“How would the eschatological ethos of a transformed people be, per impossible, the ‘lived reality’ of immanence?” (25)
“Some kind of mediation may play a genuinely constitutive role in [Deleuze’s] system, even if the redemptive function of such mediators is not something Deleuze explicitly theorizes. … those who belong to this series of humorous avatars would index the contours of viable experimental life.” (215)
There is no such thing as a philosophy without a practice of reading. This is to say not only that philosophies, in being received, are bound to a reading practice, but also that philosophies themselves, insofar as they are produced, have reading practices as part of their causal nexus. This may be obvious, but it is something worth reflecting on given that our image of thought—where this thought is imagined as being philosophical—tends not to include reading practices. Or, at the very least, it tends not to include reading practices in the way that other images tend to include them. Consider, for instance, the differentiation of philosophy and religion: it is much easier to imagine religion as including reading practices than it is to imagine philosophy as including them. I would even venture that part of the reason for the occlusion of the constitutive role of reading practices in philosophy has to do with philosophy’s interest in differentiating itself from religion.
The implications of these initial comments are much broader than I can here indicate. Yet they are, at the very least, explicitly relevant insofar as the viability of Ramey’s argument for a “hermetic” Deleuze is inseparable from his practice of reading Deleuze. If reading practices are necessary to philosophy, then we must say from the beginning that Ramey’s approach is not strange, or that whatever strangeness it may have is relative to those who want to disavow the necessity of reading practices. We could say, in fact, that much of Ramey’s argument depends on refusing to disavow—and refusing to repeat Deleuze’s own disavowal of—Deleuze’s very early practice of reading Malfatti. And this refusal to disavow reading practices, I would add, is what allows Ramey to open up a religious aspect in Deleuze’s thought—for the refusal to disavow reading practices is also the refusal of the difference, produced by this disavowal, between philosophy and religion. Finally, Ramey’s own affirmation of theurgy, or ritual, can be seen as an affirmation of reading practices, which no doubt name a kind of ritual. In this regard, I find myself compelled to say that Ramey performs what he theorizes; his reading of Deleuze is “vocal-graphic” rather than “despotic” (193-4).
All this is to say that Ramey’s practice of reading Deleuze as hermetic is made possible by his prior affirmation of reading practices, or of ritual. I am not sure whether this puts Ramey’s book outside the domain of philosophy. Nor am I sure whether it is precisely this affirmation that makes the book nonphilosophical. I am, however, sure that it is what makes this a powerful, extremely important book.
To insist on the necessity of reading practices, however, raises a difficult issue. This is because we find ourselves compelled to admit that there are many practices of reading, which then seems to compel us to imagine these practices in terms of contingency. What you find, or produce, is contingent on your reading practice, of which there are many. Does this then make it impossible to insist on the necessity of reading Deleuze (among other things) in a certain way? Does the necessity of reading practices make it necessary to give up on the notion of necessity? This would especially seem to be the case insofar as Ramey’s treatment of Deleuze rightly presses us to see that there are various ways of enacting events—would this amount to saying that it is necessary to live contingently? And even the word “live,” or the notion of a “viable” reading, which I have already invoked … what is the relation between them? Should we say that what renders Ramey’s reading viable is that it accords with life? And is such accordance necessary?
I am probably getting a bit enigmatic, but if so, this is not on purpose. In other words, if I pose these questions, it is not because I am hinting at answers I already possess, but because they are the horizon made possible by Ramey’s excellent text. They are questions of, or for, maybe even from, the future. They are also, however, questions motivated by my own reading practices, which have an allegiance to a statement from Spinoza: “In so far as the mind understands all things as necessary, so far it has a greater power over the emotions, or, it suffers less from them” (VP6). This is one voice in a larger chorus of the Ethics, which calls, again and again, for us to affirm necessity against contingency. I follow this affirmation, and I am wondering what it would mean to affirm, at the same time, the necessity of reading practices, which seem to open up a contingency that makes possible the experimental life that is so central to and so powerfully advocated by Ramey’s argument. To put it otherwise: is it possible to (contingently) experiment with this world while believing in (the necessity of) this world, i.e. while not believing in a better world? Furthermore, how might an answer to this question already be implied in Ramey’s practice of reading Deleuze in “eschatological” terms? (And would it make a difference if we replaced “eschatological” with “prophetic”?)
X is exemplary of Y … X is like Y … X is a metaphor for Y. Reading practices that proceed according to any of these strategies are rejected by Ramey. I agree, and the reasons I agree—which I don’t want to assume are identical to Ramey’s, though there is certainly a resonance—have to do with my antagonism toward analogy, which happens to be central to standard Christianity. All of these strategies are analogical, which is to say that they want to keep difference from being essential. What is sometimes overlooked about analogy is that it is, at its core, a reading practice. When it is advocated by Aquinas, for instance, it is presented as a way of avoiding the affirmation of equivocity and univocity. It is as if he is telling us, yes, things are both different and similar, but we should avoid (or redeem?) both of these facts by saying that things are analogical, i.e. they are differentiated and yet like, or exemplary of, one another. (For my part, I would like to say that things are simultaneously equivocal and univocal.)
Of course, there is one rather prominent example that belongs to this Christian tradition, and it is an example that Ramey opposes at various points, though rather notably in his discussion of Bruno. He tells us that, “The reasoning behind Bruno’s objection to the notion of a God incarnate in the man Jesus is … that it arbitrarily degrades the entirely of the rest of the cosmos” (63). Christ becomes exemplary for the cosmos, such that the highest aim, or the highest degree of viability, belonging to the cosmos is to imitate, or to become analogous to, this example. The life of Christ becomes exemplary of, or for, all of life. We could say, then, that what is being rejected by Ramey’s reading practice is the standard (Christological, incarnational, analogical) reading practice of standard Christianity.
I would add that the reading practice being rejected is also one that makes existence (at least as it exists outside the existence of “the man Jesus”) contingent. In other words, this rejected reading practice trains one to recognize one’s existence as contingently capable of being oriented toward or away from the Christological exemplar. Ramey—at least insofar as he follows Bruno—notes that the problem with this Christological exemplarity is its “antiexperimental character” (64). My question, then, concerns the relation between experimentality and contingency. If experimentality is bound up with contingency, and if experimentality is precluded by standard Christology, what should we make of the fact that the very same Christology produces contingency? Should we affirm Christology’s contingency (which is bound up with experimentality) while opposing its antiexperimentality? Or should we be suspicious of contingency insofar as it comes from the same source that precludes experimentality?
I take Spinoza’s insistence on necessity, over against contingency, as an antagonism toward standard Christianity, with its themes of exemplarity and incarnation. Nothing can be an example of anything else because everything is equivocal; nothing can be prior to anything else because everything is univocal. The univocity of every different thing thus stems not from a muting of difference’s equivocity, but from an affirmation of the necessity of everything in its difference. In other words, univocity has to do with necessity; the refusal of analogy, with its contingency, is inseparable from the affirmation of necessity. In fact, we might think of this insistence on necessity as forming its own kind of reading practice: one must read whatever happens as necessary; if one reads what happens as contingent, then one has failed to understand what happens.
Where does this leave experimentation? Is there a difference between experimentation as a reading practice formed by necessity and experimentation in itself (or contingency as such)? Put otherwise, if an experiment fails, how should we read the failure: as necessary, or as something that belongs to a larger project of experimentation in itself? (And if we choose the latter, are we not in danger of reading the failed experiment in terms of an analogy with experimentation in itself?) All of these questions emerge, for instance, when Ramey contends, “Deleuze’s affirmation of experimentation is never reducible to the successes or failures of a particular experiment, a single living being, but to virtual aspects incarnate in a life” (179).
What is in no doubt, what is without doubt necessarily the case, is that experimentation is—as Ramey brilliant describes it throughout the book—an “ordeal.” It seems also to be the case that what makes the ordeal an ordeal is that there is, as Lee Edelman puts it, “no future” outside of the ordeal: one cannot address the ordeal by way of analogy with the future. In this sense, there is a certain “melancholia” involved in the ordeal. The ordeal is that the end of our world is necessary. Or, to use anti-Christological language, what makes the ordeal an ordeal is that there is nothing for it to incarnate. Or—to rephrase one more time, and to make use of a concept that Ramey is now working on—what makes the ordeal an ordeal is that it is inseparable from an “occasion.” There is no ordeal without an occasion, or every occasion is an ordeal, by necessity.