THERE IS MADNESS IN THIS METHOD: Commentary on a fragment from Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.

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” (aux aguets), 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 becoming, 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, or inattention, 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 indifferent, 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 on the internet with our blogs and other postings. 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.

People are indifferent to others’ thoughts, just as they are indifferent to another’s dreams. Until some danger crops up, and their attitude changes. If the danger is to them, they may panic and run, or at least try to give it a wide berth. If the danger is to the dreamer or to the thinker, people may find an unhealthy interest in observing all 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, in doing the things outside correct thought that are tied to getting one thinking. If you are not attentive, 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 an adventurer, 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 to this accusation Deleuze distinguishes between an outer politically correct marginality based on indifference to the singularity of the other’s experiments, and a more “discreet”, “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 the word favorably it is to be understood in the sense of “intensive”).

(Note 2: Unfortunately the published English translation effaces this notion of political correctness when it translates “all that crap where everyone’s supposed to be everyone else’s guilty conscience 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.

Up to now I have commented this text in a way that is perhaps still too academic, too rational and too reasonable, by focusing on the explicit conceptual content; Yet the text also performs that content: it does not only speak of dreams and philosophy, but also seems to be a dream and its interpretation (and one must recall Jung’s dictum “the dream is its own interpretation”). There is a pulsation between image and concept here, that needs to be brought out.

According to Deleuze and Guattari thinkers are unreasonable and head for the horizon. We know that in science the horizon is only relative:

“What is primary in science is relative light or the relative horizon” (42, translation modified by me to bring out the idea that the light of science is relative too, and not just the horizon).

The philosopher “heads for the horizon”, that is to say “plunges into the infinite”, his or her horizon is absolute, as is the thinker’s light. This movement is both physical and mental (“in this respect chaos has as much a mental as a physical existence”, 42). If we “return with bloodshot eyes” it is not only because of an excess of alcohol or of light (this is the physical side of the “unreasonable” methods, pathological or esoteric measures) but also because of our vision of a power that is almost too strong for us.

I say “almost too strong”, because in this text the thinker comes back, only changed, with “bloodshot eyes” and with new vision and new concepts. The eyes of the mind have been opened and strained to their limits.

Both these movements (heading out to, and coming back from, the infinite) are necessary to thinking. Heading out unreasonably, dangerously, and coming back bearing the mark (bloodshot eyes, or in some cases worse) of the voyage towards (which is “inner” only in the sense of being noetic or intensive), or of the encounter with, the horizon, but bearing also the vision, the affects, the percepts and the concepts. This double movement is what gives consistency to our philosophical territory: a territory is constituted by the movement of leaving it, which also means exposing oneself to risk, and also by thefurther movement of returning back with a new song or a new colour, a new posture, or a new scent.

Already by heading off outside wetake the risk indifference turning into “disapproval” (42), because the danger becomes obvious. True academic philosophy is not usually very perilous, but there is always the danger to one’s career and to that of one’s friends or allies. This is what Deleuze and Guattari call “obvious” danger, easily recognizable. The disapproval is redoubled when one brings back outlandish concepts (according to Deleuze in the ABC PRIMER “outlandish” is a good synonym for deterritorialised).

The piece describes an intensive movement that is typical of philosophy, different from the extensive movement of “travel”. In the ABC PRIMER Deleuze talks about such movements and calls them “immobile voyages” or voyages in intensity:

 I feel no need to move. All the intensities that I have are immobile intensities. Intensities distribute themselves in space or in other systems that aren’t necessarily in exterior spaces. I can assure you that when I read a book that I admire, that I find beautiful, or when I hear music that I consider beautiful, I really get the feeling of passing into such states… Never could traveling inspire such emotions. So, why would I go seek emotions that don’t suit me very well, since I have more beautiful ones for myself in immobile systems, like music, like philosophy? There is a geo-music, a geo- philosophy, I mean, they are profound countries, and these are more my countries, yes?
Parnet: Your foreign lands.
Deleuze: My very own foreign lands that I don’t find by traveling.

I think it may be useful to pay attention to the particular words used. The passage begins:

Thinking provokes general indifference.

“Indifference” is a sort of de-differentiated doxa, that just after the passage cited, in the same paragraph, Deleuze and Guattari call “opinion”. We know that “difference” is a key word for Deleuze, and we know that each intensity envelops an internal difference. So indifference means also without intensity, without affect, what Badiou calls the a-tonal world of democratic materialism.

“Thinking” renders what in the French text is called “penser”, i.e. the infinitive “to think” (Note: I am not criticising the translation, but merely pointing out other conceptual latencies contained in the original French). The infinitive is associated by Deleuze and Guattari with the event. Here they are talking about the event of thinking, as a rupture with the doxa and a departure on an immobile voyage.

This is echoed later when they say “We head for the horizon”. In French the text reads “On court à l’horizon”. The subject is not “we” (nous), but “one” (on), what Deleuze and Guattari call the fourth person singular, and which they propose as the impersonal subject of the event. The verb is not “head for”, which indicates a neutral moving in a particular direction, but “run”. So the notion of speed, of more than normal intensity of movement, is present in the French.

It is useful to focus on the idea of movement expressed in the images and concepts of the text. For Deleuze the contemporary age is characterised by the loss of the vertical axis, with its movement of rising to  or descending from transcendence. The aim of philosophy is not only to think movement, a difficult task in itself, but to make the movement. This movement is horizontal, on a plane of immanence:

We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes

We can see that this is quite different from the Platonic vertical movement of climbing out of the Cavern of illusion up to the light of the Sun, and returning illuminated or blinded to some degree down into the Cavern. Running for the horizon ( a horizontal movement) and coming back with new concepts is a different sort of movement, and figures a different sort of thinking.

The state of “indifference” that I discussed earlier, in particular the state of indifference to thinking, is the state of servitude (in Spinozan terms). It is a state of passivity that is subjected to the “false movements” dictated by a transcendence (extrinsic values or goals, divine commands, objectivised political necessities) and which dictates a trajectory constructed out of straight lines.

(Note: here I am paraphrasing Deleuze’s marvelous little book PERICLES AND VERDI).

Thinking involves breaking with that servitude and state of passivity, and becoming-active, actualising one’s powers. This is what Deleuze calls the “natural movement”, and it traces and follows the curved and zigzag lines of sorcery.

One can modify the translation of the sentence “To think is always to follow the witch’s flight”. In French this reads “Penser, c’est toujours suivre une ligne de sorcière”. Literally: “To think is always to follow a sorceress’s line”.

It is useful to recall the literal translation of “sorcière” as sorceress, as one of the allusions here is to Carlos Castaneda’s initiation into sorcery, one of Deleuze and Guattari’s favorite examples. One of the degrees of the initiation was learning to “stop the world” (i.e. stop the false movement, break with the general indifference). According to Deleuze, in his comments on the cinema and elsewhere, this allows one to see the “lines of the universe” or the lines of becoming, and to pass through the wall that cuts us off from running to the horizon and actualising our powers .

Deleuze and Guattari are not proposing a new Grand Narrative here, but just one possible micro-story. Another story of movement may be more illuminating. Deleuze claims that the notion of movement has changed from that produced by the application of an external force.

“All the new sports – surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding – take the form of entering into an existing wave.There’s no longer an origin a starting point, but a sort of putting-into-orbit” (NEGOTIATIONS, 121).

Movement is not only physical but also noetic. This is why Deleuze and Guattari talk about the “eyes of the mind”, and so finds its place in the noosphere.

The “bad” sort of verticality is the movement of transcendence, away from the Earth, or Gaia, considered as a Platonic Cavern of Illusion. However, other forms of verticality that do not involve transcendence would be acceptable. It would be a mistake to conclude that verticality is an essence to be isolated and universally proscribed.

The text talks about running to the horizon AND coming back, so it contains a notion of gravity as attraction, one could almost call it “horizontal gravity”. Deleuze and Guattari are in favour of multiple dimensions, what they call “n minus one” dimensions. What is subtracted is not necessarily verticality in a literal sense but rather transcendence, a dimension dominating all the others, in whatever direction.

The transcendental sphere is no totalising Sloterdijkian “macro-sphere”, it is composed of a plurality of multi-dimensioned micro-spheres. One has only to look at the various movements described in LOGIC OF SENSE, in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, and in the CINEMA books, where we find many descriptions of intensities rising and falling, confirming that the movements of intensive verticality are fully acceptable for Deleuze and Guattari when thought outside transcendent privilege.

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6 Responses to THERE IS MADNESS IN THIS METHOD: Commentary on a fragment from Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

  1. Naxos says:

    Putting aside the postscript, I celebrate everything you say in the main commentary, which I find very schizosophical. I also appreciate a lot your thoughts on dreams, verticality and horizontality, they are very enriching and of course I felt alluded with regards to my recent post 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Adrian says:

    It seems like a (so far!) entire lifetime’s worth of intensive philosophical experience and reflection is caught and summarised here, Terence. What a great post. Could not agree more with your horror at the ‘dreams are only interesting to their dreamer’ doxa, which I have also never understood or sympathised with!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just trying to digest the original quotation here. By “indifference” are they referring to most people’s repellance from deep thought? Or the malaise that creeps over the deep-thinker, as s/he lies still consumed by mental action —- which crowds out the physical action


  4. terenceblake says:

    I think it means both people’s lack of interest or enthusiasm for thought and a certain difficulty of thinking intrinsic to the thinker.


  5. Pingback: Conversation in AGENT SWARM |

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