As humans – hell, as organisms – we’re uncomfortable with change. It’s quite a paradox. Life itself requires fluctuation, dynamisms in tension at so many different levels: cellular, ecological, medical, personal, economic, social. But the uncertainty of flux is a main source of anxiety.
We enjoy security. Sameness comforts us, because stability protects us. Change means risk. There can be gains with risk, but there can also be loss. Ambition and anxiety go hand in hand. It's an inevitable dynamism.
I’ve suffered from the anxiety of economic instability, though I’m slowly digging my way to a reasonable position again after several years. But for a long time, I’ve at least had the comfort that I know change is inevitable and positive.
Probably my most important source of this knowledge was the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. I recommended one of his books, What Is Philosophy?, to a new client.* We were talking about the importance of creativity in a company’s communications, getting beyond generic guidelines to develop a singular personality for a company and a brand.
* I seem to have clients now. This is a nice feeling.
I’ve long found it frustrating about corporate communications that guidelines for how to be creative are so often incredibly generic. I cited What Is Philosophy? as an important book for understanding how creativity works.
Now, it's absolutely fucking weird. Trippy in all the best ways. I’m interested to see what he thinks of it because neither English nor French is his first language, and Deleuze’s writing can be a challenge to anyone. But the challenge is worth it.
I know because What Is Philosophy? was the first book of Deleuze’s I’d read in full. I was 22. I’d had his book on Kant as a supplementary book in an early undergrad class, but I never read much of it until years later. And I mostly discovered Deleuze’s work in reverse.
He’s such a complicated writer that a lot of the academics I’ve met who specialize in his work think that you can't understand him until you've read everything. And he was absurdly prolific, writing more than 20 books and a ton of essays.
But I think Deleuze is easier to understand than his reputation insists. Deleuze is complicated to study and write about as an academic because he wrote about so many different topics and figures, and approached his core ideas in so many different ways.
That's why you can dive in pretty much anywhere. He always explored the same fundamental ideas from a ton of different angles. Just find the angle you like best, and that becomes your favourite of his books, no matter how many you read.
|There can be as many Deleuzes as you want.
My favourite is probably What Is Philosophy?. I find A Thousand Plateaus the richest. I like how punk and prophetic Anti-Œdipus is. The Kafka book turned out to be really important to how I approach writing fiction and scripts. The Nietzsche book most fun. The Leibniz book most beautiful.
He was constantly experimenting, working through different approaches, seeing what they enabled and constrained. His collaborations with the often-underrated Félix Guattari pushed an especially experimental writing style. It was a result of Guattari’s dream of being able to write philosophy like James Joyce wrote fiction.
Yeah, it got weird.
Here’s just a few lists, off the top of my head, to show how diverse Deleuze's corpus is.
He wrote books that explicitly focussed on David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, Henri Bergson, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Marcel Proust, two on Benedict Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, Michel Foucault, Franz Kafka, Francis Bacon.
In those author-centric and his topic-focussed books, he referred substantively (in addition to the people on the last list) to Georg Hegel, René Descartes, the Marquis de Sade, Jakob von Uexküll, Lucretius, Gabriel Tarde, Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Duns Scotus, Georges Cuvier, Karl Marx.
His books also touched on scientific disciplines outside philosophy, like evolutionary biology (and its history), physics, differential mathematics, astronomy, war, sex, art, literature, embryology, sociology, music, psychology, anthropology, geology, ecology, psychoanalysis, and architecture.
But underlying all this complexity are simple ideas. All his works explore the implications, in all these different authors and disciplines, of what it means for change to be inevitable, the world to be process, and dynamism essential to life.
The LA Times ran a series of essays about Deleuze for the anniversary of his death. I may talk about them on the blog.