THE END OF DELEUZE IS NOT NIGH

It has become fashionable to declare that the age of post-structuralism is at an end, and many a meditation has been proposed on our possibly living in a “post-deleuzian” epoch. Such talk seems to be situating Deleuze in a chronology where citing Deleuze 20 years ago had a certain meaning and value, that it can no longer have today. Typically, various good or not so good options are envisaged (speculative realism, transcendental materialism, or even object-oriented ontology) as trying to go beyond the language of the classical subject but to retain some of its pathos, preserving a closeness to experiential narratives invoking the philosophical affects of wonder, fascination, and enchantment.

Some thinkers advocate the figure of the cyborg, not in the sense of a naive or scientistic phantasm of technological positivity, but in that of a self-reflexive cyborg incarnating the negative dialectics of the non-All. This figure sometimes seems to be the best solution as it embodies not just the material hybridity of human and machine, but also the ontological hybridity of virtual and actual. Contrary to a popular misconception, negativity is not a problem for Deleuze, and is omnipresent in his work, being concentrated especially in the prefix “de-” (decoding, desubjectivating, destratifying, deterritorialising, etc. ), even to the point of him saying that “deterritorialisation comes first”.

This solution closely resembles Deleuze’s own in NEGOTIATIONS, where he says about writing, but it is also applicable to to thinking, “Writing is a flux among other fluxes, and which has no privilege  in relaton to the others” (my translation). “Cyborg” belongs to the same register as “desiring-machine”, an ambiguous overcoming of the dualism between life and machine, that corresponds to the time (to the conceptual time, and not necessarily to the chronologically situated time) of ANTI-OEDIPUS. As Deleuze tells us, there is no such thing as a mono-flux, all fluxes are necessarily hybrid.

Note: Deleuze always claimed that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with dualism as long as it constitutes a preliminary step towards a more encompassing pluralism.

François Zourabichvili defends rather an “ahistorical” or “untimely” approach to Deleuze, that avoids the trap of the dictatorship of chronology:

 If our approach was resolutely ahistorical, it’s because we wanted to bring forth the systematics of Deleuze while avoiding the overly coarse chronological traps (in many respects, for example, the turn of ANTI-OEDIPUS is a trompe l’oeil, since the true renewal of concepts – becoming-animal, refrain, war-machine, etc. , takes place only later). LA PHILOSOPHIE DE DELEUZE, (6, my translation).

My provisional conclusion is that there is no reason to suppose that we are necessarily in a post-deleuzian epoch simply because we come after Deleuze. Historical chronology does not always coincide with the time of the concept. Deleuze’s thought was already “post-deleuzian”, and I am very wary of neat little chronological schemas that weaken a thought such as that of Deleuze by tying it too closely to a specific historical context.

The figure of the cyborg seems to be one possible exemplification of Deleuze’s figure of the “spiritual automaton”. This is a concept that appears in the cinema books, but in fact these books are not primarily about the cinema at all. They constitute, according to Deleuze, “a taxonomy, an essay in the classification of images and signs”. At one point in his lectures Deleuze remarks that you can assign all sorts of things, for example the people you meet, their personalities and their lives, to the different categories of his taxonomy. So there is an application to situations lived in the real world.

The taxonomy has existential import and force, serving to interrupt the stereotypes of our habitual narratives and to re-conceptualise the situations that we are presented with. The concept is one mode of the intervention of the power of the false, in the disruption of the sensory-motor schema and of its chronological time. The advent and proliferation of what William Connolly calls “durational” (as opposed to chronological) time, of becomings, and of incommensurable cuts and leaps, are only some of the consequences.

One of Deleuze’s durational categories is the “spiritual automaton”. The apparent contradiction in terms is explained by the attempt to describe an action (and a thought) that takes place outside the clichés and stereotypes that regiment our actions in the familiar situations of habitual experience, inside the sensori-motor scheme. The spiritual automaton is a type of awareness and action that awakes in us at the disruption of our routines and the interruption of our ordinary sensori-motor schemas, when a different sort of automaticity is needed to respond to the new situation and not just react to it. It proceeds, if you will, by an inventive upsurge of automaticity – that is to say of affects and actions ungoverned by (or even unstructured by) the category of the autonomous subject.

Donna Haraway’s cyborg is one figuration of this creative or visionary automaticity, as is Ted Friedman’s centaur, or Dreyfus and Kelly’s skilful master, and William Connolly’s seer.

It is interesting to see that Zourabichvili’s chronology is the reverse of that propounded by the advocates of “after post-stucturalism”. For these new philosophers, espousing Deleuze 20 years ago had a certain relevance that it no longer has today. On the contrary, for Zourabichvili, his book DELEUZE, A PHILOSOPHY OF THE EVENT (1994) was published in a period:

when it did not go without saying that Deleuze should be regarded as a thinker in his own right, a major thinker of 20th Century philosophy

(cited from the Preface to the re-edition of the book in 2004). He goes on to analyse the various confusions that led to this underestimation of Deleuze: in particular the naive ontological reading that ignores Deleuze’s pluralist subordination of the notion of Being (EST) to AND (ET), and the phenomenological reading that ignores the overflowing not only of the subject but of Being itself by the transcendental field. For Zourabichvili there is no ambiguity in Deleuze’s anti-phenomenological and anti-structuralist stance and Deleuze is totally coherent in carrying through his transcendental project:

his programme: substitution of AND for IS; or, which amounts to the same thing, substitution of becoming for being (7).

We are faced with an interesting terminological choice here. If one thinks that the primacy of Being is constitutive of the very notion of ontology, one will have to declare that there is no “ontology of Deleuze”. If one sees nothing problematic in the notion of an “ontology of becoming” where Being has no primacy, one may retain the word “ontology”, as Deleuze does, to describe his project. This project is unfinished, but still productive, and its “end” is not in sight.

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9 Responses to THE END OF DELEUZE IS NOT NIGH

  1. Philip says:

    What needs to end is the habit so many people have of reading Deleuze like he was an ointment – i.e. something to be ‘applied.’ In other words, taking his work, or some stage of it, and treating it as a timeless world unto itself that need only be parsed and prodded and applied to whatever situation with little or no modification (I am thinking of many geographers and literary theorists here).

    To ‘think with Deleuze,’ on the other hand, might even require abandoning whole swathes of his concepts if they no longer work for the problems we now face. That’s what career specialists don’t want to happen. Who would buy the dozens of Deleuze textbooks if to think with him one had to at the same time abandon him, at least to some degree? That would require creation rather than scholarship and it’s much more difficult!

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  2. For me it is so interesting and moving the way you relate with Deleuze (and how you followed the “call” you heard in your short meeting)
    Also when you write ” It proceeds, if you will, by an inventive upsurge of automaticity – that is to say of affects and actions ungoverned by (or even unstructured by) the category of the autonomous subject.” I had this feeling (which I do not know if it is accurate to what you want to express) of “consciousness on the making” as a sudden turn is taken in the ordinary navigation of life.

    Since you are a close reader of the Modes of Existence, is what you describe here similar to what Latour proposes to express with the mode [HAB]? Or the relation between [PRE] and [HAB]?

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  3. Dear Terrence
    as you become more and more conversent in Deleuse-sque, Badiou-sque, Laruelle-sque, Latoure-sque, do you have the feel that these are different “theories” (languages?) that essentially express very similar realities though they will stay distinct or do you get the sense that eventually they are converging towards something common.
    I use the term “theories” in a way similar to what hapens in Physics when for example one can express classical mechanics using different theories (for example using Lagrangian functions or using Hamiltonean functions) or quantum mechanics using functions or alternatively using matrices.
    Although expressing a similar reality different theories are more succesful in different problems and they are extendable alnog different natural lines.
    So is it that for example Badiou’s philosophy feels as if expressing similar realizations with for example Latour’s but they will always stay distinct (like different languages) although the one may pose challenges to the other
    or is it that you feel that eventually they converge towards similar speech practices (up to changes in terminology or as they say in math , modulo terminology)?

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    • terenceblake says:

      I think that all these theories express similar realities, but are not fully convergent (as you suggest, they will always remain distinct). They communicate already a little, and even more so when looked at from my ongoing construction of a pluralist point of view and of partial bridges and passages. Latour dismisses Badiou, and I think Badiou sees nothing interesting in Latour, but I have been busy creating connections. They nicely complement each other in part, but also bitterly squabble with each other.

      For my part, I do not see philosophy like a football supporter who cheers his own team and boos all the others. I may like Badiou’s hard-headed rigour and Latour’s soft-headed fuzziness. I need both.

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  4. S.C. Hickman says:

    “Contrary to a popular misconception, negativity is not a problem for Deleuze, and is omnipresent in his work…”

    Absolutely! I’m glad you pointed this out. Seems to be one of those aspects of his work that many of his progeny either overlook or underplay. I’m enjoy where you’re going these days, Terrence. This turn toward non-philosophy and commentary on Badiou, Deleuze, Laruelle, etc. seems a definite fit to your mode of being. One thing I’ve always admired in your post is honesty. You don’t hold back.

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  5. Wayne Brooks says:

    1) “His programme: substitution of AND for IS; or, which amounts to the same thing, substitution of becoming for being,” and therefore “ignores Deleuze’s pluralist subordination of the notion of Being” This is the crux of the matter.

    2) Therefore: “If one sees nothing problematic in the notion of an “ontology of becoming” where Being has no primacy, one may retain the word “ontology”, as Deleuze does, to describe his project”

    3) and “phenomenological reading that ignores the overflowing not only of the subject but of Being itself by the transcendental field.”

    4) also, “concept is one mode of the intervention of the power of the false, in the disruption of the sensory-motor schema and of its chronological time.” Aion/Chronos

    5) as well as “affects and actions ungoverned by (or even unstructured by) the category of the autonomous subject.”

    It will always be about becoming.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wayne Brooks says:

    Since 2014, I have been systematically entranced by the metaphysics of Deleuze, by his philosophical, scientific and aesthetic capacity to explicate the anorganic, physical/chemical, organic and sociological as entities connected by nonCartesian duality. He has not yet been eclipsed by any equivalent philospher with similar metaphysical capacities, in my opinion.

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