Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (12): Conversation versus Discussion

This distinction between structural demarcation and a-structural exchange poses a series of problems for the notion of discussion. From the perspective of demarcation, not only is it impossible for the philosopher to converse meaningfully not only with the partisans of the doxa, but also with the scientist and the artist, nor even with philosophers working out of other problematics.

The incommensurability of the non-referential concept with the doxa, with the function, and with percepts and affects seems absolute. The same applies, internally to philosophy, to the discontinuity between different philosophical systems.

Deleuze and Guattari condemn « discussion » as a narcissistic and sterile activity, an empty social ritual to be avoided at all costs:

Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, “Let’s discuss this.” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, 28)

1) One should be wary of taking such statements at face value, as enouncing some sort of general law about an abstraction called « discussion », about which one can say something in isolation from any specific context or concrete arrangement. Deleuze and Guattari do not seem to be speaking concretely.

What Deleuze and Guattari getting at here is the existence of incommensurability, which is very often ignored, denied or repressed. Many people proceed in a discussion as if you were using the same words with the same meanings and go off on a tangent based on the use by their interlocutor of a few key words that they recognise and employ themselves. This is a bad way to handle incommensurability, by autistic denial.

2) Nor should one understand this statement of Deleuze and Guattari as propounding a general rule: always avoid discussions, never discuss.

Deleuze and Guattari reject discussion and oppose the solitude necessary for creating concepts to the sterility of gregarity:

Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous (WIP?, 28).

Yet we feel that there is something one-sided about this proposition. All forms of dialogue seem to be equated, and equally excluded: discussion, communication, conversation are treated as synonyms. General rules are propounded: « flee discussion » and « conversation is always superfluous ».

This is very strange in a book stemming from the decades long collaboration (or creative dialogue) between two thinkers in whose professions dialogue plays an essential role: a philosopher (pedagogical and collegial dialogues) and a psychoanalyst (analytic session, therapeutic dialogue).

In contrast, exchange and conversations is held to be both possible and fruitful between the creative disciplines of philosophy, science, and art, by way of their accompanying a-structural « shadow ».

In an interview that Deleuze gave after the publication of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? he distinguishes between « conversation » and « discussion », and attributes a creative role to conversation:

Discussion amounts to wasting a lot of time on indeterminate problems. Conversation is something else entirely. Conversation is quite necessary. But the slightest conversation is a highly schizophrenic exercise happening between two individuals with common resources and a taste for ellipse and verbal shortcuts. Conversation is composed of immobility interspersed with long silences; it can give you ideas. But discussion has no place in philosophical work (TWO REGIMES OF MADNESS, 384, translation modified by me).

There can be no general rule, as most concrete cases, according to Deleuze and Guattari’s own principles, are mixtures. In this case,  we are confronted with mixtures between « discussion » (bad) and « conversation » (good). The idea that as a general rule discussion or dialogue is narcissistic, whereas a monologue or a conversation between friends is not, is quite doubtful.

There is also the problem of the criterion. How are we too decide when the other is merely « discussing » and not « conversing »? Are we not in danger of a dogmatism that legitimates its refusal to listen or to be open to critique as a creative posture?

Further, are we not in danger of rationalising and universalising a characterological particularity? Deleuze was perhaps an aristocrat at heart, and may have had difficulties with discussion that were sociologically and psychologically based rather than being philosophically grounded.

If we apply the distinction (discussed here by Badiou) between the three types of logics (classical, intuitionist, and para-consistent), we may say that « discussion » is inherently unstable and unsatisfying. This is because it tends to oscillate between the classical logic (following the law of the excluded middle) of binary demarcations (called by Deleuze in DIALOGUES the « forced choice ») and the intuitionist logic (allowing for the existence of other values than true or false) of a plurality of opinions condemned to « tolerate » each other.

Conversation is « schizophrenic » because it adds to this mix a para-consistent logic (which allows for the existence of contradictions). Here conversation is ellipse, and an animated exchange is compatible with immobility and silence.

A good conversation thus combines the three logics, making sharp distinctions and clear demarcations, (provisionally, where necessary), and allowing for a multitude of nuances and intermediate positions, while remaining half-plunged in a chaos where creation and destruction are maintained as one.

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5 commentaires pour Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (12): Conversation versus Discussion

  1. landzek dit :

    It’s interesting your last post 11 , talks about the contributions of both guys. Actually I went back to Guitraei essays. I’m not sure why D is the more popular of the names. And in fact I have fallen victim to thinking that she was just a sort of auxiliary voice, even as I know that they both contributed to their books equally.

    So that bothers me.

    This post about conversation and discussion; I think the question comes down to whether there is any sort of philosophical theory that is going on outside of talking about the philosophical theory.

    For example I’m always bringing up the point that, say, Graham Harmon, which I’ve used in one of my posts I think: Are we just supposed to get when he goes out for dinner that and the waiter comes up and says what would you like that professor Harmon would actually have to sit there for about two or three days and discuss with the waiter all the ins and outs of what that particular object might be and how is it that we may never get dinner to his table and silly questions like that.

    I would say no. And so I think that’s really what they’re saying about discussion.

    And then conversation is really a generalized discourse from which philosophical theory takes shape.

    I think what they’re really saying is that philosophical theory has no business nor any place in any sort of communication that goes on between human beings except that way you might be talking about the philosophical theory. Lol


  2. Ethan NOPE dit :

    Have you read The Differend by Lyotard? I feel like it most certainly relations — though I am, admittedly, only a 3/4ths of the way done, as it is not a work with which to « save time », as he puts it. The creation of new idioms to mediate incommensurable forms of discourse may relate?

    Regardless, a thoroughly educational post — and thoroughly well written — and I find that « many people proceed in a discussion as if you were using the same words with the same meanings and go off on a tangent based on the use by their interlocutor of a few key words that they recognise and employ themselves » particularly annoying myself.

    But, if you would indulge my ignorance, is there an easy example of a « non-referential concept » you could provide — if only in the form of a link or title of something I might read to educate myself?


    • Ethan NOPE dit :

      « Most certainly relations » — lol — relates, I mean to say; excuse me.


    • terenceblake dit :

      Yes, I read Le Différend when it came out in 1983, and it became a sort of Bible for me for a while. I think this book has been unjustly neglected, and that it had a lot of influence, indirectly. For example on WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, as you suggest, but also on BEING AND EVENT and MANIFESTO FOR PHILOSOPHY (the four conditions of philosophy), and on Latour’s INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE.

      I talked briefly with Lyotard just before the publication of this book, and he suggested that A THOUSAND PLATEAUS was « too much within the referent ». I think that the sort of turn that Lyotard realised in Le Différend was effectuated by Deleuze and Guattari 8 years later in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?.

      As to a non-referential concept, if we are to believe Deleuze and Guattari all concepts are by definition non-referential, and thus non-empirical in the ordinary sense. I think a good example is given by Deleuze and Guattari in the introduction to WIP? in the concept of the « friend » as a transcendental lived experience, and even more clearly in the relation that the Friend has to a transcendental object:

      « With the creation of philosophy, the Greeks violently force the friend into a relationship that is no longer a relationship with an other but one with an Entity, an Objectity, an Essence – Plato’s friend, but even more the friend of wisdom, of truth or the concept, like Philalethes and Theophilus » (page 3, translation modified).

      Wisdom is treated here as a concept not of something that one can have, not something that one can encounter in « extrinsic » experience (and thus as non-referential), but as an « intrinsic » or transcendental precondition of philosophical thought.

      Aimé par 1 personne

      • Ethan NOPE dit :

        I am infinitely jealous that you got to speak with Lyotard! (Perhaps due to some infantile idolization, honestly.) But, wonderful explanation — thank you for taking the time out of your day to answer!

        Aimé par 1 personne

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