The Shadow of Deleuze
The difference between the common people and university professors is that the latter have arrived at ignorance after long and painful study
– Oscar Wilde
This was written at the time of the “Nuit Debout” (literally “Night standing up”) assemblies in Place de la Republique in Paris that took place, apparently against Hollande’s Labour Laws i . Many of the references will be obscure to anglophones, but I hope I have clarified most of them in the footnotes.
It seems worthwhile making a very brief resumé, here in this introduction, of some of the essential critical facts the author reveals about Deleuze :
1. He’s a direct product of the Gaullist state’s attempt to recuperate the movement of ‘68 by creating a university (Vincennes) where all the ‘radical’ academics could develop their abstract ideas in a ghetto separate from other student ghettoes.
2. In 1977 in Bologna, Italy, 6 months after the Communist Party had crushed the social movement with tanks, Deleuze and Guattari helped the Communist Party organise a cultural event over several days designed to recuperate that movment and show youth that it was into officially-defined «fun» to distract them from the repression of the revolutionary fun that had erupted in parts of Italy up till then.
3. From the end of 1977 till Mitterand’s election in 1981, Deleuze and Guattari did all they could to help Mitterand become president. Following his election they refused to back those who opposed Mitterand’s indifference to the crushing of the social movement in Poland, and Guattarri even accepted an award from Jack Lang, Mitterand’s Minister of Culture.
4. Both of them supported the more conventional state-oriented section of the liberation movement in the French department of New Caledonia and did nothing to condemn Mitterand’s order to kill in cold blood sections who’d taken French soldiers hostage, even when Mitterand’s government was cohabiting with the right.
The following is the main body of the text, which goes into some detail about the relation between Deleuze’s ideology, his social role, his practice and his influence on modern movements and discourse.
There is something deeply corrupt in the realm of French radical thought. I use the term “corrupt” not in the moral sense, but in the sense of “spoiled” goods, spoiled as soon as they are manufactured, “corrupted”. The phenomenon obviously does not date from today, and the political and cultural spectacle offered by the Place de la Republique is only its most recent manifestation. In the supermarket of ideologies that has set up its stalls, postmodernism occupies a special place. More particularly Deleuzism, which, obviously, is one of the common denominators of citizenist ideology, recycled a thousand times and adapted to the taste–of–the–day, reigning around the statue of the tutelary goddess of the French stateii, and which punctuates the speeches of fashionable politicians, starting with those of Lordon[iii]. Given the advantageous mythology that has ennobled Deuleuzism, attributed to it the title of subversive thought, and the role it currently plays, it seems useful to return briefly to the career of Deleuze and his acolytes, without pretending to be definitive, but noting what their positions were at the pivotal moments in history that they were confronted with. Because Deleuze is one of those people who, in the aftermath of May ’68, pretended to be philosophers engaged in original activities, pretended to open up avenues for reflection and action beyond the boundaries drawn and locked up by traditional activism. Although the positions he took do not exhaust the critical analyses and questions that we can apply to his conceptual “toolboxes”, the first depends on the second and reveal, in many cases, their meaning. Which is what today’s recyclers prefer to hide.
The university ghetto of Vincennes, prototype of the one currently situated in Saint-Denis, was instituted by the Gaullist government in order to neutralize the attempts of revolts which shook the policed world of the facultiesiv and to offer folding seats to somewhat atypical ideologues, atypical measured at least by the yardstick of the curates who at that time regulated the activity of the inner sanctums of the university. So Vincennes was plagued with those who were to become the quartermasters of postmodernism: Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari to take only the most known and most recognized in the circles of polymorphous militancy that appeared in the wake of May ‘68. Deleuze, until then a simple historian of philosophy, participated, beneath the curious look of an anti-establishment dissident dressed in blue jeans and refusing to give lectures, in the recovery operation. He could unrestrainedly deploy his conception of “committed philosophy“, summed up in “What is philosophy?“ a pamphlet written later on with Guattari: “Concepts are not at all a given thing. Moreover, concepts are not the same as thought: we can very well think without conceptualising and, even, all those who do not produce philosophy, I think they think, that they think fully, but that they do not think through concepts – if you accept the idea that concepts are a term for activities or original creations. I would say that concepts are systems of singularities taken from thought flows. The philosopher is someone who makes concepts. Is it intellectual? In my opinion, no.“
Such remarks, at first sight directed against the universally professed doctrinaire ideologies that prevailed at the university, did not question the role of the mandarins but renewed it under the pretext of accompanying the multiplication of the particular “fields” which, after May ‘68, were to constitute the objects of their research. A justification, therefore, for the same role, but more subtle and apparently more modest, thanks to the introduction of notions of flux and singularity, which have since become the tiresome banalities of postmodernist philosophy. Nevertheless, from the point of view of Deleuze and Guattari, if mere mortals were likely to think, thanks to them, they did not conceptualize to the extent that they did not philosophize! It was a great insanity, when revolutionaries of that epoch brought to mind the notion that to think in the full sense of the term, to think about the revolutionary transformation of the world, it was necessary to abandon the field of philosophy, to abandon the terrain of the sole successive interpretations and reinterpretations of the world which constituted the essential work done in prestigious faculties such as the Sorbonne, and the source of their notoriety. When the two accomplices then affirmed, in the introduction to “A Thousand Plateaus“, “that there is not, and never has been, ideology“, they defended in reality their role of postmodernist ideologues. They unveiled what they were and what was the conceptual proliferation to which they devoted most of their activity, in the pure tradition of the French university, a squirrel cage spinning in freewheel, which you had to avoid entering for fear of losing all sense of reality. Unfortunately, this happened to a lot of people contesting this world who had begun to desert official courses in May ‘68. By filling the halls of Vincennes so as to listen to the latest fashionable jargon-spinner and to collaborate with them in the manufacture and polishing of their conceptual “war machine”, allegedly opposed to “the state apparatus”, they accepted being locked up once again in the university enclosure, and they abandoned even the minutest critical activity, in theory and in practice.
Indeed, in the courses given by Deleuze, the kernel of the ideology that had been formatted in “A Thousand Plateaus” and which was announced in his early works devoted to the history of philosophy, was already clear: the pretension of having gone beyond the dialectic of the negative in favor of plural affirmations, a priori carrying partial ruptures, whose “horizontal” networks and convergence should facilitate the emergence of something new, beyond the “vertical” horizon imprisoned by the traditional hierarchy of thought and action, formalized by the action and organization of the parties. A “Reversal of perspective” which was unparalleled, if you were to listen to the words of our two modest inventors, who “forgot” that, concerning matters dealing with appreciation of the role of parties, Simone Weil had expressed at the dawn of the 1940s, in “Notes on the general suppression of political parties”, far more interesting criticisms. In short, from their point of view, such “rhizomes”v were in themselves carriers of radicality, even without us really needing to question the objectives pursued. In May ‘68, the rebels had thrown out “Be realistic, demand the impossible!”. With a casual attitude, through their history of “rhizomes”, Deleuze and Guattari regressed towards conceptions reminiscent of the “possibilism” of yesteryear, defended by reformists like Bernstein, on the eve of the Great War: “The movement is everything, the end goal is nothing”. In fact, by the end of the 1960s, the two accomplices, without daring to crudely assert it as such, were already rather hostile to attempts at global subversion. They considered them generators of totalitarianism, as heirs of the “transcendence” appropriate to theology, taken up by rationalism, then by statism. As a result, they called for the creation of “planes of immanence”vi, in other words – spaces, networks and circles that, given their alleged radical positivity, did not even need to criticize the world of parties. It was enough for them to ignore them in some way. A posture that allowed the famous tandem to conceal the counter-revolutionary role held in May ‘68 by the French Communist Party and its subordinate mass organizations, with the CGT in the lead. The following will confirm this.
When the grotesque adventure of Vincennes in France was not even over, in Bologna, Italy, from the spring of 1977 onwards, the situation became explosive. State power, in the person of the communist mayor of the city, intervened with the armored trucks of the carabinieri (see, for instance, this and this) [see footnote Z, not linked to but listed at the bottom of the footnotes].
Tanks for the memory, Bologna, 1977
In the autumn of the same year, with order essentially restored, all circles, groups and parties hostile to the revolution, including the Italian Communist Party, organized the huge political and cultural spectacle that delivered the final death blow to all that remained subversive in the still-living expressions of opposition. Many critical texts on the subject have existed for decades, for example “Proletarians if you knew” and, henceforth, the collective article: “Brief relationship on the decomposition of the counterculture in Italy”, dating from the mid-1980s, which shows the role played by Deleuzian ideology in putting a brake on movements.
As such, “The Declaration of French intellectuals” invited to participate in the show of that autumn, written essentially by Deleuze, is uplifting: “We have never compared Italy and the Gulag. We have never claimed to take systematic action against the PCI[Italian Communist Party]. We have absolutely nothing to do with the new philosophers nor with their anti-Marxism nor with any anti-Marxism. We only see that the PCI is the first communist party in Western Europe to no longer be in opposition. We do not oppose the spontaneity of the masses to the organization of the party, but we believe in the constructivist character of certain leftist agitations which do not necessarily occur through the historical compromise.”
For years, the “sowers of plague”, in Bologna and elsewhere, were fighting the PCI, the party of order – all the more dangerous because it still enjoyed the trust of many proletarians. The “historic compromise” had the function of facilitating the liquidation of the endemic subversive outbreaks that shook the country, including unleashing against them the most implacable state coercion. However, in “The Declaration”, the counter-revolutionary function of the “historic compromise” is hidden. The party that expresses it, supposed to be ignored by the apostles of “molecular revolutions,” reappears brutally as a force, which it is advisable to coexist with since it’s impossible to by-pass. Real antagonisms were thus repressed or even denied. Starting with the one between the party hierarchy and the spontaneity of the “plague sowers”. In Bologna, constructivist ideology having just been born was already dead. Its promoters, Deleuze in the lead, actually played the role of touts for the PCI and for all the groups that, like “Lotta Continua“, tried to avoid the return of the flames of revolution. “I believe that Guattari and I remained Marxists,” Deleuze said later in Deleuze’s “Negotiations”.vii The term “Leninist” would be more appropriate, given the positions they adopted in Bologna and subsequently after their return to France. Yet it was during the Bolognese period that the myth that the mechanics of the various postmodernist “toolboxes” – Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari, or even Derrida – appeared as lighthouses of subversive thought. A myth created and amplified by leaders of autonomy like Negri.
From 1977 to 1981, Deleuze and Guattari turned most of their criticism against the ruling right. In 1977, in “Le Monde”, they accused the Interior Minister, Bonnet, of preparing for the extradition of “German leftists”, starting with Croissant, the RAF’s lawyer at the time, as demanded by Bonn [ie the German government]. As early as 1980, on the eve of Mitterrand’s election, while giving their support to Coluche’s “scandalous” candidacy viii, they campaigned behind the scenes for the left [ie Mitterand]. Witness the “talks” at Vincennes, as well as solicitations in leftist and ecologist meetings conducted by Guattari, much more present in the field of militancy than Deleuze. At the same time, the most lucid revolutionaries, in perfect contradiction with the attitude of the handymen of the “molecular revolutions”, stigmatized the planned arrival of the left in power as an operation intended to facilitate the modernization of capital and the State, which the disconcerted right was no longer able to realize.
The pinnacle of opportunism was achieved with the remarkable presence of Deleuze, enthralled, at the enthronement of Mitterrand at the Pantheon. Then with the participation of Guattari, through Lang the demagogue, the setting up of political-cultural shows and mediations, such as “La Fête de la Musique”ix, intended to amuse the supporters of the left and to offer them circuses in the absence of bread. A story to make them swallow the bitter pill being prepared. In 1981, Deleuze caused another sensation by refusing to sign the petition launched by some “committed intellectuals” like Bourdieu, denouncing the “neutralist” position of Mitterrand during the coup in Poland by General Jaruzelski. The establishment of the state of emergency was intended to crush those insubordinates who were beginning to consider Walesa, the leader of Solidarnosc, as a strike breaker. It was categorised by the Elyseex as a “Polish domestic affair”. Deleuze, via “Libération” confirmed his intention not to “embarrass the socialist government that had just been installed.” Individuals pursued in Poland and who believed in the myth of France as a “Land of asylum” just had to go elsewhere! This has been well known since Henry IV: Paris is worth a Mass or two! And the Elysee is worth some Jesuitic mental restrictions and some adaptations of the ideology of “molecular revolutions” to the injunctions of the reason of State!xi As a reward, Deleuze received only grimaces of sympathy from Mitterrand. Guattari, on the other hand, more involved in the activities of circles close to the presidency, received from Lang’s hands, in 1983, the medal of Commander of the Arts and Letters. He accepted it “not as a reward for services rendered to the state”, but “because it was one of his close friends who gave it to him”. The unparalleled “subjectivity” of our opponents of “the objectivism of Reason” reached its final stage: the pure hypocrisy that characterizes the state’s minions.
Disappointment succeeded the enthusiasm. But heartburn sometimes accompanied by moral indignation, on the extraditions of Basques for example, were due to the fact that our incomparable philosophers, who had favored the coming to power of the PS [Socialist Party], supported by the PCF [French Communist Party], were not recognized at their true value as advisers to the prince. In their philosophy, there were certainly many “scales”, “variations” and “refrains”, to repeat the musicological metaphors they used to justify the opportunistic turns they negotiated depending on the circumstances. But, as far as their assessments of the signatories of the “Joint Program” were concerned, it was still essentially the same repetitive sound of the bell that resounded, despite the infamies they had committed in opposition, and then in power, in just four years.
In 1985, in the interview given to “The Other Journal”, part of “Negotiations”, Deleuze said: “Many people were waiting for new types of discourse from a socialist regime, discourses very close to the real movements, and able to reconcile these movements, by constituting the arrangements compatible with them. New Caledonia, for example. When Pisanixii said, “In any case, it will be independence”, it was already a new type of discourse. This meant: instead of pretending to ignore the real movements so as to make them the object of negotiation, we will immediately recognize the ultimate point, the negotiation being done under the angle of this ultimate point, agreed to in advance . […] The role of the left, whether or not in power, is to discover the types of problems that the right hides. Unfortunately, it seems that we can speak in this respect of a real lack of power to inform. There are certainly things that excuse the left a lot: it is that the institutions of the civil service, the institutions of those responsible, have always been on the right in France. […] The socialists did not have the men to transmit and even to elaborate their information, their ways of posing problems. They should have made parallel circuits, adjacent circuits. They would have needed the intellectuals to intercede. But all that was done in this direction was friendly but very vague contact. […] The left needs free interceders, as long as it makes them possible. Which had been devalued, because of the Communist Party, under the ridiculous name of “fellow travelers”. “
In 1985 then, Deleuze was still looking for “excuses” for the left, on the eve of the first “cohabitation” with the right, under the presidency of Mitterrand, and to deplore the fact that state power does not do enough to appeal to him and his acolytes, for example on the colonial question in New Caledonia. He found nothing better to do than to support the Pisani [Mitterand’s Minister of New Caledonia] plan which aimed to negotiate autonomy with the opportunist leaders of the FLNKS and to isolate, or even liquidate, the radicals who were moving away from it. In addition, he ignored the fact that Guattari continued to play the role of politico-cultural interceder at the Elysee. Which led the same Guattari in 1987, in the middle of “cohabitation”xiii, to write, in the vein of a “multiculturalism” that is allegedly “specific” to the French nation state, the speech of Mitterrand at the Sorbonne on relations between culture and power, on “culture as a source of power” according to the head of state! A few months away from the Ouvéa xiv affair, where the shock commandos sent by the Elysee were instructed, through the implementation of the terror with neither phrase nor refrain, to remind the hotheads of the archipelago of the reason for the republican state.In the last years of his life, Foucault had predicted that “someday, the century may be deleuzien,” hoping that it might be Foucauldian too. Unfortunately, he was largely right and the following decades, the dreams of the postmodernists, which are our nightmares, took shape. The use of their conceptual “toolboxes” far exceeded the circle of French universities. They were recognized and recycled at will by not only many of the so-called protesters around the world, in academia in the first place, under the brand name “French Theory”, but also by managers of capital and the State, including by generals, members of military think-tanks. This is logical because Deleuzism had only ever examined the most rigid and traditional modes of domination that had been weakened and, in part, were already obsolete. In this sense, rather, it forecast what constitutes today one of the most sophisticated modes of organization of capital and the State, thanks to the creation and the multiplication of the miniaturized technologies allowing the linking of the atomized citizens and even the institutions that oversee them on the model of networks. Networks whose proliferation at the base of the social and statist pyramid in no way undermines the foundations nor the summit, the seat of power. On the contrary.
The editors of “A Thousand Plateaux” were half aware of it, as the following note shows: “The main characteristic of the system without centre is that local initiatives are coordinated independently of the central body. […] It even happens that generals, in their dream of appropriating guerrilla technologies, resort to multiplicities of synchronous modules, containing only the minimum of central power and hierarchical relays.” What they concealed was that Lenin, in the context of the Party’s conquest of power through insurrection, had already advocated this mode of organization since the revolution of 1905, the importance of which had, moreover, been pointed out by Clausewitz, in notes concerning the Spanish resistance at the time of the Napoleonic invasion. A mode or organisation that had been generalized at the time of the proliferation of nationalist guerrillas around the world, starting with the Maoist guerrillas in China in the late 1920s, “a nomadic war machine” par excellence as shown by “The Long March”.
In other words, contrary to what our two conceptual do-it-yourselfers claim, “war machines” do not constitute “arrangements” prior to the constitution of the “state apparatus” or who would be foreign to them and, consequently, who would be preferable to them xv. This was something already believed by Bataille, the main creator of the myth about the wild warrior without faith nor law, hostile to civilization and morality of Christian origin. Today, even IDF thinkers are furiously Deleuzian, like General Naveh: “Several concepts elaborated in “A Thousand Plateaux “ have become essential to us. […] They allowed us to account for contemporary situations that we could never have explained otherwise. […] The most important is the distinction that Deleuze and Guattari have established between the concepts of smooth and striated spaces […] that refer to the organizational concepts of the war machine and the state apparatus. The Israeli military now often uses the term “smooth space” to talk about how to approach operations in spaces as if they had no boundaries.” Something Palestinians will appreciate.
In fact, Deleuzism has never had the slightest subversive character. Contrary to what is affirmed by the attractive mythology that prevails today, and which is recycled and diffused unceasingly, as a predigested mish-mash, destined to be eaten by rebellious individuals, who are certainly sincere but generally young and naive, searching for ideas and experiences off the beaten track. This way of stuffing up the brain is intended to defuse preemptively any attempt to effectively break with the world of domination. On the contrary, it facilitates its maintenance under new, more presentable, costumes. Lordon, the philosophers of the bazaar and the politicians who surround him contribute knowingly to it, in the Place de la Republique, in faculties and in assemblies, with trade union leaders in the Trades Councils, starting with those from SUD. To varying degrees, they play the role of touts for the left of the official left, for politicians like Mélenchon who, of course, move behind the scenes of the puppet theater. Their call, “Why we support youth” which appeared in “Lundi Matin”, criticized in “Hazan and the police, from Bolshevism to postmodernism” is the most obvious manifestation of this.
Moreover, “Lundi Matin” [Monday morning] is currently the site that repeats Deleuzian themes in constant loops to justify the unjustifiable. Its sulphurous reputation is perfectly usurped, like that of the defunct magazine “Tiqqun” from which it obviously recycles a lot of theses. One example amongst a thousand, taken from the article “Some axioms for Nuits debout”: “The crowds at Nuit Debout do not turn their actions towards the media, the institutions or the public of the legal democracies; they tend on the contrary to constitute themselves as immanent strategic forces, with varied practices, whose organization and structures are gradually emerging.” A false statement, in the mind of the master of thought, which camouflages the sinister reality of the Place de la Republique. Namely, as “multitudes” that “emerge”, from multiple ideologies, each one more indefensible than the other, including the racialism of the PIR and the anti-Semitism that goes with it. All coexist and proliferate, under the pretext of not imposing anything unique to anyone, even as their mouthpieces accept and often renew the most shared discourse, that of sovereignism and statism, presenting the French nation-state as a bulwark against the rava0ges attributed to “neoliberalism”, “world finance”, etc.
“Lundi Matin” is the perfect expression, under a Deleuzian facade, of an over-ripe dish that intoxicates a lot of heads, which includes the appreciation of religions, above all of Islam. Bataille, the amoralistic adept of a dark and cruel mysticism “without God”, reviewed by Deleuze and Foucault, is thus mobilized in “The Real War” xvi, dated November 2015. According to the author, “we are not the first here to defend the ancient thesis that freedom begins with the fact of not fearing death, and that in this matter it seems that the assailants of last Friday are a little more emancipated than “us”. “ “Viva la muerte!” – in some way like the Falangists. To present the tech-savvy Daesh gunslingers as the heirs of the warriors of yesteryear, foreign to the cult of merchandise which “we” are subjected to as soon as we listen to rock music or drink beer on the terrace – to suppose that these warriors existed elsewhere than in the morbid imagination of Bataille – they’ve really not got an ounce of shame! They’ve written off the criticism of ascetic morality, well characterized by Nietzsche, in “Beyond Good and Evil”, as “the narcotic of priestly castes” aspiring to “the extermination of life”.
Since the majority of the articles appears to have been written by scribes who painstakingly recounted and copied Deleuze’s manuscripts, the managers of “Lundi Matin“ used some famous people specialized in the art of evading questions and reconciling opposites, something aimed at raising the tone, at least that of the style. Hence the remarkable presence of Colson, the academic from Lyon who tries to rebuild anarchism on philosophy, with deleuzism occupying the place of honor, in the same way that Marx founded Marxism on Newtonian science. Colson already participated in the theoretical journal “Refraction”, officially libertarian, as an apologist for the Deleuzian “immanence plans”. Which enables him to justify his opportunistic stances, on Islam included – in “Lundi Matin“. And to cover up the enormities and even the racialist infamies displayed on this site.
To conclude, I know that the difference between the current era and the one in which Deleuze was rife is significant. Firstly, today, it is in some way the champagne socialists in power who have taken the place of the right following May ’68, and secondly there are no subversive surges to be liquidated, but, at best, manifestations of effervescence to calm down and handfuls of restive young people to whom the state has decided to inculcate a sense of civic duty, by force if necessary, as we’ve seen in recent weeks. Yet, without making easy analogies, it is necessary to recall what Deleuzism, which reappears in the Place de la Republique and elsewhere xvii , represents. Certainly, “experience is the lantern that illuminates the path already traveled,” according to the Chinese proverb. It cannot in any case serve as a substitute for the creative imagination in the best sense of the term, the subversive imagination, which is sorely lacking today. But at least it can be used not to fall back into known, well-known ruts. It is in this spirit that I have written these few paragraphs. Hoping to be able to share them with other individuals that can’t bear the world of domination and who wish to annihilate it.