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Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? A retrospective

Lecturer: Jon Roffe

Originally Taught: Evening Sem 2 2020

This course will present a detailed explication of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s 1991 What is Philosophy? We will take up each of the main claims of the book and examine them in the light of Deleuze’s work as a whole. It is this that will give the course a kind of retrospective character. The aim will thus be to form a complex synthetic and critical portrait of the main lines of this work as they develop.

Readings from What is Philosophy? are indicated for each session; additional selections from Deleuze’s earlier works, alone and with Guattari, will be provided during the course.

1. Introduction. Overview of What is Philosophy?

Reading: ‘Introduction’ (WP)

The first session will present the major claims of What is Philosophy? on their own terms, to situate the discussion to follow.

2. Forces and chaos, clichés and doxa

Reading: ‘Conclusion’ (WP)

The relationship between thought and the ambient context of thinking recur throughout Deleuze’s work. We will focus here on the contrast between the account of cliché and doxa in What is Philosophy? and the picture of thinking that appears in Nietzsche and Philosophy and Difference and Repetition.

3. Ideas and concepts, concepts and problems

Reading: ‘1. What is a concept?’ (WP)

What is Philosophy? advances a positive, constructive definition of the concept. We will consider this definition in the context of the very different account Deleuze gives of the concept in Difference and Repetition.

4. The image of thought and planes of immanence

Reading: ‘2. The Plane of Immanence’ (WP)

As with many themes in What is Philosophy? the status of the pre-philosophical dimension of philosophical thought is a constant feature of Deleuze’s work. Here we will focus on the accounts given in Nietzsche and Philosophy, Proust and Signs, and Difference and Repetition

5. Who thinks? Involuntary thought and conceptual personae

Reading: ‘3. Conceptual personae’

The object of this session will be the nature of the subject who thinks. The account of conceptual personae from What is Philosophy? will be considered alongside the view, one Deleuze takes Artaud’s work to embody, that thought is involuntary.

6. Co-adaptation

The initially strange concept of ‘taste’ possesses an important if overlooked function in the construction of What is Philosophy? This concept refers us back not just to positions elucidated in Difference and Repetition and in Foucault, but in Deleuze’s earlier engagement with Kant’s aesthetics as it is delineated in the Critique of the Power of Judgment. We will consider this trajectory here.

7. Science

Reading: ‘5. Functives and concepts’

Deleuze’s philosophy is marked in general terms by a certain distance from science. While he draws on a wide array of scientific disciplines, above all in A Thousand Plateaus, he is careful to distinguish it from the work of philosophy. What is Philosophy? formalises the relationship between philosophy and science in the form of a certain non-relation, drawing on two perhaps surprising sources: Leibniz and Hjemlslev. This session will also consider the broader relationship that holds between science, philosophy and art, which begins to be formulated in the early eighties around the time of the publication of Francis Bacon.

8. Logic

Reading: ‘6. Prospects and concepts’

Two of Deleuze’s books include the term ‘logic’ in the title, the term appears throughout his work in a positive light, and yet logic itself is presented in What is Philosophy? in the harshest possible terms. Our aim in this session will be to distinguish the two senses of logic at issue, and to determine the significance of this final critical account.

9. Phenomenology and art

Reading: ‘7. Percept, Affect and Concept’

This session will begin on the terrain of logic once again, to situate the initially obscure remarks about phenomenology made in the chapter devoted to art in What is Philosophy? We will then situate this critique of phenomenology in the context of Deleuze’s longer engagement with this tradition.

10. Art and affect

Reading: ‘7. Percept, Affect and Concept’

While Deleuze has recourse to the arts throughout his work, the presentation that appears in What is Philosophy? is clearly inflected by the approach that he adopts in Francis Bacon and the two Cinema volumes. This session will be devoted to situating this approach in contrast to the accounts that appear in the sixties, notably in his work on literature, guided by the idea of a symptomatology.

11. Politics and thought

Reading: ‘4. Geophilosophy’

What is the place of politics in Deleuze’s philosophy? In this session, we will consider the answer to the question found in the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and before that in Nietzsche and Philosophy, alongside the infamous ‘Geophilosophy’ chapter of What is Philosophy?

12. Conclusion. The three Deleuzes

The final session will step away from the detail of What is Philosophy? and consider the portrait of Deleuze that the course has built over the weeks. We will see that it is triple, or that there are three distinct periods in Deleuze’s work, and the breaks between them are marked with the names of thinkers whose key claims this last work sets aside: Kant and Artaud.