DELEUZE, EPSTEIN, ET LE CINÉMA POÉTICO-ONTOLOGIQUE

Je viens d’assister à une conférence très stimulant par Arnaud Maillet sur le cinéma et la philosophie du cinéma de Jean Epstein: ” Image ralentie, image accélérée. Réflexions des cinéastes Jean Epstein et Jean Comandon”.

La pratique et la philosophie du cinéma de Jean Epstein est poético-ontologique. On y trouve beaucoup d’idées qui ont eu une grande influence sur la pensée de Deleuze dans ses deux volumes sur le cinéma. Dans ses livres sur le cinéma Deleuze cite Epstein souvent: une vingtaine de fois dans CINÉMA 1: L’IMAGE-MOUVEMENT et encore dans CINÉMA 2: L’IMAGE-TEMPS cinq fois.

Selon les analyses d’Epstein, avec le cinéma et sa plasticité inhérente on peut atteindre à une perception non-humaine des choses, de leur nature et de leur temporalité: tout est mouvement et transformation. Les techniques spécifiques du cinéma permettent de faire voir ce mobilisme et ce transformisme universels. Le cinéaste est voyant et sorcier, thaumaturge et demiurge. Le cinéma, en agissant sur notre perception remanie non seulement notre perception mais la nature des choses.

Les ressemblances entre la pensée de Deleuze et celle d’Epstein sont tellement massifs et frappants que je me demandais si Deleuze s’est contenté simplement de piller l’œuvre du poète cinéaste. Il me semble que malgré les influences, les emprunts, et les convergences il y a une différence dans la conception du temps.

Epstein parle du mouvement et du devenir comme si c’était la même chose, comme si la tâche de faire voir le mouvement universel suffisait de faire voir le temps. Dans les termes deleuziens cette indistinction du mouvement et du temps pose peut-être une limite à la pensée-cinéma d’Epstein, qui évoluerait en grande partie à l’intérieur de ce que Deleuze appelle l’image indirecte du temps.

Cependant, Maillet a projeté un extrait d’un des derniers films d’Epstein, Le Tempestaire, qui semble dépasser ce cadre et nous donner une image directe du temps. Le ralenti de l’image s’étend au son, l’aura de la tempête remplit tout le film et la boule du tempestaire semble intégrer l’œil de la caméra qui se fragmente en bris à la fin, signifiant la fin de la maîtrise de l’homme sur le “temps” (dans tous les sens).

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SYSTEM AND CLARITY IN DELEUZE’S OPUS

Anyone who wonders about the right way to read Deleuze, about whether we should search for system and clarity in his works, should investigate the relation between his seminars and his written works.

Unfortunately we do not have transcriptions for most of his seminars of the 70s, save for a few exceptions. Basically we are limited to the last eight years of his teaching. This is a limited sample, but it is enough to get an idea of Deleuze’s conceptual style.

I was lucky enough to attend Deleuze’s seminars from 1980 to 1986, centered on minority struggle and war machines (treated in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS), cinema, and Foucault. I found the lectures clear, in that each subject was well-explained and that Deleuze replied patiently and pedagogically to most questions, and also obscure, in that the place of each concept or series of concepts in the overall system was not always evident.

The seminars had the temporality of a voyage of discovery. I remember Deleuze keeping a certain suspense. For example in the cinema classes, during the long discussion of the movement image referring tantalisingly to the possibility of a ifferent sort of image. Or in some of the Foucault seminars, ending the class by asking is this all there is, or is there something more?, before going on the next week to discuss how a new phase in the work and a new level of explanation was motivated by what went before.

The seminars gave you the experience of constantly discovering new ground, but with no overall map. So despite attending them assiduously I was also eager for the books to come out so I could gain even more clarity from the systematic overview they provided. The books are more difficult in the details, being conceptually dense and linguistically highly compressed, but more perspicuous in the framework provided.

My conclusion is the rather banal one that in Deleuze’s opus there is a trade-off between the (pedagogical) phenomenological clarity of the seminars and the systematic clarity of the books. This is a typological division, and one should not overemphasise the sites of its instantiations. It is easy to see the same sort of differences inside a single book, and the variable alternation between phenomenological and systematic exposition imparts its particular conceptual rhythm to each of Deleuze’s books.

Guillaume Collett suggests that this distinction of clarity and systematicity corresponds to Lacan’s distinction of speech and language. This is a valid connection on condition that we recall that in Deleuze’s terms there is sense, which resides in the pulsation between systematicity and phenomenology. The phenomenological “real-time discovery” (Adrian Martin’s expression) in the seminars is heuristic and diachronic, whereas the books are systematic and synchronic. Sense is in the movement of searching the system in heuristic process and in re-diachronising the system. This is how I understand Deleuze’s affirmation: “I believe in philosophy as system…For me the system must not only be in perpetual heterogeneity, it must be a heterogenesis, which, it seems to me, has never been attempted”.
In explaining a book, or a system, you re-diachronise it. The heterogenesis comes in for example with a term like “body without organs”, which changes in meaning from LOGIC OF SENSE to ANTI-OEDIPUS. Deleuze’s “system” is explicitly based on this process and its comprehension is based on us applying a similar process.
Note: I am indebted to a discussion with Guillaume Collett and Adrian Martin for helping me clarify my ideas here.
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LET NOONE IGNORANT OF STS ENTER (1): Latourology and the “dark” Latour

Bruno Latour’s anti-platonism can be seen in a recent interview, where he declares:

When I talk to people, students, or colleagues, I ask myself: have they passed the test of going through the STS field or not? If not, I have little to say to them because it means that Science, capital S will remain in the background unexamined, floating mysteriously above them.

Reminiscent of Plato’s famous “Let noone ignorant of geometry enter (here)”, supposedly engraved at the door of his Academy, Latour seems to be saying “Let noone ignorant of STS enter (the discussion)”.

Perhaps Latour is playing Socrates against Platonism, replacing the Socratic dictum “The unexamined life is not worth living” with its epistemological translation: the unexamined science is not worth presupposing. Socrates, unlike Plato, was a tragic philosopher.

It is important to understand, but maybe this is already an STS-ised vision, that just like “Science”, “STS” itself cannot be taken abstractly as an unexamined, free-floating, unitary discipline. Probably we have to take both “Science” and “STS” as conceptual characters, as actants figuring in Latour’s inner multiplicities and outer networks.

Thus Latour can treat Peter Sloterdijk’s “Spherology” as an alternative portal for entering the discussion and participating in the “imaginary community” of the “post-natural” (but not post-real) and “post-epistemological” (but not post-truth) episteme that has already begun.

Latour himself is no longer a stable identity, as he is a conceptual character in a “dialog” that may or may not be fictitious, but that is self-admittedly a fiction. He seems to hesitate over whether it is a philo-fiction or an anthro-fiction, as he declares that the best label for his discipline remains “anthropology of science”.

Given Latour’s adhesion to the criterion of “symmetry”, one is entitled to apply this label of “anthropology” to his (fictional) account of himself, naming it in virtue of the principle of symmetry “anthropology of Bruno Latour”, a Latourology.

This hypothesis is confirmed by Latour’s monumental treatise AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE, subtitled “An Anthropology of the Moderns”,  which is both a conceptual autobiography of Latour’s research and a conceptual portrait based on Latour’s personal vision of the diverse modes of existence investigated. In particular, his account of REL, or the religious mode of existence, has much more to do with his own past studies and present convictions than with an anthropological study of the “Moderns”.

Latour rejects the choice between a free-floating universality and a narrow local identity. His third way, neither universality nor identity, is commonality: not so much a common language as a “common ground” that is also a frightening “common loss of ground”.

Latour rejects the notion of “common language” here, despite basing the rationale of his AIME website on precisely this ideal of a common language. Hence the failure of this site to generate a conceptual dynamic reaching beyond the limited circle of the faithful and their allies. The virtual community selected by this project and its protocols is far smaller than the assembly of those who have passed the STS filter or one of its equivalents.

This common loss of ground constitutes a different type of universality, that is no longer the luminous “universality of humanity” of the Enlightenment but a darker “tragic form of universality”:

It is our turn to be threatened, our turn to realize we will disappear, and we are now in exactly the same non-epistemological situation where our former “objects” of study had found themselves when they encountered the White Man… We are also the ones at stake. 

The non-epistemological encounter with “Gaia” opens an age of fright (and no longer an age of anxiety) and of the threat of extinction. We are now all in the dark and we need to find new principles of orientation:

we need to orient ourselves in the dark. Instead of the urgency of seeing data disappear and recording them before it is too late, it is the urgency of saving all the storytellers! That’s a pretty good reason to become much more attentive to the diversity of ways others have to encounter you; that’s when we will also do anything to find diversity in our own tradition. That’s when philosophy and anthropology are cooperating best.

Attention, diversity, encounter, and cooperation are some of the orienting values of Latour’s tragic commonality.

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TRANSVALUE DELEUZE: an ongoing project

There have recently been a number of attempts to re-write recent intellectual history in order to promote a supposedly new school of theory that aims to liquidate the heritage of “post-structuralist” thought. Combining a rhetoric of renewed speculation with an actual return to empiricism, this constellation has many variants ranging from the most vulgar (e.g. Graham Harman’s OOO) to the most refined (François Laruelle’s non-philosophy)., with divers intermediary positions, such as Quentin Meillassoux’s anti-correlationism and Ray Brassier’s neo-scientism.

A favorite target of criticism for the most politically-oriented of these neo-scholars is the thought of Gilles Deleuze, who we are regularly called on to “forget”. Deleuze’s thought is assimilated to the “artistic critique” of earlier forms of capitalism hindered by antiquated constraints and regulations that neo-liberal practice was eager to dismantle. Thus came about the urban legend that Deleuze’s philosophy was incapable of radical critique as in its form it was “homologous” to the new nascent phase of capitalist relations.

Baudrillard’s FORGET FOUCAULT (OUBLIER FOUCAULT, 1977) was already a call to “forget” not only Foucault but also Deleuze, Lyotard, and no doubt Baudrillard’s own earlier self. The book relied heavily on the homology argument in its critique of both thinkers.

Curiously, Baudrillard’s meta-political critique is echoed in Laruelle’s meta-ontological critique of Heidegger, Deleuze and Derrida and implicitly Foucault), PHILOSOPHIES OF DIFFERENCE (LES PHILOSOPHIES DE LA DIFFÉRENCE, 1986), published nine years later.

What both these books have in common is that they choose to resolutely ignore Deleuze’s own temporally and logically prior (self-)critiques of the positions that they attribute to him. I say Deleuze’s critiques are not just temporally but also “logically” prior because both Baudrillard’s and Laruelle’s philosophies are conceptually parasitic on Deleuze’s thought.

Note: on the case of Laruelle, I have often analysed the derivative nature of his critiques of “sufficient philosophy”, for example here.

I think this structure of denial of influence and deliberate misrecognition points up an important difference between Bernard Stiegler’s and François Laruelle’s approach to Deleuze and to phlosophical history. One of Stiegler’s key words is anamnesis and he constantly refers to Deleuzian concepts and analyses for inspiration (e.g. quasi-causality, bifurcation), whereas Laruelle is very busy forgetting Deleuze.

In a slogan: those who “forget” Deleuze are condemned to repeat him.

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LECTURES À VENIR: reading next

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Review of SPECULATIVE REALISM: AN EPITOME

Leon Niemoczynski’s new book SPECULATIVE REALISM: AN EPITOME is an important contribution to the task of gaining a real understanding of the recent developments in Continental Philosophy on the subject of Speculative Realism. The book examines the nature of the movement, its history, and its principal theses and arguments, outside the partisan publicity and bellicose lobbying that have so often dominated in its reception.

Given its emphasis on the inspirational power of the thinkers, perspectives and concepts that are habitually grouped together under this rubric Niemoczynski’s book could easily have been subtitled The Rebirth of Continental Philosophy out of the Spirit of Speculation.

The book is a model of objectivity and of pedagogical exposition. Niemoczynski’s tone is sympathetic, dispassionate and non-partisan. Ideas count, and noisy posturing is left far behind.

By putting the overblown claims and narcissistic publicity in brackets Niemoczynski is able to concentrate on the essential philosophers and their principal ideas, claims and arguments, and to give us a clear and lucid account both of “Speculative Realism” and of its demise. For Niemoczynski’s book is not just an epitome of Speculative Realism but also its epitaph, heralding a return to speculation over and above its attempted captation and enclosure within a movement.

I personally do not give much shrift to the three philosophers (Brassier, Hamilton Grant, Meillassoux) that Niemoczynski discusses. To his credit, Niemoczynski himself does not subscribe to the details of one or the other’s philosophy. He does not write as a disciple nor does he try to convert.

Niemoczynski treats these philosophers as inspirational in their speculative spirit and in the questions that they allow to emerge. He incites us to make use of their concepts and arguments to edify our own speculative philosophy, beyond the boundaries that pseudo-speculative dogmatists set up.

In the writing of his book Niemoczynski  exemplifies the very virtues of impartiality and speculation guided by curiosity, dialogue and argument that he regards as the necessary horizon of fruitful philosophical discussion.

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LARUELLE’S BLINDSPOTS: Deleuze on style, heuristics, and the topography of thought

Laruelle has classified Deleuze’s thought within the category of the “philosophies of difference” and has further criticised it as remaining within the confines of the principle of philosophical sufficiency. This claim may be plausible applied to DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION, but it certainly is falsified by Deleuze’s succeeeding books, starting with LOGIC OF SENSE.

Given that Laruelle makes far-reaching claims about his “non-philosophy” and about its purported “scientific” use of philosophical material, it is interesting to see that he shows no sign of taking such falsifying instances seriously, and prefers to remain in the element of sweeping generalities. More generally Laruelle is constantly analysing and evaluating rival philosophical positions in terms of criteria and standards that he himself makes no effort to satisfy.

It has been the constant thesis of this blog that the sorts of criticisms that Laruelle makes of his contemporaries are not original nor are they of any actual relevance. Rather, they are long-winded out-dated parasitic re-formulations of self-criticisms made by these thinkers many years before Laruelle began publishing his “non-philosophical” works.

An interesting example of this constant process of creative self-criticism can be seen in Deleuze’s passage from a philosophy of difference in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION to a philosophy-fiction in LOGIC OF SENSE. While DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION (1968) is a work of philosophy of classical facture, still presenting a diversity of concepts under the umbrella of a totalising concept, that of “difference”, LOGIC OF SENSE (1969) breaks with that model from the beginning.

Indeed in this book from 1969 Deleuze anticipates not only Laruelle’s “non-philosophy”, by working in terms of the marriage of philosophy with an outside, but also its later evolution into “non-standard philosophy”. On page one of the preface Deleuze tells us:

This book is an attempt to develop a logical and psychoanalytical novel.

This is no doubt one of the unavowed sources of inspiration for Laruelle’s own notion of “philo-fiction”, expounded forty years later, when Laruelle tardively showed signs of at last breaking with his antiquated scientism.

Laruelle’s work, wittingly or unwittingly, forms part of a more general movement to re-write the history of Continental Philosophy of the last fifty years by replacing subtle and complexly creative research programs such as Deleuze’s (and also those of Foucault, Althusser, Bourdieu, Derrida, and Lyotard) with simplistic stereotypes that are designed to provide a flattering contrast for our current “nouveaux philosophes”.

Despite his obscurantist prose Laruelle’s vision of philosophy is no exception to this movement of simplification of thought by falsification of the historical record. His “non-philosophy” is from this point of view merely a neo-philosophy.

This sketchy analysis of the pivotal role of LOGIC OF SENSE in Deleuze’s path of research is borne out by his remarks in the “Author’s Note for the Italian Edition of Logic of Sense“, published in the collection of essays, Two Regimes of Madness. Deleuze explicitly draws attention to the change in style inaugurated with this book, and affirms that it is part and parcel of a more encompassing conceptual change:

“I like this Logic of Sense because for me it continues to mark a rupture: it was the first time I tried to search for a form other than that of traditional philosophy” (my translation).

Laruelle is blind to such heuristic ruptures, seeing only a continuous reign of “sufficient” philosophy until his own attempts at something different.

One particular instance of this blindness lies in Laruelle’s contribution to the continuing vision of Deleuze as a philosopher of “difference”. Deleuze himself emphasises that all his concepts take on new roles in LOGIC OF SENSE, as they are reorganised according to the new dimension of the surface. He claims that the concepts remain the same but that their sense is transformed. Interestingly, his list of concepts (multiplicities, singularities, intensities, events, infinity, problems, paradoxes and proportions) makes no mention of “difference”, supposedly the key concept of his philosophy.

Another major blind spot of Laruelle’s is the transformation of the image of thought that Deleuze analyses in terms of a changing geography and topology of thought. Deleuze tells us of the movement along a vertical axis from Pre-Socratic depths to Platonic heights to the return to Pre-Socratic depths, etc. This displacement back and forth from heights to depths defines classical philosophy for Deleuze as movement within a vertical axis, that we may well call the axis of sufficiency.

For Deleuze the non-philosophical step outside sufficiency does not come with the return to the depths (Boehme, Schelling, Schopenhauer, ealy Nietzsche) but with the exploration of a new axis of thought, the horizontal axis of the surface of immanence (Nietzsche after the break with Wagner).

In contrast, there is still too much of the “depths” in Laruelle’s movements. His concept of the “One-in-One” is vertically abyssal rather than superficial, and his determination in the last instance reinstates the verticality of a determination that plays with the surface of multiple causalities (overdetermination) only to collapse them all vertically in the “final” instance.

In LOGIC OF SENSE Deleuze breaks with this vertical axis:

Even if I myself was no longer satisfied with the history of philosophy, my book DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION still aspired to a sort of classical height and even to an archaic depth (my translation).

A key transformation coming with that break with the vertical axis is in the concept of intensity, which is reassigned to the surface. On the role of intensity in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION Deleuze affirms

My sketching out of a theory of intensity was marked by depth, whether true or false: intensity was presented as surging up from the depths.

This whole tradition of the vertical axis, which is Deleuze’s equivalent of Laruelle’s axis of sufficiency, is analysed and left behind in the course of, and in the terms of, Deleuze’s own self-analysis. This move accounts for the striking difference in the style of the two books.

Deleuze reassigns intensity from the depths to the surface and tells us that his very use of language changed. He wanted the language to be ever-more intensive, and for it to move along a path of various flows and gusts.

Note: the translation talks of “spurts”, but this is more reminiscent of a puny water pistol. “Gusts” would be a better translation. Gusts of wind, as in a storm, not spurts, or squirts.

All these changes work in the sense of moving away from sufficiency. However, Deleuze does not think that the book is fully successful in that attempt. He argues that his book is marred by remnants of complacency and connivance with respect to psychoanalysis:

Obviously, it still manifests a naive and culpable complaisance towards psychoanalysis. My only excuse would be that I was nevertheless, albeit very timidly, trying to render psychoanalysis inoffensive, by presenting it as an art of surfaces.

In his defence, Deleuze argues here that he was trying to divest psychoanalysis of its own principle of sufficiency as “depth” psychology and to align it with the immanence of the surface and its series.

Lest we conclude overhastily that surface and series have become the totalising concepts of a new instance of philosophical sufficiency Deleuze finishes this short note informing us that the next book ANTI-OEDIPUS is no longer authored by a classical subject, Deleuze the sufficient philosopher, but by a collaborative subject (Deleuze and Guattari).

The style changes, becoming more intensive, and the key concepts disappear:

ANTI-OEDIPUS no longer has either height or depth, or surface…A rhizome instead of series, says Guattari. ANTI-OEDIPUS is a good start, provided we break with series.

The practice of heuristic rupture is one of the ways in which Deleuze breaks with the risk of sufficiency in LOGIC OF SENSE and in the succeeding works.

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