11 October 2006

A Random Observation: It Thinks!

In grad school I went to a period during which I was obsessed with phenomenology, and particularly Husserlian phenemonology. I had been led to Husserl through Deleuze and Derrida... The latter for obvious reasons, while in the case of the former out of a desire to track down Deleuze's references pertaining to the concept of multiplicity (in a number of places he argues that Husserl, along with Bergson, developed a logic of multiplicities). Indeed, I was delighted to discover that Husserl's later work (on constitutional and genetic phenomenology) resonated with Deleuze's thought. For instance, one of late Husserl's central concepts is that of passive synthesis and habitus. Anyway, as a result of my fervor for Husserl and all things phenomenological, the other graduate students began to joke that I was living in a permanent state of "phenomenological reduction", and dubbed my apartment "the epoche zone" (they also expressed horror at my "pure jouissance of theory). In short, I was seen as having throughly bracketed my belief in the world, so as to examine the pure structure of intentional consciousness, and was living entirely as a transcendental subjectivity. Similarly, when my colleagues ask me to exercise with them by taking walks during lunch and whatnot-- the faculty and staff form groups to compete with one another, seeing which group can log the most hours exercising --I always joke that participating in such activities would be a sin against philosophy, as Plato, in the Phaedo, argues that the aim of philosophy is to prepare oneself for death by living life as if one were already dead, separating the soul from the body by living a life of the intellect. I offer these anecdotes to underline that I have a certain hostility towards the body and tend to favor thought, which I present as a prejudice, not an ontological thesis about the relationship between mind and body.

At present I have about 150 students between all my classes, so you might well imagine that I have difficulty remembering all their names, even though we are already weeks into the semester. Yesterday, when taking roll, however, I noticed a curious phenomenon. Although I am consciously unable to attach names with the faces of certain students, my head kept turning directly towards the student whose name I was calling. That is, it was as if my body new the relationship between name, face, and place, but my conscious mind did not. I find this phenomenon curiously disturbing, even if I'm long familiar with the concept of the unconscious (though this form of unconsciousness has little to do with the psychoanalytic unconscious). I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by this as my fingers "know" where the letters of the keyboard are, despite the fact that I would have a tremendous amount of difficulty drawing a diagram of a keyboard and naming the positions of all the keys. I wonder just how far this sort of embodied knowledge extends.


Blogger Anthony Paul Smith said...

I'm usually really impressed with your blog, though I've never commented before. I'm a bit shocked then that you liked Hallward's book and with such enthusiasm. You seem to agree with Hallward that Bergson is a mystical thinker, where the word mystic means something like 'unscientific' (a reading I'd suggest that fails to read Bergson), but even with that aside his reading depends on such a strange confluence of neo-Platonism and Deleuze's univocal ontology. Neo-Platonism, I'm sure you realize, is an emanative ontology and shares very little with the univocity of Scotus, Spinoza, or Bergson. Ignoring the role of causality in Deleuze to turn him into a 'spiritual' philosopher is just utterly bizarre for such a serious thinker as Hallward. Further, he completely misses the co-implication of dualities in Deleuze. The virtual is primary over the actual, the are always co-mingled and so to say that "actual beings get in the way of virtual becomings" is just wrong. I find Deleuze to be profoundly ecological in those works that are considered spirtual, especially the Cinema books.

I'd be curious if you'd like to exchange over email about this? Obviously I don't think everyone needs to accept my view of Deleuze and I to am annoyed at the Deleuzian school that is rising in the states. That said, I don't think readings like Hallward's or Zizek's (who it has been said has admitted to not really reading Deleuze) are properly critical. Anyway, sorry this has nothing to do with the post in question.

October 12, 2006 2:50 AM  
Anonymous Justin said...

I would very much appreciate if I could evedrop on this discussion. Am very piqued by what good things you have to say about Hallward's book (I sometime attend his lectures at Middlesex and might be able to relay the questions/comments :p)

October 12, 2006 5:21 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

I was walking home on Michigan Avenue one night after spending the evening discussing Phaedo. I was still completely absorbed in the discussion and thinking about Plato in general when I arrived home. I realized I had traversed the whole distance of about two miles from building to building without thinking about the journey.

It was then that I first had the feeling that most of my thinking goes on in some backroom or basement of which I have no access. I still have the feeling.

October 12, 2006 7:54 AM  
Anonymous Sinthome said...

Hi Anthony, I think my enthusiasm for Hallward's book was borne most fundamentally from the fact that it's a *close textual reading* of his work. I think this sort of close attentiveness to text is sorely lacking in a number of Deleuzian circles. Separating, then, the conclusions that he reaches, I think this sort of engagement raises the bar on engagement with Deleuzian and is productive in generating more *philosophically oriented* discussions of his thought. Too often I see Deleuze being reduced to a set of slogans, or worse the rhetorical force of certain potent signifiers like "schizo", etc.

I agree that Deleuze is a deeply ecological thinker and hope that my engagement with his work here reflects this. However, I would suggest that Hallward isn't simply making things up, but comes by his claims honestly. For instance, Deleuze refers to neo-Platonism favorably in a number of places; notably the first chapter of Difference and Repetition, "Difference in Itself", where he evokes Plotinus' triat of the unparticipated, the particable, and the participated, in the context of discussing the centrally important relationship between the undetermined, the determinable, and the completely determined (which makes up the core of chapter 4, "Ideas of Synthesis and Difference"). Hallward goes in a direction I wouldn't have gone in. Rather than asking how Deleuze diverges from this, he instead assimilates Deleuze to Plotinus (it's notable, however, that Bergson was a neo-Platonist). I hope I'm not rejecting Bergson on grounds as facile as "being unscientific". I have difficulties with his account of the virtual, but otherwise feel that _Matter and Memory_ is one of the greatest works of philosophy. Further, there is a strong strain of Stoicism throughout Deleuze's thought that can be textually supported, and I take it this is what Hallward is referring to in certain moments of his critique. I think Hallward is correct in his claim about the actual... The actual is the exhaustion or cancellation of difference in becoming. Deleuze argues this point very clearly in his account of actualization. Finally, Deleuze stresses, again and again that the process of actualization and individuation has to be distinguished from any sort of causality.

In my darker and more cynical moments, I'm inclined to think that this lack of close reading and tendency to replace an image of Deleuze with the text of Deleuze, results from his work primarily being appropriated by literary and cultural theorists who don't have a strong background in philosophy and who have thus not carefully followed out the way Deleuze is in dialogue with the history of philosophy (including with his own enemies such as Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Hegel). Such an approach to Deleuze should look at the arguments on their own merits, and resist the rhetoric of "state philosophers", etc. I'm sure I'll be attacked for saying this, yet so often what we seem to get in the secondary literature is a sort of recipe that goes something like "cite passage on rhizomes, becoming, and creation, point out how thinker x privileges identity over difference, make programmatic statements about schizo-becomings" without any attentiveness to why one might advocate these concepts of philosophical ground, i.e., without an analysis of the problems internal to a certain image of thought that this ontology solves and overcomes. As a result of this sort of citation that doesn't practice close and careful reading (no doubt because it begins from the premise that Deleuze's text is already "schizo" and therefore lacks any unity or argumentative thread), we get a sort of "image of Deleuze" that misses the real and genuine philosophical force of his positions *that are well argued and deeply cognizant of what he's arguing against*.

That said, I have since come to have less enthusiasm for Hallward's reading as I don't think it properly takes into account individuation. Along the lines of what you're claiming, he ignores the manner in which the virtual is always co-implicated in the actual, or that the virtual is always the virtual for the actual such that we cannot have pure virtuality (or such that the virtual is some transcendent realm differing numerically and in kind from the actual). We can take this to email if you like, but I do think it would be productive to have such an exchange publically.

October 12, 2006 8:36 AM  
Anonymous Sinthome said...

CORRECTION: I did not intend to say that Bergson *is* a neo-Platonist, but that he was deeply influenced by neo-Platonism. I think another point that supports certain elements of Hallward's reading is Deleuze's deep and abiding admiration of Whitehead.

October 12, 2006 9:40 AM  
Blogger Anthony Paul Smith said...

I'm swamped with work at the moment, but perhaps we could set up a kind of blog event within the coming weeks. I write over at The Weblog as does another very intelligent student of Deleuze's works, discard the name. I know he had a very strong reaction to the book as well, though I feel that he would agree with you about the nature of the existent secondary literature on Deleuze, as do I (though, I'll note that I think Philip Goodchild's work has been largely ignored by philosophers to their detriment). It would be interesting to me to use Hallward's book as a spring board for a properly philosophical discussion of Deleuze's work. Writings on Bergson and Spinoza, as well as close textual readings would be of help, no? If you're interested I think we could easily set up something.

Have you heard of the new Deleuze Studies journal? I'm a bit worried, but glad that someone took the initiative.

October 12, 2006 2:33 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

October 12, 2006 5:39 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Anthony, I'd be happy to participate, but I'm not sure how much time I can ultimately devote to sustained close readings. I'm currently in the midsts of editing my own forthcoming book on Deleuze's transcendental empiricism with Northwestern, writing articles, and have a very heavy teaching load.

I think Goodchild was dead on arrival with his first book. Deleuze wrote the preface and said that what Goodchild is doing is very interesting, but is not Deleuze's own project.

I hadn't heard of the Deleuze journal. My sense is that the scholarship is beginning to change and become more philosophically oriented. Hopefully Daniel W. Smith will quit worrying over each sentence and finally release his book soon. In response to the work of Badiou and Hallward I think we're likely to see studies rise up that carefully defend Deleuze on philosophical grounds, not simply programmatic grounds.

October 12, 2006 5:43 PM  
Blogger Anthony Paul Smith said...

"I think Goodchild was dead on arrival with his first book. Deleuze wrote the preface and said that what Goodchild is doing is very interesting, but is not Deleuze's own project."

You're refering to a footnote which only refered to Goodchild's constructive part of the dissertation. The explication of Deleuze's philosophy seemed to me to be quite sophisticated. Dan Smith, I believe, agrees. He has an essay online about Deleuze and philosophy of religion that is also really interesting to me, though as someone who distrusts mysticism in all its forms you'll likely dislike it.

Let's keep the Deleuze thing in mind. I'm far too busy at the moment with another project and my studies to really devote much time to it. Agreed, there seems to be some good work coming out in the transversals series (one of philosophy of nature since schelling that deals with Deleuze, one on Deleuze and Guattari's work as appropriated by cultural studies, and one of their philosophy of history).

October 12, 2006 6:02 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Dan Smith was on my dissertation committee as an outside reader. His interest in Deleuze and theology revolves around unfolding Deleuze's account of univocity, otherwise I've always taken him to be fairly militant and uncompromising where the religious is concerned; though I could be mistaken. For my money, I'd say the best work out there right now is Beistegui's _Truth & Genesis_. This, I would say, is my ideal of what a non-sloganistic, careful, and philosophically engaged reading of Deleuze looks like (although Beistegui could have gone into far more detail). In addition to that I've found the work of DeLanda illuminating (though I think he often flies fast and loose), Dan's work, of course, Boundas, and Ronald Bogue. I suppose I tend to have sober taste where Deleuze scholarship is concerned.

October 12, 2006 6:32 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Or, to put it differently, what I would like to see appear in Deleuze scholarship is something of the order of Gasche's _Tain of the Mirror_ on Derrida, Hallward's _Badiou: A Subject to Truth_, or Kiesel's _The Genesis of Heidegger's Being and Time_, Schurmann's _Heidegger on Being and Acting_, or Richardson's _Heidegger: Through Phenomenology to Thought_. That is, a study that cuts through all the bullshit and hype, resists the sloganeering and "schwamerei", and approaches Deleuze in a historically sensitive and argumentatively rigorous fashion.

October 12, 2006 6:42 PM  

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