07 October 2006

Dialogue

(Picture of Acker courtesy of Caput Mortuum)

In response to my post on resolve, Orla Schantz quotes Deleuze and Guattari from their magnificent (my personal favorite, with regard to their collaborative work) What is Philosophy?
The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated? And when they are stated, it is no longer a matter of discussing but rather one of creating concepts for the undiscussible problem posed.

Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous…

Those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.

All these debaters and commentators are inspired by ressentiment. They speak only of themselves when they set empty generalizations against one another.

Philosophy has a horror of discussions. It always has something else to do. Debate is unbearable to it, but not because it is too sure of itself. On the contrary, it is its uncertainties that take it down other, more solitary paths.

(D&G: What Is Philosophy, p. 28f.)
I've always had mixed feelings about this passage, as I have drawn so much from discussion as a central part of my philosophical development. To be sure, a lot of discussion is simply screaming and senseless dialogue. However, whether it be discussion with other philosophers, on lists, on this blog, or in personal correspondence, it is primarily my attachments to others, my antipathies towards them or my love of them, that leads me to develop my thought. Yes, I often experience frustration in these discussions. Yes those involved in discussion almost inevitably misunderstand one another. Yes, there's often a masculine bravado in discussion that is more about winning and demonstrating one's superiority than about truth or developing concepts. However, my attachments to others also lead me to read differently, as now I have their thoughts constantly in my mind, leading me to notice things that I wouldn't have otherwise notice. I find myself delighted when I find a particular concept or argument that strengthens my interlocutors argument and am excited to forward it to them so that we might continue to discuss. Take my friend Robert. Robert is a man who has an idea. For Robert the most basic ontological category, which is to say that all beings can be described in autopoietic terms. Now we've argued about this thesis a great deal. I've always contended that there are systems other than autopoietic systems, and relations that can't be described in organic terms. Sometimes these arguments have been bitter and hurtful. Yet because of my encounter with Robert, whenever I read something that bulwarks his arguments, I have to send it to him, even though I know he'll use it against me later. Our dialogue brings me to see differently, or to think... To think in his terms, and to strengthen my own arguments as to why I believe such an ontology is inadequate. Robert has supported and listened to me when no one else much cared. He has patiently and intensively explored ideas with me, even when they were going nowhere or when I was being particularly tyranical. And he has shown me things I would not have discovered on my own. Despite the fact that we are so often fundamentally different in our fundamental intuitions, isn't this a sort of "disjunctive synthesis", a sort of rhizome or assemblage produced in and through dialogue? The aim here isn't agreement, but precisely a production of difference.

I understand, I think, where Deleuze and Guattari are coming from. When you develop work such as theirs, the next thing that occurs is all the graduate students and low level academics come out of the woodwork, sharpening their knives, hoping to make a name for themselves by showing how the work fails in some ways. I sometimes feel this way on this blog or email lists, where I'm trying to develop a series of thoughts, all of which are provisional and not fully developed, only to come under assault and to find myself in a position of halting my conceptual development to defend and to clarify. However, I see this moment of halting as a productive moment where thought and concepts become more precise through dialogue. What is so striking about this passage is that clearly Gilles benefitted tremendously from his dialogue with Felix and Felix benefitted tremendously from his dialogue with Gilles. That is, there is either a performative contradiction in their claim, or they are speaking ironically.

So... Does thought take place in dialogue?

Thanks for reminding me of this passage Orla.

4 Comments:

Blogger marcegoodman said...

Levi,

Deleuze seemed to prefer the term "conversation" to describe that thing of value that happens between two people talking.

Here are some relevant citations:

This could be what a conversation is - simply the outline of a becoming.

from "A Conversation: What is it? What is it for?", pg. 2, Dialogues II with Claire Parnet.

And:

Conversation is something else entirely. We need conversation. But the lightest conversation is a great schizophrenic experiment happening between two individuals with common resources and a taste for ellipses and short-hand expressions. Conversation is full of silences; it can give you ideas. But discussion has no place in the work of philosophy. The phrase "let's discuss it" is an act of terror.

from "We Invented the Ritornello", an interview with Deleuze and Guattari conducted by Didier Eribon, pg. 380, Two Regimes of Madness, Texts and Interviews 1975-1995.

Of course, the whole passages, from which I've only excerpted to the extant time permitted, are worth reading reading.

October 08, 2006 6:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Marcegoodman, for these beautiful clarifications.

Deleuze is right in his distinction,

Conversation is full of silences; it can give you ideas. But discussion has no place in the work of philosophy.

Metaphorically speaking (as in A Thousand Plateaus) discussion is the vertical tree, and conversation the rhizome.

Conversation is also based on TRUST. Discussion on AGGRESSION.

The question is: Can exchanging comments in the blogosphere become a conversation?

I hope it can. What do you think?

Thanks again for your post.

Orla Schantz

October 08, 2006 3:58 PM  
Blogger marcegoodman said...

Orla,

Even as one who thinks that the genuine emancipatory potential of the Internet has been (so far) overstated and/or underrealized, I nonetheless believe that the exchange of comments in the blogosphere is, in fact, already a conversation. I feel that the second passage cited from Deleuze broadens an understanding of conversation quite usefully and seems especially apt for conversations mediated by the Internet. Comment sections are rife with "individuals with common resources and a taste for ellipses and short-hand expressions." As grateful as I am for all the original posts that Levi produces here, I am also impressed by how fully he himself responds in the comments section.

October 08, 2006 11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcegoodman,

Thanks for your comment. I tend to agree with you. How fortunate we are to be living in these times. Deleuze jumped out of his window in 1995 and thus never lived to experience a form of virtuality that is different from his own term. He would probably have been fascinated by the Internet, but maybe also have warned about this new virtual State.

Etymologically there's also an interesting (Deleuzian) difference:

DISCUSSION:

...from L. discussionem "examination, discussion," in classical L., "a shaking," from discussus, pp. of discutere "strike asunder, break up”.

CONVERSATION:

...from L. conversationem (nom. conversatio) "act of living with," prp. of conversari "to live with, keep company with," lit. "turn about with".

Orla Schantz

October 09, 2006 6:18 AM  

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