February 05, 2006

What is Philosophy? Reading Group: Second Meeting: Notes

What is Philosophy?; Chapter 3 – ‘Conceptual Personae’

This weeks’ discussion began with a consideration of the example which opens this chapter on ‘conceptual personae’ –the ‘idiot’. Deleuze & Guattari identify two manifestations of the conceptual persona of the ‘idiot’, which they term the ‘old’ and ‘new ‘idiot’. The old ‘idiot’ is the Cartesian one (associated with Descartes Meditations) – ‘it is the Idiot who says “I” and sets up the cogito…who wants to think, and who thinks for himself, by the ‘natural light’. The new ‘idiot’ emerges when ‘Descartes goes mad in Russia’, (Dostoyevsky’s Idiot).

‘The Old idiot wanted truth, but the new idiot wants to turn the absurd into the highest power of thought – in other words, to create.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 62)

There was a brief discussion of how appropriate Dostoyevsky’s later work was to this understanding of the new ‘idiot’. The problem of Nietzsche and Nihilism was discussed.

Post-structuralism, as expressed by the conceptual personae of the new ‘idiot’, where sense is constantly pushed to its limits, involves a constant search for the ‘outside’, and a move towards creation. The old Cartesian ‘idiot’ was driven and governed by certain epistemological imperatives and concerns, whereas the new post-Cartesian ‘idiot’ is an ‘ethical’ figure driven to uncertainty and the ‘outside’ of pre-existing sense.

What is the relation between the elaboration of conceptual personae in art (e.g. literature) and in philosophy. For Deleuze & Guattari the two can be intimately connected:

‘The plane of composition of art and the plane of immanence of philosophy can slip into each other to the degree that parts of one may be occupied by entities of the other.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 66)

The emergence of the new ‘idiot’ in literature (specifically Russian literature) indicates a certain role for literature (evident from Deleuze’s Essays Critical and Clinical) – namely as a symptamology of conceptual personae – what a writer takes a good thinker to be, what a thinker should be doing in a certain ‘space’.

There was a discussion of the possible differences and similarities between symptamology and genealogy. Is symptamology divorced from a more historical or quasi-historical cultural critique. For Deleuze & Guattari conceptual personae are irreducible to what they term ‘psychosocial types’. They write:

‘The features of conceptual personae have relationships with the epoch or historical milieu in which they appear that only psychosocial types enable us to assess. But, conversely, the hysterical and mental movements of psychosocial types, their pathological symptoms, their relational attitudes, their existential modes, and their legal status, become susceptible to a determination purely of thinking and of thought that wrests them from both the historical state of affairs of a society and the lived experience of individuals, in order to turn them into the features of conceptual personae, or thought-events on the plane laid out by thought or under the concepts it creates. Conceptual personae and psychosocial types refer to each other and combine without ever merging.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 70)

There was then a lengthy discussion of Leibniz and the role of concept creation in his philosophy, and their possible restriction by the type of conceptual personae he elaborates (later identified by Deleuze & Guattari as ‘the lawyer of a God’).

We discussed the crucial role of conceptual personae in disclosing what Deleuze & Guattari term ‘thought’s territories, its absolute deterritorialisations and reterritorialisations.’ (i.e. its ‘diagrammatic’ function):

‘Conceptual personae are thinkers, solely thinkers, and their personalised features are closely linked to the diagrammatic features of thought and the intensive features of concepts.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 69)

We then worked fairly systematically through the five features of conceptual personae that Deleuze and Guattari identify.

Pathic Features (p. 70) – the aspect of the conceptual personae linked to the sensibility (pathological elements); a difference between the schizophrenic as psychosocial types and as conceptual personae responsible for laying out a plane of thought. (Links here to Nietzsche, Bergson and Foucault). The schizophrenic in the socius moves outside of ‘sense’ and is expelled, the schizophrenic as conceptual personae is analogous to the new ‘idiot’ – a ‘conceptual personae who lives intensely within the thinker and forces him to think’, pushing the ‘absurd into the highest power of thought’.

Relational Features (pp. 70–1) – akin to the Socratic notion of the ‘Friend’.

‘This is not two friends who engage in thought; rather, it is thought itself that requires the thinker to be a friend so that thought is divided up within itself and can be exercised. It is thought itself which requires this division of thought between friends.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 69)

Dynamic Features (p. 71) – the different forms of energetics involved with a conceptual personae, akin to a new athleticism in thought. It expresses the degree to which conceptual personae move into conjunction, into a becoming with external energetic forces.

Juridical Features (p. 72) – jurisprudence vs. universal principles of law. The juridical features of the conceptual personae elaborated by Leibniz, Kant and Spinoza.

‘Should not beings be judged from within – not at all in the name of the Law or of Values or even by virtue of their conscience but by the purely immanent criteria of their existence.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 72)

We discussed the juridical features of conceptual personae in relation to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling.

Existential Features (pp. 72–3) – These are to be understood as the emblematic anecdotes of conceptual personae (‘a few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy’):

‘These anecdotes do not refer simply to social or even psychological types of philosopher but show rather the conceptual personae who inhabit them.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 73)

We discussed the differences between this particular understanding of the existential components of conceptual personae and the ‘intentional fallacy’.

After discussing the five identified features of conceptual personae we proceeded to briefly examine the notion of ‘taste’ introduced by Deleuze & Guattari:

‘The creation of concepts calls for a taste that modulates it. The free creation of determined concepts needs a taste for the undetermined concepts. Taste is this power, this being-potential of the concept: it is certainly not for ‘rational or reasonable’ reasons that a particular concept is created or a particular component chosen.’ (What is Philosophy?, p. 78)

The implicit allusions to Kant’s Third Critique were noted – e.g. the free accord of the cognitive faculties of imagination and understanding, and the singular nature of the aesthetic judgement for Kant. For Kant an indeterminate judgement of taste is not based on a concept, but a ‘feeling’.

We discussed the problem of doxa and urdoxa. The horror of philosophy as doxography, and the difference between philosophy and science, (particularly the relation between concepts, solutions and problems), indicated in the following passage at the conclusion of the third chapter:

‘The concept is indeed a solution, but the problem to which it corresponds lies in its intensional conditions of consistency and not, as in science, in the conditions of reference of extensional propositions. If the concept is a solution, the conditions of the philosophical problem are found on the plane of immanence presupposed by the concept, and the unknowns of the problem are found in the conceptual personae that it calls up. A concept like knowledge has meaning only in relation to an image of thought to which it refers and to a conceptual personae that it needs; a different image and a different persona that it needs; a different image and a different persona call for other concepts. A solution has no meaning independently of a problem to be determined in its conditions and unknowns; but these conditions and unknowns have no meaning independently of solutions determinable as concepts.’ (What is Philosophy?, pp. 80–1)

We concluded by identifying the ongoing post-structuralist problem of philosophy, an ethical problem identified at the end of the chapter:

‘Philosophy thus lives in a permanent crisis. The plane takes effect through shocks, concepts proceed in bursts, and personae by spasms. The relationship among the three instances is problematic by nature.’ (What is Philosphy?, p. 82)

Philosophy is always caught up in a becoming-doxographic, and concepts in a becoming-skeletal. Here nothing positive is done within philosophy. Philosophers and their history and their concepts are brandished like weapons to prevent ongoing philosophical invention and thought.


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