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.

Custodians of a Machine for the Making of Gods: Thinking Ecological Restoration with Bergson and Deleuze/Guattari.

I’ve decided to post an edited version of my MA thesis here in the hopes that some may find it interesting. It’s my attempt to provide, or at least move towards providing, a metaphysics suitable to ecological restoration. I take metaphysics to mean a thinking that includes both ontology and ethics, which is admittedly my own idiosyncratic understanding. What I’ve done in the essay is threefold. First, I consider ecological restoration from its actual practice, largely suspending its own theoretical understanding of itself as the two are rarely commensurate except in rare cases, like that of William Jordan III. Second, I consider the philosophies of Bergson and Deleuze/Guattari in relation to the problematics in ecological restoration and against certain already existing prevalent forms of thinking ecological restortation. Third, I construct an ‘ecosystem of thought’ where all three elements are put into a system of exchange with one another in a final attempt to create a thinking of ecological restoration adequate to its practice.

I would appreciate thoughtful comments on the piece. I’ve attempted to get it published in the Journal of Environmental Philosophy as it is, to my knowledge, the only journal that would be friendly to such a piece. However, after mixed readers’ reports the editor decided not to publish it. I’ve considered pairing it down even more and cutting out the long exegetical aspect to just present the case as such without Bergson and Deleuze/Guattari, but at the moment the thought of doing so is a bit overwhelming. I will likely still do that and either submit that version to JEP or some other suitable journal, but think it may have some value in its current form. I consider that this potential value consists, in large part, of introducing Bergson and Deleuze/Guattari to ecologists. If any commenters can suggest another journal that may be interested please let me know.


Having watched both extant seasons of Dexter with my characteristic obsessiveness, one point jumps out at me, confirmed by Anthony and Brad: this show is the ideal object of Zizekian analysis. One might conjecture, then, that it is Zizek, not Deleuze, who in fact has the metaphysics of a serial killer.

Believing in this World: Towards a Philosophy of Religion after Deleuze II

This the second half of a paper I’ll be giving in Dundee later this week. It is largely cannibalized from other papers I’ve written, so if anyone has anything to say about how the thing coheres I would appreciate it. Of course comments are welcome.

From what has been said above it would seem that any semblance of a philosophy of religion in Deleuze’s thought will be not unlike the criticisms of religion found in the history of philosophy, specifically materialist philosophy. That is to say, he shares in the hostility towards religion expressed by Spinoza, Hume, and Nietzsche. Some go so far as to say that Deleuze’s philosophy, insofar as it speaks to the question of religion at all, is united in its antipathy towards religion with Anglo-American naturalism. This, some commentators try to convince us, is the consequence of his thesis of pure immanence. But this all assumes too much in that it ignores the place both Spinoza and Nietzsche hold for the possibility of a true religious practice (obviously in very different registers). It also ignores that Deleuze himself wrote on other figures, like Leibniz and Bergson, who wrote more obviously constructive and positive philosophies of religion. It passes over in silence Deleuze’s own intimations towards the end of his life on the question of belief and faith.

But if Deleuze’s thesis of immanence holds within it a positive as well as a negative philosophy of religion how then do we deal with his own stark opposition of religion to immanence in What is Philosophy? First, note the irony of Deleuze and Guattari’s presentation of the plane of immanence, as it can only be described as aggressively evangelical – they have preached the good news of the plane of immanence. Like all evangelists this preaching proceeds via the hostility of polemic when they equate religion with transcendence and as the other of philosophy: “Whenever there is transcendence, vertical Being, imperial State in the sky or on earth, there is religion; and there is Philosophy whenever there is immanence, even if it functions as arena for the agon and rivalry.” Yet such an ethic of exclusion contradicts immanence itself, as Deleuze and Guattari contradict themselves not 30 pages later when they write about Pascal and Kierkegaard saying that if the plane of immanence has learnt anything from “Christian philosophy” it is that there are infinite immanent possibilities. Deleuze and Guattari say these infinite immanent possibilities come about by ‘belief in God’ separated from the obsessive concern with the transcendent existence of God. More fundamentally they make the point that when this ‘atheism’ of faith connects up with the earth, rather than projecting itself onto it, then the plane of immanence itself is recharged. While attempting to distance themselves from religion they find themselves embracing faith, for there is no obvious and sufficient reason why one should go on living. They give voice to this suffering when they write, “It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of immanence today.”

Giving attention to the thematic of belief and the difficult task of discovering a new mode of existence helps to overcome the most damaging mistake in rejecting religion from Deleuze’s philosophy – the equation of immanence with Anglo-American naturalism. Such a thesis holds that what is merely is and that it is given once and for all. In some ways this accords with the classic definition of immanence, where it is opposed to the transcendent as that which mundanely is, refusing all notions of divinity or supernature. But Deleuze’s philosophy is powerful in so far as it transforms the very way we understand immanence. Peter Hallward’s book served as a challenge to these readings of Deleuze’s philosophy, boldly suggesting that Deleuze’s philosophy is not materialist in the way that Darwin’s or Marx’s thought is materialist but rather an extra-worldly philosophy of theophantic mysticism. The short-comings of this book have already been discussed, but what I find helpful in discussing how Deleuze affects philosophy of religion is in making an issue of the relationship between the actual and the virtual. Naturalism exists purely within the realm of the actual. For Hallward Deleuze’s philosophy of creation is essentially a mysticism of the virtual. The virtual in Deleuze’s philosophy is the main problem those who want to align him with naturalism run into, for the virtual names the unpresentability of the whole, a kind of supernatural that is nonetheless not separated from the natural, an immanent outside. The virtual, which is the unpresentability of the whole, becomes in varying forms the focus of Hallward’s critique. For, in the ontology Hallward reads into Deleuze, actual refers to creatures and virtual refers to creatings: “Creare is one, we might say, but it involves both active creans and the passive creaturum.” This imports a moral or ethical failing into Deleuze’s work, such that he is calling us to abstract ourselves out from the actual world and, as the title tells us, get out of the world into the pure virtual of creative thought as redemptive act. While Hallward’s whole project aims to show that Deleuze is not a relational thinker of complexity, this reading appears forced when one reads Deleuze’s own words, which bear striking ‘ecological’ elements. In “The Actual and the Virtual” Deleuze expresses what we could call the ecological relationship between the actual and the virtual in the statement, “The plane of immanence includes both the virtual and its actualization simultaneously, without there being any assignable limit between the two.”

In Hallward’s reading Deleuze downplays creatures in the name of more and more creatings. In this way Hallward borders on accusing Deleuze of kind of Gnostic religious violence against creatures in the name of the creative God. Deleuze’s own words present a different picture when he states, “there is coalescence and division, or rather oscillation, a perpetual exchange between the actual object and its virtual image: the virtual image never stops becoming actual.” That is because the plane of immanence, where this oscillation and perpetual exchange between the virtual and the actual take place, must take account of the whole of experience – even experience beyond the human. This is why Deleuze is not a materialist in the same way that Darwin or Marx were – why would he want to when matter itself is infinitely affective and intensive? It is true that Deleuze is not so concerned with “this” world and that there are spiritual and eschatological elements to his thought that have gone largely unexplored in the secondary literature, but the negative value that Hallward extends to Deleuze’s thought does not necessarily follow from these facts. Against Hallward others have read Deleuze as a materialist in an age of ethereal capitalism; when politics is not located at the state level but at the ontological level in capital itself which we could call ‘spiritual’. Deleuze’s ontology is a political response to this ethereal capital and one could read the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia as a critique of the forms of resistance to the State that are blind to this more deeply lodged ontological condition. That is, Deleuze can be read as telling us that the truly revolutionary action is to engage at the level of the capitalist ontological axiomatic. Deleuze’s work is an attempt to change the way we live life through thought. It is an attempt to bring his particular powers to bear on a part of the world he can affect well, and we would be shortsighted philosophically and politically to think that thought is not a materially viable part of the world.

This is where Deleuze’s philosophy posits a kind of repetition, with a difference, of Spinoza’s own theologico-political critique of religion. This is a very different way forward than contemporary philosophy of religion. On the one hand it allows for an analysis of the actuality of religion, which includes both the violence of religion and the grace of belief, and it also allows for a tracing of religious virtualities present in Capitalism and its political and social resistance. One such virtuality that Deleuze begins to consider is a positing of the future, that is to say an outside, that remains immanent. This virtuality is expressed in religious mystics and seers (who, there should be no doubt, are probably a little schizophrenic), as Bergson argued in his Two Sources of Morality and Religion. What is interesting about Deleuze’s consideration of this immanent outside is that he does not look at the mystical, which is where Bergson locates the more noble dynamic religion; rather Deleuze considers fabulation which, for Bergson, defined the more base form of static religion.
John Mullarkey brings our attention to the fundamental connection between trauma and fabulation: ‘Leafing through the pages of The Two Sources on fabulation, one cannot miss its connection with trauma, especially the trauma of excess novelty, that is, novelty or difference beyond our foresight.’ This seems to be what lies underneath Deleuze’s turn to fabulation, though it goes unstated. But it is hard not to see the connection between Deleuze’s use of fabulation and the already existent trauma of losing the world, largely to the forces of novelty:

‘[…] it is possible that the problem now concerns the one who believes in the world, and not even in the existence of the world but in its possibilities of movements and intensities, so as once again to give birth to new modes of existence, closer to animals and rocks. It may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of immanence today. This is the empiricist conversion (we have so many reasons not to believe in the human world; we have lost the word, worse than a fiancée or a god). The problem has indeed changed.’

The powers of the false are located in the affectivity of false images and false continuity. If truth has brought humanity to a point where they can no longer live, which at its most noble is the attempt to live beyond the human condition under judgment, then truth must be resisted by the false. But this false cannot be just any false; this is not to say that everything is equivalent to everything else. A false image or a false time can either be noble or base, good or bad. A falsity can foster destruction, entropy, and death (the lies of so many governments, with their new priestly caste of economists) and such a falsity is base, slavish to transcendent gods. But a falsity can also be noble, it can create: ‘According to physicists, noble energy is the kind which is capable of transforming itself’. So, though Deleuze aims to be done with judgment, the powers of the false call for immanent evaluation.

Immanent evaluation is the task put before the philosophy of religion after Deleuze. Religious thought and practice evaluated as a mode of life, rather than an objective manifestation or a set of beliefs that are either falsifiable or defensible within the bounds of religion. This immanent evaluation can investigate the interplay of religion’s actuality and virtuality as a mode of life on the plane of immanence, but it is must also do so as a mode of living such that the evaluation must first think religion in its fullness by unfolding religion itself, deterritorializing it, and then completing a truly immanent evaluation by folding religion into philosophy and politics, deterritorializing philosophy, and injecting a little affirmation and joyful, if not mad, passions into its academic, sad passions. In their text Deleuze and Guattari’s thought confuses religion as a whole with the theological determination that projects itself as religion, of a creative faith with transcendence, and in so doing give immanence over to unethical illusion in the name of truth, for what they fail to see, though it is implicit in their own writing, is that the faith of religion constitutes a relationship with the plane of immanence itself – an intensive intertwining of belief and reason that may be called a fabulation.

Believing in this World: Towards a Philosophy of Religion after Deleuze I

I’ll be posting a draft of a paper that will be presented at the University of Dundee’s “Philosophy after Deleuze” conference. Suggestions or disagreements are invited to be left in the comments below:

The growing interest in Deleuze has undoubtedly revitalized many aspects of philosophy that were neglected by mainstream Continental philosophy. The most exciting of which may be the resurgent interest in metaphysics on the level of those systems in the early 20th Centurty that built upon and challenged the scientific understanding of reality (I’m thinking, of course, of Bergson, James, and Whitehead). But I have not chosen to speak about metaphysics after Deleuze, or any of the other fields of inquiry that have been changed by Deleuze’s philosophy (be that philosophy of time, political philosophy, philosophy of nature, philosophy of art, etc.). I have chosen to speak on the philosophy of religion after Deleuze. Such a choice is already suspect amongst many who are inspired by Deleuze to return to metaphysics. The return to metaphysics has marked a rejection of, amongst other projects, the “turn to religion” that has been predominant in Continental philosophy, specifically phenomenology.

Whatever Continental philosophy is, and this is certainly a matter of debate just as it is a matter of fact that Continental philosophy is not one thing, whatever it is it has rarely been able to be done in departments of philosophy. In the UK the institutions where such work can be done and done well are limited and represented here today (Warwick and Dundee, but also Essex and Middlesex). In the States there is a similar situation. So, for better or worse, Continental philosophy has been read in departments other than philosophy. Departments of theology and religious studies were places where Continental philosophy could be done and this has lead to an overly abundant amount of literature on religion and theology. This literature represents an attempt to think of religion non-reductively. This non-reductive philosophy of religion is not an apologetic or an attempt to destroy religion once and for all, but to think religion from within its presentation. It has also produced an industry where people publish books and articles on the “prayers and tears” of philosophers, the “unacknowledged theological underpinnings”, and the “myth of the secular” that haunts the moderns’ philosophy of religion that appears, to many scholars, far too idealistic.

Before we go into more detail on this we should first ask what differentiated Continental philosophy of religion from what is normally called philosophy of religion in the majority of English-language philosophy departments. Philip Goodchild, an early English-language scholar of Deleuze’s philosophy and a philosopher of religion, has written the most insightfully on this question. According to his schema Continental philosophy of religion can be differentiated from mainstream philosophy of religion (sometimes under the misnomer “analytic philosophy of religion”) by their respective stances towards the critical philosophy of the 19th century. Mainstream philosophy of religion normally concerns itself with defending or criticizing religious and theological propositions under the strictures of modern reason. It undertakes the task of showing whether or not a religious belief is reasonable and often enters into interminable debates about the problem of evil, proofs for the existence of God, and the rationality or irrationality of believing in miracles. Continental philosophy of religion is largely inseparable from Continental philosophy more generally as it begins in recognizing that modern reason has been constructed through a critique of religious thought and practice. The Kantian project then brought pure reason under the critical reflection “in order to make room for faith” before then finding a place for religion within the limits of this reconstructed critical reason itself. Skipping ahead to Kierkegaard’s philosophy we can see that his influential philosophy of truth as subjectivity bound critical reason to the life of the individual. To learn the truth one had to practice and live through reason embodied in a particular mood towards reality. This Kantian and Kierkegaardian spirit, though perhaps not the word, continued in Europe under the auspices of Husserlian phenomenology.

Most primary and secondary work in Continental philosophy of religion are within the phenomenological tradition, either through Marion’s explicitly Catholic and theological mode or in Derrida’s secular deconstruction of religion. One factor in this has surely to do with the fact already stated that departments of theology and religious studies were a safe havens for this tradition, but something within phenomenology itself was amenable to the study of religion, both in its secular guise as the question of religion and its theological guise as the question of God. Eric Alliez has written on this connection in his characteristically impressionistic, though none the less rigorous, style arguing that phenomenology is already a theological discourse in that when it seeks to get to the things themselves it does so through a doublet of the given and givenness. Or, more clearly, when phenomenology talks about things it does so as the thing is given but also posits a transcendental givenness that becomes an Absolute Gift from which the gift must come. In this way phenomenology’s heuristic thesis of immanence gives way to originary call of transcendence. This transcendence turns into an auto-transcendence when phenomenology attempts to save the name of God under its erasure. A God, or any manifestation of anything, cannot be located outside of this dialectic of saving it under its erasure and thus becomes infinitely transcendent. Criticisms of the turn to religion vary, but a common political criticism is that this dialectic undercuts the ground from which one can criticize religion as it relativizes troubling theologico-political stances to the manifestation or goodness of the name. We can subtract from this thesis a metaphysical criticism where this abstraction from religion in process, the interplay of active and reactive forces in religion itself, betrays religion in the name of its manifestation.

This is where Deleuze’s philosophy enters the contemporary scene like a breath of fresh air. He was, of course, an atheist, but unlike others in his generation he made no qualification for this. Derrida, however, did when he wrote in his “Cirumfession” that he “rightly pass[ed] for an atheist”. When asked why he did not simply say that he was an atheist Derrida replied, ‘Because I don’t know. Maybe I’m not an atheist.’ Such equivocation has tended to upset those who think it ignores or covers over the dangers of religion in the contemporary age. From fundamentalist Christianity to fundamentalist Islam, though we should also note that Buddhism, that religion so often claimed as an exception to religious violence, also has supported and underpinned violent, “theocratic” regimes, from these religions they see nothing but violence in the name of a fantasy, namely God, that keeps the un-Enlightened fighting amongst themselves while giving Divine sanction to the abuses of power by governments. Deleuze, however, does not equivocate on this question going so far as to state, ‘Religions are worth much less than the nobility and courage of the atheisms they inspire.’

Further Thoughts on Ontology

I have commented here before on what one might call my “methodological” objection to the Radical Orthodox ontology — namely, the fact that the Radox authors baldly assert their Neoplatonic ontology of hierarchical participation because of its supposedly benificent moral effects. I suggested that perhaps ontology, which at least etymologically is supposed to have some relation to how things “are,” should take science seriously. At the same time, I don’t think that ontology has to be the slave of science, which in practice would mean embracing the ontology of mechanical determinism.

I maintain that the trick the Radox authors attempt to pull would never have been able to succeed if the dominant strains of postwar philosophy had not fallen asleep at the ontological wheel. Analytic philosophy’s prohibition of ontological or metaphysical reflection system-building is well-known, and the dominance of Heidegger and his successors in continental philosophy (in its various institutional incarnations) led to a similar suspicion of metaphysical claims — most often quasi-moral objections to metaphysics as a “totalizing discourse” that is somehow directly oppressive (“Hegel caused the Holocaust,” etc.). Jean-Luc Nancy has undertaken to do a kind of post-Heideggerian ontology over the past couple decades, though I’m not sure he’s really “taking off” among Americans; there may also be someone in the analytic camp pursuing something along these lines, though I’ve not heard of it.

The shame here, though, is that during the prewar period, there was a real flowering of ontologies of the exact kind that I advocate — perhaps the biggest names there are Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead, and William James. In each case, there is a recognition that the mechanical determinism (largely unconsciously) assumed by scientists is not adequately accounting to experience, and so the attempt is made to develop a more inclusive and realistic ontology.

Then in the postwar period, the whole thing apparently just shuts down in America, in both the analytic and continental traditions — the latter of which also spread to many other disciplines in the humanities where ontological reflection may have found a place. Certain contemporary developments — the rediscovery of Deleuze as a “real philospher,” the surprising prominence of Badiou in certain American circles, the aforementioned work of Nancy, Zizek’s more recent work — point toward the potential for a renewed interest in a truly contemporary ontology. The shame, however, is that in so many ways we in America at least have to reinvent the wheel because the prewar developments wound up getting prematurely cut off in our context.

Denzinger Reborn

One of the most-cited texts in Catholic theology is Denzinger‘s Enchiridion Symbolorum, a compilation of doctrinal statements from church councils and other authoritative documents that provided a standard reference point. It stands alongside Migne‘s Patrologia as a monument to the intense passion for compilation that apparently consumed the Catholic theological community during the 19th century — the results of which Gramsci appears to have had in mind when he recommended that Marxism should follow the Catholic Church’s lead in developing standard “doctrinal” resources:

one would have to study all the material of the same type published by the Catholics, in various countries, in relation to the Bible, the Gospels, the Early Fathers, the Liturgy and Apologetics, great specialized encyclopedias of uneven value which are continually being published and which maintain the ideological unity of hundreds of thousands of priests and other cadres who provide the framework and the strength of the Catholic Church. (Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith [New York: International Publishers, 1971], 414-15.)

Why stop with Marxism, though? Why shouldn’t Lacan have his own Denzinger? Why not an Enchiridion Deleuziensum? What exactly are we waiting for?

It Bears Repeating…

Deleuze and Guattari are aggressively evangelical as they preach the good news of the plane of immanence. One cannot deny the evangelical tenor of their statements on Spinoza, “the Christ of the philosophers” when they say “Spinoza was the philosopher who knew full well that immanence was only immanent to itself and therefore that it was a plane traversed by movements of the infinite, filled with intensive ordinates. He is therefore the prince of philosophers. Perhaps he is the only philosopher never to have compromised with transcendence and to have hunted it down everywhere. In the last book of the Ethics he produced the movement of the infinite and gave infinite speeds to thought in the third kind of knowledge. There he attains incredible speeds, with such lightning compressions that one can only speak of music, of tornadoes, of wind and strings. He discovered that freedom exists only within immanence. He fulfilled philosophy because he satisfied its prephilosophical presupposition.” Amen. (What is Philosophy?, 48.) One has to wonder if this hasn’t turned itself inside out and become religion without vertical Being or imperial State; but only a fool woold wonder if they are pious.

My Review of Hallward’s Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation

is available online for those with access to athens. Also included is Bradley A. Johnson’s review of Religion and Violence in a Secular World: Toward a New Political Theology (edited by Clayton Crockett. For those without access, email me and I might be able to help you get a copy of the pdf. I’m kind of nervous about the review, but proud at the same time. It’s a good thing no one ever reads these things!