Deleuze and Guatarri’s History of Philosophy

In What is Philosophy?, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatarri find that “every creation is singular and the concept as a specifically philosophical creation is always a singularity.” WIP, 7. While concepts are, for Deleuze and Guatarri, singular, this singularity by no means implies conceptual simplicity. WIP, 15 (“There are no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by them. . . It is a multiplicity, although not every multiplicity is conceptual.”). Despite this complexity and multiplicity, philosophical concepts, as opposed to artistic of scientific concepts, “must combine it with a point of view or a ground.” Id. This point of view or a ground is not a priori, but historical or temporal. WIP, 79 (“A concept lacks meaning to the extent that it is not connected to other concepts and is not linked to a problem that it resolves or helps to resolve them.”). Thus, for Deleuze and Guatarri’s philosophical concept, one must ‘know’ a concept’s genesis or context in order to give the concept meaning. But Deleuze and Guattari also suggest that this history “zigzags, though it passes, if need be, through other problems or onto different planes. In any concept there are usually bits or components that come from other concepts, which corresponded to other problems and presupposed other planes. This is . . . because each concepts . . . takes on new contours, and must be reactivated or recut.” WIP, 18.

But if Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical concept requires a contextualization (or consideration) of its multiplicities, what should we make of the history of philosophy? What is the role of the philosopher with regards to the history of philosophy? Similarly, what should we make of Deleuze’s dogmatic image of thought in Difference and Repetition?

To grapple with the question of the nature and role of philosophy, we must first understand how concepts are created and relate to the plane of immanence since “[p]hilosophy is a constructivism, and constructivism has two qualitatively different complementary aspects: the creation of concepts and the laying out of a plane.” WIP, 36-37. The plane of immanence is an image of thought that “gives itself what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought.” WIP, 37. A plane of immanence also us help us understand or “think” thought in general. Deleuze and Guattari describe various philosophers as occupying distinct images of thought. WIP, 54. For Deleuze and Guattari, concepts need conceptual personae. WIP, 2. The philosopher, as a friend of wisdom “invents and thinks the Concept.” WIP, 3. But this relationship of creation, for Deleuze and Guattari is complex. The philosopher is not the merely the inventor of the concept, she is the “potentiality of the concept.” WIP, 5.

While philosophical concepts are historical, “they have their own way of not dying while remaining subject to constraints of renewal, replacement, and mutation that give philosophy a history as well as a turbulent geography . . . .” WIP, 8. Philosophical concepts are historical, but not reified in history. This idea of the philosophy allows it to remained rooted and informed in history, while not being wholly determined by it. In comparing the Greek image of thought with the modern image of thought, Deleuze and Guatarri cautions that their description is not rooted in normative judgment. WIP, 54 (“If we attempt to set out the features of a modern image of thought in such a summary fashion, this is not in a triumphalist way, or even in horror.”). Instead, they posit that no image of thought can be limited to a “selection of calm determinations,” by being wholly categorized as error or illusion. Id. Deleuze and Guatarri liken the history of philosophy to the art of portrait painting. The philosopher is not, like the work of an amateur portrait painter, making matter “lifelike.” WIP, 55. On the contrary, the philosopher “produc[es] resemblance by separating out both the plane of immanence he instituted and the new concepts he created.” Id. Deleuze and Guatarri locate the ‘progression’ of the history of philosophy within this production of resemblances.

Deleuze and Guatarri, in describing a machinic portrait of Kant, find that “[s]ometimes the layers of the plane of immanence separate to the point of being opposed to one another, each one suiting this or that philosopher. Sometimes, on the contrary, they join together at least to cover fairly long periods.” WIP, 57. Overtime, philosophers can create new concepts within the same plane that invokes the same image that earlier philosophers have referenced. Id. When this occurs, the philosopher adds new curves to the original plane of immanence. Id. Whether a philosopher is critiquing or re-reading another philosopher, she is using complex and relative assessments of the concepts within a plane of immanence. WIP, 57-58. Interestingly, this suggests that the act of critique has a productive dimension, since it is adding new form to the plane of immanence. These complex assessments are possible because concepts can belong to similar “groups,” despite existing at different times on the same plane of immanence. WIP, 58. But concepts that do not refer to the same plane cannot belong to the same group. Id. While Deleuze and Guatarri find that there is a strict correspondence between the “created concept and the instituted plane,” the creation of concepts themselves comes about through indirect relationships between the concept and plane that are still to be determined. Id.

This suggests that when Deleuze and Guatarri is critiquing and writing on Kant or Heidegger, they are adding new dimension to their thought. Critique, however, does not have the common or colloquial definition for Deleuze and Guatarri. Deleuze and Guatarri does not believe that we are able to definitively say that one plane of immanence is better than another. WIP, 58. The goal of philosopher is not to think of the ultimate, universal plane of immanence. WIP, 59. Instead, the goal of the philosopher is to show that there is “unthought in every plane, and to think it in this way as the outside and inside of thought, as the not-external outside and the not-internal inside—that which cannot be thought and yet must be thought . . . to show . . . the possibility of the impossible.” WIP, 59-60. Deleuze and Guatarri cite favorably to Spinoza as the ‘best’ philosopher since he created the plane of immanence that did not hand itself over to the transcendent and inspired the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions. WIP, 60.

But why does a philosopher write? Similarly, does a philosopher create concepts with any particular end in sight? Deleuze and Guatarri, in favoring Spinoza over other philosophers, seems to suggest that philosophers take on a normative dimension in their writing. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze explored this concept further in his critique of the dogmatic image of thought. The philosopher is meant to engender thinking in thought. DR, 147. Thus, perhaps the greatest sin that the dogmatic image of thought has committed is not descriptive, but preventing people from thinking thought and creating new images of thought. This is explicitly normative because Deleuze doesn’t seem as concerned with the dogmatic image of thought being ‘wrong’ as much as he is concerned with its limitation on thinking. As a result, Deleuze is not, as a philosophical project, attempting to assert a more descriptively accurate account of thinking, but an image of thought that aids in the creation of concepts and ideas. Additionally, Deleuze and Guatarri seem to be open to the possibility that an older ‘discredited’ plane of immanence or image of thought can take on new life. Deleuze and Guatarri describe the history of philosophy in terms of a turbulent geography, in which each of its moments is preserved in time and passes outside of time. WIP, 8. This “[m]ental landscape do[es] not change haphazardly through the ages: a mountain had to rise here or a river to flow by there again recently for the ground, now dry and flat, to have a particular appearance and texture. It is true that very old strata can rise to the surface again, can cut a path through the formations that covered them and surface directly on the current stratum to which they impart a new curvature.” WIP, 58. Here Deleuze and Guatarri, through their understanding of philosophy’s stratigraphic time, suggest that older images of thought can suddenly stir new concepts and alter other planes, including ones contemporaneous to our current milieu. This comports with the normative dimension of Deleuze and Guatarri’s conception of the practice of philosophers. If philosophers are to engender new thought and concepts, then it must be the case that philosophers’ creative insights can stem from older philosophical works.



One thought on “Deleuze and Guatarri’s History of Philosophy

  1. First, this is a great account of something I mentioned in response to Dave; viz., the figural and moving quality of Deleuze’s writing. And indeed to raise the question of how D&G conceive the history of philosophy is to introduce new temporalities to that conception. You provide a quite useful account here of how the history of philosophy is different from other notions of history in relation to thought. In particular, I like very much the idea that philosophy does not move forward through critique or negation, but rather by adding or shifting components, recontextualizing or redesigning concepts and their exo- as well as endo-consistency, resurrecting what was thought of as exhausted. In this I am struck with the idea that the past of philosophy is like Bergson’s pure memory—it continually accumulates into a vast field of co-existing virtual planes that are potentially actualizable and extendable in a variety of unpredictable ways. No philosopher is ever wrong, her concepts such become exhausted for a time. And there is no progress in philosophy, only waves of progression and retrogression.

    I am a bit confused about your wondering if or how this amounts to a normative conception of philosophy. “Normative,” meaning, this is what we’re supposed to do in philosophy? I guess my tendency has been to work through the curious ways in which D&G are almost entirely descriptive in their account, as if to say, this is how it happens when it happens.

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