Situating Deleuze on Literature and Philosophy: Territories Distinct but Uncannily Analogous

By Ellison, David R. | Tamkang Review, June 2014 | Go to article overview

Situating Deleuze on Literature and Philosophy: Territories Distinct but Uncannily Analogous


Ellison, David R., Tamkang Review


How does one situate the thought of Gilles Deleuze (his own thought, as well as his collaborative writings with Felix Guattari)? On the one hand, the reader of his works is struck by the breadth of the topics surveyed (philosophy, literature, political theory, cultural critique, psychoanalysis, film) as well as by wide variations in tone and style (sober, declarative unpacking of difficult philosophical concepts effected with concision and elegance (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza; Nietzsche and Philosophy; Bergsonism; The Critical Philosopy of Kant; not to speak of what is perhaps his masterwork, Difference and Repetition), but elsewhere inventive flights of fancy which have been both admired and hotly contested: The Logic of Sense; Anti-Oedipus; A Thousand Plateaus. (1) On the other hand, if, as Michel Foucault suggested, "perhaps one day this century will be known as Deleuzian" (885), this is possibly the case because of the multifaceted usefulness and rhetorical persuasiveness of terms such as "assemblage" (agencement), "deterritorialization," and "reterritorialization," "line of flight," "plane of immanence," "body without organs," "rhizome," etc.--terms which have served multiple methodological and ideological purposes and which have migrated far from their Parisian or European points of origin (to mention just two examples, at geographical and cultural antipodes: Edouard Glissant's theoretical writings [the Caribbean] (2) and the First Annual Deleuze Studies in Asia International Conference [Taipei, 31 May--2 June, 2013] at which an earlier version of the present paper was delivered).

Within the modern European ("continental") philosophical context, Deleuze came along at a time of bracing renewal, writing contemporaneously with Foucault, Ricoeur, Derrida, Bourdieu, and Habermas, and beginning his career just at the time Heidegger was to end his. Of special interest to me in the development that follows is one particular aspect of Deleuze's writings, and I shall dwell uniquely on that one aspect: namely, the relation between literature and philosophy in his work. This is a broad territory, and I shall make no attempt to survey it with anything resembling a systematic perspective. Rather, I should like to begin concisely, with an initial distinction between Deleuze and Heidegger and Derrida, and then move on, following Deleuze's own statements on the complex links between these two fields, in order to propose, neither a direct confirmation of what Deleuze states nor a refutation of his assertions, but rather a slight, but I think significant, nuance to the picture he paints of literature and philosophy as equally important but separate fields.

What distinguishes Deleuze from his immediate predecessor Martin Heidegger and his contemporary Jacques Derrida is that Deleuze continues to believe in a specifically philosophical project, a project that can only be carried out by philosophy as distinct territory. Whereas Heidegger, after the famous Kehre, had turned more and more away from philosophy understood as a specialized field with a specialized technical vocabulary which, in his view, had fallen away from its source, toward a kind of thinking that shared many of its attributes with poetry (thus Denken und Dichten replace Philosophie in Heidegger's later idiom), (3) and whereas, with and after Glas (1974), Derrida moves toward a mixing of linguistic forms of expression (in this case, an imaginative and disconcerting juxtaposition and engaged commentary of Hegel's philosophical reasoning and Jean Genet's autobiographical musings), (4) Deleuze thinks that philosophy, like literature, like science, is a field. When one reads Deleuze on philosophy, whether he is analyzing the continental or analytical tradition, one is, of course, aware of his broad knowledge, his erudition, his critical acumen, and his capacity not only to think conceptually, but, as he puts it in What Is Philosophy? to create concepts. …

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