We already know Deleuze and Guattari’s answer to the question “What is philosophy?”, and they knew it too, for many years before writing the book. Now, however, they place themselves in an existential drama occurring in a particular life situation (“old age”, but one must not take this too literally) and in a particular mood (uncertainty: the title is a question and the first word in the French is “Peut-être”, “Perhaps”).
For more on this non-literal or intensive use of “old age”, on the interrogative mood, the modality of uncertainty and the status of the the virtual see the post on the incipit to the book.
Deleuze and Guattari are already casting themselves as conceptual characters, before they begin to explicate their vision of philosophy in novelistic, pictural, and cinematic terms characters, landscapes, visions, struggles, circumstances) at the end of their first paragraph and in the second. We are introduced from the beginning to a style that has no time for abstractions. Philosophy is more cinematic than academic, the philosopher “speaks concretely”. Philosophical writing is a cinematography.
We know the answer to the question, but our knowledge is too technical, too abstract, too academic. The answer should allow us to revolutionise our thought, not just once but in many situations, on multiple occasions, over and over. Instead of revolutionary thinking, the quest for meaningful function, we get normal philosophy and operational sufficiency:
“It’s a question that one poses in a discreet agitation, at midnight, when one no longer has anything to ask for” (my translation).
cf. the published translation: “It is a question posed in a moment of quiet restlessness, at midnight, when there is no longer anything to ask”. I have already discussed my variant translation in my earlier post, but here I wish to push my analysis a little further.
It is perfectly correct to translate an expression with “on” and a verb in the active voice (“une question qu’on pose”) by a passive form (“a question posed”), but here I maintain the active form because of the ambiguity of “one”, which corresponds to the double use of “on” in French, referring either to an impersonal generic subject and to the personal “we”, or both. The whole of this first paragraph is systematically ambiguous between the two acceptations.
I say “systematically ambiguous” advisedly, because the whole book is an exploration of the ambiguity of philosophy, and of its well-known definition as inventing concepts, torn between meaningful function and operational sufficiency. Laruelle himself was blind to this double language, and retained only the reading in terms of sufficiency. Laruelle was also blind to the dramaturgy (or cinematography) of the book, and one may regret that the published English translation effaces it to some extent (Laruelle, being French, has no such excuse).
The drama of the two languages (abstract and concrete) and of the philosopher’s struggle with the doxa, including in her own life and practice, is present from the very first page. An important instance of this is the duplicity of the expression “old age”. Deleuze and Guattari cite Chateaubriand’s Vie de Rancé (published when he was 76 years old, i.e. a decade older than Deleuze and Guattari). They then quote from a critical appreciation by Pierre Barbéris, containing a crucial distinction for their enterprise:
Rancé, a book on old age as impossible value, is a book written against old age in power; it is a book of universal ruins in which only the power of writing is affirmed.
What Barbéris calls “ld age as impossible value” is old age as transcendental condition of thought, as virtual event, not to be conflated “old age in power”, the sufficient power of operational repetition, that can reign at any age. It is also to be distinguished from the chronological fact of old age.
Aging in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? has the same function as the “schizo process” in ANTI-OEDIPUS. Both are instances of pathogenesis in Canguilhem’s sense, the power to create new norms out of the pathological disorganisation of the normal, to extract a virtual or “impoossible value” out of an all too real decline.