Images of Thought Without Image

The Kantian and Bergsonian concepts we have been tracking in relation to Deleuze’s Image of Thought make their expected returns in Foucault and in the chapter on the rhizome. Especially important are the various incarnations of the interstice, whose guises involve the outside and forgetting. Despite Foucault’s reputation as one of Deleuze’s most accessible books, I found it at times very abstract, and so I would like to take this space to map out its concepts to get a sense of their lines and points of assembly, to better to account for the relation between these two exciting but rather abstruse texts.

Deleuze emphasizes Foucault’s cartographic presentation of power, in which he maps its forces into “spacio-temporal multiplicities” he calls diagrams (Foucault, 42 in the Minuit edition). Power is constituted by relations between forces and, like in his earlier description of problems and their solutions in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze insists that the powers to affect and to be affected are simultaneously originary and derivative. In contrast to Idealist or, say, Marxist theories, which would credit a transcendental Idea or economic base as the ultimate cause for every effect, power is instead a reciprocal function of its relations, an “abstract machine” which acts as a “non-unifying immanent cause, coextensive with the entire social field…it is the cause of concrete social arrangements which carries out their relations; and these relations of forces happen ‘not above’ but in the very tissue of the arrangements they produce.” (F, 44)

The diagram in a way marks the frontiers of thought: knowledge is circumscribed within. “There is no model of truth which does not refer to a type of power, no knowledge or even science which does not express or imply an act of power being exercised” (F, 46). However, such a closing off in turn refers to an outside. Deleuze cites Blanchot on Foucault: “The closing refers to the outside, and that which is closed is the outside” (F, 50). Blanchot’s thought leads the way to Deleuze’s preferred interpretation of Foucault. His reading of Madness and Civilization emphasizes the circular relationship of l’enfermement with banishment to the outside: “The demand to shut up the outside, that is, to constitute it as an interiority of anticipation or exception, is the exigency that leads society—or momentary reason—to make madness exist, that is, to make it possible” (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 196). This vicious circle provides, as it were, the possibility of meeting the outside. “…we have to ask ourselves if it is true that literature and art might be able to entertain these limit-experiences and thus, beyond culture, pave the way for a relation with what culture rejects: a speech of borders, the outside of writing” (ibid.). These “limit-experiences” are the crises which force a society to change its diagrams, its relations of forces. Deleuze insists that “it is from the “struggles” of each epoch, the style of struggles, that one can understand the succession of diagrams, or their re-linkage above their discontinuities” (F, 51).

There is an imperative, then, to face these discontinuities without subsuming them into ever-reacting diagrams. The culmination of Deleuze’s chapter “Strategies or the Non-Stratified” is the concern for how thought can resist power by its relation to the outside, that is, by a fracturing or discontinuity that cannot add up or be incorporated into a unifying whole.

“This is Foucault’s second point of contact with Blanchot: thinking belongs to the outside insofar as the latter, an “abstract storm”, is swallowed up by the interstice between seeing and thinking. The appeal to the outside is a constant theme in Foucault and signifies that thinking is not the innate exercise of a faculty but must become thought. Thinking does not depend on a beautiful interiority that reunites the visible and enunciable, but is made under the intrusion of an outside which hollows out the interval, and forces or dismembers the interior” (F, 93).

Blanchot’s writings on Foucault are especially interesting as a link between Deleuze’s monograph and his and Guattari’s earlier chapter on the rhizome. Blanchot locates thought’s relation to the outside in the act of forgetting:

“When we perceive that we speak because we are able to forget, we perceive that this ability-to-forget does not belong solely to the realm of possibility. On the one hand, forgetting is a capacity: we are able to forget and, thanks to this, able to live, to act, to work, and to remember—to be present: we are thus able to speak usefully. On the other hand, forgetting gets away. It escapes. This does not simply mean that through forgetting a possibility is taken from us and a certain impotency revealed, but rather that the possibility that is forgetting is a slipping outside of possibility.” (Blanchot, IC, 195)

By slipping outside of possibility, I take him to mean outside the possibilities circumscribed by the relations of forces that make up the diagram. Forgetting introduces to thought an interstice, a relation to the outside. It introduces an aleatory non-relation between contiguous images; it is “a spacing which means that each image is plucked from the void and falls back into it,” as Deleuze puts it in Cinema 2. The outside of thought is thus approached by these irrational cuts: “…when there are only milieux and in-betweens, when words and things are opened up by the milieu without ever coinciding, it is in order to liberate the forces that come from the outside, and which only exist in a state of agitation, of mixing and restructuring, of mutation. In truth, a throw of the dice, because to think is to cast the dice.” (F, 93)

All of these images of a thought without image are condensed into Deleuze and Guattari’s essay on the rhizome. They echo Blanchot in a passage distinguishing short-term from long-term memory. “Short-term memory is in no way subject to a law of contiguity or immediacy to its object; it can act at a distance, come or return a long time after, but always under conditions of discontinuity, rupture, and multiplicity” (A Thousand Plateaus, 16). Short-term memory is thus the embrace of forgetting; it “includes forgetting as a process; it merges not with the instant but instead with the nervous, temporal, and collective rhizome” (ibid.). They are careful not to confuse this concept with the metaphysical principle of the fractured I: “the difference between two kinds of memory is not that of two temporal modes of apprehending the same things; they do not grasp the same thing, memory, idea.” It is instead a category of practice, under which falls the creative endeavors of art and philosophy. “The splendor of the short-term Idea: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts” (ibid.).

The chapter on the rhizome feels like the conclusion toward which Deleuze’s other texts reach, regardless of whether this is forward or backwards in time. The concept is itself an assemblage of the various lines that run through his work: it is an image of a thought without image. They propose a book of plateaus, a book only of middles without beginnings or ends, in other words, frontiers. A book that is thus without an interior, that is permeated by the outside. “We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge. A book exists only through the outside and on the outside” (TP, 4).  The imperative I spoke of earlier was implicit in Foucault; it comes to the surface with the rhizome. “In short, we think that one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside,” D&G conclude. “The outside has no image, no signification, no subjectivity. The book as assemblage with the outside, against the book as image of the world. A rhizomebook, not a dichotomous, pivotal, or fascicular book” (TP, 23). To open the rhizomebook, the book as assemblage with the outside, is to peer into the interstice. It is the non-representation of the non-representable.

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)