Gilles Deleuze, a 20th-century French philosopher and prolific writer, was born on January 18, 1925, and died on November 4, 1995. He grew up in a middle-class family in Paris and spent most of his life there.
Deleuze wrote about a range of subjects, including philosophy, literature, fine art and film. His popular books Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980) were written jointly with Felix Guattari. In the academic field, his 1968 metaphysical treatise Difference and Repetition is considered his greatest contribution.
Deleuze attended the Lycee Carnot school during World War II, as well as the Lycee Henri IV. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1944 and graduated in 1948. He studied history of philosophy with Ferdinand Alquie, Georges Canguilhem, Maurice de Gandillac and Jean Hyppolite. Deleuze was also interested in non-academic philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre.
Following his graduation, Deleuze lectured at a number of lycees, prior to a lectureship in the Sorbonne in 1957. His first solo work, Empiricism and Subjectivity on Hume, was published in 1953. From 1960 to 1964, when he was associated with the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, Deleuze published Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), considered by critics to be a seminal work. He became friends with French philosopher Michel Foucault at this time. From 1964 to 1969, he was a professor at the University of Lyon. Difference and Repetition and Expression in Philosophy: Spinoza were published in 1968. His early work is classified as poststructuralist.
An experimental school, the University of Paris VIII, invited Deleuze to teach there in 1969, and he held that position until he retired in 1987. Foucault was employed there, as well as Felix Guattari, a psychoanalyst.
For 25 years, Deleuze was treated for a debilitating heart condition, attributed to his heavy smoking. He committed suicide in 1995. Critics said his suicide was a contradiction to his affirmation of life, and others suggested it displayed the fragility he mentioned.
The philosophical works of Deleuze may be divided into two categories. The first comprises monographs where he interprets the work of other philosophers such as Bergson, Foucault, Hume, Kant, Leibniz and Nietzsche. He also looked at Francis Bacon, Kafka and Proust. The second area of his work involved eclectic philosophical tomes. He organized these conceptually according to topics such as cinema, philosophy, sense, events, difference and schizophrenia.
The main focus of his early philosophical works encompasses metaphysics. He inverts the traditional metaphysical relationship between identity and difference by taking the standard way of describing it and offering a contrary answer. Whereas difference is traditionally seen as being a derivative from identity, Deleuze posits that all identities are effects of difference.
Deleuze alludes to Kant and Schelling by referring to his philosophy as transcendental empiricism, while inverting Kant's way of perceiving experience. Further, Deleuze suggests that being is univocal with all senses affirmed in one voice and expounds on the concept of univocity.
Deleuze's metaphysics is unusual as is his epistemology. Deleuze asserts that traditional image of thought, as in the philosophy of Aristotle, Descartes and Husserl, contains misconceptions. He suggests that although truth may be difficult to discover, thinking can theoretically grasp facts and ideas. Deleuze has an atypical perspective epistemologically, and his interpretations of the history of philosophy are equally so.
Deleuze defines philosophy like a creation of concepts, with creations being metaphysical constructions. These define thinking in a range of philosophy contained in ideas of Plato, Descartes' concept of cogito and the doctrine of faculties of Kant. Rather than being a definitive scientific description of a world that is already pre-existing, Deleuze's philosophical view is akin to an artistic or practical production. His writing from 1981 shows how he perceived art, science and philosophy as distinct disciplines, analyzing reality differently.
Deleuze's ideas regarding ethics and politics are reminiscent of Spinoza's, although with a Nietzschean style. He looks toward understanding the moralities of individuals as products of the organization of pre-individual powers and desires. Affirming reality in its state of flux requires overturning established identities. Although people cannot know the outcome in advance, one has to move toward becoming all that he or she can be. Deleuzian practice encapsulates creativity in its orientation.
Deleuze offered interpretations of other philosophers in his writing, not by reiterating what they had said, but by offering novel and unexpected ways of interpreting their works. This is a further enactment of creativity.
Books such as Anti-Oedipus, A Thousand Plateaus and What is Philosophy, his collaborations with Guattari, were best sellers in France, despite the fact that Deleuze's philosophy did not emerge into a school of thought. His work is studied, however, in English-speaking academic circles and is popular in North American humanities departments. His philosophy has also attracted critics.