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.

More Power, Virtuality, Thought

So I’ve been spending some time with the Power (Strategies or the Non-stratified) chapter of Foucault, and I keep going back and forth between feeling like the debate that we got embroiled in last class (or at least my persistence in it) was super helpful, and thinking it might have been more off-base. On the one hand, I think we touched on some questions that seem exceptionally important, at least to me—in particular some of the nitty-gritty of the relationship of power to knowledge and power’s virtuality/actuality axis. On the other hand, the question of primacy seems relatively secondary, and there are several points at which Deleuze seems almost tempted to back off of it. There’s even a remarkable passage in which he might be ditching it all together, in his discussion of the way in which Foucault’s dualism (in this case between the visible and the articulable) is in fact a “preliminary distribution operating at the heart of a pluralism (83).” Either way, I think part of why our debate was paradoxically useful is because it did an excellent job articulating why it felt so uncomfortable to have primacy and an even heuristic dualism within Deleuze’s thought! Square peg in a round hole indeed!

Anyhow, I do want to discuss a bit more of virtuality and power, because in my reread I think there’s a lot of nuance but also a great amount of detail in Deleuze’s discussion of power and its forces, relations, and affects. There are two bits that come early in the chapter that I want to look at and start to unpack a bit. The first is the relation of power to function, and the second is power’s relationship to the state. “the power to affect is like a function of force.” writes Deleuze, “But it is a pure function, that is to say a non-formalized function, independent of the concrete forms it assumes, the aims it serves, and the means it employs.” Further down the page, discussing the Panopticon, he writes “No account is taken either of the forms which give the function ends and means…or of the formed substances acted upon by the function.”

This seems crucial to understanding the role of power in Deleuze’s work. A few pages earlier, Deleuze says that “power is not a form.” So when power becomes pure function, it is already akin to the Panopticon (and for the record, to the diagram) in the sense that it exists as a structure without particular effects, that is, as Foucault has it, ‘detached from any specific use’ and ‘specified substance. So when power exists in the form of a pure function, it has already begun to pull away from virtuality – it has begun to assume shape, in the abstract terms of the diagram, or the abstract machine itself. It would seem that power does exist without the structure the diagram or pure function gives it, but it is only through the diagram that it can begin to affect.

On the other hand, it is not as though power has become fully actualized. It still remains within the realm of the diagram. Within the diagram “power relations…simultaneously local, unstable, and diffuse, do not emanate form a central point or unique locus of sovereignty, but at each moment move ‘from one point to another’ in a field of forces…they evade all stable forms of the visible and articulable (73).” Later in this same paragraph, Deleuze indicates that these characteristics of power are due to its reference to ‘microphysics,’ cautioning that this means a wholly different dimension or realm, “irreducible to knowledge (74).”

Power, then, is a funny beast. It shares the domain of its existence with concepts like Deleuze’s expanded definition of the Image—both potentially virtual and partially actualized, power is like the two halves of the symbol: one half dipped in the virtual, the other flowing, unstable, into the actual. Finally, like the image, power is always constituted relationally. Power lacks form or essence of it own, but is instead defined by the forces or situations through which it flows.

This relationality is brought out a bit more clearly in Deleuze’s analysis of how power can become integrated, in particular by institutions. For Delueze, relations of force remain without their full power unless they are “carried out” by forms of knowledge. These forms of knowledge participate in a process of integration: “an operation which consists of tracing a ‘line of general force,’ linking, aligning, and homogenizing particular features (75).” This process of integration involved not only forms of knowledge, but institutions, such as the State, the Family, Art and Morality, who are the “agents of stratification.” However, what’s so crucial about these integrating factors is that they are not sources or essences—they are only the networks that “fix” power, not the structures from which power issues. “There is no State, only state power,” writes Deleuze; power is presupposed by the state, and power exceeds it and all institutions.

If we’re going to talk about primacy here, then we can at least say that power has primacy over the institutions that fix it, as power runs through all institutions and, just as importantly, also bubbles up beneath them. Although without institutions of any kind and without forms of knowledge and knowledge relations, power would remain “embryonic,” it is this very lack of structure that gives it the ability to power structures themselves. As Deleuze has it, power is blind and deaf, but robbed of sight and hearing, it is the only thing that can make us see and hear. The power of power, then, comes from its nature to exceed the structures it requires to become influence and actualization, to always flow back out, against, and through the inflexibility of specific structures like the Panopticon or the State.

To give this a little concreteness, there are a lot of analogies that occur to me here, but actually the first one that comes to mind is maybe a little lame, but also kind of satisfying. In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort spends much of his time in an ethereal, bodiless form. He is pure power, that is to say, continually weak, until he finds a structure (actually a few structures) that can give him shape. These structures have varying levels of ability to affect, until Voldemort reaches his final form sometime in the last few books, in which his ethereal form finds a structure that can handle/fix quite a bit of power flowing through it. Structures, institutions and forms of knowledge in the world can fix varying sets of forces and capacities to affect—in large historical terms, Religion is perhaps a structure that has a waning capacity to affect, whereas capitalism has only an ever-increasing influence.

Finally, this links up with the one thing we didn’t end up talking about much in class, which is the Outside. Personally, I was so overwhelmed by the first half of the chapter that I didn’t read the second half near closely enough before our class discussion. But on my re-read, it struck me as perhaps some of the most radical material we’ve seen from Deleuze so far. It reminds me quite a bit of the section on Artuad from Cinema 2, i.e. section 2 of chapter 7, where Deleuze articulates the power of being powerless to think. I don’t have a ton of space left in this journal to gloss the section, but I think the crucial point is that the Outside, like, in a way, the virtual, is the dimension from which mutation and change emerge.

The diagram “stems from the outside,” but is not coextensive with it. Nor does the diagram structurally maintain a connection with the Outside. Instead, it is the forces that traverse the diagram that maintain a connection with the outside. The outside is the realm of Force, and all forces that traverse the diagram maintain a connection with the outside, an irreducible realm in which all forces share. Because the outside lacks stable definition, it appears to be always in flux, and the forces that emerge from it, the composing forces that make up other structures or articulations, are what shift within structures. Structures, according to Deleuze, do not themselves shift, but their composing forces, retaining a connection to the Outside, rearrange, recompose, and reorganize themselves, which in turns alters the composition of the structures. As Deleuze has it: “Emergence, change and mutation affect composing forces, not composed forms.” The “death of Man” occurs because the forces that composed the historical structure of “Man,” have begun to rearrange, giving the forces previously contained by the structure the freedom to find a new arrangement.

This radical potentiality, this freedom of the Outside, is what I find most exciting about this chapter. In particular, the way in which Deleuze defines the Outside in relation to thought is, frankly incredible: “Thinking does not depend on a beautiful interiority that would reunite the visible and the articulable elements, but is carried under the intrusion of an outside that eats into the interval and forces or dismembers the internal.” This seems to me to be the most radical yet detailed and clear conception of the power of Thought that we’ve come across so far. Thought, true thought, the difficult thinking, thought-without-image, etc. is a form of contact with an outside that is uncontained, irreducible, limitless and eternal, and therefore a dimension of radical potentiality, difference and newness. Thought’s power is its contact with that which can reconfigure structures, can reorganize the compositions of forces that are the State or the Panopticon. Thought is contact with a dimension that is unbounded—forms of knowledge or institutions may constitute power and force’s actualization, but the Outside touches thought to the possibility of remaking all that has ever been actualized.

Movement=Image, Virtuality, The Plane of Immanence

As has probably become clear in class, I’m a tad obsessed with chapter four of Cinema 1. It seems to me that there’s so much of Deleuze’s philosophical project contained within these fourteen pages, and it’s elucidated in a strikingly clear but incredibly intense way. In reading around about Deleuze, I’ve come across a variety of references to what is referred to as the “performative” aspect of Deleuze’s thought. That is, the idea that the actual experience of reading his work is inseparably tied to the ideas, concepts and work that may arise out of that experience. I will admit to having this feeling a number of times already – reading the Image of Thought chapter from D&R and this chapter from Cinema 1 not least among them. Although I could riff on this experience for a while, I can also sum it up rather easily as positive pole of the experience of becoming lost.

Reading these chapters, I had the sensation of not quite being sure what I was understanding, and feeling frequently as though I had lost the grip of Deleuze’s argument. Although I was underlining, starring, and circling rather furiously, I was drifting in and out the experience of comprehension, lacking entirely the kind of epiphany that arises out feeling like you’re fully understanding a line of argument or web of concepts (the experience that reading “Critical Theory” has for me, at its best). However, now that I’ve had that initial, very pleasurable and intense reading experience, I’ve become aware of two facts: the first is that I “understood” a lot more than I thought I did at the time—I feel comfortable with many of the ideas and can connect them to other, integrate them into my own thinking, to a degree I continue to find surprising. On the other hand, the second is that I also feel as though the ground continues to shift beneath my feet, producing new problems with their own tentative solutions and webs of connectivity. This is all a long preamble to the point that although I constantly refer back to this chapter from Cinema 1 as a focal point, every time I open the book I find something rather different. I want to use this journal as the beginning of an exploration into a few related concepts from this chapter that are particularly adept at worming their way through my thought.

They all revolve around what I’m tempted to call Deleuze’s “cosmology of images.” This occurs throughout the chapter, but Deleuze establishes the broad strokes rather quickly in section one, glossing on Bergson and then launching himself into space. “Everything,” Deleuze writes, “that is to say every image, is indistinguishable from its actions and reactions: this is universal variation (60).” In establishing his plane of immanence, Deleuze takes particular care to make clear that this is particularly true of the human subject: “My body is an image…how could my brain contain images since it is one image among others?” and, even better, “External images act on me, transmit movement to me, and I return movement: how could images be in my consciousness since I am myself image, that is, movement?” At this point in his argument, Deleuze is eager to banish the kinds of differentiation that he will later introduce in the movement-image types, and instead is attempting to establish the terms of universal variation that, for the moment, prevent any kind of distinguishing capacity between images. He provides two reasons for why this is possible. The first, negative, reason is that a conception of bodies prevents us from experiencing everything as movement-image; Deleuze wants us to consider what this plane of immanence would be like if we do away with the body and replace it with movement, pointing out that this will necessarily erase the boundaries between action, quality, and body itself. The second, positive, reason is “that the plane of immanence is entirely made up of Light…propagated ‘without resistance and without loss (62).’” The brightness of the Light that composes the plane of immanence forms everything not as body but simply as figures of light and non-rigid lines. As opposed to the light-beam of consciousness that illuminates things for phenomenology, this Bergsonian conception claims everything in the plane of immanence as luminous for itself, immanent to a consciousness that is equally diffused through all images on the plane.

This sets up Deleuze’s radical complication of this schema, in which he introduces the workings of our interactions on the plane of immanence, our ability to reflect and block the light, so as to shape the plane into what we experience as consciousness, vision, perception. Not as body or as subject, but simply as “living images” or “centers of determination,” in which the light runs up against “an obstacle, that is an opacity which will reflect it (64).” I won’t go into too much detail about the way in which Deleuze defines this, but his centers of determination are the vector through which movement-images writ large become shaped into action-images, perception-images, and affection-images, a tripartite but seemingly only temporarily limited schema of images that form in the interval between action and reaction, and which begins to differentiate the plan of immanence. In all his talk of privileged facets and the opacity of living images that allows them to form responses in the interval, Deleuze is careful to emphasize that this is a description of our experience of the plane, and does not hierarchize this capacity as being especially human—or especially anything, really. He attempts to explain how we can understand our role in the plane, but doesn’t detail if this is an experience that is shared with other living images, or what those might be.

This strikes me as being particularly interesting on a number of facets, but in particular seems to illuminate some of what we’ve been struggling with in class about the plane of immanence. Notably, it’s the attempt to comprehend the cosmology that he’s sketching out for itself, as opposed to for us, that led me down the path in class of describing it as being like the veil of ignorance. The other image of thought that I came up with to describe the plane of immanence as he sketches it out here is in early descriptions of cyberspace—I’m thinking in particular of the way that William Gibson describes it in Neuromancer. I don’t have the text in front of me, but the principle is that entities in Gibson’s cyberspace form blocks of color of varying shapes and sizes that don’t have any consistent or telling connection with their real-world counterparts. A massive block of color could be a corporation’s firewall, but it could also simply be a disguise for something else, a massively powerful supercomputer or A.I. The point being, that while things are differentiated, that are differentiated infinitely so—no one object looks like another, and there are no “types” that allow users to distinguish between themselves and others. Hence the particular skill of the hackers that populate such a world, who are, through a combination of incredible amphetamine powered reflexes, practice, and luck, able to navigate such a space.

This ability to navigate is what differentiates this cyberspatial metaphor from Deleuze’s cosmology, particularly as it exists prior to distinguishing between types of movement-images. Without the particular capacities of the living images to slide into the interval between action and reaction, there is no orientation, only universal variation. However, the comparison does illuminate something for me that seems useful for thinking through Deleuze’s schemas and his thought in general. The limited similarity between cyberspace and the plane of immanence seems like it might be conditioned through the concept of virtuality, writ large.

Virtuality, for Deleuze, seems most explicitly drawn out in D&R. When Deleuze is discussing the qualities of ideas in relation to the dual regimes of differenciation/differentiation, he offers a useful example of the way virtuality operates: “It is as though everything has two odd, dissymmetrical and dissimilar ‘halves,’ the two halves of the Symbol, each dividing itself in two: an ideal half submerged in the virtual and constituted on the one hand by differential relations and on the other by corresponding singularities; an actual half constituted on the one hand by the qualities actualizing those relations and on the other by the parts actualizing those singularities.” Differenciation is what brings the virtual into the actual. Defined this way, virtuality seems to have a lot in common with the two different approaches to the plane of immanence as I’ve tried to sketch it out here. The plane of immanence—before movement-image is separated out into action-image, perception-image, and affection-image—is purely virtual: everything within it is infinitely differentiated, as it exists within the realm of universal variation, but nothing is differenciated or actualized. Were we to exist within this plane, losing our capacity as centers of indetermination, we would be incapable of perceiving anything but Light, universally diffused and infinite. However, when the living image begins to play around in the interval between action and reaction, might we see some forms of differenciation? As movement-image goes from universal variation into specific forms of action-image, etc, does it become actualized? Or am I trying to put a square peg in a round hole?

Part of the puzzle here, for me, is trying to work out exactly what Deleuze means when he’s sketching out his cosmology here – as with the Image of Thought, or the Plane of Immanence itself, there’s a fluidity between Deleuze’s various works in relation to what these concepts are doing, or might mean. It seems foolhardy to try and integrate them into a systemic order, not because of any inconsistency, but simply because his supposed “overproduction of concepts” is a way of responding to the ever-shifting set of problems he’s trying to approach. The Plane of Immanence has to change in accordance with what it’s posing itself as the concept for. Having said that, I wonder about the universal variation as Deleuze sketches it out here. The world of movement=image, especially prior to the opacity provided by living images, does seem to have a special and, dare I say it, permanent role for Deleuze, in terms of what all of his concepts share. Whether it’s THE plane of immanence or the thought without image, there’s a mutually constitutive interest in this cosmology of infinite differentiation, immanent to consciousness and to itself, which is the universe.

This is why I find it curious that it’s so tempting for me to try and understand the plane of immanence in terms of metaphors or reference to other concepts. It seems like it’s tempting for others as well. I wonder if, undergirding this temptation, there’s a sort of will to power at work. Is my desire to understand the plane of immanence in terms particular to my experience or perceptual apparatus—to understand, almost literally, what it looks like—an attempt to rehumanize the non-human, to experience universal variation? Because it does seem as though Deleuze is arguing that this is constitutively precluded from our experience of the world due to our role as living images. We’re fundamentally incapable of not becoming blocs of opacity that allow us to perceive, act, etc. For us, the plane of immanence will never appear truly immanent—we only receive glimpses, back up the path towards the “acentered state of things.”

Final thought: where is time? Obviously, we’re still in the realm of the movement-image, but I’m interested in the way that time is somewhat occluded from this plane of immanence. Deleuze refers to the plane as being one of universal variation, but he describes this as being part of the always-moving images, not as images that are continually unfurling in a process of becoming. It would seem that the plane of immanence in this instance exists in the pure and empty form of time that we’ve seen scattered around Deleuze’s work. Time, in the most general sense, forms part of the structure of the plane of immanence here, but it seems undifferentiated as well as undifferenciated. I wonder if we’ll see this in the time-image? Does time lend itself to the same kind of differentiation as movement?

Agency Continued


It seems curious to me in many ways that we’ve spent a significant amount of time thus far on the concept of agency in Deleuze’s thought, without really investigating why it is that this might matter, or even, what it is we mean when we use the word. There is, I suppose, the obvious reason that a philosophy dedicated to decreasing the agential power of the subject comes as a bit of a shock, and potential a threat—if Deleuze is arguing for a conception of human agency that removes us from the pilot seat of our own lives, how are we to behave? How are we to act? What is the point of striving for a particular goal or state of affairs if we lack the ability to bring them about? What, especially, might be the point of “learning”? The ramifications for this are diverse, but I think Deleuze’s claims are subtle and complex, attentive to the diversity present in forms of agency, and also possibly less restrictive than they initially appear.

The most obvious point of possible disjunction in the material that we’ve discussed comes between Deleuze’s evocation of the philosopher’s duty to create concepts, his general reverence for the act of creation, and his apparent doubt in an autonomous human subject. When he discusses the history of philosophy as the history of concepts, as the history of concepts being produced, Deleuze also seems inclined to tie these to the subjects that are conventionally thought to have produced them – Aristotle’s Substance, Descartes’s Cogito, etc. Deleuze’s very definition of philosophy requires an understanding of the philosophical act as a “constructivism,” as an act of building, erecting edifices of actualized or stabilized thought. And yet, he also complicates this constructivism, replaces the unified subject with the “ non-totalizable complexity, ‘non-representable by a single individual (Cinema 2, 254),’” of the automaton; shifting the relationship of philosopher to concept from one of claimant or possessor to that of friend (WIP, 1-4); and self-identifying not as a person, but rather a stream of events (Negotiations, 141). However, this disjunction, that of week one of class takes place over an array of different texts with a number of different agendas, and it seems overly speculative to dive deeper into the issue without finding another resource, one with perhaps a little more detail.

There are any number of places in Difference and Repetition that could prod this discussion further along, but the distinction that Deleuze draws between learning and knowledge is particularly thought provoking for me. On pages 164-167 of Difference and Repetition Deleuze distinguishes learning as a continuous process, engaged with the problems that provoke it in a way that proliferates more problems, as well as more ideas, concepts, etc. He contrasts this to knowledge, which although it invokes the learning process, renders it “an empirical figure, a simple result which continually falls back into knowledge (Difference and Repetition, 166).” Knowledge limits learning by closing off further self-reproduction in the satisfaction of its goals resolution. Learning, on the other hand, is characterized as a mode of being that does not end in the production of knowledge, but rather recursively produces new avenues of thought to be followed as it confronts and multiplies problems.

Although it might not be clear what this has to do with agency, I think the status of learning in Deleuze’s thought is an example in which the reader can glean some insight into a subjective process; one that is produced by the subject while it is also produced in or through it. Deleuze initially defines learning as “the appropriate name for the subjective acts carried out when one is confronted with the objecticity of a problem (Idea)… (164).” Further on, when he defines the task of the apprentice, Deleuze claims “The apprentice…attempts to give birth to that second power which grasps that which can only be sensed (165).” The learning subject is confronted with problems beyond her control, will, or agency—ideas are to be “entered into,” and “conjugated” rather than mastered and resolved. However, this same subject and her agency are not written out of the process of learning – she must attempt to learn, act deliberately when she is confronted with the idea, and resist the call to a subjugation of knowledge.

Deleuze seems to be making the claim that agency is not unidirectional or founded within the subject, the site in which thought takes place. But this does not mean that the subject’s agency is entirely withheld. Agency, defined as sometimes conscious will—is instead shared, networked, re-registered amongst the total field of thought. Which brings me back to the beginning again – what do we mean when we use the word agency? It seems as though generally what we mean is the ability to control what happens within our subjectivity, and the ability to shape and interact with the world around “under our own steam.” Deleuze’s framework seems to threaten this conception of autonomy, by introducing the way in which the things that previously appeared to us as parts of ourselves or capacities that were ours are somehow other, with their own form of autonomy and their own, inscrutable motivations and engines. The more I think about this conception, however, the more I wonder if Deleuze’s project necessarily requires a diminution of our own agency.

Rather than propose a conception of agency that diminishes the more that it is shared, I think Deleuze would rather us consider a conception of control, authority, autonomy that retains its ability to act in the world but refuses to consider itself as sovereign, or unique. In his examination of the concept of the Other, that for Deleuze is the “structure which grounds and ensures the overall functioning of this world as a whole (281),” he also proposes following this logic to its necessary dénouement, “far from the objects and subjects that it conditions, where singularities are free to be deployed or distributed within pure ideas, and individuating factors to be distributed in pure intensity (282).” Or perhaps, even more striking, consider Deleuze’s definition of erewhons, his conception of an genuinely open structure of categories: “complexes of space and time, no doubt transportable but on condition that they impose their own scenery, that they set up camp there where they rest momentarily: they are therefore the objects of an essential encounter rather than of recognition (285).” These definitions of other structures contain a form of agency, that while possibly still alien to our own, shares with it the ability to force the encounter that sparks the production of problems and ideas. These structures are just a few of the many that Deleuze defines throughout D&R, but their common linking thread seems to be an ability to act, encounter, challenge, and force.

When we talked about this in class, one of the ideas floated around was that Deleuze wants to delink the concept of agency as a human capacity. I think this is right, but it would seem that this takes a different form than reducing the concept to include other forms of sovereignty. To me, it almost appears that Deleuze wants us to retain our conception of human agency, but then extend it to all other singularities that participate in our networks – ideas, beings, objects, etc. What would a mastery over the self look like if all the things we had mastery over also had mastery over themselves? It seems baldy contradictory in terms, a paradox, which is part of the reason that, to me at least, it intuitively seems to fit into Deleuze’s schema.

To put it briefly, while reading Deleuze, I don’t often get the idea that he wants to di-/de- (diminish, dilute, demystify etc.) anything. Rather, he wants to extend, multiply, recomplicate, replicate, etc. So when he talks about agency, my feeling for his work thus far encourages me to find a formula that, while it appears to impact our ability to shape thought, to act, does so only in the terms that it extends those abilities to other actors. Which doesn’t seem to necessarily involve having less than they started with.

This rubs up against another part of the Deleuzian project that I want to ponder over as a final thought. A semi-revelation about Deleuze’s project accompanied the readings and discussion for last week, one that is constantly rewriting my understanding of his work as I read through it. Maybe it’s obvious to others, but it seems to me like what Deleuze is attempting is not a normative, prescriptive project, but rather a descriptive one. That is to say, Deleuze is not attempting to usher in a new realm of thought, but rather describe the way thought has always operated. He’s not offering a conception of thought that would challenge Plato, Descartes, etc. as models to be worked towards and achieved, but instead attempting to describe the way they, and we, actually already think. The Image of Thought covered up the way that thinking actually works, rather than operating as its own (failing) process of thought. If Deleuze’s project has political and ethical implications, it’s not because he’s offering us a new way to think that’s different from how we already think. Rather, he’s encouraging us to realize or understand the way we already think—if we do so, we can’t avoid the radical political, ethical, epistemological conclusions that follow. Understanding Deleuze’s version of the thought without image would change the way we encounter the Other and the world. However, it would do so only because we would encounter it in the new light of how we operate: as regimes of variation amongst an always-shifting multiplicity.