Hitting the Slopes with Sartre and Deleuze and Guattari
Rozahegy, Mark, Sartre Studies International
The general impression that one gets from reading commentaries on Being and Nothingness--which was the same impression that I was left with after my own engagement with the text--is that it seems incredibly difficult for readers to totalize its content. Although the thesis of the text is straightforward enough--that one's ontological structure, as being-for-itself, "is not to be what I am and to be what I am not" (BN 492), such that all aspects of the existence of the for-itself are reducible to this structure (i.e. the temporal nature of the for-itself, its orientation towards the future, is itself implied within that structure since what the for-self is is yet to come in the future--so the for-itself is what it is not (yet))--Sartre insists on discussing various aspects of existence that, in the end, do not confirm or conform to his thesis. It is almost as if the ontological proof was an afterthought to his phenomenological insights since his rather simplistic and highly dualistic ontology is frequently at odds in the text with his phenomenological descriptions. For example, in his "Foreword" to Merleau-Ponty's The Structure of Behavior, Alphonse de Waelhens explains the difficulty that one faces in trying to reconcile Sartre's insights into corporeity with his ontological conclusions. On the one hand, Sartre's theses concerning the nature of corporeity--"conceived essentially as a dialectic opposing the body-as-instrument (in a very particular sense) to the body-as-given-in-bare-fact (corps facticitee)--appear to be exceptionally fruitful and capable of finally allowing us to understand how existing consciousness can be an inherence and a project at the same time" (SB xix). The problem arises when one tries to understand these theses about corporeity in the framework of Sartre's ontological arguments: "What is unfortunate is that it is difficult to see how these theses can be understood or accepted as soon as one situates oneself, as one must, in the general framework of Sartrean ontology. For this ontology precisely underscores with an unrelenting tenacity the opposition--no longer dialectical this time, but radically irreconcilable--between the in-itself and the for-itself" (SB xix). So what is one to make of this tenacious ontologizing? How can one read, or come to understand, Being and Nothingness in light of this tension between phenomenological description and the text's general ontological framework? In order to put forward some tentative answers to these questions about Being and Nothingness, I will bring in the work of a rather unlikely pair of thinkers--unlikely not because of their combination but rather because of their lack of any readily apparent relation to Sartre's corpus. More specifically, I intend to employ Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari as guides in my attempt to make sense of the extremely convoluted and complex text that is Being and Nothingness.
When trying to justify my enthusiasm for the work of Deleuze and Guattari, I often highlight what I perceive to be the analytic potential of their terminology. The various distinctions that they develop in their work, such as between the rhizome and the tree and between smooth and striated space, and the concepts that they introduce, such as becoming, affect, and intensity, are excellent levers for prying open objects for analysis and for articulating their inner workings. As Brian Massumi explains in his "Translator's Foreword" to A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, "Deleuze's own image for a concept is not a brick, but a `tool box.' He calls his kind of philosophy `pragmatics' because its goal is the invention of concepts that do not add up to ... an architecture of propositions that you either enter or don't, but instead pack a potential in the way a crowbar in a willing hand envelops an energy of prying" (TP xv). And this potential, what is referred to as the affectiveness of these concepts, rests on the fact that Deleuze and Guattari develop their thought by continuously plugging other vocabularies into their own work. …