I just finished reading Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, Peter Hallward’s recent (2006) book on Deleuze. Hallward knows Deleuze’s texts very well. His formulations are quite lucid and quite powerful, and he systematizes Deleuze, or shows the fundamental unity of Deleuze’s philosophical project, in a way that most of Deleuze’s interpreters and followers have not been able to do. But Out of This World is fundamentally one-sided, so much so that it ends up being altogether misleading. In this respect, I find that I am in agreement with Glen’s critique of the book.
In a certain sense, Hallward takes Deleuze’s own methodology and turns it against him. Deleuze’s treatment of the philosophers he writes about is a complicated one: one that is obscured more than it is explained by Deleuze’s flippant and notorious comment about impregnating the past philosopher from behind, in order to produce a monstrous offspring. Deleuze is always closely attentive to the words, and the concepts, of the thinkers he is writing about. He quotes them a lot, and paraphrases their points using their own vocabularies. At the same time, Deleuze never provides an interpretation of the thinkers he is discussing; he is uninterested in hermeneutics, uninterested in teasing out ambiguities and contradictions, uninterested in deconstructing prior thinkers or in determining ways in which they might be entrenched in metaphysics. All this is in accord with Deleuze’s own philosophy: his focus is on invention, on the New, on the “creation of concepts.”
It’s not a matter of saying, for instance, that Plato and Aristotle and St. Augustine were wrong about the nature of time, and Kant or Bergson are right. Rather, what matters to Deleuze is the sheer fact of conceptual invention: the fact that Kant, and then Bergson, invent entirely new ways of conceiving time and temporality, leading to new ways of distributing, classifying, and understanding phenomena, new perspectives on Life and Being. A creation of new concepts means that we see the world in a new way, one that wasn’t available to us before. This is what Deleuze looks for in the history of philosophy, and this is why (and how) he is concerned, not with what a given text “really” means, but rather with what can be done with it, how it can be used, what other problems and other texts it can be brought into conjunction with. Deleuze writes about philosophers whose ideas he can use, or transform, in order to work through the problems he is interested in.
Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy, for instance, systematizes Nietzsche’s thought to a remarkable extent, an extent that Nietzsche himself never reached, and would most likely have actively scorned. (“The will to a system is a lack of integrity”). So Deleuze certainly does not provide an “accurate” or “complete” reading of Nietzsche. What he does, instead, is to select from Nietzsche, and transform Nietzsche; and to create, thereby, a postmodern and poststructuralist Nietzsche, a Nietzsche who is far more useful for thinking the problems of the late twentieth century (and now, the twenty-first), than the Nietzsches of Heidegger, of Bataille, of Derrida, of Hitler, or of Walter Kaufmann ever were. (This is not to say that these other Nietzsches are less accurate than Deleuze’s, or less viable — only that they do not provide us with the same tools that Deleuze’s Nietzsche does).
[I should say something here about Deleuze’s book on Kant; for this is the one time when Deleuze proclaims himself to be writing a book about an “enemy.” But in fact Deleuze’s relationship to Kant is more ambiguous than such a characterization implies. Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism” owes a lot to his selective, transformative reading of Kant’s “transcendental idealism.” And in the Preface to the English translation of the Kant book, despite calling Kant an “enemy,” Deleuze also credits him with four revolutionary, poetic formulas: these are the ways in which Kant, too, is a creator of concepts, ones that Deleuze takes up and transforms in their own turn.]
Now, Hallward brilliantly systematizes Deleuze, extracts a consistency (as Deleuze says a reading of a thinker aways should) from Deleuze’s words and ideas, and shows us what new concepts Deleuze created. But whereas Deleuze takes up this approach in order to make past philosophers useful, and to shed light on Deleuze’s own problems, Hallward does it in order to render Deleuze useless, to deny that Deleuze is at all relevant to discussions of materiality, of subjectivity, of affectivity, and of political change, to dismiss Deleuze’s importance for any of the problems Hallward himself is interested in. In this sense, Out of This World is ultimately an assassination attempt: like the recent books on Deleuze by Badiou and by Zizek, it seeks to perform an exorcism of Deleuze, to purge contemporary theoretical thought of his presence.
This polemical intent stands behind every page of Hallward’s book, behind his very particular selection and transformation of Deleuze. Hallward works by means of omission and selection, reducing Deleuze to just one aspect of his thought, and acting as if the rest didn’t exist at all. Again, I stress that this is Deleuze’s own method of proceeding; the question is not one of representing Deleuze “accurately,” but of the ends to which Hallward’s selective transformation of Deleuze is put. Hallward seeks to present Deleuze as entirely a philosopher of the virtual, one who seeks merely to escape and to destroy the actual. Therefore, he triumphantly concludes, Deleuze is entirely an idealist and a spiritualist, at best uninterested in matters of this world, and at worst actively celebrating domination and oppression. At one point, drawing together Deleuze’s comments on Spinoza’s political writings, he presents Deleuze as, in effect, a Stalin or Hitler of the virtual: “the immediate political implication” of Deleuze’s philosophy, he writes, “is clear enough: … the more absolute the sovereign’s power, the more ‘free’ are those subject to it” (139). This is a quite tendentious, and indeed conservative, reading of Spinoza’s politics; I would hesitate to assert so sweepingly reductive a summary of Spinoza, much less of Deleuze, despite my uneasiness with Hardt and Negri’s too facile, but throroughly Spinozian, distinction between constitutent and constituted power. And at the very end of the book, despite disclaiming any polemical intent (“before you disagree with a book that is worthy of disagreement, you have to admire it and rediscover the problem that it poses” — 159), Hallward nonetheless entirely dismisses Deleuze’s thought with the remark that “those of us who still seek to change our world and to empower its inhabitants will need to look for our inspiration elsewhere” than in Deleuze” (164).
Out of context, these remarks would strike most readers at all familiar with Deleuze — even those who are not “Deleuzeans”, and have their reservations about Deleuze — as absurdly over the top. But the cunning and brilliance of Hallward’s writing is that he selectively shapes his citations of Deleuze (and of others) precisely in order to force this conclusion. He will quote, for instance, some of the more ‘spiritualistic’ statements from Bergson’s last (and least interesting) book, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, and attribute them directly to Deleuze, with the alibi that, although “the description of such action is explicitly mystical in Bergson but only implicitly so in Deleuze,” nonetheless “this difference, at least, is largely insignificant” (21). In this way, the book betrays a sort of prosecutorial zeal to track down the least signs of mysticism, aestheticism, and other “crimes” against materialism, and to hold Deleuze responsible for them.
Hallward’s book on Deleuze is much more lucid and careful complexly articulated than Zizek’s book on Deleuze, but the two books share similar agendas. Zizek presents Deleuze as the complicit thinker of yuppie class privilege and multinational capitalism, by transforming Deleuze’s attempt to analyze such phenomena (something that Zizek himself only does in the most desultory fashion, by converting social and economic determinations into psychological ones) into an endorsement of them. Similarly — but perhaps even worse — Hallward uses Deleuze’s interest in creativity and the New, and in the virtual and the ways that it exceeds the actual, to transform him into a religious and quasi-fascist aesthete, who would (in effect) “experience [humankind’s] own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure” (to be a little unfair on my own side, by thus citing Benjamin’s description of fascism as if it were Hallward’s description of Deleuze — which I think it is, implicitly; but Hallward never says quite this explicitly).
Now, Deleuze is often quasi-dualistic, or two-sided. He often argues for a “reciprocal determination” between different levels of reality, as between the virtual and the actual (since the virtual is, precisely, “real without being actual”). [See James Williams for an excellent discussion of “reciprocal determination”]. And Deleuze often presents seeming opposites as being, not dialectically opposed, but rather alternate directions (or tendencies, or vectors) along a continuum. Thus there is a continuum between the schizophrenic and the paranoiac poles of experience under capitalism, between molar and molecular forms of organization, between the rhizomatic and the arborescent, etc.; and an action can be more or less territorializing or deterrritorializing (or both, in different senses), depending on situations and circumstances. This is precisely what Zizek dislikes about Deleuze — there is never an absolute opposition, never a moment of pure negativity. Deleuze argues, in effect, that there are always degrees of difference, rather than absolute ruptures, even between conservatism and reform, or between reform and revolution. This seems right to me — it is a way out of the apocalyptic posing of alternatives to which both “infantile leftists” and reactionary alarmists are all too often prone.
But Hallward takes a very different tack against Deleuze than Zizek does. Hallward (whose ultimately loyalty, as far as I can determine, is to Badiou rather than to Lacan) argues that Deleuze’s formulations of duality and reciprocal determination are in fact always one-sided and unidirectional. Deleuze, he says, presents us with “a theory of ‘unilateral distinction’ ” (152). What this means is that the virtual creates the actual, rather than the reverse; virtual forces are creative, and actual forms are merely created; the “line of flight” of deterritorialisation is not a reaction to the territoriality from which it escapes, but actually the creative force that produces that territorialization in the first place; in Nietzschean terms, active forces always have priority over reactive ones, even though all our concrete, empirical experience is of the latter. Therefore, in his endeavor to affirm active forces, to rupture stratifications and territorializations, etc., Deleuze necessarily rejects everything that is in favor of a pure potentiality (more accurately, virtuality) that always stands in excess of its actualizations. The productive or creative process is exalted at the expense of anything that is actually produced. Deleuze cannot value anything in the world, because from his unworldly perspective all worldly things are compromised.
I need to emphasize that this reading of Deleuze is indeed as brilliant and insightful as it is unfairly one-sided. Deleuze does in fact affirm the ontological priority of process over product, of creativity over objectivity, of affirmation over critical negotiation. The recognition that the forces of the virtual are always in excess of that which they produce or actualize is crucial — Deleuze’s key move is precisely to insist upon inadequation as excess, against the Lacanian view that inadequation is lack, or inconsistency, or a gap in Being. And yet, and yet… This view of indequation as affirmative is precisely how Deleuze insists upon comprehending and embracing the actual, in order the better to transform it. It is this latter aspect of the Deleuzian movement that Hallward explicitly, and repeatedly, denies. Hallward polemically rejects the association of Deleuze’s thought with “fleshly materialism” and “complex processes of material emergence and physical transformation” (176), just as he utterly ignores the ways that Deleuze (both in the books co-authored with Guattari, and in certain of his own essays, like the great “Postscript on the Societies of Control”), expressly uses his concepts of transformation to understand the inner functioning of “late” (or post-Fordist) capitalism.
Let me put all this in another way. Deleuze always insists on grasping the virtual , as it were “behind” the actual. He tries to trace the ways that the virtual involves, not just the Kantian “transcendental conditions of possibility” for whatever exists in actuality, but in addition a sort of transcendental account of the actual emergence of what exists in actuality. This is precisely what Deleuze means by “transcendental empiricism.” Philosophy, for Deleuze, is an endeavor to grasp these real conditions of emergence — the virtual that generates the actual. In this sense, Deleuze adapts the projects of Spinoza and Leibniz — their endeavor to comprehend the actual determination, or “sufficient reason” of phenomena — to a post-Kantian or neo-Kantian framework. (I think that the way in which Deleuze thus remains a post-critical, post-Kantian thinker, is the crucial aspect of his thought that tends to be ignored by commentators of all stripes). But Hallward presents this investigation of the virtual, of its transcendental conditions of emergence rather than of mere possibility, as a spiritual quest to escape the actual altogether, to dissolve the phenomenal and ascend into an entirely immaterial, spiritual realm of pure creativity. I think that this is a fatal and crippling misunderstanding (although, in fairness, it is simply the mirror inversion of the enthusiastic, unproblematized calls to “construct the Body without Organs” that one hears all too glibly from all too many ostensible Deleuzians). Indeed Hallward is quite relentless in the way that he explicitly takes up all of Deleuze’s warnings against a transcendent reading, one that would turn the immanence of becoming into a separate and transcendent realm, and twists them into more reasons to see Deleuze as a thinker who traduces and rejects the actual. In Hallward’s account, the Nietzschean celebration and affirmation of Life is really just another version of the religious and metaphysical denial of Life that Nietzsche is always so ready to criticize; this strikes me as more valid as a criticism of Nietzsche, than as one of Deleuze.
The real issue here, I think, is Deleuze’s unabashed aestheticism (an attitude he shares with such of his contemporaries as Foucault and Barthes). Hallward devotes an entire chapter to Deleuze’s appreciation of art and literature, to the ways in which Deleuze exalts works of art as expressions of the virtual, of becoming, of transformation (rather than seeing them as ideological formations subject to critique). If there’s anything that Left and Right today agree upon, it’s the absolute incompatibilty between aesthetic values and political ones. As Marx said, “the philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Hallward, like most self-respecting leftists, absolutely rejects any mode of thought, such as Deleuze’s, that overtly valorizes “contemplation” and aesthetic experience for its own sake. But this attitude is precisely mirrored on the right, in the way that neoconservative art critics like Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball exalt the supposedly transcendent values of art, in opposition to any sort of politicization (either of art, or of experience more generally).
This unseemly coincidence of Left and Right is something that Deleuze, among his many virtues, helps us to get away from. For there is no contradiction between Deleuze’s valuing of aesthetic contemplation, and his insistence (with Guattari) that Being is always, in the first instance, political. Just as there is no contradiction (but rather, a mutual implication) between Deleuze’s insistence that everything is historical and contingent, and his insistence upon what he calls “eternal truths” (echoing Whitehead’s formulations about “eternal objects”). Contemplation is not the “interpretation” that Marx decried, but precisely a mode in which philosophical interpretation is suspended. In the aesthetic, we no longer explain things away, as philosophical apologetics have so often done; instead, we are forced to feel the intolerable intensity of the actual. Hallward reads this as the paralysis of any possibility of action; but it is rather, for Deleuze, a necessary condition and generative factor in any sort of truly radical action, any action that does not just reproduce and ratify the order of things as they are. And “eternal truths” or “eternal objects,” which are highlighted precisely in aesthetic contemplation, are absolute singularities, relations and qualities that cannot be generalized, but only communicated in their very refusal to be pacified and subsumed. For Deleuze, the aesthetic is not a sufficient condition for the political, but it is a necessary one. And if aesthetics is not subordinated to politics, this is because both are necessary, and both irreducible.
To develop all this needs a whole essay in itself — such a development is, in fact, one of the goals of my current research/writing projects. So I hope that you will excuse me for being so cryptic about this here. I just want to suggest that Hallward’s inability to imagine any conjunction of the aesthetic with the political is at the root of his rejection of Deleuze. I will add that, for me, what really needs to be rejected is not the aesthetic, but rather that nearly universal shibboleth of current academic and theoretical discourse, the ethical. Hallward rightly praises Deleuze for altogether rejecting “that most precious sacred cow of contemporary philosophy — the other” (92), for “avoid[ing] any inane reverence for the other as much as for the self” (159). I think that, in theoretical writing today, it is precisely the valorization of the ethical that blocks any effective understanding of politics; and that the ethical needs to be decomposed into the aesthetic, on the one hand, and the political, on the other. Hallward rightly values the political (as we find it, for instance, in Marx) against the ethical (as we find it in Levinas and Derrida); but he fails to grasp the crucial role of the aesthetic, and this is where his account of Deleuze falls short.
14 thoughts on “Hallward on Deleuze”
what about an aesthetics of existence, or drawing an ethical life that is an aesthetic life – the rethinking of ethics as aesthetics in the spinoza and cinema 2 – is this the sort of conjunction you are after?
I’ve been reading Badiou, Zizek, and Hallward for too long and noticed a trend towards the denegration of the aesthetic in my own work. Deleuze was always a breath of fresh air for me–and I feared (via Zizek and Badiou) that this was because I was too entrenched in the spectacle of capitalism to do the ideological work I was supposed to do–in the very narrow sense of opposition you sketched out in your review. I now remember why Deleuze has been so important to me…
Hey, just as a shameless plug, you should check out my edited issue of ImageText called “William Blake and Visual Culture.” It’s here: http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_2
this, I think,is so true. i’ve been trying for the last week to write (in my MA which must be finished by May…) how this “forced to feel” is a condition for creative action, by using Blanchot and how the event in logic of sense is problematic, so that the primary tension, when it comes to “creativity”, is between some kind of preliminary action (which is typically “sedentary distributed”) and the event as a problem which paralyses (or with Blanchot’s words, fascinate) these first actions.
Great review. I love to read Hallward for his clarity. On the last paragraph: I am always somewhat confused about why critical theory speak — in attempting to jettison/deal with the issue of the other/ethical –is reluctant to return to Derrida’s initial critique of Levinas in Violence and Metaphysics, a critique that — however strangely — Badiou actually mimics?
To breed an animal with the right to make promises â€“ is not this the paradoxical task that nature has set itself in the case of man? Is it not the real problem regarding man?
In the land of Oz at the moment, there is an ongoing debate over the teaching of History in school. The Prime Minister has announced his desire for a narrative structure in History, disparaging all these â€œpostmodernâ€ and critical points of view which he claims has paralysed any coherent notion as to what constitutes being an Australian for future generations.
This argument has been echoed by some academics and a national newspaper has even laid the cause for the demise of Australian literature as a postgraduate field of study, squarely at the feet of these â€œpostmodernists.â€ In Australia there is only one university that teaches Australian literature at a postgraduate level.
The neo-conservative position in Australia doesnâ€™t sound too far removed from what you describe of Hallwardâ€™s take on Deleuze or Spivakâ€™s critique of Deleuze in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason. Remembering Benjaminâ€™s definition for fascism, the proposed citizenship examination for this country â€“ to cite one example – tests Australian values to such an extent, that many Australians would fail it (who was the first prime minister of Australia?).
It seems to me, in itself, the ongoing academic debate â€“ that isnâ€™t all academic but also political â€“ concerning the future teaching of Deleuze and Derrida (to pull two names out of the â€œpostmodernâ€ hat) exemplifies your contention with Hallward on the notions of the political and the aesthetic. As you rightly point out, the difference is irreducible and we get no further in thinking the differentiation if we merely â€œshelveâ€ writers into one box or the other â€“ as Hallward (and Spivak) seems to want to do with Deleuze.
The play on the difference between the aestheticisation of politics (the Australian government spent more on advertising last year than it did on the environment) and the politicisation of aesthetics (the Attorney-Generalâ€™s office banning books that â€œincite terrorismâ€), is a crucial focus of Deleuzeâ€™s work â€“ creating a memory (a becoming) for a people (that do not yet exist) in the critical experience of the cogito.
Thanks for revitalising my attention to this aspect of Deleuzeâ€™s work in a time in the Land of Oz when these ideas are under attack.
yeah…hmmm…I think another figure that is important here is Jacques Ranciere. There’s a great section on him in this month’s Artforum…and while he is against the aestheticization of politics, he also thinks about the political in a very similar ‘spirit’ as Deleuze and Guattari.
Now I finally start grasping what Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe was on about when he would say “Not enough artists are using Deleuzian strategies to break free”. I could feel the usefulness; but articulation is another matter entirely. Thank you.
Great review. Your point about politics and aesthetics is very interesting. I too found Hallward’s book to both engaging, because of its clarity and focus, and yet deeply flawed. I tried to work out my ambivalence in a review that is available here:
‘the nearly universal shibboleth of current academic and theoretical discourse…’ it’s a beautiful phrase. reminds me of something Grant Morrison wrote in THE INVISIBLE KINGDOM, ‘…remember they’re just the parts we left outside while building a house called “me”.’
There’s an upcoming conference at Cornell –“The Substance of Though: Critical and Pre-Critical” (April 10-12, 2008)– that should address some of these issues.
Here’s a link in case anyone is interested:
Hi. Good text. I disagree on one thing though. I’m not going to say anything about Hallward’s book, not directly, since I haven’t read it. Nor am I willing to discuss your lecture of Deleuze. Rather, I notice a problem that is internal to your own treatment of the book, namely the way you describe Hallward’s method.
I quote you directly, to keep it clear:
“In a certain sense, Hallward takes Deleuzeâ€™s own methodology and turns it against him. […] A creation of new concepts means that we see the world in a new way, one that wasnâ€™t available to us before. This is what Deleuze looks for in the history of philosophy, and this is why (and how) he is concerned, not with what a given text â€œreallyâ€ means, but rather with what can be done with it, how it can be used, what other problems and other texts it can be brought into conjunction with. Deleuze writes about philosophers whose ideas he can use, or transform, in order to work through the problems he is interested in.
Hallward brilliantly systematizes Deleuze, extracts a consistency (as Deleuze says a reading of a thinker aways should) from Deleuzeâ€™s words and ideas, and shows us what new concepts Deleuze created. But whereas Deleuze takes up this approach in order to make past philosophers useful, and to shed light on Deleuzeâ€™s own problems, Hallward does it in order to render Deleuze useless, to deny that Deleuze is at all relevant to discussions of materiality, of subjectivity, of affectivity, and of political change, to dismiss Deleuzeâ€™s importance for any of the problems Hallward himself is interested in.
Hallward works by means of omission and selection, reducing Deleuze to just one aspect of his thought, and acting as if the rest didnâ€™t exist at all. Again, I stress that this is Deleuzeâ€™s own method of proceeding; the question is not one of representing Deleuze â€œaccurately,â€ but of the ends to which Hallwardâ€™s selective transformation of Deleuze is put. Hallward seeks to present Deleuze as entirely a philosopher of the virtual, one who seeks merely to escape and to destroy the actual.”
Ok, a lengthy citation, but of your own text, so it should be clear without intensive reading, to you at least, what I’m talking about. The point is, that you say: 1. Hallward uses Deleuze’s method of reading philosophers to Deleuze;2. Deleuze’s method is to, regardless of what the read philosophers might have originally thought, draw from their texts some concepts that were interesting for him and reproduce them as philosophers of these concepts; 3. but Hallward uses this method in order to say why Deleuze isn’t interesting at all.
What we’re talking about here are the methods of interpreting, representing and reading other people’s texts. The method in use here we can call “inspired interpretation”, by which I mean that the interpreter doesn’t aim to give us a “correct reading” of the author he reads, nor is he telling us anything about the author, but rather drawing inspiration from the author’s work, writing then about what he has understood by using this author.
I agree that this is a valid method. One can make an one-sided and “incorrect” interpretation of someone, in condition that one doesn’t claim it to be a fidel reading of the author’s thoughts and that he doesn’t claim the ideas he presents to be those of the author he reads, but rather his own inspired version of this thought, as if the author was his mental guide and he had found new thought with his aid. So that Deleuze doesn’t claim to repeat the philosophy of Kant or Nietzsche, but to create a philosophical thinking in their names. It is of huge importance that the reading must always be a positive one. It is not “inspired” if one draws an infidel picture of someone’s thought in order to show that it leads nowhere.
Therefore I think you’re wrong in saying that Hallwards method is brilliant or that it is same as Deleuze’s – taken that your representation of Hallward’s book is correct. If one is going to criticize someone, then a correct interpretation, as objective and fidel to the criticized author as possible, is needed. When a one-sided, inaccurate version of someone else’s thought is used to criticize the original thinker, it is called a caricature, or a straw man. One should always at least have some reservations, for an academic manner for no other reason (and your text gives a picture that Hallward hasn’t taken even those reservations that Deleuze himself has most stressed).
It isn’t the same strategy that Deleuze used. Deleuze used what he found useful, took concepts he found useful to express his thought. That is, at best (as it is with Deleuze), brilliant, because it can create wonderful new thought. But it is not at all the same if one misrepresents someone else’s thought to unjustly “refute” it. It doesn’t serve as a inspired reading, because it doesn’t create anything, it isn’t inspired. It doesn’t serve as a critique either, because it doesn’t hit the claimed target and the target and it is useless to criticize enemies that don’t exist but as projections of one’s own imagination. There’s nothing brilliant about fighting a straw man. And it is not a good academic manner either.
I repeat that I haven’t read this book. I only say, that using a negative version of the method Deleuze uses means changing the method all together and is not brilliant at all.