THREE SHADES OF CONCEPT: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (4)

Philosophy, for Deleuze and Guattari, begins with a pathology, or a pathological process: a jolt, a shock, a malfunction, a wound, a delirium, a crack-up, sickness, old age. The task is extract the event in the state of affairs and to be worthy of the event.

The shock, we will learn explicitly at the end of the book (but we already know it), opens a crack in the ordered world of opinion, a crack onto chaos and disorder. The task is to meet something negative (the shock or the crack) with something positive, to bring back something from the chaos.

Anyone who thinks that Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy has no place for negativity is certainly missing a fundamental and omni-present transcendental condition of thought.

For the philosopher this means to create concepts insufflated with chaos. The question is one of dosage: how much chaos do you need to create your concepts? how much chaos can you stand?

Sometimes we need only a little chaos to accomplish our goals, sometimes we need a lot, and sometimes we have no need, we are struck by chaos and have to make of it what we can. In this book Deleuze and Guattari try to take old age as an event, as an opening onto chaos, and they try to produce its concept.

On the last two pages of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (217-218) Deleuze and Guattari give us a sketch of a typology of concepts. They distinguish concepts that come from

1) extrinsic interference – concepts of something from another domain, from science or art, for example the concept of a particular space. One could call them inter-disciplinary concepts. They are however subject to purely philosophical criteria. The sensation or the function is “wrested” from its original plane and “seized” in conceptual form. The planes remain separate, or separable.

2) intrinsic interference – concepts are not wrested from one plane to another, rather they “slide” between planes, introducing aspects of one plane in another, inducing a new sort of “mixed” or “complex” plane, that is “difficult to qualify”. They give the example of “Zarathustra” in Nietzsche’s work. One could call them trans-disciplinary concepts. The planes are entangled

3) non-localisable interference – concepts are on a plane of immanence “in an essential relation with the non- that concerns it”, in essential relation with the negative. Concepts are “undecidable”, they are undecidably also sensations, and/or functions. One could call them a-disciplinary. The planes are non-local. Here no example is given, but I think that old age as employed at the beginning of the book is an instance of a non-local concept.

(The published English translation reads “in relation with a negative”. It omits “essential” and “that concerns it” and it translates the “le Non” in the French as “a negative”, which only partially captures the sense). 

This typology permits us to reply to the objection that Deleuze and Guattari’s thought is too abstract, too “conceptual” in the academic sense.

All three types of concept are needed, none is inherently inferior or superior to the other two. A philosopher’s style can be characterised by the relative proportions of each type of concept.

Michel Serres for example, who claims not to write in concepts, seems to be thinking of only the first sort of concepts. It is true that in Serres’s earlier phase, e.g. in his Hermes books (1969-1980), this sort of extrinsic concept dominated. A break came in 1981 with THE PARASITE (1980), when the second type of intrinsic concepts on a mixed plane came to dominate.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s work the first type of concept is used quite frequently (black hole, multiplicity, intensity, etc.). The second type is very frequent in a book like ANTI-OEDIPUS (schizo, body without organs, desiring machine, etc.).In Deleuze’s development a similar break to that of Serres occurred when he began his collaboration with Guattari.

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? begins with non-local concepts, comparable to the style employed in Montaigne’s ESSAYS (old age, friendship, trust and distrust, etc.). An important difference is that Deleuze and Guattari do not limit themselves only to this third type, ranging over the whole gamut of concepts and feeling free to invent new words and new senses for old words.



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3 Responses to THREE SHADES OF CONCEPT: Notes on Deleuze and Guattari’s “What is Philosophy?” (4)

  1. zumpoems says:

    Is there truly chaos? Or just perceived chaos?


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