Snarls, Squeaks, Stammers

I am haunted by a rather strange paragraph in What Is Philosophy?, which I find to be the most beautiful passage in the book, but also the most cryptic and mysterious. It is towards the beginning of  “The Plane of Immanence”, and seems to interrupt the continuity of the chapter. At the risk of straying from our seminar’s focus on the Image, I would like to take this chance to meditate on the distinctiveness of this passage, and if not wrest from it any useful meanings, at least marvel at its  crystalline abundance. It follows:

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible, inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight. Take Michaux’s plane if immanence, for example, with its infinite, wild movements and speeds. Usually these measures do not appear in the result, which must be grasped solely in itself and calmly. But the “danger” takes on another meaning: it becomes a case of obvious consequences when pure immanence provokes a strong instinctive disapproval in public opinion, and the nature of the created concepts strengthens this disapproval. This is because one does not think without becoming something else, something that does not think—an animal, a molecule, a particle—and that comes back to thought and revives it. (WIP, 41-42)

The first sentence is the most ambiguous: in whom is indifference provoked, and towards what? In the preceding paragraph, Deleuze and Guattari posit the plane of immanence as pre- or nonphilosophical, which proves to be one of the most important passages in regards to their answer to the title question. As they put it:

Prephilophical does not mean something preexistent but rather something that does not exist outside of philosophy, although philosophy presupposes it. These are its internal conditions. The nonphilosphical is perhaps closer to the heart of philosophy than philosophy itself, and this means that philosophy cannot be content to be understood only philosophically or conceptually, but is addressed essentially to nonphilosophers as well. (ibid., 41)

This introduces to their definition an element which is not reducible to identity (which could thus far be summarized positively as the creation of concepts and the institution of a plane of immanence, and negatively as not contemplation, not reflexion, and not communication). It locates in philosophy an internal difference, a differenciation that leaves it obscure despite having a distinct shape and frontier. Philosophy has an “essential relationship” (ibid., 218) with the chaos through which it cuts.

So what then does it mean to be indifferent, and why is this provoked by thinking? It is interesting that D&G do not find it necessary to qualify ‘thinking” in this instance. I infer, however, that they mean something along the lines of thinking under a dogmatic Image, a thinking that invests itself in finding a refuge from the imposing instability of a world in flux. “We require just a little order to protect us from chaos. Nothing is more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, than ideas that fly off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness or precipitated into others that we no longer master” (ibid., 201). Such refuges D&G call “fixed opinions”, attempts to fashion “a little ‘umbrella,’ which protects us from the chaos” (ibid., 202).

Avoiding this indifference can be thought of as the another articulation of project Deleuze laid out in Difference and Repetition: the embrace of difference in itself and repetition for itself, the act of thinking without image. This risks exposure to the aforementioned distress: “It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance—the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself” (ibid., 203).

This brings us to the “groping experimentation” of thinking. D&G go for the grotesque when they try to describe it: “measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable” which “belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess.” This corresponds to a description later in the chapter of the modern, Nietzchean image of thought. They speak of its “Incapacity…If thought searches, it is less in the manner of someone who searches than a dog that seems to be making uncoordinated leaps” (ibid., 55). Here they reference Artaud and Kleist, for whom “thought begins to exhibit screams, snarls, stammers; it talks in tongues and screams, which leads it to create, or try to” (ibid.).

The reference to Kleist is apposite; a very Deleuzian account of such thinking is given in his two wonderful short texts, “On the Gradual Formation of Thoughts While Speaking” and “On the Theater of the Marionettes”. They crystalize the junction between Deleuze, Bergson, and Kant, seeking to intuit the fractured self. The former begins, “If you want to know something and can’t find it out through meditation, then I advise you, my dear, quick-witted friend, to talk it over with the next acquaintance you happen to meet” (Kleist, Selected Prose of Heinrich von Kleist, 255). Such stimulation provides the necessary start to the process of thought (perception, affection, impulse, action, reflection…), and Kleist describes it so:

…because I have some kind of an obscure inkling that harbors a distant relation to that which I am seeking, if I only utter a first bold beginning, as the words tumble out, the mind will, of necessity, strain to find the fitting ending, to prod that muddled inkling into absolute clarity, such that, to my surprise, before I know it the process of cognition is complete. (ibid., 257)

Kleist concludes, “…it is not we who know, but rather a certain state of mind in us that knows” (ibid., 262).

As an illustration, he recites an anecdote from the French revolution, in which the orator and statesman Mirabeau defied the King’s order for the Estates General to disperse. Kleist comments:

I am convinced that in uttering [his] ordinary opening words, he had not yet conceived of the verbal bayonet thrust…we can see that he does not yet rightly know what he means to say…he went on, and then, suddenly, a rush of heretofore inconceivable concepts rolls off his tongue…and only now does he find the words to express the act of resistance to which his soul stands ready: ‘You can tell your king that we will not leave our seats , save at the point of a bayonet.’ (ibid., 258)

Here we come to what makes thinking dangerous. If we take Kleist’s story at its word, even such an unscrupulous, opinionated politician as the infamous Mirabeau is capable of uncovering from beneath the sheltering Urdoxa the hidden chaos, that is, the virtual potentialities for difference. The “obvious consequences when pure immanence provokes a strong instinctive disapproval in public opinion” becomes something of an understatement.

The last sentence of our paragraph is, in my opinion, the most poetic formulation of Deleuze’s fundamental metaphysical principle of the I fractured by the form of time. It took me quite a long time to appreciate just what Deleuze was getting at, and I found help through an encounter with the latter of the above-mentioned Kleist texts. This essay recounts a dialogue with a famed dancer who enthuses over a makeshift marionette theater. The dancer envies the extraordinarily graceful movements of the puppets, which to him seem to have an advantage over the living.

‘The advantage? First of all, a negative one, my friend, namely that it never strikes an attitude. For attitude, as you well know, arises when the soul (vis motrix) finds itself twisted in a motion other than the one prescribed by its center of gravity. Since, wielding the wire or thread, the machinist simply has no other point at his disposal than this one, all the other bodily articulations are as they should be, dead, pure pendulums, and merely follow the law of gravity; an admirable quality that one may seek in vain among the vast majority of our dancers.

‘…missteps,’ he added as an aside, ‘are unavoidable ever since we ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But Paradise is bolted shut and the cherub is on our tail; we are obliged to circle the globe and go around to the other side to see if there’s a way back in.’

I laughed—Indeed, I thought to myself, the spirit can’t go wrong if there’s no spirit to begin with. (ibid., 268-269)

We can see in this again the fractured I: a desire of the passive Ego to maintain contact with the I which affects it, the “entire machine of determination and the indeterminate” (Difference and Repetition, 276). To think, I must be an Other, an unthinking other. I will give the last word to Kleist, who writes with the bloodshot eyes of the mind:

‘…just as two lines intersect at one point, and after passing through infinity, suddenly come together again on the other side; or the image on a concave mirror suddenly reappears before us after drawing away into the infinite distance, so, too, does grace return once perception, as it were, has traversed the infinite—such that it simultaneously appears purest in human bodily structures that are either devoid of consciousness or which possess an infinite consciousness, such as the jointed manikin or the god.’ (Kleist, 273)

One thought on “Snarls, Squeaks, Stammers

  1. Beautifully written blog! It is always a good strategy to return to a text that is at once deeply attractive, and deeply disturbing. And I am sure we have all stumbled on these pages. And having tripped with our nose buried in it, it is always best to step back and look again.

    You take up many interesting problems here: the relation of thought to indifference, or to a violence that threatens to subsume it; the relation of plane to concept; the necessity of thinking to pass into an Other, whether animal or mineral. I suppose we might think of the “fractured I” as an injury, to be splinted or patched. I believe your wonderful Kleist texts bring this anxiety forward. But Deleuze asks rather that we acknowledge this unceasingly revived internal division as the energeia of all thinking, if we can manage to think at all. The force of time that divides thought internally can either overwhelm and subsume us, or we can manage to determine a position within the indeterminate and surf along with it . . . until we fall back in the maelstrom!

    I wish I could write as well as Kleist. By the way, I don’t think you stray too far from the Image here. And in fact the cited texts from Deleuze and Kleist could themselves be considered “images of thought” under varying conditions.

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