Deleuze and the question “What is thinking?”


I (Keith Faulkner) am honored to announce beginning of the third year of the Deleuze Lecture Series at The Global Center of Advanced Studies. This year’s theme will be “What is Thinking?” My aim in this series is to question what is called “thought” and to offer up an alternative (described below). The series will consist of six seminars given online between late October 2016 and April 2017 in which “researchers” (the GCAS name for students) will interact and ask questions. A GCAS certificate will be awarded to those who participate. We will be looking at several examples in various texts of Deleuze in order to facilitate our dialogue. In this way, I hope to avoid much of the jargon that alienated those who are new to Deleuze. I hope to create an inclusive atmosphere in which the question of thought can be explored. Humor will be welcome. This series will be funded by your monetary contributions (details will be forthcoming). In the meantime, read this course description to see if it is of interest:

The image of thought is a key problem in Deleuze’s philosophy. And yet few really understand its import. Commentators often say he rejects thought as representation, but they fail to say anything positive about it. It’s as if saying we can think without mental pictures is enough. But this little repudiation of the image seemingly leaves us with nothing substantial. It’s as if it is enough to say sense is neither designation, nor signification, nor manifestation. But what is it? Such important problems must not be avoided. In the literature on Deleuze, thought still remains an open to question.

What sets his thought without image apart from all other ways of thinking?

What sets him apart from his contemporaries?

Is it that thinking no longer implies res cogitans or a thinking subject?

What is a thought of which one is not aware?

In this year’s lecture series, I will explore these questions using many of Deleuze’s concrete examples; one being his notion of the conceptual persona. At first, it seems as if a persona would be an image, a type of person who has ideas; Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, for example, may seem to “have” the ideas he expresses. But that reading would place us back into the old image of thought. What counts is not his profession of belief; what counts is his spatiotemporal movement, his dramatization.

Why does thought need a conceptual persona to dramatize ideas? It is not enough to simply list all of the doctrines of any given philosopher; for Deleuze, one must renew the force of old ideas to make them relevant again. Without this force, all our efforts to philosophize come to naught. What is this new force? How do we get it? How does this force of thought differ from the traditional image of thinking? These are questions that we will explore together in this interactive lecture series. Hopefully, we will all come away from these lectures with a new sense of what it means to think.

What makes all of this so urgent is that we are not yet thinking. We all know these famous words of Heidegger. But what do they mean in a Deleuzian context? Notice Deleuze’s disgust with discussion. Words are bandied about and nothing gets said, merely the same insipid recognition of certain phrases indicating that this or that person ascribes to this or that school of thought. I say something to indicate that I hold such and such an opinion; you say something to indicate an opposing opinion. No thought occurs. Deleuze even goes so far as to ask, who cares if such and such a person holds this or that opinion? Holding an opinion only says something about the person speaking and nothing about the concepts themselves. His words: “All these debaters and communicators are inspired by ressentiment.” Yes, debate has all the hallmarks of ressentiment. The imputation of wrongs: the idea that my way of thinking is right and the opposed way of thinking is wrong. Passivity: the desire to be loved, to be recognized, and to be put to sleep. Inability to admire: the high capacity to disparagement. The affections discussions create overshadow any trace of thought. As such, we waste time discussing and contrasting various doctrines.

A sense of partisanship has infected philosophy to such an extent that thinking no longer appears possible. We no longer try to create concepts; we merely polish old ideas. One school of thought vies with another for supremacy. Each side argues with itself what its “true” orthodoxy is. All the time, the egos of those who argue totally eclipse the issues discussed. The question Who and what am I? has totally overshadowed the question What do ideas do? Because the “I” has overshadowed the “think” in the cogito, a general indifference to concepts has arisen. The greatest threat to thought is not the loss of truth; the greatest threat is that ideas no longer matter. This apathy occurs because we interpret “thought” to mean something that the faculty of judgment does. Again, there’s too much focus on the subject. The word “thought,” however, can also be used as a noun like the history of thought, of paradigms structuring what can be thought in any given era. Foucault taught us this. We merely have to flip the script so that the impersonal structures of thought appear in the foreground. Deleuze reinterprets “thought” to mean a metaphysical surface of thought on which concepts attain there sense of importance despite the interest of those who think them. Under these circumstances, an idea can appear important even if it emanates from another school of thought.

Deleuze never wanted to become a school of thought, which alas, after his death, he has become. He wanted to inspire a movement, a movement of those who could bring a new sense of importance to concept, a movement of those no longer content to merely polish the ideas of others. In this respect, he compares Surrealism (as a school of thought) with Dada (as a movement). Surrealism had its high-priest, Breton, who had the power to exclude artists. Dada was more of a solitary exercise in which anyone could participate. By drawing on forces outside of art, Dada gave new force to art; it was no longer possible to do things as they were done before. For Deleuze, philosophy should do this: go beyond the systematic and scholarly image of philosophy to an encounter with the unprecedented. The analytic vision of philosophy, consisting of making propositions coherent, has reduced thought down to a mere logical exercise. Deleuze partly frees us from such limits. Inescapably, it seems as if “thought” can only designate this self-conscious process of cogitation. Deleuze bursts this illusion by focusing on the unconscious processes of thought.

His philosophy travels down more solitary paths; those of madness, obsession, passion, and addiction. Artaud and Lowry are his prototypes. In fact, for him, there seems to be a close link between thought and repetition compulsion; for instance, Oedipus questions who killed the previous king without knowing that it is himself; Deleuze says that his “unknown knowledge bathes the whole scene.” He thinks without an image, without a representation of himself, thereby collapsing any distinction between thought and action. Or rather, he follows Spinoza in saying that every thought in the mind parallels a movement in the body. Deleuze tells us that we must look to the body first in order to discover ideas in the mind of which we are unaware. So we enact or dramatize our thoughts more than we reflect on them. As such, the problems of thought are physical before they are reflected mentally. Even when it seems we are not thinking or reflecting, a certain character of our acts reflects the working-through of a problem. As a result, our quotidian actions are just as much a matter of thought as our most profound insights. There is a sense of everydayness to this type of thought.

For Deleuze, thinking occurs behind our backs, in those empty hours when we don’t even know that we are thinking. Dragging yourself out of bed, dragging yourself back to bed; putting on your clothes, taking them off again; putting one foot in front of the other, all this repetition appears indistinctly, without a definite time or place. Such daily repetition can only be thought, never represented, for representation is that faculty of the moral law that tries to generalize action (Kant’s categorical imperative). No longer appearing under the form of the law, repetition occurs in-between times, in the meanwhile in which nothing seems to occur. In these in-between times, it is not “we” who think; it is the event of thinking that occurs when we are not even thinking.

With all this said, I will argue in this year’s series, thinking and non-thinking touch just as philosophy and non-philosophy do. Deleuze writes that philosophy needs non-philosophy just as much as thinking needs non-thinking. We reach a point at which our thoughts no longer seem coherent. It is the treat of such a breakdown of thought that makes thinking such an urgent task. Not only does one encounter limits, one also cannot make an encounter without such limits. That is to say, we cannot think without a certain fatigue. We cannot think without encountering the limits of thought, the point at which everything falls apart. As Deleuze says, we write from this boundary between what we do know and what lies just beyond our grasp, just past the moment when all of our energy to think collapses. This is the non-thought at the heart of the enterprise of thinking itself. It is what calls us to think, as Heidegger says.

For Deleuze, all of philosophy is inspired by this tension between our capacity and our incapacity to think. We do not fail to think because we lack the stamina to cogitate uninterruptedly; we fail to think when we fall back on the well-worn images and clichés of philosophy. We fail when we no longer try to push limits, when we become too timid, when we are no longer willing to risk ourselves in the project of thinking. Under these circumstances, Deleuze’s task is to wake us from our dogmatic slumbers and to make us really think again.