FEYERABEND’S LAST INTERVIEW (3): The Arrogance of Transcendence

Methodological Preamble: Deleuze remarked on several occasions that an important  difference between Continental philosophy and anglophone analytic philosophy lay in their respective attitudes to the creation of concepts. Of course, Deleuze maintained that all good philosophy, both continental and analytic, is creation of concepts. However, whereas Continental philosophy preferred to highlight this creation by giving familiar terms unfamiliar meanings or by inventing new terms, Anglo-american philosophers would mask their conceptual creation behind ordinary vocabulary as far as possible. Continental philosophy’s concepts are signposted in a very conceptual style, and run the risk of being more rigid. Anglo-American philosophy is less conceptual in appearance (but this is, according to Deleuze, a false impression) and more fluid, harder to nail down.

[Aside: this is why translating a text from English into French can seem to « clarify » it. This is not because of any intrinsic superiority of Gallic vocabulary (le mot juste!) or syntax (plethoric parataxis!), but because the translator must make certain conceptual, and not just stylistic, choices. For example, Graham Harman is very fortunate to have a writer of the ilk of Olivier Dubouclez as translator, as his translation (L’OBJET QUADRUPLE) of Harman’s THE QUADRUPLE OBJECT, is very elegant and in fact stylistically an improvement. It is better written than the original, but often at the price of slightly twisting the sense. The contrary effect can be seen with Feyerabend’s books, at least according to him. He regretted that the fluidity and the ambiguity of his style could not be captured in translation, and that his books were reduced to lifeless caricatures of the original.]

I would argue that « fluidity » is achieved by different means in French and in English. Be that as it may, I have always felt that there is a close parallel between Deleuze’s ideas and those of Feyerabend, and that certain texts produce an intense resonance when juxtaposed. In particular, Feyerabend’s « LAST INTERVIEW », which is remarkable for its concision, can best be illuminated by a comparison with Deleuze’s little text PERICLES ET VERDI. I will not here be giving a summary of this book,itself quite concise and dense with meaning, but I think that by listing a few similarities I will be able to shed some light on both texts, though my focus is on Feyerabend’s interview.

1) Immanence: This is Deleuze’s term for one of his favorite concepts, but I argue that it is omnipresent in Feyerabend from his « anarchism without the dogmas » to his « rationalism without abstract principles ». Deleuze contrasts the plane of immanence, which is anarchic in the sense that the principles and rules that constitute and regulate it are not over and above it but integrally part of it, with the plane of organisation, which is subjected to extrinsic principles of ordering. This helps us make sense of the fact that the LAST INTERVIEW begins apparently quite oddly with a question on the difficulty of getting new ideas published in professional philosophy journals. Feyerabend replies that he does not know enough about « the administrative structure of the philosophy publishing business » » (p160). One can see him immediately relating the problem to one of his principal concerns: the destructive , deforming, or hindering effect of extrinsic principles of organisation on the field that they regulate. He imagines the rejection letter as saying « We cannot publish that because of our high standards », once again highlighting the problem of the systems of extrinsic standards that bring us under their judgement.

Another seemingly perplexing trait is Feyerabend’s insistence that he is not a philosopher. One motive for that insistence comes from Feyerabend’s characterisation of his profession:

« My profession was: I was a professor of philosophy. This means a civil servant, ein Denkbeamter [my gloss: a thought-bureaucrat] » (p165).

This can be further clarified by a passage in FAREWELL TO REASON (p315):

« professors – serve masters who pay them and tell them what to do: they are not free minds in search of harmony and happiness for all, they are civil servants (Denkbeamte, to use a marvellous German word, and their mania for order is not the result of a balanced inquiry, or of a closeness to humanity, it is a professional disease ».

This mania for order as extrinsic to and imposed on  the matter it organises is what characterises the arrogance of those who operate in terms of transcendence. This is what nourishes Feyerabend’s contempt for the arrogance of success, which closes the interview:

« What does not please me is to see some idiots getting large amounts of money in important positions [while] some smart young people [are] being pushed around, with no jobs, no money, nothing » (p168).

My argument is that Feyerabend gives great importance to moods and feelings, but that these form no mere irrational jumble. Feyerabend is a philosopher, albeit not an abstract rationalist, and his affects expressed in the interview (and his other works) are fully convergent not with his philosophical « position », for he has none, but with his conceptual creation and with his philosophical process of individuation.

« Immanence » and « transcendence » are concepts that are used explicitly by Deleuze, and implicitly by Feyerabend, for evaluating not just the form and content of philosophical theories but also concrete ways of living (and acting and feeling and perceiving) in the world.

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