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“A Thought from Outside:” the unthought in Blanchot, Foucault and Deleuze

Lecturer: Tim Deane-Freeman

Originally Taught: Summer School 2020

This course is dedicated not to a specific thinker or oeuvre but rather to a concept, which traces its way across 20th century French thought. The “outside” –the unarticulated, unseen and unthought presence which, for Blanchot, Foucault and Deleuze, serves as the very condition of thought– plays a crucial yet sometimes overlooked role in each of their respective projects. For Blanchot, the outside is the remit of the “space of literature,” an impersonal, Nonreal and Nontrue “pure being” of language, prior to any subjective investment. For Foucault, it is “the hiding place of all being,” the silent rumbling of a language spoken by no one, yet sculpted into discursive mythologies of truth and law. And for Deleuze, the outside is that “shock” which provokes thought, an encounter with the unthinkable, which confronts thought with its fundamental “impower” and causes it to be re-born in a constellation of mutant new becomings. This course will attempt a cartography of the outside, mapping its “line of flight” across the work of these thinkers, at the same time providing a point of access to their nebulous projects, which are united in their attempt to provide a rigorous critique of any habitual model or exercise of thought.

As such, we begin in week one with the outside as it emerges in the extraordinary correspondence between Antonin Artaud and Jacques Rivière, later a source of inspiration for both Blanchot and Deleuze. In week two, we will turn to Blanchot’s works The Space of Literature and The Book to Come, which draw on Artaud in identifying the functions of a literary outside, to which he will attribute a profound dissolution of the subject. In week three, we will continue with Foucault’s reading, in The Thought from Outside, of a metaphysical outside, with distinctly political implications– a means by which we might rethink the interested constructions of “discourse.” In week four, we will turn to Gilles Deleuze, and his (im)famous critique of a “dogmatic image of thought,” animating philosophy as far back as Plato. At the heart of this critique is once more Artaud, and a model of thinking as a “central breakdown” and subsequent creativity in response to an encounter with the outside. Finally, the course will close with an elaboration of the cinematic outside which emerges in Deleuze’s work on film. Whereas Blanchot and Foucault identify a literary outside, film, in its experiments with the out-of-frame (hors champ) produces a literal outside, an externality to the image which Deleuze will suggest confounds thought, once more provoking it anew.

The significance of this study is threefold. First, as I have suggested, it introduces a clutch of disparate projects in 20th century French thought, across which we will identify instructive commonalities and points of difference. Second, in focussing on the trajectory of a concept as opposed to the work of a single thinker, it will draw out and emphasise the themes of impersonality, imbrication and autogenesis which are central to this 20th century “moment” in French philosophy. Finally, in treating the concept of the outside, I hope to illustrate the coalescence of metaphysics, noetics and –perhaps most importantly– politics in the context of this philosophy, in keeping with my reading of the outside as a response to the catastrophe of capitalism and its neoliberal descendants, across the entwined registers of thought, art and life.

Lecture 1: “A central collapse of the mind”

In week one, we begin with Antonin Artaud’s correspondence with the editor Jacques Rivière. Responding to the latter’s refusal to publish his poems, Artaud attempts in these letters to articulate the mute suffering which was their condition. “I am speaking of the absence like a gap,” he writes, “of a kind of cold, imageless suffering, like an indescribable clash of abortions.” However, both Blanchot and Deleuze will identify in this crisis of Artaud’s, the fact that he has not “yet begun to think,” a model of thought’s very genesis, its becoming as a catalytic and creative response to states and events which are unthinkable. In addition to a discussion of these letters and their subsequent influence on the projects of Blanchot and Deleuze, we will introduce Artaud’s work more generally, identifying in it a consistent tendency towards contact with that which is “outside” any habitual exercise of thought.

Key reading:

Antonin Artaud, “Correspondence with Jacques Rivière,” trans. Bernard Frechtman, in Jack Hirschman (ed.), Artaud Anthology, City Lights, San Francisco, 1965, pp.7-25

Recommended readings:

Antonin Artaud, The Spurt of Blood, trans. Ruby Cohn, 1925,

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Antonin Artaud, “Theatre and the Plague,” in The Theatre and its Double, trans. Victor Corti, Alma, London, 2010, pp.9-22

Antonin Artaud, “All Writing is Pigshit…” trans David Rettray, in Jack Hirschman (ed.), Artaud Anthology, City Lights, San Francisco, 1965, pp.38-40

Lecture 2: “the giant murmuring upon which language opens”

Blanchot takes up the motif of the “impossibility” of thought in his idiosyncratic study of literature. In week two, we turn to this study, and to the “outside” as it emerges in The Space of Literature. Here, Blanchot will draw on Artaud, Kafka, Mallarmé and others, to suggest that this “space” is characterised not by any sort of “communication” or “self-expression” on the part of the literary author, but rather by the profoundly impersonal presence of pure language, a language spoken by nobody, which overtakes the meagre interests and presuppositions of its users. In this context, we will identify the dual legacies of Heideggerian “aesthetics” and the Hegelian negative in Blanchot’s thought, gesturing however to the points at which he exceeds these respective projects, in the direction of a radically inhuman externality encountered in the literary word.

Key reading:

Maurice Blanchot, “The Essential Solitude” and “Approaching Literature’s Space,” in The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1982, pp.19-38

Recommended readings:

Maurice Blanchot, “Artaud,” in The Book to Come, trans. Charlotte Mandell, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2003, pp.34-41

Maurice Blanchot, “Poetry and Language,” in Faux Pas, trans. Charlotte Mandell, Stanford University Press, Stanford, 2001, pp.135-141

Leslie Hill, “The (Im)possibility of Literature,” in Blanchot: extreme contemporary, Routledge, London, 2001, pp.53-91

Lecture 3: “I lie, I speak”

In week three, we encounter Foucault’s thoroughly metaphysical reading of Blanchot, according to which the outside becomes “the hiding place of all being,” a being which is falsified and reduced by the interested practices of law, faith and the vicissitudes of “discourse.” In “The Thought from Outside,” Foucault claims as imbricated this pure being and a form of thought radically exterior to the subject, derived from “neither truth nor time, neither eternity nor man,” but rather, “the always outdone form of the outside.” Such a thought, in Foucault’s hands, and in keeping with his long-standing philosophical objectives, becomes a means of overturning politicised functions of abstraction and law which operate within discourse, potentially opening up the space for the kinds of localised, micro and differential resistances to which Foucault would increasingly dedicate his work. We will trace some of the subsequent implications –as well as the sudden disappearance– of the outside in the context of this project in the latter half of the lecture.

Key reading:

Michel Foucault, “Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside,” trans. Brian Massumi, in Foucault / Blanchot, Zone, New York, 1987, pp.7-60

Recommended readings:

Maurice Blanchot, “Michel Foucault as I Imagine Him,” trans. Jeffrey Mehlman, in Foucault / Blanchot, Zone, New York, 1987, pp.61-109

Gilles Deleuze, “Appendix: On the Death of Man and Superman,” in Foucault, trans. Seán Hand, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2006, pp.124-132

Lecture 4: “a thought without image”

Deleuze, as we have said, likewise draws on Artaud, in advancing his critique of a “dogmatic image of thought” he claims has plagued philosophy with conservatism and lassitude for centuries. Lecture four will introduce this critique as it is articulated in chapter three of Difference and Repetition, drawing out the significance of the outside, which here serves as the object of an “encounter” such as forces us to think. Thinking, for Deleuze, is not “dogmatic” recognition or representation, the retracing of an already distributed regime of sense. Thought is rather the product of a traumatic encounter with that which we have never thought, that which we lack the capacity to think, such that we are forced into an exercise of thinking as creation. This is the creation not only of new and hitherto unforeseeable modes of thought, but, in keeping with the radical immanence of Deleuze’s philosophy, new modes of life itself. While the vocabulary of the “outside” is largely absent from Difference and Repetition, this lecture will suggest its subterranean presence in Deleuze’s critique of the “dogmatic image,” and prepare the way for its re-emergence in his books on cinema.

Key reading:

Gilles Deleuze, “The Image of Thought,” in Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, Columbia University Press, New York, 1994, pp.129-168

Recommended readings:

Gilles Deleuze, “New Image of Thought,” in Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, Continuum, London, 1983, pp.103-110

Daniella Voss, “The Dogmatic Image of Thought,” in Conditions of Thought: Deleuze and Transcendental Ideas, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2013, pp.18-73

Lecture 5: “the outside and the cinematic eye”

“The search for new means of philosophical expression,” writes Deleuze, “…must be pursued today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or the cinema.” And perhaps the key reason for this identification of philosophy and cinema lies, for Deleuze, in the latter’s relations with the outside. “All framing determines an out-of-field,” Deleuze will claim, and this externality, in the fragmentary and disjunctive image-spaces of the cinematic New Waves, begins actively to produce an outside, an unthinkable presence which lurks as provocation beyond each frame. The cinema of the post-war time-image, Deleuze will thus argue, stages just those “encounters” he had valorised in Difference and Repetition, some fifteen years before. However more than just a “noetic” externality, the outside must once more be understood here under the auspices of a radical immanence, such that cinema produces new forms of space and time, in the most concrete, and thus potentially political sense. This lecture will close the course with a brief discussion of the significance of Deleuze’s cinematic outside in the context of the contemporary, non-cinematic, digital and networked image.

Key reading:

Gilles Deleuze, “Thought and Cinema,” in Cinema II: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997, pp.156-188

Recommended readings:

Gilles Deleuze, “Beyond the Movement-Image,” in Cinema II: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997, pp.1-24

Gregory Flaxman, “Out of Field – the future of film studies,” in Angelaki Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Vol. 17, No. 4 (December 2012), pp.119-137

Anne Sauvagnargues, “Deleuze: Cinema, Image, Individuation,” in Artmachines: Deleuze, Guattari, Simondon, trans. Suzanne Verderber with Eugene W. Holland, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2016, pp.85-109

Recommended viewing:

La Jetée, dir. Chris Marker, Argos Films, Paris, 1962

Germany, Year Zero, dir. Roberto Rossellini, UGC, Rome, 1948

Last Year at Marienbad, dir. Alain Resnais, Cocinor, Paris, 1961

Inland Empire, dir. David Lynch, Absurda / Studio Canal, Irvine / Paris, 2006