Where to begin with Deleuze?

It can be a good idea to start at the end and work back. This would mean first reading the short essay “Postscript on societies of control” and WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? And complete with the interviews collected in NEGOTIATIONS, followed by Charles Stivale’s summary of Deleuze’s ABC Primer and the videos.

An epistemological entry is possible with the chapters on the new image of thought in Nietzsche and Philosophy, and in Difference and Repetition. I would add the discussion of the image of thought in Dialogues and in Letter to a Harsh Critic. One could go on to read the FOUCAULT book next, and chapters 6 (the powers of the false) and 7 (thought and cinema) of the TIME-IMAGE. RHIZOME also belongs to this epistemological thread.

The Kantian dimension is very important. It is interesting that in Deleuze’s courses on the cinema he originally intended to use Bergson for the movement-image and Kant for the time-image (I am basing myself on my notes taken at that time, as I attended Deleuze’s courses from 1980 to 1986). So I think that Kant’s presence in the TIME-IMAGE should not be underestimated.

On a more autobiographical slant, I first read the ANTI-OEDIPUS as I was very much interested in the philosophy of the psyche (not desire, the psyche), which has not been commented on so much, although now, thanks to Bernard Stiegler, people are beginning to talk more about Simondon’s concept of psychic and collective individuation, which runs through all Deleuze including his later stuff on subjectivation.

Soon after I arrived in Paris in 1980 Deleuze began a new phase, talking about painting and then the cinema, which lasted about 5 years. So I think the image could be another entry into Deleuze’s work, and one could start with the book on Francis Bacon and then read the two cinema books.

LOGIC OF SENSE is a great entry into Deleuze from the angle of stories and literature and philosophical anecdotes, and ties into the KAFKA book and “On the superiority of anglo-american literature” in DIALOGUES. Next would be chapter 8 of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, at least. Deleuze’s work is full of stories and allusions to stories. In the cinema books there is the material on the act of fabulation, which is continued in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?

If you understand French it is an amazing experience to listen to Deleuze’s seminars. Those from 1980 to June 1986 can be found here: http://www2.univ-paris8.fr/deleuze/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=4 (i.e. ANTI-OEDIPUS and A THOUSAND PLATEAUS related courses, Spinoza, Painting, the four years on the cinema, and the two years on Foucault. For the last year on Leibniz, you can download his classes here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/Search?ArianeWireIndex=index&p=1&lang=FR&f_typedoc=audio&q=deleuze.

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is a very good pedagogical introduction. I didn’t appreciate the book when it was published in 1991, because it seemed to be a regression compared to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, favoring demarcation over transversality. However, now I feel that the theorisation of the different relations with chaos explains some things that were only implicit in the previous books, especially in the TIME-IMAGE.

I think that WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? not only responds to Badiou’s and Laruelle’s work quite effectively but anticipates Bruno Latour’s theorisation of modes of existence. So maybe Latour’s AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE could be considered a way of entry into Deleuze.

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4 Responses to Where to begin with Deleuze?

  1. Patrick jennings says:

    I’m halfway through Latour’s book now (marvellous and, unlike almost all of Laruelle, straightforwardly readable) and was thinking the same thing. I’ve had many false starts with Deleuze and hope the next beginning will get me going. Thanks for the list of entry points. As always your posts are for me a base camp on the trek into unfamiliar territory.

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  2. Mark Crosby says:

    Here’s another idea: Start at the beginning! The more I peruse it over time, the more I appreciate DESERT ISLANDS AND OTHER TEXTS (1953-1974). Assembled circa 2004, each essay is fairly short, self-contained, fractal and lies on a plane of consistency with Deleuze’s later works.

    The texts may all be available online; but, for a Deleuze fan, the cover photo, “Gilles Deleuze in Big Sur”, by Jean-Jacques Lebel, might be worth the price of the book.

    Thanks for your ongoing blogging efforts, Mark

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    • terenceblake says:

      Yes, I think that the earliest essays are perhaps in best continuity with the writings after the encounter with Guattari. There was a freedom there that became over-coded by his synthesis in Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense. Guattari helped Deleuze to jettison the Lacanian overlay and move back to himself.

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