16 July 2006

Hallward's Deleuze

When I first heard about Peter Hallward's new book on Deleuze I found myself dissapointed. The blurb on the back of the book gives some indication as to why: "Gilles Deleuze was one of the most original and influential French philosophers of the last century. This book aims to make sense of his fundamental project in the clearest possible terms, by engaging with the central idea that informs virtually all his work: his equation of being and creativity. It explores the various ways in which, in order to affirm an unlimited creative power, Deleuze proceeds to dissolve whatever might restrict or mediate its expression, including the organisms, objects, representations, identities, and relations that this power generates along the way. Rather than a theorist of material complexity or relational difference, Out of this World argues that Deleuze is better read as a spiritual or extra-worldly philosopher. His philosophy leaves little room for processes of social or historical transformation, and still less for political relations of conflict or solidarity. Michel Foucaul famously suggested that the twentieth century would be known as 'Deleuzian'; this sympathetic but uncompromising new critique suggests that our Deleuzian century may soon be coming to a close."

As I first read this book description for Out of This World, I found myself wondering why anyone would write such a reactionary book, especially someone who's done such good work in the past. However, now that I am about halfway through the book, I have to confess that this is one of the most sensitive and brilliant readings of Deleuze I've yet encountered. This is one of the few texts where I feel that I've genuinely learned something about Deleuze's thought, rather than being hit with a series of definitions (that I often find remote from what I actually find in Deleuze's writings) and personal "monsterous becomings" that I frankly find tedious and repetitive. In the past I've tended to read Deleuze as a thinker of processes and complexity. What initially attracted me to Deleuze's thought was his account of actualization, which promised to explain how we pass from systems and structures to individuated entities that appear separated from one another. For instance, given the distinction between speech and language in structural linguistics, how do we pass from the purely differential realm of language characterized by nonsense, to the world of speech? Or, in the physical world, how does this entity here, say a soap bubble, actualize itself in the field of relations in which it's embedded? That is, for me, Deleuze offered the possibility of an ontology proper to structuralism, and an account of the conditions under which it might be possible to transform and change structures. Put otherwise, Deleuze struck me as theorizing a dynamic structuralism or systems theory that would be capable of bridging the nature/culture divide, and avoiding the atemporality common to structuralist thought.

Hallward compelling makes the case that Deleuze is not a thinker of complex systems, but of unlimited becoming anterior to the actualized entity. Put differently, all of Deleuze's thought can be read as a theophany (such as we find in Eriugena), organized around the opposition between the creating (the virtual) and the created (the actual) such that the actual is understood as standing in the way of further creatings (for instance, the opposition between the organism as actualized and the body-without-organs as a field of potentialities). Deleuze staunchly chooses in favor of the virtual over the actual, seeing the actual as contributing nothing in and of itself (not even as a feedback mechanism). That is, the actualized entity is itself an inhibition of these creative becomings. In addition to being an incredibly informed and sensitive study of both Deleuze's independent work and his work with Guattari, this book strikes me as "workmanly", in the sense that Hallward is not simply presenting a scholarly study or an attack on Deleuze, but is clearing the way for his own future project which will somehow navigate between the work of Deleuze and the work of Badiou. Hints of this can be found at his website, http://www.mdx.ac.uk/www/crmep/staff/PeterHallward.htm, where he describes a long term project he's been working on entitled Relational Reality. Given the outstanding work he's done so far on Deleuze and Badiou, I eagerly anticipate this work.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Levi, for this reference.

I'll certainly keep an eye on Peter Hallward and his website.

I'm still looking forward to your (continuing?) paraphrase of Simondon's work on individuation.

All the best.

Orla Schantz

July 17, 2006 5:02 PM  
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