A Deleuzian Century?by Ian Buchanan
Michel Foucault’s suggestion that this century would become known as “Deleuzian” was considered by Gilles Deleuze himself to be a joke “meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid.” Whether serious or not, Foucault’s prediction has had enough of an impact to raise concern about the potential “deification” of this enormously influential French philosopher. Seeking to counter such tendencies toward hagiography—not unknown, particularly since Deleuze’s death—Ian Buchanan has assembled a collection of essays that constitute a critical and focused engagement with Deleuze and his work.
Originally published as a special issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (Summer 1997), this volume includes essays from some of the most prominent American, Australian, British, and French scholars and translators of Deleuze’s writing. These essays, ranging from film, television, art, and literature to philosophy, psychoanalysis, geology, and cultural studies, reflect the broad interests of Deleuze himself. Providing both an introduction and critique of Deleuze, this volume will engage those readers interested in literary and cultural theory, philosophy, and the future of those areas of study in which Deleuze worked.
Contributors. Ronald Bogue, Ian Buchanan, André Pierre Colombat, Tom Conley, Manuel DeLanda, Tessa Dwyer, Jerry Aline Flieger, Eugene Holland, Fredric Jameson, Jean-Clet Martin, John Mullarkey, D. N. Rodowick, Horst Ruthrof, Charles J. Stivale
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A Deleuzian Century?
By Ian Buchanan
Duke University PressCopyright © 1999 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze
We begin, as one so often does, without necessarily wanting to, with Hegel (heaven only knows if we will also end up in the same place). The motto will be Hegel's prescient analysis of the situation of thought in modern times, which he contrasts to the situation of nascent philosophy in ancient Greece:
The manner of study in ancient times differed from that of the modern age in that the former was the proper and complete formation of the natural consciousness. Putting itself to the test at every point of its existence, and philosophizing about everything it came across, it made itself into a universality that was active through and through. In modern times, however, the individual finds the abstract form ready-made; the effort to grasp and appropriate it is more the direct driving forth of what is within and the truncated generation of the universal than it is the emergence of the latter from the concrete variety of existence. Hence the task nowadays consists not so much in purging the individual of an immediate, sensuous mode of apprehension, and making him into a substance that is an object of thought and that thinks, but rather in just the opposite, in freeing determinate thoughts from their fixity so as to give actuality to the universal, and impart to it spiritual life. But it is far harder to bring fixed thoughts into a fluid state than to do so with sensuous existence.
So here, astonishingly, at the opening of the Phenomenology of Spirit, we find a mature and subtle reflection on reification: reification not only in the world of everyday life, but in thinking as well, and in our intercourse with already existing concepts, with free-floating thoughts named and signed like so many books or paintings. The ancient Greeks had the task, Hegel suggests, of wresting abstract ideas ("universals") from the flux of the sensory: of transforming pensee' sauvage into systems of abstractions, of reclaiming Reason (or the ego, Freud might say) from the morass of the immediate. This is henceforth achieved, and thinkers in the modern period are then suffocated by the proliferation of just such abstractions, in which we swim as in an autonomous element, which suffuse our individual consciousnesses with abstract categories, concepts, and information of all kinds. What to reclaim or reconquer from this new morass, which is rather different from what confronted the Greeks in their "blooming, buzzing confusion"? And who does not see that this holds a thousand times more true for ourselves in postmodernity and late capitalism, in the society of the spectacle and the realm of the cybernetic, than in Hegel's still relatively information-poor life-world? If the Greeks transformed their sensory immediacy into universals, into what can universals themselves be transformed? Hegel's answer is generally interpreted to be reflexivity, self-consciousness, the dialectic and its distance from the concepts it wields and inhabits: that's probably not wrong, but also not very usable under present circumstances (but his own word was "actuality"). Marx had a better formula: bourgeois thought, he said (which we may also read as Greek philosophy), sought to rise from the particular to the universal; our task is now to rise (note the persistence of the verb)—to rise from the universal to the concrete.
The greatness of Gilles Deleuze—or at least one of his many claims on greatness—was to have confronted omnivorously the immense field of everything that was thought and published. No one can read the two volumes of Capitalisme et schizophrénie (or, in a different way, those of Cinéma) without being stunned by the ceaseless flood of references that tirelessly nourish these texts, and which are processed into content and organized into dualisms. This is the sense in which one can speak of Deleuze as a thinker of synthesis, one who masters the immense proliferation of thoughts and concepts by way of assimilation and appropriation. (If you like dualisms, indeed, and great cosmic or metaphysical oppositions, then you can say that Derrida is his opposite in this respect, tirelessly dissolving all the reified thoughts he encounters in the tradition back into the first impossibilities and antinomies from which they sprang.) This is why it seems to me misguided to search for a system or a central idea in Deleuze: in fact, there are many of those. It seems preferable to observe the extraordinary process whereby his intelligence rewrites and transcodes its overpopulated conceptual environment, and organizes it into force fields. But that organization, often so luminously schematic, does not aim to give us the truth, but rather a series of extraordinary representations: it is a Active mapping which utilizes as its representational language great mythic dualisms such as the Schizophrenic and the molar or Paranoid, the Nomad and the State, space and time.
I want to look further into that organizational process, but I want to come at it from a specific question. The attacks on Freud that run through Capitalisme et schizophrénie (particularly the first volume) have been more notorious than the defense and deployment of Marx, which is an equally persistent feature. But we know that Deleuze planned a work on Marx in his final years, and we may also suspect that Marx is a good deal more pervasive than the lengthy chapter on that part of the Grundrisse sometimes entitled "Precapitalist Economic Formations," which occupies so central a space in L'Anti-Oedipe. I think that Deleuze is alone among the great thinkers of so-called poststructuralism in having accorded Marx an absolutely fundamental role in his philosophy—in having found in the encounter with Marx the most energizing event for his later work.
Let's first examine, as it were, the sequence of events in that vast Marx chapter of L'Anti-Oedipe, which nonetheless and despite its energy and coherence may be taken as a set of notes on Marxism rather than some new philosophy of the latter, or some ideologically innovative reading. The chapter is itself a subdivision of a larger one, something like the philosophy of history of the Deleuze/Guattari operation, strangely entitled "Sauvages, barbares, civilise's," a classification that has more ancient roots (in Adam Ferguson, for example), but which springs in recent times (with the enthusiastic approval of Marx himself) from Lewis Henry Morgan's Ancient Society of 1877. I must say something more about this fascinating figure, whom Levi-Strauss called the inventor of the kinship system and the founder of modern anthropology; but I will limit myself to the extraordinary way in which, with Morgan, all theories of the modern and of modernity meet their supplement and their hidden truth. The "modern" is of course here "civilization"; but whoever says so immediately posits an Other and a preceding stage of premodernity or precapitalism. That can simply, for most theoreticians of the modern, be the traditional and its benighted ignorance, while for others it can offer the libidinal investment of a golden age, that of the Noble Savage and the state of Nature. What is unique about Morgan is that he takes both positions simultaneously—as a supporter of the Paris Commune and an adoptive clan member of the Iroquois tribe, a lifelong admirer of the Native American mode of social organization called, from its equivalents in antiquity, the gens. "Barbarian" thus has no negative connotations in Morgan: it is a proud affront to the dehumanization and alienation of "civilized" industrial capitalism, a badge worn in honor and defiance. But the energy necessary to break with the modernizing social order in this way must itself be paid for; so it is that Morgan's negation of civilization generates a negation of the negation—a second, supplementary Other in the form of the Savage—something like the remainder or waste product, the convenient result of an operation of "splitting" whereby everything unpleasantly uncivilized about the Iroquois can be separated off and attributed to "truly" primitive or tribal peoples. Morgan's libidinal horror at the "savage" can be sensed in his own expression, "the stupendous system of promiscuity," by which is meant not only unbridled sexuality before the incest taboo but also a generalized system of flux: no writing, no fixed domicile, no organized individuality, no collective memory or history, no customs to be passed down—the imagined list by which this absolute disorder can be designated is endless. Clearly, in the Deleuze/Guattari system, the valences on all this are changed: savagery becomes as close as we can get to the idyllic liberation of schizophrenia, while the already implicit hierarchies of the gens are, on their account of barbarism, deployed and developed into the Ur-state, primal despotism, the sway of the Emperor and of the signifier itself.
This grand narrative of history will then clearly reinvent the classic problem of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and will tend to emphasize the survivals of both earlier stages, and their possible recurrence, more than is the case in most Marxian accounts. The central position of power in the account of barbarism—the sacred body of the king or emperor replacing the body of the earth, the emphasis on hierarchy and the State as a historical force—will swell into the alternating terms of the great dualism of Mille plateaux. Contrary to first impressions, this emphasis on power (unlike what happens in Foucault) does not here assert itself as an alternative to Marxian economic analysis; rather, the latter is itself generalized throughout the Deleuze/Guattari historical narrative in such a way that the determination by the economic is argued more fully and persuasively for the primitive (or "savage") mode than in most Marxian discussions. Indeed, here, alongside the primal value given to the "code" and to inscription, which would seem to offer a still relatively "structuralist" interpretation of primitive society, it is the tension between filiation and alliance that perpetually reinserts the "economic," in the Marxian sense, and persists all the way up to capitalism, where it becomes the internal opposition between the two uses of money itself: as capital and as purchasing power, as power of investment and as measure of exchange.
But it is to the question of the code that we need to return in order to grasp the originality of the Deleuze/Guattari account of capitalism. The latter is, indeed, seen by them as organized by an axiomatic, which is very different from the code of the earlier moments, raising the suspicion that, as with money itself, one of the functions of the very concept of "code" in the first place is to set off this radical difference with the axiomatic, while the other function is to secure its own identity from within as a concept, described (rather than defined) as follows: "A flux is coded inasmuch as detachments of the chain and preselections of the flux operate in correspondence, embrace and marry each other." The figure is that of Louis Hjelmslev's glossematics, so highly praised here owing to the relative indifference of the content of each of its planes, along with the absolute requirement of a formal coordination between the two planes (what another system describes as the double inscription).
It would not be appropriate to mark this distinction by describing the "code" as meaningful and the "axiom" as meaningless or arbitrary, since the very concept of meaning in its traditional sense is something Deleuze aims to do away with and to replace. We might just as well say that the property of a code is to be indifferently replaceable by another code, which will look equally "meaningful" or organic after a certain time; whereas with an axiom, you're stuck—you can't change it, at best you can add another one, until the axiomatic resembles those legal systems in which enormous quantities of precedents and old rulings can be found in the stacks somewhere. In mathematics, as I understand it, the axiom is the starting point, which cannot itself be grounded or justified, but rather serves as the ground or justification for all the other steps and propositions: "The choice of axioms involves a choice of basic technical terms to be left undefined, since the attempt to define all terms would lead to endless regression." It is my understanding that modern discussions of axiomatics turn essentially on this matter of presupposition and arbitrary starting points. At any rate, it is precisely as an axiomatic that Deleuze and Guattari begin their discussion of capital. Let me risk the following characterization: Codes have a momentary self-sufficiency about them, whether they subsist in the form of decorations (bodily tattoos, for example) or in the form of custom and myth, and even though they are prone to transformation into other codes in the immense slippage of history. Axioms, on the other hand, are operational; they do not offer anything for commentary or exegesis, but rather are merely a set of rules to be put into effect. And this is the sense in which capitalism repairs itself and surmounts its contradictions by adding new axioms: you are supposed to believe in a pure market system, that is to say, a rather simple axiomatic positing undisturbed exchanges. But when there is a crisis in free trade or the gold standard, you add the more complex axioms of Keynesianism: those do not modify the axiomatic of capitalism but merely complicate the operations that make it up. There can be no return here to any simpler axiomatic or purer form of capitalism; only the addition of ever more rules and qualifications (rules against rules, for example, a dismantling of Keynesianism that has to use the latter's structures and institutions in order to fulfill itself). At any rate, this enigmatic but central term must, I think, be grasped in terms of what might be called a Deleuzian semiotics, and indeed, we here urgently need something like a semiotics of the axiom, provided we have already equipped ourselves with a satisfactory semiotics of the code as such. Even so, the question lingers as to the originality of the distinction: Does it do much more than restate the old opposition between the mechanical and the organic, betweenGemeinschaft and Gesellschaft, in new and novel terminology?
The answer given by L'Anti-Oedipe itself is resolutely "textual": codes are inscribed—at the outer limit inscribed on the body itself (tattoos, scars, face painting)—when not on the body of the world. But the axiomatic is not a writing and leaves no traces of that kind. If you prefer the distinction to be staged the other way round, we may say "that a code is never economic and can never be," an observation that slowly leads us back to Marx's own account of precapitalist formations, which, although "ultimately" organized around a specific type of economic production in them—but unlike what holds for capitalism—are secured by an "extra-economic instance": "religion for the Middle Ages, politics for the ancient city-state," to which, after Morgan, the tradition has added "kinship for tribal society or primitive communism." This separation of power from production in noncapitalist societies was then theorized by the Althusserians as the distinction between the determinant—always a form of the economic—and the dominant, which in the social formations mentioned is extra-economic: only in capitalism do the two then coincide. (One of the crucial theoretical arguments about socialism today surely turns on this distinction as well, i.e., on whether socialism and other proposed alternatives to capitalism, such as Islamic fundamentalism, do not also require some "extra-economic" motivation.)
The argument about the code, then, is one of the three principal features of this subchapter. The remarkable pages on kinship, which reorganize this concept into a tension between filiation and alliance, furnish the theme of a second development, turning on the reappearance of this tension within capital itself as the two functions of money. The final discussion on the Oedipus complex happens to interest me much less, but it posits a specific and unique form of representation and the production and function of images in axiomatic society (or capitalism), of which the primal scene and the Oedipal family become the first form and the exemplar. Meanwhile, from time to time, the authors remember their initial project and ask themselves how desire can be invested in such systems; they invoke and reinterpret the "falling rate of profit"; most significantly for any political reading, they theorize the tendencies of the system: in a remarkable passage they assert that capitalism's deterritorializations are always accompanied by reterritorializations, or at least by the impulse and temptation to reterritorialize. Such tendencies, to reinvent the private garden or the religious enclave, to practice the sacred after hours like a hobby, or to try to libidinalize money into an exciting game—in other words, to attempt to transform bits of the axiomatic back into so many codes—is obviously at one with the way in which the various forms of precapitalism (coding and overcoding, the despotic state, the kinship system) survive in capitalism in forms that resemble their traditional counterparts, but that have in reality completely different functions. This incapacity of the axiomatic, or of capitalism, to offer intrinsic libidinal investments to its subjects—its urgent internal need to reinvent older forms of coding to supplement its impoverished structures—is surely one of the most interesting and promising lines of investigation opened up by the "Marxism" of L'Anti-Oedipe.
Excerpted from A Deleuzian Century? by Ian Buchanan. Copyright © 1999 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author
Ian Buchanan is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Tasmania.
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