Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Deleuze--Method of reading

Hello everyone,
after class I briefly spoke with Anne and Tom, and that conversation prompted me to double-check on a quotation I paraphrased in class. In class I said something to the extent that GD wrote that his mode of engaging other philosophers was by taking them from behind but that the only one with whom he wasn't able to do this was Hegel, as that would have produced monsters.

Well, although the basic spirit of my paraphrase was certainly accurate I was incorrect in the attribution of monstrosity to the act of taking Hegel from behind. Here's the accurate quote:

"What I most detested was Hegelianism and dialectics. My book on Kant's different; I like it, I did it as a book about an enemy that tries to show how his system works, its various cogs--the tribunal of Reason, the legitimate exercise of the faculties (our subjection to these made all the more hypocritical by our being characterized as legislators). But I suppose the main way I coped with it at the time was to see the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery or (it comes to the same thing) immaculate conception. I saw myself as taking an author from behind and giving him a child that would be his own offspring, yet monstrous. It was really important fror it to be his own child, because the author had to actually say all I had him saying. But the child was bound to be monstrous too, because it resulted from all sorts of shifting, slipping, dislocations, and hidden emissions that I really enjoyed." ("Letter to a Harsh Critic," in Negotiations 3-12, here 6, bold mine).

I seem to recall Deleuze claiming that he could not do what he describes above with Hegel, but I can't remember where; it's likely in an interview somewhere.

The point I wanted to make in class was this: that Deleuze's style of reading--which we also see at work in A-O, where D&G go to all kinds of more or less well known, as well as more or less obscure, writers (obviously this depends on how much we know about the various disciplines they're tapping into, as well as on the fate of these writers suffered since the early 1970s) and "take them from behind," so to speak, treating their texts as "little non-signifying machine[s]" in response to which they ask: "Does it work, and how does it work?" ("Letter" 8). As GD continues in this passage from "Letter" at hand--which I read to you last night--"If it doesn't work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading's intensive: something comes through or it doesn't. There's nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It's like plugging an electric circuit. [...] This second way of reading's quite different from the first, because it relates a book directly to what's Outside. A book is a little cog in much more complicated external machinery. Writing is own flow among others, with no special place in relation to others, that comes into relations of current, countercurrent, and eddy with other flows--flows of shit, sperm, words, action, eroticism, money, politics, and so on."

What you get, I think, from this politics/ethics/method of reading is, on one hand, something akin to close reading (evidenced by copious quotations in GD's books on Nietzsche, Bergson, etc etc) and, on the other, an intensification of close reading where the latter is not beholden to "truth" (do I get the text "right"? do I understand its meaning? etc) but, rather, becomes a tool for transforming the text immanently by actualizing the virtual potential of the text--that which is "real" with regard to the text (it's not a matter of imagining something that the writer could've said but really did not)--so that the text's otherness-to-itself is being articulated through the act of "buggery." In this, one might note, "fidelity" itself does play a role but it's no longer a matter of fidelity for fidelity's sake, truth for truth's sake, getting at the real intentions, etc. The reader has to have an inclination towards the writer and his or her text and take seriously what the text says and, especially, what it labors to say but, perhaps, doesn't fully express; it is by taking the object (text) seriously, by, in fact, starting there, with the text, by, as TA would say, heeding the "primacy of the object," that "intensive reading" proceeds and creates monstrous effects--effects that don't care about getting the text "right" (if by that we mean getting its true "meaning") but does care about showing what the potential of the text is with regard to its ability to help build concepts, pose questions, formulate problems, etc.--a potential that can be articulated only by going through the writer/text, by making sure that what one makes the text say is in fact something that the writer of the text could have said himself. This is why this isn't an "anything goes" relativism. Put differently--& I think this is really important, and it certainly is to me--all of this means, as it were, that while there is no "right" reading (or "correct" reading) there are certainly wrong readings--namely readings that do not actually articulate what the author could have said herself. And over the course of his career GD time and again shows in his engagements with philosophers and literary figures, the cinema or painting, etc., that accomplishing this--to make the author say what he could've said--hinges on latching on to, on discovering, and on helping to tease out the logic or rhythm of the argument, the writing, the filming, the painting, that is: the praxis and the thought, the thought as praxis or praxis as thinking. Here, then, we are beyond hermeneutics, interpretation, because "what does it mean?" is no longer the governing telos or desire; nor is "understanding" or "communicating." Instead, "intensive reading" is about transformation, about doing, about provocation, about affecting and being affected, about the question of experimenting with the text to find out whether in the encounter with it one's capacity to affect and be affected (a rock bottom material, pre-subjective operation: affect is not "emotion" for GD, as the latter is affect, which is pre-subjective, territorialized onto the subject) is in- or decreased. If it's the latter then, according to Nietzsche's system of evaluation (which is about assessing active and reactive forces, the weight and vectors of forces) it's something to avoid; if it's the former it's something to affirm, as it enhances life, the flow of forces, of desire.

Anyway, I thought I owed it to you to correct my somewhat incorrect paraphrasing from last night.

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