Talk:Gilles Deleuze

From No Subject - Encyclopedia of Psychoanalysis
Jump to: navigation, search

Gilles Deleuze ((January 18, 1925 - November 4, 1995), French philosopher of the late 20th century. From the early 1960s until his death, Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular books were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), both co-written with Félix Guattari. His books Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969) led Michel Foucault to declare that "one day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian." (Deleuze, for his part, said Foucault's comment was "a joke meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid."[1])

Life and work

Deleuze was born in Paris and lived there for most his life. His initial schooling was undertaken during World War II, during which time he attended the Lycée Carnot. He also spent a year in khâgne at the prestigious Henry IV school. In 1944 Deleuze went to study at the Sorbonne. His teachers there included several noted specialists in the history of philosophy, such as Georges Canguilhem, Jean Hyppolite, Ferdinand Alquié, and Maurice de Gandillac, and Deleuze's lifelong interest in the canonical figures of modern philosophy owed much to these teachers. Nonetheless, Deleuze also found the work of non-academic thinkers such as Jean-Paul Sartre strongly attractive. He aggregated in philosophy in 1948.

Deleuze taught at various lycées until 1957, when he took up a position at the Sorbonne. In 1953, he published his first monograph, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on Hume. He married Denise Paul "Fanny" Grandjouan in 1956. From 1960 to 1964 he held a position at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. During this time he published Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962) and befriended Michel Foucault. From 1964 to 1969 he was a professor at the University of Lyon. In 1968 he published his two dissertations, Difference and Repetition and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.

In 1969 he was appointed to the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, an experimental school organized to implement educational reform which drew a number of talented scholars, including Foucault (who suggested Deleuze be hired), and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. Deleuze taught at Vincennes until his retirement in 1987.

Deleuze suffered a severe respiratory ailment in the last decade of his life, and in 1995, he committed suicide, throwing himself from the window of his apartment.

The novelist Michel Tournier, who knew Deleuze when both were students at the Sorbonne, described him thus:

"The ideas we threw about like cottonwool or rubber balls he returned to us transformed into hard and heavy iron or steel cannonballs. We quickly learnt to be in awe of his gift for catching us red-handed in the act of cliche-mongering, talking rubbish, or loose thinking. He had the knack of translating, transposing. As it passed through him, the whole of worn-out academic philosophy re-emerged unrecognisable, totally refreshed, as if it has not been properly digested before. It was all fiercely new, completely disconcerting, and it acted as a goad to our feeble minds and our slothfulness."[2]


Deleuze's work falls into two groups: on one hand, monographs interpreting modern philosophers (Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Kant, Nietzsche, Bergson) and artists (Proust, Kafka, Francis Bacon); on the other, eclectic philosophical tomes organized by concept (e.g., difference, sense, events, schizophrenia, cinema, philosophy). Regardless of topic, however, Deleuze consistently develops variations on similar ideas.

Deleuze's interpretations

Deleuze's studies of individual philosophers and artists are purposely heterodox. In Nietzsche and Philosophy, for example, Deleuze claims that Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals is a systematic response to Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, a claim that would strike almost anyone who has read both works as curious at best, as Nietzsche nowhere mentions the First Critique in the Genealogy, and Nietzsche's moral concerns in the Genealogy are far removed from the epistemological focus of Kant's book. Likewise, Deleuze claims that univocity is the organizing principle of Spinoza's philosophy, despite the complete absence of the term from any of Spinoza's works. Deleuze once famously described his method of interpreting philosophers as "buggery", as sneaking behind an author and producing an offspring which is recognizably his, yet also monstrous and different.[3] The various monographs are best taken not as attempts to faithfully represent "what Nietzsche (or whoever) meant" but as articulations of Deleuze's philosophical views. This practice -- Deleuze ventriloquizing through other thinkers -- is not willful misinterpretation so much as it is an example of the creativity that Deleuze believes philosophy should enact. A parallel in painting might be Bacon's Study after Velasquez -- it is quite beside the point to say that Bacon "gets Velasquez wrong". (Similar considerations apply to Deleuze's uses of mathematical and scientific terms, pace Alan Sokal.)


Deleuze's main philosophical project in his early works (i.e., those prior to his collaborations with Guattari) can be baldly summarized as a systematic inversion of the traditional relationship between identity and difference. Traditionally, difference is seen as derivative from identity: e.g., to say that "X is different from Y" assumes some X and Y with at least relatively stable identities. To the contrary, Deleuze claims that all identities are effects of difference, and that difference ontologically comes first. Apparent identities such as X are composed of endless series of differences, where X = the difference between x and x', where x = ... . Difference goes all the way down. To say that two things are "the same" obscures the difference presupposed by there being two things in the first place. To confront reality honestly, Deleuze claims, we must grasp beings exactly as they are, and concepts of identity (forms, categories, resemblances, unities of apperception, etc.) fail to attain difference in itself.

Like Kant and Bergson, Deleuze considers traditional notions of space and time as categories imposed by the observer. Therefore he concludes that pure difference is non-spatio-temporal; it is an ideal, what he calls "the virtual". (The coinage refers not to the "virtual reality" of the computer age, but to Proust's definition of the past: "real without being actual, ideal without being abstract.") While Deleuze's virtual ideas superficially resemble Plato's forms and Kant's categories, they are not originals or models, nor are they abstract conditions of possible experience; instead they are the conditions of real experience, the internal difference in itself. "The concept they [the conditions] form is identical to its object."[4] A Deleuzean idea is not a wraith-like abstraction of an experienced thing, it is a real system of differential relations that creates actual spaces, times, and sensations [5].

Thus Deleuze, alluding to Kant and Schelling, at times refers to his philosophy as a transcendental empiricism. In Kant's transcendental idealism, experience only makes sense when organized by intellectual categories (such as space, time, and causality). Taking such intellectual concepts out of the context of experience, according to Kant, spawns seductive but senseless metaphysical beliefs. (For example, extending the concept of causality beyond actual experience results in unverifiable speculation about a first cause.) Deleuze inverts the Kantian arrangement: experience exceeds our concepts by presenting novelty, and this raw experience of difference actualizes an idea, unfettered by our prior categories, forcing us to invent new ways of thinking (see below, Epistemology).

Simultaneously, Deleuze claims that being is univocal, i.e., that it has only one sense. Deleuze borrows the doctrine of ontological univocity from the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus. In medieval disputes over the nature of God, many eminent theologians and philosophers (such as Thomas Aquinas) held that when one says that "God is good", God's goodness is only analogous to human goodness. Scotus argued to the contrary that when one says that "God is good", the goodness in question is the exact same sort of goodness that is meant when one says "Jane is good". That is, God only differs from us in degree, and properties such as goodness, power, reason, and so forth are univocally applied, regardless of whether one is talking about God, a man, or a flea.

Deleuze adapts the doctrine of univocity to claim that being is, univocally, difference. "With univocity, however, it is not the differences which are and must be: it is being which is Difference, in the sense that it is said of difference. Moreover, it is not we who are univocal in a Being which is not; it is we and our individuality which remains equivocal in and for a univocal Being."[6] Here Deleuze echoes Spinoza, who maintained that everything that exists is a modification of the one substance, God or Nature. For Deleuze, the one substance is an always differentiating process, an origami cosmos, always folding, unfolding, refolding. Deleuze summarizes this ontology in the paradoxical formula "pluralism = monism".[7]

Difference and Repetition is Deleuze's most sustained and systematic attempt to work out the details of such a metaphysics, but like ideas are expressed in his other works. In Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), for example, reality is a play of forces; in Anti-Oedipus (1972), a "body without organs"; in What Is Philosophy? (1991), a "plane of immanence" or "chaosmos".


Deleuze's unusual metaphysics entails an equally atypical epistemology, or what he calls a transformation of "the image of thought". According to Deleuze, the traditional image of thought, found in philosophers such as Aristotle, Descartes, and Husserl, misconceives of thinking as a mostly unproblematic business. Truth may be hard to discover -- it may require a life of pure theorizing, or rigorous computation, or systematic doubt -- but thinking is able, at least in principle, to correctly grasp facts, forms, ideas, etc. It may be practically impossible to attain a God's-eye, neutral point of view, but that is the ideal to approximate: a disinterested pursuit that results in a determinate, fixed truth; an orderly extension of common sense. Deleuze rejects this view as papering over the metaphysical flux, instead claiming that genuine thinking is a violent confrontation with reality, an involuntary rupture of established categories. Truth changes what we think; it alters what we think is possible. By setting aside the assumption that thinking has a natural ability to recognize the truth, Deleuze says, we attain a "thought without image", a thought always determined by problems rather than solving them. "All this, however, presupposes codes or axioms which do not result by chance, but which do not have an intrinsic rationality either. It's just like theology: everything about it is quite rational if you accept sin, the immaculate conception, and the incarnation. Reason is always a region carved out of the irrational -- not sheltered from the irrational at all, but traversed by it and only defined by a particular kind of relationship among irrational factors. Underneath all reason lies delirium, and drift."[8]

Deleuze's peculiar readings of the history of philosophy stem from this unusual epistemological perspective. To read a philosopher is no longer to aim at finding a single, correct interpretation, but is instead to present a philosopher's attempt to grapple with the problematic nature of reality. "Philosophers introduce new concepts, they explain them, but they don't tell us, not completely anyway, the problems to which those concepts are a response. [...] The history of philosophy, rather than repeating what a philosopher says, has to say what he must have taken for granted, what he didn't say but is nonetheless present in what he did say."[9]

Likewise, rather than seeing philosophy as a timeless pursuit of truth, reason, or universals, Deleuze defines philosophy as the creation of concepts. For Deleuze, concepts are not solutions to problems, but constructions that define a range of metaphysical thinking, such as Plato's forms, Descartes's cogito, or Kant's doctrine of the faculties. In his later work (from roughly 1981 onward), Deleuze sharply distinguishes art, philosophy, and science as three distinct disciplines, each analyzing reality in very different ways. As philosophy creates concepts, the arts create new sensory combinations (what Deleuze calls "percepts"), and the sciences create theories based on fixed points of reference such as the speed of light or absolute zero (which Deleuze calls "functives"). According to Deleuze, none of these disciplines enjoy primacy over the others: they are different ways of organizing the metaphysical flux, "separate melodic lines in constant interplay with one another."[10] Philosophy, science, and art are equally, and essentially, creative and practical. Instead of asking, "is it true?" or "what is it?", Deleuze claims that better questions would be "what does it do?" or "how does it work?"


In ethics and politics, Deleuze again echoes Spinoza, albeit in a resoundingly Nietzschean key. In a classical liberal model of society, morality begins from individuals, who bear abstract natural rights or duties set by themselves or a God. Following his rejection of any metaphysics based on identity, Deleuze criticizes the notion of an individual as an arresting or halting of differentiation (as the etymology of the word "individual" suggests). Guided by the ethical naturalism of Spinoza and Nietzsche, Deleuze instead seeks to understand individuals and their moralities as products of the organization of pre-individual desires and powers. In the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Deleuze and Guattari describe history as a congealing and regimentation of "desiring-production" (a concept combining features of Freudian drives and Marxist labor) into the modern individual (typically neurotic and repressed), the nation-state (a society of continuous control), and capitalism (an anarchy domesticated into infantilizing commodification). Deleuze, following Marx, welcomes capitalism's liberating destruction of traditional social hierarchies, but inveighs against its homogenization of all values to the aims of the market.

But how does Deleuze square his pessimistic diagnoses with his ethical naturalism? Deleuze claims that standards of value are internal or "immanent": to live well is to fully express one's power, to go the limits of our potential, rather than to judge what exists by non-empirical, transcendent standards. Modern society still suppresses difference and alienates persons from what they can do. To affirm reality, which is a flux of change and difference, we must overturn established identities and so become all that we can become -- though we cannot know what that is in advance. The pinnacle of Deleuzean practice, then, is creativity. "Herein, perhaps, lies the secret: to bring into existence and not to judge. If it is so disgusting to judge, it is not because everything is of equal value, but on the contrary because what has value can be made or distinguished only by defying judgment. What expert judgment, in art, could ever bear on the work to come?" [11]


By Gilles Deleuze:

  • Empirisme et subjectivité (1953). Trans. Empiricism and Subjectivity.
  • Nietzsche et la philosophie (1962). Trans. Nietzsche and Philosophy.
  • La philosophie critique de Kant (1963). Trans.Kant's Critical Philosophy.
  • Proust et les signes (1964, 2nd ed. 1970). Trans. Proust and Signs.
  • Le Bergsonisme (1966). Trans. Bergsonism.
  • Présentation de Sacher-Masoch (1967). Trans. Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty.
  • Différence et répétition (1968). Trans. Difference and Repetition.
  • Spinoza et le problème de l'expression (1968). Trans. Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza.
  • Logique du sens (1969). Trans. The Logic of Sense.
  • Spinoza - Philosophie pratique (1970, 2nd ed. 1981). Trans. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
  • Dialogues (1977, 2nd ed. 1996, with Claire Parnet). Trans. Dialogues.
  • Superpositions (1979).
  • Francis Bacon - Logique de la sensation (1981). Trans. Francis Bacon: Logic of Sensation.
  • Cinéma I: L'image-mouvement (1983). Trans. Cinema 1: The Movement-Image.
  • Cinéma II: L'image-temps (1985). Trans. Cinema 2: The Time-Image.
  • Foucault (1986).
  • Le pli - Leibniz et le baroque (1988). Trans. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque.
  • Périclès et Verdi: La philosophie de Francois Châtelet (1988).
  • Pourparlers (1990). Trans. Negotiations.
  • Critique et clinique (1993). Trans. Essays Critical and Clinical.
  • Pure Immanence (2000).
  • L'île déserte et autres textes (2002). Trans. Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974.
  • Deux régimes de fous et autres textes (2004). Trans. Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995.

In collaboration with Félix Guattari:

  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 1. L'Anti-Œdipe. (1972). Trans. Anti-Oedipus (1977).
  • Kafka: Pour une Littérature Mineure. (1975). Trans. Kafka: Toward a Theory of Minor Literature. (1986).
  • Rhizome. (1976).
  • Nomadology: The War Machine. (1986).
  • Capitalisme et Schizophrénie 2. Mille Plateaux. (1980). Trans. A Thousand Plateaus (1987).
  • Qu'est ce que c'est la philosophie? (1991). Trans. What Is Philosophy? (1996).

See also


  1. Negotiations, p. 4.
  2. Mary Bryden (ed.), Deleuze and Religion (New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 201.
  3. Negotiations, p. 6.
  4. "Bergson's Conception of Difference" in Desert Islands, p. 36.
  5. See "The Method of Dramatization" in Desert Islands, and "Actual and Virtual" in Dialogues.
  6. Difference and Repetition, p. 39
  7. A Thousand Plateaus, p. 20.
  8. Desert Islands, p. 262.
  9. Negotiations, p. 136.
  10. Negotiations, p. 125.
  11. Essays Critical and Clinical, p. 135.