CONVERSATION WITH DELEUZE: pluralist epistemology and life

I met Deleuze in 1980 and the question of pluralist epistemology came up in a confusing way. Here is my transcription from memory (the conversation took place in French):

Deleuze: What would you like from me?
Terence: An interview to publish in our philosophy magazine.
D: I don’t give interviews. (Then, in English, with a smile) No interviews …. But if you want I can give you a text. What subject would you like it to be on?
T: Epistemology.
D: What? Epistemology? (Shaking his head gently). I don’t do epstemology, I don’t write on that. (He looks around at a few loyal students for confirmation, and they all shake their heads too).
T: But RHIZOME … (words fail me)
D: Ahh, but RHIZOME was an exception. Don’t worry, I’ll find something to give you.

The next week he gave me a short article on weaving and patchwork, which was an excerpt from MILLE PLATEAUX, which had not yet been published.

I had been shocked speechless during our short conversation, because to me it was evident that there was a huge epistemological dimension to Deleuze’s work, especially in all he had written on the Image of Thought. Later I came to see that his conception of “epistemology” was the French one of a set of regional philosophies of science. So our discussion was itself impeded by an epistemological phenomenon, that of the incommensurability of our philosophical languages.

This incommensurability could probably have been overcome if we had had more time to talk, but Deleuze was busy, and I never got to talk to him again. This conversation shows the central importance of time to understanding and dealing with incommensurabilities. Because Deleuze’s philosophical language and my own had developped in disparate sheets of space-time, an attempt at direct communication failed. It is also a good example of why Deleuze didn’t like interviews, as he explains in DIALOGUES. The essential dimension of duration and becoming, which he deems necessary for a productive conversation, is absent in an interview. Thus the whole set-up favours misunderstandings and incomprehensions, unless some sort of epistemological luck intervenes.

Only later did I learn that Deleuze was understanding epistemology in the French sense as referring to a set of regional epistemologies, each specific to a particular science, whereas I was taking it in the sense of a general logic of science and knowledge, tied to the logical positivists, to Popper and to Quine (also to Kuhn, to Lakatos, and to Feyerabend). On this interpretation in terms of cultural differences, there was no becoming in our dialogue, just mutual incommensurability and incomprehension. Neither had the necessary background knowledge to perceive and to relate to the theoretical context of the other.

Becoming was present, however, at another level (just not at the explicit level of dialogical content) . There was an intensive, or existential, exchange. I went back home to Australia with the firm resolution to come back to France and to study there. I published the excerpt that Deleuze had given me in a little local philosophy magazine, as not very many people at that time were interested in Deleuze. Yet this micro-dialogue with Deleuze was part of a process that revolutionised my thought and life.

On the intensive level, Deleuze in that conversation was occupying the place of becoming and of pluralist epistemology (no matter what sense he himself gave to a particular word), and convoking me to leave my little Anglophone intellectual ghetto. His two responses, No interviews! and No epistemology!, were like the No! of the zen master, calling me to more becoming. As Zourabichvili says, you can’t really talk about immanence without producing immanence. Or Stiegler, you can’t really talk about individuation without individuating. So I can add: you can’t really talk about pluralist epistemology without living it.

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3 Responses to CONVERSATION WITH DELEUZE: pluralist epistemology and life

  1. Enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing your encounter with Gilles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am also thinking of this point when one sits by the edge of incommensurability knowing that the next step will lead him to having communication problems with many others.

    For example through many influnces (among which partly the Modes of Existence book and what you write) I, a Physicist, fill on the edge of abandoning (functionaly abandoning) the “bifurcation” view of existence, of trying to find new ways to express my own experience and the everyday “objective” reality (not for professional reasons but for human existential reasons). But I know that the more I take such steps the more I will have comprehension problems with fellow scientists. (for example the idea that each experience has a material correlate in the structure and working of the brain “at the same time” that is isomorphic to it, is not that convincing any more for me , though broadly accepted as obvious truth among scientifically trained people).The more I will look like a “visionary” or something peculiar.

    In my case religion is pushing this way since the Way of Truth has absolute priority. However much Christian religious thought (I am speaking about what I have some knowledge of) has also become “bifurcational”: there is an understanding of what is to be human that “creates” a virtual space (where pure souls live) that has to house everything related to the Christian experience (meeting Christ in the context of a historical collective is not the same thing). SO here there might start another set of miscommunications.

    Liked by 1 person

    • terenceblake says:

      Many physicists have abandoned the bifurcation view. However, this is small consolation if all your immediate interlocutors are bifurcationist. Ditto for religion. This may create a new bifurcation between your day job self, and your leisure self, or your public face and your private thoughts. Luckily, people’s thoughts and conversation are fuzzier than these sharply demarcated philosophical positions may lead us to think. Fuzzy communication is already good, and I am far from calling for a Church of the Non-Bifurcation. Yet I track down the smallest anti-pluralist nuance in AIME because its business is to explain how to think outside the bifurcation box, and they should get it right. I still read science fiction where people upload and download their consciousness, despite thinking that it is philosophical nonsense. Sometimes it is good to just go with the story.


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