Some Deleuze Anecdotes

I am, as I noted in a previous post, making my way through Dosse’s dual biography of Deleuze and Guattari. Dosse treats Guattari’s pre-Deleuze life first and then turns to Deleuze’s pre-Guattari life next. Reading about Deleuze’s early childhood and his time in university was interesting. Apparently he and Michel Tournier spent their nights reading Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and felt that his famous “Existentialism is a Humanism” speech to be a betrayal of the passion they felt for that book. It also details his early writings, which he “renounced” in the official bibliography, one of which launched a polemic against Christianity and the interior life seeing it lead up to the modern society of the bourgeoisie. This was obviously a reaction against the spiritualisme that reigned in French philosophy prior to World War II, yet his admiration for Bergson appears to have been in place as early as 1948 when he defended him against François Châtelet and Olivier Revault d’Allonnes while they studied together for the agrégation.

All of this was interesting, but I already had a vague knowledge of these events as one can pick all of this up from his writing and from snippets of his biography you can find in books here and there. His family life was more interesting. I knew from his L’Abécédaire that he had tensions with his family because his father held right-wing views and hated the France of Léon Blum’s Front populaire that allowed workers to encroach on the political and social territory that the petite bourgeoisie had enjoyed. I didn’t realize how pathetic this class hatred was considering that Deleuze’s parents, while enjoying some privileges, were precarious business owners themselves as his father, an engineer, only had one employee and produced some airplane parts. Apparently a major cause of this familial tension had to do with something Deleuze himself never spoke much about in public: the murder of his brother, a resistance fighter, by the Nazis while being transported to a concentration camp. Apparently, “the wrong son died” in his parents’ eyes.

It was disappointing that there was so little discussion of his wife, Fanny, and literally no discussion about how they met (whereas pages and pages were devoted in the Guattari section to his marriage and subsequent affairs). What’s the point of reading a biography if you don’t get any sexual gossip! There was, however, a story about a very strange phobia Deleuze had. Apparently, after passing his agrégation he finally had the economic independence to move out of his parents’ home (he was living with just his mother as his father had passed away some years prior). Dosse goes on to tell us, “He kept from conflictual relationship vis-a-vis his home life a phobia towards every food product with milk, which surprised his friends: [Olivier Revault d’Allonnes explains that] ‘We had invited Gilles to have dinner several times. He always asked the mistress of the house if there was the least drop of milk in the dish and if that was the case, he would not want to eat (Dosse, p. 124).'” Usually one encounters stories about how oddly long his fingernails were, but this phobia has to be the strangest story I’ve read about the man.

28 thoughts on “Some Deleuze Anecdotes

  1. Damn, I just looked at some pictures of Deleuze on google his fingernails were freakishly long. Also, the milk phobia is incredibly interesting. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more sexual gossip about Deleuze. I remember watching a documentary on Derrida, and the interviewer asks him about love and sex. He tells her his he’s already written about his sexual relationship in a very disguised forms throughout his texts. He also says if he could ask philosophers like Hegel and Heidegger one question he would ask about how their sexuality and intimate relationships affected their thought. Even if Deleuze is right that the lives of academics are seldom interesting, that doesn’t mean we don’t want to about them.

  2. I think the lives of academics are often interesting and weirdly so must he since he was obsessed with biographies! I guess he just wasn’t going to give it all away without someone like Dosse interviewing all his friends. There is a funny remark in Lambert’s Who’s afraid of Deleuze and Guattari?, where he makes the remark that Deleuze wasn’t “really promiscuous”, at least not by the standards of other members of the French intelligentsia.

  3. When I was in high school, I always kept my fingernails long, and this continued into college (where I kept them painted). Deleuze was my favorite philosopher as an undergrad, and I was happy and surprised when I found out he kept his nails long.

    I also am sad there isn’t more about Fanny. One of the feelings I really got in reading The Anti-Oedipus papers was how central Fanny was in that book (I don’t know about the rest of their works one way or another). It really struck me that more attention hasn’t been paid in how essential Fanny was to “D&G”.

  4. From Deleuze’s ‘Letter to a harsh critic’: ‘ might say, and it’s true, that I dream of being, not invisible, but imperceptible, and the closest I can get to that dream is having fingernails I can keep in my pockets..’

    I always found it ironic and sad that Deleuze, for whom vitalism was so important, smoked and got cancer, and that Guattari, the anti-psychiatrist/schizoanalyst, suffered from major depressions.

  5. It is very strange he smoked so much since he always suffered from respiratory problems. I suppose that’s fidelity for you! But the cancer – vitalism link isn’t too strange since cancer is just vitalism gone mad, as is Guattari making creative use of his depression.

  6. I think there is still no Spanish translation of the book, but i will definitely read it when it comes the time. Despite biographies are not quite on my taste i recognize that gossip (specially if its sexual) is an inherent stratagem in all biographies and also the perfect pretext to keep reading unbored. I am very unpatient with this narrative intrigue of gossip-predestination, though i have read some biographies even Werner Ross´s brick on Nietzsche.

    But I have to admit that I am not very sure about Dosse: i have read his books on the history of structuralism and i sincerely found an open journalistic tendency to pour authors even though their relation with structuralism was not very clear. It is also to be noted that Didier Eribon criticized this tendency regarding to Foucault. So I feel that Dosse´s motivation on writing the book may be opportunistic: my hunch is to think that he wrote it precisely because he wanted himself to be considered at the same level than Eribon.

    To this point i am intrigued on how Dosse is getting to connect all these anecdotes of Deleuze with Deleuze´s work, which is something that might be expected of a biography. i don´t think that this is an easy task because Deleuze always meant to be neat and sharp on how he never excused his work through his life and personal ocurrencies. This might be the reason why Dosse is intercalating both Deleuze and Guattari biographies: as far as i know, Guattari´s adventures and personal issues were never fully isolated from his intellectual or political activities.

  7. Not sure I quite follow, but I don’t think Dosse is hurting in terms of stature. He’s a University Professor, which as I understand it is the highest rank you can attain in the Paris system. There are certainly weaknesses to the biography though in so far, at least on my reading, there isn’t a kind of narrative core to it. He actually does exactly what you suggest here. For Guattari the chapters were a mish-mash of his “personal” life and his “intellectual” life. Whereas, the anecdotes for Deleuze are presented separately from his philosophical work. There is some excavation of where certain interests came from, but he doesn’t speculate on what his long fingernails might have to do with his philosophy or anything like that. The only connecting thread between his personal life and intellectual work he does suggest is a anti-familialism arising out of his fraught home life during his childhood. It is rather journalistic, but as far as biographies go I don’t think this is all that bad. The Anti-Oedipus chapter seems to focus on what many people have been interested in, how exactly the two of them worked together. The final chapters are a nice history of their reception all over the world (and I was happy to see my adviser’s name there). It is certainly a kind of “gossip” book, but there is something interesting about biographical gossip. Agamben’s remarks on gossip in The Time that Remains have stuck in my memory of reading that book: “This does not mean that gossip cannot be interesting; on the contrary, to the extent that it entertains a nontrivial relation to truth that eludes the problem of verification and falsification and claims to be closer to truth than factual adequation, gossip is certainly a form of art (8).”

  8. Thanks for the resume! it is good to know that the book is worth to be referenced as an illustrative complement. I am keen to read the book without expecting more thanwhat is meant to be expected of a biography, despite all the winks i may find of in respect with certain anecdotical topics.

  9. I asked Prof Daniel Smith about making an English translation of Dosse’s book and he was not moved to do so. At least, not yet.

  10. All,

    It is a 624 page book that I’m reading a chapter from in between other books and writing commitments. So, don’t take anything I say to be authoritative as a review of any sort.




    On Dosse’s website it says there is a translation coming out with Columbia UP. I could not find any information about this on amazon or Columbia UP’s website though.

  11. I’m too lazy to go get the book from my office right now. It had something to do with disliking the “interiority” of humanism and thinking that Sartre was conceding too much to the already existing concept of it.

  12. ‘Lactose’ and ‘wheat’ intolerance are surely symptoms of contemporary American(ist) nihilism. Deleuze’s views on ‘health’ would surely render the contemporary obsession with preservationist forms of health (preservation of the organism) as anathema to the valetudinary states that he (along with Nietzsche and Klossowski) considered so productive of symptomatological insight.

  13. Yeah dunno. According to wiki lactose intolerance was actually only medically described in the late fifties [though quite a lot of people must have known about it, right?], and Deleuze agrégated in 1948 – so maybe the friend who formed the phobia conclusion didn’t know about LI. Or Dosse is right. Or the socialist medicine thing.

    I seem to be commenting on your blog about lactose intolerance. I’ll stop that now.

  14. Interview between Michel Tournier and Bernard Pivot in 2003 on French Television. You know for Deleuze life, it is more complicated than you think, but in France people prefer say just what have says in public. So I respect this rule.

    And I don’t say too much because, you the different blogs of speculative realsim (I think also Fractal Ontology, Infinite Thought, Radical philosophy, Speculative Heresy, etc…). You don’t know what you do, you give echo and forces to best reactionnary forces in France. It is the game so why not. And pharmacon or poison can have an inesperate effect.

    Just two things think about the Nietsche’s little spider and to finish I give you a translation of Bergson : « Si le savant, l’artiste, le philosophe s’attachent à la poursuite de la renommée, c’est parce qu’il leur manque l’absolue vérité d’avoir créé du viable. Donnez-leur cette assurance, et vous les verrez aussitôt faire peu de cas du bruit qui les entoure. » Bergson fin du dernier cours de 1911. But you can find similary quotations in the first part of Spiritual Energy.

    I just can say you that because whatever you think we are not in the same territory, so you can understand all happens in Paris and certainly for this century in Large Spain. It is just a question of litterature, of work on the language and instincts, since Pascal and Montaigne. Good continuation in your work, you have to do IT for YOURself.

  15. Anthony,

    I was tempted to react badly to your message, because it pissed me off, but if you think that this blog or Infinite Thought is part of some “speculative realism” blog community you’re sorely mistaken. But, go on, if you must police in poor English, go on.

  16. “but in France people prefer say just what have says in public. So I respect this rule. ” In so far as I understand what you’re saying here, I’ll say that is fine for polite company but a complete travesty if you’re writing a biography.

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