"Patton's book is an important and innovative contribution to Deleuze studies and to contemporary debates in philosophy and the humanities. His arguments are convincing and stimulating: they open the way for a new and sober reading of Deleuze and bring him into dialogue with the tradition of political liberalism and pragmatism. His use of the concept of the event to understand the history of colonization gives the reader a compelling example of what the political function of philosophy is, or could be."Paola Marrati, Johns Hopkins University
Deleuzian Concepts: Philosophy, Colonization, Politicsby Paul Patton
These essays provide important interpretations and analyze critical developments of the political philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. They situate his thought in the contemporary intellectual landscape by comparing him with contemporaries such as Derrida, Rorty, and Rawls and show how elements of his philosophy may be usefully applied to key contemporary issues including
These essays provide important interpretations and analyze critical developments of the political philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. They situate his thought in the contemporary intellectual landscape by comparing him with contemporaries such as Derrida, Rorty, and Rawls and show how elements of his philosophy may be usefully applied to key contemporary issues including colonization and decolonization, the nature of liberal democracy, and the concepts and critical utopian aspirations of political philosophy. Patton discusses Deleuze's notion of philosophy as the creation of concepts and shows how this may be helpful in understanding the nature of political concepts such as rights, justice, and democracy. Rather than merely commenting on or explaining Deleuze's thought, Patton offers a series of attempts to think with Deleuzian concepts in relation to other philosophers and other problems. His book represents a significant contribution to debates in contemporary political theory, continental philosophy, and Deleuzian studies.
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DELEUZIAN CONCEPTSPhilosophy, Colonization, Politics
By Paul Patton
STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMobile Concepts, Metaphor, and the problem of Referentiality
Deleuze and Guattari's distinctive version of poststructuralist theory relies on a metaphysics of process as opposed to product, becoming as opposed to being, and lines of flight or deterritorialization as opposed to the capture of primary flows. This metaphysics affects their conception of thought as well as its objects. They undertake a rhizomatic or nomadic practice of thought in which concepts are not built in orderly fashion on secure foundations but constructed, as it were, on the run, in the course of an open-ended series of encounters with diverse empirical contents. This philosophical practice is not well understood by critics, who often take them to be employing metaphors rather than constructing concepts. Thus, they are often read as proposing metaphors of multiplicity by analogy with botanical rhizomes or as proposing metaphors of movement or deterritorialization by analogy with real nomads, and so on. In turn, this reading leaves them open to criticism directed at both the reliability and the ethics of the referential claims imputed to them. For example, Christopher L. Miller argues that their reliance on anthropological sources in the discussion of nomadism commits them to an "anthropological referentiality" that is inaccurate as well as complicit with colonial discourse (Miller 1998, 181 and 196). While he recognizes that Deleuze and Guattari's project is not straightforwardly representational, Miller supposes that it must rely either on direct representation or on metaphor (indirect representation).
By contrast, Caren Kaplan criticizes them not so much for their supposed referential claims but for their participation in a modernist European imaginary construction of colonized peoples. She argues that the "metaphors of explanation" used by Deleuze and Guattari and other poststructuralist critics "reinforce and depend upon specifically modernist versions of colonial discourse" (Kaplan 1996, 85-86). In particular, she argues that their privileging of the "nomadic" and related processes of becoming-minor and deterritorialization amounts to a "metaphorical mapping of space" that reproduces the modern eurocentric valorization of distance and displacement (Kaplan 1996, 88):
Deleuze and Guattari appropriate a number of metaphors to produce sites of displacement in their theory. The botanical metaphor of the rootlike "rhizome," for example, enacts the subjectivities of deterritorialization: burrowing through substance, fragmenting into simultaneous sprouts, moving with a certain stealth, powerful in its dispersion. Rejecting the classic Western humanist metaphors of family trees and genealogies, the rhizome destabilizes the conventions of origins and endings ... As a metaphor for politics, then, the rhizome constitutes an anarchic relation to space and subjectivity, resistant to and undermining the nationstate apparatus. (Kaplan 1996, 87, emphasis added)
Such a reading flies in the face of Deleuze and Guattari's repeated denials that their novel use of words involves the use of metaphor. At the outset of their discussion of machinic social organization in Anti-Oedipus, they cite Lewis Mumford referring to Franz Reuleaux's "classic definition" of a machine before insisting that the social machine "is literally a machine, irrespective of any metaphor" (AO 165-166, 155). Later they insist that societies may be regarded as machines "in the strict sense, without metaphor" (AO 299, 272). In A Thousand Plateaus, in the course of describing the physical, organic, and semiotic stratification of an unstratified, deterritorialized plane of consistency on which the most disparate kinds of things and signs freely circulate and collide, they insist that this metaphysics does not rely on a metaphorical use of words: "There is no 'like' here, we are not saying 'like an electron,' 'like an interaction,' etc. The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor" (MP 89, 69). Later they insist that, when they characterize capital as an "axiomatic," they are using the word in a literal rather than a metaphoric sense (MP 568, 455).
Similarly, in conversation with Claire Parnet, Deleuze is unequivocal in his rejection of metaphor: "There are no proper words [mots propres], neither are there metaphors (all metaphors are sullied words [mots sales], or else make them so). There are only inexact words to designate something exactly" (D 9, 3). This comment plays on the ambiguity of propre, which can mean both "proper" and "clean." Later in Dialogues, he comments with reference to the concept of faciality that he and Guattari put forward on the basis of an extension and combination of the concepts of white wall, black hole, and a particular social machine of overcoding the human body:
Here is a multiplicity with at least three dimensions, astronomical, aesthetic, political. In none of the cases are we making metaphorical use: we don't say that it is "like" black holes in astronomy, that it is "like" a white canvas in painting. We are using deterritorialized terms, that is, terms that are torn from their domain in order to reterriorialize another notion: the "face" or "faciality" as a social function. (D 25, 18)
Finally, with reference to their conception of language as a combination of fluxes of expression and content in immanent variation, he and/or Parnet write that when a word "assumes a different meaning, or even enters into a different syntax, we can be sure that it has encountered another flux or that it has been introduced into a different regime of signs.... It is never a matter of metaphor; there are no metaphors only conjugations" (D 140, 117).
What are we to make of this persistent refusal of the status of metaphor for such an apparently idiosyncratic vocabulary? Moreover, supposing we do take at face value Deleuze and Guattari's claim to write literally rather than metaphorically, what does this imply with regard to the referential status of their philosophical concepts? What does it imply for those critical readings that do not take seriously their refusal of metaphor? My goal in this chapter is, firstly, to examine what is at stake in this hostility toward metaphor and, secondly, to ask what relationship this has to their conception of philosophy as the creation of "mobile" concepts. Finally, I will suggest that the critics who see no alternative apart from empirical social science or metaphors miss an important dimension of their novel practice of philosophy. To this extent, their criticisms fall short of their intended target.
Antirepresentationalism and Mobile Concepts
Deleuze's renunciation of metaphor flows from some of the most fundamental commitments upheld throughout his philosophy: his rejection of the representational image of thought, his pragmatism, and his long-standing interest in the mobility of philosophical concepts. In Difference and Repetition, he offers a characterization and criticism of what he calls the "dogmatic" image of thought. This is the dominant conception of thought in the history of philosophy, modeled on the act of recognition and thereby supposing a fundamentally passive relation to the world. Against the philosophical tradition that supposes that the world is already named and that the task of thinking is to discover the names of things, he advocates an image of thought as engagement with problems. He abandons the idea that human thought has a natural affinity with the truth in favor of the idea that truth is a function of the sense or meaning of what we say. He replaces the dogmatic image with an image modeled on the involuntary response of an apprentice struggling to come to terms with a new craft, recalcitrant material, and unfamiliar tools (DR 213-215, 164-165). An apprentice is someone who learns how to identify particular problems and how to approach them in a way that leads toward their solution. A variation of this image of the philosopher as craftsperson reappears at the beginning of What Is Philosophy?, where it introduces the definition of philosophy as the creation of concepts. The philosopher is a friend of concepts in the sense that a carpenter or a joiner is a friend of wood (QP 9, 3). The apprentice and the craftsperson are not simply metaphorical representations of the philosopher but variant forms of the conceptual persona that is the real subject of Deleuze's pragmatic conception of philosophy.
A Thousand Plateaus outlines an explicitly pragmatic conception of thought and language as means of intervention in, rather than representation of, the world. Deleuze and Guattari reject the representational idea of the book as image of the world in favor of a conception of the book as interacting with the world. In their view, "the book assures the deterrritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable ..." (Mp 18, 11). The concept of the order-word or slogan (mot d'ordre) outlined in plateau 4, "November 20, 1923-postulates of Linguistics," best exemplifies this conception (see below, pp. 28-32). A slogan is not something that is evaluated for its accuracy or truth-value but for its effectiveness. What Is Philosophy? proposes a no less pragmatic conception in suggesting that philosophy "does not consist in knowing and is not inspired by truth. Rather, it is categories like interesting, Remarkable or important that determine success or failure" (QP 80, 82). The point is not to reduce philosophical concepts to mere slogans but to suggest that, like slogans, philosophical descriptions should be evaluated in terms of their usefulness rather than their truthfulness. Of course, to be effective, philosophical concepts must in some way "map" the world. However, "mapping" has to do with performance rather than representation and should not be understood as a matter of naming, copying, or tracing the preexisting articulations of the world. What distinguishes mapping from "imitation" or tracing is that "it is entirely oriented toward an experimentation in contact with the real" (MP 20, 12).
A third distinctive feature of Deleuze's antirepresentational image of thought is his long-standing interest in producing mobile philosophical concepts. On more than one occasion he expresses his admiration for those philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Bergson, who aspired to put concepts in motion. In Difference and Repetition, he explains the interest in theater shared by Nietzsche and Kierkegaard with reference to their common desire "to put metaphysics in motion" (DR 16, 8). In an interview in Negotiations he suggests that, just as the invention of cinema brought motion into images, so Bergson provides us with one of the first cases of self-moving thought (P 166-167, 122). He makes no secret of his antipathy toward ways of thinking that serve to block movement, such as the appeal to eternal values: "These days it's the rights of man that provide our eternal values. It's the constitutional state and other notions everyone recognizes as very abstract. And it's in the name of all this that thinking's fettered, that any analysis in terms of movements is blocked" (p 166, 122).
At times, Deleuze and Guattari's antirepresentational practice of philosophy leads them to appeal to another kind of adequation between concepts and material states of affairs, in which the open-endedness and mobility of concepts parallel the movement in things themselves. This emerges in remarks such as the suggestion in A Thousand Plateaus that the "anexactitude" of mobile concepts is necessary to think a world that is in constant movement:
in order to designate something exactly, anexact expressions are utterly unavoidable. Not at all because these are a necessary step or because one can only advance by approximations: anexactitude is in no way an approximation; on the contrary, it is the precise movement of that which is under way. (MP 31, 20)
Deleuze comments in the same terms in Dialogues that inexact words are needed to designate things exactly (D 9, 3). As these remarks imply, his interest in mobile concepts is related to his ontological commitment to a world of events. In What Is Philosophy? he insists that philosophical concepts do not represent states of affairs but rather express pure events. unlike things or states of affairs, events are mobile rather than static phenomena, constantly changing and becoming-other than they were. Deleuze and Guattari understand events in the manner of the stoics as incorporeal entities that are attributed to things and states of affairs but expressed in propositions or in the infinitive form of the verb: to go, to encounter, to capture, to deterritorialize, and the like. I discuss this concept of pure events further in Chapters 4 and 5. For the moment, however, let us consider further the concept of metaphor.
Deleuze and Derrida on Concept and Metaphor
There is considerable agreement or, as Deleuze and Guattari would say, a "zone of proximity" between Derrida's reasons for relocating the distinction between concept and metaphor within a field of generalized metaphoricity and their own reasons for rejecting the concept of metaphor in favor of a generalized process of concept creation. In the eulogy that he wrote shortly after Deleuze's death, "I'm Going to Have to Wander all alone," Derrida takes issue with the suggestion that philosophy creates concepts (Derrida 2001d, 193). He does not elaborate on his reasons, but in any case it is not clear that his concerns are justified. If his concern lies with the use of the word creation and the implicit suggestion that concepts might be created ex nihilo, then this should be assuaged by Deleuze and Guattari's account of concept creation as comparable to any material process of production. Their characterization of the creator of concepts as a "friend" in the sense that a craftsperson is a friend of his or her chosen material shows that they envisage the creation of concepts as a process of production involving the transformation and combination of certain conceptual or preconceptual raw materials.
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Meet the Author
Paul Patton is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. He is the author of Deleuze and the Political (2000).
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