Gilles Deleuze

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Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze (January 18, 1925 - November 4, 1995; name pronounced (IPA) [ˈʒil dəˈløz]) was a major French philosopher of the late 20th century. His two most popular books, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, both subtitled Capitalism and Schizophrenia, were co-written with Félix Guattari, but he wrote several other influential works on philosophy, literature, film, politics and fine art. His magnum opus is Difference and Repetition (1968).

Life and work

Deleuze was born in Paris and continued to live there with a few exceptions, for most his life. His initial schooling was undertaken during WWII, during which time he attended the Lycée Carnot. He also spent a year in khâgne at the prestiguous Henry IV school, a sure sign of his potential for future academic success. In 1944 Deleuze went to study at the Sorbonne. His teachers there included Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac. Like many post-war students, however, he found the work of authors such as Jean-Paul Sartre more compelling than the traditional Hegelianism of philosophers such as Hyppolite. He aggregated in Philosophy in 1948.

Deleuze's academic career throughout the 1950s followed the typical course of academics at the time, teaching at various lycées until 1957, when he took up a position at the Sorbonne. It was also during this time that he published his first work, Empiricism and Subjectivity, which focused on the work of Hume. Like many of the philosophers of his time, most notably his teacher Canguilhem, Deleuze was concerned with critiquing rationalism and essentialism. Thus his initial work has some similarity with the work of authors such as Michel Serres and Gaston Bachelard. Indeed, it is notable that Deleuze did not participate in many of the trends that marked the French intellectual scene after the war - he never flirted with communism, phenomenology, or structuralism for instance.

The 1960s were a time of great change for Deleuze. From 1960 to 1964 he held a position at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. It was during this time that he published Nietzsche and Philosophy and -- more importantly -- met Michel Foucault, with whom he would develop a close friendship. From 1964 to 1969 he was a professor at the University of Lyon. In the fateful year of 1968 he submitted his dissertation, Difference and Repetition and his minor thesis, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Deleuze's work on the limits of rationalism and the philosophy of history proved extremely fertile for explaining the student uprisings of May 1968. Indeed, his work became one of the first attempts to comprehend the protests and their implication at a philosophical level.

In 1969 he was appointed to the University of Paris VIII, an experimental school organized to implement educational reform which drew a number of talented scholars, including Michel Foucault, and Félix Guattari. Guattari and Deleuze became good friends and began a long career of collaboration with each other, which included both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus. It was also in this period that Deleuze began experiencing chronic medical problems. His health slowly worsened until he took his own life in 1995 by jumping out of a window of his apartment.

The major ideas of Deleuzian philosophy

Deleuze came from a long line of Continental philosophers concerned with various means of destabilizing essentialism (Spinoza, Nietzsche). At the same time each one felt there was something else to put in its place. For Deleuze it was the One-all which can be thought of as the totality of everything. This totality extends to the end of our physical universe and its conditions of possibility. Such a basic premise seems to hark back to Plato and his theory of the realm of ideas and the difference between the intelligible and the sensible, but critiques its idealistic dualism, to which Deleuze posited a Monism influenced by Spinoza and Nietzsche. Following Nietzsche, Deleuze feels he is overturning Platonism. In doing this he seeks to privilege the physical corporeal world by destabilizing the 'idea' of ideals. We get from Plato the impression that these ideals have some sort of stable ontological status (they're real, and they don't change). Furthermore, when they come down to physical reality they are never instantiated quite right. Deleuze saw this as a weak formulation of the real world of the virtual (his realm of ideas). For him any actualization (real, physical, observable-world stuff) is a nexus of virtualities which are necessarily interacting imperfectly. This imperfection implies problems or areas in which the next actualization can let another virtuality intersect the previous virtualities.

On a moral/political level, Deleuze takes this idea (and a host of others) as a means of allowing him to reject Fascism in its macro (Nazi-esque) and micro (internalized capitalist) forms. He believed that we should cherish and accept the instability of the physical world and flow through the actualizations of virtuality instead of seeking to limit them. To limit and regulate them is to limit and regulate life and process. This has led some to connect his philosophy with anarchist politics.

These metaphysical commitments lead Deleuze to elaborate throughout his career an original philosophy rooted in internal difference. He constructs in his works a "non-Hegelianism" by seeking to explain ontological change in terms of immanent difference. Rather than rely upon a change of unified beings imposing wills on each other, forming coherence by reaction (as Deleuze might consider Hegel to do through his dialectic, see for instance the master-slave relationship), Deleuze scours philosophical predecessors for concepts that differentiate between external and internal causation and privilege internal causation, or power that is not divorced from its implementation. For instance, from Bergson, he is inspired by the idea of duration, a time of the body lived and self-differentiating, without reference to external beings.

This key focus of Deleuze, a unity between power and its action, can be seen throughout his more political commentaries. For instance, in Mille Plateaux, Deleuze and Félix Guattari develop the concepts of royal versus nomad science. Royal science proceeds by the separation of power and action, and essentially a division of labor between the intellectual and the manual. Nomad science has its own divisions of labor, but maintains an integration of intellectual and manual labor. Here we see resonances with Marx's early critiques of the alienating features of capitalism and private property.

To return to Deleuze's larger project, this "productivist monism" as we might call it, reflects his understanding of thought itself. Rather than focus on the idea as an alienation of lived activity, or a transcendence from lived activity, Deleuze considers the "concept" to be a point of indeterminacy between given things, the ruptures between beings that allow their change and causal interpenetration. Deleuze thus relates his theory of mind and politics to the metaphysics described earlier. The concept functions as a creation of new bonds between things, based upon bridging their virtual indeterminacies. Hence we may call Deleuze's philosophy, along with those of his predecessors Spinoza and Nietzsche, one of pure affirmation: at no instant is a "negation" in the Hegelian sense occurring, at no instant is there truly any negative transcendence or transcendence through "abstraction" occurring in the world, not even in human thought.

The concept of "becoming" is one which is found throughout Deleuze's work and can be thought of forming the basis of his philosophy. Not unlike Heraclitus, Deleuze proposes becoming as opposed to being as forming the ontological basis of life. In What is Becoming? Deleuze writes: "This is the simultaneity of a becoming whose characteristic is to elude the present. Insofar as it eludes the present, becoming does not tolerate the separation or the distinction of before and after, or of past and future." In other words, a becoming is a pure event, and it is in this sense Deleuze devalues nouns and fixed idenfications while simultaneously valorizing verbs. To put it simply, Deleuze would almost certainly agree with the Nietzschean aphorism: "There is no doer behind the doing."

Other concepts introduced by Deleuze include the idea of rhizomes representing horizontal lines of connection which resist traditional tree-like hierarchies, and deterritorialization or escape from the group.

All of this highlights Deleuze's emphasis on the productivity of being. Being is certainly not a fixed thing, but rather a constantly modulating process. Deleuze's terminology highlights this productivity in other ways, as he often describes the process of becoming as "machinic" or as the consequence of "desiring-machines."

Bibliography

By Gilles Deleuze:

  • Empirisme et subjectivité (1953). Trans. Empiricism and Subjectivity.
  • Nietzsche et la philosophie (1962). Trans. Nietzsche and Philosophy.
  • La philosophie critique de Kant (1963). Trans.Kant's Critical Philosophy.
  • Proust et les signes (1964, 2nd ed. 1970). Trans. Proust and Signs.
  • Le Bergsonisme (1966). Trans. Bergsonism.
  • Présentation de Sacher-Masoch (1967). Trans. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty.
  • Différence et répétition (1968). Trans. Difference and Repetition.
  • Spinoza et le problème de l'expression (1968). Trans. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.
  • Logique du sens (1969). Trans. The Logic of Sense.
  • Spinoza - Philosophie pratique (1970, 2nd ed. 1981). Trans. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
  • Dialogues (1977, 2nd ed. 1996). Trans. Dialogues.
  • Superpositions (1979).
  • Francis Bacon - Logique de la sensation (1981). Trans. Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation.
  • Cinéma I: L'image-mouvement (1983). Trans. Cinema 1 - The Movement-Image.
  • Cinéma II: L'image-temps (1985). Trans. Cinema 2 - The Time-Image.
  • Foucault (1986).
  • Le pli - Leibniz et le baroque (1988). Trans. The Fold - Leibniz and the Baroque.
  • Périclès et Verdi: La philosophie de Francois Châtelet (1988).
  • Pourparlers (1990). Trans. Negotiations.
  • Critique et clinique (1993). Trans. Essays: Critical and Clinical.
  • Pure Immanence (2000).
  • L'île déserte et autres textes (2002). Trans. Desert Islands: Selected Writings.
  • Deux régimes de fous et autres textes (2004).

In collaboration with Félix Guattari:

  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 1. L'Anti-Œdipe. 1972/3. Trans. Anti-Oedipus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1985.
  • Kafka: Pour une Littérature Mineure. 1975. Trans. Kafka: Toward a Theory of Minor Literature. 1986.
  • Rhizome. 1976.
  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2. Mille Plateaux. 1980. Trans. A Thousand Plateaus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 1987.
  • Nomadology. 1986.
  • Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? 1991. Trans. What Is Philosophy? 1996.

On Gilles Deleuze:

  • Badiou, Alain (2000) Deleuze: The Clamour of Being. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  • Hardt, Michael (1993) Gilles Deleuze: An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press.
  • May, Todd (2005) Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Zechner, Ingo (2003) Deleuze. Der Gesang des Werdens. München, Wilhelm Fink Verlag.
  • Žižek, Slavoj (2004) Organs Without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences. New York, Routledge.

External links

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For ongoing work influenced by Deleuze see the works of Manuel de Landa: "Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy" (found under "2002"), & "1000 Years of Non-Linear History ("1997").

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