Old age is usually thought of as a state of greater entropy, differences of potential are reduced, making change rarer and more difficult. Ageing progresses under the law of increasing entropy, until a final state is reached, one that can no longer support life.
Against this modern idea of old age Deleuze and Guattari juxtapose the idea of old age as one of those pathological moments that can open a breach in the roof of the Cavern and that allow us to bring through some part of chaos, a breakthrough of neg-entropy.
(These breaches in the firmament that is painted on the umbrella that we use to shelter us from the chaos are described in the conclusion to the book).
Another image of old age is given in paragraph three of the introduction: that of the Sage or Wise Man, who has attained Wisdom conceived as adaptation to a pre-existing realm of knowledge. For Deleuze and Guattari Wisdom is pre-philosophical, philosophy proper begins with the death of Wisdom and the corresponding death of the Sage.
Philosophy supposedly begins in Ancient Greece, with the invention of concepts and of the figure of the “friend” of the concept. Wisdom has changed: no longer knowledge of the immutable laws of the cosmos and of our adaptation to its course, it has become the potential in concepts, conceptual potency.
Something strange has happened between the first two paragraphs and paragraph three. In paragraphs one and two we encounter concepts such as old age, the friend, the limits of thought and art, the transgression of these limits in creative acts. Thought is defined in terms of imaginal schemes (characters, landscapes, spaces and moments, circumstances and examples) and of affects (agitation, seizure, sobriety, laughter, trust and distrust). All this is close to the figure of Wisdom which speaks in parable and fables, which addresses the heart as well as the mind.
Suddenly in paragraph three we have a series of strong claims of the origin of philosophy and of its demarcation from wisdom, and of the separability of its plane of immanence. It is perhaps necessary here to stop, to step back and to distrust this conceptual portrait of philosophy’s origin. We know from modern Superhero comics (and from Derrida, and also from Deleuze) that the origin story is often a fabrication, and that behind every such story there is often another one, or that other origins were occurring elsewhere in the world, unknown to us.
A first problem is that it is a strong claim to affirm that there is historically no Chinese Philosophy, no Indian or African Philosophy, etc. and that all that is comparable and that existed elsewhere than, or before, the Greek “miracle” belongs to the category of Wisdom rather than Philosophy. Deleuze and Guattari seem to be applying the first level of the concept that we saw in the previous post, the level of the separability of planes, in an arbitrary, overly exclusive and circular way.
Deleuze and Guattari talk about old age and the undoing of limits, of their transgression, yet they give us the traditional picture that was taught in every high school textbook. The question then arises: what is the status of their answer to the question. is it a universal answer (despite their rejection of universality)? is it circular (being based on a particular selection of previously valorised examples)?
This is the typical problem of demarcation criteria – circularity. The examples are offered afterwards to validate the criteria, but they are pre-selected at the beginning as the basis of the criteria of selection and validation.
A second problem is that according to Deleuze and Guattari a form of wisdom, what they call “non-philosophy”, accompanies philosophy at every turn. This non-philosophy is in an essential relation with a shadow, that of the “people to come”, and with chaos. Yet this grouping of wisdom, shadow, a people, cosmos and chaos characterises the traditions too quickly characterised as “Wisdom” as opposed too Philosophy.
A third problem comes from the insistence on the separability of concepts. Do these older traditions not contain concepts of all sorts of things within their Figures, as Deleuze and Guattari characterise their thought. The Epic of Gilgamesh dates from the 18th Century BC, long before the Geek miracle. Yet it contains an imposing reflection on friendship, old age, struggle, trust, and death.
The question remains:
Have Deleuze and Guattari in their old age attained to a new sobriety and liberty, to a thought unbound from its previous limits? or have they regressed to their childhood, to memories from their schooling?
The answer is probably a mixture of both, just as they warn us of this very problem of the errors and illusions that surround the plane one is tracing.