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Monday, June 24, 2019

Deleuze, Wittgenstein, history, and madness


I have been re-reading Deleuze, Dialogues (w/ Claire Parnet). The book again confirms my impression that I can't go along with him substantively -- I don't reject Transcendence; indeed I reject this rejection (which is not to say I "defend" Transcendence, I simply think in light of it) -- but I am coming to think I am closer to him (in some ways) in spirit than nearly all his exegetes & fans. I relate strongly to his improvisation. I can't quite love him -- because I can't quite trust him. But I might have, had I known him. In this, he is almost the opposite of Wittgenstein, who I fell in love with, but perhaps would have been driven mad by in person.

Interestingly, the fault in both Wittgenstein and Deleuze is the same: an indifference, indeed almost a hostility, to history. One cannot really picture either of them talking with Leo Strauss and having the conversation go well. But this manifests in different ways: Wittgenstein simply goes his own dogged way -- one can imagine him saying, after Luther, "I can do no other." (In Derek Jarman's eponymous 1993 film -- not always to be trusted, but accurate enough, in spirit, on this score -- there's a moment where Wittgenstein asks, "Aristotle? Why would I want to read Aristotle?") Deleuze, on the other hand, is brusque and suspicious. This is what I don't love / trust -- his suspicion calls forth my own. But I do "get" it -- his refusal to prostrate himself before the August Authorities. (I have tried before to say something of what this gets right and gets wrong.) It is as if, for almost any reference to the tradition, the onus is on the referrer to prove that they are not making some power-play. Deleuze is quite explicit:
The history of philosophy has always been the agent of power in philosophy, and even in thought. It has played the represser's role: how can you think without having read Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger, and so-&-so's book about them? A formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought -- but which also makes those who stay outside conform all the more to this specialism which they despise. (p13)
As a teacher pf philosophy to the very young (my classes start as young as 8 years old -- and I know those who are brave enough to start with age 5) -- I am extremely careful to avoid swathing philosophy in a glossy coat of proper names, or pre-existing arguments. This is not just because of pedagogical concerns -- a desire not to intimidate. Philosophy is new every time.

I have heard, all too often, outsiders' surprise (with sometimes a hint of indignation): but don't you get exhausted with hearing the same old points? Some undergraduate rediscovers a quasi-Cartesian "Maybe it's all a dream" or a relativistic "who are you to say...?," or a righteous indignation at slavery or Stonewall; doesn't it get just a little tiresome? Don't you want to just say, Let me spare you the trouble -- these things have been thought about before?

Pointing students to their predecessors can be done with a light touch, if (and perhaps only if) one sees oneself as a student as well. This has nothing to do with false humility. One has a familiarity with the texts -- maybe with Greek or Chinese, even -- and some experience in thinking about the questions, including a sense of the lay of the land -- places where, or ways that, one is likely to go wrong. But those lessons are lessons in cleverness. It is easy to lose patience with cleverness (even Plato warns against it), but in my experience, the best way to make it irrelevant is to keep doing philosophy -- the examined life (life right now, not past-won laurels) and knowledge of ignorance.

I think Deleuze (wrongly) thought -- at least he implies -- that erudition is almost always cleverness. But he is not wrong that cleverness is, strictly speaking, irrelevant. Indeed, he is himself possessed of an overabundance of cleverness, and indeed of erudition; and although he is cheeky to a fault, I like arguing with him. Wittgenstein's cheek, on the other hand, is a sort of intense seriousness and curious impatience with pseudo-problems -- by which I think he means -- if one pushes ever so gently -- the sort of problems that philosophers themselves do not take seriously, but pretend to. (Again, I believe there is effectively no difference in fundamental concern between the "early" Wittgenstein (who famously refused to acknowledge to Russell that there could not be a rhinoceros in the room) and the "late" Wittgenstein, who wants to critique "pseudo-problems." Both are concerned with the limits of theory and of articulability. No 180-degree reorientation; but there is a relationship: The late Wittgensetin wants to ask: what shall we do with the early Wittgenstein? What would it meant to really take him, or someone like him, seriously? Wittgenstein's greatest impatience is reserved for those who pretend to consider the problem on a theoretical plane, without ever asking what would happen in practice.)

Unlike Wittgenstein (who was a late-, untimely-born Ancient, bereft of history), Deleuze was, despite his quasi-animism, a Modern -- a conflicted (like all moderns) heir to the Enlightenment (in somewhat the way Nietzsche is as well). Alternatively, one might also construe Deleuze as an untimely-born early Modern; one who willingly accepts the challenge of modernity to start anew, and by this very token refuses to be bound by the supposed game-changing new regime of the three Critiques. Deleuze the self-described metaphysician is, on this reading, a sort of pre-Kantian -- as opposed to Wittgenstein's (arguably Kantian) critique of metaphysics-as-mistake, and his equally Kantian insistence on staying with what "can be said."

Perhaps I could not have gotten close enough to Deleuze to have good conversation, but I cannot shake the sense that if I could have, some real sparks might have lit. Deleuze famously dismissed Wittgenstein's legacy as destructive (despite Wittgenstein's own wholesale disavowal of any intention or indeed capacity to "found a school"); I would unhesitatingly say the same of roughly 80-90 percent of the Deleuzoscholastic flood which shows no sign of abating. But Deleuze himself is a different matter. He is (I am bound to say) wrong, but he has a kind of madness to him -- the more obvious but not necessarily most telling indices of which are the neologisms, the strange conflations of material and ideal terms, the methodic and methodological experimentalism (the authorship with Guattari, to say nothing of his engagement (alone and with Guattari) with schizophrenia and other guises of madness itself as a matter of inquiry. It's this madness (divine madness, as Socrates describes philosophy) that marks him as touched by the real philosophical fire, and which indeed is perhaps the most crucial way in which he resembles Wittgenstein -- and differs from (nearly) every "Deleuzian."

To be sure, Deleuze's madness is itself also modern -- it is philosophical, but it cannot conceive itself as divine.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting post. Deleuze is notoriously difficult. He's kind of hard to peg down. For instance, at some points he seems to argue against the transcendental signified, but then will say things like he understands the essence of Foucault's thinking. My next read is Deleuze's book on Nietzsche. I just did a blog post on Heidegger's Nietzsche in terms of the eternal return of the same and will to power. See http://palpatinesway.blogspot.com/2019/06/the-grundbegriffe-of-heideggers.html

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  2. No argument about GD's difficulty, which I take to be quite intentionally cultivated. The "Letter to a harsh critic" fairly crows about it. I assume this is not mere obfuscation; rather, good old esoteric writing: part self-defense, part seeing if the student rises to the occasion.
    The url you include seems to be dead. Is this that you meant?

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  3. It's obvious that Wittgenstein's problems are history bound. It doesn't prevent someone from bearing the stamp of their time that they themselves were not able to be a step child, that is, to resist it by becoming sympathetic to the other times. Anyone can see the flavor of the Weimar in certain works of Art Nouveau that can not be repeated because the support out of the immediacy of the age is no longer present. Leo Strauss confronts, and, indeed, almost achieves a philophizing from the ground of what he called the first philosophy, by which he meant not "proto philosophia," (metaphysics), but rather political philosophy grounded on the essence of "man as man." Strauss is much closer to the difficulties of philosophy without a regnant historical consciousness. Because you, as a analysist of this, lack historical consciousness in your analyzing of th phenomenon of the thinkers you wrongly believe Wittgenstein to be speaking before eternity. You aren't adequately sensitive to the phenomena of historically bound thinking qua analyst, even though, as ordinary person it is simply obvious Wittgenstein has a Germanic mind set of modernity strained through the Oxbridge of his time which cries noisily from the whole of his output.

    Deleuze, to my mind, is not a philosopher in any serious sense. He is a higher entertainer linked to a notion of a discrete subject matter alongside others called "philosophy" or the concept maker's art. He belongs to the humanist tradition of self-cultivation through the diverse arts and researches. Which is the forgetfulness of philosophy in the so-called "End of Philosophy."

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    Replies
    1. A reading of Deleuze as humanist would be hard to sell among most of the Deleuzians I am familiar with, but as I say, I'm not all that sympathetic to Deleuzocommentary. I can see why to some he would seem an entertainer - it is after all a role that philosophers have donned from time to time - Voltaire, Coleridge, Kierkegaard, Cornel West, Alphonso Lingis. Zizek clearly has decided it can work for him.
      As for Wittgenstein, it's clear that his historical situatedness is crucial for understanding him. The wreckage of Europe after WWI, the complete up-ending of the civilization he identified with - his biography is that of a man who has been rendered homeless. In this sense, yes, he is drenched in history - and is one of those thinkers who really can be understood better in light of their biography. Nonetheless, I will double down on my reading of LW as "a late-born ancient" - though doubtless it requires a considerable sensitivity to see it. (It's much easier to describe Nietzsche like this, for instance.)
      Strauss is yet a different case. Whereas LW (early and late) struggles with and between the saying and the shown, and thus re-enacted a sort of esotericism in (though it might surprise him to hear it put thus) a platonic register, Strauss set out to teach both _that_ esotericism had been a venerable stratagem of philosophers, and _how_ and _why_ it had been deployed. I think his success was real but partial (his account of esotericism as motivated by prudence is not, to my mind, sufficient to account for the whole phenomenon). I certainly do not think he *escaped* historical consciousness -- but he was indeed strongly motivated to combat it.

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