January 21, 2006

What is Philosophy? Reading Group: First Meeting: Notes

What is Philosophy?; Introduction, Chapters 1 & 2

Taking its lead from the opening remarks in the Introduction to Deleuze & Guattari’s book, the Group began by addressing the question of ‘What is Philosophy? itself. The significance of separating the act of questioning from ‘doing’ philosophy or from a certain received way of ‘doing’ philosophy was debated. The necessity of taking a non-philosophical perspective on the question of ‘what is philosophy?’ According to Deleuze & Guattari the question itself is rarely asked since it is always in danger of being subsumed by the desire to ‘do’ philosophy. The difference between ‘why’ one chooses to do philosophy is to be differentiated from the question of ‘what is philosophy’ and ‘how’ one is to go about ‘doing’ philosophy.

The sense of philosophy as being differentiated from scientific thinking was discussed at length. Is science a unified field of activity united by the adherence to the principle of falsification? Does philosophy not adhere to this unified principle in the same fashion? The separation of scientific thinking and philosophical thinking as occurring with Francis Bacon.

The separation of the question ‘what is philosophy’ from the tradition of ‘doing’ philosophy. The problem of overcoming the tradition (as one overcomes an Oedipus complex) in order to reach a point of sobriety where the question can be asked. ‘Doing’ philosophy would always seem to presuppose an adherence to a certain way of ‘doing’ philosophy inherited from tradition. The necessity to liberate oneself from such a tradition. The degree to which the question ‘What is Philosophy?’ can be understood as an ‘ethical’ question.

Deleuze & Guattari’s relation to Spinoza, Kant and Hegel was discussed. Why, if Kant is considered to be an enemy of philosophy, is Hegel considered to be a ‘traitor’? What has Hegel betrayed? One answer might be the degree to which Hegel is committed to bringing philosophy into a rigorous and thorough relation to the non-philosophical fields of art and science. Given that Deleuze & Guattari argue for the absolute necessity for philosophy to preserve these fields in their non-philosophical specificity, Hegel is perceived to have performed a reduction of them to philosophy. His philosophical analysis of the work of art, for example, culminates in the philosophical subordination of the sensory specificity of the work of art. The sensory specificity of the work of art is understood as the inadequate expression of the Concept rather than as an independent, autonomous and differentiated way of thought:

‘Hegel powerfully defined the concept by the Figures of its creation and the Moments of its self-positing. The figures become parts of the concept because they constitute the aspect through which the concept is created by and in consciousness, through successive minds, whereas the Moments form the other aspect according to which the concept posits itself and unites minds in the absolute of the Self. In this way Hegel showed that the concept has nothing whatever to do with a general or abstract idea, any more than with an uncreated Wisdom that does not depend on philosophy itself. But he succeeded in doing this at the cost of an indeterminate extension of philosophy that, because it reconstituted universals with its own moments and treated the personae of its own creation as no more than ghostly puppets, left scarcely any independent movement of the arts and sciences remaining.’ (pp. 11–12)

The question of the Infinite speed of the Concept.

‘The concept is defined by the inseparability of a finite number of heterogeneous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speeds…It is infinite through its survey or its speed but finite through its movement that traces the contour of its components.’ (p. 21)

Comparisons between this understanding of the infinity of thought in Deleuze & Guattari and in Spinoza’s Ethics were discussed.

Thought ‘demands’ the infinite. The infinite signifies a realm that cannot ever be territorialized but functions as the deterritorialising principle par excellence.

What constitutes the ‘plane of immanence’?

The territorialising of the ‘plane of immanence’ by concepts. The degree to which concepts enter into a ‘becoming’ when they enter onto a ‘new plane’. The creation of new relations between ‘concepts’. The relation between ‘Smooth Space’ and 'Stratified Space’ in A Thousand Plateaus.

The question of the ‘autopoesis’ of the concept was discussed. The Concept of the Concept – the plane of immanence. Is ‘autopoesis’ consonant with the notion of the ‘Rhizome’. Are ‘autopoetic’ systems closed or open. It was suggested that autopoetic systems, whilst closed in the sense of being autonomously self-organising and self-developing, remain radically open and able to enter into relations with ‘Others’.

The question of what is meant by the notion of ‘concept creation’? Is it more akin to a type of creative excavation of historical concepts, reformulating them and placing them (in the theatre of philosophy) in new relations, new connections, new juxtapositions.

The question of the Concept of the Other as discussed in What is Philosophy?

‘On what condition is a concept first, not absolutely but in relation to another? For example, is another person (autrui) necessarily second in relation to a self?’ (p. 16)

It was discussed that the account of the Other person here, as another ‘possible world’, introduces a certain understanding of a difference in kind between concepts rather than mere differences of degree.

‘The other person appears here as neither subject nor object but as something that is very different: a possible world…This possible world is not real, or not yet, but it exists nonetheless: it is an expressed that exists only in its expression – the face, or the equivalent of the face.’ (p. 17)

The history of the concept of the Other was discussed, from Leibniz to Levinas.

The Machinic portrait of Kant was discussed. What is its significance? The role of ‘diagrams’ in Deleuze & Guattari’s work?

The discussion concluded by looking at some remarks on pages 58–59 regarding the ‘infinite becoming of philosophy’.

‘It is an infinite becoming of philosophy that crosscuts its history without being confused with it. The life of philosophers. And what is most external to their work, conforms to the ordinary laws of succession; but their proper names coexist and shine either as luminous points that take us through the components of a concept once more or as the cardinal points of a stratum or layer that continually come back to us, like dead stars whose light is brighter than ever. Philosophy is becoming, not history; it is coexistence of planes, not the succession of systems.’ (p. 59)

Discussion of the transhistorical nature of creative becoming in philosophy, science and art. A topic that is discussed later in the ‘Geo-philosophy’ chapter of What is Philosophy? Can there be development in philosophy in the same sense that there can be in science? The genealogy of philosophy, art and science.


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  1. I would just like to add that the ending discussion of the time (becoming) of philosophy relates back to both the issue of philosophy's split from science, and the re-scientisation of certain traditions of philosophy.

    We consider philosophy's time as striated, presenting the opportunity for the philosopher to reconstitute his own history (as we have seen with Deleuze in his 'minor tradition'), zipping between points in the history of philosophy in a non-linear fashion (re-ordering planes of immanence, or even perhaps being constituted itself by this re-ordering, undertaken by autopoetic concepts, which force themselves across planes of immanence, cutting up and re-drawing the map).

    The important insight however, is not to consider this as a fundamental difference in kind from science. It is not impossible for science to free itself from linear history, exhuming old (discarded) ideas and reconstituting them, but it is significantly harder (giving a paper on phlogiston for instance, is impossible). We do see moves like this in the history of science, such as the ressurrection of atomism (which was resisted right up until the end of the 19th Century). What we can recognise however, is the decreasing tendency towards such moves, and, importantly, the covering over of the nature of such moves, in order to preserve perceived continuity and safeguard the ideal of 'progress' – that is, linear progression.

    Thus, in the separation of science from philosophy, we should be able to pick out a change in ideology and institutional structure (which of course are intimately connected) that constitutes a destratification. Essentially, this is the movement of fixing the time of the discipline to historical time, making the production of dissonance harder, and less obvious (which in turn makes it harder still, by feeding back into scientists own understanding of their work).

    Thus the movement of parts of philosophy towards the scientific model (both institutionally and scientifically) can be seen as a similar destratification – nailing down creative time to history, in the name of progress.

    22 Jan 2006, 11:40

  2. There seems a difficulty here of understanding progress in both science and philosophy and their common nature. Deleuze's course of 'minor history' can surely not be an option for a philosopher after Deleuze unless he is to recontextualise or radicalise Deleuze. We seem to be heading for an out-radicalising contest which the cynic could see in much of post-Heidegerrean continental thought. The philosopher surely has to be anchored in his time in so far as he must respond to the non-philosophical. But if this is to be done, are we to characterise this as a 'destratification'? Surely the introduction of concepts from the past must, as in science, take place within a frame that has been fashioned by historical time. It is not 'philosophical time' that is of any interest to us if that is conceived as radically non-linear. Historical time must form at least one axis of the graph, the concepts brought to it are those that manipulate the other axis (axes). The aim of science is most certainly not 'dissonance', although it may be the role of the thinker to open up such dissonance and thus the potential for historical progress.
    It seems to me the alternative to this is attempting to describe ever more delicate spaces elided by the systems of our forebears and leaving them artfully arrayed like rings of condensation on a glass surface. This is my doubt about the whole Deleuzean project: once we go so far as to talk of concept creation we distance ourselves so far from our peers in the sciences and arts that we open ourselves up to the charge that we are (i) appropriating the imaginative rights of artists and (ii) irrelevant.
    If I was to sum up my doubts (and they are only doubts, so please convince me otherwise) I would say that the attempt to open up the skeleton of spaces around philosophical concepts and to become consciously creative with them risks overlooking the grounds and the need for genuine praxis. There is an analogous tendency in art I feel?

    Incidentally, anyone interested in the question of autopoetic systems that was raised in last week's seminar might like to check out this website:
    link
    For my own part I understood from Keith Ansell-Pearson's book 'Viroid Life' that autopoetic systems were not yet rhizomatic, that a Deleuzean biology would wish to concentrate on the essential implications of organisms with their environment and the corresponding contingency of their identity. I got the impression that a 'machinic' evolution would stress the limitations of understanding biology in terms of autopoetic systems. In this respect I thought that a haecceity – apersonal, individuated temporarily and contingently – was closer to a rhizome.

    24 Jan 2006, 16:09


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