THINKING IS DISREPUTABLE: philosophy, dreams, and the witch’s flight

This is cross-posted from my comment on Anthony’s post on TIME’S FLOW STEMMED:

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 guiltyconscience 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.

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