To Act Means to Think, Jamming, 13/04/2018

Some more notes reflecting on Deleuze’s broad ideas. This time about politics, activism. Particularly the relationship between theory and practice.

Gilles Deleuze’s politics operated in a marxist tradition, or at least a tradition of social, political, and economic critique that began with the work of Marx. He was far from an orthodox marxist – anyone in the marxist tradition worth reading is never an orthodox marxist.

Economic, political, technological, and ecological circumstances are too different from Marx’s own time and place to be uncritical about his own theories and social science concepts. But the relationship between theory and practice – between philosophy and politics – is a recurring question in the tradition.

Above, an act of practice to change the world, impossible without the
theories and thinking that guides them.
Marx himself put the relationship of theory and practice at the forefront of his work. Philosophically speaking, it was one of the most reaction-inspired parts of his thinking – his need, as the saying goes, to stand Hegel on his feet instead of his head.

One of Marx’s most tweet-worthy sayings was about the theory-practice relationship. From the Theses on Feuerbach, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

So you’d think someone working in the marxist tradition would follow a strict separation of theory and practice. Interpreting and understanding the world is separate from changing the world.

But of course, it’s not that simple. Not in Marx’s own work and certainly not in Deleuze’s. Most of Deleuze’s energy was spent crafting philosophical concepts. He attended his fair share of protests and demonstrations, and regularly advocated for greater social justice in western Europe during his lifetime. But first and foremost, he was a writer and thinker.

Theory and practice exist in a feedback loop. You can’t have a sensible or even coherent theory if it isn’t developed through understanding the world, and doesn’t include a purpose of helping you understand the world. Theory is a guide for practical action, because the most wise practical action is driven by theory.

Theory without input from practice is intellectual masturbation. Practice without input from theory is flailing your arms like a crazy person. The problems of practice need theoretical work to come up with solutions. Theory has no order or direction without application in practice.

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