Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (1): quasi-causal reading and non-standard noesis

I am going to talk about my reading of Deleuze and Guattari’s last book written together: WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? This poses the question of the criteria that one uses in reading a philosophical text, i.e. a text that aims at transforming our criteria for what constitutes a philosophical, for what philosophy is..


My criteria for reading a theorist are based on divergence as well as on convergence. I must have enough convergence to take an interest in a thinker’s work, but I must also diverge from it enough to be able to produce my own work. Thus, I am not talking solely about a theoretical satisfaction based on finding divergences within the text examined, but also about divergence in my evaluations.

I am successively and/or simultaneously satisfied, dissatisfied, perplexed, critical, and inspired by what I read. So you will never see simple satisfaction or convergence in my meditations. I do not seek convergence so much as divergence, multiple perspectives.

This emphasis on divergence will lead me to read a text as creating criteria and implying that it embodies and lives up to them. A divergent reading will evaluate whether the text actually satisfies its criteria or not.


All the thinkers I admire (Nietzsche, Foucault, Canguilhem, Simondon, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, Stiegler, Latour) are in favour, explicitly or implicitly, of individuation and thus of creative mis-reading, or what we could call in Laruellese a non-reading. We shall see that such a process of creative reading of a work implies a running engagement with its, and our, shadow.

In Deleuzian terms, we must become the « quasi-causes » of our influences and not their banal repetition in the sense of mechanical re-transcription. The thinkers, the works, the visions, and the ideas you love are not only your influences but also your traumas. That’s what pushes you to think, and not just to follow, to creatively counter-effectuate and not just to submit to.


In reading Deleuze and Guattari I do not effectuate the standardised moves of standard philosophy, with its dualisms and its unilateral valorisation of abstract cognitive thought. This is one point where I can wholeheartedly adopt Bernard Stiegler’s vocabulary as a useful tool for highlighting elements of Deleuze and Guattari’s text that otherwise might have escaped us.

The substitution of the term « noesis » for that of « cognition » (or understanding or « reflection ») is no mere verbal tokenising, it allows us to avoid the reduction of thought to abstract cognitive processes and the sterile contrast between concrete emotional or imaginative thought and abstract cognition. Noesis is the more generic, less reductive, term.

With this distinction in mind, we can see that, not only does WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? end with a call for noesis under the name of « non-thinking thought », or a thought that proceeds by « non-conceptual concepts », but that it proceeds all along in terms of noesis:

« Can the entire history of philosophy be presented from the viewpoint of the instituting of a plane of immanence? Physicalists, who insist on the substance of Being, would then be distinguished from noologists, who insist on the image of
thought » (44).

Deleuze and Guattari’s works can thus be considered to be principally noetic rather than cognitive or abstractly conceptual in orientation, they are contributions to a noo-logical or « non-standard » approach.

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