Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (13): radical empiricism and pathological states

We have seen that in contrast with Deleuze and Guattari’s espousal of deconstruction, de-territorialisation, and disorder evinced in their post-68 books (ANTI-OEDIPUS, KAFKA, A THOUSAND PLATEAUS) in their last book together they turn to a more ordered approach. We hypothesised that faced with the rise of a generalised democratic relativism and with an increasing antipathy to « theory » and to critical thought, in the 70s and 80s, they found it necessary to emphasise the more orderly line of sobriety and of the « intrinsic » features of philosophy, while trying to remain loyal to the gains of the previous de-territorialising movement.

Some people were shocked or disappointed at the publication of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? to see that its authors were not only « friends » of disorder and chaos, but also friends of order. We get an echo of this (re-)turn to order within the book. Not only does the book’s first paragraph declare that

« We were not sober enough »

but it expands on this theme of lack of sobriety, of drunkenness and excess a little later in the book:

Thinking provokes general indifference. And yet it is not false to say that it is a dangerous exercise. It is indeed only when the dangers become evident that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden, barely perceptible, inherent to the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is pre-philosophical and does not already operate with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its tracing resorts to means that are not very respectable, not very rational and reasonable. These means are of the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, or excess. We run towards the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, even if they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow a witch’s line (translation modified, page 41).

It is no exaggeration to say that ANTI-OEDIPUS was « not sober enough » for the purposes of the present book. However, Deleuze and Guattari do not renege on this phase of their work, describing it implicitly as arising out of a necessity internal to philosophy.

However, as the qualification « even if they are the eyes of the mind » implies, this necessity is noetic or transcendental, rather than simply empirical.

We know that Deleuze was at one time of his life was an alcoholic and that Guattari lived in close proximity of schizophrenics at the La Borde clinic, so each had to teach one form of sobriety to the other, and learn from the other’s sobriety. Deleuze affirms that at one time he believed that alcohol could help him to « create concepts », and that he dropped it when he realised that this was not, or no longer, the case. Perhaps Guattari thought that « schizos » could help him to create concepts.

In any case both could write in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS

« Drugs [we may add: alcohol, schizos, occultism, etc.] do not guarantee immanence; rather the immanence of drugs allows one to forgo them » (ATP, 315).

This traversal and renunciation of drunkenness, intoxication, pathology, and excess may help us with the question what is it to « speak concretely« . For Deleuze and Guattari in the incipit to WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? it is to speak soberly. Another definition would be that it is to speak immanently.

Is this the same as to speak empirically, or to speak from experience? We shall examine Deleuze and Guattari’s empiricism in more detail a later post. For now the conclusion we must draw is that for Deleuze and Guattari « speaking from experience » is not the passive affair described by naive empiricism. We must not confuse our actual lived experiences with the « transcendental lived » intrinsic to philosophy.

Speaking of the « friend » Deleuze and Guattari remark that for philosophy this word does not designate the friend as a given reality of empirical experience, but a non-empirical or « transcendental » friend:

« the friend as it appears in philosophy no longer designates an extrinsic persona, an example or an empirical circumstance, but rather a presence intrinsic to thought, a condition of possibility of thought itself, a living category, a transcendental lived » WIP? page 3, translation modified).

So the task of speaking concretely can be defined as speaking empirically only if we can give up the notions of naive empiricism that envisions experience as outside of, extrinsic to the concept.

For Deleuze and Guattari this opposition between transcendental and empirical can only be resolved by a more sophisticated form of empiricism that they call, following William James, « radical » empiricism. Talking of the plane of immanence they affirm:

« Such a plane is, perhaps, a radical empiricism: it does not present a flux of the lived that is immanent to a subject and individualized in that which belongs to a self. It presents only events » (WIP?, page 47).

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