07 September 2006

A Review of Hallward's Out of This World

Jason Read provides a critique of Hallward's reading and a defense of Deleuze and Guattari in response to the thesis that Deleuze is an otherworldly and spiritual philosopher. Echoing a defense I've heard quite often lately, Read contends that Deleuze's thought undergoes substantial transformations in his encounter with Guattari. The strategy is thus to throw out the Bergsonain Deleuze of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense, and to preserve the Deleuze of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. What this strategy fails to take into account is that the two cinema books are both published after A Thousand Plateaus (1980 for ATP, and 1983 and 1985 for the cinema books) along with Deleuze's final published essay "Immanence: A Life..." (1995), all of which affirm the Bergsonian ontology. While I am sympthetic to the ontological claims that Read makes, I simply do not think they reflect the letter of Deleuze's text. As such, it seems to me that Deleuze's ontology requires some "philosophical therapy" so as to sever it from its Bergsonism.

In this regard I agree with Toscano's proposal when he writes,
"...if we are concerned with looking beyond the constituted individualities which are the province of represention to the productive tendencies that they express, we cannot rest content with a turn towards an abstract impersonal ground. Instead we need to focus on individuations and preindividual singularities, on the speeds and affects that dramatize the virtual ideas and produce actual entities and their correlative space-times. Univocity should accordingly be recast in terms of a concept of ontogenesis that refuses any transcendence, emancipated from its excessive dependence on the abstract postulate of a virtual totality that both enfolds and neutralizes the production of actualities. It is THIS concept of THE Virtual (and not of ideas as virtual multiplicities) that results in the derealization or indetermination of the actual identified by Badiou" (194).
Here Toscano proposes de-suturing Deleuze's account of the pre-individual and individual from the Bergsonian account of memory that leads Deleuze to make mysticist claims such as when he says things like, "the philosopher and the pig, the criminal and the saint all contribute to one and the same indivisible song. Each one chooses his pitch or his tone, perhaps his words, but the tune is certainly the same, and under all the words, in every possible tone, and in every pitch, the same tra-la-la" (DR, 83-4), which could have come straight out of Plotinus or Eckhart.

Sometimes I find myself infuriated with Deleuzian secondary literature, as there is often a sort of worship of the master and prohibition against criticizing various of his claims. I think this is a problem endemic to continental philosophy and theory as practiced in the United States. All too often "churches" develop around the names of various European theorists, and research becomes a matter of endlessly writing sancrosant studies of particular thinkers or "applying" these thinkers, rather than working on problems. In the discipline of philosophy, at any rate, it is largely impossible to get papers accepted at the major continental conferences (such as SPEP) unless they are on another thinker. Thus, for instance, if you are a phenomenologist you cannot get a paper accepted that practices phenomenology, but can only get a paper accepted that deals with phenomenologists such as Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Luc Marion, etc. In order to practice phenomenology, you're required to show how a figure like Husserl had already engaged in this or that particular sort of phenomenological inquiry, thereby hiding behind the coat-tails of the master in question. Compare this, by contrast, with Kripke presenting his lectures later entitled Naming and Necessity while still a graduate student in the 1970's (he was born in 1958), or the comparable example of how Wittgenstein's Tractatus came to be published. Of course, these are exceptional individuals, but the point here is that they were encouraged to work on problems, not figures by the organization of Anglo-American leaning philosophy departments. In that context, figures are only of interest in helping one to work with problems and it is the problems and solutions that are treated as the object of inquiry not texts, which is vastly different than the temperament of American continental philosophy departments (and no I am not suggesting that all continentalists start practicing Anglo-American philosophy).

The case is seldom any different with regard to Deleuzian scholarship. And in the case of criticism directed at Deleuze, the predominant response is almost always that one has misread Deleuze (that they haven't been good disciples of the master), rather than acknowledging that there could possibly be substantial and philosophical disagreement on a particular issue (again, such disagreements need to be filtered through a master such as Badiou or Zizek, rather than directly enunciated). It is surprising that those influenced by the writers of a book entitled Anti-Oedipus nonetheless so often display such an Oedipal structure of thought (here understanding the discourse of the master and the masculine side of the graphs of sexuation as being structural formulations of the Oedipus). Put in Hegelian terms, it could be said that the form of scholarship surrounding Deleuze stands in contradiction with the content of this scholarship. At the level of scholarship we are enjoined to proliferate differences and cast off Oedipal authority, but at the level of form this is only accepted so long as Deleuze is recognized as the master and creative production doesn't deviate from Deleuze or question Deleuze and Guattari revealing that they're castrated subjects ($) that are incomplete. The paradoxical result is that we get an endless monotony of the same in this scholarship, until figures such as Hallward or Badiou appear. The paradox is that to be truly Deleuzian one must not be Deleuzian. The point here isn't one of arguing that we shouldn't be influenced by thinkers, but of criticizing a particular academic organization in philosophy departments in the United States in which commentary and applied theory drawn from masters is seen as the only legitimate modus operandi. I'm exaggerating, of course, but not much. Of course, this could all be a fantasy bound up with my sense that my name was stolen from me and making any alienation in another's name unbearable to me. Yet as Lacan points out in the case of psychosis, a subject is not defined as psychotic by whether their delusion is true or false, but by the manner in which they relate to the Other. At any rate, Toscano's proposal allows one to preserve what is truly worthwhile and exciting in Deleuze, while avoiding his mystical moments.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

concepts get reified, thinkers get deified, ideas commodified, but you also refer to yourself as philospher, albeit a marginalized one (masochistic enjoyment from self-punishment?), and seem to identify strongly with the signifier, Levi. People draw all kinds of strange enjoyment from referring to themselves as lawyers, economists, doctors, phenomenologists, poets, PhDs. I belong here, this is my field, and there's my ego, feel free to caress it if you like, by the way what did you think about my paper at the conference?
I wonder what a true Socratic discourse where real problems are solved, not people's adherence to churches, professions, parties, academic orientations, would look like. Can't think of any solution though.

September 09, 2006 1:08 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

I think one of the first steps would be to move away from proper names as points of identification. Signifiers such as "philosopher", "rhetorician", "mathematician", etc., function a might bit better than proper names in this regard as they don't attach one to any particular system. On the other hand, they tend to create artificial institutional divisions.

Personally I don't know that the issue is one of solving problems, but of posing them. Socratic discourse was a series of encounters with random figures, each of which posed a problem. Conceptual tools get produced along the way but they're perpetually being revised, thrown away, supplemented, etc. Is a practice of the encounter such as this possible today? My point is simply that the focus should be on problems, not figures and texts. Figures and texts are only of value for the light they shed on problems, not ends in themselves. The deificication you mention is the problem. As for margins... Psychoanalytically, aren't the margins and the ghetto where work gets done?

September 09, 2006 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

As an undergraduate, and on one particular module a long time ago, I must confess that my surprise at the comments on what seemed a balanced and well read essay prompted me to try an experiment. My second essay was an anti-Freudian rant that sided 100% with the tutor. Surely, I reasoned, he would remark on and mark down because of the complete absence of other arguments? As it happened I got an excellent mark and totally encouraging remarks. I tell this tale not to claim tutors are blindly partisan, but to state that even undergrads face partisanship. At the other end of the scale, while my Nietzsche dissertation took his numerous inconsistencies to task, my Nietzschean tutor received this work very favourably, so I guess coming down on the side of the authority with the hand on the till equally risks toadyism and, ultimately, inducing boredom.

As it happens, I have great sympathy with your comments, but may disappoint you in switching to analytic philosophy for my MA, the application for which I await the response. The being-towards-names problem is, of course, only one consideration in this, but yes, it is one all the same. I can only but imagine how it is for you with conferences.

Incidentally, have a look at what the main postgrad funding body in the UK, AHRC, says about Deleuze in its feedback on applications in 2005 (point 43):


September 14, 2006 4:55 AM  
Anonymous glen said...

"It is surprising that those influenced by the writers of a book entitled Anti-Oedipus nonetheless so often display such an Oedipal structure of thought (here understanding the discourse of the master and the masculine side of the graphs of sexuation as being structural formulations of the Oedipus)."

Great line!

September 14, 2006 6:43 AM  
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