Tag Archives: Gilles Deleuze

The 21st Century Whitehead Will Be Deleuzian

I often find myself thinking with Alfred North Whitehead. I recall that today is his birthday, Feburary 15 (1861-1947). I don’t remember many birthdays of philosophers, but that is one of them. It’s Galileo’s birthday too, so maybe that has something to do with this date sticking in my memory.

I recently finalized revisions for “A Place for Ecological Democracy in Whitehead’s Philosophy of Religious Entanglements,” which is a chapter for an anthology, Greening Philosophy of Religion: Rethinking Climate Change at the Intersection of Philosophy and Religion (edited by Jea Sophia Oh and John Quiring). In a couple of months I’ll be presenting on Whitehead’s ontological principle for the American Philosophical Association. I keep thinking with Whitehead, but I wouldn’t consider myself Whiteheadian. I continue drawing on his philosophy for a variety of reasons, one of which is that I am often inspired by other contemporary writers who engage with Whitehead in new ways that are relevant to contemporary problems. It is the community of those who think with Whitehead who really make Whitehead interesting to me. In other words, the secondary sources are often more interesting than Whitehead’s primary texts. So maybe I’m a secondary Whiteheadian, if that’s a thing. Not just any secondary Whiteheadian. A Deleuzian Whiteheadian.  Continue reading

Diversity and Difference

One of many important contributions of poststructuralist and postcolonial philosophies is the recognition that there are severe limitations to theoretical-political uses of the category of “diversity.” While some might naively ask how philosophies can undergo revision to be more tolerant and inclusive of diversity, the real question is how the category of diversity can be opened up to make room for something less philosophically ignorant. Discourses on diversity are espoused by philodoxers, lovers of opinions who fail to question their own presuppositions and fail to understand the grounds of what is given as diversity.

Poststructuralist and postcolonial concepts of difference provide means for thinking deeper than the category of diversity allows. Deleuze’s philosophy is a good example: “Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse. Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon. […] Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason” (Difference and Repetition).

Homi Bhabha’s shift from cultural diversity to cultural difference is another good example. Kwok Pui-Lan gives a cogent summary.

The debate on multiculturalism in the United States has pointed to its inadequacy in dealing with diversity, because it fails to confront the dominant white culture’s power to define, appropriate, and assimilate minority cultures, in other words, its power to set the rules of the game. Following Homi Bhabha, I have come to see the limitations of cultural diversity when articulated within a liberal paradigm, which treats different cultures as mutually interacting and competing on the same footing in the public square. Such an approach often assumes the stance of cultural relativity, which calls for cultural exchange, the tolerance of diversity, and the management of conflicts through democratic means. Instead, Bhabha uses the term “cultural difference” to underscore that the interaction of cultures in the postcolonial world is always imbued with power and authority. Difference arises not because there are many preconstituted cultures existing side by side, but is manufactured through particular discourses at critical moments when the status quo is questioned. […] Furthermore, the tension and anxieties elicited by cultural difference are always overlaid and heightened by the issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality. (Postcolonial Imagination and Feminist Theology)

Whereas the category of diversity makes issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality look like matters of identity politics, the category of difference trades identity politics for a politics of difference, for which race, class, gender, and sexuality are not given identities but are differential relations constituted through the tensions, ruptures, and resistance of asymmetrical powers. This is a rather old point, finding its explicit expression beginning in the late 1960s. However, the persistence of liberal discourses on diversity and identity politics indicates that this point has yet to be understood outside of the rare achievements of poststructuralism, postcolonial studies, and difference feminism. Along those lines, it’s apparent that liberalism has failed. Like McKenzie Wark said recently, “not only the old socialism but also the old liberalism is dead.” This death needs to sink in before proceeding to articulate a politics of difference. Mourning is important, otherwise melancholy will pull us back into the same old discourses on diversity and identity. “So mourn good and long. And then we’ll organize, but differently.”

“Tomorrow we shall have to invent, once more, the reality of this world.” (Octavio Paz)

Renewable Deleuze

Philosophies are renewable resources. Deleuze’s philosophy is a case in point.  Theological and religious contexts have seen a renewal of Deleuze in recent years. Kristien Justaert drew out Deleuze’s contributions to liberation theology (Theology After Deleuze). Josh Ramey articulated the hermetic dark precursors to Deleuze’s philosophical spirituality (The Hermetic Deleuze), and Christopher Simpson staged an encounter between Deleuze and radical orthodoxy (Deleuze and Theology). I mentioned this a few years ago, referring to the emergence of a “New Deleuze.” The renewal continues…

Continuing the exhumation of the theological and religious resources contained in Deleuze’s corpus, Daniel Barber digs up Deleuze’s concept of immanence in support of a postsecularism that is opposed to transcendence yet open to the naming of God (Deleuze and the Naming of God). F. LeRon Shults digs up Deleuze’s atheistic and diabolic tendencies to provide theology with iconoclastic hammers (Iconoclastic Theology). Many of these books make interesting points about debates about secularism, esotericism, transcendence and immanence, institutional vs. lived religion, the death of God, theopolitical power, and more.

Shults facilitates perhaps the most predictable renewal of Deleuze. Drawing iconoclastic resources from an ostensibly atheistic thinker is like shooting fish in a barrel. Nonetheless, I appreciate that Shults is among few thinkers to apply his Deleuzian sense of theology and religion to ecological issues. In a recent issue of the journal Religions dedicated to religion and ecology in the Anthropocene, Shults describes how his atheistic stance takes position in the Anthropocene. Still, there seems to be something that’s just way too easy about the reading of Deleuze that Shults presents. For example, consider his reading of the Body without Organs (BwO).

In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze refers to a “glorious body,” the Body without Organs, which he describes as “a new dimension of the schizophrenic body, an organism without parts which operates entirely by insufflation, respiration, evaporation and fluid transmission.” Insufflation is the operation of the BwO. In the final pages of Iconoclastic Theology, Shults offers a rhetorical question, “‘Insufflation’ sounds scary; how will we hold together?” Subsequently, he reassures us to overcome our fear, but he is thereby offering a resolution to something that is not a problem (…a metonym for his offering of iconoclasm during an era entrenched in iconoclasm). Who is he addressing? Who is afraid of insufflation? Not Deleuzians, surely, and not religious practitioners, who would doubtless find the predicate “scary” to be a paltry approximation for the intensities traversing their immersion in spiritual flows (inspiration/expiration/respiration). Nobody is afraid of insufflation, not Deleuzians, not religious people, not consumers, who are currently insufflating Earth’s life, land, air, and water with incredible rapidity. The problem is not a fear of insufflation but, to the contrary, an excessively zealous insufflation that produces inflammation and thereby botches the fluid transmission of the Body without Organs.

Shults makes the diarrheal  suggestion that we “Let go. Release. Flow,” as if that is a sustainable way to maintain a BwO. He forgets about the importance of maintaining sufficient strata to wake up the next morning. That’s where the rest of us are, struggling to find strata amidst manic insufflation, and Deleuzian resources can support this struggle, and so can numerous contemporary theisms that have already been through the fires of iconoclasm and are blistering with wounds that ooze atheistic secretions (e.g., theisms in liberation theology, spiritual philosophy, postcolonial theology, feminist theology, eco-theology). Along those lines, Clayton Crockett and Catherine Keller are producing perhaps the most relevant readings of Deleuze today. Crockett’s works apply Deleuze’s philosophy to the task of articulating an Earth-based political theology, and Keller folds Deleuze’s philosophy together with theologies of becoming (process), feminism, liberation movements, postcolonialism, and ecology.

It’s still an open question: Who knows what a Deleuze can do? We need more experiments with this renewable resource, more trials in becoming with Deleuze, forging connections with Deleuze’s corpus that energize our engagements in planetary coexistence.

Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence

It’s been about four months since I’ve posted anything here, mostly because of a demanding writing and teaching schedule interspersed with a couple of conferences and a move to a new apartment. In that time, I finished writing Whole Earth Thinking and Planetary Coexistence: Ecological Wisdom at the Intersection of Religion, Ecology, and Philosophy.

A hardback will come out this summer, and a paperback will follow in 2016. The book focuses on two areas of the environmental humanities: poststructuralist philosophy (via Deleuze and Guattari) and the field of religion and ecology (via Thomas Berry, Gary Snyder, et al.). It provides an accessible introduction to those areas of environmental humanities (for undergrads, generally interested readers, etc.), and it also indicates some strategies for synthesizing the complex chaosmos of Deleuze and Guattari with the religious cosmologies of people like Berry and Snyder. I consider how such a synthesis coordinates possibilities for ecological wisdom, which is an engaged wisdom oriented toward postsecular ecological democracy.

By “ecological wisdom,” I am referring to practices for multicultural and cross-disciplinary ways of knowing. Such practices can draw from many sources.  I consider sources in feminist epistemology, traditional ecological knowledge, environmental sciences, classical religious traditions, and the geophilosophy/ecosophy of Deleuze/Guattari. Practices of ecological wisdom energize human capacities for thinking through the challenges facing planetary modes of coexistence during an epoch marked by the inextricable intertwining of humans with planetary systems.

If “whole Earth thinking” sounds somewhat countercultural, you might be thinking of Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog. My work is in tension and alliance with the countercultural context of the Whole Earth Catalog. There was too much triumphalism and too many hasty dismissals of classical traditions in much of that countercultural milieu. Furthermore, Earth in that context was often seen as a material or biophysical ground for humans, whereas whole Earth thinking orients itself toward the mutual grounding/grounded/ungrounding relationships between humans and Earth, relationships that cannot be avoided in any struggle to coexist in the Anthropocene.

Inhuman Perspectivism: A Truth of the Relative

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari distinguish between the relativity of truth and the truth of the relative in their concept of partial observers.  Unlike claims of a relativity of truth, for which truth is relative to different subject positions of human observers, the truth of the relative is inhuman, constituted by the experimental/experiential forces of the things themselves.   Consider their conceptualization of perspectivism in light of quantum physics. 

Heisenberg’s demon does not express the impossibility of measuring both the speed and the position of a particle on the grounds of a subjective interference of the measure with the measured, but it measures exactly an objective state of affairs that leaves the respective position of two of its particles outside of the field of its actualization, the number of independent variables being reduced and the values of the coordinates having the same probability. […]  Perspectivism, or scientific relativism, is never relative to a subject: it constitutes not a relativity of truth but, on the contrary, a truth of the relative, that is to say, of variables whose cases it orders according to the values it extracts from them in its system of coordinates. […]  In short, the role of a partial observer is to perceive and to experience, although these perceptions and affections are not those of a man, in the currently accepted sense, but belong to the things studied. […] Partial observers are forces. […] Partial observers are sensibilia.  [What is Philosophy? (1994) pp. 129-131]

Learning to Swim with Deleuze

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of the swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs.  That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous—but also something fatal—about all education.  […]

When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other—involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted.  To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. […]

To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.  This conjugation determines for us a threshold of consciousness at which our real acts are adjusted to our perceptions of the real relations, thereby providing a solution to the problem.  Moreover, problematic Ideas are precisely the ultimate elements of nature and the subliminal objects of little perceptions.  As a result, ‘learning’ always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.

Gilles Deleuze, Difference and repetition, trans. Paul Patton. (Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 23, 165.

Hermetic Deleuze

There is a great interview HERE with Joshua Ramey about his book, The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal.  The interview is a recent episode of Expanding Mind on the Progressive Radio Network, hosted by Erik Davis and Maja D’Aoust.

It’s a very accessible overview of Deleuze’s philosophy, particularly with a view to its connection to hermeticism and other dark precursors to his thought.  However, the interview is no substitute for Ramey’s book, an exemplary work of scholarship that I highly recommend.  I’ll have more to say about the book another day.