Experiments in Thinking: An Assay of Smith's Essays on Deleuze

By Bell, Jeffrey | Philosophy Today, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Experiments in Thinking: An Assay of Smith's Essays on Deleuze


Bell, Jeffrey, Philosophy Today


Experiments in Thinking: An Assay of Smith's Essays on Deleuze Daniel W. Smith, Essays on Deleuze (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012),

Let me begin with a hypothetical. Let us take a relatively established philosopher who has been at work within his particular sub-discipline for a number of years. He has produced some good work and when at conferences a few people actually recognize the name on his nametag. Things are good and the future looks even better. Brimming with confidence, our philoso- pher brings his latest work to a conference, fully expecting this will be the essay that brings him to the next level. While at the bar the night before presenting his paper, a good friend and colleague tells about the work of another philosopher that addresses many of the same themes he does, but in a much more interesting way. Our philosopher is caught off guard and a flood of questions is forced upon him: Who is it? How is this possible? How much has she written? Where and when did she write it? And with whom is she associated, and where does that leave our philosopher?1 Our philosopher's questions go unanswered, for his friend has to rush off to meet someone else. Who?, he wonders. So there he sits, our woeful academic, finding himself adrift, like Proust's jealous lover, "living within a prob- lem, and constrained, involuntarily, to explore its conditions" (Essays 84). It is this problematic state, Deleuze argues, that forces one to think; it is the objectivity of what is not known, the "objective dimension of the problem" (ibid. 300),or what Deleuze refers to as the "natural 'powerlessness' which is indistinguishable from the greatest power"-that is, the power of thinking.2

Associated with thinking, however, and with the conditions of the problem that force it upon us, is delirium. "Underneath all reason," Deleuze writes, "lies delirium, and drift."3 Take Hume, for instance, who Deleuze believes holds that "if the mind is manifested as a delirium, it is because it is first of all, and essentially, madness."4 We can begin to see why this is so, for if thought is forced upon us by the objectivity of the problem, by the questions that impinge upon the jealous lover or academic for instance, then the pursuit of the questions may well undermine all that is common and familiar and unleash a madness that remains inseparable from each of our rational, well-tuned thoughts. Hume was well aware of this fact when in the Treatise he noted that "a lively imagination very often degenerates into madness or folly, and bears it a great resemblance," since for the mad person

every loose fiction or idea, having the same influence as the impressions of the memory, or the conclusions of the judgment, is receiv'd on the same foot- ing, and operates with equal force on the passions. A present impression and a customary transition are now no longer necessary to inliven our ideas.5

We can now return to our jealous philosopher, thrown as she was into a frenzied state of exploring the objective conditions of the problem she encountered upon hearing about the existence of a rival. The forced thinking this brings about, as thinking, risks becoming undone. Our philosopher can become unhinged. Rather than thinking in terms of already established associations and memories-or what Hume identifies as the "customary transition" from one thought to an- other-she is "inlivened" to conclusions on the least provocation. For example, she spots John Protevi in conversation with someone she does not recognize, but rather than assume all is well-after all, John has been a friend for years-she leaps to the conclusion that John and the stranger are plotting her demise. This undermining then spreads, unchecked, and everywhere she turns the familiar associations take on a sinister air, as if she had suddenly fallen into a tale told by H. P. Lovecraft. It is this very possibility that lurks behind Deleuze's comment that Hume's empiricism is "a kind of universe of science fiction: as in science fiction, the world seems fictional, strange, foreign, experienced by other creatures; but we get the feeling that this world is our own, and we are the creatures. …

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