Film-Philosophy

 ISSN 1466-4615

 


 

Nina Zimnik

 

What Will This Century Be Known As?

Deleuze and Resistance for Theory

 


 

 

 

'A Deleuzian Century?'

_South Atlantic Quarterly_, Volume 96, Number 3, Summer 1997.

Special Issue Editor Ian Buchanan.

ISBN for this issue: 0-8223-6451-4.

 

Abandon theory, if your words shall have any say at all in a societal environment increasingly oblivious to social justice and aesthetic quality. Take to the streets, if you want to wield any influence on thought outside the academic complex -- that's the latest news from Richard Rorty and others (often pronounced in the name of sixties activism). If that tortures your understandably gaping nerve endings, here's a remedy for resisting the anti-philosophy brigade: turn to the new issue of the _South Atlantic Quarterly_ on Gilles Deleuze. A new brand of theorists has been forming in the USA: Deleuzians. And, with this issue, they energetically claim Deleuze's importance for issues that have pressed us both politically and philosophically, e.g. identity politics, cultural studies, Marxism.

 

Deleuze has bestowed us with a number of books that are as diverse as they are dazzling. It has been said that whatever he wrote constitutes the best apropos his subject; the books on Kant, on Leibniz, on Bacon, on Sacher Masoch come to mind. Doubtlessly he was a already a cult figure before his death, complete with accounts of his long manicured fingernails and dark overcoat -- the descriptions of his 'style' celebrate an intellectual that has relentlessly been vampirizing French thinking (see the introduction by Ian Buchanan). Perhaps his friend Foucault understood that all too well when he declared that this century would one day be known as . . . well, you know by now: Deleuzian -- a remark Deleuze tried to explain away by saying that they were just poking fun at those who didn't like them.

 

Many, however, do like Deleuze: the editor of this special issue, Ian Buchanan, shows how Deleuze's 'transcendental empiricism' could found the ground for accounts of the contemporary subject that are cognizant of it being both transcendent and empirically determined, i.e. an account of the subject placed between the political demand for agency and postmodern insights into the conceptual vagaries of such a gesture. In 'Deleuze and Cultural Studies' Buchanan writes: 'A Deleuzian cultural studies would . . . begin with question of the subject, but it would not ask, what is a subject? Rather, as we have just seen, it would ask, how does one become a subject?' (495) Buchanan's is perhaps the most ambitious project linked to the application of Deleuze's philosophy (see also Buchanan's book on the subject). He suggests turning to Deleuze in order to overcome certain aporias that mark the (still surprisingly) virulent discourses of this field, i.e. contemporary debates on subjectivity. I see mainly one problem: Deleuze is difficult and complex; and lots of players in the pertinent discourses are neither philosophically trained or inclined. What does set Deleuze apart from other French thinkers, who embrace similar tenets *vis-a-vis* the question of the subject, is Deleuze's emphasis on the creation and creative forces of thought -- an area that is emphatically pointed out by Buchanan. As Buchanan notes: thinking is creation.

 

Since philosophers are supposedly ignorant of images, and film scholars are not usually trained in philosophy, Deleuze's almost 600 pages on cinema have largely gone unnoticed. This state of affairs is bound to change at least for the cinema crowd. Especially remarkable in the context of new scholarship on Deleuze is the path-breaking work of the film scholar D. N. Rodowick who has written the most encompassing study of Deleuze's _Cinema_ books to date -- _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_ -- and, again drawing on the _Cinema_ books, presents a brilliant essay on the 'Memory of Resistance' in this volume. This article is the most demanding read of the volume. Relating to Buchanan's point that thinking is creating and experimenting, Rodowick carves out the utopian, politically relevant aspects of the Deleuzian time-image, and links Deleuze's ideas to back Nietzsche, Blanchot, Foucault, etc. He argues: 'To present a direct image of time as the force of change: this is the highest point of thought where cinema and philosophy converge' (431); the goal of the so called 'direct time-image' is to awaken the power of becoming-other, of change, of creating new modes of existence in us. Film theory seemed almost to have abandoned political philosophy (rightly so perhaps, since had not the discourses gotten somewhat stuck?). To now charge up something we love, namely the cinematic image, and to imbue it with political meaning is, *per se*, an incredibly enticing intellectual project. Rodowick's expert interpretations of the time-image restores the power it innately has for Deleuze's otherwise hermetic, and therefore often non-resonant texts on the philosophy of the cinematic image. Although one should not expect to get a new way of reading the cinematic image out of Deleuze, one can expect entirely new philosophical directions for dealing with the cinema. Rodowick is a must-read if you are engaging with Deleuze's ideas on the logic and aesthetics of the cinematic image and its time.

 

Frederic Jameson also has an interesting essay in 'A Deleuzian Century?' in which he tries 'to grasp the originality of the Deleuze/Guattari account of capitalism' (397). Drawing on _A Thousand Plateaus_ and the Kafka book, Jameson shows Deleuze's sensitivity to the 'minor', and the political implications of his discourse. Besides clearly locating Deleuze in the field of the political, Jameson's contribution also presents a good introduction to some of the guiding concepts of Deleuze's work (for the uninitiated, who might have wondered what 'noology' is, for instance). But it is Jameson who, alongside with Eugene Holland, opens up a schism between Derrida and Deleuze in this volume. Holland is playing off the book that *was* completed, namely Derrida's _Specters of Marx_, against the book that wasn't (Deleuze died before he could finish his on Marx), in the name of overall accounts of their 'Philosophies of Difference'. The construction of this rather unfortunate schism between two of the major thinkers of this century haunts some articles of the issue. Derrida gets presented as a coherent thinker because of the prevalent ways in which he structures his arguments: he discusses his topics with the guiding concern of deconstruction in the background, namely an investigation of the metaphysics of the argument. This procedure is said to make his work more predictable than that of Deleuze, who, in turn, is said to engender the rhizomatic, nomadic discourses he praised -- because Deleuze's subjects vary. Now, Deleuze's take on his subjects is, on the one hand, grand (since he likes to consider the work of a thinker as a whole -- for which, by the way, he has been criticized under the rubric of 'auteurism'), and on the other it is minute: Deleuze carefully isolates strands and topics. Thus Deleuze and Derrida might differ in 'style' (if you haven't noticed: Deleuze is fashionable . . .) -- where Deleuze is extremely good and right on in his essayistic remarks or lapidary comparisons, Derrida seems to categorically avoid running such 'journalistic' risks: the essayistic is always generalizing, and therefore dances on the minefield of essentialism. Yet, in this attention to both the small, mosaic building blocks of a system of thought, and his love of its panorama, Deleuze is as Wittgensteinian as he is Derridean, and in that duality very much resembles the one whom some contributors of the _South Atlantic Quarterly_ might wish he had debunked more clearly: you have to be a master builder in order to throw away the ladder that got you to the top.

 

An essay I also consider timely (and it gets my vote for being the funniest) is Jerry Aline Flieger's discussion of Deleuze and Guattari's critique of Oedipus, claiming that the authors 'are more Oedipalist than they aver' (601). Flieger points out that 'it matters how you read Freud -- and which Freud' (607), i.e. that the Deleuzian critique of Oedipus,

 

'is applicable only to the most rigidly constructed Freudian orthodoxy, while French Freud has been dissing the APA for some time, showing that processes of 'organizing' and 'mastery' are driven as much by thanatopic and sadomasochistic impulses as by any punitive notion of law or any normative notion of cure' (610-611).

 

In a twist of her argument, Flieger tries to recast ''daddy's mommy and me' as 'desiring-machine and multiplicity'' (611). She suggests: 'we could consider Freud's Jokes an alternative scenario to the Oedipal one, in which Freud is elaborating a functionalist conception of intersubjectivity as 'abstract machine'' (612). The goal is to show how the Oedipal scenario is only part of a 'larger, automatic process' (612) of a truly Deleuzian, postmodern desiring-machine.

 

Romanist Charles Stivale formulates some answers to 'Comment peut-on être Deleuzian?' -- and with the help of a real sixties man, Carlos Castaneda, scores a point against anti-theoretical grumpiness that likes to dress up in the glory of this decade. Ronald Bogue, who writes on 'Art and Territory', presents an unpretentious essay that traces the grounding of Deleuze's thoughts on territory in biology, ethology and philosophy, and goes back, among others, to the writings of Jakob von Uexkuell and Raymond Ruyer, whom Deleuze cites. I also highly recommend the article by Tom Conley -- the translator of Deleuze's _The Fold_. Conley provides a small pathway for charting the book, thus giving us a brilliant introduction into Deleuze's arguably most intense and difficult work by placing it into the tradition of the aesthetics that informed it. Conley also centers the slew of this volume, namely that of 'Deleuze's attention to aesthetics as a mode of politics and of habitus' (631).

 

This whiff of fresh air in the face of the anti-thinking camp emanated for Deleuze from a certain tradition in mostly French art history, where creative force is regarded as having political virtue, if not impact. How to make this tradition work in the phenomenal world of everyday politics is, however, the big question that despite all the enthusiasm for such ideas, this volume deals back to thought. Nevertheless, the articles in this volume touch upon the many facets of Deleuze's writing and I strongly recommend this issue of the _South Atlantic Quarterly_ to anyone working on Deleuze.

 

University of Lueneburg, Germany

 

References

 

Gilles Deleuze, _Cinema 1: The Movement-Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

--- _Cinema 2: The Time-Image_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (London: The Athlone Press, 1989).

--- _The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque_, trans. Tom Conley (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993).

 

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, _Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature_, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986).

--- _A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia_, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

 

Jacques Derrida, _Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International_, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994).

 

D. N. Rodowick, _Gilles Deleuze's Time Machine_ (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997).

 

***

 

Nina Zimnik

'What Will This Century Be Known As? Deleuze and Resistance for Theory'  

_Film-Philosophy_, vol. 2 no. 16, June 1998

http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol2-1998/n16zimnik

 

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