Sunday, October 24, 2004

Philosophical biography: ‘connecting everything up’ with Deleuze’s Spinoza

Dear friends,

I hope this review is of interest. I have been working on Deleuze’s Spinoza and find it an exceedingly difficult encounter to get hold of. To write about it is even worse. One cannot write ‘about’ it, be impartial and observe from the outside. Simply looking at its workings is not an option since one must strive to become a part of its operations. Without engaging in the same practice that is operative in Deleuze’s Spinoza there is no connection at all. As this is so difficult, this piece struggles to practice the thinking it has to strive for. Spiralling connections cannot be avoided because otherwise one is avoiding the movement that needs to be presented. Apologies if this struggle makes the piece unclear, the Deleuze-Spinoza engagement is absolutely intense and utterly dizzying. I am exhausted by it.


‘…[O]nly life explains the thinker.’
(Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, p. 14)

‘One hears, one does not seek; one takes, one does not ask who gives; a thought flashes up like lightening, with necessity, unfalteringly formed - I have never had any choice. … Everything is in the highest degree involuntary but takes place as in a tempest of a feeling of freedom, of absoluteness, of power, of divinity … This is my experience of inspiration; I do not doubt that one has to back thousands of years to find anyone who could say to me "it is mine also".-’
(Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra,’ #3)

[1] Always connect. How do we unify a life - make it resonate? Deleuze always asks how we connect. Transcendental deduction becomes in his hands the animation of actual experience through the productive dynamic of the virtual. The conditions of experience are thought-through. Whilst philosophical biography is not something that Deleuze is known for, it is a practice he could not really avoid. We will try to find where it takes us in understanding his thought and of biography. The forces active in the Deleuze-Spinoza encounter will overcome us. They are deeply infectious and they directly express themselves in biographical composition. The key question arising here is how difference can be infinite - proliferating without negation, without limitation - and yet univocity be affirmed in the same practice.

[2] It is a vital theme in Deleuze’s work that theory and practice do not belong to different realms. Mind and world are not separated. In the terms of Spinoza, they are contained within different infinite attributes (thought and extension) but united in expressive parallelism. Epistemology is connected to ontology through the productivity and power inherent in an absolutely infinite substance. We might say that in the case of Deleuze’s appropriation of Kant must involve connecting up his epistemology to ontology, to an unconscious or outside so that he can become operative within Deleuze’s terrain (this is most clearly in evidence in the transcendental deductions of the conditions of experience in Difference and Repetition). My concern with philosophical biography is one that I justify because it emerges in the thinking-through of Deleuze’s practice of philosophy. The expansion of this thought and practice is never the observation or representation of anything but the direct connection with a positive and productive Life. This unites everything actual but everything is united not by a ground but by lacking a ground (the groundless ground). Otherwise, it would be determined through negation instead of being implicated in, and explicated by, productive and real distinction (PP94-97). What sort of biography does this animate? How can a biographical whole be composed out of the proliferation of differences that make up one man’s life and thought? Indeed, how can modes be conceived at all within the prolific and spiralling expression of an absolutely infinite substance?

[3] Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (PP) (1970) is a book that I want to talk about here in ‘Parallel Process’ because it carries out in its first chapter a singular biographical exercise of connection. This is the linking of a composition to its causes or production, an affirmative Spinozist practice of allowing a life to explain itself through its implication in Being. It composes the forces of Spinoza’s life, thought and activity in a way that cannot be separated from the form of synthesis operative in his Ethics. Thought and life are connected to their efficient causes so that they explain themselves. Implication-explication is operative as a dynamic of existence itself, expression and not simply a mental operation. In contrast, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (EP) is not so complete in its composition. It is an earlier work, published in 1968. It was submitted as the historical part of Deleuze’s doctorial thesis, the other half being Difference and Repetition. Michael Hardt characterises it as ‘ragged’ - spilling over with insights that are not fully developed and problems that are unresolved (An Apprenticeship in Philosophy, p. 56 - a very good book on the evolution of Deleuze up to 1968 but somewhat motivated by [connected with] Hardt’s own political project. This may be said to obscure the complexities of Deleuzian ontology per se). This makes EP incomplete when compared to the focused and conclusive studies of thinkers that preceded it (Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Bergson and Sacher-Masoch). This should not downplay its insights - the ‘cosmic animal’ and the composition of bodies being two of the most powerful (and profoundly productive for Deleuzianism). However, it is only with the 1970 PP that there is composed a whole that also composes a biographical study. It works towards a fully Deleuzian appropriation of Spinoza by folding the intensive parts into a resonating whole. We might say that it cannot avoid being such a whole - that to think Spinoza through to the bottom meant Deleuze had to write this book. It is connected to the rhythm of the Ethics itself - forming a similar pattern and practice - so that it moves to compose an absolute velocity of thought. It is crowned by a final chapter playing a very similar role to last book of the Ethics, moving at great speed in the realisation of a fully adequate knowledge. The speed of the final part shows that Being is explicating itself, everything vitally animated by implication and adequate connection. In both cases, it is only through the synthesis composed in the preceding chapters that this level of affirmative and fast movement of thought can be achieved. In both cases connection with intensity has been built up so that Being is composed intuitively and without hesitation (Bergsonian intuition taken a step further).

[4] Thinking the infinite - infinite thought. The autonomy of ideas means that they do not rely upon a subject but are autonomous, impersonal. In achieving this Spinoza works towards the ‘the absolute velocity of thought’ (PP127). Thought is not defined adequately by the self-sufficiency of the mind. Ideas overcome this through their infinite autonomy in the power of thought (conceiving the idea of God). Efficient causality demanded to be taken further - that which is infinite is indivisible, a continuum that cannot be limited (PP78). For Deleuze, bodily relations and compositions are the model for this conception. Therefore we have thought exceeding the mind, the ultimate ‘head fuck.’ No mode can contain a sufficient reason of its own thought but only connect with its own essence - its own power -, which resonates with all other essences. Philosophical biography is a realisation of the striving for common notions and adequate ideas formed in the speculative and practical progress to beatitude in the Ethics. Not at all abstract, the common notions replace the geometric Ideas propounded in The Short Treatise on the Intellect (indeed, in chapter five of PP Deleuze gives the discovery of common notions as the reason for Spinoza’s abandonment of this treatise). Common notions are physico-chemical or biological Ideas that present in various aspects Nature’s unity of composition (PP115). These are the relations operative within nature. They refer both to the most specific relation of bodies (two bodies only) and the most general (cosmic relations such as movement and rest). In this way they link the first and third kinds of knowledge as a second kind involved both in the specificity of corporeal interaction and in the most general relations (they strive for the ‘idea of God’). The connection of diverse elements of a life and thought to a deeper unity is something that involves theory and practice, knowledge and ethics. The common notions are not merely psychological and therefore demand that our striving be much broader than a psychological effort. We must see the infinite in everything and never fall back upon our finitude to explain it (as those would who use analogies to describe God). There is no room for Narcissus here since such an ideal perishes in the absolute velocity of adequate thought. This makes philosophical biography the implication-explication couple in practice. The post-structural developments of the notion of becoming in Capitalism and Schizophrenia are prefigured here in this 1970 text. How can Spinoza not live out his thought but, rather, both think and live the love of God and be composed by this affirmative connection?

[5] Thinking-through, thinking univocally. With Spinoza, Deleuze was able to say that everything was ‘united underneath’ (PP, quotation from Malamud, p. 1) such that this connectivity spiralled out of control. [We can sense the potential for so many thousands of Plateaus, for the rhizome] The proliferation of difference was the expression of a prolific and differential production. Obviously, this Spinozan practice of connection does not resonate with any analysis of the finite and limited facts of actual experience alone. In a liberal debate there will be either ‘good’ (useful) or ‘bad’ (non-useful) encounters between bodies - merely an ice rink, cluttered with abstract concepts to make things easier, as the terrain of knowledge and practice. In contrast, non-dialectical biography composes being because it is not limited to ‘the factual’ or ‘the personal’ - it expresses the positive proliferation of difference itself. As such, we also have a terrain that isn’t anti-Hegelian but non-Hegelian (otherwise Deleuze’s Spinoza would be in opposition to Hegel and therefore could be swallowed up by dialectic). Deleuze’s PP has as its first chapter a ‘Life of Spinoza.’ It is the nature of this short philosophical biography that concerns me because it intensifies the synthetic movements of EP. It is a drama of connected and animated practices rather than a socio-historical analysis of Spinoza’s situation. To think-through is to connect up because thinking is thoroughly ontological. Spinoza’s life is the thinking-through of Life itself - it’s self-expression - in the form of a singular whole. It is a life able to explain itself so that it does not rely upon human motives or categories. If everything is implicated by an immanent causality and expression, and explicated by it, Deleuze tries to show that we must understand Spinoza ‘by way of the middle’ (PP122). Starting with the first principle would be to try and disconnect his thought from being the expression, the self-expression, of Life itself as always operative. In the middle of the movements of the Spinozan ‘common plane of immanence’ is where Deleuze can affirm a speed of thought that is post-structural (even overcoming the structure of substance-attribute-mode in its infinite becoming [cf chapter six of PP: ‘Spinoza and Us’). Everything is re-folded into, and unfolded from, a common ‘groundless ground.’

[6] We have found that the task of biography is to decentre its subject, to make the individual resonate through its self-overcoming. This resonance can be adequate or inadequate, but it is the situation in which the individual strives to continue their existence. Psychology isn’t required to settle the question of a life. Things explain themselves - the self is lost in an unconscious, made dizzy and disorientated by the need to comprehend infinite difference that nevertheless resonates. The power of this genealogy of knowledge situates thought within an expressive and immanent causality or production that composes the actual bodies that make up experience (bodies are affected by other bodies that form causal chains whose first member is always referred to God). The power of this short chapter is that it exercises this thinking-through in relation to Spinoza the individual as an open whole made up of essence (degree of power), constitutive relation (structure of the body) and extensive parts (composed) (cf. Deleuze, EP, ch. 13). This is a stage, an immanent plane, upon which the dynamic of Life is dramatized - possibilities are opened up because the essence of the individual is greater than itself, infinity expressive and involved in a singular way.

[7] Situated within, living outside. In a particularly beautiful passage of PP chapter one Deleuze writes of Spinoza that: ‘… he never confuses his purposes with those of a state, or with the aims of a milieu, since he solicits forces in thought that elude obedience as well as blame, and fashions the image of a life beyond good and evil, a rigorous innocence without merit or culpability. The philosopher can reside in various states, he can frequent various milieus, but he does so in the manner of a hermit, a traveller or a boarding house lodger.’ (p. 4) There is no need to respond to what goes on within his society, it useful only as a convenient set up if it allows the thinker to exist without harassment. Nothing really ‘happens’ that would ‘affect’ him in this milieu. Innocence is ‘rigorous’ because it is both a practice and a thinking that is intensely and thoroughly engaged in ontology. It is disconnected from the first kind of knowledge in the striving to form adequate ideas. For the thinker to realise his own essence - to connect to the power that is his essence - means the both thought and practice must express Being, i.e. form Being’s self-expression. Being as absolutely infinite substance has the infinite capacity for being affected, making connections. This is an openness of which we can be a singular instance. We must implicate ourselves in its explication of itself. This is the actual creation of Being in a state of beatitude - the love of God in the third kind of knowledge affirmed in book five of The Ethics - because it is the intuitive expression of adequate ideas. The individual creates Being because they become Being’s self-expression, representational thought being characteristic only of the first kind of knowledge. Reaching this state of beatitude demands that the thinker can connect with and affirm joyful intensities, rather than opposing himself to certain interests and fighting upon their terrain (such as the terrain of liberal debate or that of the Hegelian dialectic). When social reality is seen as the composition of relations located at a certain stage of thought and practice it is no longer seen as the sole reality or ‘the real world.’ Spinoza is the outsider in the sense of being connected to an outside in his thought and practice. Living out the self-expression of Being is the non-abstract ‘concrete view of Nature, discover[ing] the infinite everywhere,…’ (PP, p 46).

[8] Deleuze argues that Spinoza did not break with his Jewish community because of the influence of atheists or Christians that he associated with. This would be a socio-historical explanation in which the thinker moved to another form of human practice that still disconnected him with his essence and power. Deleuze doesn’t see Spinoza looking for himself in the workings of another society. He could not overcome his own boundaries by assuming new ones. Many different ways of doing things, but where is the resonance that connects? However, things got very ugly in his relations with his community. Deleuze reports that many fellow Jews in Amsterdam were lax in following there faith, but Spinoza must have gone much further to have been excommunicated and have a hole cut in his coat by an assassin’s knife (PP6). But this simply doesn’t tell us what happened to Spinoza, how he became what he was. These affections wouldn’t have animated him because they didn’t cause him to become what he was. ‘What defines Spinoza as a traveller is not the distances he covers but rather his inclination to stay in boarding houses, his lack of attachment, of possessions, after the renunciation of the paternal inheritance.’ (PP9) Deleuze as biographer does not list facts and figures of the social-political situation but breaks down these superficial trappings. He in fact mentions them only to down play their importance. Spinoza met with people of different schools and traditions but he did not connect with their ideas. This is the level of modal interaction where the terms are abstract; the facts of the situation are disconnected with their causes, with their expression. It would suggest that we can contain this thinker within the facts of his situation, what people were saying, how they went about their business. It would suggest that Spinoza is trapped in his times, a list of facts could limit his becoming both then and now. With Deleuze we find instead a thinker who discovers the infinite everywhere and this carries him beyond this initial stage of knowledge. Spinoza is eternal - going much further than the debates and conditions of his historical time. We might appropriately say that he was untimely. Just as we cannot reach God by using analogies (God’s infinitely perfect human features) so we cannot find Spinoza using the finite terms of this first stage of knowledge.

[9] Peter Hallward takes a certain view of the Spinoza-Deleuze encounter (views he offered at a Colloquia back in 2001 at Warwick University). He identifies an inescapable transcendence as the move is made from Substance to Mode and Mode to Substance. The implication-explication either forms an immanent and expressive dynamic of unfolding and refolding upon an immanent plane of composition or it involves an inescapable transcendence (Laruelle would perhaps say they involve a ‘decision’ that disrupts immanence). Hallward refers to an ‘other-worldly redemptive force’ which entails a transcendence of the given by the Real (I am not sure I like these terms but they are used by Hallwood in an article on Deleuze in Radical Philosophy, January/February 1997). The three stages of knowledge in Spinoza’s Ethics build up dynamic notions of univocity and Deleuze reads this as the immanent connection with an unconscious that composes adequate ideas and compositions. It is in the last chapter of PP that Deleuze talks about the ‘common plane of immanence’ found ‘in the middle’ of Spinoza and upon which one may ‘install oneself’ (p. 122).

[10] ‘The idea that we are is in God’ (PP72). Our realisation of ourselves is a theme in Spinoza that the politics of his day did not at all relate to. ‘Now, the mystery seems to be this: the people remain faithful to Calvinism and the House of Orange, to intolerance and warmongering.’ (PP9). Deleuze sums up the hopelessness of the situation where the state is a republic merely by surprise and accident, not by the necessity following from expression. There is no movement for Spinoza to connect with. In the Theological-Political Treatise Spinoza asks why people fight for their own enslavement. Why is it so difficult to bear freedom? Religion is diagnosed as ‘effect’ since everything is to be connected with causes or processes of production (PP 10). This situation produces sad affections and Spinoza opposes these in a similar way to Nietzsche. Good and evil are superseded as negative and disconnected signs. To explain this freedom, Spinoza has to be understood as part of a line of ‘private thinkers’ (PP11). In all of this biography must identify the animating depth of a thinker who fails to be involved with his times and society. ‘The frugal, propertyless life, undermined by illness, this thin, frail body, this brown, oval face with its sparkling black eyes - how does one explain the impression they give of being suffused with Life itself, of having a power identical to Life?’ (PP12) Spinoza lives because he thinks equally a to a Life expressive of absolutely infinite substance. If Hegel says he ignores the negative, Deleuze writes, this is his glory and innocence. He lives in a world consumed by the negative (Orangeists v. Calvinists) but ‘Spinoza feels, experiences, that he is eternal.’ (p. 13) We cannot control this becoming within the socio-historical facts we have at hand.

[11] That Spinoza is ‘a philosopher craftsman’ (PP7) means that he can be many things as well as a singular expression. His practical involvement with optics leads him to envisage a vital and optical rectification: ‘If man is somehow distorted, this torsion effect will be rectified by connecting it to its causes more geometrico. This optical geometry traverses the entire Ethics.’ (PP13) Geometric method and the polishing of lenses resonate because both allow the self-explication of Being itself. In this sense Spinoza is absolutely involved within an outside and yet singular in expressing this animating plenitude. Life isn’t in thinking but the thinker alone has a potent life, one that is free of guilt and hatred. ‘…and only life explains the thinker.’ (PP14) Does this all follow? It follows in a specific and dizzying sense - the sense that everything connects, connection spirals in an affirmative resonance of absolutely productive Life. Questions like ‘What can a body do?’(EP217f, cf Ethics, part 3, Prop 2, scholia) are intense moments of this practical movement that gathers speed and leaves nothing unaffected (Deleuze locates these moments in the scholia of the Ethics which are so important for his reading). Relations are reformed without limit because there is no limit to this Life. Life may seem to replace God or Substance but still expresses absolute infinity. Biography that can express this is presented in PP because the ‘absolute velocity of thought’ has attained its full force. This had happened with previous studies, such as those of Nietzsche and Bergson, but here it is achieved in a way that is decisive and completes Deleuze’s early work. It contains forces that will operate in Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Biography is here becoming-intense, becoming-cosmic, so that the apparatus of capture are already an issue.

[A philosophical biography that might be of interest is to be found at weddeleuze (in the Sommaire section): Deleuze: Bibliographie et mondes inédits: 01/09/1995. It begins ‘Deleuze, philosopher, son of Diogenes and Hypatia, sojourned at Lyon. …’]


Gilles Deleuze (1992) Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (PP), trans. Martin Joughin, New York: Zone Books.
- (1988) Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (EP), trans. Robert Hurley, San Francisco: City Lights Books.

Michael Hardt (1993) An Apprenticeship in Philosophy: Gilles Deleuze, London: UCL Press.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1979) Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is, trans. R. J. Hollingdale, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.


Blogger Scott said...

Once more, of remarkable interest Edward. I have a number of peremptory remarks & questions. As an aside I confess since this turned out to be a somewhat fuller response than originally conceived and I wasn’t sure where immediately to put it on the site but for now here seems best (It may be worth considering a system whereby there is a rotation of articles between the sites to free up room for discussion – but this may well become much clearer with Brian’s concern to expand the site further). Anyway, I hope this is of some interest:

[1] It seems here that you wish to claim “biography” as the practical philosophical task par excellence - an "exercise of connection" [3], this being at least the case insofar as thought and life (implication-explication) are indissociably connected. Here you refer to this as the “linking of a composition to its causes or production, an affirmative Spinozist practice of allowing a life to explain itself through its implication in Being” [3].

[2] In thinking the infinite, the deindividuated, open horizon of possibility is aligned with ‘the absolute velocity of thought’ and “becoming-intense.” I confess it appears to me that access to this “unity”[4] you speak of with respect of the terms just mentioned does indeed suggest a form of transcendence (as stated in [9] with Hallward). I confess however I am unsure as to the relation between transcendence and immanence in Deleuze with respect of the fold. When referring back to concepts like ‘the absolute velocity of thought’ it sounds to me like it could infer something like an “immanent transcendence” but perhaps you could clarify this issue for me. Furthermore I wish to ask once more what the implications are of an intervention for Deleuzian immanence – does an intervention sacrifice immanence for Deleuze? To talk of intervention do we have to talk of an ontology of separation or can intervention be convincingly incorporated into his ontology? I am reminded in this respect that Derrida said in his response to Deleuze’s death that Deleuze is first and foremost a philosopher of the event. Does this remark agree with your thinking – or for that matter Deleuze’s engagement with Spinoza’s thought?

[3] I was interested by the remark "There is no room for Narcissus here since such an ideal perishes in the absolute velocity of adequate thought" [4]. Although a minor observation, I noticed that you began with a quotation from Ecce Homo. I wonder what we can say, bearing in mind your remarks, about autobiography [the narcissist's art]? Can we properly talk of a separation between the task of autobiography and biography? The former seems to put a different stress on the task of creating one’s own life as opposed to connecting up to an immanent field of creativity. This distinction could play into a finite-infinite discussion, but I wonder if one might instead pose autobiography as a singular intervention; as an event of style – and thus pose the cut against the fold?

[4] Nietzsche of course parodies and subverts the medium, and in the light of it we could perhaps say he uses it as precisely as an exercise to “connect up,” to become what one is while at the same time being precisely other from what one is. Could we perhaps align the implication-explication to Nietzsche’s playful characterisation of philosophy as an unconscious memoir? Nevertheless, I would like to continue to think through the distinction between autobiography and biography in a form and pose the former as equally to be understood as an infinite process but not one that necessarily to be understood as something that connects up. I’ll have to think about this more however before I elaborate anything more significant on this point.

[5] The question of voluntary servitude also interested me. Why do people fight for there own enslavement? (though it is insouciant at best to address recent events in these terms, under the auspices of the “free, civilized world,” modern democracy appears to be drawing ominously in this direction – isn’t this how ideology shelters and proliferates?). Does the question of voluntary servitude pose a rather Sartrean question of freedom simply being too hard to bear? – that is, does freedom actively have to be decided for in some way? I wonder what it means for people to fight for their own enslavement. I suspect I should be looking towards Nietzsche’s Genealogy, Foucault, and perhaps even Freud for answers…But let me just observe here that it suggests to me some kind of investment or conscious decision, an investment that presumably could in some sense be correlated (at least in the manner in which it is enacted) with actually increasing one’s power of affect. Yet this at the same time would presumably be at a meta-level reducing the possible capacity for affect. Two sketchily disconnected thoughts fleetingly draw across to mind over this question, one philosophical, one literary: a) the active-reactive distinction in Deleuze and his account of the eternal return as a selective principle – only as activity is there a return: this has always led to problems for me (which perhaps we could investigate further in discussion – doesn’t reactivity create the conditions for the return and so forth); and b) I am struck into remembering Musil’s brilliant description of the fly stuck to the fly-paper – the more it struggles, the more it tries to free itself and cultivates different responses to its fate, the more firmly stuck it becomes, and the more its fate appears to be pathetically sealed by its situation (one wonders whether this should be characterized as a reactive struggle against its environment or an active attempt to overcome its situation - This problematic is also referred to in Nietzsche’s account of first and second nature in his essay “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” – something which I will elaborate in a future article) … The dilemma could be dramatised in terms of the man who recognises that we are to the gods as flies are to wanton boys (to paraphrase Shakespeare’s King Lear). This pole in turn could be set against the tortured consciousness of Hamlet reflecting on his own condition: “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a ruler of infinite space if I did not suffer from bad dreams.”

6:33 PM  

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