Over at Event Mechanics, Glen has recently written a post summing up [without realizing it] a great deal of what frustrates me about scholarship surrounding Deleuze. Hopefully he won’t mind if I quote most of his post. Glen writes:
There are abrupt moments where I will read Deleuze’s work and think, “Deleuze! What the fuck?” I read something that seems to contradict what I had previously thought. There have been at least two of these moments, and perhaps more that I have forgotten.
One was reading The Fold in the passage where Deleuze says something like the question of scale is a question of persepctive. WTF? Was Deleuze lapsing into some sort of postmodernist relativism? No. The answer to this WTF is provided in the text. Latour picks up on this too. It is not a question of the relativity of truth, but the truth of relativity.
The other moment came when reading The Logic of Sense where he says, “Structure is in fact a machine for the production of incorporeal sense (skindapsos).” Structure? WTF! Deleuze a structuralist? He wrote a brief essay on the subject, and Alliez addresses it in a paper published as an appendix to his Signature of the World:
That is how Deleuze could recognize himself in a certain structuralism (it is after all the principle behind his response to the question ‘How Do We Recognize Structuralism?’ [Deleuze’s essay]: by seeing structure as virtuality, as the multiplicity of virtual coexistences effectuating themselves at diverse rhythms in accordance with a multi-serial time of actualization …), before denouncing structuralism’s incapacity to account for a reality proper to becoming in a later text from A Thousand Plateaus: `Memories of a Bergsonian’.
For it was in the wake of his Bergsonian studies’ I that Deleuze could oppose to the sedentary character of numerical individuation the nomadic insistence of the virtual in the actual, the pure spatio-temporal dynamism designed to let us grasp the world in its ideal eventality and `real experience in all its particularities’ (heterogenesis). Whence a second proposition which sums up this experimental naturalism for which philosophy merges with ontology and ontology merges with the univocity of Being (according to the famous formulae of The Logic of Sense).
Structure as the machine for the production of incorporeal sense (ie events), this machine is the multiplicity of virtual coexistences effectuating themselves at diverse rhythms in accordance with a multi-serial time of actualization. How is structuralism proper possible then? The obvious answer is that it is a question of perspective (of the scale of events); for example, the truths of rationalities that Foucault extracted from the archive and which existed on epistemic scales.
First, I would like to humbly suggest that perhaps this sort of response to Deleuze results from a prejudice or set of expectations in how we read his works. That is, perhaps we confuse Deleuze himself with a popular shadow of his work and are therefore unable to read what is there in his work. I suppose that when it comes to work on a thinker I have rather stodgy attitudes towards what good scholarship is, and I think there’s a lot of shoddy scholarship surrounding the work of Deleuze and Guattari. There, I said it, may my cred as a Deleuze scholar go down in flames.
It is my view that a sound reading of a thinker should do its best to both carefully follow the actual arguments made by that philosopher, while also being cognizant of the manner in which that thinker is engaging with the history of philosophy and also working within– to adopt N. Pepperell’s word –a particular “historical moment”. This task is enormous with regard to Deleuze. Not only must one be familiar with the work of Bergson, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Leibniz, Freud, Klein, Lacan, and the Stoics but one must also have a respectful and working knowledge of Deleuze’s enemies and how he creatively reworks their projects. That is, one must also have a sound working knowledge of Plato (especially The Republic, The Sophist, and The Statesman), Descartes, Hegel, and Kant… A working knowledge that is something more than a caricature. In addition to this one is required to have familiarity with obscure thinkers, such as the untranslated Solomon Maimon who’s influence on Deleuze is vast and largely undiscussed by anyone save Daniel Smith and, coincidentally, myself, Simondon, mathematicians such as Lautmann and Riemann, and a host of others. I’ve seen very little work approaching this degree of careful attention to references and arguments, save that Beistegui, Toscano, and Daniel W. Smith.
When confronted with an anomaly in one’s reading such as Deleuze’s praise of structuralism during the late 60’s or his numerous positive references to Lacan, one ought to ask oneself whether these anomalies are simply brief lapses or whether something is amiss in their expectations as to what Deleuze is arguing. Put otherwise, perhaps these are not anomalies at all, but one is instead distorting their apprehension of Deleuze’s text by a shadow that inhabits the reading, causing us to cognitively filter what doesn’t fit with that shadow. Just as we are often unable to hear what our lover is genuinely saying because of our idealized image of our lover, perhaps this occurs when we read privileged thinkers as well.
Why not entertain the possibility that perhaps Deleuze has been deeply misinterpreted on the basis of the early translation of Anti-Oedipus (translated 1983, whereas The Logic of Sense wasn’t translated until 1990 and Difference and Repetition wasn’t translated until 1994) and A Thousand Plateaus, and that perhaps his earlier works need to be approached with fresh [interpretative] eyes, bracketing all expectations as to what Deleuze is up to and what he is arguing? Deleuze’s essay “How Do We Recognize Structuralism?” (1972), written around the time of Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense, and providing a highly condensed summary of The Logic of Sense and his account of different/ciation, was largely unknown to the English speaking world until its publication in Charles Stivale’s The Two-Fold Thought of Deleuze and Guattari in 1998 (I recall the great controversies and excitement surrounding the translation of this article when Stivale discussed it back in the heyday of the Spoon-Collective Deleuze and Guattari discussion list. It appears that many were constitutively unable to even entertain the thought that Deleuze had a very serious and enthusiastic engagement with the structuralists). More remarkably yet, this essay was published the same year as Anti-Oedipus, which itself calls for a rethinking of Deleuze’s relationship to structuralism in the context of “schizoanalysis”. Deleuze did not engage in idle scholarly exercises, but treated each article he wrote, whether on another thinker or an artist as an activity of philosophy itself. This article cannot be rejected as a mere “aberration”. Why has no one spoken to this strange conjunction of timing between the initiation of his work with Guattari and Deleuze’s structural period? Lacan, of course, teaches that the exception defines the rule; and here, above all, perhaps we should look for a structural truth in this exception-al article, so contrary to what our English speaking expectations as to what Deleuze and Guattari were up to. This article is a symptom, and as such calls for interpretation… An interpretation that would both diagnose a predominant trend in the secondary scholarship, and a structure at work in Deleuze’s own thought.
So one thesis would be that claims made much later in the collaborative work with Guattari are retroactively being read back into Deleuze’s own, independent, earlier works, preventing us from reading these works on their own terms. This would prevent reading Deleuze’s earlier works with fresh eyes and would have the detrimental effect of preventing a careful analysis of the evolution of his thought and the specific philosophical motivations that led him to later transform the notion of structure in favor of something more closely approaching systems in the systems theoretical and cybernetic sense. However, of greater concern is the possibility that the early translation of these works written with Guattari led to distorted interpretation of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus themselves. Lacan’s third seminar The Psychoses was not translated until 1993. Is it possible to responsibly read and understand Anti-Oedipus apart from a careful and thorough understanding of Lacan’s account of psychosis aka schizophrenia? Does not the signifier “schizophrenia”, divorced from the French omnipresent context of psychoanalytic practice, invite the English reader unacquainted with Lacan to encounter schizophrenia as a sort of mad chaos that evades all intelligibility, re-producing the worst prejudices and commonplaces about madness, and completely oblivious to the advances Lacan had made in the understanding of psychosis through structural approaches? This is not, of course, to suggest that Deleuze and Guattari endorse Lacan’s structural account of psychosis– Lacan himself would significantly modify his position in the 70’s in ways very congenial to Deleuze and Guattari in seminars such as RSI and The Sinthome –but only to point out that it is necessary to at least understand Deleuze and Guattari’s approach to schizophrenia on the horizon of these discussions.
One will rejoin that Deleuze and Guattari target Lacan as an enemy, but this is to again participate in poor reading, as their references to Lacan are almost always positive in Anti-Oedipus, and Guattari himself was both a trained and practicing Lacanian analyst (of an admittedly idiosyncratic sort, but then analysis has no rules) and remained a member of Lacan’s Ecole freudienne de Paris (EFP) for his entire life (Genosko, Felix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction, 2). Why would Guattari remain a member of such an organization of he genuinely believed that Lacanian psychoanalysis was a sickness or fundamentally mistaken? This is not to suggest that Guattari was a Lacanian tout court, or that he didn’t have important reservations about Lacanianism. Moreover, a careful reading of Guattari’s recently published journals demonstrates just how highly he regarded Lacan, how Lacan was omnipresent in his thinking as a sort of subject supposed to know, and how much he struggled with these issues. Of particular interest, I think, is his use of methods of free association in developing his thought, obsessively revolving around themes pertaining to a certain aunt. Again, there are a whole host of unasked questions here, of unthought relations. Moreover, silence regarding these issues– or what amounts to the same, reactive and defensive dismissals –also indicates a marked tendency within Deleuzian scholarship to think in terms of abstract oppositions, which belong to the logic of representation that Deleuze and Guattari denounce. Is there not something symptomatic in the way psychoanalysis tends to be reduced to straw men and the most vulgar abstractions in the hands of so many Deleuzians?
Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense were both written during the heyday of structuralism and Deleuze generally shows a very high regard for structuralist thought during this period. References to Saussure, Lacan, Althusser, Levi-Strauss, and even Barthes abound in these works, and Deleuze generally is extremely positive towards the thought being unfolded by these thinkers, as he seems to see structuralist thought as a philosophy of the concrete capable of avoiding the sorts of abstractions that we find in essentialist thought and Kantian and Hegelian abstract categories. We can read this desire for a philosophy of the concrete and singular in the very first pages of Levi-Strauss’s Savage Mind, and Lacan’s first seminar. For instance, I cannot exchange one language for another language, but must look for the internal articulations (differential relations among signifiers) that are specific to each language. Of course we deny ourselves the pleasure of discovering these productive and illuminating influences when we assume, from the outset, that structuralism is an enemy only to be touched in the way one picks up waste from one’s dog. The careful reader of Deleuze who has taken off her blinders and suspended her expectations will discover that there are positive references to structuralism all over the place in the early, independent work. A good deal of chapter 4 of Difference and Repetition is taken up with a careful, informed, and nuanced discussion of structuralist principles. Does Deleuze give a highly unique interpretation of structuralism here? Absolutely. I would say that one of his central questions during this period could be posed as “what is the ontology proper to structure?” or “what are the conditions under which structures are possible?” or “how can we reconcile event and structure?” (would you like quotations? I can give them). No one has ever seen a structure, nor can you touch or hold a structure. Structures are not in individual minds, nor are they objects. So what, precisely, is the ontological status of structure?
Likewise, The Logic of Sense devotes an entire chapter to structuralism, and the other series deal heavily with structuralist concepts such as dual serialization, sense, nonsense, schizophrenia, singularities, the empty square or dark precursor, language, and a host of others too numerous to name. Additionally, the pages crackle with references to Saussure, Lacan, and Levi-Strauss. Deleuze was anything but dismissive of structuralism. If Deleuze and Guattari would later give a scathing critique of structural linguistics a la the likes of Jacobsen and Saussure, this would only be after an arduous journey where they had both preserved all that was good and worthwhile in structural thought while also having discovered its limitations. I’m afraid that a similar spirit has not been embraced in the secondary scholarship, partially encouraged by their own fiery and often inflated rhetoric.
None of this is to suggest that Deleuze’s position didn’t evolve and develop with time… But this development occured by working within the structuralist paradigm and discovering new paths for thought, new questions, and inadequacies at the heart of the structuralist paradigm that eventually led to the explosion of that paradigm. It did not occur by approaching structuralism abstractly as an enemy (something that occurs all to often in “Deleuzian” treatments of psychoanalysis and structuralism) and by dismissing straw men. While I believe this development is of great scholarly interest, I also think that it is of philosophical importance as well. My fear is that if Deleuzian scholarship continues along the path that predominantly characterizes it today– empty sloganeering that often wouldn’t know an argument or careful textual analysis if it hit it in the face –the work of Deleuze and Guattari will become increasingly irrelevant in the major philosophical debates as it will fail to be philosophically informed in such a way as to be capable of persuasively and powerfully participating in these debates. Avoiding this fate, above all, requires readings of Deleuze that focus on arguments for his position where arguments are to be found, readings which are intelligently informed by the history of philosophy, and careful conceptual analysis holding itself to the standard a gem cutter aspires to in cutting especially precious diamonds.
A great deal is made of the passage in Deleuze’s Negotiations where he speaks of his way of reading philosophers.
……I suppose the main way I coped with it [philosophy as history of philosophy] at the time was to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important for it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed. (6)
There can be little doubt that a conception of reading such as this was destined to appeal to continentalists in the English speaking world that are generally oppressed by a philosophic academic system that stymies independent intellectual work written in ones own name and instead demands commentary on French and German thinkers (thinkers in other languages having, a priori, nothing worthwhile to say, of course). This conception of reading– like Derridean deconstruction –provides a compromise between the demand to write commentary and the eminently philosophical desire to engage in original thought and conceptual discovery of ones own by speaking through another thinker while making that thinker say something other than the thinker perhaps says. Consequently, enthusiasts of Deleuze busily set about trying to get behind Deleuze’s own work, trying to create monsters of it. But perhaps Deleuze, being a bit of a monster himself (I say this with admiration), requires a different type of buggary or monstrousity. What would a truly monsterous reading of Deleuze be? Has anyone yet asked this question? I think it would be a reading of Deleuze that staunchly refuses all those shadows that haunt Deleuze’s texts in popular appropriations of his thought, and that instead takes his work seriously philosophically and systematically, demonstrating that Deleuze’s assertions are something more than simply the product of his idiosyncratic taste, but are, in fact, well argued and conceptually well formed. I believe that such a Deleuze would be far more powerful and productive than the reigning version we so often see today. Perhaps it is necessary to forget everything one thought they new about Deleuze, to vigorously refuse to read him selectively, and instead look for the system that inhabits his thought. Who knows, perhaps, just as Lacan announced a return to Freud so as to rescue Freud from Freudians and reawaken, once again, the subversive potential of the Freudian text, something like a return to Deleuze is today needed… A return that would read Deleuze for the very first time.
None of this, of course, is to chastise Glen. Glen does exactly what should be done when encountering those remarks that violate our expectations of what an author is claiming: rather than dismissing the claim, he steps back and revises his understanding of the thinker. Unfortunately this practice is all too often ignored.
Can you tell I’m cranky today?