Contra Deleuze: Latour’s Disputes

While I have read everything of Deleuze, I am not always convinced he is so useful in my empirical enquiries. I am impatient in this otherwise beautiful book, What Is Philosophy?, with the way philosophy’s role is exaggerated beyond any recognition, and also by the fact that on religion he has nothing much to say.  Deleuze is not my all-purpose philosopher.  Also, and that’s a disagreement I have with Isabelle [Stengers], I don’t see him as a good writer, and for me the writing is very important, the crafting of books with very specific literary strategies that embody very specific theories.
Bruno Latour, “Interview with Bruno Latour,” in Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, eds. Don Ihde and Evan Selinger (Indiana University Press, 2003), p. 24.

I agree with Latour’s assessment of Deleuze’s writings, and more than that, I agree with his problems regarding Deleuze’s lack of attention to religion.  Although much has been written lately appropriating Deleuze into theological and religious discourses, Deleuze himself did an extremely poor job of accounting for religious truth.  Accordingly, it’s easy to say almost anything about Deleuze’s religion.  Is it a this-worldly Hermeticism (Joshua Ramey), a helpful source for Christian liberation theology (Kristien Justaert), or a Gnosticism that is neither this-worldly nor helpful for concrete emancipatory practices (Christopher Simpson)?   

I couldn’t agree more when Latour says, “I consider that philosophies that don’t deal with the truth production of religion are as incapable of dealing with real thought as those who can’t deal with the truth production of science or the truth production of techniques.  This is why the whole current of anti-religious thinking, which is very strong in much French critical thought, I find unhelpful” (ibid.).

That Latour said those words over a decade ago is an indication that he has been concerned with religion long before the “new enquiry into natural religion” that he is presenting in the current Gifford Lectures…even long before his work on Iconoclash or his articulations of “factish gods.”  Indeed, as he says in the interview I’m quoting here, “I started with religion and was a theologian first, exegesis more exactly” (ibid.).  I’m sure a book of Latourian theology is forthcoming.

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.

The New Deleuze

How many books on Deleuze are coming out in the next year?  A lot.  The Deleuzian trend is far from waning.  However, the trends is transforming, growing rhizomatic offshoots.

There are a couple lines that I see developing in new Deleuze scholarship.  One is indicated by the name of Clayton Crockett’s forthcoming work, Deleuze Beyond Badiou: Ontology, Multiplicity, and Event.  Badiou’s reading of Deleuze has been very influential, yet it misses and misrepresents a lot of Deleuze’s thought (including Deleuze’s work with Guattari).  Deleuze isn’t necessarily the monistic thinker that Badiou portrays.  With the work of Crockett and many others, I think that Deleuze scholarship will continue to move “beyond Badiou,” and there is a multiplicity of directions available for such a move. 

Along with the move beyond Badiou, another growing edge in Deleuze scholarship is a turn toward the religious and spiritual folds of Deleuze’s thought, which could also be framed as an appropriation of Deleuze by fields of theology and religious studies.  Again, Clayton Crockett’s work is indicative of this turn, as he’s been using Deleuze to do political theology (see Crockett’s Radical Political Theology).  I’ve been interested in the spiritual/religious implications of Deleuze for years, and there has been relatively little written about it, with some notable exceptions, including works of process theologians (e.g., Catherine Keller, Roland Faber, Luke Higgins), the anthology Deleuze and Religion (ed. Mary Bryden), and an issue of the journal SubStance (39.1) on “Spiritual Politics after Deleuze.” 

 There are three books coming out soon that focus on Deleuze’s work in terms of theology, religion, and spirituality. 

Deleuze and Theology, by Christopher Simpson

Theology after Deleuze, Kristien Justaert 

The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal, by Joshua Ramey