Some of the Usual Suspects, Research Time, 23/10/2014

This is not Éric Alliez, Claire Colebrook, Peter Hallward, Nicholas Thoburn, and Jeremy Gilbert.
Many months ago, my friend T alerted me to the existence of a pdf.* It was a copy of a book chapter, a round-table interview between five scholars of the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (among other things).

* You might wonder why I have nothing to say on this blog about the shooting yesterday in Ottawa on the grounds of my country’s house of federal government. Well, it’s because the situation is ongoing, and I want to wait until the full shape of the fallout is known before I make any public pronouncements. I have my unfortunate expectations (ie. increased security and lockdowns on government, permanent restrictions on the movement of citizens in their own capitol buildings and the wider downtown area).

The eccentric-appearing philosopher Éric Alliez.
Éric Alliez is a prominent scholar of Deleuze, and the co-author of The Guattari Effect, a book which I don’t own, but would like to, that explores the impact of Félix Guattari on changing many important elements of Deleuze’s thought; Alliez’s argument is that his collaboration with Guattari made Deleuze the revolutionary thinker he became, and kept him from getting bogged down in structuralism. 

This is a notion that I came to myself independently, as I reflected on the change of character that Deleuze’s work underwent during and after his collaboration period in the 1970s. It’s another reason why I’m glad I didn’t specialize in producing secondary material: there are so many of us that we all have similar interpretive ideas and have to contort ourselves into absurd shapes just to provide original points of view. I’d much rather use Deleuze and Guattari’s (and Alliez’s) ideas to discuss political and social issues rather than produce commentaries on the primary writers.

Claire Colebrook
Claire Colebrook has written many books on Gilles Deleuze, including multiple introductions to his thought, none of which I have read because I’ve always preferred primary material to books aiming to simplify it. I’ve been suspicious toward such books precisely because complexity of expression is part of what makes philosophy interesting. The titles of her books amuse me, though: Gilles Deleuze, Understanding Deleuze, and my favourite Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed

Throughout this roundtable debate, I find myself sympathizing most with her argument, as she articulates clearly the political power of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy: not only do they help understand why people develop subjectivities that desire their own political and economic repression, but they analyze better than anyone else I’ve encountered how social movements can arise spontaneously from communication affects across long distances and among disparate people. Colebrook explicitly aligns Deleuze and Guattari just as I do: as the foundational figures of modern network politics.

Colebrook has also written a book called William Blake and Digital Aesthetics. Phil Sandifer's influence has gotten me more interested in Blake over the last couple of years, and I think this book might be worth delving into. It's entirely possible that Phil has already explored this book, and he can let me know how it turns out.

I do not like the work of Peter
The participant I have very little sympathy for is Peter Hallward. He knows a lot about Deleuze and Guattari, but he hates them. Hallward is a vocal partisan for the philosophy of Deleuze’s lifelong arch-enemy, Alain Badiou. Shortly after Deleuze died, Badiou published a short book called The Clamour of Being about Deleuze’s philosophy. Based on what he claimed was a years-long exchange of letters (which I suspect Badiou fabricated), he analyzed Deleuze’s philosophy and Deleuze himself as if he had been lying to his audience for his entire life about the true meaning of his work. Instead of a philosophy of multiplicity and the infinitely potential creative power of being, said Badiou, Deleuze finally admitted to him that his philosophy was really about formlessness, emptiness, and death. It was a bitter character assassination by a resentful old man relishing the opportunity to destroy the reputation of his rival of decades.

When I read Hallward’s main book on the philosophy of Deleuze, Out of This World, I found it to be merely a respectable articulation of the same hack job Badiou perpetrated in the 90s. The problem with Badiou’s and Hallward’s interpretation of Deleuze is that his ideas centre on the tension between the vibrancy of multiplicity and the garbled oneness of chaos. But they interpret it only in terms of its formlessness, instead of the genesis of forms. 

Nicholas Thoburn and
his excellent beard.
Hallward is the only one who’s critical of Deleuze in any strong sense in this round table, but he’s critical merely as an empty opposition. Hallward describes Deleuze and Guattari in this exchange as able to inform us about some innovative new ways that modern capitalism defangs its opposition and keeps the kinds of subjectivities capable of collective action from forming, discussing this in its form as Badiou’s communist dogma, where the only way to change a social order is a doctrinally unified revolutionary vanguard’s imposition of a political order where all individuals only exist insofar as they’re members of a collective. The others on the panel rightfully shoot him down as utterly ignoring the ways in which Deleuze and Guattari’s works find productive frameworks for political organizing and resistance through decentralized networks. 

This is not Jeremy Gilbert the philosopher, but actor Steven
McQueen, who plays the character Jeremy Gilbert on The
Vampire Diaries
Nicholas Thoburn has published several articles, and is in the middle of what seems like a fascinating project on multimedia forms of publishing political philosophy and criticism. I only just discovered this project while researching them for this blog post, so I as yet have no idea what it’s about. But it sounds fascinating. Thoburn has also written a book called Deleuze, Marx, and Politics, which is about exactly what it says on the tin. Jeremy Gilbert has written two books on radical politics, collectivity, and critiques of contemporary global capitalism, the older of which is available for free on his university faculty website.

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