DELEUZE ON DIALOGUE: DISCUSSION vs CONVERSATION

Deleuze habitually condemns “discussion” as narcissistic and sterile, an empty social ritual to be avoided at all costs:

It is already hard enough to understand what someone is saying. Discussion is just an exercise in narcissism where everyone takes turns showing off. Very quickly, you no longer have any idea what is being discussed (TWO REGIMES OF MADNESS, 384).

Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, “Let’s discuss this.” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY, 28)

One should be wary of taking such statements at face value, as enouncing some sort of general law about an abstraction called “discussion”, about which one can say something in isolation from any context or concrete arrangement. Nor should one understand this maxim of Deleuze as propounding a general rule: always avoid discusions, never discuss.

What Deleuze is getting at is the existence of incommensurability, which is very often denied or repressed. Many people proceed as if you are using the same words with the same meanings and go off on a tangent based on a few key words that they recognise and employ themselves. This is a bad way to handle incommensurability, by autistic denial.

In the book WHATIS PHILOSOPHY? Deleuze and Guattari oppose the solitude necessary for creating concepts to the sterility of gregarity:

Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous (WIP, 28).

Yet we feel that there is something one-sided about this proposition. All forms of dialogue seem to be equated, and equally excluded: discussion, communication, conversation are treated as synonyms. A general rule is propounded: “conversation is always superfluous”. This is very strange in a book stemming from the decades long collaboration (or creative dialogue) of two thinkers in whose respective professions dialogue plays an essential role: a philosopher (pedagogical and collegial dialogues) and a psychoanalyst (therapeutic dialogue).

This one-sidedness is attenuated in an interview (another dialogue) that Deleuze gave  after the publication of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? In one of his replies, Deleuze distinguishes “conversation” from “discussion”, and gives a creative role to conversation:

Discussion amounts to wasting a lot of time on indeterminate problems. Conversation is something else entirely. Conversation is quite necessary. But the slightest conversation is a highly schizophrenic exercise happening between two individuals with common resources and a taste for ellipse and verbal shortcuts. Conversation is composed of immobility interspersed with long silences; it can give you ideas. But discussion has no place in philosophical work (TRM, 384, translation modified by me).

There can be no general rule, as most concrete cases, according to Deleuze’s own principles, are mixtures. In this case, mixtures between “discussion” (bad) and “conversation” (good). The idea that a discussion or dialogue is narcissistic, whereas a monologue or a conversation between friends is not, is quite doubtful. All of us have encountered little mutual admiration societies where we are not invited to attend the conversation or to participate in it. In the latter case, we are supposed to acquiesce tersely or to shut up and listen to the authorised interlocutors converse. Further, Deleuze was an aristocrat at heart, and may have had difficulties with discussion that were sociologically and characterologically based (and not just philosophically grounded).

Applying Badiou’s distinction between the three logics (classical, intuitionist, and paraconsistent), we may say that “discussion” is inherently unstable and unsatisfying, oscillating between the classical logic of binary demarcations (what Deleuze referred to in DIALOGUES as the “forced choice”) and the intuitionist logic of a plurality of opinions condemned to “tolerate” each other. Conversation is “schizophrenic” because it adds to this mix a paraconsistent logic, where conversation is ellipse, and an animated exchange is compatible with immobility and silence. A good conversation combines the three logics, making sharp distinctions (provisionally, where necessary), allowing for a multitude of nuances and intermediate positions, half-plunged in a chaos where sporadically creation and destruction are maintained as one.

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2 Responses to DELEUZE ON DIALOGUE: DISCUSSION vs CONVERSATION

  1. dmf says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero.

    Liked by 1 person

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