Post 2: Problems

In his clever and detailed reworking of Spinoza (as pretty much everywhere in his corpus), Deleuze condemns morality and judgment as transcendent abstractions which belie the truly immanent nature of the world. To them he opposes a Spinozist ethics or what in the essay “To have done with judgment” he calls a “system of cruelty”. Unlike the doctrine of judgment of which morality is representative, ethics and the system of cruelty are not based on an appeal to higher forms or an infinite (because infinitely deferred) debt between God and man, but rather arise as a result of relative, instantaneous, finite and above all immanent arrangements between two bodies.

This ethics from the point of view of a theory of affect (which I’ll have to outline in more detail in another post) enables Deleuze to determine what is good and what is bad without falling into abstraction: what is good is simply that which combines with a body’s constituent or sub-ordinate relations and produces joy, that which is bad results in the breakdown and decomposition of a body’s constituent or subordinate relations and produces sadness. This seems pretty clear-cut: if a body combines with mine, I’m happy and joyful; if it doesn’t I feel sad and hateful. However, basing the evaluation of good and bad on joy and sadness to me raises a few problems. For example, we are all familiar with those things beneficial to us which break down our relations in order to have a new or different relation emerge or have our current relation set off on a different course: antibiotics, for instance, or chemotherapy. (Everyone is now familiar with Derrida’s favorite example of the pharmakon, that which is both poison and cure or his corresponding term autoimmunity.) How are we to evaluate whether these are good or bad? Deleuze acknowledges these problems and responds by saying, yes there might be some decompositional relations that appear to be good but they are bad: only that which directly composes is good, that which directly decomposes is bad, and we are able to evaluate this immediacy of value based on the corresponding joy or sadness.

(I’m aware of a similar problem in Nietzsche and Philosophy, where he says that there are reactive forces which may actually enhance and extend our capacity to be affected through their negativity eg. illness. This attests to the possibility of various different types of reactive force, types which must be determined by interpretation and evaluation of the genealogist).

But later in the same work he attests to the possibility for different types of joy and sadness: there is a primary joy and a secondary, almost perverse joy which -we are told- derives from a primary sadness. So out of this complicated nexus of joys, sadnesses, compositional relations and decompositional relations, the ability of Deleuze to maintain his position and hold tenaciously to the notions of good and bad is a little odd. One might wonder how Deleuze would respond to the example of the body without organs, a concept he develops with Guattari around the same time that he writes Spinoza: Practical Philosophy . In Anti-Oedipus, the BwO is an ambivalent force of anti-production which interrupts the relation between partial objects but enables them to form new, unforeseen connections…

I’m working on the possibility that this betrays what appears to be a fundamental myopia on Deleuze’s part regarding the work of interpretation, going back over the sections which deal with interpretation in the Nietzsche book (“it is the will to power which interprets”) and taking another look at Proust and Signs.

Any ideas on this?


~ by schoolboyerrors on June 18, 2008.

5 Responses to “Post 2: Problems”

  1. Email from Matt:
    Read your excellent blog entry and I’m really interested in what you’re doing. As usual the ex-librarian is going to name drop an article on you which you may have already read but if you haven’t then it will be very useful. It’s Howard Caygill’s ‘The Topology of Selection’ and it’s found in Ansell Pearson’s ‘Deleuze and Philosophy: the Difference Engineer’. Innit, Caygill makes a very strong critique of Deleuze’s biophilosophy with it’s implicit moralism which belies the objectivity of affective relations, even going so far as to imply that Deleuze is a crypto-fascist. Sound familiar? Check this out:

    “Deleuze’s ethology in the final analysis employs a biological rhetoric to evoke an anti-human, anti-ethical, anti political, anti-philosophical pathos which sentimentally avoids the implications of biological selection. The immanence of the ‘Origin of the Species’ remains far more implacable than that of ‘Difference and Repetiton’ and ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. These texts moralise selection, linking it with the active or passive affective relations of an organism to its environment….nature and politics are sentimentalized and brutalized. By refusing the full rigour of Darwinian selection, Deleuze is left with a sentimentalized nature and a brutalized ethics and politics.” (p160-1)

    What’s interesting about this text is that it came out so early, first published in 1997. What’s also interesting is the way the pro-Deleuzian editor attempts to account for Caygill’s essay in his introduction, and he does so through the magic- explains everything- concept of ‘Machinism’. Basically he suggests that Darwin has his own anthropomorphic biases, and that there is nothing sentimental about Deleuze’s concept of evolution. Check it out. For my part, I think you are right to argue that there seems to be the possibility of performing an immanent critique on Deleuze’s conception of affect- privileging those active passions over the passive ones, etc. I only have a very vague sense of all this, but I also think that Deleuze and Guattari’s Spinozist Marxism is going in a good direction. I think that firstly, their take on Spinoza’s common notions does not eschew an epistemological register. That is, what is good is not only what feels good: Adam learns not to eat the apple and we all avoid it ever after. What we have in Deleuze is a pragmatic analysis of situations according to what one wants to achieve, and it is this pragmatic register which makes their work fairly compatible with the sciences. Secondly, I think that in order to have any viable political project one needs to postulate some kind of value (of course this is my very simple understanding of a problem which philosophers have been screwing over since time began). Whilst Deleuze and Guattari definitely fall victim to the critique that they sentimentalize nature, that they anthropomophize the cuddly affects, I think their system is still flexible enough to be modified in line with science (even if there are problems with the way that Stengers and DeLanda have tried to do so). Lastly, out an out praise- I think that they are the ones who’ve moved forward the Marxist project more than anyone else of their generation. Shame it ended up with Hardt and Negri…

    Hope this note is partly useful, look forward to your future posts. Enjoy Proust and Signs if you haven’t already read it- it’s my favourite book by Deleuze…

  2. Reply:
    Matt, thanks for this, you’ve been great pal.

    I haven’t read the Caygill piece but I’ll get it: it seems to have
    some interesting things going on from what you’ve said, in particular the notion of double selection, which I find one of the more shaky aspects of becoming-active in Nietzsche and Philosophy.

    I reckon I’ll have to reply to your other comment in more detail in another post but two points for the moment in response.
    One: I think in my post I gave the impression that I thought Deleuze was being some kind of moronic vitalist who doesn’t consider the epistemological and whose thought only makes sense from the point of view of joy or sadness. This is not the case: as you’ve rightly pointed out, his (brilliant) system of affects is immanently bound to a system of common notions and adequate ideas, which acknowledges this parallelism between the two (this is what makes Deleuze so great and nuanced and difficult to critique). But what if the system of affects is flawed? This is what I’m trying to look at.
    Two: one of the things I’m going to deal with is this problem of
    positing values. The problem is two fold: 1) does Deleuze introduce a subterranean morality into his system by positing the normativity of active, composition etc. and 2) given that he says in Nietzsche & Phil and elsewhere that all we know are becomings-reactive and all we can know and think are reactive forces (consciousness), how can he evaluate active and reactive forces as he does? The first part is easier to answer than the second, but I think both rely heavily upon a theory of interpretation which i have yet to analyse in any detail (thus the Proust book). Might you have any ideas/readings about this?

  3. Diarmuid: This post over at larval subjects is really interesting (also the post above it questioning the intrinsically revolutionary nature of desire in D+G). This comment by Sinthome himself seemed pretty relevant to your project:

    “What I am wondering about is not the avowed aims and commitments of these texts, but how these avowed aims and commitments are to be thought or grounded. That is, by what principle does on select flows over molar aggregates? Why ought we choose flows over molar aggregates. In Plato we get a principle of selection based on the concept of justice. It is this that allows him to select among the various political formations towards the end of The Republic and diagnose states of “health” and “sickness” with respect to each of these political systems. Likewise we get a principle of selection in Badiou and Ranciere.

    The question, then, is whether there is a principle by which selection is made and how that principle might be grounded? Perhaps the issue can be brought into further relief by reference to biological thought. It’s no secret that Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari are deeply influenced by evolutionary theory and biological thought. Now within the context of biological theory, no preference is given to populations of a species that are in a state of stable equilibrium and populations of a species that are in a state of metastable equilibrium where speciation is actively taking place as a result of migration, drift, isolation, etc. It seems that a very similar schema is being applied at the level of social systems in Deleuze and Guattari. Molar aggregates are social formations in a state of fairly stable equilibrium, whereas molecular aggregates are in a state of metastable equilibrium. Yet why is one to be preferred over the other?”

    Why indeed! The only solution I can find is that one system leads to an intensification of being, of new connections of flows of desire, etc etc… (let us recite the Deleuzean catechism one more time, 3 “hail the BwO”s and we can atone for our micro-fascist sins…) but then the same question arises: Why is that, well, “good”? If all they are describing is a system, then without positing either (a) a norm (external to the system, transcendent, not immanently derived, tsk tsk, that simply won’t do) or (b) Some anthropocentric end point (which perhaps they do with the notion of “pragmatics” etc?) … then without either of these the system alone does not and cannot support any preference or selection of molecular over molar etc.

  4. Hi, I’m a friend of Cary’s.

    I think that you’re absolutely right to begin with immanence as the assumption. And I think that the appropriate position to take when teasing-out Deleuze and D&G’s philosophy is to ask simple questions like you’ve asked here: why is novelty generation a good thing?

    If a world view of immanence is to be assumed then all discussions, all meditations and all effects of actions must be contextualized. I’ve presented some papers on this very question and I think that we get some traction if we look to Classical East Asia to begin to understand better what thinking immanently looks like (I know, D&G state that Asia is without philosophy, but maybe a hermeneutics of trust needs to be employed to understand that statement).

    Particularly, I think that the works of Roger Ames and David Hall go a long way to flesh out what immanence-based philosophy can do for our context. What is it about the 20th century that got these four folks talking about this stuff?

    Well, this is going to sound like a cop-out; but, I don’t know that I can comment at this time on what you’ve posted so far beyond, “I like what you’ve written so far, maybe you and I are interested in similar topics, I look forward to reading what you write,” so think of this as an overly verbose, “Hello.”

  5. Diarmuid: I replied to your comment on my blog, thanks for that. Would be good to have a chat about this whole difference in itself/transversality/relationality vs ontology point. I think its confusing me as much as it is you at the moment!

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