When a Lost Monk Meets a Happy Wanderer, Research Time, 07/05/2018

Paul Patton wrote another book about Gilles Deleuze that I read as part of my research. It was called Deleuzian Concepts. It’s a more complex study than his earlier Deleuze and the Political, though it deals with many of the same topics.

But a few more years of work and thought have made it a richer book. Let’s have a look through some of its ideas and arguments.
• • •
Early in the book, Patton sees a curious relationship between Gilles Deleuze and Jacques Derrida – they’re mirrors of each other in a particular way. Their different approaches maybe show something intriguing about what philosophy as a tradition can do.

We forget so much of the ones we're certain we
know everything about.
Art by this guy.
The way Derrida thinks philosophically, he always ends up in aporia. He’s illuminated and interrogated a problem from so many different angles that he understands it very deeply. But the key to his understanding is the precise part of the problem that makes it impossible to solve.

What makes it impossible to solve? Applicability. You can understand a philosophical concept in its abstract form very well – almost as a diagram. But now put that concept to work when you design institutions, laws, moralities, economic conventions, religions and so on. Or keep it in thought – use that concept to understand and build a wider framework of other concepts.

It might work fine, but doesn’t unfold precisely as the diagram said. There’s a slippage of the concept with the world and with wider systems when you put it to work. An inconsistency that undercuts the meaning of the concept itself. You’re left with all this work falling into inconstancy, instability.

Aporia – Philosophers sputtering. Very poetically written sputtering, but still sputtering.

Deleuze thinks about philosophy very differently. For him, the slippage is where philosophy actually does its work. He understands concepts themselves totally differently.

The way Deleuze sees it, thought is actually stagnant when you have a perfect idea that never expresses any inconsistency and acts just as you conceived it every time you use it. He thinks of concepts as producers of new concepts. With each use, the concept changes – your job as a philosopher is to trace the continuities and differences. Now you see if the shifted concept can do anything new, or has lost some of what it could do.
• • •
So Deleuze builds on the failure of Derrida. That’s how Patton spins it.

Now, I'm going to be frank here. I don’t actually know what the relationship between Deleuze and Derrida really was. I’m not sure that they were really very close at all. They knew each other, were familiar with each other’s work, but they were both aware that they were each involved in very different projects.

People always associate Derrida with irony, I think because of mediocre
readings of his work. But I see a profound irony in Deleuze – not in
what he wrote or how he lived, but how he's been received. He wanted
his followers to be creative thinkers developing concepts by
schizzing his own, pushing them to reveal inconsistencies or changes
so you could create a new concept from them. Instead, they act like
traditional academics – squabbling with each other over whose
interpretation of their Great Figure is the right one, always certain
that it's theirs.
I know what the relationship between Derrida and Deleuze is now that they’re dead, when you go to the academic departments that study them. When the French theory that we generally call post-modernism or post-structuralism* blew up in North America, Derrida had the best reputation.

* Radical democracy, actually.

Deleuze and Guattari tried one crossover event, a conference in New York that was an unmitigated disaster of mansplaining and misinterpretation. So Deleuze and Guattari’s work took some time before it was noticed on a large scale.

Patton’s book came out in the boom of interest for Deleuze’s work. So he was engaged in a little succession management. Not of Deleuze himself, but for the other academic philosophers called Continental. He had to show them why they should lay down their Jacques and pick up their Gilles.**

** I’m so, so, sorry.

It was based entirely in trying to shift academic territorial claims – who we all in a particular (sub)-sub-discipline going to squawk about now. But I’m not an academic, so I don’t have to squawk secondary material about anyone to any paywalled journals that will only accept writing about someone else.

I keep Derrida and Deleuze on different shelves, but they’re both valuable for me to have as sources of ideas. It’s better to combine them and see what new concepts will result. Which I believe was Deleuze’s point.

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