Saturday, July 22, 2023

Deleuze and Belief in this World

"We need an ethic or a faith, which makes fools laugh; it is not a need to believe in something else, but a need to believe in this world, of which fools are a part." Deleuze, Cinema 2, p. 173. (French publication is 1985).

"What we most lack is a belief in the world, we’ve quite lost the world, it’s been taken from us. If you believe in the world you precipitate events, however inconspicuous, that elude control, you engender new space-times, however small their surface or volume. It’s what you call pietas. Our ability to resist control, or our submission to it, has to be assessed at the level of our every move. We need both creativity and a people." Deleuze, in conversation with Negri, in "Control and Becoming." (Original publication is 1990)
"But, on the new plane, it is possible that the problem now concerns the one who believes in the world, and not even in the existence of the world but in its possibilities of movements and intensities, so as once again to give birth to new modes of existence, closer to animals and rocks. it may be that believing in this world, in this life, becomes our most difficult task, or the task of a mode of existence still to be discovered on our plane of immanence today. This is the empiricist conversion (we have so many reasons not to believe in the human world; we have lost the world, worse than a fiancee or a god)." - Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy?, pp. 74-75 (Original French publication 1991). "[W]e understand the novelty of American thought when we see pragmatism as an attempt to transform the world, to think a new world or new man insofar as they create themselves. [...] It is first of all the affirmation of a world in process, an archipelago. Not even a puzzle, whose pieces when fitted together would constitute a whole, but rather a wall of loose, uncemented stones, where every element has a value in itself but also in relation to others: isolated and floating relations, islands and straits, immobile points and sinuous lines––for Truth always has “jagged edges.” [...] the American invention par excellence, for the Americans invented patchwork, just as the Swiss are said to have invented the cuckoo clock. But to reach this point, it was also necessary for the knowing subject, the sole proprietor, to give way to a community of explorers, the brothers of the archipelago, who replace knowledge with belief, or rather with “confidence”––not belief in another world, but confidence in this one, and in man as much as in God [...]. Pragmatism is this double principle of archipelago and hope. And what must the community of men consist of in order for truth to be possible? Truth and trust. Like Melville before it, pragmatism will fight ceaselessly on two fronts: against the particularities that pit man against man and nourish an irremediable mistrust; but also against the Universal or the Whole, the fusion of souls in the name of great love or charity." --Deleuze, "Bartleby, or the Formula" in Essays Critical and Clinical, pp. 86-87. (Original French publication 1993)


Okay, so we have four quotations, in order of publication as best as I am able. (The one from Cinema 2 is particularly short, and the whole section is worth a close read). I have not been able to find this kind of language, the belief in the world, earlier in Deleuze's career. At the same time that it is a reoccurring theme, but one that is not particularly explained.  (If you know of other instances, let me know! I also found this article from Kathrin Thiele, which is a nice addition). 

It seems clear, with the references to pragmatism and to empiricism (and there are deeper references to a radical empiricism in What is Philosophy?, for example), that what is at stake is Deleuze's own project of empiricism (which he often called transcendental empiricism). Again and again Deleuze comes to the same problems that animated Plato and so much of the history of Western philosophy: How do we resist doxa? how do we stop thought terminating cliches? how do we harm stupidity? But Deleuze's answers, indeed his very understanding of the problem, is so different from Plato's (and later thinkers who take up these questions, such as Heidegger). For Deleuze this is what is at stake with empiricism, it provides an affirmation of experience, an outside to doxa and cliche. The term gas-lighting was not around in Deleuze's time, but we can imagine it becoming a metaphysical concept for Deleuze. As he writes in Cinema 2, "The modern fact is that we no longer believe in this world. We do not even believe in the events which happen to us, love, death, as if they only half concerned us. It is not we who make cinema; it is the world which looks to us like a bad film" (p. 171). Empiricism, in it's radical, transcendental, and frankly weird register, resists gas-lighting and doxa. It grounds us in our experience, refusing the tendency to find our own world as a bad movie. Our experience pushes against the attempts to make us trapped in other people's narratives, other people's stories, other people's thoughts. If Deleuze is concerned about empiricism, it is not out a desire to just get the metaphysics right, but instead we find another counter-intuitive claim. For Deleuze, it is only by believing in this world that we can make another one.