The blog The Art of Deviance published a heavily edited extract from the video interview between Claire Parnet and Gilles Deleuze, l’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze. The extract concerned the letter « J » for « Joy ». I have translated this more extensive extract:
Note: this extract is still incomplete as it is missing a long digression on Nietzsche and his concept of the priest, and also on the plaint or lament as an example of taking on something that is too powerful for me and that can make me crack. One can get a good idea of the missing part here, thanks to Charles Stivale. I have corrected some errors, and kept very close to Deleuze’s words. I have chosen to consistently translate « puissance » by « capacity », but sometimes potency, power, or even force, would be more usual in English.
Claire Parnet: Now J is for « Joy ». This is a concept that you are quite attached to since it’s a Spinozist concept and Spinoza made joy a concept of resistance and life: let us avoid sad passions, and live with joy in order to be at the maximum of our force; so we must flee from resignation, bad conscience, guilt, all the sad affects that priests, judges and psychoanalysts exploit. So we can readily see what could please you in all that. So first, I would like you to distinguish joy from sadness, both for Spinoza and so for you. Is Spinoza’s concept the same as yours, did you discover something when you read that?
Deleuze: Yes, those are the texts that are the most extraordinrily charged with affect in Spinoza. That amounts to saying — to simplify a lot — that joy is everything that consists in satisfying a capacity. You experience joy when you satisfy, when you effectuate one of your capacities. What is that? Let’s return to our examples: I conquer, however slightly, a small piece of color, I enter a little into color. « Joy » can be … Joy, that’s what it is to satisfy a capacity, to enact a capacity. I have satisfied a capacity. But then it’s the word « capacity » (Translator’s note: »puissance » can mean power to do something, translated here as capacity, or power over something or someone, translated here as power) that is ambiguous.
Conversely, what is sadness? It’s when I am separated from a capacity of which I believed myself, rightly or wrongly, capable: Ah, I could have done that, but circumstances prevented it, or it was forbidden, etc. That’s sadness, one should say: all sadness is the effect of a power over me.
CP: It was Gilles’ turn to speak. We were at the opposition joy/sadness.
GD: Yes, I claim that to effectuate one of one’s capacities is always good. That’s what Spinoza says. Obviously this poses problems and we need to add more details, because there are no bad capacities. What is bad, that which is bad we should say, is the lowest degree of capacity, and the lowest degree of capacity is power. I mean, what is evil? It’s preventing someone from doing what they can. Evil is preventing someone from acting, from enacting their capacity. So that there are no bad capacities, there are evil powers… Maybe all power is by nature evil, not necessarily, maybe it is too simple to say that. But that is in fact the idea of….[Spinoza?]
The confusion between powers and capacities is ruinous, because power always separates the people who are subjected to it from what they are capable of. That is where Spinoza starts. You said that sadness is linked to priests, to tyrants, to judges, and these are perpetually the people who separate their subjects from what they are capable of, who forbid any enactng of capacities.
I think that every power is sad. Even if those who have the power are overjoyed to have it, this is a sad joy. There are sad joys. It’s a sad joy. Conversely, joy is the enactment of a capacity. Once again, I know of no capacities that would be evil. The typhoon is a capacity, it must rejoice in its soul . But it does not rejoice in blowing down houses, but in existing. To rejoice is to rejoice in being what one is, that is, in having reached the point where one is. It’s not self-satisfaction, joy is not being pleased with oneself, not at all, it’s not the pleasure of being pleased with oneself. Rather, it’s the pleasure of conquest, as Nietzsche said, but the conquest does not consist in subjecting people, the conquest is for example for a painters to conquer color. Yes, that’s a conquest, that’s joy, even if it goes badly, because in these matters of capacities when one conquers a capacity or conquers something in a capacity, there is the risk that it is too powerful for the person who conquers. So they will crack up, for example Van Gogh.