Of Cruelty and Vulnerability: A Response to Dan Whistler’s “The Hermetic Critique of Deleuze”

By the end of his brilliant set of reflections on Deleuze’s very late work, and my own reservations (shared with many others) about the direction and tone of that work, Dan Whistler takes the risk of asking me some extremely blunt questions. He asks, if I perceive his explicit and implicit intentions, 1.) why I decided to write the book, at all, 2.) whether I perceive Deleuze to have either failed in or betrayed his own (disavowed yet on my view undeniable) hermeticism, and 3.) whether I might have been better off, in view of Deleuze’s possible failures and/or disavowals, having adopted a different starting point for thinking through the stakes and possibilities of contemporary hermetic iterations. If I am critical of Deleuze, that is, from an hermetic perspective, what should he have done, or said, and what might I still have yet to say or do that might re-iterate my questions and problems differently, with or without the company of Deleuze and his many concepts and multiple investigations?

These questions crystallize, for Dan, in a peculiarly intense and redolent meta-question, one that reaches into a meta-pragmatic dimension of his metaphysical pluralism that I claim Deleuze constantly points toward without ever explicitly avowing—a dimension of hermetic practice or spiritual science grounding his thought, a mathesis Deleuze’s earliest writings, suppressed in his official biography, are obsessively concerned with. The question Dan poses is, was Deleuze sufficiently cruel? More precisely, did he fail to remain sufficiently cruel with us, or with himself. To put this bibliographically, did he later betray his early conceptions of the force of the sign (in the Proust, Masochism, and Nietzsche books), and the force of thought, when we reach his late affirmations of concepts as creations, and his final meditations upon immanence as “a life” (une vie)? Does Deleuze’s work, over time, slip from the rigors or severity of transcendental empiricism toward a fatuous vitalist monism, or is there some more oblique synthesis of those two strategies permeating his work?

My thesis in The Hermetic Deleuze is that a possible source of the unity (the monist side of his monism = pluralism, explicitly “magic” formula, as he did aver) is a kind liminal, germinal hermeticism, an itinerant and pragmatic practical synthesis. I claim, however, that this unity is not meta-critical unless it is meta-pragmatic, for we are dealing not with an ideal principle but an actual-virtual series of indexes, types, or exemplars that are dark precursors to Deleuze himself and included in which are the work of the modern artists, in particular, whom Deleuze so deeply admired—above all Artaud, but also Klee, Kafka, Henry Miller, Stockhausen, Schubert, Varese, Cezanne, Matisse, and a number of film auteurs. Thus Dan is absolutely correct to pose the question for my work in the way he does, not in terms of whether Deleuze’s meta-critical principle was the correct one, but whether he ultimately belonged to or maintained his fealty to the series of avatars or “mediums” which I myself selectively affirm.

For me, the only book that approaches justice to the metacritical problem in Deleuze’s systematic thought is Christian Kerslake’s Immanence and the Vertigo of Philosophy from Kant to Deleuze. Christian understands the meta-critical problem of grounding the critique of reason far better than I do, from its rationalist and German Idealist origins to the mesmerizing and almost unplaceable work of Warrain and Wronski, and argues with matchless insight that Deleuze, especially up through Difference and Repetition, is focused explicitly on the post-Kantian problem of grounding. My investigations and Christian’s converge, however, at almost every point, and in the final, concluding response I will write to this book event, I will take up his questions for me explicitly. But it is worth saying, here, that I did not approach the hermetic Deleuze from this perspective, but from a longer, less obvious path through a more archaic alliance between philosophy and spiritual ordeal, one that animates the stranger and more obscure moments in the history of post-Platonic speculation in figures such as Iamblichus, Eriugena, Cusa, Bruno, and Pico. It was the period of the Renaissance, in particular, that seemed to resonate in strange and uncanny ways with what Deleuze was trying to do as he affirmed the work of art, the process or activity of the art work, as some kind of necessary aspect of thought itself. The importance of an irreducibly enigmatic dimension of images, signs, and symbols that one sees in someone like Bruno points to Deleuze’s own view of signs and concepts as both objectively indeterminate yet necessarily provocative for thought itself. Above all I was inspired by what I saw as the connection between a series of pre-modern philosophers who explicitly connected the possibility of knowledge, as such, to patterns and habits of transformation. Hence my emphasis on the meta-pragmatic.

Having done with the histrionics (which I hope is helpful for people who have not yet read the book and may still not be clear about what I was trying to argue), I now want to address Dan’s question: did Deleuze fail to remain cruel?

In one way or another, we might characterize many of the criticisms of Deleuze made since Badiou as affirming a “yes” to this question, in one way or another, and in one way or another attempting to maintain some perspective that is “more cruel” than Deleuze’s, which is deemed “not enough” to shatter the illusions of fulfillment foisted on us by the satiation of our petty needs and stupid drives under imperial capitalist consumerism. Badiou’s events, Žižek ’s dialectic, Hallward’s irreducible particular, Brassier’s annihilation . . . the list goes on of thinkers claiming to have finally delivered us into the theatre of cruelty to which Deleuze, despite the promise of his early, more aggressive style, failed to bring us.

“To Redouble the Cruelty” might also be a decent formula for the tactic of psychoanalysis, and another perspective from which Deleuze is often looked at askance. Deleuze spent much of his energy following the developments of psychoanalysis, and his perspective owes much more to an allegiance to Lacan, in particular, than many Deleuzians would like to admit (as my colleague Ed Kazarian has been arguing now for several years.)

But do we really need more cruelty? Is there really not enough cruelty, today, or yesterday, that we need the philosophers to introduce us to more of it, to turn up the heat on us, to put the screws to souls and bodies, to force us to confess, yet again, that we do not know what we think we know (and do not feel what we feel we feel)?

Is not what we call objective reality, the truth of existence, the cold hard truth about life anything more than an endless series of cruelties, visited upon us from Job and Arjuna to Abelard and Heloise to Artaud, Hiroshima, and Camden, New Jersey—to say nothing of endless imperial oppression, universal enslavement, genocide, and ecological holocaust? Is it really the case that philosophy’s answer to all this cruelty is yet more cruelty?

When Deleuze critiques the “image of thought” that domesticates philosophical cruelty throughout its history, it does indeed seem to be a matter of accusing the philosophers of not yet being cruel enough: the critique of the doxa in Plato or of the natural light in Descartes, or of reason in Kant or history in Hegel is ultimately sentimental. Philosophy, guided by the image of thought, justifies, in the last instance, the world as it already is: average states of perception, ordinary language, medium-sized physical objects are finally understood, accepted just as they are—thank God the philosophers are around to tell us things must be this way for a reason. And so philosophy has failed to be cruel, or as cruel as it thinks it is.

The problem of reversing Platonism, of overturning the image of thought, is not how to think multiplicity, but how to experience multiplicity differently at the affective level. The problem is not how to reconstruct a mind adequate to the shadows on the wall of the cave (simulacra), but how to be or become with those shadows. Obviously this changes the problem of knowledge altogether, since being able to change with something or change as something requires a suspension of judgment. But it is this suspension, this hiatus or caesura in judgment, that it remains almost impossible for philosophers since Deleuze to accept. We still have not yet had done with judgment. Let alone the judgments of God (with which Artaud identified the organs themselves), we are far from having done with the judgments of philosophers.

My book begins with Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, and with Derrida’s eulogy for Deleuze, a eulogy that proposes there is something secret, something left unsaid, in Deleuze’s concept of immanence as it related to Artuad’s theatre of cruelty. But what kind of cruelty was Artaud’s, and what was Deleuze’s, and to what end is this cruelty directed? I think the answer to this question, in the end, has something to do with Deleuze’s fascination with Masoch, and with the contract or agreement to cruelty which is entered into between the partners. But at the heart of this ordeal, this stylized ritual, this game, is an agreement to vulnerability, a willingness to be vulnerable, to surrender, to submit, to place one’s life in the hands of another.

Dan is right that there is tremendous danger in sentimentality, for all of us and not just those of us with philosophical ambitions. But it occurred to me, thinking over Dan’s observations of Dickens, that the opposite of cruelty is not sentimentality. The opposite of cruelty is vulnerability. An agreement to vulnerability that brings with it pain and suffering would thus not be cruelty at all, but something else entirely. And by agreement here I do not mean “choice.” One does not choose one’s master, or mistress, let alone ones’ sign, cipher, or symbol. One is compelled, one goes, one is driven, one finds oneself enmeshed, entranced, allured, seduced, mesmerized. And so my blunt answer to Dan’s profoundly direct, and profoundly vulnerable question, is that Deleuze did not fail to be cruel, but may have failed, like many of us fail, to have a chance to be truly vulnerable.

On the face of it, that claim has to sound ludicrous. How much more vulnerable could he have been—he, this discrete French rationalist, this darling of the great Parisian tradition, this family man, willing to write and teach about almost anything and everything from music to politics to sex to mathematics? Indeed! How much more vulnerable could Deleuze have been? How much more vulnerable can Deleuze become? Perhaps that is my question, and my problem. Perhaps it is the problem of what can be done, in philosophy, at all. Perhaps there is a real limit to how sweet, how close to the sap, philosophy can be, before it begins to get sappy, to sound sentimental. Having a reputation as a “nice guy,” in philosophy, which I think I am starting to get, is generally not a compliment. Philosophy is not kind, it is severe, it is incisive, it is rigorous.

Deleuze took his chances as far as he could take them. Or did he? Why was there nothing else for him to say, on TV, other than that he hoped the kids doing psychedelic drugs didn’t turn into pulp? Either this is not Deleuze’s problem, as a philosopher, or it is philosophy’s unstated problem, the problem of spiritual authority, the problem of how to be with and be in the vulnerability, rather than merely to observe it. If philosophy could learn to speak this non-philosophical language, would there then be something other to say, to Riderhood, other than cliché? Would a more vulnerable philosophy learn the mantras of “a life,” and if it did would it be able to say the words, to articulate?

From this perspective, Deleuze’s incompletely conceived or even ill-conceived later vitalism might not be a symptom of his becoming-sentimental, but of a becoming-invulnerable, a drying out, a crack up. Perhaps this tells us something, those of us investigating the labyrinth of the spiritual sciences: the problem of the meta-pragmatic is not how to avoid sentimentalism but how to deal with exhaustion. I have already indicated that spirituality, as I deploy the term, is a surival tactic. It is what to do when confronted with being out of breath. Deleuze ended his own life: he could no longer breathe. He did not breathe without pain, for years. What an ordeal.

But here we arrive at a truly meta-pragmatic question: what is the breath? As Christian Kerslake indicates in his earlier comments, the techniques of breathing, in relation to the development of “higher consciousness” and the expansion of possibilities of perception, awareness, and knowledge, are central in all esoteric schools. The breath is the interval, the breath is the waiting. And it is painful to wait, and what we wait through is attention to pain, when we do not fill it with cliché.

A different way of thinking the interval through which Riderhood briefly passes, between life and death, is formulated by Philip Goodchild in Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety.

For just as piety attempts to shelter from chaos without, it also encounters chaos within—as a loss of meaning, a collapse of established modes of piety, as a ‘murder of God’. Anticipation—whether of death, of the apocalypse, of eschatological consummation, of divine reward, or even of a return on investment—leaves an interval of waiting in which the cosmos has not yet been completed or sealed. Anticipated chaos may not yet have arrived, but there is a moment of indeterminacy, of hesitancy, where the laws of the divine economy or the laws of nature have not yet been fulfilled. (192)

Part of naming what I hope to do in the divination book is to extend the project of an apocalyptic philosophy of religion, the metacritique of piety as Goodchild has conceived it, into the critical theory of spiritual practices or spiritual sciences.

I have invoked Goodchild here for several reasons. One is the fact that Dan has written a brilliant commentary on Capitalism and Religion, and I know we both find Goodchild’s work brilliant. But more importantly is the fact that, as I explicitly argue in the book, it was truly Goodchild’s work, first on Deleuze, then on capitalism and religion, that first traced a line toward an “apocalyptic” philosophical perspective on spirituality as immediately political and practical. In my view the moment has finally come for Goodchild’s work to receive the full attention it has always deserved. Goodchild writes of the interval of waiting, of hesitation, where there is objective indeterminacy. That is the interval Riderhood occupies, briefly, in a dramatic way. Perhaps Deleuze sentimentalizes or fetishizes this “otherworldly” moment, but it’s not an otherworldly moment, at all, but an intra-worldly one. A transition. And transitions are moments of vulnerability. And if there’s anything philosophy hates it’s vulnerability. (Dorothea Olkowski has written perhaps the most important philosophical treatise on vulnerability to date, with her Universal (in the Realm of the Sensible), and she has long been critical of Deleuze for not being a thinker able to valorize vulnerability).

To conclude, for now, on cruelty and vulnerability. The hysterical, histrionic, and obsessive-compulsive need of philosophers to judge, to be able to pass judgment, to be ready with judgment, to articulate judgment, to inhabit an immediacy of judgment without interval, without hesitation, without delay—perhaps this alone is the condition that merits a cruel response. This insane (literally unhealthy) desire to be able to judge in advance, or to obtain in advance criteria that will enable judgment to ward off the chaotic interval or to dominate it in the quickest possible way—it is this unhealth alone for which a kind of cruelty is the remedy.

I can only quote Aldous Huxley, who saw this clearly in a truly hilarious passage:

In one of its innumerable forms music is a powerful drug, partly stimulant and partly narcotic, but wholly alterative. No man, however highly civilized, can listen for very long to African drumming, or Indian chanting, or Welsh hymn-singing, and retain intact his critical and self-conscious personality. It would be very interesting to take a group of the most eminent philosophers from the best universities, shut them up in a hot room with Moroccan dervishes or Haitian voodooists, and measure, with a stop watch, the strength of their psychological resistance to the effects of the rhythmic sound. Would the Logical Positivists be able to hold out longer than the Subjective Idealists? Would the Marxists prove tougher than the Thomists or the Vedantists? What a fascinating, what a fruitful field for experiment! Meanwhile all we can safely predict is that, if exposed long enough to the tom-toms and the singing, every one of our philosophers would end by capering and howling with the savages. (Aldous Huxley, The Devils of London (Chatto & Windus, 1970), p. 135.

What is at stake in this joke on the philosophers is crucial. For what the philosophers in the thought experiment resist, most of all, is the vulnerability entailed by being drawn by contagion into the discipline of the rhythm, the cruelty of the rhythm, the rhythm that does not so much destroy self-consciousness as it does open consciousness onto a collective mode of attention, a collective mode of awareness that will be directed by immanent imperatives rather than by any organon of principled conditioning. Goodchild has perhaps gone the furthest in articulating what is at stake here, naming the imperative of attention to suffering as the missing meta-pragmatic that could ground philosophical speculation in a local absolute:

Attention can only be spent; it cannot be hoarded or saved . . . Liberty consists in directing one’s attention through discipline, rather than having one’s attention captured . . . In so far as experience is shaped by the allocation of attention, then it is the mechanisms of attracting, distracting, and disciplining attention that form the conditions of possible experience. We shall call ‘piety’ any determinate practice of directing attention . . . Thought, formed by categories of objects or conditions, cuts itself off from its own power; it remains haunted by a nostalgic desire to recover lost experience. For experience is not found in the concepts of experience, but in experience itself. This is the source of the antinomies of pure reason, and of countless debates in philosophy: if concepts are born from the sacrifice of experience, it is easy for an opponent to point out the absence of the referent in the concept . . . The power by which suffering imposes itself on attention is the unconditioned within experience. Suffering attracts attention. Moreover, suffering is always singular—no one can undergo my suffering for me, on my behalf. Thus there are no possible substitutions or sacrifices which can retain the power of attracting attention in suffering. No experience can substitute for it. Then this power itself is not conditioned by any other experience, for the relation of conditioning involves shifting attention from a result to a condition. To shift attention in this direction is contrary to the power which directs attention to itself. (Philip Goodchild, Capitalism and Religion: The Price of Piety, London: Routledge, pp. 210-211).

To this there is nothing more to add, but attention to where we are vulnerable.

But there is something to add, at this point, to my post (already long, I’ll be quick), because after posting it last night I realized that I had failed to answer questions 1.) and 3.) that I think Dan was asking, why I decided to write this book at all and whether I might have been better off writing a different book about contemporary hermeticism, one that ran less risk of sentimentalizing over Deleuze.  I will try in a few sentences to answer both questions, because I think the answer is relevant to the theory of spiritual ordeals and unconditioned imperatives that I take to be critical to thought itself.

The short answer is that this book manifests something of my vulnerabilities, and something of contingent necessities.  The book began, in germinal and liminal form, in the PhD thesis I wrote under John Carvalho’s direction at Villanova University.  John’s generosity and intelligence toward his graduate students, and at the helm of the department, are equally legendary, and I owe him more than gratitude that I am even here, today.  The thesis I wrote for John, who is an aesthetician, critical theorist, and expert in Ancient Greek Philosophy, was called “Gilles Deleuze and the Powers of Art.”  I was already guessing that there was some parallel between the role of aesthetics in Renaissance philosophy and the role of art in Deleuze’s semiotics and ontologies, but I did not have the time or space to push that research into a book on Deleuze’s esotericism.  The book that became The Hermetic Deleuze took a very long time to write and to research, because of how much I was teaching, looking for academic jobs, raising a young son, and going through many other ordeals personal and professional.  (Don’t worry, I have no claim to uniqueness, here.  We are legion).  I suppose that in theory, in the abstract, I might have written a different book with a different framework for working out some the same ideas, rather than a long commentary on Deleuze, but perhaps the emptiness of that abstract possibility might be understood in this way: another book would not have been -this- forced choice, would not have been the situation in which I was vulnerable, in this way.  It remains for me to work through other occasions, at the moment on divination, which has the added luxury of itself being the generic spiritual science of the occasion, as such.

8 thoughts on “Of Cruelty and Vulnerability: A Response to Dan Whistler’s “The Hermetic Critique of Deleuze”

  1. Thank you so much, Joshua – this is incredibly rich and provoking (as always).

    First, apart from the quite incredibly funny Huxley quotation, my own attention was distracted by your diagnosis of post-Deleuzian thought as redoubling the cruelty – wounding (or, following Deleuze himself, buggering) ever more violently. A really helpful way of bringing out the sexual politics of much of this philosophy!

    Second, the alternative you sketch of an untimely philosophy of ‘spiritual authority’ (synonymous with a kind of responsibility to the vulnerable) really crystallises, I think, the stakes of your book. And it also further complicates your relation to Deleuze: neither the early “more aggressive” style nor the later “drying out” into vitalism are close to what you are after with such an alternative. And it just makes me think of Ranciere’s critique of Deleuzian mediators as “doomed attempts to escape the strictures of self and society” (Hermetic Deleuze 181): for to the extent that Deleuze is the character through which you articulate this untimely “spiritual science” (your Zarathustra), is he not another ‘doomed’ experiment? And just like Bartleby etc in Deleuze’s philosophy, Deleuze-the-character is invoked under the sign of failure and suicide. In other words, here spiritual practice cannot quite be identified with a form of survival but remains stuck on the other side of the psychotic/suicidal crack-up – the esoteric breath is only attainable after one’s last breath.

    Anyway, this is to make a mountain out of a molehill – and is a very minor point. In its pernickitiness (sic), it is also not in keeping with the incredibly generous spirit of your response, Joshua, for which I am very grateful.

  2. Ramey, such powerful prose! What a mind! What a soul! I am floored! I am reminded, if you will allow this, of an equally chilling paragraph from Derrida’s _Specters of Marx_. I’m sure you know it as well as I, if not better:

    >>”So it would be necessary to learn spirits. Even and especially if this, the spectral, is not. Even and especially if this, which is neither substance, nor essence, nor existence is never present as such. The time of the “learning to live,” a time without tutelary present, would amount to this, to which the exordium is leading us: to learn to live with ghosts, in the upkeep, the conversation, the company, or the companionship, in the commerce without commerce of ghosts. To live otherwise, yet better. No, not better, but more justly. But with them. No being-with the other, no socius without this with that makes being-with in general more enigmatic than ever for us. And this being-with specters would also be, not only but also, a politics of memory, of inheritance, and of generations.”

    Philosophy from pre-Kant onward has spoken so much about questions of “givenness”. Are objects always-already given to our cognition? No, no of course not. What gives, then? There is nothing which gives these objects to us. We must take them and use them; and this is, I believe, structurally the simplest kind of violence. Can we think the other side? Can we begin to say, to think, to feel, and to sympathize with the word “takenness” instead? It sounds much like a Wittgensteinian aphorism (or, I’m sure you can find many like it): One vulnerable when something is taken away, when it feels like something becomes missing. Can we consider: What is it like to have a loved one taken away from you to the cognition of God, or to that of the other-worldly, if you will?

    I have been, in my blog, most interested in questions of non-violence, trauma, and crisis intervention as I believe they belong to the set of the most ill-conceived concepts from Benjamin to Arendt to Lacan to Zizek (my god) to whomever else. Levinas gets closer, Derrida gets closer, Laruelle gets even closer…. But can we please stop judging these categories? Can we stop focusing on classifying and categorizing such violences and vulnerabilities and instead can we strive to treat them, to attend to them, to possibly – I realize I sound Utopian here – prevent them?

    Where you say exhaustion, I have been known to say paralysis (in an extension Laruelle’s “dualysis” to suit a quantum indeterminacy). Can we give our attention to the paralyzed? To the sick? To the vulnerable? to the Victim as such? … instead of to our pitiful conceptions and compartmentalizations and mis-conceptions of their lived-experience? Can we recognize each case of trauma as unique in each and every individual? Can we recognize collective sufferings (and here I disagree with Goodchild) when we see them? Can we even see them? Can we learn, instead, to see with our ears, to hear the cry of rape victims instead of look for them aimlessly as they suffer in the dark?

    Your remarks on rhythm, I find, are absolutely critical. Psychoanalysis has had, and this is something I think Sloterdijk and Kristeva speak to very well, a painful history of promoting the primacy of the visible, of representation, etc. But, in this concern with “identification”, with “definition” and so forth, does not the violence with which we are concerned slip through the cracks? Can we think of psychoacoustics – the way sound of a nightclub may incite an environment conducive to violence? Can we think of trauma as in part a matter of a certain invasion of space (employing Lefebrve’s rhythmanalysis)? The French word that comes to mind would be a certain striking “coup”, but it has become so watered-down with phrases like “getting a sunburn” that it loses the power I think it rightly deserves. Can we realize that, no matter what we do, especially in academia, that the “crisis commands”? Can we recognize mini-crises before they erupt?

    This requires a positive project of active non-violence, of collateral healing, of crisis intervention, of aid, of assistance, of care, of love. Can we live up to the challenging aesthetics of Gandhi-as-philosopher, thinking-and-acting out the love-force, the soul-force, ahimsa, insisting upon the truth of non-violence. *Where* is our 21st century Satyagraha? Can we develop sensitivities to strengthen us? Can we develop skills to carry us? Can we address tensions, stresses, and alienations both conceptually and otherwise?

    I apologize for the length here, for maybe wasting your time, and perhaps I am screaming alone from my position of privilege in this endeavor; but don’t think, look! There is in all likelihood somebody screaming, actually screaming, not too far from your comfortable office. Forgive me for lingering on Wittgenstein, and forgive me my rant and outburst, but it is his jarring simplicity in contrast to the likes of this cruel theater of philosophy which draws me in here:

    >>”But can’t I imagine that the people around me are automata, lack consciousness, even though they behave in the same way as usual?—If I imagine it now—alone in my room—I see people with fixed looks (as in a trance) going about their business—the idea is perhaps a little uncanny. But just try to keep hold of this idea in the midst of your ordinary intercourse with others, in the street, say! Say to yourself, for example: “The children over there are mere automata; all their liveliness is mere automatism”. And you will either find these words becoming quite meaningless; or you will produce in yourself some kind of uncanny feeling, or something of the sort. Seeing a living human being as an automaton is analogous to seeing one figure as a limiting case or variant of another; the cross-pieces of a window as a swastika, for example”

    Did Europe, then, realize they were literally raising, breeding, and brewing catastrophe? Do we realize that we are, too, right now, in this very instance? Are we prepared to accept our significant role in and responsibility for the deaths, millions of deaths, of innocent people that we have never even seen before? This is not to cause guilt, it is to give birth to a new construct awareness, a meta-pragmatic as you rightly say which informs the conditions of possibilities of the future.

    I would hate to carry on for so long, and I would hate to end my tirade so soon, but I must do both. Simply, thank you, Joshua, for everything you have done so far. I wish you the best going forward and I will be following very closely all of your developments. The work you have produced is, above all else, *good*. All of the nit-picky disagreements I may or may not hold in the end do not hold any weight whatsoever against the unbearable lightness of your spirit! Perhaps I am entirely misguided, and perhaps I have recently become a nuisance by often parroting non-violence over and over again on this blog, but nonetheless it remains a pleasure to read your words. Yours truly, David.

  3. Vulnerability. Attention. Breathing. I am reminded of the philosopher/psychologist, Buddha, sitting under a tree, determined to resolve for himself the matter of suffering. Deliverance is said to have come to him when after determined sitting, zazen, he saw the Morning Star. Later, in response to his students questioning, he held up a flower. One student is said to have gotten it. A kind of insight that reminds me of the knowledge by connaturality, a perspective I learned about long ago probably from neo-Thomism and Jacques Maritain who I believe was much influenced by Bergson. But I am not a professional philosopher. Just compelled to read all the philosophy I can attempt to understand. As Richard Rorty once said, “A few of us have cathected philosophy in our youth.” Certainly, there is a lot of cathexis going on in this blog.

    Josh is at Haverford College, a Quaker college, very attuned to silent sitting.. An perhaps not so silent sitting from reports I have heard of some more garrulous meetings. But Maseo Abe, a philosopher of the Kyoto School, taught there in the past. Perhaps he was instrumental in having a zen garden right outside the student dining hall. And the local Buddhist group used a space on campus to sit silently and to pay attention. Perhaps some in that group see themselves as so called Engaged Buddhists, applying their attention practice mindfully to the deliverance from suffering, as best they can, wherever suffering is to be found within themselves and within others. In a word, vulnerable.

    A zen teacher said reading and talking is no substitute for zazen. So I have violated his direction by these comments. But having spent a considerable amount of time over a life time sitting silently, attentive to the inhalations and exhalations of my breath and life so profoundly important I have found in my life, the practice of acknowledging thoughts and feelings has become pretty habitual at this point. Vulnerability to awareness of thoughts and the decision either to let the thoughts or feelings go or to hold on to them and to look at them closely. In an unsatisfactory cliche of zen: being one with the the thought or feeling. You are the experts on the thoughts. And I hear a lot of feeling here too. Sometimes of jealousy, or loneliness, or joy. or whatever can be felt in life. Acknowledgement/ attention and the decision to hold on or to let go. Sitting by a muddy pond, eventually the water will clear. And then muddy again. And clear. And muddle.

    In my professional life, I wrote a lot. Not so eruditely as all of the philosophers here. But enough to value the two hours at least a week and longer at times with a small group where analysis got a break and boredom and joy and anxiety and every changing random thought and feeling that life has had its due. Acknowledged, delivering and delivered.

    Mindful engagement the rest of the day(s) then turned to the pragmatics of deliverance, one’s own and that of other people. Best thing in zen. At its best, It is never repression. So many thoughts and feelings rise up and clamor for attention and after getting their due are released and release.

    i will count your patience listening to me, an interloper in your fascinating conversation that i continue to plug away in understanding. . I’d be curious to know if any other contributors here have ever practiced zazen. Your professional lives are so focused on words that I wonder if the option of wordlessness is ever at least a respite if not a deliverance personally for you. A zendo would seem quite a challenge for a group of philosophers. Much like Josh’s quote of Huxley’s tom-toms for his group of philosophers.

  4. Just to follow up on Dan W’s remarks about psychosis. Deleuze had read Binswanger and Eugene Minkowski, and he suggested in a couple of places that he was using their phenomenological approaches to understand psychosis. Why, as a philosopher, did he want to understand psychosis? No doubt because of obscure biographical issues, probably partly because he was led there by his studies of Freud, Jung and Lacan, and also for similar reasons to Foucault, and the anti-psychiatrists of the seventies like Laing and Cooper, in their stress on the relations between psychosis/madness and historical and social structures. Also, Lacan’s analysis of the Schreber case in the 1960s meant that French thinkers started to read Schreber’s Memoirs in detail and reflect on the multitude of questions raised by it. But – and here I’m speculating, but feel obliged to, given the focus for our discussion – there are also acute questions to be answered about the status of texts like Malfatti’s (or those of Wronski), and about what the meaning and function of those texts is for Deleuze. There’s no dispute that Artaud wrote some genuinely mad texts, but a text like The Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge also appears to be, on the face of it, in its own way (how could madness be otherwise?) quite mad. In the first chapter, Malfatti describes how in 1841 at the end of his presidency of the Viennese Society of Doctors, he presented the first germs of his new research “in a public assembly composed of eminent persons”. Noting that his speech was interrupted (he doesn’t say by what or whom), he states that he had started from the same principle as is laid out in the first chapter of Anarchy and Hierarchy: “that the ellipse is the fundamental hieroglyph of hierarchical mathesis; that it is not only the human hieroglyph, but the universal hieroglyph: that it is in us, because we are in it – because it is the hieroglyph of creation”. I wonder if there is lurking somewhere a record of that meeting? Because what the Viennese Society of Doctors made of that … To get quickly to the issue, what distinguishes Malfatti from Schreber? Was the early Deleuze effectively doing the equivalent of looking for the philosophy of Schreber in Memoirs of My Nervous Illness? Does his involvement with esotericism give a vantage point on madness, or is it a part of his madness? There are some differences between Malfatti and Schreber. Malfatti seems to have been successful in his career, and was not incarcerated at any point, for one thing. In the book, he presents himself as having recovered an ancient system of knowledge and as applying it to anatomy, physiology and to developmental processes that he finds in various parts of the body. He goes on to say that with this knowledge, humans can become reintegrated into their true place in a cosmic hierarchy, which he models on a speculative interpretation of Hindu metaphysics. Whatever its manifest peculiarities, he does present the book as a contribution to knowledge. Schreber is certainly not doing that in the Memoirs (he contributes to knowledge by describing his experiences, but he doesn’t confidently present theories or Wissenschaft about the cosmos). But does that save Malfatti’s text from madness? No. His theory could be mad. It could be totally devoid of rationality. It could be a screaming void of idiosyncratic clap-trap. It could be the rubicund verbiage of a toxified mind. It could be lizards on stilts. So what stops it being mad, or senseless? This is the essential question. One thing is the way, underneath all the arcane terminology, neologisms and peculiarities, some of it does correspond with other 18th and 19th century texts that attempt to reconcile the notion of spirit with physiology and medicine (I mentioned Swedenborg the other day; there are also resonances with Schelling and Ritter, for instance). So, if it is mad, there were other people who were mad in a similar way, which undermines the charge of madness. Then texts like these become a question for historians at the very least. Another thing is that the focus on rhythms and periodic processes in the body is all reasonably concrete, and rooted in physiological processes about which everyone has some minimal knowledge, even if these processes are presented in an unusual way. So that also offers an anchoring point. But even accepting that texts like Malfatti’s are intelligible, why should they be of any relevance today? Maybe Deleuze’s interest was just a quirk. Well, the mind-body relation remains enigmatic; psychosomatic illnesses exist; there is no real agreement about the causation of most mental illnesses; and Western and Eastern medicine are based on completely different models of the body, and there are still open questions about how to relate those models (according to Western medicine, for instance, chakras and meridians do not exist, but according to the other side of the planet, they do; apologies for the cartoonish schematism, but you get the point, there is an ‘indeterminacy of translation’ problem with such terms that is worth dwelling on). I can think of other reasons, but I’ll stop with those.

    That may seem like a digression, so I suppose the first point is simply that Deleuze, by writing about psychosis, was trying to understand it, and looking for new ways to understand it, ways that would also make sense to people who have experienced psychotic phenomena (or phenomena that have ended up being classified in that way). And the second point is that he was also engaged in the Nietzschean project of finding a path to a ‘great health’, a health that would be a true reflection of human potentiality. The explorations of Malfatti can be seen as part of that. Yoga looks mad out of context, but nobody claims that it is mad in itself. Maybe some of the madness in Malfatti is also only apparent. Another point: the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia are markedly different: where Anti-Oedipus is turbulent and sees no way out of the insanity of life under advanced capitalism, A Thousand Plateaus is an attempt to regain some equilibrium, without losing the insights that have been opened up in the turbulence. The idea that there are plateaus at all is absent from the first volume.

    Phenomenological approaches like Binswanger’s and Minkowski’s emphasise the malleability of space and time in psychoses, and in the Afterword to the book on Bergson, Deleuze suggests that their theories are compatible with Bergson’s theory of mind, but it’s not developed. It would be extremely interesting to work on that.

  5. Pragmatics (and a fortiori meta-pragmatics) is always a matter, as Peirce said, of the actual and hypothetical effects on action of a given concept. With esoteric as much as any spiritual practices, we can distinguish psychotic from magical only by examining the effects. Is Dorner a magician, for instance? Probably not — his actions are leading to needless deaths. On the other hand, is Gandhian ahimsa psychotic? It seems unlikely. How could it possibly have succeeded as it did in India and then again in its translation into the American Black civil rights struggle, if it were not structurally (iconically) ordered in relation to some kind of distinctive power?

  6. OK, this all makes a lot of (brilliant) sense. So part of the question is going to have to be: is Deleuze (as ‘spiritual persona’) a magician?

  7. Rocco – But the benefit of phenomenological/existential approaches to psychosis is that they offer a way to understand and help the patient before they commit acts. If pragmatics means that you can only determine the nature of a psychosis by evaluating its actual consequences, that then that leaves everyone powerless to deal with it while it’s building up. Guattari’s schizoanalysis involved group work where problems could be dramatised in various ways to redirect and work through fantasies and alleviate tension in real time. All very utopian, but possibly very effective and beneficial for all concerned. Yes, some form of pragmatism would definitely be necessary in such contexts, but Guattari’s own approach was underpinned by his interest in Moreno’s psychodrama, and combined with Deleuze’s interest in phenomenological approaches to psychosis, their joint approach to the issue of psychosis in Capitalism and Schizophrenia seems not really grounded on pragmatics, but rather built on substantive theories of mind and mental states to be found in Minkowski, Binswanger, Bergson and Sartre (as well as Lacan and Klein). But maybe my notion of ‘pragmatics’ is at fault, and needs revising – I need to go back to Peirce, and try to grapple more with Guattari’s use of Peirce.

    Dan – He is a philosopher who is also interested in esoteric traditions. One can obviously be a philosopher without being interested in these traditions, but he combines these interests. He was not alone in doing that in the 60s-70s, but now there is a return to the conservative separation between what is ‘proper philosophy’ and what is ‘not philosophy’. There are philosophers interested in the mind-body problem who also practice meditation, but the two approaches are rarely integrated; and so approaches to mind remain split. Something similar is true with metaphysics: look at Peter van Inwagen’s distinction between the ‘Common Western Metaphysic’ and Indian Metaphysics in his textbook on Metaphysics (which is a great book, highly recommended and invaluable in many respects, but which rests its argument on this strange, unexamined cultural distinction). There are also terminological issues here. Deleuze doesn’t say he’s a ‘magician’, but there is that passage where he and Guattari say ‘We sorcerers’. Nevertheless, this is coming in a book which is supposed to be ‘philosophy, nothing but philosophy’. D&G left a load of loose ends, and we scholars are here to pick up the pieces. This is what we’re doing now in this conversation to some extent. Some of these issues get quite complex, so I think one should be able to fall back on a minimal position that it is not illegitimate for a philosopher, certainly not for a philosopher interested in intellectual history, to be interested in the history of esoteric traditions, since there are areas of overlap between the history of philosophy and the history of these traditions. I’m not sure what you mean by ‘spiritual persona’; are you are extending the notion of conceptual persona, in the book What is Philosophy? But that latter notion has quite a limited scope in that book – isn’t he just getting at how the classic philosophical methods seem to reflect distinctive mental attitudes?

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