Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Anti-Deleuze: How the Deleuzians Victorianists Got Hardy Wrong

      My first quarter of PhD coursework is officially over. It has been, not unexpectedly, a condensed, rapid, and profoundly re-orienting three months. In this, my first post since moving west, I will attempt an introduction to the new directions I will be heading for the foreseeable future.
     The big break through: Deleuze and the Deleuzian Victorianists got “it” wrong. This realization occurred through two independent progressions of thought. On the one hand, I began the quarter with the very vague hope of developing a hybrid research-theory project merging what I now see as a vastly scattered array of theorists into a reading of Jude the Obscure and, through that reading, a sort of pitiful methodological manifesto (a “look at me, this awesome first-semester PhD student with his world altering methodology!”). Back in early September, the project was to feature Aby Warburg, Benjamin, Deleuze, Object Oriented Ontology, and Agamben. What remained: some presuppositional OOO and a re-worked paradigmatology loosely based on Agamben’s (then) recent work. No Warburg (I am reading him right now -- I simply never had the time to do his “unnamed science” justice). No Benjamin. But plenty of Deleuze.
      Not, however, in a positive light. Mostly because of two Deleuzian Thomas Hardy studies (John Hughes’s Lines of Flight: Reading Deleuze with Hardy, Gissing, Conrad, and Woolf and David Musselwhite’s Social Transformations in Hardy’s Tragic Novels: Megamachines and Phantasms), I found a serious hindrance to my positive appropriation of Deleuze: the violent machine of deterritorialization and reterritorialization. I should have caught this sooner. As early as my final master’s essay, I have attempted to merge Deleuze’s machine with Agamben’s “suspended machine.” A quick re-cap on the term machine: in The Open, Agamben sketches out the machine as a relational force placing two independent “terms” into tension with each other such that they collapse into indistinction; out of this indistinction a decision is made; this decision, in the case of the anthological machine, places man and animal into tension, decides upon what is human, to the excepting detriment of the “weaker” of the two terms. This formulation should be familiar with my readers by now, as it is the structure of modern subjectivity I attempted to sketch last summer. I had previously claimed (and believed) that both Agamben and Deleuze performed a double suspension: they suspended the suspending of machines (a machine suspends through an exception-inclusion: the human is constituted through man’s excepting of the animal; through that expecting, however, the animal is included as the other/limit figure that ultimately constitutes the human). Agamben does this. And as I now realize, Deleuze decidedly does not. Rather, his definitive (and much ballyhooed) relational structure merely initiates a machine: deterritorialization places something (a living being, language, epistemic forms, etc) into dissolution such that a “decision” can be made that will serve as the basis for a new formation, reterritorialization. Now, for Jude the Obscure, Musselwhite claims that Hardy deterritorializes the hegemonic discourse of the Victorian realist novel, citing Jude's notoriously aberrant prose (a contemporary reviewer called the novel, “a somewhat dull novel” on account of its style). Fine. The novel’s prose is radically different from, say, George Eliot’s or Henry James’. But Musselwhite’s next Deleuzian step is the problem: citing Hardy’s insistence upon a “geometric” plot, Musselwhite claims that the novel reterritorializes itself in a manner mirroring fin de siècle consumer capitalism. The novel is, according to Musselwhite, schizophrenic, and thus Hardy must be a proto-Deleuzian practicing schizoanalysis seventy years before Deleuze and Guattari.
     Yet this deterritorialization-reterritorialization dynamic is a machine, whether or not it “mirrors” capitalism’s constitutive structure (i.e. the infinite proliferation of apparatuses). Jude performs much more than that. It asks for a radical resistance to reterritorialization, so much so that the first Deleuzian term (deterritorialization) no longer applies. Hardy’s novel is a novel of absolute horizonlessness -- a dimension in which all epistemic horizons have been obliterated. What this obliteration demands, then, is a hazarding of all thought and language within that dimension -- to risk ourselves without recourse to any reformulation of horizons. Hardy is, in this crucial regard, much like Agamben; he doubly suspends all machines. The Deleuzian model will, therefore, always fail at reading Jude.
     But why? What leads Deleuze back into the clutches of mechanization? Simply: monism, the assertion that all reality is ultimately composed of a singular and absolute substance. For Deleuze this substance goes by numerous aliases, most notably the “plane of consistency.”
     Now, this realization did not arise out of my work on Jude, but instead from Tim Morton’s incredible lectures on rhetoric. For the first nine weeks of the quarter, I was deeply resistant to Tim’s claims that Deleuze was a monist. I keep telling myself (and complaining to my partner) that Deleuze, or at least “late-Deleuze,” was no monist desiring to collapse all reality into a monistic goop. No, the monistic Deleuze was not the “real” Deleuze, but Deleuze-Guattari. Just look at his work on Leibniz or cinema . . . But then I re-read large portions on Anti-Oedipus (for work on Jude) and a smaller portion of Thousand Plateaus (for Tim’s course). And there is was, monism, staring out of deterritorialization-reterritorialization. For Deleuze (and I admit, these two works are by D/G, not Deleuze . . .) this process of ontological collapse works only because whatever two things are placed into tension with each other are ultimately the same. Thus they don’t merely dissolve into indistinction such that something new can emerge, but that they simply return momentarily to their monistic proper state (an ontological point 0) only to be reborn. Now Musselwhite is correct, to a degree, in asserting that this mechanization mirrors capitalism (the larger, paradigmatic framework being biopower, not simply “capitalism”), but positive moral valences thrown over this machine by Deleuze (and the Deleuzians) are troublesome, especially in context of D/G’s subversive hopes. Anti-Oedipus and Thousand Plateaus were, after all, designed as revolutionary texts seeking not only new methodologies or a new conception of lived experience, but ultimately as an ontology. By inadvertently mirroring the ontologically monistic machine of capitalism, Deleuze’s subversion simply becomes a new articulation of the very structure it attempted to revolt against. And this is perhaps why Deleuze’s philosophy is so popular: at the bottom of it all, we already know it because it implicitly reproduces the constitutive structure of the biopolitical society in which we live. (I still have one lingering hope: in the short essay, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” written a few years before he died, Deleuze appears to regret his previous valorization of deterritorialization-reterritorialization, seeing it then as what it always was: the mechanization of ontological violence constituting capitalism)
      This did not occur until last week, when writing an essay on Bacon’s “Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” which my last entry discussed. In this essay, I began with a quick breakdown of Deleuze’s conveniently concise method for reading Bacon’s paintings: through the three elements of Bacon’s paintings -- figure, contour, field -- a dual process of diastolic and systolic flows pass the figure into the field and the field over the figure, therein rendering visible the invisible body without organs. Having wrapped up a quick sketch of how “Two Studies” might be read according to this logic, I realized: these two bodies (cartoon and figure) don’t evidence both flows (a necessary indistinction in the Deleuzian logic). What the hell does this mean? And then it hit me, the entire quarter’s progression crystalline in a moment: this logic is a monistic machine! Diastole and systole are equivalent to deterritorialization-reterritorialization! And accordingly, all that such a mechanization will render visible is its own misplaced faith in an underlying substance girdering all reality.
     So some other process must be at work in Bacon’s painting that does, in fact, render living being in its facticity visible. As this process points my work in an entirely new direction (or, at least, clarifies much of my work for the last year), I will leave it for future posts . . .


Kai said...

"Deleuze appears to regret his previous valorization of deterritorialization-reterritorialization, seeing it then as what it always was: the mechanization of ontological violence constituting capitalism"

uuuuuuum, this is all over Anti-Oedipus, the last couple sections of chapter 3. Deterritorialization, decoding are capitalism's main operations, and capitalism always reterritorializes, always produces a new axiomatic. I am struggling to understand how you could read this otherwise...

martelmd said...

My terminology isnt perfect here. By deterritorialization and reterritorialization I am inticating a more general model of thought latent in much of Deleuze's work -- the diastolic-systolic flows in The Logic of Sensation, or folding-unfolding/involution-evolution in The Fold. It isnt simply that Deleuze articulates how capitalism functions through this model of thought (he does), but that a similar model runs through his more ontologically motivated works.

Kai said...

yes, of course...capitalism is not of an exogenous or transcendent ontological order than the processes of the world. When you say "a similar model runs through his more ontologically motivated works," I simply think...yeah, it's an ontology that disallows transcendence. If you want to posit capitalism as something that is exogenous to the system or whatever, then that's a-ok. Reading Deleuze through Agamben might lead you to do so. You are absolutely right in your assertion that Deleuze's machines are nothing like Agamben's suspended machine.

In any case, I think the monism/unity of substance that you imply exists is a mischaracterization, for Deleuze (like Spinoza) constantly plays on the paradox of substance and difference. Monism = pluralism; mechanism-vitalism, multiplicity; etc.

martelmd said...

Monism=pluralism. I get that, but isnt a part of that formula, at least in regards to rhizomes, that each singularity is emergent, which implies an underlying/girdering substratum out of which singularities have the potential to emerge? Of course, I concede that monism=pluralism. Yet, I am still leery about such emergence/becoming. Then again, Deleuze offers a way of thinking about the becoming of objects that OOO perhaps doesn't.

Or . . . perhaps emergence can occur from singularity to singularity, contiguously, thereby dodging the monism impasse. Does Deleuze in anyway develop something like this emergence between singularities?

Unknown said...

I am not sure, but I believe the concept of deterritorialization is not Deleuze's, but Guattari's, them writing together not really helping to make the difference. :-)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Forgive me for interjecting two years since the last comment on this but the problem you've stumbled upon seems typical of those who read D&G and late Deleuze without reading Difference and Repetition. It's (by Deleuze's standards) a more straightforward statement of his philosophical commitments than the sexy-but-confusing later material. For instance: in the first chapter of DR he discusses the univocity of being, that is, the claim that being can be said in the same way of everything that exists. That doesn't mean that everything is then "leveled" because he is also committed to to concept of difference-in-itself as the basic "stuff" that makes up being.

To address your post more directly, I'd like to offer my own (amateur) suggestions- Deleuze (and I do think these concepts belong to Deleuze, properly speaking, as much as Guattari) de- and re-territorialization are value-neutral. But as concepts they allow Deleuze to think about the emergence of new "machines," rather than suspending them. Deleuze might counter Agamben by observing in the drive to "suspend" or surpass a machine (like the conceptual binary man-animal) the Hegelian or para-Hegelian dialectic, which he condemns in DR. For him the dialectic returns both sides of a conceptual problem (ex. man and animal) back to an underlying Identity. Deleuze's philosophy of difference defines each conceptual problem by its unique "singularities," its underlying difference or inequality, rather than reducing everything to the same.

Some will criticize Agamben and thinkers like him for seeing politics, art, and other domains as defined from the beginning of history to now by the same problematic: man/animal, male/female, etc. Deleuze avoids this because for him, these terms are subject to de- and re-territorialization (in DR's term, differenciation): that is, difference-in-itself becomes "actual" and acquires an identity, one which can be later deterritorialized once more, etc. For me, it's about what you want your philosophy or theory to be able to do, rather than condemning this or that philosophical doctrine outright. Granted, Deleuze's intricate work in DR has its own critics, but I thought it worthwhile to point out that the hole goes deeper.