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.