Thursday, September 27, 2007

Deleuze and Guattari::Ingenious Ellipses

The original question ran thus: ~
Does (not) diversity imply difference?

And I had answered that diversity does imply difference, but stressed that the two are only superficially related, so the question itself is only partially proper. I said that diversity is a condition, difference is an attribute, etc. Here's what Gilles Deleuze has to say.

Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given...Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon...Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned...Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences.: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, difference of intensity.

[Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (1994), p 222

Most of what Deleuze says strikes me as elliptic...which is a characteristic (the built-in curse) of continental philosophy. He says exactly what I said, in the line, 'Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon.' Noumenon, as you are aware, is the familiar 'thing-in-itself' - such as a pen or a rock - it is a Kantian term with all the connotations. The idea of noumenon (Wordweb gives, "the intellectual conception of a thing as it is in itself, not as it is known through perception", a curious definition which also exposes its own pitfalls - such as the fact that perception and conception are also intellectual, and we cannot speak about anything other than which is intellectual) in its intended sense (as thing-in-itself) is fractious and elliptic. (Quite simply, it says nothing, and it means nothing.) He could very easily have said that difference is a quality. End of issue. He wants to say a lot more about difference perhaps; so he invents all the things that follow. And all the lines that follow can be succinctly put as: The life that we experience and the life we live is different from life-in-itself. In short: we never get to the real thing (or) you can't have the cake and eat it.

I think this sort of reasoning, no matter how popular, is a nostalgic invitation to reinvent the wheel. We needn't look further why we haven't progressed much philosophically since Aristotle. (I accept that the idea of 'progress' is not a very valid one. I take it to mean, 'reduction in jargon and complexity and an increase in clarity.') The point is not that we get to the real thing or that we do not; the point is that it makes little difference or none at all (this necessarily follows from
Deleuze's reasoning). More seriously, this sort of reasoning points to a non-existent ethic (value system), something which is a prerequisite for making judgements of the sort Deleuze (or Heidegger, for that matter) is making.

In defence of
Deleuze, it must be said that the following passage refers to a discussion of nineteenth-century thermodynamics, with its classification of properties as extensive properties and intensive properties. Extensive properties, such as area and volume, can be divided in themselves without changing any other condition or property. Intrinsic properties, such as pressure or temperature, cannot be divided in themselves. That is, if you divide a bucket of water at seventy degrees you do not get two pails of water at 35 degrees, etc.

I think this is a confusion in the application of the idea, or the examples are horribly wrong. I think it simply as some properties not speaking the same language as some other properties. For example, static properties - such as length - are not properties
per se, but merely denote the "limit" in the visual field. They are agglomerations, abstractions. (Temperature, for that matter, is not an abstraction). Length is an abstraction of a physical presence to a purely abstract idea (number). Temperature can be expressed in numbers but it is delineated by other events: such as when water freezes at a particular temperature. What we are really referring to are the atoms and the molecules, so this macroscopic property, derived from Euclidean geometry, hardly belongs with temperature or pressure...

There is something basically different about length and temperature, but this difference is best expressed in terms of physics... (a very common classification being, vectors and scalars), not philosophy. We reach the limits of philosophy because this is essentially not what philosophy is built to handle. Instead, in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, for instance,
Deleuze and Guattari go on talking about things about which they had rather remain silent than make inappropriate noises. I quote:

'What is the significance of these indivisible distances that are ceaselessly transformed and cannot be divided or transformed without their elements changing in nature each time? Is it not the intensive character of this type of multiplicity's elements and the relations between them? Exactly like a speed or a temperature, which is not composed of other speeds or temperatures, but rather is enveloped in or envelops others, each of which marks a change in nature.'

[Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), pp 31-33

Insufferable is the name for it. (What insufferable twaddle! as an Englishman would say) This is simply a statement of gestalt psychology; in fact, it is a waylaying of the very poetic formulation of gestalt psychology, running thus: "The whole is not simply a sum of the parts." Everything is contained in the poetic utterance—; interrelationships, constituent elements, how they stand, how they are reduced by the division...everything. Instead of that poetic sentence, we have Deleuze's monstrosity in the name of a philosophical premise. It reveals Guattari's admiration, as a practicing psychiatrist, of course, for the poetic, and even transcendental beauty of irrational psychology. Gestalt psychology has been with us since 1930 and still strong; we already see Deleuze and Guattari's weaknesses as enduring philosophers (and, ultimately, the very process which will obsolete them).

I have a seething feeling that
Deleuze has dealt with most of the problems (he deals with repetition - basically the same thing I call loops) I have dealt with, somewhat differently but very similarly. At least in his discussion of scientific principles - such as I have outlined below - he is horribly incompetent. (He should not have done it.) It's not that I don't like his style, but I hate elliptic writing. It gives away the writer; it is clear that the writer is trying to come to a consensus (with) himself. This is nonsense and a luxury that should not be allowed anyone; especially so in philosophy. In my opinion, philosophy books should not be longer than 200 pages (or 60,000 words). A philosophy should be an exercise in condensing things, not elaboration. (Not many philosophers have this quality, unfortunately. The result: so many Ayn Rands). It is not hollering to your heart's content (when you do that, where will the heart's content go?) but subtle indication and suggestion. Unless you are convinced you need company you wouldn't holler; if you are perfectly satisfied with your system then you don't advertise at all. (This is a disruptive assertion, one that undermines all intellectual, and cultural exercises.)

In contrast there is the magnificent example of Nietzsche. Even assuming he was mentally unbalanced throughout his career, his writings are lively, and he switches topics almost like a monkey jumping from branch to branch and then to ground and up the belfry. We do not know what to expect, so his expositions are fresh, and we are merely followers. Quite literally he runs amok, connecting the things that just come to his mind, so that the philosophy appears to be almost incidental - but his fiction is the artifice, that is the imagined thing. He lived his philosophy. I'm sure it shows. If you forgive Sartre for his big philosophical work - which is pedantic to say the least - all his novels have this bewitching quality. (None of his plays have this quality, though I have never watched even one of them.) When he openly proclaims, he fails; when he packages it as incidental music, he succeeds; as a matter of fact he alone succeeds completely. His novels are the only philosophical novels we have with us. His novels have the added quality of making the plot seem incidental - but the plot is perfect. I don't think even Camus - who was a journalist by profession and by inclination - comes close. (Sartre's rival, if not his equal, in this role is Simone
de Beauvoir, who wrote pure philosophy).


Through a circuitous route, we finally describe an irregular ellipse and reach where we started. Curiously, this is the feeling I have when I read
Deleuze and Guattari. Because they never reach a conclusion, I feel incapable of experiencing any sense of accomplishment whether I read one paragraph, page, or book. Needless to say, I do not find anything in their philosophy even remotely qualified to be preserved, so there is no question of reading all their books, or even one, in full.

The problem is not endemic to
Deleuze and Guattari; it is the scourge of postmodern continental philosophy. It is not negative at all; but it is taking philosophy away and farther from the masses. When something draws itself away from society... it breaks, wilts, and dies. This... is happening.

Through lack of sport or war, some really simple things were accused of being complex by the call to historicity, ethnicity and all such taunts of pluralism. Such claims are most probably false; in any case irrelevant. It is common knowledge that not even one in ten thousand people read serious fiction, let alone philosophy; the entire exercise of "explaining" or contextualising the workings of the modern man - psyche, intellect, behaviour and all the rest - in terms of complex symbols - whether it be machinery or models of the mind and society - all increasingly sophisticated models so that they 'automatically' resemble, or imitate, the real thing - seems suspect. It is all reaching a point where the philosopher is simply trying to cry out his wisdom - an impossible and doomed task - or his helplessness in the spectre of unbearable complexity and bewildering multiplicity.

And then - we realise that we have come full circle in our own lives, knowing fully well the outcome, and still unable resist stepping out. We arrive like the voyager lost at sea - weary and at the mercy of the elements, a gift of chance. We return to the disgusting murk we ran away from. And then those with the child inside can say,
"I grew up some."

So I write.

[1780; 26/09/2007; edited and reformatted Sep 1, 2008]

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