Academic journal article New Formations

The Obscure Drama of the Political Idea: Postcolonial Negotiations, Deleuzian Structures and the Concept of Cooperation

Academic journal article New Formations

The Obscure Drama of the Political Idea: Postcolonial Negotiations, Deleuzian Structures and the Concept of Cooperation

Article excerpt

In the late 1960's and early 1970's the philosopher Gilles Deleuze produced two important pieces, 'The Method of Dramatisation' and 'How Do We Recognise Structuralism?', that prefigure and summarise the approach developed in his major work Difference and Repetition. In these highly condensed discussions, Deleuze explains how appreciation of the dramatic nature and activity of thinking provides a way of understanding philosophical systems as 'a pure theatre of places and positions'. (1) For Deleuze, philosophy is less a discovery and representation of truth, than it is a creative dramatisation of concepts and 'a way of approaching the Idea as multiplicity'. (2) It is guided less by questions that seek to know 'what' something is, and more by questions of artistic production or direction: who, how much, when, in what way? In these early articles, then, it becomes apparent that concepts appearing in the Deleuzian theatre of philosophy have nothing to do with essence but everything to do with the compositional forces they comprise and the constructive process through which they arise. Deleuze depicts this process as a kind of conceptual choreography, involving a 'combinatory formula ... supporting formal elements which by themselves have neither form, nor signification, nor representation, nor content, nor given empirical reality, nor hypothetical functional model, nor intelligibility behind appearances' (How do we recognise structuralism? p173). However, this kind of claim has prompted scholars fairly to wonder what Deleuzian philosophy entails for the activity of politics and for political thought, which conventionally concerns these very things that Deleuze downplays. Political analysis addresses power and the ways it manifests in governmental forms, in social meanings and in representations of peoples and places. It considers how power operates by circulating or withholding informational content; and how it materialises empirical conditions of poverty and privilege and is in turn inflected and contested in these conditions. Political philosophy theorises functional models of governance and justice; and it frequently seeks a rational organisation behind the apparent chaos of social interaction, a definitive political reason that implicitly guides progress towards universal justice or perpetual peace.

A lively discussion persists within Deleuze studies concerning the relationship between Deleuze and the political, influenced in no small measure by Paul Patton's original work on this subject in his book published in 2000. (3) A positive appraisal of the political potential of Deleuze's philosophy has also been redoubled in more recent scholarship. (4) Nonetheless, Deleuze continues to occupy a 'marginal' or 'precarious' place in political theory. (5) Many thinkers remain doubtful whether Deleuzian philosophy can sustain an effective political practice when it displays a considerable disdain for the forms, representations and conditions of actually existing political life and strife, and when it has recourse to the creative powers of a transcendent virtuality in which 'the people' are (perpetually) 'missing' or 'to come'. A missing people surely lack the substantial qualities necessary for agency and prescriptive action in worldly operations and transformations. (6) In what follows I will not retrace this ground as such, but instead wish to pick a particular path across it by focussing on a specific political notion: the idea of cooperation. I hope to illuminate a Deleuzian conceptualisation of cooperative formation, which I suggest we may find in the figure of the 'obscure precursor' that plays a role in the orchestration of conceptual dramas. I argue that to understand adequately the political implications and the utility of Deleuze's dramatic approach to Ideas and their conceptual realities, it is necessary to appreciate how Deleuze understands philosophy as a very particular kind of structuralism, and therefore to understand what it means for Deleuze to conceive agency as 'the structure itself'. …

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