On What is Philosophy?

Insofar as Deleuze and Guattari are concerned, the concepts of ‘becoming’ and ‘doubling’ which comprise the immanence of thought-event[1] in which philosophy carves out its consistency as a discipline, are meant in the final analysis to “[constitute] the people and the new earth.”[2] This shows the extent to which philosophy is always something other than philosophical.

We can only cite a recent movement of thought, just to reckon with this consistency: where, on the one hand, its nonphilosophical complement (the outside of philosophy, in general) attempts to become the official thinker of what used to be philosophical (at a point in time when the interior premises of academic philosophy are hijacked by the vanguard arts and counter-polemical sciences, courtesy of the many academic turns – the linguistic turn, the positivistic turn, the postmodern turn, the turns of the proverbial ‘post-‘ marking out the vaunted singularity of each junction, curve, etc.), philosophy realizes itself anew, on the other hand, as the wise thinking (because it is not-knowing) of what since then invariably thinks itself as the new image of thought, however, falsely ascribed as dominant. Modelled on Nietzsche’s provocation this realization is not without a certain schema in mind – to “[snatch] thought from the element of truth and falsity”[3] solidified in the cold sanctuary of academic rigor and scholarship.[4] That this is no longer standard philosophy is obvious from this mutation.

It is in this sense that in their last collaboration, Deleuze and Guattari posed the question What Is Philosophy? The question can only be posed as that of a nonphilosophical. In all three times in the history of the West “philosophy is reterritorialized” by the nonphilosophical, pertaining to the Greek intervention, the advent of the democratic state at present, and the people to come and the new earth.[5] But these temporal modulations of the nonphilosophical do not come always in support of a people and the earth in the future. Often the fault is on philosophy: “Heidegger lost his way along the paths of the reterritorialization….He got the wrong people, earth, and blood.”[6] It is rather philosophy’s fault in all three temporal phases of reterritorialization as it denies to itself the proper orientation of not-knowing. Not-knowing, which is philosophy’s autochthonous Socratic oath, is the immanent mode of philosophical life that is becoming stranger to itself, or rather, philosophy’s oath to become nonphilosophical. Here, we can take up the allusion to the figure of the Autochthon,[7] Socrates whose conceptual persona has been the subject of positive and negative evaluations, reterritorialized on the plane of immanence with modifications and varying degrees of antipathy and empathy, bad and good perceptions, etc.,[8] all of which, without saying, are modulations or mutations of what precedes and survives the philosophical – its anterior, the pre-philosophical plane, and ulterior conditions, the people and the earth to come, which, even with the greatest effort, cannot be represented by philosophy to itself. The philosopher’s destiny is thus “to become his conceptual persona or personae, at the same time that these personae themselves become something other than what they are historically, mythologically, or commonly.”[9]

Not mincing words when they claim that “the philosopher must become nonphilosopher,”[10] Deleuze and Guattari in their last collaboration that has seen the modulations and mutations of their younger alliances earlier on conjectured – apropos of the notorious ‘perhaps’ that introduces the opening lines of the book – that the “the question what is philosophy? can perhaps be posed only late in life, with the arrival of old age and the time for speaking concretely …. a question posed … when there is no longer anything to ask.”[11] Here, we may contend that the modulations of the nonphilosophical have at long last saturated the plane of consistency of the mutations of the philosophical type. One is finally confronted with the ultimate task – to reconstitute philosophy from without, a task that finally falls on the reader’s responsibility.[12] This is the same reader who, in a terse observation by a French iconoclast, Roland Barthes, is “without psychology, history and biography.”[13]

Speaking of reconstitution that the ‘nameless’ and the ‘subterranean’ provokes, the “an Already-there” that precedes thought but also lays “at the very heart of thought itself,”[14] encrusted in  philosophy’s multiple heteronyms, its conceptual personae that cannot be identified by historical filiation, selfhood or desire in terms of psychosocial types who can attest only to “a subjacent third person,” Deleuze and Guattari look into ‘pathetic features’ of conceptual personae,’[15] or thought-events that do not coincide with any individuality, nor complement the oedipal triangle of mommy-daddy-you/me[16] in a traceable psychoanalytical topology of identity mutations as precursors of stable social types; in short, “noncomposable varieties.”[17] It is in this sense that the reconstitution of philosophy’s conceptual personae by the reader, the nonphilosopher, holds the key to the mutation of philosophy to nonphilosophy so that, in the end, the latter becomes “the earth and people of philosophy.”[18] By and large, this mutation announces a people to come and the earth in the future – the people as noncomposable varieties, and the earth the event as “an immanent survey of a field without subject.”[19]

But what happens to philosophy when it mutates into the noncomposable and a field without subject? The short answer comes to light when it is the right time to ask, what is philosophy?

[1] Later in the book What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari describe thought-events as “conceptual personae “laid out by thought or under the concepts it creates.” See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 70.

[2] Ibid., 109.

[3] See Gilles Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (New York: Continuum), 1982.

[4] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 1. Deleuze and Guattari take swipe at academic scholarship in pronouncing “in fact, the bibliography on the nature of philosophy is very limited” (ibid.).

[5] Ibid., 110.

[6] Ibid., 109.

[7] Ibid., 110.

[8] Ibid., 63.

[9] Ibid., 6.

[10] Ibid., 109.

[11] Ibid., 1.

[12] Ibid., 19; 63.

[13] Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Image, Text, Sound: Essays, trans. Stephen Health (London: Fontana Press, 1977), 148.

[14] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 70.

[15] Ibid.

[16] See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, vol. 1, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane ( Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 23.

[17] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 77.

[18] Ibid., 109.

[19] Ibid., 48.

Posted December 31, 2016


On What Is Philosophy? (2)

That Deleuze (exception is Guattari) is liable of performative contradiction, defending the mutation of philosophy to nonphilosophy, to outside the professional milieu of academic scholarship, while he held on to his academic titles, is one thing to address, and another if his concept of philosophy is self-contradictory. The first of the charge was addressed by Deleuze himself in his “Letter to a Harsh Critic,”[1] the other was self-consciously engaged in his last collaboration with Guattari in What Is Philosophy?[2]

In the ‘Letter’ Deleuze exercised a form of self-emptying, an apparent solution to the paradox that his academic position entails as he enjoyed the perception among radical intellectuals, some of them were his contemporaries, of challenging its sacred boundaries.  His model was Nietzsche: “One becomes a set of liberated singularities, words, names, fingernails, things, animals, little events: quite the reverse of a celebrity.”[3] Until his meeting with Guattari, Deleuze was a self-styled Nietzschean engaged in “the harshest exercise in depersonalization,”[4] not as “effected by [studying] the history of philosophy,”[5] rather as a ‘direct awareness’ of intensities or intensive multiplicities that foreground and unground the study of philosophy itself, such as affects, experiences, experiments, etc.[6] His friendship with Guattari all the more intensified this depersonalization to get in touch with the outside of philosophy in the sense that, most especially, the two books they wrote and published, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus, went on to navigate uncharted territories, those that gave perverse tastes to academic life – “flows of shit, sperm, words, action, eroticism, money, politics, and so on.”[7]

In What Is Philosophy? the severest exercise of depersonalization is once again put to test, ironically at a point when there is no longer anything to ask.[8] Either it pertains to a work or a ‘survey of a field without subject,’[9] devoid of a proper name that asks, doubts, or ascertains, or whatever is asked, doubted, or ascertained no longer enjoys even a subjective reference to hold itself against. It is rather, in both cases, that depersonalization, like a concept, is “defined by its consistency.”[10] Concepts define philosophy’s consistent mutation into something other than itself, by depersonalizing its enterprise with the displacement of the philosopher who must become nonphilosopher.[11] There lays its true creative power: depersonalization is the process defined by Deleuze and Guattari as the “[separation of statements or propositions] from their psychological, as well as sociological adhesions” in order to “show how thought as such produces something interesting when it accedes to the infinite movement that frees it from truth as supposed paradigm and reconquers an immanent power of creation.”[12] By creating concepts, the philosopher depersonalizes himself into many (eventually readable[13]) personae whose namelessness and also hiddenness are to be reconstituted by the reader, the nonphilosopher.[14] The reconstitution of these heteronyms, the conceptual personae of the philosopher, as Deleuze and Guattari argue, “plays an important role in the evolution and transformations of philosophy.”[15]It is in this sense that nonphilosophy is always the pre-philosophical plane but also the future of philosophy. [16]

It is therefore intrinsic to philosophy to produce concepts that are “fuzzy or vague” that, to add a point, “must pass through zones of indiscernibility and change [their] outline,”[17] like characters in the novel that hide themselves “so that readers can form their own.”[18] Only philosophy produces concepts, but not discursive concepts, as logic would have them.  Discursive or logical, even scientific concepts are self-contradictory. Concepts are not intentional; they have no reference. Unlike propositional functions or states, concepts are without psychological or sociological adhesions; they are the immanent power of the false.[19] Concepts produce “a set of impossibilities” exit from which create truths. Truths, mathematical, scientific or logical, are therefore created by lines of flight which refer to the immanent power of creativity. But already in this sense this creative power, this immanent power of the false makes truth in itself undecidable.[20] Before long, a mathematical truth, for instance, would resort to self-referential axioms. Thus, truths return to the power of creativity that produces them – the self-referential concepts.

[1] See Gilles Deleuze, “Letter to a harsh critic,” in Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 3-12.

[2] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994).

[3] Deleuze, ‘Letter to a harsh critic,” 7.

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Ibid., 6.

[7] Ibid., 88.

[8] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 1.

[9] Ibid., 4.

[10] Ibid., 22.

[11] Ibid., 109.

[12] Ibid., 1440; bracket emphases mine.

[13] Ibid., 19.

[14] Ibid., 63.

[15] Ibid., 5.

[16] Ibid., 76.

[17] Ibid., 143.

[18] Ibid., 171.

[19] Deleuze, “Mediators,” in Negotiations, 133.

[20] “Falsity isn’t mistake or a confusion, but a power that makes truth undecidable” (“Doubts About the Imaginary,” in Negotiations, 65-66).

Posted December 31, 2016

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