If one adopts Deleuze’s account of individuation it is clear that the problems of philosophy are significantly transformed. For instance, epistemology can no longer be conceived as the question of how we arrive at a knowledge of “true reality”, precisely because the objects of knowledge are themselves the result of processes of individuation where both the subject and object of knowledge are simultaneously produced. As Deleuze will argue in chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, “The Image of Thought”– the chapter, incidentally, that he suggests was the most important for all his subsequent work (DR, xvii) –truth itself must be seen as the result of a genesis. “We always have as much truth as we deserve in accordance with the sense of what we say. Sense is the genesis or the production of the true, and truth is only the empirical result of sense” (DR, 154). This genesis just is the process of individuation, or the movement from problems to solutions.
Sense is located in the problem itself. Sense is constituted in the complex theme, but the complex theme is that set of problems and questions in relation to which the propositions serve as elements of response and cases of solution. This definition, however, requires us to rid ourselves of an illusion which belongs to the dogmatic image of thought: problems and questions must no longer be traced from corresponding propositions which serve, or can serve, as responses. We know the agent of this illusion: it is interrogation which, within the framework of a community, dismembers problems and questions, and reconstitutes them in accordance with the propositions of the common empirical consciousness– in other words, according to the probable truths of simple doxa… The failure to see that sense or the problem is extra-propositional, that it differs in kind from every proposition, leads us to miss the essential: the genesis of the act of thought, the operation of the faculties. Dialectic is the art of problems and questions, the combinatory or calculus of problems as such.
“Problem”, for Deleuze, is synonymous with what he refers to as Ideas or Multiplicities. That is, a problem is a field of differential relations and their accompanying singularities or potentialities. Consequently, we are not to understand problems as negative entities or mental entities, but as properly ontological instances presiding over the process of individuation. Problems are. This is why Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition, will use the term “Ideas” to refer to these multiplicities, thereby referring back to the ontological status of Ideas in Plato, while also drawing on Kant’s theory of Ideas as problems that admit of no solution but which organize all thought in The Critique of Pure Reason. Deleuze, of course, develops his own theory of Problems-Ideas-Multiplicities that will escape the representational assumptions of Plato and Kant.
If Deleuze’s account of individuation significantly transforms our understanding of individuation, then this is because it demands a shift from questions of whether or not the world is faithfully represented to questions of learning. Throughout Difference and Repetition, and his other works, Deleuze will develop a profound pedagogical philosophy… A new Meno. And why not? Is not learning to undergo unheard of individuations? In the process of learning the very nature of my way of experiencing world and self are transformed, and my perception is transformed. Learning is not, as the bureaucrats of education would claim, the mere acquisition of information, it is not as the accountability movement believes, memorization, but is rather the co-production of subjects and objects that did not hitherto exist. If there is a difference between the person who has gone through a literature program and one who has not, it is not simply that the former has read x number of novels and can tell you all about what occurs in Moby Dick, but rather something changes qualitatively in how such a subject experiences reading texts such as Ellison’s Invisible Man or Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. A new sensibility has been produced, and such a subject is inhabited by a receptivity for a specific set of signs that did not before exist. Just as writers have a style, the good reader, too cultivates a style of receiving works and this style is an invention or speciation within the world… Something that did not exist before.
One need only think of the apprenticeship undergone by the would-be carpenter, where one becomes-wood, a carpenter-subject, and discovers all sorts of new objects that did not before exist in the grain of the wood, knots, density, and so on. The carpenter is receptive to wood in a way that I am not. It is not that we perceive one and the same object, but that she perceives it more thoroughly than I. No, this cannot be the case because the carpenter relates to the wood in ways that are not strictly about the substance. Rather, an entirely new sensibility is produced in and through the engagement of the wood and the series of life-projects that the wood is to serve. The key point here is that this “knowledge” is not something that can be conveyed through a book, but requires the subject to undergo a process of individuation in which perception is individuated through engaging with the wood. That is, one must enter into a problematic field with the wood. Hence Deleuze’s experimentalism. The would-be carpenter must work with wood to become-wood. The would-be analyst must go through analysis and practice analysis to become-analysand. The literary theorist must work with texts to become-text. There is always a field of individuation into which one must be thrown so as to both discover the relevant signs, but also to create entirely new signs and qualities.
Problems and their symbolic fields stand in a relationship with signs. It is signs which ’cause’ problems’ and are developed in a symbolic field… These are two aspects of an essential apprenticeship or process of learning. For, on the one hand, an apprenticeship is someone who constitutes and occupies practical or speculative problems as such. Learning is the appropriate name for the subjective acts carried out when one is confronted with the objecticity of a problem (Idea), whereas knowledge designates only the generality of concepts or the calm possession of a rule enabling solutions. A well-known test in psychology involves a monkey who is supposed to find food in boxes of one particular colour amidst others of various colours: there comes a paradoxical period during which the number of ‘errors’ diminishes even though the monkey does not yet posses the ‘knowledge’ or ‘truth’ of a solution in each case: a propitious moment in which the philosopher-monkey opens up to truth, himself producing the true, but only to the extent that he begins to penetrate the coloured thickness of a problem. We see here how the discontinuity among answers is engendered on the basis of the continuity of an ideal apprenticeship; how truth and falsity are distrubted according to what one understands of a problem; and how the final truth, when it is obtained, emerges as though it were the limit of a problem completely determined and entirely understood, or the product of those genetic series which constitute the sense, or the outcome of a genesis which does not take place in the head of a monkey. To learn is to enter into the universal of the relations which constitute the Idea [Problem-Multiplicity], and into their corresponding singularities. The idea of the sea, for example, as Leibniz showed, is a system of liaisons or differential relations between particulars and singularities corresponding to degrees of variation among these relations– the totality of the system being incarnated in the real movement of the waves. To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field. This conjugation determines for us a threshold of consciousness at which our real acts are adjusted to our perceptions of the real relations, thereby providing a solution to the problem. Moreover, problematic Ideas are precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions. As a result, ‘learning’ always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind. (DR, 165)
I would argue that this little passage contains, in larval or fractal form, the whole of Deleuze’s thought. For instance, it is this thesis that will allow Deleuze and Guattari to remark, in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, that,
…we make no distinction between man and nature: the human essence of nature and the natural essence of man become one within nature in the form of production or industry, just as they do within the life of man as a species… Not man as the king of creation, but rather as the being who is in intimate contact with the profound life of all forms or all types of beings, who is responsible for even the stars and animal life, and who ceaselessly plugs an organ-machine into an energy-machine, a tree into his body, a breast into his mouth, the sun into his asshole: the eternal custodian of the machines of the universe. This is the second meaning of process as we use the term: man and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other– not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc.); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer product. Production as process overtakes all idealistic categories and constitutes a cycle whose relationship to desire is that of an immanent principle. (AO, 4-5)
Such claims can only be made where individuation is understood as the perpetual conjunction of singularities and differential relations within a problematic field. As N.Pepperell would put it, man is every bit as much the subject of his objects as objects are objects of the subject. Both are co-individuated solutions within a problematic field. A genuine pedagogy would thus be a pedagogy of problems, rather than the recitation of solutions. It would be a pedagogy of creative individuation, where one is thrown into a problematic field and comes out the other side as a different subject.
Given such an ontology, Deleuze is necessarily led to formulate a scathing critique of those epistemologies that center everything around the possibility of error for the precise reason that we can no longer speak of a world that is simply there as present-at-hand in itself, but rather must conceive being as the ceaseless co-implication of problematic fields and an endless process of production.
For it rather seems to us that there are fact with regard to error, but which facts? Who says “Good morning Theodorus” when Theatetus passes, “It is three o’clock” when it is three thirty, and that 7 + 5 = 13? Answer: The myopic, the distracted and the young child at school. These are effective examples of errors, but examples which, like the majority of such ‘facts’, refer to thoroughly artificial or peurile situations, and offer a grotesque image of thought because they relate it to very simple questions which one can and must respond by independent propositions. Error acquires a sense only once the play of thought ceases to be speculative and becomes a kind of radio quiz. (DR, 150)
A little later Deleuze will go on to say that,
Teachers already know that errors or falsehoods are rarely found in homwork (except in those exercises where a fixed result must be produced, or propositions must be translated one by one). Rather, what is more frequently found– and worse –are nonsensical sentences, remarks without interest or importance, banalaties mistaken for profoundities, ordinary ‘points’ confused with singular points, badly posed questions or distorted problems– all heavy with dangers, yet the fat of us all. We doubt whether, when mathematicians engage in polemic, they criticize one another for being mistaken in the results of their calculations. (DR, 153)
Everybody knows– except the administrative reformers –that the real challenge in teaching philosophy, the social sciences, and literature classes, even in teaching the sciences and mathematics, consists not in coaxing the students to get the “right answers’ (here I have a little less faith in my social science colleagues, who seem to “teach from the book” and focus on bold print definitions), but rather to properly formulate problems and questions. What is a chemistry lab if not the first-hand discovery of a problematic field, and what is a seminar in a literature class if not the discovery of the problem of reading? From what perspective, for instance, does Descartes’ Meditations “come alive” as a solution to a problem? How can this problem be revitalized for my students here, today? And, of course, a pedagogy of problems, a problem based pedagogy, is the production of freedom, for in excavating the problematic field from which a text emerges, we are simultaneously open to other solutions, other individuations. Silverware is just one solution to getting food to ones mouth. Descartes is only one solution to the collapse of the old Medieval cosmology, transformations in religion, and transformations in economic and political structures through which he was living. Descartes needed his solutions because he needed the strongest, most rigorous arguments available to prevent his head getting chopped off by the church when defending the new science and mathematics. What is important is not whether the student can recite this or that moment in the first meditation, but rather whether or not the student is able to formulate the problem well, and whether singular points are properly distinguished from ordinary points… Not just in Descartes’ terms, but in her own terms. In this regard, in the humanities at least, the classroom becomes a battle ground where one must perpetually be aware of the commonplaces that haunt the social unconscious, and where techniques are used to combat these commonplaces, to disrupt these commonplaces, so an encounter with the problem might take place at all. These commonplaces are so many resistances to thought: “All is opinion!” “People might think differently!” “Knowledge is what we’re taught!”, etc. It becomes necessary to creatively pre-empt the commonplace so an encounter with thought might take place. Error, it seems, is the domain of petty administrators and bureaucrats who are unable to think beyond properly filled out forms and who have scarce conception of what takes place in a classroom.
Along these lines, Deleuze argues that philosophy must supplant the category of error with forms of error that are structural to thought itself, much like Kant’s famous “transcendental illusions”:
There are few who did not feel the need to enrich the concept of error by means of determinations of a quite different kind. (To cite some examples: the notion of superstitition as this is elaborated by Lucretius, Spinoza and the eighteenth-century philosophes, in particular Fontanelle. It is clear that the ‘absurdity’ of a susperstitution cannot be reduced to its kernel of error. Similarly, Plato’s ignorance or forgetting are distinguished from error as much as from innateness and reminiscence itself. The stoic notion of stultitia involves at once both madness and stupidity. The Kantian idea of inner illusion, internal to reason, is radically different from the extrinsic mechanism of error. The Hegelian idea of alienation supposes a profound restructuring of the true-false relation. The Schopenhauerian notions of vulgarity and stupidity imply a complete reversal of the will-understanding relation.) What prevents these richer determinations from being developed on their own account, however, is the maintenance, despite everything, of the dogmatic image, along with the postulates of common sense, recognition and representation that comprise its cortege. (DR, 150)
To this list we might add “Ideology” as conceived by Althusser and Zizek, and perhaps Oedipus and Fascism as conceived by Deleuze and Guattari. In all of these cases we have structures of thought, or, better yet, “ways of life”. Yet another way of referring to these structures would be to take up Hegel’s beautiful expression in The Phenomenology of Spirit, and refer to them as “shapes of consciousness”. These are not simple errors, but rather challenges that present themselves to thought, that defeat thought, that are internal to thought, and against which the thinker must perpetually struggle. And here, when I evoke struggle, I evoke it in the first person… Not as a struggle against the other’s illusion, but as one’s own tendency towards these illusions. Deleuze, for his part, seems particularly focused on stupidity.
Stupidity [betise] is not animality. The animal is protected by specific forms which prevent it from being ‘stupid’ [bete] [apologies for the lack of accent marks]. Formal correspondences between the human face and the heads of animals have often been composed; in other words, correspondences between individual differences peculiar to humans and the specific differences of animals. Such correspondences, however, take no account of stupidity as a specifically human form of bestiality… This is why tyrants have the heads not only of beasts but also of pears, califlowers or potatoes. One is neither superior nor external to that from which one benefits: a tyrant institutionalises stupidity, but he is the first servant of his own system and the first to be installed within it. Slaves are always commanded by another slave. Here too, how could the concept of error account for this unity of stupidity and cruelty, of the grotesque and the terrifying, which doubles the way of the world? Cowardice, cruelty, baseness and stupidity are not simply corporeal capacities or traits of character or society; they are structures of thought as such. The transcendental landscape comes to life: places for the tyrant, the slave and the imbecile must be found within it– without the place resembling the figure who occupies it, and without the transcendental ever being traced from the empirical which makes it possible. (DR, 150-1)
Here stupidity becomes a properly transcendental problem, a properly philosophical problem. But what is stupidity? Deleuze has precious little to say in what follows, but his remarks are suggestive. He indicates that stupidity shares a special relationship to individuation. This would be obvious as stupidity must itself be the result of a particular process of individuation. Just as he argues, in Nietzsche & Philosophy, that Kantian critique does not go far enough as it does not give an account of the genesis of the faculties themselves, stupidity too must be thought in its genesis.
However, perhaps more significantly, stupidity must be thought as that relationship to individuation where solutions (individuated entities) are detached from their problematic fields and thought in isolation. For instance, conservative moralists always conceive values as a purely private affair, as an affair of the person’s soul, and never think values or the lack of values in terms of the field of problems where such persons emerge. The muderer, for instance, is just a “bad, wicked person”. In this regard, Deleuze shows a profound affinity with Hegel’s invectives against those who think abstractly in his brief little essay “Who Thinks Abstractly?” Or, perhaps Deleuze could be compared to Whitehead vis a vis the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, whereby explanation is restricted to actualized objects, and contexts and processes of actualization are ignored. As A.H. Johnson puts it in his Whitehead’s Theory of Reality,
In criticizing the work of previous thinkers, Whitehead points to a persistent tendency on the part of many to perpetrate the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. This, as the title indicates, consists in mistaking the abstract for the concrete. More specifically it involves setting up distinctions which disregard the genuine interconnections of things. For example, (a) the old-fashioned “faculty psychology” discussed mere awareness, mere private sensation, mere emotion, mere purpose–each a separate and distinct faculty. (b) Another general illustration of this error is the fallacy of Simple Location. This fallacy occurs when one assumes that in expressing the space and time relations of a bit of matter it is unnecessary to say more than that it is present in a specific position in space at a specific time. It is Whitehead’s contention that it is absolutely essential to refer to other regions of space and other durations of time. Whitehead expresses this idea more clearly and briefly by stating that simple location means a mutually exclusive “individual independence.” (C) A third general illustration of the fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness is the Substance-Quality concept. This is the notion that each real entity is absolutely separate and distinct from every other real entity, and that the qualities of each have no essential relation to the qualities of others.
As has been said, Whitehead objects to these three variations of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness because they involve a “break up” of the real continuity of experience. He admits the practical usefulness of these fallacies. His objection is to the use of these patterns of thought without recognizing their serious deficiencies. Whitehead suggests that this approach is useful in metaphysical speculation only with reference to the “subjective form.” If the notion of simple location is taken seriously (in general) the reality of temporal duration is denied. Memory and induction become hopeless mysteries. If the subject (substance) – predicate (quality) notion is accepted uncritically the subject is confined to a private world of experience. Solipsism is inescapable. Whitehead also notes that frequently the substance-quality form of thought involves the notion of “vacuous actuality”; that is, there is a denial of subjective experience to the ultimate realities. (150-1)
Indeed, do we not see these forms of stupidity again and again, where economic, social, and cultural conditions are ignored in the analysis of certain social problems, thinking entities and groups in abstraction?
Deleuze, for his part, will link stupidity to a particular way of approaching problems:
The problem or sense is at once both the site of an orginary truth and the genesis of a derived truth. The notions of nonsense, false sense and misconstrual must be related to problems themselves (there are problems which are false through indetermination, others through overdetermination, while stupidity, finally is the faculty for false problems; it is evidence of an inability to constitute, comprehend or determine a problem as such). (DR, 159)
Never has there been a better definition of the reactionary or the fascist: Those who are unable to constitute, comphrehend, or determine a problem. It is always a question of an inability to draw distinctions, of a conflation of things that are different, of simplications, isolations, and a genuine passion for ignorance. A pedagogy of problems, a new dialectics, thus becomes the site of a politics– A site where false problems would be revealed and carefully criticized, and where the focus would consist in the articulation of genuine problems where new individuations might take place. This too would be an instance of the sort of freedom I discussed in my last post.
The mistake, the greatest danger, here would be to believe that stupidity is the result of a cognitive deficiency such as poor development. As Lacan liked to say, there are three fundamental passions, love, hate, and ignorance. We have a passion for ignorance and don’t wish to know anything about it. Stupidity is a spectre that perpetually threatens thought. The question, then, would be one of uncovering the paths of desire and the ways of life that actively invite stupidity. Why is it that I am led to pose certain problems poorly and inadequately in certain aspects of my life? Why do we will ignorance in some areas and not in others? Are there forms of life, ways of relating to others, and ways of relating to the world that actively invite stupidity as a solution, precisely because stupidity can function as a defense? Why is it, for instance, the persons of particular political persuasions are often prone to stupidity? For instance, why have educational reformers in the United States, mostly legislators, former businessmen, and former lawyers, adopted such a stupid set of solutions to the problem of educational achievement? In what way might these “solutions” be indicative of willful ignorance, of a passion not to know something? Here I do not wish to suggest that stupidity is the cause of their political identifications, but rather to suggest that stupidity might be an effect of certain political orientations… A defense that renders certain ways of life tolerable. With defense comes resistance, and in recent years we’ve seen just how great the passion for ignorance has grown. How might these resistances be handled at the collective level? Moreover, how can we fight our own passion for ignorance, our own will to stupidity, our own desire not to know anything about it, within ourselves?