27 Jun Deleuze, 12 Books Later
CHIANG MAI. I’ve just finished my twelfth book by Deleuze, thirteenth if you count one with Guattari, plus a couple of half-readings of other books and a smattering of essays. That just seems nuts to me, too much for one author maybe. I read enough of him to satisfy my dissertation research and afterwords I read simply because I couldn’t stop. I would always begin one of his books with “well, let’s see how this goes… maybe I’ll stop after 50 pages.” It’s not because I didn’t want to, but I felt I should probably be speding time reading other authors. But for those 12 books I didn’t stop, I had to finish them.
Each of those readings was an investment. I took notes as I read (I’m embarrassed to say that I have now 395 pages of notes from my readings of him… my tendency toward obsession running wild), and I took time to read, I read him slowly. But if asked what his philosophy is I couldn’t do it in a simple and clear manner. This is because his writing aims as much as possible to be non-referential. He is not using writing to explain what something is, but rather to express in the act of writing itself. He’s not big on nouns, nor on examples. His writing doesn’t express something; it expresses the importance of expressing.
I think sometimes about that quote from Foucault about how the future will one day be known as Deleuzean. In terms of how the world is going, it’s moving in the opposite direction. Everyone is appealing to reference: to God or to science or to political party. Our age is one in which truth is fragmented and this leads people to gather images and statements into the most comfortable existing category or series of categories that “make sense” and then to use that as referential ground to then say something about the world. In this science and religion have little difference. What Deleuze resists is just this kind of lazy thinking. But in an age in which many seem preoccupied with generating wealth and protecting family and possessions, lazy thought prevails. Science and religion, Democrat and Republican… these have little distinction, because they are caught up in the same problem of this intransigence, this lack of movement and process. Contemporary thinking has a difficult time with an ethics of process, of the conditions of things rather than the dominant image of things. This is my problem with those who see Trump as the problem rather than Trumpism, or the conditions (media, social media) in which we all foster, enable and reproduce him. So we are not Deleuzean, not when we settle, not when we reproduce the attributes of sadness. But if Foucault meant that we perhaps should be, I agree.
In this I think Deleuze is expanding perhaps the most important philosophical question of the past couple hundred years, the one Nietzsche finally asked: in a post-God ethics, what the fuck do we do now? The answer today it seems is that everyone gets to choose their pre-existing category so that one can appeal to a fixed morality and a fixed truth. I think Deleuze would prefer that we stop fixing things, that we keep moving, keep acting, keep asking. But not enough really do this. We don’t resist, we wait to vote; we don’t live, we go to church; we don’t move our bodies, we take the right medications; we don’t let our kids play in the neighborhood, we conform them to systems. This is a thought that came to me (thinking is what happens reading him; thinking, not information) in reading this latest book, his big book about Spinoza and expressionism: Law should be conceived as something we pass through, a fluid state of composition and decomposition. But instead we treat it as the beginning point of morality and social norms and refer to it to eliminate confusion. Law resonates, and any instance is a resonance of forces or powers. What Deleuze is trying to say about power is that it is not something outside us nor is it immobile. It is within us and it moves. When we accept law and norm, we abandon the power that we possess, the power to move, to resonate. Anything that happens takes on the quality of a life form, anything one does creates a little world, a life. But we don’t think like this, we tend to appeal to law as this fixed mass, dead and lifeless.
I could go on and on. This is just my reading, and it’s only one aspect of my reading. I know others read him much differently. But this is one thought I often return to reading him: if God is dead, what is it that we have faith in? It seems that the answer is another kind of transcendent fixity: law (as God) and punishment (as his sword), a universal ethics to refer to in the face of nature’s chaos. Goddamnit if I have to wait until the green light before I can press on the accelerator of my car then that motherfucker next to me better conform to the same law. This is the death of thinking that we all participate in. No wonder there is no resistance, no wonder “play” is based on acceptance, no wonder automation prevails, no wonder philosophy finds itself dying.
But I shouldn’t end this thought on such a sour note. Deleuze does none (or very little) of the polemics I tend to fall into. His philosophy, following Spinoza, is very much about joy, the joy of creativity, the joy of action, the joy that comes from expressions that are very much available to us and made by our thinking and acting. There is nothing transcendent, everything is immanent, and life should be lived in its immanence, immanent to nothing but life itself.