Pervert and Subvert: François Zourabichvili on Deleuze and Negri

“It’s not always clear which ‘leftism’ was that of Deleuze. The left is ordinarily characterised by its voluntarism. Deleuze, however, developed the least voluntarist philosophy imaginable: attesting to the ‘unwillingness’ of the Russian idiot; the ‘absence of will’ of the aboriginal American… He always insisted on the fundamentally involuntary character of true thought and all becomings. Consequently, nothing was more foreign to him than a programme to transform the world according to a given plan, or according to a certain goal.”   “Deleuze et le possible (de l’involontarisme en politique)” p.335

François Zourabichvili (1965-2006)

A few years ago, while browsing the shelves of Dialogues bookstore in Brest, I come across François Zourabichvili’s abécédaire of Deleuzian philosophy, Le vocabulaire de Deleuze, a concise and scintillating treasure of a text which achieves that rare feat of lucidly communicating Deleuze’s system of concepts while communing with it in imaginative and original ways. I quickly set about finding everything I could by him aiming, ultimately, to make the work of this careful, inventive and underrated scholar of Deleuze and Spinoza available to a wider anglophone audience. Unfortunately, this has turned out to be a more complicated and time-consuming task than I had originally thought so, for the time being at least, the majority of his works will remain untranslated (at least by me). In any case, by way of an introduction to the those unfamiliar with his work, I thought I might share my translation of his interview with Multitudes, entitled “Les deux pensées de Deleuze et de Negri : une richesse et une chance” which I’ve chosen to call “Deleuze and Negri: Pervert and Subvert.” The two companion pieces to this are “Deleuze et le Possible (de l’involontarisme en politique)” in Eric Alliez’s Deleuze: Une Vie Philosophique, and “The Question of Literality” in Klesis 5:1 (2007), which expand upon the notion of possibility and literality, two central ideas briefly raised here.

For more information:

Zourabichvili’s wikipedia entry

A bibliography of Zourabichvili’s work.

Taylor Adkin’s translations of Univocity and Pre-Individual Singularities from Le vocabulaire de Deleuze.

Special issues of Klesis journal in honour of Zourabichvili 5:1 and 5:2

[UPDATE 26 JUNE 2012: I’ve just been informed that Zourabichvilli’s two books, Deleuze. Une philosophie de l’événement (1994) and  Le vocabulaire de Deleuze (2004) have been translated by Kieran Aarons and will be published very soon.]

 “Deleuze and Negri: Pervert and Subvert”

Intro: Responding to two questions posed by Y. Ichida regarding Giles Deleuze’s conception of politics and its relation to the notion of the multitude, François Zourabichvili attempts to refine Deleuze’s conception of an in-voluntarist politics by distinguishing it from the thought of Toni Negri: the concept of the multitude, he concludes, is not Deleuzian; furthermore, the “institution” in Deleuze’s thought does not correspond to Negri’s “constituent”. Where Negri proposes a total theory, Deleuze proceeds by a series of local skirmishes, going from localised struggle to localised struggle; one position of instability to another. The opposition between Deleuzian “involuntarism” and Negrian “voluntarism” signals a disagreement over the system of actualisation.

Multitudes: 1. With regards to the [perceived] absence of every political project in Deleuze’s work, you have spoken, in “Deleuze and the possible” (Deleuze. Une vie philosophique, ed. E. Alliez, 1998), of an “involuntarism” that is characteristic of his “leftism” and you have identified a Deleuzian politics in his conception of the possible as that which is not realised but rather created. From this point of view, can the “multitude” as a political subject be Deleuzian? What relationship do you see between the insistence of Toni Negri on the “subject” (often called absolutely voluntarist) and this Deleuzian “involuntarism”? 2. If, for Deleuze, politics consists of creating and actualising the possible can philosophy have a role to play in this actualisation? Or does Deleuze’s silence regarding the concrete creation of the possible mean that politics becomes separate from philosophy?

FZ: The absence of a project doesn’t indicate a lacuna, but is in fact the condition of what Deleuze calls “believing in the world” (not believing in another world, or one transformed): Deleuze held that faith in the world or in what happens to us is the problem, or at least has become so (cf. Cinema II: The Time-Image). It’s not that images and games make us lose our sense of reality, as conventional discourse would have it, but rather that the habitual condition of this belief has collapsed upon itself. The “fact of modernity” is that recognisable systems, to which we ordinarily submit in every walk of life (in work, in conjugality, in militantism, in art, etc.), tend to appear to us as the clichés they are: we oscillate between an experience of déjà-vu and the bare event because we do not know how to stop participating in systems that are no longer secure in their function. Here, concerning the concept of “revolutionary-becoming” (devenir-révolutionnaire) (as opposed to concerns about the revolution’s future [l’avenir de la revolution]), the general theme of “involuntarism” relates to politics. This concept is less a political carpe diem than a veritable trial: shall we know, one day, how to grant a reality to events as they are (1905, the Liberation, 1968), independent of both a plan for the future which assigns to them a certain degree and signification (“répétition générale”), or a retrospective judgement that evaluates them after have come to pass (as a revolution missed/betrayed/toxic)? We always want an event to have an end, but an event is from the outset a rupture, a transformation of collective perception (new relations to work, to knowledge, to childhood, to time, to sexuality, etc.). Thus believing in the world is about believing in the reality of the world’s internal ruptures. According to Deleuze and Guattari, political potential resides in these ruptures (systematically misrecognised by those prescient and retrospective assessments); indeed, they are the source of law and every new economic, social or political assemblage, that is to say, institutions in general (new laws, new relations at work or school, or even newforms of conjugal life).

As for what you call “the concrete creation of the possible” there must, as a rule, be silence. No one knows how to anticipate that which can only be created (witness Deleuze’s obstinate silence at the end of “Postscript on the Societies of Control”): it is not possible to highlight the axes of a new kind of struggle because these struggles are already at work (cf. “May ’68 didn’t happen”). Yet this theoretical aporia doesn’t necessarily mark the destitution of thought: it could be, rather, the courage of a thought which exposes itself to time. The role of the philosopher in the actualisation of open possibilities is another matter, and Deleuze makes himself quite clear on this point, most notably in an interview with Foucault in 1972: the time of the philosopher as guide of the masses is over, dispatched by philosophy itself, whose internal transformation encourages the philosopher to think of himself as having a different kind of status. Not that the role of philosophy in “becomings-revolutionary” is negligible, in fact one might say it’s the sole purpose of the philosopher-as-scout; but philosophy, like other disciplines, assumes a role inasmuch as its practices are not immutable and its own transformations resonate with the transformations of other practices, theoretical or militant. In this sense, transformations – and their political potential – go through philosophy. In a book like A Thousand Plateaus, the practice of these resonances is a very condition of the transformation of philosophical discourse and what should be studied [in this work] is the Deleuzoguattarian outline of an immanent or “literal” discourse. “Literality”, that is to say the nomadic distribution of meaning arising from the division between proper and figurative sense, is nothing other than the production of certain effects in the political field. For instance, to take up the example of Cinema II regarding the transformation of political cinema in the second half of the 20th century, statements like “bankers are killers” and “factories are prisons”, at a certain level must be heard literally, not as metaphorical agit-prop clichés. Certainly, bankers are rarely killers in the proper sense, but on the other hand, if we all we have here is metaphor, the system of banking remains unscathed and we are confined to merely imagining certain humanitarian adjustments. However, everyone more or less intuits this literal understanding, maybe it’s even an aspect of this “fact of modernity”; what remains to be done is to produce philosophical conditions in it; to seize it with a discourse that shows its legitimacy and explores its virtualities. This is an essential dimension of Deleuze’s work since Difference and Repetition – an essential, but puzzling dimension, since most people think that Deleuze’s discourse is metaphorical or do not understand how this can be tenable.

Continue reading my translation of the full interview.


~ by schoolboyerrors on April 19, 2011.

3 Responses to “Pervert and Subvert: François Zourabichvili on Deleuze and Negri”

  1. Une ambiance très originale

  2. […] into English. Here is what I found: 1. Relating to the title of Aarons’ presentation is this brief interview with Multitudes translated by Diarmuid Hester on the differences between Negri … in light of the then recently published Empire. Zourabichvili discusses Negri’s volutarism […]


    it’s out!

    discount flier here:

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