Gilles Deleuze: Theorist as Artist
You can only imagine my relief upon my recent discovery of an article by Valentine Moulard in a 2004 issue of Philosophy Today in which she holds up a third possibility, the possibility of the theorist as artist. The central thesis of her article is as follows:
To understand Deleuze's "transcendental empiricism" (perhaps the only thought which truly effects the overthrowing, and not simply the reversal of Platonism), we must read Deleuze as a modern artist.1
In other words, not only does Moulard suggest that Deleuze, even as theorist, is himself a modern artist, but that it is only within this framework that we could possibly understand his work. That is, his status as artist is the condition for the possibility of his theory's validity. If Plato, firmly engrasped by a logocentric rationalism, held that it is the theorist's noble duty to banish the artist as inimical to the proper development of reason, Deleuze, the anti-Platonist, performatively renders philosophy as a theoretic-aesthetic discourse fundamentally opposed to the rational erasure of difference, an opposition oriented by a recognition and commitment to the creative and fundamental role of the unconscious in every discourse.
Now, as Deleuze writes in Cinema 2, when we experience a work of art,
we constitute a sheet of transformation which invents a kind of continuity or transversal communication between several sheets, and weaves a network of non-localizable relations between them. In this way we extract non-chronological time. We draw out a sheet which, across all the others, seizes and prolongs the trajectory of points, the evolution of regions. This is evidently a task which runs the risk of failure: sometimes we only form generalities which retain mere resemblances... But it is possible for the work of art to succeed in inventing these paradoxical and hallucinatory sheets whose property is to be at once a past and always to come.2
This point is of the greatest import, as Moulard reminds us:
This transversal sheet of transformation which inaugurates non-chronological time and that the work of art has the power to constitute is none other than the famous third type of repetition which, in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze identifies as the ungrounding, the untimely or the order of Aion, and which, from the point of view of memory or the past, he associates with death and destruction; but from the point of view of the future, it coincides with creation. In this profoundly counter-intuitive third synthesis of time lies the key to the radical novelty and uniqueness of Deleuze's transcendentalism. The important point is this: the third synthesis is the Deleuzian transcendental. I argue that it is there that his thought becomes a work of art, there that the concept becomes indistinguishable from the affect and the percept, that non-sense comes up to the surface so as at once dislocate and constitute sense.3
As a theorist, it is easy at times to simply believe that sense is opposed to non-sense. This supposed insight lies at the center of any bifurcating rationality. Fortunately, Deleuze reminds us of the profound dependence of sense on the more fundamental, unconscious, and immanent non-sense. And, as Moulard helpfully points out, within the Deleuzian framework, even mastery
is rooted in some unconscious, involuntary, non-subjective-in a word, purely immanent-repetition which, as the affirmation of difference, necessitates the creation of lines of flight from within the sterile paradoxes of modernity.4
For Moulard, theory crosses over into the realm of art precisely when "it creates concepts as affects, as percepts, as the sensible out of which thought and subjectivity are generated."5 I cannot help but think of Marion's conception of the icon as always surpassing our attempts to delimit, determine, and cognize its meaning, a surpassing that speaks of the overflowing and unlimited that both constitutes art and stands parallel to the purely immanent in Deleuze.
I am personally tired of the sterile paradoxes of modernity, as I'm sure my readers will understand. I have written on the topic elsewhere, in terms of bifurcating rationality and the theoretical straightjacket of form and content. Little did I know, however, that even I, as theorist, could potentially engage in a fundamentally artistic project whose purpose is to performatively lift us out of this tedious vortex of logocentrism. I wish to reflect further upon these matters, hold myself to account for the disappointing fact that my concepts have so far failed to be either affects or percepts, and make a concerted effort in the future to recognize at a deep level the role of non-sense in simultaneously dislocating and constituting sense.
1. Moulard, Valentine, Philosophy Today, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 288-298, Fall 2004, 288-289
2. Deleuze, Gilles, Cinema 2: L’image-temps (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968), 162, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 123.
3. Moulard, Valentine, Philosophy Today, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 288-298, Fall 2004, 290
4. Ibid, 293
5. Ibid, 292