renders what in the French text is called “penser”, i.e. the infinitive “to think” (Note: I am not criticising the translation, but merely pointing out other conceptual latencies contained in the original French). The infinitive is associated by Deleuze and Guattari with the event. Here they are talking about the event of thinking, as a rupture with the doxa and a departure on an immobile voyage. This is echoed later when they say “We head for the horizon”. In French the text reads “On court à l’horizon”. The subject is not “we” (nous), but “one” (on), what Deleuze and Guattari call the fourth person singular, and which they propose as the impersonal subject of the event. The verb is not “head for”, a fairly neutral moving in a particular direction, but “run”. So the notion of speed, of more than normal intensity of movement, is present in the French.
It is useful to focus on the idea of movement expressed in the images and concepts of the text. For Deleuze the contemporary age is characterised by the loss of the vertical axis, with its movement of rising to or descending from transcendence. The aim of philosophy is not only to think movement, a difficult task in itself, but to make the movement. This movement is horizontal, on a plane of immanence:
We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes
We can see that this is quite different from the Platonic vertical movement of climbing out of the Cavern of illusion up to the light of the Sun, and returning illuminated or blinded to some degree down into the Cavern. Running for the horizon ( a horizontal movement) and coming back with new concepts is a different sort of movement, and a different sort of thinking.
The state of “indifference” that I discussed earlier, in particular the state of indifference to thinking, is the state of servitude (in Spinozian terms). It is a state of passivity that is subjected to the “false movements” dictated by a transcendence (extrinsic values or goals, divine commands, objectivised political necessities) and which dictate a trajectory constructed out of straight lines. (Note: here I am paraphrasing Deleuze’s marvelous little book PERICLES AND VERDI). Thinking involves breaking with that servitude and passivity and becoming-active, actualising one’s powers. This is what Deleuze calls the “natural movement”, and it traces and follows the curved and zigzag lines of sorcery.
One can modify the translation of the sentence “To think is always to follow the witch’s flight”. In French this reads “Penser, c’est toujours suivre une ligne de sorcière”. Literally: “To think is always to follow a sorceress’s line”. It is useful to recall the literal translation, as one of the allusions here is to Carlos Castaneda’s initiation into sorcery. One of the degrees of the initiation was learning to “stop the world” (stop the false movement, break with the general indifference). According to Deleuze, in his comments on the cinema and elsewhere, this allows one to see the “lines of the universe” or the lines of becoming, and to pass through the wall that cuts us off from running to the horizon and actualising our powers .
Deleuze and Guattari are not proposing a new Grand Narrative here, but just one possible micro-story. Another story of movement may be more to your taste. Deleuze claims that the notion of movement has changed from that produced by the application of an external force. “All the new sports – surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding – take the form of entering into an existing wave.There’s no longer an origin a starting point, but a sort of putting-into-orbit” (NEGOTIATIONS, 121). The movement is noetic, this is why Deleuze and Guattari talk about the “eyes of the mind”, and so finds its place in the noosphere.
The “bad” verticality is the move away from the Earth, or Gaia, considered as a Platonic Cavern of Illusion, but other forms of verticality that do not involve transcendence would be acceptable. It would be a mistake to conclude that verticality is an essence to be isolated and universally proscribed. The text talks about running to the horizon AND coming back, so it contains a notion of gravity as attraction, one could almost call it “horizontal gravity”. Deleuze and Guattari are in favour of multiple dimensions, what they call “n minus one” dimensions. What is subtracted is not necessarily verticality in a literal sense but rather verticality as transcendence, a dimension dominating all the others, in whatever direction. The transcendental sphere is no totalised Sloterdijkian “macro-sphere”, it is a plurality of multi-dimensioned micro-spheres. If one looks at the various movements described in LOGIC OF SENSE, in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, and also in the CINEMA books one finds many descriptions of intensities as rising and falling, so intensive verticality is acceptable for Deleuze and Guattari.
Postscript on OOO
Much of what Deleuze and Guattari say about the threats to philosophy can be applied to schools and movements that came after their demise. An interesting example can be found in Deleuze’s ABC PRIMER, where he talks about Wittgensteinians. One can replace linguistic analysis with OOO to bring out the contemporary relevance:
For me, it’s a philosophical catastrophe. lt’s the very example of a “school”, it’s a regression of all philosophy, a massive regression. The OOO matter is quite sad. They imposed a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty instituted in all grandeur… There isn’t a word to describe this danger, but this danger is one that recurs, it’s not the first time that it has happened. lt’s serious, especially since OOOxians are mean and destructive. So if they win, there could be an assassination of philosophy. They are assassins of philosophy.
It is important to realise that Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy does not just articulate a personal point of view, but rather expresses something essential in the contemporary philosophical context. For those who are wary of this thought, or those who just reject it outright, I do not think it is enough to say that its recent success, the fact that it has been adopted with enthusiasm in a diversity of venues, can be explained in terms of lack. There are those that claim that OOO is hailed as a mighty leap forward merely because it holds a flattering mirror up to certain discontented intellectual minorities, those in search of philosophical aura and validation for their practices: a motley crew of disgruntled militants of French Theory, conceptually inexperienced artists, philosophically uncultivated novelists, and ambitious computocrats. It succeeds by reassuring them that they have always been philosophising, even when they didn’t yet know it. This is no doubt true, but the phenomenon goes deeper than that. Harman’s OOO expounds in perhaps its purest form an image of thought that is a transcendental condition for philosophical thinking in the contemporary context, whether we adopt or reject his system of the world. His metaphysical promotion of the existence of a transcendental field of withdrawn indifferent objects captures an intuition that we all may become aware of in moments of fatigue or intellectual disorientation, the often implicit but ever necessary background of ontological stupidity that shadows all our thoughts.
The key to understanding OOO’s master stroke is in the first sentence of our fragment: “Thinking provokes general indifference”. The OOO episteme integrates this “indifference” into thinking itself, as one of its transcendental conditions (methodological moment) and to ontologise it as the very nature of the real (ontological moment). This is the origin of what Graham Harman calls “naiveté” at the beginning of THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, a naiveté that just happens to agree with Harman (as against Wittgenstein or Whitehead or Latour) on the rather technical question of the composition of the world: the world divides into objects – and not into facts (Wittgenstein) or events (Whitehead) or into actors (Latour). Such naiveté is in fact a highly constructed conceptual persona, rather than a return to a pre-theoretical conclusion from goggling and gawking at the world.
This indifference to thought is interior to thought itself, as the impervious wall of stupid indifferent objects that blocks our path to the horizon. Deleuze and Guattari tell us repeatedly that we cannot trace a plane of immanence without at the same time recreating a plane of transcendence and illusion. This is the danger inherent to his own thought of the indifferent multiple that led Badiou to edify his doctrine of the event. Harman himself does not waver, does not try to palliate his ontology, but openly declares its nihilistic condition: time is unreal.
Deleuze and Guattari emphasise that “Transcendence enters as soon as movement of the infinite is stopped” (WIP?, 47). This is the key point where Harman and a disciple such as Bryant part company. To establish the transcendental field as transcendent abstraction one must affirm complete (or “strong”) withdrawal, in reciprocal correlation with the absence of temporal relations: “all that is necessary is for movement to be stopped” (47).
The corollary is present in the fragment itself – to get rid of transcendence, as far as possible, all that is necessary is to enter into the real movements that continue to exist, despite the blockade of indifference.