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Contemporary Philosophy

Immanence and Deterritorialization: The Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

Stephan Günzel
Friedrich-Schiller-Universitaet Jena

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ABSTRACT: In academic philosophy the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari are still treated as curiosities and their importance for philosophical discussions is not recognized. In order to remedy this, I demonstrate how the very concept of philosophy expounded by the two contributes to philosophical thinking at the end of the twentieth century while also providing a possible line of thought for the next millenium. To do this, I first emphasize the influence of Deleuze's thinking, while also indicating the impact Guattari had on him. This account will therefore show Deleuze's attempts before Guattari to concieve of a non-dialectic philosophy of becoming. I will turn to rethink this approach given the influence of Guattari and his anti-psychoanalytic analysis of territorial processes. The result is a conception of philosophical activity as an act of 'becoming minor'.(1)

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1. Introduction

In the following I would like to talk about a topic that has been treated very little in academic philosophy. The works of GILLES DELEUZE - and not to forget his co-author, FÉLIX GUATTARI - are still treated as 'curiosities' and their importance for philosophical discussions is not recognized. (2) In opposition to this, I will show what the very concept of philosophy means to these two thinkers.

In doing this I will start with the more theoretical backround. As many others have already I will stress the decisive influence of DELEUZE'S thinking, but I will also try to indicate the impact GUATTARI had on him. This account will therefore show DELEUZE'S attempts - before GUATTARI - to concieve of a non-dialectic philosophy of becoming. After that I will turn to the rethinking of such an approach given the influence of GUATTARI and his anti-psychoanalytic analysis of territorial processes. The outcome will be the resulting conception of the philosophical activity as an act of 'becoming-minor'.

2. GILLES DELEUZE Philosophy of Difference - Against Dialectics

GILLES DELEUZE'S early philosophy is dominated by the project of attaining a kind of philosophy that can be characterized best by naming its very enemy: dialectics. Whether as a 'school' of philosophy (including the leading figures in France, KOJÈVE and SARTRE) or as an ontological approach to the world itself, which implies - no matter if in the Hegelian or Platonic version - a fundamental dualism. (In PLATO the difference between the sensual and intellectual world, in HEGEL'S dialectics the 'sublation' [Aufhebung] of real differences in the world through the synthesizing faculty of the mind qua negation).

In contrast to this, DELEUZE aims at a 'non-dialectic philosophy of becoming', in which the different is - de facto - not unified, but in which conciousness is - de jure - also not subordinated. His approaches, which are linked together in Difference and Repetition (1968), originate in the thinking of BERGSON as well as NIETZSCHE, and especially in SPINOZA. DELEUZE considers them (alongside LUCRETIUS, the Stoics and HUME) to be the protagonists of a 'secret' anti-dialectic tradition.

In the following I will only hint at one aspect in the works of each of these three thinkers to demonstrate the central idea that leads to one of the basic concepts in the later collaboration with GUATTARI - the 'Body Without Organs'.

2.1 BERGSON'S Time of Organization

In his texts on BERGSON (especially in his book Bergsonism from 1966) DELEUZE points out the idea of the non-dividability of an event, that is, the originarity of the production of time: Against the traditional (Aristotelian) concept that everything real is already determined by its possibility and reality must follow the latter, DELEUZE - with BERGSON - nurtures the idea of a 'creative process of actualization'. This means what happens within the 'event' does not have to follow a ready-made plan, but comprises spontaneous organization through its 'actualization' within time.

In contrast to this, the dialectic tradition has expelled the factor 'time' from thinking or - as HEGEL did - thought of it as homogenous and linear. But 'time' for DELEUZE is constituted by its allowing heterogeneity and differences, i.e. the factors which designate time.

2.2 NIETZSCHE'S Will to Productivity

The production of difference is also what is at the root of DELEUZE'S interpretation of NIETZSCHE'S 'Will to Power' in Nietzsche et la philosophie [Nietzsche and Philosophy] (1962): The production of differential elements, which are differentiated qualitatively (the difference between elements, i.e. strength [Kraft]) as well as quantitatively (the difference between elements and their principle, i.e. power [Macht]), are to be affirmed as such prior to any moral description.

For the activity of philosophers that means - and this is the conclusion of the last book by DELEUZE and GUATTARI, What is Philosophy?, that "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing and fabricating concepts", (3) in which the philosopher does not use preordained schemata, but has to create his or her own concepts, i.e. the interplay of concepts, which actively structure our thinking and perception.

2.3 SPINOZA'S Politics of Bodies

Later on - and most importantly - in Expressionism in Phylosophy: Spinoza from 1968 DELEUZE finds in SPINOZA an 'ethics of affirmation' or a 'politics of bodies'. DELEUZE encounters SPINOZA through a semiological approach to his -Spinozas - theory of expression: The 'age of representation' (FOUCAULT) is defined by a representational relation between 'knowledge' and the 'world'. SPINOZA goes against this historical apriori by paying tribute to the dimension of expression itself - in addition to the expressive (signifier) and the expressed (signified).

Following this paradigm in his philosophy of affection SPINOZA describes the constitution of 'good ideas' through two bodies coming together: When two bodies meet, their mutual influence is not decided by discussion (about truth etc.) through the exchange of arguments, but within the framework of mutual affection, i.e. their connection through 'expression'.

The formation of a 'common sense' [notio communis] - in the literal meaning - begins when two (or more) bodies - where 'body' can also mean an 'intellectual' body or a body of knowledge - interfere and produce so-called 'joyful affects'. Moral judgements here are not gained through the sensu communis as in KANT, where they are deduced with respect to an impossible hypothetical community of universal mankind, but instead they express themselves in conjunction with the other or some others.

2.4 The Making of Immanence

For DELEUZE all the philosophers quoted above have one thing in common: they are charactarized by an immanent mode. Put in another way: they all refrain from reverting to transcendence - be it in the sense of 'meaning', 'law' or simply an 'author(ity)'.

For BERGSON the actualization process of an event is something immanent in time, and time is not the transcendent measurement of the event. For NIETZSCHE the moral index of a thing is just ascribed to it retrospectively in the name of something transcendent (like the God of christianity or the cogito of the philosophers) and is not immanent to it. In SPINOZA on the other hand moral judgements result immanently from within the affection of bodies and not from a certain kind of universal knowledge.

3. The Body Without Organs

3.1 SACHER-MASOCH and DE SADE - Immanence vs Transcendence

In his 1967 monograph on the writer LEOPOLD VON SACHER-MASOCH, Masochism: An Interpretation of Coldness and Cruelty, DELEUZE works on the rehabilitation of the clinical phenomenon of 'masochism' and against its conceptional link to 'sadism' understood as equivalancy ever since KRAFFT-EBING'S and FREUD'S analysis. In order to do this DELEUZE compares the literary work of SACHER-MASOCH (especially Venus in Furs) and the work of the MARQUIS DE SADE.

DELEUZE shows here that the idea of a possible transformation of the sadistic drive into the masochistic drive is grounded in the Freudo-Lacanian assumption of gaining pleasure by lack, which can either be achieved by receiving pain - in the case of the masochist - or by giving pain - in the case of the sadist. Against this model DELEUZE exemplifies the originarity of the masochist, who obviates the need for transcendence by infinitely suspending the (sexual) climax.

The activities of the masochist are 'political acts'. Unlike the sadist of DE SADE, who wants the world to be regulated by universal institutionalization of punishment and prostitution, the masochist is in agreement with his domina, that the 'treatments' are not to be totalized. Thus, attaining of pleasure is not - as in the case of DE SADE - the application of an idea to the world, but, in contrast to this the prevention of the transgression of the material toward an idealistic principle. Hence the desire of the masochist is immanent to pleasure and not the consequence of a preceding transcendent lack.

3.2 ANTONIN ARTAUD and Schizophrenia

In the essay "November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?" (1974) in A Thousand Plateaus (1980), together with GUATTARI the body of the masochist is also named 'Body Without Organs'.

The term stems from the artist ANTONIN ARTAUD, who used the term for actors in theater who do not adhere to the transcendence of an author (i.e. the intention of a play), or the transcendence of a text (i.e. as a dialogue), or the transcendence of an audience (i.e. its anticipated reaction), but for actors who bear the play from within themselves. In his idea of a 'Theater of Cruelty' ARTAUD wants not only every performance to be unique with regard to the structure of the play, but also wants the actors to give birth to sounds, voices, languages and gestures which are not rehearsed, but have to be produced anew each time.

This creative act must go so far that even basic biological functions are not accepted as invariable. From a pathologico-philosophical point of view phenomena such as hypochondria, drug consumption, paranoia or schizophrenia appear to be attempts 'to make yourself a Body Without Organs'.

Especially schizophrenics and hypochondriacs - the paradigm case in point is president DANIEL PAUL SCHREBER - 'delire' a non-functional body, which e.g. digests itself from the inside, or whose organs achieve an unspecific productivity. Preferred locations of transcendence-refusal are mostly the organs of communication, reproduction or consumption. (4)

However, within the conception of DELEUZE a certain difficulty can be seen to arise, which derives from the problem of the foundation of non-dialectical philosophy: 'dialectics' - on the one hand as a picture of thought within traditional philosophy, and on the other hand as an implicit identification of society as a whole with some kind of 'slave morality' - is rejected by all means. Even to the extent that the 'philosophy of difference' reveals itself to be an anti-philosophy, thereby playing into the hands of its biggest enemy, dialectics, which is able to incorporate this philosophy through its oppositional construction into the - i.e. into HEGEL'S - project of a history of philosophy in the dialectic movement.

3.3 FÉLIX GUATTARI and Territorial Processes

In the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia and especially in the 'appendix', What is Philosophy? from 1991, a new concept becomes central as a result of GUATTARI'S contributions to antipsychiatry: the analysis of territorial processes.

A 'territory' in the ethological sense is understood as the environment of a group (e.g. a pack of wolves, a pack of rats, or a group of nomads) that cannot itself be objectively located, but is constituted by the patterns of interaction through which the group or pack secures a certain stability and location. Just in the same way the environment of a single person (his or her social environment, personal living space, or his or her habits) can be seen as a 'territory', in the psychological sense, from which the person acts or returns to.

In this sense there are already processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization - as processes of such a (psychological) territory - going on, which designate the status of the relationship within a group or within a psychological individual. (5)

Processes of deterritorialization are differentiated again by GUATTARI into 'relative' and 'absolute' deterritorializations: whereas relative deterritorializations retain the possibility of reterritorialization, absolute deterritorializations are marked by the impossibility of being territorialized again. In that sense reterritorializations are always absolute and never relative, as they per se lead back to a territory.

At this point GUATTARI'S conception links up with the difference between an immanent and a transcendent mode of thinking in DELEUZE: Relative deterritorializations are transcendent, because the territory functions as a transcendent reference. (6) Just the same applies to reterritorializations: only absolut deterritorializations 'produce' immanence.

The Body Without Organs as an active process of deterritorializations is always in danger of handing itself over to transcendence, i.e. the activities of the masochist or a drug consumer are about to lose their immanent character, when they are practised according to a rule (e.g. drug usage as a habit or the masochistic relationship falling back into partnership) and are not motivated by actual desire. (7)

4. Becoming

4.1 The Philosophy of the Surface

What are the consequences for the meaning of philosophy in DELEUZE and GUATTARI and their idea of non-transcendent thinking? - As they show in What is Philosophy?], the most central task for philosophers is to produce concepts. At first glance this does not seem to be a new thesis, but it reminds one of HEGEL.

Upon closer inspection it is obvious, that DELEUZE'S and GUATTARI'S idea means not to 'conceptualize the very moment of your own historical situation': The composition of philosophical concepts has to produce a 'plan of immanence', that is - just like the Body Without Organs - a production without transcendence, i.e. one in which the inner structure of concepts leads to an absolute deterritorialization and makes thinking at 'infinite speed' possible. (In contrast to the view of the analytic tradition that takes concepts for propositions and thus 'freezes' the infinite speed of thought. And in contrast to HEGEL who seems to have an immanent conception of the concept, but hands over the concept to the transcendent goal of history in the long run.)

DELEUZE already showed in 1969, in The Logic of Sense, that the positive as well as the negative (onto-)theology (i.e. Platonic idealism on the one hand and HEIDEGGER and the Presocratics on the other) is marked by a certain geography of thought: the 'Platonic orient' of the idealists is the ascent toward the realm of ideas. The orientation for mystic thinkers is therefore the inversion of the latter position toward the depth of thought.

In accordance with the Stoics and NIETZSCHE, DELEUZE pleads for a philosophy of the 'surface', which is neither transcended nor subtranscended by a signifier, a subject, or a god towards the level of meaning, nor toward a sublevel of the 'empirical' world. Only those philosophies that can refrain from any transcendence within their concepts and make the reader as well as the author 'become' can justly be called philosophy. (8)

4.2 'Becoming-Minor'

This kind of becoming for DELEUZE and GUATTARI is - without exception - 'a becoming minor'. (Everything that is cannot 'become', for its being is already 'major' - as such 'becoming' is by definition 'a becoming-minor'.) Becoming understood in this way leads to the dismantling of the very concepts of the self-conscious white male of the occident: 'a becoming-woman', 'a becoming-Indian', 'a becoming-animal', or 'a becoming-stone'. The schizo-process of the immanent and philosophical decentralization or deterritorialization of the humanistic ideal is for DELEUZE and GUATTARI also the only way to realize what is hidden in the idea of justice within 'human rights' - it is exactly 'a becoming-inhuman'. (9)

4.3 Philosophy

A nomad thinker or a philosopher in the sense of DELEUZE and GUATTARI will always be(come) - as they call it - on a 'vanishing line' or a 'line of flight' (10) that cuts across the standards of the state. His or her writing of the plane of immanence causes his or her 'becoming minor', i.e. the absolute deterritorialization of state organizations.

For a philosophy 'after' DELEUZE and GUATTARI the conclusion is that one should not follow the prescribed (thought-)structures of the state, (11) for they will always only justify and praise existing forms of governments and democracies. Instead philosophy shall (in an 'ontological' or 'nomadological' sense) think 'prior to' such structures and percieve them only as possible actualizations of political organization. From this point of view, not yet settled forms and non-standardized forms of existence and modes of amalgamations will not appear - in the historical sense - as forms of the political to be overcome that have yet to be 'sublated'.

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(1) GILLES DELEUZE/FÉLIX GUATTARI, What is Philosophy?, London/New York: Verso 1994 [1991], 110.

(2) The most famous example is MANFRED FRANK, who must be honored for introducing DELEUZE and GUATTARI to philosophy in Germany, but who deals with them from a very traditional and idealistic point of view - and, by doing this, fails to recognize the very motivation of such a philosophy.


(4) SCHREBER in his autobiography, Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken (1903), talks about the refusal to eat, talk, excrete, and about the mutilation of his spermatic cords and the gullet.

(5) From that point of view the phenomenon 'insanity' appears to be an increase in deterritorialization, that psychiatric institutions try to oppose with certain reterritorializations.

(6) The 'normal' history of an 'insane' person, for example, should become his or her 'normal' future again.

(7) At first sight the most perfect Body Without Organs - as DELEUZE and GUATTARI show in L'Anti Œdipe [Anti-Oedipus] (1972) - is the body of the capital. It is a body that has 'made' the 'streams' of desire 'flow', i.e. it has deterritorialized desire, but only in order to reterritorialize it in the same moment according to capitalist axioms: The dissolution of the pre-industrial social and economic infrastructure turns out to be only 'relative' for the concepts of 'family' (as an oedipal transcendence), 'nation' (as a secular and political transcendence), and 'God' (as a religious and structural transcendence) are still in charge. (The end of the family, of national legitimacy and borders, and of religious beliefs does not mean that there are no equivalent heirs - as there are new forms of long-term relationships, transnational economic areas, and certain material ethics.)

(8) According to the strong conception of DELEUZE'S immanent philosophy, only SPINOZA, with his 'geometric method' including a maximum of links between the concepts, was able to concieve of thought without an Archimedian point.

(9) When, for example, certain groups fight for the 'rights of animals', they do this by ascribing a kind of consciousness or something equivalent to animals. The images used for these purposes show the pained faces of tortured animals, which are very similar to the pained faces of human beings. As such - and this is precisely the purpose - the animals become human, i.e. animals are provided with the transcendence 'consciousness', meaning that the rights of animals are now legally recoverable. But this is counterproductive to the aim of preventing animal experiments. The supporters of animal experiments could now argue that objectively there is nothing remotely comparable to the human consciousness in animals. The argument is then no longer about animals, but rather about truth or provability in the scientific sense. (Similar examples can be given for other attempts at emancipation - e.g. the gay movement, protection of endangered tribes etc.) - In contrast 'a becoming-animal' would make a person that 'stands up' against animal experiments 'become-minor' in the sense that he or she refrains from using a major language, a certain dress code, or walking upright. (For the 'logic' of a minor language see the excellent essay: GILLES DELEUZE, "He Studdered", in: Gilles Deleuze and the Theater of Philosophy, ed. by CONSTANTIN V. BOUNDAS and DOROTHEA OLKOWSKI, New York/London: Routledge 1994, 23-29 [1993].)

(10) In the english translations of the works of DELEUZE and GUATTARI the translators (like BRIAN MASSUMI and others) use the term 'line of flight' instead of 'vanishing line' as I do. In accordance with the description of 'becoming-minor' later on the latter seems do be the more adequate term for the french 'ligne de fuit'.

(11) Including the implied concepts of territoriality and, nationality based on the ius soli or the corresponding genetico-genealogical concepts in which nationality is based on the ius sanguinis.

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