June 21, 2006

What is Philosophy Symposium

Unfortunately due to unavoidable personal problems Professor Ian Stewart will not now be able to participate in this week's What is Philosophy Symposium. Due to the late stage of this cancellation it is impossible for us to find a replacement speaker on the topic of scientific practice. However, we have managed to persuade Dr Ray Brassier from Middlesex University who will now close the Symposium with a fascinating paper on Deleuze, Laruelle & Non–Philosophy entitled ‘The Destruction of Philosophy’. The overall theme of the Symposium will now be ‘Philosophy, Art and Non–Philosophy’.The symposium will take place in the Maths Building in Room MS.02, registration will be at 9.30am, followed by an opening address by Professor Nigel Thrift at 10am. All welcome.

Professor Ian Stewart and Greg Hunt have indicated their willingness to participate in a future event perhaps in the next academic year. If you were planning on attending the Symposium with the particular aim of hearing Professor Stewart’s paper we will be happy to refund the cost of your ticket. Alternatively you will be able to attend next year’s planned event free of charge. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me via email at Darren.ambrose@gmail.com.

May 26, 2006

Rosi Braidotti on addiction and ethics

Follow-up to Professor Rosi Braidotti Talk Thursday 25th May from Philosophy

A short note about a seminar given by Rosi Braidotti, and an explanation of my interesting example of an ethically sustainable addictive behaviour.

Yesterday I attended yet another excellent seminar as part of the What is Philosophy? graduate research project. Professor Rosi Braidotti set out to defend Deleuzian research from charges of ethical relativism and providing more efficient control mechanisms for the use of gobal capitalism. This was done with remarkable energy and wit. The result, I believe, was to establish convincingly that Deleuzianism can have a consistent and pragmatic ethical approach to a wide range of situations. However, this requires a rethinking of the role of addiction, [inter]dependency, risk and identities, with an emphasis on positive modes of growth and intensity – an emphasis quite contrary to the prevailing culture of compensation and the valorization of suffering.

Braidotti book
Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics by Rosi Braidotti

That is very much a partial and inadequate summary. If you want to know more, I would suggest joining the What Is Philosophy? project, so that you can listen to the full podcast audio recordings of the lecture and following discussion.

As a taster, and as a record of my own contribution to the discussion, I have clipped a short section in which I respond to the claim that addictive behaviour is necessarily narcissistic. Rosi had presented the concept of addiction on two slightly contradictory ways. On the one hand, there was a discussion of Deleuze's alcoholism (dealt with in the Logic of Sense). This behaviour was a distinctly self-absorbed testing of 'what a body is capable of' (Deleuze's favourite Spinozism). Deleuze was concerned with how the alooholic repeatedly approached the limit of their addiction, the point at which it approaches incapacity or even death, and then swiftly pulls back from the edge. Such a rehearsal/repetition is only ever a reinforcement of limits. Going beyond the limit passes across a threshold (Deleuze differentiates thresholds and limits) such that the addiction is no longer possible. Such a model is, as you can imagine, not what our critics may happily accept as the basis of an ethical system!

We could, as I think Rosi attempted, redress this by arguing that life itself is about addictions, and that there are some addictions that are positive and sustainable, and others that are destructive and lead into 'black holes' (Deleuze and Guattari's term). The obvious problem with this argument is that an economic system like capitalism is quite capable of creating addictions that are both locally safe in this way (for the individual) and at the same time globally destructive, or oppresive to other classes, races, nations or species. Individuals can quite obviously be manipulated, sustained or destroyed where necessary, through the production and manipulation of their addictions. Even when such behaviours seem to introduce constant novelty (fashion), that novelty is carefully controlled and limited. Consequently, the notion of safe and sustainable personal addiction fails to save us from the charge that Deleuze and Guattari simply provide more efficient mechanisms to the hands of global capitalism.

At this point I got quite excited. I have been looking at a range of addictive behaviours that are neither narcissistic nor exclusive of significant and uncontrolled creativity. These patterns of behaviour are entirely dependent upon an engagement with contsantly differing contexts (people and places). I offered the following example:

There is a man who has a powerful addiction to a series of behaviours. These behaviours are repeated/rehearsed according to a carefully controlled programme. Each time the programme of behaviours is repeated, it is done so in a new context. This variation may be subtle or dramatic, and often means the man travelling to new countries around the world. Why does he do this? Each repetition gives him a new perspective on himself, on his stable set of behaviours. In some cases he is exploring subtle fine detail. In others he is searching for dramatic contrasts. But this is not just about the man himself. He isn't just using the world as a mirror. Rather, the repetition of behaviour each time gives him a register for understanding a new part of the world, its environment and its people. This is where the example gets really interesting. What really motivates this adventurer is that he finds that the people he meets in these locations also benefit from the relationship that is established between their world and his. They learn, and even break out of their stereotypical lives. The man and his addiction acts a bit like a virus. Often he is able to establish new relationships that endure and grow into something big and worthwile. And so, when nomadized in this manner, addictions can be positive and creative rather than entropic and narcissistic.

  • To hear my example, and the following discussion, click on the play button below.
  • See if you can work out what his addiction is. If you want to know the answer, CLICK HERE.

    Podcast play button

May 15, 2006

Professor Rosi Braidotti Talk Thursday 25th May

Professor Rosi Braidotti from the University of Utrecht will be giving a talk at the University of Warwick on Thursday 25th May as part of the What is Philosophy? research project. The talk will be followed by an informal discussion.

Thursday 25th May 6pm – 8pm in Presentation Room B of The Learning Grid, University House

All Welcome


Poststructuralist philosophy in general and Deleuze's rhizomic philosophical project in particular have been charged too often with either cognitive or moral relativism. This paper challenges such charges and defends the ethics of nomadic thought. I will take as a case study the issues of extreme pain, loss and vulnerability, which are usually approached either in terms of meanings and signification or as mourning and melancholia. This paper explores another route: a more affirmative ethics that aims at the transformation of negative into positive reactions to pain and vulnerability. The precedents of Spinoza and Nietzsche, re–read with Gilles Deleuze, are important to this project which aims at an ethics of empowerment that puts the active back into activism.

Professor Milan Jaros Talk Thursday 18th May

Professor Milan Jaros from the Centre for Research in Knowledge, Science and Society at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne will be giving a talk at the University of Warwick this Thursday as part of the What is Philosophy? research project.

The title of his paper is ‘Towards a re-definition of space-ness in the post-mechanical age’. The talk will be followed by an informal discussion.

Thursday 18th May 6pm – 8pm in Presentation Room B of The Learning Grid, University House

All welcome


The aim of this study is to describe a model of the dynamics constituting a living place that is peculiar to the material condition of humanity today and that lends itself to empirical studies of meta–development and sustainability of the human–made environment. The empirical point of departure is the novel characteristic of contemporary knowledge and knowing and the shift it leads to from the transparent, perspectival space to networked quasi–objects, from design to meta–design. It is argued that the self depends for its ability to recognise itself primarily on collisions that suspend the flow of spatialised complexity. The sites of such collisions are superpositions of virtual and material interactions – spatio–temporal instabilities or warps. The structure of such collisions mirrors the mechanisms characteristic of the functioning of our techno–scientific civilisation and associated with different levels of measurement, embodiment, and organisation that pattern the human unconscious, the material and knowledge systems, the ‘lifeworlds’. This proposition expands the notion of the Schmarsow–Benjamin ‘elbow room’ (Spielraum) and gives a perceptual–empirical meaning to the self’s ontology, to the ‘living place’ and its ‘sustain–ability’. The ‘elbow room’ may be viewed as a dynamic impact parameter – an effective existence radius of the self – as an assemblage of the self, place and interactive narratives binding them dynamically together.

April 20, 2006

Reading Deleuze reading Spinoza, Leibniz, etc.

Reading Deleuze is a practice which requires a certain carefulness on various levels at the same time if one will not reach reductionist conclusions in response to questions, for example, “What is immanence?” “What is a concept?” “What is a BWO?” and etc. Despite the fact that Deleuze problematizes such answer-question dialectics, there is still an insistence on a certain appropriation, disappropriation or misappropriation of Deleuzian thought which, in doing so, eliminates the question of the “undecidable.” The latter, of course, doesn’t appear as such in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, yet, on the other hand, its somehow problematic presence is what, I believe, complicates their text and also confuses the readers’ minds. For example, when Deleuze reads especially Leibniz and Spinoza, one thing that is certain is that he is – to use his favorite description – taking a philosopher from behind so that the metaphysics which conditions these texts can be burst open towards a possibility of leaving the transcendental behind. However, what is half-certain or undecidable is whether, when Deleuze writes on other philosophers, he appropriates or disappropriates them by means of producing a critique of the philosophers in question. If, for example, the Leibnizian project fails or forgets the possibilities that it points to, it is because Leibniz doesn’t consider the disjunctive synthesis as a possibility in his thought. However, disjunctive and conjunctive syntheses work side by side in Deleuze, especially, in Difference and Repetition. At such a juncture, it is quite appropriate to ask if Deleuze identifies with, or properly appropriates, the philosopher he is taking from behind so that his desire is quenched at the moment of satisfaction or he continues producing desire so that his liaison with another philosopher will turn into a courtly love affair where both obedience and betrayal will be out of question simply because an actual meeting will never occur or it will remain always as an Event. I guess the same applies to his affair with Spinoza where the question of mystical atheism can hardly be understood as a determining factor of Deleuze’s philosophy. In other words, why should Deleuze appropriate the image of thought which constituted the condition for thought for Spinoza? Moreover, as Deleuze and Guattari discuss in What is Philosophy?, the plane of immanence is a matter of construction rather than an imitation.

Such a loyalty to the model – strange loyalty indeed. Did Deleuze mean this when he wrote at the end of The Fold: “We are all Leibnizians”?

March 24, 2006

Deleuze & Guattari's Mystical Atheism

In Stephen Zepke's book Art as Abstract Machine: Ontology and Aesthetics in Deleuze & Guattari there is the following provocative statement concerning the nature of their philosophical practice:

'Mystical atheism is the real condition of Deleuze & Guattari's pragmatic philosophy. Mysticism is the experience of immanence, of the construction/expression of the at once infinite and finite material plane on which everything happens. Thus, mysticism as an experience of immanence is necessarily atheist, because it cannot involve transcendence of any kind (where to?). Atheist mysticism replaces transcendence with construction/expression, first of all as a construction of the body – atheism against asceticism, Mysticism is a physical practice: how do you make yourself a body without organs? Furthermore, mysticism is a creative practice that, whether in the realm of philosophy, art, or somewhere else, is inseparable from affirmation.' (pp. 6–7)

Zepke's view is derived in part from Deleuze's remarks on Spinoza's 'mystical atheism' in Seminar Session on Spinoza, 24 January 1978. Here, according to Zepke, Spinoza's univocal and immanent ontology implies the mystical possibility of knowing God as God knows itself, and is the condition for what Deleuze himself calls 'a kind of mystical atheist experience proper to Spinoza'.

New Podcast – Eric Alliez

A podcast of Eric Alliez's lecture entitled 'Deleuze avec Masoch' is now available here

February 10, 2006

Podcast – Darren Ambrose

The Podcast of Darren Ambrose's seminar entitled "Deleuze and Francis Bacon: The Diagrammatic is now available here

February 07, 2006

"I'm stupid because I'm dead, I'm dead because I'm stupid

Follow-up to A few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy from Philosophy

As is well known, Plato in Book III of his "Republic" recounts a conversation that occurred between Socrates and Adeimantus, in which the flute and the pipe was deemed by Socrates to be of inferior musical stature to stringed instruments (the lyre and the harp).

Socrates: But what do you say to flute-makers and flute-players? Would you admit them into our State when you reflect that in this composite use of harmony the flute is worse than all the stringed instruments put together; even the panharmonic music is only an imitation of the flute?

Adeimantus: Clearly not.

Socrates: There remain then only the lyre and the harp for use in the city, and the shepherds may have a pipe in the country.

Adeimantus: That is surely the conclusion to be drawn from the argument.

Socrates: The preferring of Apollo and his instruments to Marsyas and his instruments is not at all strange, I said.

For Nietzsche of The Birth of Tragedy the flute is unmistakably the most favorable instrument for its reference to Dionysiac rituals and ecstasy.

So, there is certainly a hyperbolic rejection of Schopenhauer's philosophy by Nietzsche on the grounds of the former philosopher's love of flute playing. However, hyperbol, especially in Nietzsche's case, just as in Kafka's is a style of writing which forces thought to "the limits of stupidity" as Deleuze explains in Difference and Repetition.

Moreover, after his collapse in Turin, Nietzsche is known to have mumbled now and then: "I'm stupid because I'm dead, I'm dead because I'm stupid.

February 06, 2006

A few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy

Follow-up to What is Philosophy? Reading Group: Second Meeting: Notes from Philosophy

Following our discussion of ‘a few vital anecdotes are sufficient to produce a portrait of a philosophy’, one anecdote that didn't come up on Thursday was Nietzsche's claim that he decided to reject Schopenhauer's entire philosophy on learning that the great pessimist was fond of playing the flute. A good example of a biographical detail being used to refute a philosophy – Nietzsche's point being that those seriously advocating pessimism should not be engaged in such frivolous activities as music-making.

(Nietzsche famously said that "life without music would be a mistake". It doesn't follow from this, however, that life _with _music is not also a mistake…)

I'm not sure if I can think of any other examples in which the anecdote quite so clearly suffices to determine a critical response to the philosophy. (E.g. did any Kantians feel challenged on learning about his stocking suspenders?)

I've been trying to think of some anecdotes about other philosophers. About Wittgenstein one sometimes hears about how often he "gave up" philosophy to go and do other jobs (school teaching, becoming a hospital orderly, working in a monastery garden), and about how he advised a student to take a job in Woolworths instead of becoming an academic, but also about how he never succeeded in kicking the philosophy habit himself. None of this has the succinctness of the Kant anecdote that D&G are looking for, but it does suggest something about how seriously (or not) we should take Wittgenstein's views on philosophy.

Any suggestions for other anecdotes that `produce a portrait of a philosophy’ or reveal the conceptual persona?

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