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 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.

March 24, 2006

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 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.

January 30, 2006


The podcast of Aislinn O'Donnell's seminar from last Thursday entitled 'Shame and the Possibilities of Life' is now available at:


January 28, 2006

Research Group Meeting: Aislinn O’ Donnell (UCD) – ‘Shame and the Possibilities of Life’

‘Human rights say nothing about the immanent modes of existence of people provided with rights. Nor is it only in extreme situations described by Primo Levi that we experience the shame of being human. We also experience it in insignificant conditions, before the propagation of these modes of existence and thought-for-the-market, and before the values, ideals and opinions of our time. The ignominy of the possibilities of life that we are offered appears from within. We do not feel ourselves outside our time but continue to undergo shameful compromises with it. The feeling of shame is one of philosophy's most powerful motifs. We are not responsible for the victims but responsible before them.’ (D&G, What is Philosophy?, p. 108)

Aislinn O’ Donnell’s fascinating paper considered the question of “shame” in Deleuze & Guattari’s work, evident from the above quotation taken from the ‘Geophilosophy’ chapter of What is Philosophy?, specifically the ‘shame of being human’. Throughout the paper she was concerned with considering whether their particular conception of shame (as a visceral affect) can assist us in understanding their conception of otherness. Aislinn argued that such a specific consideration of ‘shame’ was undertaken within a much broader concern with Deleuze & Guattari’s resistance to capitalism and the question of why we should respond to the suffering human other.
Thus, the purpose of her paper was to try and think the shame of being human and to reflect on its relation (or non-relation) to Deleuze & Guattari’s concept of the ‘other person’, to their rejection of cliché and their resistance to capitalism.

The paper began by providing a brief overview of some of the ways the notion of ‘shame’ has been thought within the history of philosophy, including Spinoza, Kant, Scheler, Arendt, Nussbaum & Tomkins. This was followed by an outline of Deleuze’s concept of the other person in The Logic of Sense _ and in Deleuze & Guattari’s _What is Philosophy?. Aislinn managed to suggest some fascinating relations between the ideas contained within these texts and those found within Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy. Her account of Levinas’ Ethics of alterity drew upon certain illuminating formulations of Levinas within the work of the Latin American philosopher Enrique Dussel. She then moved to addressing the specific question of the treatment of ‘shame’ in Deleuze & Guattari’s What is Philosophy?, and asking what a ‘shame of being human’ involves and why becoming-revolutionary is an appropriate response to such ‘shame’. She suggested that whilst the first chapters of What is Philosophy? contain a notion of the ‘other person’ as a type of example to elucidate their understanding of the ‘concept’, there is a wider instructive purpose. These chapters, she argued, have strong Bergsonian and Spinozist overtones, specifically in relation to their understanding of planes of immanence in terms of thought-being and in their initial descriptions of the plane of immanence which strongly resembles Bergson’s analytic description of experience as pure perception in Matter and Memory. For Bergson, pure perception is a field of survey of absolute pure consciousness prior to any subject-object. Rather than taking up Bergson’s pragmatic account of the way in which the indetermination of the brain creates a zone of possible action that filters perception, Deleuze & Guattari use the idea of the ‘Other person’ (an a priori ‘Other’) that restructures the perceptual field in order to give an account of the co-genesis of subject and object, self and other. This ‘Other’ is not an individuated or concrete other, but is solely understood as an expression of a ‘possible world’. The other person interrupts us and restructures our field of perception.

Deleuze & Guattari’s problem is not the solipsistic one of the problem of other selves; selves are emergent, relational and interbound. Their problem concerns modes of existence, and Aislinn argued that this was the reason why ‘shame’ is so interesting as it offers a visceral ought, (a visceral affect) bound up with our beliefs, desires, and values, but also indicating an immanent vocation of humans – to strive to create possibilities for life and thought, in particular amongst those complex being with whom we identify. With Deleuze & Guattari’s work there is an awareness of how the singularity of the Other person is annihilated in different ways – through clichés, through capitalism, through the death camps, through consumerist society – that precipitates ‘shame’. The final part of her paper considered the question of shame in relation to resisting these features of contemporary life and thought.

‘Shame of being human’, Aislinn suggested, is not premised upon an identification with the other but a commitment to the singularisation of life. The ‘shame of being human’ operates within Deleuze & Guattari's work as a critical principle – it operates as an immanent evaluation and appraisal of a mode of existence, of complicity in suffering and of the diminishment of life’s immanent possibility for creation without appeal to a fixed ideal for humanity. Drawing at times from Arendt, Aislinn considered the question of ‘shame’ as a critical affect in Deleuze & Guattrai, and the troubling question of why we increasingly don’t feel shame:

‘Utopia does not split off from infinite movement: etymologically it stands for absolute deterritorialisation but always at the critical point at which it is connected with the present milieu, and especially with the forces stifled by this milieu.’ (D&G, What is Philosophy?, p. 108)

Aislinn argues that perception is, as Bergson showed, far from innocent – we choose not to see, we choose to be blind. It is in this respect that shame can be the catalyst to precipitate change as it makes us sensible to dimensions of a situation and ourselves that previously were ignored or accepted, as it can disrupt the narcissistic, habitual and self-absorbed tendencies of selves. Shame is a critical and disruptive affect. Shame is not simply a subjective disposition or experience but registers the intolerable nature of a mode of existence and as such can become both critical and creative. Shame has the capacity to be positive and productive – it creates sensitivity to the richness of the present, to the forgotten histories, excluded others, silenced voices, unrealised worlds as well as to the real potentials of a situation. It ruptures the complacency of our own experience and draws to light the limits of our sensibility. Disparateness and rupture operate on both ontological and experiential registers as rendering a given situation or mode of existence meta-stable and generating real potentials that require the invention of other modes of existence that effect a qualitative transformation of existence. The pre-individual dimensions of the human reveal our singularity, but the possibility for cultivating processes of singularisation of life are foreclosed by cliché, banality, and intolerable modes of existence.

The visceral experience of shame is not one of sublime failure and a sense of our supersensible vocation, but a sense of the diminishment of life, a failure of our sensibility, a failure to respond and to cultivate different kinds of relations, to question ourselves and our complicity in the compromises of our time. Shame as ‘critical affect’. Singularisation is not atomisation but the capacity to weave and create different possibilities and expressions of life. This is, Aislinn concluded, the restoration of immanence.

There followed a lively and engaged discussion which pursued many of the provocations for thought initiated within this excellent paper.

A full audio podcast of Aislinn’s paper together with the subsequent group discussion will be posted on the Project website within the next few days.

Isabelle Stengers' Essay on What is Philosophy?

Paul Bains writes:

'Isabelle Stengers has kindly allowed me to upload a recent essay on Deleuze which I am sure you will find highly relevant to these discussions. It is written in English and is uncorrected.
Best wishes, Paul Bains'

This essay can be found in the members area of the 'What is Philosophy?' website and can be downloaded from there as an MSWord Document


Many thanks to Isabelle Stengers and Paul Bains for this.

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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