What is « WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? »?: against noophobia

I do not « hijack » philosophical discussions, I do conceptual analysis – the disappointed philosopher

Reading Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? today, we are forced to ask: what is this book for us? What is « WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? »?

Deleuze and Guattari are anti-essentialists. For them there are no essences, there is no essence of philosophy that can be stated in a definition that would be universalisable over space, time and persons, not even as a potential horizon of thought.

Thus their answer to the question posed in the title, what is philosophy?, cannot be in terms of an essence, encapsulated in a definition. It is also, reflexively, an answer to the question what is « WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? »? The answer is not in terms of essences but of circumstances, i.e. the answer will vary with the circumstances.

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is signed by Deleuze and Guattari. Some readers try to separate out their respective contributions, but the authors argue that this is impossible not only empirically (not enough information) but also in principle (due to the indetermination of becomings): they have included variance, différance, in their posing of the question and in their answer.

The circumstances that comprehend, and are comprehended the question are space-time dramatisations, comprising not only place, moment, characters, landscapes, décor, but also planes, movements, speeds, intensities, and affects. Philosophy is cinematic, in its own way, just as cinema is conceptual, philosophical (but Deleuze and Guattari this direction of the arrow).

In a similar vein François Laruelle, in TETRALOGOS, argues that philosophy is, or can be, « making music with concepts ».

The moment in which Deleuze and Guattari write is characterised by the inflation of the concept and the devaluation of theory. « Concept » has become an omnipresent slogan (in their terms « mot d’ordre ») at the same time as the world has become anti-intellectual.

Today, we are confronted with the ideological paradox of the « a-theoretical concept », in fact no concept at all. There is nothing more dogmatic.

Note: I have constantly analysed this practice of « de-concepting » in my critique of OOO.

A concept (in philosophy as elsewhere) is always taken up within, and given content and coherence by a theoretical matrix, whether it be one of philosophical (artistic, scientific, athletic) invention or of ideological repetition.

WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is Deleuze and Guattari’s practical book about thinking (noesis) in whatever domain, and its circumstance is the contemporary context of de-noetisation, the decline of spirit into the unthinking, but pre-programmed, repetition of stereotyped discourse and behaviour.

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Reading WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? (19): What is thinking? (Deleuze and Laruelle)

As is usually the case for me, these notes have no claim to conclusive force, authoritative status or definitive form.

My default activity on this blog (as well as on twitter, facebook, youtube, and elsewhere) is that of thinking out loud online. I am thinking to the best of my ability, and expressing those thoughts in the style that allows me to speak in my own name, and so to be open to dialogue. 

The formula is noetic encounter, shock, thinking, expressing, dialogue, which loops back into encounter, and so to improve and intensify thought by selecting favorable feedback loops and reducing the hindrance to thought from negative feedback.

This project determines selectively the books, themes, and thinkers that I discuss: they all have something to do with thinking. What you are getting on this blog is my process of thought in terms of my encounters with ideas, books, people, and institutions. The goal is noetic creativity, and the means is this sort of spiral of serendipity.

I agree with Deleuze and Laruelle (and so many others) that there is no method or set of rules for such a process, and that thinking (in philosophy and elsewhere) has also to pose the question « what is thinking?

In this light I have been trying to determine the relation between Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? and Laruelle’s latest book TETRALOGOS, two books that I am impressed by and like a lot. On my blog, I have continuing, open threads on both books.

From this point of view Laruelle’s piece published in 1995 (‘I the philosopher am lying’: a reply to Deleuze) responding to WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is far from his last word on the question. I had always found it very unsatisfying, and in the light of his most recent book TETRALOGOS (2019) I can formulate even more clearly my feeling about it as very much a transitional piece, which I hope to do in a future post.

Readers who are familiar with my blog, or who have been following this series of posts, will know that I also find WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? very unsatisfying. Yet both of these books are inspiring, both provoke (and exemplify) thought.

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DELEUZE AND THE INFINITE (2): poetics, formalism, heuristics and testability

PLURALISM vs ABSOLUTISM

There seems to be a conflict (or « agon ») between hypothesis 1 (pluralism) and hypothesis 2 (absolutism) in Deleuze’s work. Deleuze is conscious of the conflict and has tried out various solutions.

In his DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION the answer he proposes is the Eternal Return seen as the return of difference, but already in LOGIC OF SENSE he is changing as he gives much less importance to difference and more importance to multiplicity in that work.

In LOGIC OF SENSE the concept of « sense » is proposed as a solution to this conflict as sense is both plural and resonates within a single event in the régime of Aion. It is what both assures and destabilises signification, making it fluid, open, and non-totalisable in a system. Sense has the further advantage of being testable, since Deleuze associates sense and « use » in LOGIC OF SENSE. He also says that we are to incarnate the virtual event in our bodies to be worthy of the event. This constitutes a test both of our « worthiness » and of the sense that we have extracted from the event.

Later, in A THOUSAND PLATEAUS he abandons the Eternal Return as unifying concept, as providing a transcendent instance or supplementary dimension that overcodes the plane of immanence.

In WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Deleuze’s solution is to maintain an absolute as « horizon » so as to treat the One-All as an unattainable outside, open and always under construction, and in that sense non-totalisable. But this is a weak solution and may not be enough to save him from relativism.

POETRY vs FORMALISM

As to Deleuze’s poeticity, in my article I was indirectly referring to Badiou’s idea that philosophy’s language is hybrid, torn between the rigorous proofs and formalisation of logic and mathematics on the one hand and the more imagistic language of poetry on the other.

Compared to Badiou’s very thorough and explicit exploration of the formalisms of logic and mathematics Deleuze’s language, while not devoid of formal inspiration and direct exposition comes across as much less formal, more allusive, implicit, and indirect and more poetic.

This poeticity is not necessarily a handicap, and I think we need both. Poeticity is tied toe subjectivation and to perception. One needs to perceive, non-philosophically, the infinite in a proposition (science) and in percepts and affects (art). One can generalise this idea in terms of perceiving the infinites also in situations/states of things, in ourselves and in the world.

LANGUAGE OF THE INFINITE

In WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Deleuze recognises the need to elaborate a language of the infinite to articulate these perceptions, in the sense that he gives us a rich vocabulary for talking about the infinite in various ways, in various domains.

Badiou feels the need to give greater clarity and differentiation to this sort of language in making use of the mathematics of large cardinals in his THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS, a book that truly impressed me and revolutionised my thought.

DEMARCATION

So Badiou is in a position to say that science (as matheme) does not renounce the infinite but develops it in new and surprising ways. Deleuze would have to reply that this is not strictly speaking a case of the « conceptual » infinite but merely of the functional infinite, as he makes a sharp demarcation between the concepts of philosophy and the functions of science.

I think that this sort of sharp demarcation between science and philosophy is a mistake, and that it does not even cohere very well with the rest of Deleuze’s philosophy. Taken at face value it would be methodologically disastrous.

For example this demarcation it would forbid, or at least discourage, Zizek’s appeal to quantum mechanics, which is one of the most interesting aspects of his ontological explorations.

TESTABILITY

Deleuze’s idea of empirical testability in philosophy, in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, is based on his transcendental empiricism, and so is still too internalist and autarchic. Yet, at the same same, this transcendental aspect means that experience is already formalised for Deleuze, only in a different way than Badiou’s mathematical formalisation.

HEURISTICS

So we cannot give a clea-rcut judgement of the sort « Deleuze is right and Badiou wrong » or vice versa. The real question is pragmatic and heuristic: in some situations a more poetic approach is most useful, and in others a more mathematical approach may be more appropriate.

Badiou in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS has demonstrated the advantages of a greater exploration of mathematical formalisms. Similarly Deleuze in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? has demonstrated the value of a poetic formalism that tends towards the inform without being absorbed by it.

Note: I am indebted to a discussion with Ed Leenders for helping me to clarify my ideas.

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DELEUZE AND THE INFINITE: pluralism, immanence, the absolute, subjectivation

PLURALISM
In my philosophical writing (readily available here on my blog AGENT SWARM and on my academia.edu page) I discuss the ideas of a number of contemporary thinkers who work in the domain of epistemological and ontological pluralism. My analyses are based on the idea that one can better understand a philosophy by considering it not in isolation as a closed static system, but as a research programme evolving in the context of other programmes of the same type, and in (explicit or implicit) dialogue with them. I employ this expression of “research programme” in the wide sense that Karl Popper gives it in the Metaphysical Epilogue to the third volume of The Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery. In Popper’s account a “metaphysical research programme” is a general conceptual framework comprising both non-testable speculative elements and testable empirical elements..

The theoretical projects which interest me are all « pluralist », in the sense that they escape the hegemony of the One, and give speculative priority to the multiple. In my work I seek to analyse these projects, to compare them, and to put them in conversation with each other in terms of a set of shared criteria.

In particular, one can examine a pluralist research programme in terms of its pluralism, its relation to the infinite, its relation to an Absolute, its testability, as well as its type and degree of immanence. Concerning the first mentioned criterion, that of pluralism, both Badiou’s and Deleuze’s metaphysical research programmes are based on a very general hypothesis that expresses their commitment to pluralist thought. This hypothesis can be formulated as follows:

Hypothesis1 – it is possible to speak in a meaningful and illuminating manner about our world and our lives in terms of the multiple outside the primacy of the One.

This pluralist hypothesis is shared not only by Deleuze and Guattari and Badiou but also by Lyotard, Derrida, and (in Deleuze’s reading) Foucault. According to these authors pluralist language allows us both to speak of our existential possibilities and to remain conceptually precise.

ABSOLUTISM
For Deleuze and Guattari in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? and for Badiou in THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS the principal mode of operation of contemporary oppression is to enclose us in the figure of relativism. Both works are written in opposition the contemporary “postmodern” ideology of democratic relativism. Contrary to postmodern appropriations of their work, there is an Absolute for Deleuze and Guattari, a One-All, that subtends and sustains the non-philosophical sensibility that we must maintain with regard to our concepts to avoid them falling into abstractions: “In any event, philosophy posits as pre-philosophical, or even as non-philosophical, the power of a One-All like a moving desert that concepts come to populate” (40-41). This Absolute is the guiding awareness in the Introduction, where Deleuze and Guattari move easily between philosophy, art, and science, before descending into the distinctions and demarcations that constitute the bulk of the book, and that are relativised in the conclusion. This can be formulated as a second, more specific hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2 – it is possible to speak in a meaningful and illuminating manner about our world and our lives in terms of an absolute horizon outside the relativity of language games and forms of life.

This hypothesis of an absolute is a part of these thinkers’ realism, and crystallises their rejection of postmodern democratic relativism. In its place they elaborate, each in their own way, a pluralist realism.

INFINITISM
In this section I will compare the different types of infinity described and analyzed by Badiou with Deleuze and Guattari’s treatment of this theme in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Both Badiou’s and Deleuze’s metaphysical research programmes are based on a third hypothesis that expresses their commitment to pluralist thought in its relation to a language of the infinite:

Hypothesis 3 – it is possible to speak in a meaningful and illuminating manner about our world and our lives in terms of a language of the infinite.

The infinite plays an important role in Deleuze’s thought, but it has not been the object of much discussion. Badiou’s set theoretic conceptual creations can provide us with a useful point of comparison. Contrary to Badiou, Deleuze does not make use of set theory, but prefers an intuitive and qualitative approach to the infinite. Despite this difference, there are important points of convergence between the two theoretical projects. In particular, Deleuze and Guattari’s WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is to a large extent occupied with the ontology of infinity.

In French the book contains 168 occurrences of the word “infinite”. If we add to this the book’s various synonyms for the infinite (”absolute”, “horizon”, “plan of immanence”, “outside”, “chaos”), we attain 540 explicit occurrences of the concept of the infinite in a book of only 200 pages. These words for the concept of infinity are to be found on nearly every page, often in multiple occurrences. Thus, contrary to a popular image of Deleuze as the thinker of becomings, the final word of Deleuze’s thought is not becoming, but the infinite.

In his “Immanence of Truths” project Badiou, following the contemporary mathematics of infinite sets, distinguishes four types of infinite, two defined in negative terms and two in positive terms:

(1) inaccessible infinites (2) compact infinites – infinites by resistance to division or partition (3) infinites by immanent power and (4) infinites by increasing proximity to the absolute.

Similarly, in Deleuze’s work (in particular in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? and FOUCAULT) we can find four concepts of the infinite that correspond approximately to Badiou’s list:

(1) inaccessible outside – the outside further than any exteriority

(2) resistance to stratification and segmentation – resistance is prior to power

(3) immanent affirmative outside – composed of distributions of powers, affects, singularities, and intensities

(4) increasing proximity to the “absolute horizon” – approaching the non-totalisable plane of immanence, by way of absolute deterritorialisation.

On the one hand one could argue from a Badiousian perspective that Deleuze’s concepts of infinity are too qualitative, too vague and imprecise, and that lacking mathematical formalisation they remain too intuitive and insufficiently theorised, staying too close to the “poetic” end of the spectrum.

On the other hand one could invert the arrow of comparison and argue from a Deleuzian point of view that Badiou’s concepts, which are based on the mathematical hierarchy of infinite cardinals, are insufficiently philosophical. While still “poetic” they are much closer to the mathematical (referential) end of the spectrum, and so represent a slowing down of the plane of consistency, belonging rather to the plane of reference.

However, Badiou could always retort that this Deleuzian critical term of “slowing down” is itself intuitive, qualitative and poetic.

Despite the fact that WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? Is the book where Deleuze and Guattari speak the most about the infinite, we can observe a lack of clarity in their use of this word, compared to Badiou’s extreme precision. In this sense we could affirm that Deleuze’s work lacks the equivalent of the central, mathematical, part of Badiou’s THE IMMANENCE OF TRUTHS. Without this equivalent, the different terms of Deleuze’s philosophy that serve to designate the infinite (the outside, primary resistance, the plane of immanence, and the absolute horizon) tend to run together and become indistinguishable.

TESTABILITY
The question of testability is a crucial problem for a philosophy that claims to be more than an academic exercise and to talk about our concrete lives, both individual and collective. Despite his talking in terms of “hypotheses” (e.g. the communist hypothesis) Badiou often uses situations and experiences taken from the empirical world seemingly merely as a source of examples and illustrations, not of tests. However, his placing his philosophy under the condition of the truth procedures is a way of guaranteeing its indirect testability.

This conception of philosophy as submitted to conditions redefines the role of examples in Badiou’s text. Direct empirical tests are not the only possible form of validation. Badiou can consider that his configuration of a space of compossibility for the four truth procedures that are themselves testable is “test enough”. Badiou’s method of verifying a hypothesis proposed initially with reference to one truth procedure by searching for confirming examples in each of the other truth procedures insures a high degree of indirect testability.

It may be that Badiou in following this method considers that the network of correspondences he finds between the productions of different truth procedures is test enough. Privileging “Truths” over “facts” can be seen as the application of a hypothetico-deductive method (as against an inductive method).

The problem is not that of Badiou’s proceeding hypothetico-deductively (how could that be a problem?) but of whether Badiou makes use of this method to stimulate critical discussion or to close it off. Badiou’s books on theoretical rivals, such as Deleuze and Heidegger, have shown that he is capable of opening a discussion where previously it seemed impossible.

Contrary to Badiou, Deleuze and Guattari explicitly state that “science renounces the infinite”, which is left to philosophy. This renunciation (which can be extended to art, in the terms of WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?) leads by way of the absolutisation of philosophy to a relativisation or finitisation of science and art. Thus in Deleuze and Guattari’s final system philosophical concepts are non-referential, so that direct testing is not possible. Moreover art and science exist on different planes to philosophy’s plane of consistence, and so cannot provide its concepts with indirect testability.

Thus we must see in Deleuze’s idea of the infinite an ambiguity concerning the immanence of the infinite. Deleuze reserves the infinite for philosophy, and affirms that “science renounces the infinite”. Implicitly the lesson, of renouncing the infinite, is the same for art. thus Deleuze finitises science and art, he relativises them, he cuts them off from the infinite. There follows from this absolutisation of philosophy to the detriment of science and art a lack of testability of Deleuze’s later philosophy, compared to the testability that the truth procedures provide for Badiou.

From this relative lack of testability there results the proximity of Deleuze’s pluralism to democratic relativism. The danger that haunts his thought is the fall into relativism. Deleuze attempts to protect his thought from this danger with the Idea of the infinite, but this idea is vague, abstract and confused, due to its lack of formal precision.

Consequently, Deleuze’s concept of the infinite is potentially too weak to protect his pluralism from the threat of relativism and to guarantee the freedom necessary to be able to create.

In contrast, Badiou infinitises and absolutises science, art, love, and politics. However, despite their divergences there is a commonality to their thought: the Idea of the infinite as a means of protection against relativism, and also as a resource for emancipatory creation. Nonetheless, we feel that there exists inside us something deeper that is in relation to the infinite, and that Deleuze and Badiou respond to this feeling.

IMMANENCE AND SUBJECTIVATION
This feeling of something deeper which subtends the common ground between Deleuze and Badiou concerns the subjectivation of the infinite. What is the use of comparing disjointed, divergent thoughts, such as those of Deleuze and Badiou? What is important for us is not such and such an author but the encounter of the infinite intensities that are incommensurable with our mental and social constructions. Without an irreducible infinite the multiplicities and becomings, even enormous and dynamic, constitute impasses. Therefore, we must seek a primary infinite, we must speak the language of infinities.

However, it is not only a question of language. We need to resort to the infinite to respond to a blocked situation, where even the death of God (of the One) has not liberated us. In our everyday lives, we are still enclosed in finitude, only covered over by a supplementary layer of false infinity that redoubles and reinforces the blockage. The whole is submitted to the quasi-transcendence of the inaccessible infinite of Capital. That is our actuality. Against the hegemony of democratic relativism, Deleuze and Badiou reply that we are capable of experiences of more or less greater proximity to the absolute, but that under the conditions of finitude, under the reign of democratic relativism, we do not know that this capacity exists.

Badiou’s final evaluation of Deleuze’s solution is that it is torn between the absolutism of philosophy and of its great inorganic life close to chaos on the one hand, and on the other the relativism of bodies and languages. From Badiou’s perspective, Deleuze’s absolute, or plane of immanence is too fragile, as Deleuze’s idea of the infinite is too vague, through lack of formalisation.

Finally, Deleuze’s subjectivation is too empirical, one must not begin by subjectivating. Subjectivation comes after formalisation. Badiou’s solution is to begin with a formal elaboration of the dialectic between finite and infinite in mathematical terms. His maxim is: formalise first and only then subjectivate. However, Deleuze considers that modes of subjectivation, as another name for deterritorialisation, are primary. His maxim is: first subjectivate, then formalise.

The concrete conditions for subjectivation, or subjective appropriation, exist, they are the object and the stake of all living philosophy. According to both Deleuze and Badiou, infinite subjective intensities reside in reserve in the unconscious, both as an immanent infinite resource of energy and concepts and also as an inchoate perception, informed by the Absolute, of new possibilities of which one is as yet unaware that one is capable. One can always, within the wanderings of a life lived without an Idea, fall by chance on an infinite intensity incommensurable with our conscious expectations. However, in this case it is improbable that we recognise the new intensity if we don’t already have within us the idea of such an infinity. This is the paradox of Plato’s MENO. We must already have the idea of the infinites within us, as immanent intensities, in order to perceive the infinities we encounter in the world.

Badiou agrees with Deleuze in positing the primacy of « deterritorialisation », which according to Deleuze, and despite its negative prefix, “comes first”. According to Deleuze, if there is no absolute deterritorialisation we are condemned to the relativism of assemblages of bodies and languages, and at best to relative deterritorialisation. On this relativist hypothesis, against oppression we are limited to mere resistance (a reactive, negative, and relative concept) instead of being able to accede to creation (an active, affirmative and « absolute » concept). Badiou et Deleuze want more than to resist finitude, they want to create something that partakes of the absolute, and to accomplish this each relies on the concept of the infinite.

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DELEUZE AND ALIEN (4): to alien or not to alien

I first saw ALIEN when it came out in 1979, in Sydney Australia. There was none of the hysterical claptrap one reads about, of people vomiting or running out of the theatre or fainting, or whatever. People were totally focused on the story, calm and attentive.

I re-watched the film this year with students in my lycée (I live and teach in France). I found that it had not aged, despite some antiquated computer tech. Very quickly they were totally engaged by the unfolding story. No hysteria and no heckling. I felt the same fascination and the same emotion as for my first viewing in 1979. There is something untimely about this film, the affects that it embodies and provokes are intact, to this day (forty years later for me).

1979 was a crucial year for me, it constituted a turning point in my life. Since 1978 I had been learning French and reading current French philosophy (Deleuze, Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Serres). This was just before I came to Paris in 1980 to attend Deleuze’s classes for six months. I returned to Paris in 1981 and attended Deleuze’s seminar on the cinema and Lyotard’s seminar on the sublime.

So I came to study in France in 1981, without knowing that I would never leave. I saw BLADE RUNNER in Paris when it came out in 1982. I was blown away.

I attended Deleuze’s seminar on film from 1981 to 1985, but as far as I recall he never mentioned these two films nor does he discuss them in his two books on cinema. I think this is a shame. I have searched the literature, but I have not found a discussion of ALIEN by Deleuze scholars, although there are some discussions of ALIEN RESURRECTION.

I have tried in my previous posts to give a basic Deleuzian analysis of ALIEN without using too much of Deleuze’s technical jargon (although I find his vocabulary useful). I see ALIEN in terms of Deleuze’s concepts (how could I do otherwise afterhaving attended his classes for seven years and reading his books for 40 years?) but also in terms of Derrida’s seminar La vie la mort (Life Death) taught in the seventies (1975-1976) but published this year.

So I am trying to respond to a perceived (by me alone apparently!) lack in the discussions of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN, the absence of a Deleuzian perspective on a film that seems to constitute an ideal example and testing ground for Deleuze’s concepts.

I am open to suggestions and dialogue on this subject, and I would like to do justice to it or to help someone else do so.

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DELEUZE AND ALIEN (3): the Gothic fable deterritorialised

Perhaps the archetypal example of the fusion we find in ALIEN between the Gothic, the techno-scientific, and the bio-deconstructive is Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN OR THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. However, the film ALIEN is a much more abstract story, much more deterritorialised.

The equivalents of Victor Frankenstein are the Promethean android Ash, who opens the airlock, allows the creature to develop inside Kane, and sabotages the attempts to get rid of it; and also the Promethean Company, who are seeking the secret of inorganic life to exploit its military and commercial potential.

The human Frankenstein is deterritorialised into the faceless Company seeking the spark of inorganic life. The monster too is a faceless deterritorialised entity, pure embodiment of the life-force as such.

So the underlying matrix of the film is something other than Gothic. It is the project of a hypermodern inhuman bio-capitalism instantiated in the Company, for whom human beings are expendable tools in the pursuit of profit, to seize hold of a pure piece of the hyper-archaic non-human libido, instantiated in the alien.

Ultimately, I do not think ALIEN is a « Gothic » film, but something new emergent from the Gothic. On this hypothesis the superabundance of Gothic stereotypes and tropes are foreground packaging for something else. The Gothic is a container for the sublime that it transmits, but that it limits at the same time. It limits the infinites that it elevates above the subject, allowing the subject to extract some surplus pleasure in its separation from the sublime instance that it intuits but which it cannot fully represent.

ALIEN poses a limit to the sublime at the end. Ridley Scott originally envisioned an end where the alien kills Ripley and takes control of the shuttle. Instead, in the final version, after killing the monster Ripley drifts off into hyper-sleep, having maternally bonded with and saved the cat Jones. Appropriately the shuttle is named the « Narcissus » and self-identity’s hegemony has been restored.

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DELEUZE AND ALIEN (2): anomaly, hybrid, becoming, and bio-deconstruction

Deleuze does not discuss ALIEN in his Cinema books (more on that later). So we must turn to some of his other discussions to find useful materials, in his analyses of films and also of paintings, and in his theoretical apparatus in general. I see no real break between his film work and the rest, but rather a continuity, so we have lots to draw upon.

In particular, for our present concern with ALIEN, Deleuze finds in the Gothic a notion of abstraction over against the organic form. He proposes the concept of « inorganic life », a mutant flux of vitality unbound by its organic containers. Seen from the point of view of the organism this pure life typically inspires recoil and horror. However, Deleuze points out that there are cases where it is welcomed as a liberation. Deeper than the horror lies the joy of concrete abstraction, becoming an inorganic Entity (his favourite example is Randolph Carter in Lovecraft’s dream cycle).

Another concept is, as we have begun to see, that of the « Anomal », an Entity that exists within a system (body, house, spaceship) that is at the same time radically other to the system, « unnatural » within the terms of the system, an « outsider », a « monster ». He cites « Moby Dick or the Thing or Entity of Lovecraft, terror ». The anomal is for example the demon with which the sorceress can make a pact to open up a new becoming. Ripley has much of the sorceress in her, her affinity with the cat, her increasing sensitivity and her ability to anticipate the alien’s behaviour.

If I have recourse to Deleuze it is to help me make explicit my intuitions and to spell out a feeling that there is something « positive » going on in ALIEN. Jesse Willis on the episode of the SFFaudio Podcast devoted to ALIEN remarks that the « alien » of the title could be either a noun or an adjective. I propose that it can also be interpreted as a verb « to alien », « to other », to become.

ALIEN is a film of becoming. Deleuze’s concepts of « inorganic life » and « anomal » help us to think becoming. Underlying organic life and making it possible is a germinal life that exists within the organism but is not bound by it. This anomalous life force, pure libido, can repurpose, replace, transform, or generate new organs. The anomal, as element that does not fully fit in to the system in which it is encountered, cannot be assigned a fixed identity within that system. The alien is such a biological deconstructive element.

ALIEN is a film of abstraction, anomaly, becoming, and bio-deconstruction and as such exacerbates certain elements of the Gothic.

All this sounds very abstract, but we see Ripley taken up in a process of becoming alien in this first film, progressively losing her official identity as warrant officer, member of the crew of the Nostromo and employee of the Company. Reduced to bare life she comes to identify with a pure drive to survive.

The later films literalise Ripley’s evolution into a genetic hybrid of alien and human, but she is already a spiritual hybrid at the end of ALIEN.

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