Morphogenesis: The Constitution of Form and Structure, A History Boy, 02/04/2014

We do not honour our heroes and inspirations by worshipping them, but by continuing the tasks through which they inspired you. Do not turn back; go on, despite uncertainty.

Above, I’ve posted a video of Manuel DeLanda discussing the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. If you want to learn a lot and you have about 75 minutes to spare in an evening, you should have a listen.

Deleuze is one of my favourite philosophers, and a thinker who has very much influenced my own thinking and work. DeLanda is, of all the people I know who have engaged with Deleuze’s thought (and DeLanda is a self-declared member of the post-Deleuzian tradition) who takes the most enlightened stance on the matter. Reading various scholars of Deleuze like Daniel Smith, Peter Hallward, Dorothea Olkowski, Jay Lampert, Gary Genosko, and more I'm tired of listing, I noticed a recurring trend in all these essays, books, and talks that I’ve read and seen. Everyone seems to talk as if their account of Deleuze is the right one. This implies that, once all these perspectives of what the ‘right’ Deleuze is get together, conflict is inevitable. I’ve been to gatherings of Deleuze scholars, and they aren’t bitter or bitchy at each other. But as long as the conversation is about interpreting Deleuze, conflict among the university faculties is inevitable. 

DeLanda’s work is entirely focussed not on giving an account of Deleuze better than any other, but in carrying his ideas that he developed in Deleuze’s tradition to other, new problems. His lecture here is about the growth of knowledge as we explore the material nature of the world, and what kind of knowledge is best suited to conduct that exploration. 

The most popular innovators of the scientific revolution like Isaac Newton believed that the growth of science would be a path to unification. Conservative philosophy of science has treated human knowledge this way as well. But the real history of science has been divergence of disciplines, as the world has proven so complex that different venues of knowledge (metallurgy, chemistry, geology, and all their various sub-disciplines) have entirely different frameworks of knowledge and mathematical functions.

Only in the last century was metallurgy taken seriously as a
science, having had to overcome the negative class
heritage of metal smiths, who were, unfortunately for the,
community, social outcasts for hundreds of years.
What is most important for the fidelity, usefulness, and ultimate truth of knowledge is how well we understand the material we are investigating. That understanding comes from experience — no matter how insightful the knowledge of theoretical thinking is, it remains rarefied and abstract until you dive into the details of the material and its structure. Matter and mathematics, the world and its structures. DeLanda talks about, “the magic of the material world,” how matter comes together in mathematically mappable relationships to constitute bodies of such greater complexity. 

He talks about Deleuze developing three kinds of reasoning about the material nature of reality, thinking in terms of populations or variations without pre-determined themes, intensities or relations among dynamisms, and topologies or material shapes and potentials. DeLanda depicts these three as essential to understanding materiality in that magical sense that is necessary for genuine knowledge, the knowledge of the world that can have worldly impact. He introduces the question in this lecture, but presses the question into more difficult territory in his books, some of which succeed better than others. I contrast him with other approaches to Deleuze scholarship because I can even ask the question of whether he succeeds or fails. 

I have seen among communities of X-ian philosophers that I cannot even ask the question of success. All the arguments seem to be about interpretations, but unless you are plain sloppy, all interpretations of a given great philosopher, no matter how divergent they may be, are true. The reason a philosopher is great is because their works have the potential for these multiple, divergent interpretations. Their heritage lies in having inspired those communities of squabbling authors of secondary material. They can encourage all this divergence in interpretation, still standing above the chaos. 

Deleuze is very much one of these figures, which is why, as long as people continue to read his work, will encourage lively debate and inspiration to bring his ideas into new problems. DeLanda is one of those latter kinds of figures, whose philosophical ambition opens the possibility that they can become one of those great figures. I hope my works in philosophy will be of the latter kind as well.

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