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Gilles Deleuze

Gilles Deleuze (January 18, 1925 - November 4, 1995) remarkably brilliant French philosopher of the late 20th century, creator of an immanentist/monist thought system. Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, science, film, politics and art, some being the product of his 23 year-long close collaboration with Felix Guattari, with whom he wrote, most notably, "The Anti-Oedipus" and "A Thousand Plateaus", both subtitled "Capitalism and Schizophrenia".

Early Life and Studies

Deleuze was born in the 17th arrondissement of Paris where he resided for most his life. His father was an engineer and a veteran of the First World War. In a 1988-1989 interview with Claire Parnet, Deleuze described his family as uncultivated bourgeois family "de droite". Though he attended public school in Paris before the war, Deleuze was vacationing in Deauville, Normandy when, in May of 1940, the Germans unleashed their Blitzkrieg, first against the Netherlands and Belgium and next against France. He would remain in Normandy for a year, attending high school, before returning to Paris to continue his studies at the Lycée Carnot. Deleuze would later point to his time in Normandy, away from the confines of family life, as a critical turning point for him. He completed his hypokhâgne (lettres supérieures) and khâgne (première supérieure) at the Lycée Henri IV, located in the heart of the Quartier Latin. In 1944 Deleuze began his studies at the Sorbonne, and was part of a small group of friends and philosophers that included Michel Tournier, François Châtelet, Michel Butor and André Clément. His teachers included Jean Wahl, Gaston Bachelard, Georges Canguilhem (Stalino-Communist), Jean Hyppolite (Hegelian, later M. Foucault's supervisor), Ferdinand Alquié (Cartesian), and Maurice de Gandillac. Deleuze was most fond of J. Wahl who introduced him to the thought of Henri Bergson, Wahl's own teacher. Deleuze received his master's degree equivalent ("agrégat") in 1948, teaching philosophy to high-school students until 1957.

Early Work

Empiricism and Nietzsche's System

Deleuze's first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on David Hume's empirical method, was published in 1953. In 1956 he married Denise "Fanny" Grandjouan, then a translator, whose specialty lay in translation of the works of D.H. Lawrence. In 1957, Deleuze began teaching history of philosophy at the Sorbonne and, from 1960-1964, he worked as a researcher at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique. In 1962 he published his seminal Nietzsche and Philosophy, a work that radically altered the epoch's understanding of the systematic thought of Friederich Nietzsche and provided the first radical criticism of both Hegelian philosophy and Marxist theory. Deleuze's work on Nietzsche is a relentless attack on nihilism in all its forms, and in particular on Christianity, and its still current stranglehold on philosophical and scientific knowledge.

During this period, Deleuze made the acquaintance of Michel Foucault, at the home of Jules Vuillemin, to request Foucault to petition to have Deleuze nominated for a position at the University of Clermont-Ferrand. This meeting would lead not only to a close friendship but to a creative interaction (see below) as well. From 1964 to 1969, Deleuze taught at the University of Lyon and, from 1969 until his retirement in 1987, he became - with Foucault's sponsorship - a professor of philosophy at the University of Vincennes (aka Experimental University of Paris VII, where the authors of this biographic note first met him in 1980).

The Philosophy of Desire

Immanentist Thought: Bergson, Spinoza

Deleuze was greatly influenced by Bergson. In 1966, Deleuze publishes his Bergsonism, where he presents Bergson's 'method of intuition' as a map for a philosophy of Life and the living. He returns to Bergson's critique of science and Special Relativity in particular, and exposes the logical and biological flaws in Einstein's methodology, particularly with respect to the spatialization of Time and Riemann's theory of manifolds.

In the explosive year of 1968, Deleuze publishes his doctoral dissertation, Difference and repetition, and his minor thesis, Spinoza and the problem of expression. The former painstakingly contrasts the underground development of an immanentist method to philosophical knowledge and the creation of concepts that break away with both Aristotelianism (logic of identity and noncontradiction) and Hegelianism (philosophy of history and dialectics). Deleuze presents his case for the shallowness of the use of identity as the foundational concept of logic and thought, a concept that is set and enunciated as transcending empirical, material, sensible reality. Instead he finds that the method of thought must be immanent to its process and its nature -- that thought is the movement of an immanent difference through repetition or recurrence. Difference and repetition are the mobile concepts of an immanentist method, not identity or contradiction. To the thought of sameness - the logic of the identity or the dialectics of identity and contradiction - Deleuze counterposes a thought of the difference, of the differential and the differentiated, a thought of alterity or otherness. He exposes transcendentalism as a thought that is inadequate to the powers of the living. A thought at the service of Life is one that seeks the open enunciation of immanent concepts, concepts capable of withstanding the tension of a constant variation. He pursues his attack on Platonism, Aristotelianism, Positivism, Hegelianism and Psychoanalysis (S. Freud, J. Lacan) in another main work called The Logic of Sense(1969), inspired by the works of M. Tournier, P. Klossowski, Lewis Carroll and ancient Stoic philosophy.

In his two books on Spinoza (the second, simply entitled Spinoza, was published in 1970), Deleuze introduces Spinoza as the first immanentist thinker, a precursor of Leibniz, Nietzsche and Bergson. Spinoza's Ethics can at once be read as a map of the immanent logic of thought and emotion, or as the method of a scientific theory of nature. Deleuze's later concepts of "body without organs" and "detachable partial organs" owe much to a reworking of the Spinozist concepts of "substance" and its "attributes" in light of his and Guattari's later critique of Psychoanalysis.

The Creative Encounters with Felix Guattari

Deleuze's encounter with Guattari led, from 1969 onward, to one of the most creative, productive and lasting relationships in the history of thought. Guattari came from Psychoanalytical (Freud, Reich, Lacan) and Marxist-libertarian backgrounds, starkly in contrast with Deleuze's immanentist (Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche,Bergson, Wahl) and empiricist thoughts and his reading of Nietzsche. The result was the Philosophy of Desire, embodied by two voluminous and delightful texts, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, I and II - The Anti-Oedipus (1973), and A Thousand Plateaus (1980) - and other joint books and contributions: Program for Desiring machines (1974), Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (1975), and What is Philosophy (1991).

Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, I

In The Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze and Guattari introduce the concept of Desiring Machines, a concept more suited to science (biology in particular) and medicine (psychiatry in particular) as a description of the unconscious functions of the living, sentient, thinking and creative process, than the later elaboration of Autopoietic Machines by F. Varela and H. Maturana. Deleuze and Guattari then proceed to a dismantling of the nihilist dogmas surrounding the concepts of a biological unconscious and desire, by way of exposing the internal architecture of metaphysical thought - from Christianity to Psychoanalysis, they chart the evolution of a cultural and emotional sickness that reduces desire to an investment in the field of the reduced family and bars the rest of the social field from direct investment, from any investment other than the mediated one. This is followed by the most comprehensive (linguistic, ethnographic, archeological, geographic) theory of development of social formations, encompassing savage societies (tribal), State-formations (Asiatic and Barbarian societies) and capitalist societies. In fact, they put forth a new theory of signs and their functions, laying the foundation for what they later called "an intensive semiotics of semiologies and asignifying sign systems". The main anti-Freudian and anti-Marxist thesis of Anti-Oedipus might be said to have been inspired by the work of Pierre Clastres, brilliant ethnologist and field worker, close friend of Deleuze and Guattari, who demonstrated how savage societies are organized against the possibility of internally adopting a State-form of organization.

Amongst savages, Oedipus is not a sickness - merely a taboo not to be avoided if intermarriage of lineages ("machination of the alliances") is to be sustained and inbreeding to be avoided. Oedipus only becomes a place occupied by desire when savage cultures are taken over by a machine of State, a Despotic Barbarian Machine, where the despot (King, Pharaoh, etc) and his desire overcode all desires, begining with the desires of the priesthood that manages and executes the despot's desire. Deleuze and Guattari recognize the critical contributions of Wilhelm Reich made while the latter was still a Psychoanalyst and a libertarian-Marxist: that oedipal sexual repression is the root of the neurotic sickness of human beings, and that it is also the product of the internalization of social repression (a thought first enunciated by Nietzsche with his theory of social domestication and sedentarism). But Deleuze and Guattari go further - after demolishing Freudo-Marxism, they trace the origins of this social repression, not to culture and savage societies which lack organs of coercion or policial enforcement, but to the emergence of State-societies in the form of Asiatic despotism. All social repression can be traced back to the State (Urstaat) - and the further evolution of Oedipus, ie the internal migration of the State, its interiorization, privatization and spiritualization, simply constitutes the sexual or psycho-somatic supplement required for the market representation of desire as both Oedipus (private figure) and Labor (public figure). Oedipus and its territorialization of desire in the private world lies at the source of the acceptance of all other servitudes - servitudes not just to the State, its laws and police, but servitude above all to its logic of exchange, to Labor, and the reduction of desire to reproduction. All metaphysical thought invokes a transcendental principle for its servitude, and Oedipus is its conscience, the achievement of nihilism.

The Anti-Oedipus I finishes its disquisition into the social regimes of representation of desire with two proposals: a biosocial theory of a molecular unconscious that only knows energy parameters and energy functions, and the creation of a therapeutic or analytic methodology, schizoanalysis, overtly engaged with anti-psychiatry in a combat against Psychoanalysis and medical psychiatry. Thought and Life may be seized from two different political and libidinal perspectives: one active or molecular, that subordinates molar machines to the intrinsic logic or assemblage of molecular or desiring machines; the other reactive or molar, that subordinates all desiring machines to the transcendental logic of molar machines.

The Insights of Deconstruction and the Plateaus of Nomadic Thought: Capitalism and Schizophrenia II

Capitalism and Schizophrenia II takes schizoanalysis further into the fields of science, politics, sociology, geography and archeology. It owes much to a rediscovery of Gabriel Tarde (a new sociology or sociopolitical analysis), neo-Lamarckism and a pragmatic approach to linguistics. It goes over some of the ground of the first volume, but only to propose to go beyond it, beyond Clastres and Nietzsche - to realize the particular role of nomads and their invention, the machine of war (in particular, under the rubric of "Treatise on Nomadology"). The first volume had focused too hard on the State apparatus, its legal and policial mechanisms as if they were contiguous to its military mechanism (the Army institution, under the imperial figure of Barbarism). But war had a figure of its own, independent from barbarism, and was not the invention of a State-apparatus. The nomad is there to attest to it, to the autonomy of war with respect to States. States can only appropriate war-machines to transform them into armies. In doing so they created warlike nobilities, and thus the first castes to be allowed private ownership of land.

Desire, its concepts and micropolitics, is nothing if it is not thought, immanent or nomadic thought: thought of biased but adequate concepts capable of intrinsic variation and consistency; sense-perception as thought that strives to reach the imperceptible or imponderable; sensation as thought that follows an immanent line of creation. Thought is only thought, only thought of desire, only desire as thought, when it too becomes nomadic and engages with a war-machine of thought that makes it flee.

One of the most notable contributions of this volume is the analysis of the separate inventions of science (physics, biology, metallurgy, etc), the distinction between the types of science, and the historical evolution of science and technology, in particular as military powers (one of Deleuze and Guattari's central propositions is that military innovation is the main driver of the technological acceleration in the history of warfare States and capitalism). Deleuze and Guattari propose to distinguish between two forms of doing science or two forms of science: there's Royal Science, Official or Striated Science - with its separation of the principle of free action from power, with its origins in the State and religion, its subsequent apparent emancipation from both while maintaining an internal State, a scientific Oedipus (entrenched in peer-review systems), and a lay religion (mechanism and probabilism); and there is a Smooth or Nomadic Science, a science that does not ambition to totalize knowledge, that needs no Oedipus or religion-making, that sticks to facts whether these are or are not approved by any peers; an underground or alternative science that goes back to the nomads and their alliance with metallurgical societies, their principle of the unity of action with power. Smooth science is no more full of irrational beliefs, mystery and magic, religiosity and error, than is the priestly Official Science. In fact, ambulatory sciences or Smooth Science only succumb to such mysticism and transcendental metaphysics when they fall into disuse or are repressed.

Philosophy, Art and Science

All through their work together, Deleuze and Guattari sought to bring into conjunction and branch together artistic, philosophic and scientific machines. Their last main work together sought to differentiate the specificity of thought in arts, science and philosophy. Their main theses are that:

Other Work and Work in Later Life

Deleuze's books and writings often focused on the work of other thinkers and writers - on the critique of Kant (On Kant's Philosophy, 1963); on the Literary works of Proust (Proust and Signs, 1964) and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (Coldness and Cruelty, 1969, where he takes the opportunity to demonstrate the falsifications of desire engendered by psychoanalysis); on the theatre of Carmelo Bene (Superpositions, 1979), on F. Bacon and painting ("Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation", 1981), on the particular rationalism of Franćois Châtelet and music (Pericles and Verdi,1988). Salient amongst these are the two books that he wrote on M. Foucault - A New Archivist (1972) and its re-uptake, Foucault (1986), published after Foucault's death. Notes from a Lecture that differentiated his own thought from that of M. Foucault have recently been released, in very raw form. Deleuze's last thematic book was on Leibniz's monadology, The fold: Leibniz and the baroque, 1988. He also wrote two voluminous systematizations of cinema that exemplify the Bergsonian method: The Movement-Image (1983) and The Time-Image (1985).

Deleuze was always fond of minor writers, thinkers, artists, musicians, scientists - H. von Kleist, H. Lovelace, F. Scott Fizgerald, H. Melville, D.H. Lawrence, W. Reich, A. Artaud, S. Beckett, M. Blanchot, P. Klossowski, R. Pinhas, C. Castaneda, to name a few.

Deleuze lost a lung (collapsed) early in life to tuberculosis. He remained nevertheless a chain-smoker throughout his life. He later developed cancer in the other lung, and by 1993 was under assisted care and virtually unable to write. Refusing medical treatment, Deleuze took his own life on November 4th, 1995, at the age of 70.

May 1968

Unlike most of the French thinkers of his generation, Deleuze never toyed with Marxism, party-Communism or Stalinism. He displayed overt revolutionary inclinations, at times described as 'anarchistic', but no inclination towards either the theory of Anarchism, Anarcho-Communism, or the Situationist International (which denounced his thought as that of a 'recuperator'), though he was a friend of the French Anarchist thinker and historian, Daniel Guérin.

Deleuze met Félix Guattari, a Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst, during May '68. Guattari had a militant history - after disaffection with the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1958, he had briefly toyed with Trotskyist organizations, the Left Opposition to the PCF, and finally became a member of the March 22nd Movement, the main student and youth Anarchist organization catalyzing the May uprising and the Movement of the Occupations.

In an interview with Actuel, Deleuze and Guattari made clear their views of revolutionary processes. They regarded revolution neither as an end to History, or as the end of our social formation. Revolution is no more a task than it is a great party celebration where all excesses are permitted. There is no revolution with capital R, there are only revolutions, only revolutionary movements that recast States or State-mechanisms by extracting from the masses themselves the new bureaucratic and technocratic elites that will lead the reconstruction of the State. To permit revolutionary movements to gain new territorries and become consistent, desire must not be crushed or marginalized by new bureaucracies, parties or military technocracies.

"That the revolution needs a war machine, and not a State apparatus, is only too obvious. It also needs an analytical instance, an ongoing analysis of collective desires, but not one brought about by an exterior apparatus of synthesis [by specialist bodies]" (Guattari)

Liberation of desire could only come from the connection of desires on a common plan of action, a plan of immanence and self-regulation that might permit a movement to gain consistency. Otherwise, all one is left with are the hardening of new systems of exploitation and repression:

"All social systems present lines of escape; and just as well hardenings that block the escapes, or even apparatuses - no matter how embryonic - that integrate the lines of escape, that deviate them, arrest them, congealing them into the new system in preparation." (Deleuze)

Deleuze fought openly against the penal universe, being a member of the Groupe d'information sur les prisons founded by Foucault.

Brief List of Deleuzian and Guattarian Concepts

    His last text was entitled Immanence: a life…. It was published only months before his death.

Select Quotations

"Rather than conceiving practice as an application of theory, as its consequence, it is, on the contrary, the forerunner that inspires theory, the creator a theory yet to come. (...) On one hand, theory is always local, relative to a limited domain, and able to have applications in other domains, more or less distant. The relationship of application is never one of resemblance. On the other hand, when a theory fails in its own domain, it leads to obstacles, to walls, to collisions that oblige it to be borne by a new type of discourse. (...) Practice is an ensemble of relays from one theoretical point to another, whereas theory is a relay from one practice to another. No theory is able to develop without encountering a type of wall, and practice is necessary to pierce the wall. (..) Theory will not express, translate or apply a practice: theory is a practice. But it is local and regional, or (...) nontotalizing." In "Intellectuals and Power - a Discussion between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze", L'Arc, #49, 1972.

Note the parallel and the difference towards the scientific method: a theory is born by a practice, just as an hypothesis is enunciated on the basis of observation, sense-perception or the empirical data of an experimental approach; a theory is always local, as hypotheses are, and obliged to connect to or link up with other theories or hypotheses; practice is not an application of theory, but that which tests the theory, bars it, relays its passage onto another theory, engages it in a becoming-other or alters it; theories only die if they become unable to surmount the walls or obstacles raised by practice. Note how this differs from some interpretations of the positivist method where a single error of a theory or hypothesis is said to prove that theory wrong and thus kill it.

"Marxism has framed the problem [of social change] in terms of interests - power is held by a dominant class defined by its interests. At the same time, we run into the question: How is it possible that people who are not the dominant class follow such interests, directly adopting the power, begging for a part? Perhaps it is that in terms of investments, unconscious as well as economic, interests are not the last word; there are investments of desire which explain that one can need to desire, not against one's interest, because interest always follows and is found where desire places it, but to desire in a more profound and diffuse way than one's interests. It is necessary to listen to Reich's cry: No, the masses were not fooled, they desired fascism at such and such a moment!" In "Intellectuals and Power - a Discussion between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze", L'Arc, #49, 1972.

"Three centuries ago, there were dimwits who feigned astonishment at Spinoza because he wanted the liberation of man, even though he did not believe in man's freedom, nor even in the specific existence of man. Nowadays, new dimwits - or the same reincarnated - feign astonishment because Foucault, who foretold the death of man, participates in political struggles. Against Foucault, they invoke an eternal and universal conscience of the Rights of Man, which must remain untouched by every analysis." In Foucault, p. 96 orig., our translation.

"In fact, systems have not strictly lost any of their living forces. There is today, in the sciences or in logic, the beginning of a theory of systems said to be open, systems founded upon interactions, that refuse linear causation and transform the notion of time. (...) What Guattari and I call rhizome is precisely the case of an open system. I return to the question: what is philosophy? For the response to this question should be very simple indeed. Everyone knows that philosophy deals with concepts. A system is a set of concepts. An open system - that happens only when concepts are referenced to circumstances or events and no longer to essences. Yet concepts are not ready-made 'givens' and have no pre-existence: one needs to invent them, one needs to create them, and there is as much creation and invention in this as there is in art or in science." In Negotiations p. 32, 1980 interview, 1990 Publ., our translation.

Critical limitations of the Philosophy of Desire

Perhaps the deepest critique of Deleuze's Philosophy of Desire (A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy?, in particular) and its approach to knowledge and conceptual activity concerns the proposed relationship between science and philosophy. The scientific resonances that Deleuze speaks of relate solely (he says) to the inexact notions of science (which he still takes as being rigorous). But the notions that he refers to in that quality are either methodological expedients (scientific crutches like fuzzy sets or Riemannian spaces) or outright metaphysical notions that are effectively unable to form rigorous notions (eg black holes). Importing notions from science that are neither exact nor rigorous can only lead to that which the Philosophy of Desire wanted to avoid: the transformation of metaphors into would-be concepts. Science can do without vague and abstruse notions such as black holes or acquire more exact methods that bypass the need for crutches. The problem harks back to the limitations of both Riemann's and Bergson's theories of multiplicity. The characteristic of science is not that it is limited to quantitative multiplicities, to space, to metric spaces or the analysis of states of affairs that can only be described by an exoreference system. Anymore than the characteristic of philosophy is that it is limited to qualitative multiplicities, to Time or even to conceptual spaces that alone are able to employ an immanent endoreference. Such an approach has a fundamental bias; it precludes the possibility of what Reichenbach thought was missing - a physics of Time that would be related, through the concept of energy, to the physics of Matter and Space. It also precludes a theory of multiplicities that would be able to differentiate each multiplicity at once quantitatively and qualitatively, and permit the existence of metrics adequate to endoreference. Space can no less be thought of as a qualitative multiplicity than Time might be thought of as an exact quantitative one.

By the same token, Deleuze's system might be said to suffer from metaphysics - it may be said to constitute an immanentist metaphysics (in Bergson's sense), rather than a transcendental one; but it still is metaphysics and by definition, outside of science. The question is whether this outside is beyond science, and not another backdoor to transcendentalist notions. Such a backdoor may well reside in the notion that scientists can only conceptualize when their rigorous notions are inexact...

One might also feel inclined to criticize Deleuze's unwavering support to the PLO as a most misguided and ill-informed position, one that hardly tallies with the micropolitics he proposed and the militant and fascistic realities of the PLO - which remind one, once more, of the caving in of social change to military mechanisms that advance, what else?, the new bureaucratic vanguard.

There are plenty of self-styled Deleuzian followers, producers of acritical and acephalic 'deleuzian' theater, arts, painting, and what not. These veritable marketeers of alternative thought ('philosophy', 'theory') have long tried to co-opt, reduce and distort Deleuze's thought. The trend peaked in France with the clowneries of P. Sollers, but recently acquired (particularly in North-America) an air of verisimilitude and academicism - from the flattening in the articles of Manuel Landa, to the neo-Franciscan ultra-left Negri-ism, to the boutades and sottises of S. Lotringer, V. Vitanza, and a host of other 'major' players.

Copyright © Correa&Correa 2005, All Rights and Restrictions Apply.

Publications by Gilles Deleuze

In collaboration with Félix Guattari:

External links

To texts by Deleuze

To references by others to Deleuze

R. Pinhas WebDeleuze: http://www.webdeleuze.com/php/index.html

J. Derrida on Deleuze's death: http://www.usc.edu/dept/comp-lit/tympanum/1/derrida1.html

For a scientific take on Deleuze's reading of Nietzsche: The Physics of the Will to Power  by Correa, P and Correa, A.

On Deleuze and Guattari's theory of libidinal economy and fascism A Monist View of the Relation Between Libidinal and Political Economies and the Problem of Fascism  by Correa, P and Correa, A.

References by C. Stivale: http://www.langlab.wayne.edu/CStivale/D-G/ABCs.html

On Deleuze's "Cinema": http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/9903/offscreen_essays/deleuze1.html, http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/9903/offscreen_essays/deleuze2.html

Electronic discussion list on Deleuze and Guattari: http://www.driftline.org

To critical evaluations of Deleuze

On What is Philosophy? and the connection between art, science and philosophy: (Micro)Functionalist Thoughts on the Relation between Art, Science and Philosophy and On Science, Actual Science, as the Higher Becoming of Philosophy  by Correa, P and Correa, A

On Leftism and the problem of Fascism: What Is Fascism: Is There Any Fascism Left?  by Correa, P and Correa, A