Radical empiricism does not deal with raw, actual, experience, but rather with a specially prepared extract from experience, one that is integrally taken up in the concept.
In philosophy we must renounce the myth of the given, or of the « lived », we must accept that experience is always entwined in conceptual construction. Radical empiricism:
« 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).
Thus, as we have seen the incipit to WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? does not deal with Deleuze and Guattari’s lived experience of old age (they were only at the beginning of their senior years), but with a conceptual predicate that can be attributed to a variety of conceptual personae.
At the end of the introduction Deleuze and Guattari philosophy, as conceptual persona, is identified as an « old person ». They ask:
« How could philosophy, an old person, compete against young executives in a race for the universals of communication to determine the market form of the concept, Merz? » (page 10-11, translation modified).
The first maxim of a radical empiricism is do not identify with your experience.
The second maxim is: do not identify with your conceptual personae.
Deleuze and Guattari cite approvingly a remark by Pierre Barbéris from his book on Chateaubriand:
« Rancé, a book on old age as impossible value, is a book written against old age in power; it is a book of universal ruins in which only the power of writing is affirmed » (note 2, page 219).
This citation appears on page 219 in the English translation, as the footnotes have been grouped together at the end of the book. However, in the French this note appears at the bottom of the first page, and so is much more salient. Consequently, a few elucidatory remarks are in order.
Old age is an impossible value because for Deleuze and Guattari’s purposes it designates a conceptual predicate, and not a lived state. As such, its possibility is not a given of the situation, but rather is to be created. This concern with modality is a call back to the first word of the book: « perhaps ».
The fact of old age is subsumed under the reign of the law of increasing entropy, which leads us into « universal ruins ». Using the terminology of Deleuze’s other books, we can call this plane of universal ruins a plane of universal « demolition », or universal « crack-ups ».
« Old age in power » is the reign of entropy. This is the statistical law of probabilities that rules our physical world. The creation of something of value, of something untimely, that « traverses the ages » is highly improbable to the point that it seems (or is) impossible until it has been done.
The « power of writing » takes us back to the first sentence of the book which ties together « old age » and the time to « speak concretely ». As Deleuze and Guattari are writing a book of philosophy, here to speak concretely means to write concretely.
Writing has no special status or primacy as a flux (Deleuze once declared that we wanted to « treat writing as a flux »), but it is a good example of a flux with the capacity to enter into composition with other fluxes.. It’s importance comes from its enunciative potential. Writing permits acts of enunciation in terms of « fragmentary concepts » whose agents of enunciation are conceptual personae.
The (naive) empiricist illusion makes us think that this book is one of old age, written by old people and addressed to other old people. Radical empiricism finds a quite different message. This book is a critique of « old age in power », but also of « young executives », of youth in power as itself an impossible value:
« There are cases when old age produces not eternal youth but on the contrary a sovereign freedom, a pure necessity in which one enjoys a moment of grace between life and death » (page 1).
« Old age » is not the value, just as youth is not the value. These determinations (young, old) are still too empirical, they are not generic enough. Even as concepts, they take their sense from the plane of consistency on which they are situated, and this sense varies from plane to plane. A « purer » determination (we shall see that WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? comports a return to purity) is that of the « moments of grace » where « sovereign freedom » and « pure necessity » are superposed.