24 July 2006

Hallward's Critique of Deleuze: UPDATED

UPDATE: Since being written, this post has gotten a lot of attention and traffic. After subsequent reflection, I have concluded that while Hallward's book is well worth reading and is a carefully researched and well written study of Deleuze's thought, the conclusions that he reaches are arrived at as a result of ignoring Deleuze's account of individuation as developed in texts such as chapter 4 and 5 of Difference and Repetition, and as late as The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. The virtual cannot be detached from the actual in the manner suggested by Hallward. If Deleuze often emphasizes the dimension of the virtual over the actual, then this is because the process of actualization-- as developed in chapters 4 and 5 of Difference and Repetition --tends to cancel difference in extensity. A focus on the virtual is thus designed to return to these missed potentialities and reactivate them so that new individuations might become possible. I develop these claims more thoroughly in subsequent posts on Deleuze.


As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been deeply impressed, if not envious, of Hallward's study of Deleuze. This has to be the most careful and comprehensive discussion of Deleuze I've yet encountered anywhere. However, Hallward does present a substantial critique of Deleuze. In light of my previous post about repeating the Enlightenment, it might be worthwhile to explore this critique as to indicate why I am inclined to believe that Deleuze and Guattari are a dead end.

Succinctly summing up his account of Deleuze's ontology, Hallward writes,
As we have repeatedly seen, the second corollary of Deleuze's disqualification of actuality concerns the paralysis of the subject or actor. Since what powers Deleuze's cosmology is the immediate differentiation of creation through the infinite proliferation of virtual creatings, the creatures that actualise these creatings are confined to a derivative if not limiting role. A creature's own interests, actions or decisions are of minimal or preliminary significance at best: the renewal of creation always requires the paralysis and dissolution of the creature per se. The notion of a constrained or situated freedom, the notion that a subject's own decisions might have genuine consequences-- the whole notion, in short of strategy-- is thoroughly foreign to Deleuze's conception of thought. Deleuze obliges us, in other words, to make an absolute distinction between what a subject does or decides and what is done or decided through the subject. By rendering this distinction absolute he abandons the category of the subject altogether. (OTW, 162)
The fundamental distinction that governs Deleuze's thought, argues Hallward, is the distinction between the creature (the organism, the actualized being) and the vital creating. The creature always marks a reactive limit to the creating, so the aim is to "counter-actualize" our being, so as to return to the eternal and unlimited virtual creatings that belong to the One-All or Whole, that are always non-relational, and that are unlimited in their differential being. For instance, following The Logic of Sense, we are not to think the wound in terms of the set of causes and circumstances that brought it about, but rather as radically subtracted from this dimension of actualization and as something that preceded us such that we only came to actualize it. The virtual creating of the wound as event is to be subtracted from the psychological, physical, and social context around which the wound comes-to-be.

Hallward gives an excellent example of what Deleuze has in mind, drawing on Deleuze's reading of Dicken's late novel Our Mutual Friend.

The unloved character Riderhood, who makes his living fishing corpses out of the Thames, himself almost drowns in that same river when his boat is run down by a steamer. Some onlookers then carry him, half-dead, up to Miss Abbey's pub, and a doctor is called on to revive him. 'No one', Dickens writes, 'has the least regard for the man; with them all, he has been an object of avoidance, suspicion, and aversion.' Nevertheless, the spectacle of this struggle between life and death solicits a response deeper than empathy:
The spark of life within him is curiously separable from himself now, and they have a deep interest in it, probably because it IS life, and they are living and must die [...]. Neither Riderhood in this world, nor Riderhood in the other, could draw tears from them; but a striving human soul between the two can do it easily. He is struggling to come back. Now, he is almost here, now he is far away again. And yet-- like us all, when we swoon --like us all, every day of our lives when we wake-- he is instinctively unwilling to be restored to the consciousness of this existence, and would be left dormant, if he could.

Life and medicine soon win the day, and the patient recovers. But 'as he grows warm, the doctor and the four men cool. The spark of life was deeply interesting while it was in abeyance, but now that it has got established in Mr. Riderhood, there appears to be a general desire that circumstances had admitted of its being developed in anybody else, rather than that gentleman.'

The most important thing to retain from this exemplary episode, I think, is the crucial difference between the spark (virtual 'creating') and the person (actual 'creature') it animates... He is individuated by what he does and has done, by his origins and background, by the personality he has come to acquire, by the relations he sustains with other people, and so on. Such is the creature dimension. The spark of life, however, substists on a quite different plane. The spark is perfectly unique, perfectly singular --it is this spark, and no other --yet fully 'separable' from the object it sustains. This is the point that interests Deleuze:
No one has desscribed what a life is better than Charles Dickens [...]. Between [Riderhood's] life and his death, there is a moment that is only that of a life playing with death. The life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal and external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens: a 'Homo tantum' with whom everyone emphathises and who attains a sort of beatitude. It is [...] a life of pure immanence, neutral, beyond good and evil, for it was only the subject that incarnated it in the midsts of things that made it good or bad. The life of such individuality fades away in favour of the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other.

(OTW, 24-5)
I quote this passage at length because it illustrates, so well, Deleuze's logic of the distinction between the creating and the creature, and what Deleuze is aiming at with counter-actualization. Hallward is able to trace this logic, with considerable detail and sophistication, from Deleuze's earliest work all the way through his collaborative work with Guattari ("Immanence: A Life..." is Deleuze's final published essay). What Deleuze ultimately aims at is this virtual dimension of a life that so captures the attention of the onlookers. This life is not the life of the organism, of a structure or system with a history, and which interacts with the world, but of the body-without-organs, that is free of all organistic constraints characterizing actuality, and which is essentially impersonal and anonymous, while remaining a singular expression of the One-All. For Deleuze, this is the dimension of true difference, authentic creativity, and genuine vital becoming. The actual is but a surface-effect, as Deleuze argues in detail in The Logic of Sense.

Now, what's worth noticing in this incident depicted in Dicken's novel, is that nothing changes with regard to Riderhood's situation. The level of actuality characterizing the world or situation in which Riderhood appears (in Badiou's sense) remains essentially the same. We are told that Riderhood occupies a certain position with regard to the other citizens. He is distrusted and disliked. For a brief moment, when approaching death, Riderhood becomes anonymous and impersonal life and this position disappears. But what the other characters identify with is not Riderhood, but the impersonal life that his actualized organism embodies. When Riderhood escapes death, the representational social structure returns in exactly the same form that it had before.

The point, then, is that impersonal singularities of the sort described by Deleuze do not transform the structure of a situation. Indeed, the situation continues exactly as it did before. In my responses to Yusef from the Enlightenment Underground, I argued that the thought of Deleuze and Guattari is essentially that of the slave. No doubt such a claim must sound strange from the standpoint of standard receptions of Deleuze and Guattari's thought. However, these passages make clear just why this is the case. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel argues that the freedom of the Stoic is essentially a negative or vain freedom, in that it is freedom in thought alone, not in action (cf. "Freedom of self-consciousness: Stoicism, Scepticism, and Unhappy Consciousness"). As Epictetus argues, we are free to determine what we think, desire, and feel so long as we recognize that which is within our control and that which is not within our control. For Epictetus, of course, very little is in our control so the aim is to transform consciousness rather than the world. We must accept the world the way it is and go about changing how we experience this world by transforming the nature of our judgments, rather than transforming the world itself. Deleuze's ontology and ethics is thus, essentially, the spiritual vision of the mystical wise-man calling for withdrawal from the world of fractured appearances, much like Plotinus calls us to escape from the multiplicity of appearances so as to discern the One. If Hallward's reading of Deleuze's ontology is accurate, then this is essentially what Deleuze and Guattari are offering us with their account of counter-actualization and lines of flight. Turn away, they say, from the predicates characterizing a situation and instead pursue vital life. This is something that can be practiced by slave, freeman, woman, minority, worker, denizen of Guantanimo Bay being tortured, etc. And significantly, it is something that does not transform the structure of the actualized situation, though it certainly might allow us to stoically endure the situations in which we find ourselves actualized.

It is not surprising that Deleuze would be led to this position, influenced as he is by Spinoza. However, if the point of philosophy, as Marx said, is to change the world, then it is clear that we cannot ignore actuality in this way. As Hallward puts it,
Deleuze writes a philosophy of (virtual) difference without (actual) others. He intuits a purely internal or self-differing difference, a difference that excludes any constitutive mediation between the differed. Such a philosophy precludes a distinctively relational conception of politics as a matter of course. The politics of the future are likely to depend less on virtual mobility than on more resilant forms of cohesion, on more principled forms of commitment, on more integrated forms of coordination, on more resistant forms of defense. Rather than align ourselves with the nomadic war machine, our first task should be to develop appropriate ways of responding to the newly aggressive techniques of invasion, penetration and occupation which serve to police the embattled margins of empire. (OTW, 162-3)

Deleuze and Guattari go a long way towards redeeming philosophy and rescuing it from postmodern skepticism and the claim that all is discursive constructions, yet, at the present moment in my thinking and understanding of their work, I do not think they go far enough. If we genuinely seek change, then actuality cannot be ignored in this way. My tendency has been to think Deleuze as a thinker of complex, emergent systems. Such systems, of course, pertain to the actual, not the virtual as understood by Deleuze. They are bodies with organs and in environment from which they differentiate themselves. They are emergent, but not from virtual singularities, but complex causal relationships. Hallward's reading makes clear just why this is a significant misreading (something that could already be symptomatically sensed in DeLanda's Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, as it's never clear there what the virtual contributes or adds to the already fine accounts of phenomena he gives in terms of systems). As Hallward remarks,
There is no more an interactive relation between this virtual or composing power and its actual or composed result than there is between a given set of genes and the organism that incarnates them. Along the lines of this last analogy, it might be worth briefly cementing this point with one final illustration, the case of biological evolution. As Deleuze and Guattari understand it, biological evolution proceeds neither through the relations of struggle, competition or support that may exist between actual organisms, nor through the dialectical interaction between actual organisms and their actual environment. As opposed to an 'orthodox Darwinism with its focus on discrete units of selection', they maintain that 'evolution takes place from the virtual to actuals. Evolution is actualisation, actualisation is creation'. As Mark Hansen has recently demonstrated in convincing detail [Hansen, 'Becoming as Creative Involution? Contextualizing Deleuze and Guattari's Biophilosophy', Postmodern Culture 11:1 (September 2000)], because they dismiss the actual 'organism as a molar form that negatively limits life', Deleuze and Guattari's approach to biological individuation remains profoundly 'alien to the conceptual terrain of current biology and complexity theory'. Rather than recent versions of complexity theory of post-Darwinian biology, the real models for Deleuzian individuation are again the theophanic philosophies of Spinoza and Leibniz. Spinoza's account couldn't be simpler. A human being, like any finite being, 'has no power of its own except insofar as it is part of a whole [...]. We are a part of the power of God' (Expressionism and Philosophy, 91-2). (OTW, 52-3)

For me this is the most damning aspect of Hallward's critique. Here it becomes clear just why it is so fundamentally necessary to banish the imaginary (in the Lacanian sense) fantasy of the Whole or Totality from philosophy altogether, for wherever there is a whole the individual becomes powerless and a mere fractal iteration of the All. The question, for me, thus becomes that of what's worth preserving in Deleuze? What was it that so captivated me about Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense when I first began studying them so many years ago? And what was I reading into these masterpieces of ontology that was already my own?


Anonymous Yusef Asabiyah said...

Do you grant to Deleuze and Guattari any sense or notion of agency and concern with the actual in that they call philosophy concept creation?

I noted earlier your expressed disavowal of "creativity for the sake of creativity."

How would it be that the emphasis on the creation of the new, and the affirmation of the creation of the new, whether that be of the artistic, the scientific, or the philosophic variety, could be seen as not deeply impinging upon the actual and the immanent?

It'd have to be, it seems to me, because what that emphasis boils down to is something ineffective and merely frivolous or "aesthetic" in the perjorative sense of that word, but not because agency or emancipatory social practice has been discarded by Deleuze and Guattari.

July 26, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...


I think you hit the nub of the issue. I can't say that I've been able to detect any sort of agency in Deleuze and Guattari. It is not subjects that create for Deleuze, but being itself that is creative. A subject, for Deleuze, is always reactive. As Deleuze remarks in DR, beingS are always equivocal. From this perspective, I am a product of creations that move through me, not the agent of these creations. Moreover, concepts are not things in the head or on a piece of paper, but are, as D&G put it quite explicitly, *things*. The aim is thus to turn away from the actual as the domain of the actual is that field where difference becomes equalized and cancelled (cf. DR chapter 5). Or put a little bit differently, the aim is to turn away from our creatural confinement so as to get at the pure vital life, body without organs, sense, etc.

A good representative of this line of thought can be found at the end of What is Philosophy. As Hallward articulates it, "So when, in the conlusion of their last joint project, Deleuze and Guattari observe that 'vitalism has always had two possible intepretations', it is not surprising that they should opt for the resolutely *in-active* interpretation. Vitalism, they explain, can be conceived either in terms of 'an Idea that acts but is not, and that acts therefore only from the point of view of an external cerbral knowledge; or of a force that is but does not act, and which is therefore a pure internal Feeling [Sentir]'. Deleuze and Guattari embrace this second interpretation, they choose Leibnizian being over Kantian act, precisely because it disables action in favour of contemplation. It suspends any relation between a living and the lived, between a knowing and the known, between a creating and the created" (OTW, 163).

It seems to me that Hallward's reading explains a number of oddities about Deleuze and Guattari's work. For instance, given their hostility to the body or organism and their attempt to get back to a "body without organs", their critique of psychoanalysis comes as no surprise. Psychoanalysis is simply too creatural, too turned towards the world of actuality. I notice that you give Lacan a lashing in your most recent post at Enlightenment Underground. This strikes me as odd given that Lacan is the first anti-Oedipus, as his late work especially testifies. To my thinking, it's not that Lacan recoils in horror at how far D&G go (honestly, do they really go very far beyond the doors of the academy?), but their tendency to treat Oedipus as if it's somehow a product of analysts rather than a set of desires truly characterizing the social field. The whole point of analysis is to shatter the desire for the master, for the subject-supposed-to-know, or for the desire for repression you talk about. D&G's critique only makes sense when the creatural or organism has been rejected as an illusion of the actual.

You ask: "How would it be that the emphasis on the creation of the new, and the affirmation of the creation of the new, whether that be of the artistic, the scientific, or the philosophic variety, could be seen as not deeply impinging upon the actual and the immanent?"

Here I think it's important to be clear-- the debate isn't whether there should be any creation of the new. Absolutely, there should be creation! However, the term "creation" in and of itself is just an empty master-signifier. The question is how is this creation being conceived? For Deleuze it is never the actual that is creative because the actual cancels difference in extensity. It is always only the virtual that is new. For me, then, the category of the virtual is the problem. I'd like to dispense with it altogether and think past the quasi-mystical elements of Deleuze's thought.

What I thus take from Deleuze is the following:

1) His account of actualities as solutions to problems that are ontological and positive.

2) The idea that beings are emergent.

3) The idea that certain intensive or energetic phenomena can generate changes in organization.

4) The relational structure of Ideas or multiplicities.

What I hope to reject is the category of the virtual so as to formulate an ontology purely in the domain of the actual and the idea that creatural becomes are somehow more real than creatural products. In addition to this, I find it necessary to reject Deleuze's ontological holism. Finally, I am unable to identify any agency within Deleuze's thought beyond that of being itself. As such, it strikes me as necessary to formulate an account of the subject given constraints I've articulated elsewhere on this blog.

July 26, 2006 12:48 PM  
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August 11, 2006 8:18 PM  
Blogger kushakov said...


Although my understanding of his claims are as yet only partial, I have nevertheless given much thought to Hallward's critique - both in terms of its timeliness (or its timing) and the argument against what he calls Deleuze's status as a contemplative philosopher. With regard to the heralded end of the "Deleuzian century," though - when did this century ever commence? Have any critical, political, or artistic practitioners (or perverts, masochists, lovers, etc) really understood his ontological claims well enough to develop a strictly Deleuzian practice? In my own field (art history), I can say with some authority that we still await a responsible and profound strain of Deleuzian criticism. As he likely suspects, Hallward will have done more by his publication to open up Deleuze's thought than to close it down.

I hope you will explain a little further the threat you perceive in Deleuze's ontology, and specifically his discussion of the "virtual" in correspondence with what is "actual." But let me defend for a moment (against Hallward?) that in the Deleuze & Deleuze/Guattari oeuvre which points towards agency. Hallward accuses Deleuze of advocating the contemplative life, and this life alone. Perhaps you are correct in your reading of "What is Philosophy" - I haven't yet read it so I don't feel fit to comment - but I have always found Deleuze's call to contemplation qualified by other bits of advice - "Create a body without organs," yes, but also "Be careful!"... the BwO is not easy, must be done carefully, and can kill or lead to a paralyzing fall into the depths. What I have found so invigorating about "Logic of Sense" is the degree to which existence at the level of sense, at the surface, is in fact a Herculean task. I am not sure that a BwO is ever created, or can be created - or at least I doubt that it could emerge within thought, or be brought to mind. But without the possibility of the BwO, or of the virtual aligning with thought, it is impossible to think the new. In affirming the actual, the thinkable and signifiable as a site of difference and creation, one sacrifices the expectation of what is truly new, the truly different - this I still believe. One thinks and acts in the actual, but it is the contemplation of the virtual that drives one to rethink and restate. Like Lacan, Deleuze's philosophy has at its center-point that which is outside of, or not included within, existence and actuality. Confined to the actual, one is propelled to creation by that which is impossible and unthinkable.

Hallward misses, I think, the fact of Deleuze's writing, which is exactly monotonous and axiomatic but relentless in its pursuit of the virtual and the surface. Writing at the surface is the most difficult task, and it is what Deleuze always attempts. That is, writing between the depth of bodies (a descent into the abject, into disollution) and the loftiness of ideas - writing that turns the entire axis of thought on its side, such that the gradient or hierarchy of ideas and bodies disappears. This is how I read "Plateaus" - a book which deploys its own axioms as a pragmatics of agency. Perhaps it is a project too difficult for Peter Hallward? Certainly his condemnations will not be the end of such undertakings.

August 13, 2006 5:33 PM  
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August 17, 2006 2:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


First let me say that this is an interesting site...Additionally, when you ask: What was it that so captivated me about Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense when I first began studying them so many years ago? And what was I reading into these masterpieces of ontology that was already my own? - These are questions that I have been posing to myself recently.

One thing bothers me though - why this insistence on a 'subject'/ 'agent'...the 'doer' of things?

November 09, 2006 7:46 AM  
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