METAPHYSICS AND PLURALISM (2): Some thoughts on Deleuze’s polytheism

In ALL THINGS SHINING, Kelly and Dreyfus, following Heidegger, talk about “gathering” to describe the coming together of practices in configurations of ways of being in the world: “The practices have gathered throughout the history of the West to reveal these manifold ways the world is” (ATS, 223). This is not necessarily a monistic metaphysical term to describe a monolithic all-encompassing structure that would correspond to a particular historical epoch. Dreyfus and Kelly in fact argue that there are always other practices on the margins, and that these marginal practices can sometimes come together, gather, in a new understanding of being that reveals a new way the world is. It is only a small leap to recognize that not only marginal practices, but full-blown alternative « gatherings » or traditions exist in every epoch – this is the leap that they make whenever they espouse Heidegger’s thing-paradigm over and above his History of Being paradigm.

The problem with ALL THINGS SHINING is that it is a good step in the direction of pluralism but it is not pluralist enough and that this is perhaps due to its heideggerian foundations. In comparing Heidegger to Whitehead, Steven Shaviro (in WITHOUT CRITERIA) condemns what he sees as Heidegger’s concern with retrieving the past where Whitehead is more concerned with the New. Heidegger begins with the endeavour “to raise anew the question of the meaning of Being” , Whitehead is not concerned with beginnings and origins but with the production of novelty. Dreyfus and Kelly repeat this nostalgic orientation towards the past in their slogan “luring back the gods”. The “luring back” is a monist gesture strangely inconsistent with the pluralist gesture of opening out to “gods”. It is monist because it violates the notion of incommensurability that they so timidly construct to describe the radical difference between understandings of being and then undo by postulating a continuity within the background assured by the presence of marginal practices that correspond to other understandings of being.

Deleuze and Guattari’s pluralist notion of “agencements”, usually translated as assemblages, could just as well be translated as gatherings. As well, they often invoke “minor” practices that exist alongside the majority mode of organising practices and that operate outside its hegemony. Pickering too talks in terms of assemblages, and explicitly invokes a counter-hegemonic gestalt switch which would empower the marginal practices embodying a more open, non-dualist, ontology of becoming.

Deleuze is firmly on the side of Whitehead in the production vs retrieval contrast:
“the aim is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal, but to find the conditions under which something new is produced (creativeness). (DIALOGUES II
Deleuze’s affinity with polytheism can be seen in his repeated references to the non-personal powers that traverse us. Deleuze’s pluralism can be seen as a form of polytheism. As Tim Clark remarks, Deleuze’s ontology is “a distinctly postmodern avatar of polytheism: a vision of multiple “little divinities” effecting random syntheses of differential elements within an immanent space of possibilities”. However Deleuze prefers to speak of demons rather than gods, as gods are too often used in a way that is too codified and too territorialised:
“Demons are different from gods, because gods have fixed attributes, properties and functions, territories and codes…What demons do is jump across intervals, and from one interval to another.” (DIALOGUES II p.30).

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