Throughout my encounters with Deleuze, even prior to this class, I’ve frequently run up against the idea that the ideas that he produces, the concepts that he elevates into plateaus, are themselves less important that the method that he uses to do so, or the significance of his having created them at all. As Sean B. put it in his discussion post for our last week of class, “his specific concepts are meant less as propositions to be accepted or rejected than as examples of how such creation is done.” Another friend, and reader of Deleuze, wrote to me in response to an email I sent him about having epiphanies while reading our texts for this class: “I think what is often misunderstood is that it’s usually not about the point Deleuze makes as much as it is about the process that he employs to get to that point. So we are always doing an injustice by saying ‘here is what Deleuze says, look how it applies to this problem,’ instead of actually engaging the methodology more fully.”
I have some complicated thoughts on this, which I’ve been mulling over during the course of our seminar, so it seemed fruitful to try and suss some of it out for our final journal entry. This mostly takes the form of several different ways of understanding the architecture of this particular approach to Deleuze, and what I see as the particular advantages and disadvantages of this line of thinking. All of these theses are fairly tentative, but perhaps some solidity will emerge through the process of thinking through them.
The first line here is a very practical one. I think part of the problem that my friend was articulating, and that David has referenced in class, is that a lot of scholarship on Deleuze is pretty bad. Even worse, at least in a lot of my reading experience, is scholarship that draws a concept out of Deleuze and lazily tacks it on to a related concept, often mistaking similarity for relation. At its worst, this might look something taking one paragraph out of the Foucault book about the diagram and applying it to a history of literal diagrams. This procedure does violence to Deleuze’s thought. As we’ve discussed throughout class, every definition that Deleuze comes up with is a response to a particular problem—very rarely is he posing a definition that is intended to be stable beyond its immediate use. This make using Deleuze in our own work a difficult proposition. Unless what we make use of is not (only) his concepts but his methodology.
But where do we draw the line between the two? The part of me that is invested in this question is identical with the part that shudders when I read that email from my friend. The reason being—Deleuze offers us some really important concepts! I love his concepts! I can’t just reject them on the basis that they’re unstable, contingent, relational, especially when they’re so appealing, so seemingly important, potentially revolutionary.
There is, of course, a danger in wholesale adoption of any concepts. I’ve been reading a lot of Derrida over the past year, and there’s a lament amongst people who read a lot of deconstruction that there’s very little “Derridada” that’s of any value—beyond Derrida himself. Which is to say, people who are influenced by Derrida’s concepts, scholarship that identifies (or identified, at this point in time) as dogmatic deconstructionism or following Derrida pales in comparison to the original works. The further away you get from the original material in terms of structure, the more likely you are to find something that is of genuine interest, aside from a simple explication or elaboration of Derrida’s work itself. What’s particularly interesting to me about this comparison is that in Derrida, concept and method are even more indistinguishable than in Deleuze! The adoption of either is tricky, and often seems to lead down a fruitless path without some distance, or without paying close attention to the problematic that I’m trying to lay out here.
However, even if we adopt Deleuze’s concepts provisionally, with attention to their original problematic, their relational structure, it seems to me that there is still a danger of misunderstanding the importance of his work. The attraction of Deleuze’s concepts here would function as something like missing the forest for the trees. One of the things that I appreciate most about reading Deleuze, and about our class discussions, is that we are constantly discovering new approaches to the same points. Throughout his work, Deleuze constantly evolves in relation to the way he uses certain words, certain concepts, certain argumentative structures, but we’re often able to draw connections between those different approaches to the same word, and between entirely different approaches to problems in completely different domains. Over the course of his career, Deleuze seems to drift towards particular landmarks that we’ve been able to trace.
However, it seems that these landmarks are not necessarily concepts. Deleuze’s concepts lack the necessarily stability to exist transhistorically, a-situationally. I think Derrida is a useful comparison here again. For Derrida, presence is a concept whose essence does not substantially change over the course of his career. It is elaborated in innumerable different ways, and becomes incredibly complex in its iterations, but when Derrida uses the word presence, he always means more or less the same thing. It seems to me that the same cannot be said of Deleuze. His landmarks are too differentiated, too slippery to have this kind of stability. Or, perhaps, we can think of this as conceptual instability as a landmark in itself—for Deleuze the principle that concepts cannot be fixed in time is a kind of concept itself. The only constant is change. The only repetition is difference.
Furthermore, this difference, this change, has an interesting relationship with thought, writing, style, and philosophy. I went back to the smaller pieces we’ve read to see if I could find a concise articulation of precisely this problem. It will probably be of no surprise that the Image of Thought chapter from Proust and Signs delivered—brilliantly. I want to pull out the entire second paragraph of the chapter, because it seems astonishingly clear in regards to this problem.
“In the ‘philosopher’ there is the ‘friend.’ It is important that Proust offers the same critique of philosophy as of friendship. Friends are, in relation to one another, like minds of goodwill who are in agreement as to the signification of things and words; they communicate under the effect of a mutual goodwill. Philosophy is like the expression of a Universal Mind that is in agreement with itself in order to determine explicit and communicable significations. Proust’s critique touches the essential point: truths remain arbitrary and abstract so long as they are based on the goodwill of thinking. Only the conventional is explicit. This is because philosophy, like friendship, is ignorant of the dark regions in which are elaborated the effective forces that act on thought, the determinations that force us to think; a friend is not enough for us to approach the truth. Minds communicate to each other only the conventional; the mind engenders only the possible. The truths of philosophy are lacking in necessity and the mark of necessity. As a matter of fact, the truth is not revealed, it is betrayed; it is not communicated, it is interpreted; it is not willed, it is involuntary.”
Wow! Fully explicating this would be a feat beyond my ability, but would go a great deal of the way towards understanding the significance of Deleuze’s work. However, I’ll take a crack at drawing out some of the relevant thematics at play here. First and foremost I want to point to both Deleuze’s problematizing of “explicit and communicable significations,” and his suspicion of the “agreement as to the signification of things and words.” This is, in far clearer prose, what I have been trying to indicate in my entry thus far as to the instability of Deleuze’s own concepts, or the words tied to them. It’s also worth noting how important it is that Deleuze is invoking Proust’s critique of philosophy, and later in the next paragraph claims “more important than the philosopher is the poet.” This is significant, I think, because Deleuze is intentionally avoiding an act of criticism from which he would be exempt, but rather emphasizing his own complicity (however simultaneously self-critical) in the problematic of philosophical work.
However, Deleuze’s act of undermining the permanence of his own concepts is only the first step of the critical act at play here. The next step is where I think he really takes off, and I believe it can be almost entirely summed up in the idea that “Only the conventional is explicit,” and its corollary “Minds communicate to each other only the conventional.” The gesture Deleuze is making seems to indict the history of philosophy as a process of making explicit that conventionalizes thought, ideas, and concepts into stable forms. These stable forms are not the products or failures of bad philosophers. Rather they are endemic to the philosophic act as a process of writing, of actualization, of stabilizing the vicissitudes of thought that can be made communicable. The truths of philosophy are the truths of the conventional, the explicit, which as they are shaped into transmittable form lose their connection with the “dark regions of thought” from which they emerge.
These dark regions of thought are nothing less than the hope we have as Deleuzians. To be a follower of Deleuze, to bring Deleuze into our lives as thinkers in any capacity, is to swear fealty to the dark regions of the Outside, the Virtual. Deleuze’s method and concepts therefore remain entwined around this connection to the new that emerges from “the effective forces that act on thought,” a connection that must continually be renewed and rebuilt in the work of thought whose stabilization transforms the new into the conventional. The truly great concepts, like the truly great philosophers, never finish this process into conventionality and stability, but rather maintain their connection to the realms of difference that battle the forces of identity, representation, and unity. Deleuze’s strategy emerges more clearly in this light. Continually changing his definitions, strategically and provisionally deploying words and concepts, Deleuze fights against a process that would sever his work’s connection to the Virtual. He can point to the landmarks, but cannot adopt a process of signification that would rob his readers of their contact with that realm of differentiation. The further away his landmarks exist from definition, signification, or explicitness, the wider the crack to the Outside is opened.
Reading Difference and Repetition for class a few weeks ago reminded me of what this feels like, physiologically. The process of getting caught up in the flow of ideas, surfing on the surface of text without the sensation of “grokking” the material, I encountered not concepts, but a processual relation to difference and the new that exceeds any concept and all signification. If we are to take anything with us out of our reading of Deleuze, this would be my candidate. The concepts themselves are only tools, and in following Deleuze we should use them as such. In doing so we would also fashion our own tools and our own methods, proliferating as they are introduced to new situations and new problematics. New structures of thought are needed; new concepts must be equipped and new problems created. To what end? Towards the only true goal of any creation—opening the interstice to the realm of universal variation.