Academic journal article ARIEL

Becoming-Animal and Pure Life in Coetzee's Disgrace

Academic journal article ARIEL

Becoming-Animal and Pure Life in Coetzee's Disgrace

Article excerpt

Gilles Deleuze is rightly regarded as a vitalist thinker in the sense that a concept of impersonal life is central to his philosophy. (1) The ontology of events in The Logic of Sense, the ontology of pure transcendental ideas in Difference and Repetition and the machinic ontology of Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus each reproduces in its own terms the concept of an indeterminate, abstract, non-organic and intensive life that is prior to its incarnation in fixed and organized forms. These forms may be biological, technological, cultural or intellectual, but in all cases they are secondary determinations of an ontologically primary flux of becoming: "If everything is alive, it is not because everything is organic or organized but, on the contrary, because the organism is a diversion of life. In short, the life in question is non-organic, germinal and intensive, a powerful life without organs ..." (Deleuze and Guattari A Thousand Plateaus 499).

Giorgio Agamben distinguishes Deleuze's concept of life from Aristotle's concept of the bare biological life common to all living things. For Aristotle, the condition or ground on which a thing is said to be living is what he calls the "nutritive faculty": "the movement implied in nutrition and decay or growth. This is why all plants seem to us to live. It is clear that they have in themselves a principle and a capacity by means of which they grow and decay in opposite directions ..." (Aristotle De anima qtd. in Agamben "Absolute Immanence" 231). This is not so much a definition of life as a characterization of its most basic, vegetative form that serves as the principle on the basis of which other things can be called living. By contrast, Deleuze's concept of life functions in precisely the opposite way. It is not the lowest common form of life shared by all living things but rather "a principle of virtual indetermination, in which the vegetative and the animal, the inside and the outside and even the organic and the inorganic ... cannot be told apart" (Agamben 233).

Deleuze and Guattari's complex concept of absolute and relative deterritorialization involves yet another expression of this concept of an abstract and impersonal life that unfolds only in particular cases. Relative deterritorialization takes place on the actual plane of organizations of real people, things and historical processes. Absolute deterritorialization takes place on the virtual plane of abstract machines, pure events and various kinds of becoming. It is because this is not a transcendent plane of existence but a more profound dimension of the actual world that Deleuzian ontology is rightly regarded as a philosophy of immanence. Absolute deterritorialization is another name for the abstract life that is expressed in all things. For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari write: "The deeper movement for conjugating matter and function--absolute deterritorialization, identical to the earth itself--appears only in the form of respective territorialities, negative or relative deterritorializations, and complementary reterritorializations" (A Thousand Plateaus 143).

Throughout his career, Deleuze engages with literary works in order to elaborate and exemplify his philosophical concept of life. In a chapter of Dialogues, he justifies his preference for the English and American literature of Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Henry Miller and others by reference to the manner in which it invents new possibilities for life. These writers portray life as a process of self-transformation or escape from established identities in favour of flight towards another world. For them, writing is a matter of tracing lines of flight or processes of becoming which have the potential to lead to the creation of new forms of life. Such creation only occurs when existing forms of life break down and the individual in question gains access to the primary and transformative power of pure life: "writing does not have its end in itself precisely because life is not something personal. …

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