CONCEPTS OUT OF THE SHADOWS: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (2)

Academic “normal” philosophy is much concerned with distinctions and determinations, classifications and demarcations, and rightly so. All thought is impregnated with theories and concepts, and we could not even get started if we were not already categorising and norming the world and its knowledge procedures.

As remarked earlier, we already know the answer to the question “What is philosophy?” before we begin the book, the answer being “philosophy is inventing concepts”. This answer is given in the first paragraph of the book, but we are also warned that one can  understand the question and the answer abstractly, as we did formerly, or concretely, as we are beginning to do so now.

Formerly, one asked it, one did not stop asking it, but this [asking] was too indirect or too oblique, too artificial, too abstract (my translation)

The published translation reads “It was asked before; it was always being asked, but too indirectly or obliquely; the question was too artificial, too abstract”.

I explained in the previous post why I prefer to keep the active form with “one” as the subject (although “we” would also work here). Here I have interpolated “asking”, put between square brackets as it is not really necessary, to specify the reference of the demonstrative pronoun “this”, which refers to the questioning rather than the question. The translators have preferred to interpolate “question”.

In our abstract knowledge of the answer we are like the novice to Zen Buddhism who wonders why they would need to meditate for years, living frugally and performing menial tasks, before they can find the answer to their koan, when anyone can buy a cheap paperback containing the “official” answers to all the major koans.

In both cases the answer is useless without the long years of practice, an abstraction of merely academic interest rather than the concrete response of the whole being. Perhaps we also know the end of the book, where this answer is both maintained and sublated by the shadowy chaos or chaotic shadow of undecidability.

The undecidability, in the last instance, of the different elements (concepts, sensations, and functions) and the indiscernibility of their respective disciplines that the book so painstakingly seeks to demarcate from each other is enounced quite clearly in the last sentence of the book (page 218):

It is here that concepts, sensations, and functions become undecidable, at the same time as philosophy, art, and science become indiscernible, as if they shared the same shadow that extends itself across their different nature and constantly accompanies them.

This shadow is present unannounced at the beginning of the book and we need to keep it in mind as we read. Philosophy is cinematography, and the question of lighting, of light and shadow is all-important.

The question is do Deleuze and Guattari get the lighting right in this final book?, do they illuminate the scene, the characters, the surroundings with the appropriate interplay of light and dark in every shot? (We should not forget that the French word “plan” in “plan d’immanence” is usually translated as plan or plane, but is also used in the cinema books with the third sense of “shot”). This question is still an open one for me.

To even begin to answer the question we must look into the shadows and ask “when is a concept not a concept?”, or rather “when is a concept a non-concept?”. In other words we must ask the shadow question that “constantly accompanies” the enlightened question of “what is philosophy?”. We must also, and at the same time, ask “what is non-philosophy?”

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