DELEUZE AND DRUGS: against the marginals’ conformism

The immanent molecular and perceptive causality of desire fails in the drug-assemblage. Drug addicts continually fall back into what they wanted to escape: a segmentarity all the more rigid for being marginal, a territorialization all the more artificial for being based on chemical substances, hallucinatory forms, and phantasy subjectifications. Drug addicts may be considered as precursors or experimenters who tirelessly blaze new paths of life, but their cautiousness lacks the foundation for caution. So they either join the legion of false heroes who follow the conformist path of a little death and a long fatigue. Or, what is worse, all they will have done is make an attempt only nonusers or former users can resume and benefit from, secondarily rectifying the always aborted plane of drugs, discovering through drugs what drugs lack for the construction of a plane of consistency. Is the mistake drug users make always to start over again from ground zero, either going on the drug again or quitting, when what they should do is make it a stopover, to start from the “middle,” bifurcate from the middle? To succeed in getting drunk, but on pure water (Henry Miller). To succeed in getting high, but by abstention, “to take and abstain, especially abstain,” I am a drinker of water! (Deleuze and Guattari, A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, p. 285).

Note: thanks to Wayne Brooks for sharing this quote in a conversation on facebook.

This statement of principle applies to all drugs. The only drug that we know that Deleuze took regularly for some time is alcohol. He talks about this freely in his ABC Primer, where he affirms that he drank because he thought it helped with the creation of concepts, and then he decided he was wrong and stopped.

We may add nicotine, as Deleuze smoked constantly until the last years of his life. But he never theorised it, or claimed it helped him create concepts as far as I know. He probably drank coffee too, I can’t recall. The only thing I remember him mentioning in his seminars is that he didn’t eat breakfast. Sugar is a drug too. And no doubt he took medication for his lung condition. This post is concerned with Deleuze’s noesis, with his taking of substances in order to transform his perceptions and his thought processes.

Anindya Bhattacharyya comments that some of Deleuze and Guattari’s’s remarks “apply to addictive substances in general while others refer more narrowly to psychoactive drugs”. This is true but Deleuze and Guattari’s focus here is psychoactive drugs. This impression is in part an artefact of the translation. They talk ambiguously of the “drogué”, which can refer either to someone who uses drugs or to someone who is dependent on drugs (a less ambiguous word is “toxicomane” which means drug addict). However, the translation says “drug addict”.

Deleuze and Guattari has two main models Burroughs and addictive substances (heroin), Michaux and psychoactive drugs (mescaline). But underlying both is Carlos Castaneda on drugs, sorcery and “stopping the world” to see the holes and the “luminous fibres (lines of flight).

Drugs do not guarantee immanence

Drug use does not get us to the plane of consistency. Drugs lack, they lead us on to the “conformist path”. There is nothing intrinsically non-conformist about drugs, they are just another variant of “a little death and a long fatigue”. The “little death” is Bataille’s name for the orgasm, for “jouissance”, enjoyment. Drugs may be taken as a means to attain this enjoyment, a transgressive rupture in the quotidian routine, but they quickly become themselves the aim, as surplus-enjoyment.

The problem according to Deleuze and Guattari is the constant return to zero, to the tabula rasa. The path that Deleuze and Guattari recommend is not to return, to start again from nothing, but rather to “resume” and to “rectify”, to start in the middle and to “bifurcate”

Note: here I must reject the translation of “prendre un relais” as “make it a stopover”. It should rather be to “take up the torch”, “seize the baton and run”. The emphasis here is not on the “stop” but on continuing the movement, taking it further.

The danger, and here Deleuze and Guattari are talking about the noetic danger (the social and the physical dangers are only alluded to,) is to be stuck in “phantasy” separated from the plane of consistency (real life transformation). The secret is not chemical (material substances) but alchemical (noetic processes):

drug users believed that drugs would grant them the plane, when in fact the plane must distill its own drugs

The discussion on this point is noetic rather than moralistic or empirical. On the empirical question Deleuze is quite clear: taking drugs ultimately leads us on the conformist path, so the cardinal virtue is abstention (not abjuration). On the noetical question (but the two are intertwined), the aim is

To reach the point where “to get high or not to get high” is no longer the question, but rather whether drugs have sufficiently changed the general conditions of space and time perception so that nonusers can succeed in passing through the holes in the world and following the lines of flight at the very place where means other than drugs become necessary. Drugs do not guarantee immanence; rather, the immanence of drugs allows one to forgo them (ATP, 286).

The point is to “forgo” drugs in order to pass through the holes in the world and onto the lines of flight. Drugs, whether we have taken them or not, have changed our perception. They have allowed us to perceive the holes in the world, the gaps, the breaks, the ruptures, the imperceptible fissures. But they do not allow us to take hold of the imperceptible and to become ourselves imperceptible:

One does not conform to a model, one straddles a horse. Drug users have not chosen the right molecule or the right horse. Too bulky to grasp the impercep­tible and to become imperceptible, they believed that drugs would give them the plane (ATP, 286).

The discussion here echoes Deleuze’s earlier “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: 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 same question is also taken up again, with greater generality, in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?:

the plane of immanence is pre-philosophical 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 (WIP? 41).

The link that Deleuze and Guattari make between thinking and witchcraft takes us out of the self-contained territories of philosophy practiced as an academic discipline.

Witchcraft is little understood, esoteric, 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”. It has to do with becoming, transformation and flight, with powers and demonic forces, with going against Nature as we ordinarily understand it.

Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge the need for unrespectable, unreasonable and irrational means. They cite dreams, sickness and madness, magic, alcohol, and all sorts of “excess”. I do not think that these are meant merely metaphorically, nor are they an encouragement to debauch. There is no model, nothing is proscribed but nothing is guaranteed. The aim is not the endless cycle of intoxication followed by fatigue ad infinitum.

The aim is noetic vision, the transformation of the “eyes of the mind”.

Deleuze probably did take mescaline and/or LSD. His conclusion is that this is not enough. Any testimony on this biographical point would only reinforce the philosophical argument by showing that Deleuze knew from experience what he was talking about.

In the text I am discussing Deleuze talks explicitly about drugs but says they are too molar. He talks more about finding the right molecule, which can be noetic (distilled by the plane) as well as chemical. His preference is for the noetic.

Deleuze’s advice is: if you need the chemical vehicle to get to the noetic why not?, we all need some excessive unreasonable means.  Just don’t get hung up on the chemical (or the magic, or the sex, or the yoga, etc.) nor stuck in the phantasy it provokes.

Note: I am indebted to a conversation with Mark Stahlman for helping me to clarify my thoughts on this question.

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5 Responses to DELEUZE AND DRUGS: against the marginals’ conformism

  1. dmf says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic zero.


  2. Pingback: Delueze and Drugs.  – Constructive Undoing

  3. Felix M. says:

    Awesome. Its perhaps no accident that this topic illuminates very clearly what a lot of this is about.

    “The problem according to Deleuze and Guattari is the constant return to zero, to the tabula rasa. The path that Deleuze and Guattari recommend is not to return, to start again from nothing, but rather to “resume” and to “rectify”, to start in the middle and to “bifurcate””

    In nonbuddhist terms I always seperate between <insight<, what I would guess is close to D&G's "rupture", a momentary glimpse at "behind things", a glimpse at a rationality that defies convention and , and the thing I would always say to the anxious LSD-Freak is that enlightenment is that which feels very stable, secure. A momentary insight, rupture might be valuable, worth investigating, but it should also always be treated with a healthy scepticism, and not treated to seriously

    The somewhat ironic fact being that a lot of those most stable insights, are exactly those that give you tools to continually deal with impermanence, rupture, contingency, etc..

    A tangent that I feel led into with this notion of stability is that a good part of continental theory is also just very grounded, not mystical at all, yet to the mainstream just as disruptive. The thing that most comes to mind is this discourse around ideology/identity in the Althusserian sense, and I think its bad that in practice this always gets close to Lacan who is of course a giant mystic (and maybe not in the good sense at times). Like, one thing that I find really, really great about continental theory is that there is a strong stream which is totally not this “oooh, how can we ever know reality”, but that observes in the most grounded way how humans distort reality in clear and totally observable ways: Rationalisation, narcissism, etc… And exactly this grounded, banal view gives us the more secure we become in it just as much noetic vision as we might (maybe!!) get from the mystical stuff. Where the mainstream is all like hemming and hawing: “oh, no, human consciousness, so ungraspable”, the continental philosopher stands there with his hands in his pockets being all like: “Well its kind of obvious how it works”. From the view of the unenlightened mainstream just as much noetic vision, except very grounded, stable, explainable.


  4. Mark Crosby says:

    Rereading Octavia Butler’s 1989 trilogy conclusion IMAGO, where ‘immanence’ becomes the possibility that the Oankali ooloi (shaman) can link directly into the body of another (if not their thoughts), with the ability to completely reprogram the Human and experience their emotional response. Greatest drug ever imagined? Beginning to realize how skillfully Butler explores the addictive temptations that this ability promulgates. As above: “anxious LSD-freak” at the rave, being exactly opposite of what a shamanic psychedelic trip should be: Deleuze at Big Sur!

    Michel Tournier writes (epilogue to 2001’s DELEUZE AND RELIGION, edited by Mary Bryden): “One summer, I took him [Deleuze] to Villers-sur-Mer. He hardly ever took his scarf or his city shoes off. He did have one dip in the sea. ‘I swim with my head straight out of the water to show that I am not in my natural element’, he said”.


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