September 16th, 2011 / 3:23 pm

Favorite Passages from Deleuze & Guattari’s What Is Philosophy? (In Chronological Order)

To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.

There is such force in those unhinged works of Hölderlin, Kleist, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Kafka, Michaux, Pessoa, Artaud, and many English and American novelists, from Melville to Lawrence or Miller, in which the reader discovers admiringly that they have written the novel of Spinozism. To be sure, they do not produce a syntheses of art and philosophy. They branch out and do not stop branching out. They are hybrid geniuses who neither erase nor cover over differences in kind, but, on the contrary, use all the resources of their “athleticism” to install themselves within this very difference, like acrobats torn apart in a perpetual show of strength.

If philosophy is paradoxical by nature, this is not because it sides with the least plausible opinion or because it maintains contradictory opinions but rather because it uses sentences of a standard language to express something that does not belong to the order of opinion or even of the proposition.

Philosophy thus lives in a permanent crisis. The plane takes effect through shocks, concepts proceed in bursts, and personae by spasms.

We do not lack communcation. On the contrary, we have too much of it. We lack creation. We lack resistance to the present.

Artaud said: to write for the illiterate–to speak for the aphasic, to think for the acephalous. But what does “for” mean? It is not “for their benefit,” or yet “in their place.” It is “before.” It is a question of becoming. The thinker is not acephalic, aphasic, or illiterate, but becomes so. He becomes Indian, and never stops becoming so–perhaps “so that” the Indian who is himself Indian becomes something else and tears himself away from his own agony. We think and write for animals themselves. We become animal so that the animal also becomes something else.

The young man will smile on the canvas for as long as the canvas lasts. Blood throbs under the skin of this woman’s face, the wind shakes a branch, a group of men prepare to leave. In a novel or a film, the young man will stop smiling, but he will start to smile again when we turn to this page or that moment. Art preserves, and it is the only thing in the world that is preserved.

We may also admire children’s drawings, or rather be moved by them, but they rarely stand up and only resemble Klee or Miró if we do not look at them for long. The paintings of the mad, on the contrary, often hold up, but on condition of being crammed full, with no empty space remaining. However, blocs need pockets of air and emptiness, because even the void is sensation. All sensation is composed with the void in compositing itself with itself, and everything holds together on earth and in the air, and preserves the void, is preserved in the void by preserving itself.

Memory plays a small part in art (even and especially in Proust).

We dwell on the art of the novel because it is the source of a misunderstanding: many people think that novels can be created with our perceptions and affections, our memories and archives, or travels and fantasies, our children and parents, with the interesting characters we have met and, above all, the interesting character who is inevitably oneself (who isn’t interesting?), and finally with our opinions holding it all together. If need be, we can invoke great authors who have done nothing but recount their lives–Thomas Wolfe or Henry Miller. Generally we get composite works in which we move about a great deal but in search of a father who is found only in ourself: the journalist’s novel. We are not spared the least detail, in the absence of any really artistic work. The cruelty we may have seen and the despair we have experienced do not need to be transformed a great deal in order to produce yet again the opinion that generally emerges about the difficulties of communication. Rossellini saw this as a reason for giving up art: art was allowing itself to be invaded too much by infantilism and cruelty, both cruel and doleful, whining and satisfied at the same time, so that it was better to abandon it.

Creative fabulation has nothing to do with a memory, however exaggerated, or with a fantasy. In fact, the artist, including the novelist, goes beyond the perceptual states and affective transitions of the lived. The artist is a seer, a becomer. How would he recount what happened to him, or what he imagines, since his is a shadow? He has seen something in life that is too great, too unbearable also, and the mutual embrace of life with what threatens it, so that the corner or nature or districts of the town that he sees, along with their characters, accede to a vision that, through them, composes the percepts of that life, of that moment, shattering lived perceptions into a sort of cubism, a sort of simultaneism, or harsh or crepuscular light, of purple or blue, which have no other object or subject than themselves. “What we call styles,” said Giacometti, “are those visions fixed in time and space.”

Percepts can be telescopic or microscopic, giving characters and landscapes giant dimensions as if they were swollen by a life that no lived perception can attain. Balzac’s greatness. It is of little importance whether these characters are mediocre: they become giants, like Bouvard and Pecuchet, Bloom and Molly, Mercier and Camier, without ceasing to be what they are. It is by dint of mediocrity, even of stupidity or infamy, that they are able to become not simple (they are never simple) but gigantic. Even dwarves and cripples will do: all fabulation is the fabrication of giants.

A great novelist is above all an artist who invents unknown or unrecognized affects and brings them to light as the becoming of his characters: the crepuscular states of knights in the novels of Chrétien de Troyes (in relation to a possible concept of chivalry), the states of almost catatonic “rest” that merge with duty according to Mme de Lafayette (in relation to a concept of quietism), on up to Beckett’s state, as affects that are all the more imposing as they are poor in affections.

A monument does not commemorate or celebrate something that happened but confides to the ear of the future the persistent sensations that embody the event: the constantly renewed suffering of men and women, their re-created protestations, their constantly resumed struggle. Will this all be in vain because suffering is eternal and revolutions do not survive their victory? But the success of a revolution resides only in itself, precisely in the vibrations, clinches, and openings it gave to men and women at the moment of its making and that composes in itself a monument that is always in the process of becoming, like those tumuli to which each new traveler adds a stone. The victory of a revolution is immanent and consists in the new bonds it installs between people, even if these bonds last no longer than the revolution’s fuses material and quickly give way to division and betrayal.

And this, first of all, is what makes painting abstract: summoning forces, population the area of plain, uniform color with the forces it bears, making the invisible forces visible in themselves, drawing up figures with a geometrical appearance but that are no more than forces–the forces of gravity, heaviness, rotation, the vortex, explosion, expansion, germination, and time (as music may be said to make the sonorous force of time audible, in Messiaen for example, or literature, with Proust, to make the illegible force of time legible and conceivable). Is this not the definition of the percept itself–to make perceptible the imperceptible forces that populate the world, affect us, and makes us become?

Flesh is the only developer which disappears in what it develops: the compound of sensation.

The great refrain arises as we distance ourselves from the house, even if this is in order to return, since no one will recognize us any more when we come back.

Every sensation is a question, even if the only answer is silence.

Perhaps the peculiarity of art is to pass through the finite in order to rediscover, to restore the infinite.

It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance–the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself.

That is to say that artists struggle less against chaos (that, in a certain manner, all their wishes summon forth) than agains the “clichés” of opinion. The painter does not paint on an empty canvas, and neither does the writer write on a blank page; but the page or canvas is already so covered with preexisting, preestablished clichés that it is first necessary to erase, to clean, to flatten, even to shred, so as to let in a breath of air from the chaos that brings us the vision. When Fontana slashes the colored canvas with a razor, he does not tear the color in doing this. On the contrary, he makes us see the area of plain, uniform color, of pure color, through the slit. Art indeed struggles with chaos, but it does so in order to bring forth a vision that illuminates it for an instant, a Sensation.

We thus come back to a conclusion to which art led us: the struggle with chaos is only the instrument of a more profound struggle against opinion, for the misfortune of people comes from opinion. Science turns against opinion, which lends to it a religious taste for unity or unification. But it also turns within itself against properly scientific opinion as Urdoxa, which consists sometimes in determinist prediction (Laplace’s God) and sometimes in probabilistic evaluation (Maxwell’s demon): by releasing itself from initial pieces of information and large-scale pieces of information, science substitutes for communication the conditions of creativity defined by singular effects and minimal fluctuations. Creation is the aesthetic varieties or scientific variables that emerge on a plane that is able to crosscut chaotic variability. As for pseudosciences that claim to study the phenomena of opinion, the artificial intelligences of which they make use maintain as their models probabilistic processes, stable attractors, an entire logic of the recognition of forms; but they must achieve chaoid states and chaotic attractions to be able to understand both thought’s struggle against opinion and its degeneration into opinion (one line in the development of computers is toward the assumption of a chaotic or chaoticizing system).

If the mental objects of philosophy, art, and science (that is to say, vital ideas) have a place, it will be in the deepest of the synaptic fissures, in the hiatuses, intervals, and meantimes of a nonobjectifiable brain, in a place where to go in search of them will be to create.

Old age is this very weariness: then, there is either a fall into mental chaos outside of the plane of composition or a falling-back on ready-made opinions, on cliches that reveal that an artist, no longer able to create new sensations, no longer knowing how to preserve, contemplate, and contract, no longer has anything to say.

And individuation, in the cerebral state of affairs, is all the more functional because it does not have the cells themselves for variables, since the latter constantly die without being renewed, making the brain a set of little deaths that puts constant death within us.

In all these cases the rule is that the interfering discipline must proceed with its own methods. For example, sometimes we speak of the intrinsic beauty of a geometrical figure, an operation, or a demonstration, but so long as this beauty is defined by criteria taken from science, like proportion, symmetry, dissymmetry, projection, or transformation, then there is nothing aesthetic about it: this is what Kant demonstrated with such force.

Philosophy needs a nonphilosophy that comprehends it; it needs a nonphilosophical comprehension just as art needs nonart and science needs nonscience. They do not need the No as beginning, or as the end in which they would be called upon to disappear by being realized, but at every moment of their becoming or their development.

The book.

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  1. deadgod

      The law of chaos is the law of ideas,
      Of improvisations and seasons of belief.


  2. deadgod


      How so is this arrangement a ‘chronotope’?

  3. Laura Carter

      Love this book! I am wondering about the difference between creation and resistance to the present, and about immediacy (and affect) that Deleuze is so fond of. Clearly, immanence is here to stay!

  4. deadgod

      Free from what?  As if that mattered[.]  But your eyes should say brightly:  free for what?

  5. Chad Parmenter

      Thanks for posting this!  They’re kind of putting Plato in a new way, aren’t they?  He says that thing about how poetry critics also take part in the madness of poetry, that seems to be in D&G’s genes. 

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