FILM-PHILOSOPHY

ISSN 1466-4615

Volume 3 Number 14, March 1999

 


 

Patricia Pisters

The Possibilities of Immanence

 


 

 

 

 

'Gilles Deleuze: A Symposium'

Edited by Mike Fetherstone

_Theory, Culture and Society_, vol. 14 no. 2, May 1997

ISSN 0263-2764

87 pp.

 

'Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full Body, the stationary Voyage, Anorexia, cutaneous Vision, Yoga, Krishna, Love, Experimentation.' [1]

 

It has become a cliche to start a work on Deleuze with Foucault's claim 'perhaps, one day, this century will be known as Deleuzean'. [2] Nevertheless it is still a fascinating remark that the contributors to 'Gilles Deleuze: A Symposium' all have taken as a starting point for their investigations. As Philip Goodchild states in the Introduction, the specific aim of the symposium was precisely to explain this often cited remark and to explain the significance of 'the event of Deleuze's life and thought' (1). The six contributions cover (the history of) philosophy and capitalism, feminism, ethics, Deleuze in the context of French thought, cultural studies, and philosophical thought as such.

 

The volume starts with an English translation of Deleuze's last text: 'L'Immanence, une vie' ('Immanence, a life'). In this dense text Deleuze summarizes the main points of his philosophy, which are all based on the idea of immanence. It is quite characteristic for Deleuze that, at the end of *his* life, he writes about *a* life. Instead of looking back upon his own life, he transcends it on the plane of immanence of 'a life'.

 

Deleuze makes his abstract thoughts very clear when he gives the example of Dickens -- which struck me only now in the English translation (translations, too have their own effects/affects). Dickens knows very well to take account of the indefinite article as an index of the transcendental defined by immanence, says Deleuze: an insignificant man is brought into a hospital, he's dying. For a moment, everyone is anxious to save him. But as he comes back to life nobody cares about him anymore. In the mean time there has been a moment between life and death, where '*a* life was playing with death' (4).

 

This play of a life with death is also part of Philip Goodchild's argument in his article 'Deleuzean Ethics'. Goodchild observes that a Deleuzean ethos consists of heterogeneous encounters in which generosity, faith, and courtesy are important depersonalizing characteristics. He quotes Deleuze from _The Logic of Sense_: 'the impersonality of dying no longer indicates only the moment when I disappear outside myself, but rather the moment when death loses itself in itself, and also the figure which the most singular life takes on in order to substitute itself for me' (45).

 

Immanent philosophy then implies an ethics of becoming constantly what one is not. It is an ethics of active joy, an ethics of the acceptance of fate and death. Goodchild even connects this to Deleuze's ultimate 'joy of flight', his chosen death by self-defenestration. And he concludes by giving Deleuze as the example of his own ethics, quoting from _Spinoza: Practical Philosophy_: 'the good or strong individual is the one who exists so fully or so intensely that he has gained eternity in his lifetime, so that death, always extensive, always external, is of little significance to him' (49).

 

It is clear from Goodchild's contribution that a Deleuzean ethics can have positive effects. The level of abstraction is nevertheless high: there are no concrete encounters or multiplicities brought into the arguments. Only Deleuze's own life and death are taken into account. This is of course an extremely valuable 'example'. Nevertheless, to me, it remains quite implicit in what respect our century could benefit from a Deleuzean ethics.

 

In 'The 'Epochality' of Deleuzean Thought' Kenneth Surin tries to give Deleuze a place in the history of philosophy. Although it seems a bit odd to even try to categorize Deleuze's work, Surin views the most important (epochal) declarations of Deleuze in relation to politics. Surin refers concretely to capitalism and 'hypercapitalism' (17), which no longer serves as a 'transcendental accord' since the power of singularities is ever growing. Our criteria for belonging and affiliation can no longer be sustained in a capitalist or state socialist matrix -- they are going to be subject to a kind of chaotic motion, Surin argues.

 

Deleuze's 'ethos of permanent becoming-revolutionary' is at the basis of a politics that is not constrained by the orders of capitalism (17). According to Surin the importance of Deleuzean thought is the fact that there is an acknowledgement that old structures (like nation states, tribes, clans, and churches) cannot work in order to go beyond capitalism, and yet there is a need for solidarity. This solidatity then should be based upon singularities, and not on molar categorizations. And it is this possibility of politics at the heart of philosophy -- 'before being there is politics' (19) -- that Surin sees as the most significant epochal declaration of Deleuzean thought.

 

I think it is possible to connect Surin's ideas of politics and hypercapitalism to cinema. The question, then, is whether there can be any 'accords' within the hypercapitalist film (and media) industry that could contribute to a 'permanent becoming-revolutionary' of the image and sound (or of the people)? But, first, it might be important to go back to the definitions of politics given by Deleuze in _A Thousand Plateaus_ and _Dialogues_, where he distinguishes between three political lines: the segmental line, the molecular line, and the line of flight.

 

The next step would then be to look at concrete films or media events (singular multiplicities), and maybe even their receptions, in order to see where the becoming-revolutionary takes place. In short, Surin's contribution invites further questions, but remains rather abstract in itself. And, as Nick Millet states in 'The Trick of Singularity', for Deleuze 'philosophy should have a horror of abstraction' (53). And shouldn't a 'Deleuzean century' be more than an abstract resistance to capitalism?

 

Millet talks about Deleuze and his place in French philosophy. He starts with Cressole's letter to Deleuze, in which he accuses Deleuze of wanting to be a star. This is a clever starting point, because it indicates that it is quite impossible to talk about Deleuze as a person: singularities and multiplicities, concreteness and rhizomes, are therefore the adequate terms Millet uses in order to refer to Deleuze. And the same terms also explain why Deleuze is a bit of a strange element in French thought: multiplicity is easily seen as cheap eclecticism and scientism. And Deleuze's preference for self-effacement makes him difficult to locate. Millet indicates that this is precisely Deleuze's strength and contribution to French philosophy. But it also seems that he is still rather an exception than a 'rule'; still no 'Deleuzean century' in sight.

 

Miriam Fraser and Rosi Braidotti are both concerned with the significance of Deleuze for feminism. In 'Feminism, Foucault and Deleuze' Fraser concentrates on bisexuality, and more particularly Simone de Beauvoir's bisexuality. Fraser then links bisexuality to Foucault's techniques of the self and compares this to a Deleuzean thought.

 

Simone de Beauvoir's bisexuality has very often been labelled as 'inauthentic'. Fraser shows that de Beauvoir is mostly seen as heterosexual; her same-sex encounters are said to be rooted in (or imposed by) either intellectual existentialism or in her relationship with Sartre. Bisexuality does not belong to de Beauvoir herself, it has often been argued. Fraser looks at Foucault's concept of the 'aesthetics of the self' to see if de Beauvoir's bisexuality could be seen as an exploration of the free self. But since Foucault's 'self' implicitly excludes women, Fraser has to conclude that this aesthetics of existence 'appears too bound up with the very self that it seeks to critique' (30).

 

Deleuze and Guattari apparently have nothing to say about bisexuality. As Fraser indicates, they have argued in _A Thousand Plateaus_ that bisexuality is nothing more than an internalized 'binary machine' of the separation of the sexes (31). Nevertheless, Fraser wants to understand bisexuality as a Body without Organs. This seems quite odd, and I must admit that I really didn't see the point at first. However, it becomes interesting when Fraser explains:

 

'the BwO of bisexuality is produced as a connecting force of *movement between* existentialism, Sartre and de Beauvoir. In this context, bisexuality is not fused to the self in (a semblance of) stasis, but is rather a mobile assemblage which has the effect of bringing existentialism, Sartre and de Beauvoir together in a relation which is neither mediated by a single subjectivity nor necessarily subject to the disciplinary processes of individuation.' (32)

 

What Fraser proposes to explore, with the help of Deleuze and Guattari, is a notion of identity without selfhood. In proposing the concept of the BwO the centrality of the self and other (the subject and object in theories of sexuality) can be destabilized. And I agree with Fraser when she finally concludes that Deleuze and Guattari's conception of desire as pure productivity can offer a 'line of flight away from contemporary notions of identity and selfhood' (34). Here a concrete indication is given of how a 'Deleuzean century' could look in terms of sexuality, identity, and desire.

 

In 'Meta(l)morphoses' Rosi Braidotti looks at the significance of Deleuze for both cultural studies and feminism. Braidotti focuses on the concept of becoming, and the deterritorializing forces of desire that can open up the classical notion of the subject. In general she sees this concept and these forces as very useful for cultural studies and the analysis of all kinds of new subjectivities in cultural texts.

 

More specifically Braidotti looks at science fiction films, and she traces a recurrent block of becomings between women, animals, and/or insects. She also spots in many of these texts a becoming between man and machines. In other words there seems to be a gender-specificity in different kinds of becomings. It is at this point that feminist alarm bells start ringing: it seems that a Deleuzean scheme of becoming 'is faulty and needs to be revised in the sense of multiple but not undifferentiated becomings' (77).

 

However, one could also argue that our culture is not Deleuzean yet, and that in many science fiction films very old molar structures are kept alive. Braidotti does consider that option, and she admits that 'her heart lingers' (77). I think Braidotti is right when she warns for old traps. But the danger is that the micro-movements of change that can take place, and do take place, are not observed.

 

There are moments in contemporary culture that allow more fluid becomings in which gender is not a determining factor. Braidotti indicates contemporary music as an important area. Many of the writers and artists that Deleuze himself often quotes (Woolf, Burroughs, Millet, Duras) still have influence, and maybe 'heirs' in contemporary culture. It might be part of a Deleuzean strategy to take an affirmative view on culture, even though there are the concrete dangers of the return of old segments.

 

This could be part of the 'utopian identity of philosophy that is actualized by Deleuze' (86), as Eric Alliez states in the 'Questionnaire on Deleuze' that concludes the symposium. According to Alliez the most important contribution of Deleuzean thought to our century's ending is the 'affirmation of the pure possibility and pure necessity of philosophy as such' (81). The notion of utopia, for instance, is transformed by Deleuze into an immanent concept that expresses the political nature of philosophy as a project of infinite (micro)movement.

 

In this respect Deleuzean philosophy proposes a very different utopia than the authoritarian utopias of transcendence. So, at the end of the symposium we have to come back to the beginning and the question of immanence. It seems that Deleuze himself saw very clearly where the importance of his philosophy for our century (and hopefully the next) lies: radical immanence seems to be the most important contribution that Deleuze has to offer to our age.

 

The contributors to the symposium all subscribe to this immanent philosophy, and relate to one or other of its aspects. What is often forgotten, however, is that Deleuze also sees philosophy as *experimentation* of a plane of immanence. With only a few exceptions, what I miss in this Symposium are more *concrete* experiments that can make the abstract level of many of the contributions more singular and adventurous. Because I think one other important contribution of Deleuzean philosophy for our century is that his thought stimulates unexpected encounters (for instance with film) that are joyful and empowering.

 

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

 

 

Footnotes

 

1. Deleuze and Guattari, _A Thousand Plateaus_, p. 151.

 

2. Foucault, 'Theatrum philosophicum', p. 165.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Gilles Deleuze, _Spinoza: Practical Philosophy_, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights, 1988).

--- _The Logic of Sense_, trans. M. Lester (London: Athlone, 1990).

 

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, _A Thousand Plateaus_, trans. Brian Massumi (London: Athlone, 1988).

 

Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, _Dialogues_, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Athlone, 1987).

 

Michel Foucault, 'Theatrum philosophicum', trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon, in Donald F. Bouchard, ed., _Michel Foucault: Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews_ (Oxford: Blackwell, 1977).

 

 

 

Patricia Pisters, 'The Possibilities of Immanence',  _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 3 no. 14, March 1999 <http://www.film-philosophy.com/vol3-1999/n14pisters>.

 

Copyright © _Film-Philosophy_ 1999

  

 

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