Gilles Deleuze ((January 18, 1925 - November 4, 1995), French philosopher of the late 20th century.
In the work of Slavoj Žižek
Žižek’s most famous engagement with Deleuze takes place in Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences. Žižek seeks to parse there both the theoretical and practical components of Deleuze’s philosophy from a Lacanian perspective. Žižek values Deleuze as a critic of psychoanalysis, a figure supplying theoretical underpinnings for materialist and anti-capitalist activism, and an all-around staple of leftist academic thought. In Organs without Bodies, Žižek challenges some fundamental assumptions about Deleuze’s materialism, namely the tensions within his oeuvre regarding the nature of becoming. Žižek insists that there are two Deleuzes. The more accepted Deleuze champions the multitudinous nature of becoming in Anti-Oedipus. However, the second Deleuze is much more aligned with Lacanian and Hegelian thought. The title of Žižek’s book is meant to expose those aspects of Deleuze’s thought that situate him, ostensibly, on the ideologically suspect side of contemporary digital capitalism. Žižek claims that in his intellectual privileging of flows of pure becoming Deleuze prefers the reality of the virtual to the reality of the material: potential trumps actual in this system. Reality for Deleuze, Žižek contends, is actualized through an “infinite potential field of virtualities” (OWB: 4). This is not unlike Lacan’s notion of the sinthome, defined as “traces of affective intensities” (OWB: 5). For Žižek, affect is the key concept that aligns Deleuze with Lacan. In drawing an ontological distinction between being and becoming, Deleuze ascribes a transcendental quality to the process of becoming. Becoming, then, is closely aligned with repetition (another concept deeply significant to Lacan’s system of thought), for only in the repetition of becoming can the new emerge. In addition, by being anti-Hegelian, Deleuze essentially repeats Hegel by supplying an antithesis that results in a dialectical production of something new. To Žižek this mode of repetition indicates Deleuze’s similarity to Hegel, in that both stress becoming through repetition. By becoming-other to Hegel, Deleuze ironically supports and augments his philosophy.
Deleuze’s approach to the body centres on becoming-machine. We are desiring-machines whose affects result from the interaction of external (supplementary) and internal parts. The interplay of the material and its “virtual shadow”, and the multiple singularities that erupt across this immanent plane, constitute Deleuze’s notion of “transcendental empiricism” (OWB: 19). The machinic explains why Deleuze reveres the medium of film. In this art form, for Deleuze, “gazes, images, movements, and ultimately time itself” are liberated from their place in discrete subjects. Instead, they flow through a literal machine: the camera (OWB: 20).
The political turn taken by Deleuze allegedly resulted from him being “guattarized” (ibid.). Evidence backing the claim that Guattari politicized Deleuze can be found by comparing and contrasting his early and late works. Žižek suggests that Deleuze turned to Guattari in an attempt to escape the deadlock resulting from his previous attempts to reconcile materialism and idealism. Anti-Oedipus (which Žižek calls Deleuze’s worst book) and The Logic of Sense encapsulate the two Deleuzes. Deleuze’s idealism involves acknowledging that bodily realities can be produced from virtual flows. Deleuze’s notion of the quasi-cause is helpful, in that it supplies an alternative to reductionism. Quasi-cause is the non-symbolic, non-linguistic and non-sensical event that disrupts the smooth flow and functioning of a fi eld. It is not unlike the jarring moment of the Lacanian Real. Deleuze offers an Organ sans Body in the form of the Gaze in The Time-Image. Again, Deleuze’s affirmation of an energy, an affect and an organ that is autonomous from bodies yet territorializes them resembles Lacan’s own theory of the Gaze. Subjects erroneously assume that they possess it, but it resides in an elusive point outside the subject. In both Deleuzian and Lacanian thought the gaze disrupts subjects, but is in them more than themselves.
Deleuze ultimately politicizes his philosophy by focusing on an immanent excess that is essential to revolutionary enthusiasm thought through the Lacanian lens of desire. Dialectical materialism, in this Deleuzian system, can fruitfully benefit from understanding the autonomous flows of sense as ecstatic jouissance. This model can provide the tools to help the multitude organize. Tracing Deleuze back through Spinoza, Žižek shows another connection to psychoanalysis: partial objects. Partial objects quasi-cause desire; they mobilize it. Autonomous affects can fulfil this role, as can concrete fetish objects. Understanding Deleuzian becoming through Spinoza, and eventually Kant and Hegel, is a process that Žižek colourfully refers to as “taking Deleuze from behind” (OWB: 45). Žižek philosophically “buggers” Deleuze, who himself used the term to describe how he would derive new meaning from twisting a philosopher’s concepts. Deleuze desires to produce monstrous off spring through buggery. In enacting the same practice himself, Žižek hopes to produce a monstrous off spring of himself and Deleuze that is “deeply Lacanian” (OWB: 48). Žižek wonders if Hegel, as a dialectician, is the only philosopher who is immune to being buggered like this, because his thought-system has the practice built into it. Returning to Lacan, Žižek connects Deleuze’s concept of flat ontology to the systemic function of the Lacanian Real. Both hearken to a concept of constitutive excess. The true difference between Deleuze and Hegel involves divergent notions of flux and gap.
Many of Žižek’s other works mention Deleuze, and most contain similar analyses to those found in Organs. In The Metastases of Enjoyment, Žižek unites Hegel, Deleuze and Lacan under the notion of the event and the logic of the signifier. He argues there that Deleuze’s notion of the Sense-Event attempts to suture the gap between words and things, thereby challenging Platonic notions of space by reconciling Ideas with their material copies. He also further engages with Deleuze’s responses to psychoanalysis. In Living in the End Times, Žižek accuses Deleuze of misreading castration by failing accurately to conceptualize the role of the unconscious. Here, he outlines Deleuze and Guattari’s parsing of the disparity between production and reproduction, a binary that defines their stake in dialectical materialism. Deleuze’s dialectical materialism also emerges in Metastases, where he mentions a problem that is allegedly both Deleuzian and Lacanian: the passage from bodily depth to surface event. Here, Sense and Gaze also align as autonomous forces that resist being pinpointed or assigned a cause. The passage from the penis to the phallus is also ascribed to Deleuzian (through Lacanian) thought in Metastases, as the phallus is described, by Žižek, as a master-signifier and figure of non-sense that structures an entire symbolic field; one that regulates and distributes sense. In this formulation we see another Lacanian–Deleuzian reconciliation. For Deleuze, penis versus phallus encapsulates the difference between form and content (the organization and coordination of sensible, erogenous zones). Here, Žižek also attests that Deleuze conflates bodily depth with transcendental depth, a crucial slippage.
In Metastases, Žižek also points out that Deleuze’s analysis of masochism rightly argued that sadism and masochism are asymmetrical. In The Ticklish Subject, Žižek praises Deleuze’s account of masochism for off ering an insightful formulation of Kantian moral law. In Ticklish, he attributes to Deleuze a “perverse rejection of hysteria” by way of the latter’s alleged call for polymorphous perversity, and the rejection of the symbolic master-signifier, in Anti-Oedipus (TS: 250). De- and re-territorialization vis-à-vis capitalism are also associated with Deleuze. More accounts of a politicized Deleuze are also to be found in In Defense of Lost Causes, including distinctions between war machine and state apparatus, a notion of “nomadic resistance” that implicates Antonio Negri (LC: 339), the economy as a quasi-cause, revolutionary becoming and the notion of the post-human.
In Less Than Nothing, in addition to rehashing arguments found in earlier works (the phallus structuring the sensible field, Deleuze as Hegelian), Žižek develops his analysis of Deleuzian quasi-cause with respect to capitalism. Žižek argues that Deleuze “regresses” to the logic of representation, evidenced by his admission of money as subject. This is another example of capital as pseudo-cause, and the virtual as a site of production. Money, like the phallus, becomes a non-sense signifier that structures a field. Žižek has discussed Deleuze on the website Lacan.com. In the entry “Deleuze’s Platonism”, he challenges the notion that Deleuze is anti-Hegelian. Citing the interplay between the virtual and the actual as the zone of production for the new, he attests that this process is akin to the Hegelian dialectic. Deleuze opposes representation, yet understands ideas as materially real, creating a tension. In “Deleuze and The Lacanian Real”, Žižek asserts that Deleuze has landed in a trap through the notion of the virtual element present only in its effects, for negation and the absence of meaning (a signifier without a signified) is itself inscribed into a system of meaning. In sum, this last sentence appears to encapsulate Žižek’s fundamental critique of Deleuze: in attempting to do away with a dualistic system of meaning, Deleuze’s thought falls back into its binaries.