5.13.2010

The Thought of Becoming: Gilles Deleuze’s Poetics of Life





Kathrin Thiele, The Thought of Becoming: Gilles Deleuze’s Poetics of Life (Zurich-Berlin:


In The Thought of Becoming, Kathrin Thiele elaborates Gilles Deleuze’s ontology of immaence as a practice of ethics, whose concern with ‚this world‛ facilitates a thoroughgoing postmetaphysical approach to the problem of ‚how to think the ethical.‛ She does so
against the contemporary tendency to reduce ethics either to a totally abstract academic exercise, or a ‚watered down‛ discipline of ‚‘applicable’ approaches,‛ and the subsequent impulse, for many, to have done with ethics altogether, in favour of the pragmatics of politics.




1 Indeed, she suggests that certain recent readings of Deleuze’s work are











symptomatic of these tendencies, failing to see that his ‚grammar of becoming‛ involves a








thoroughly immanent, but fully articulated ethics, and variously accusing it of ‚extra-








worldliness‛ (Badiou, Hallward) or reducing it to an activism (Hardt and Negri).2




Hence,








Thiele sets out to articulate the ethical stakes of Deleuze’s ontology of immanence by








attending to his ‚grammar of becoming‛ on its own terms, in particular, attempting a








thoroughly Deleuzian reading of his work.















The construction of Deleuze’s ‚plane of thought‛ that follows is not a simple reconstruction,








therefore, but a dynamic ‚becoming thought‛ that seeks to be performatively faithful to the








manner in which he ‚forces readers to select and invent new strategies when moving








through his thought ... producing and creating‛ new thought.3 The point, for Thiele, is that








Deleuze’s ontology has ethical import precisely insofar as it is itself a dynamic ‚becoming-








thought,‛ which ‚always *immanently+ leads somewhere else‛ thereby, constituting a








practical and creative response to this world. (Indeed, ethics, Thiele argues, becomes








imperceptible in Deleuze’s ontology, which can lead to the perception that he is








unconcerned with ethics.) If we are to avoid, with Deleuze, both ‚extra-worldliness‛ and








mere activism, we must not simply repeat his concepts, she argues, but must also attend to








the very movement of his thought, which is the performance of a consistently immanent ethics.
























1








Kathrin Thiele, The Thought of Becoming: Gilles Deleuze’s Poetics of Life (Zürich-Berlin: Diaphanes, 2008), 11-13.










2








Ibid., 21.








3








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 31-32.








McSweeney: review of The Thought of Becoming















170






















As indicated in her introductory chapter, Thiele’s selected reading strategy is to examine








Deleuze’s treatment of the question of immanence itself, in particular, to trace how he








comes to ‚think the world in a Spinozist way, sense it in a Bergsonian way, act in a








Nietzschean way‛ in a pursuit of a conception of immanence that takes in, in turn, the key








Deleuzian themes of ‚immanence, difference, repetition.‛4 In the three chapters that follow,








there emerges an admirably lucid and subtle account of how, with very precise and careful








conceptualisation, Deleuze constructs a consistent immanent ontology (and ethics) of








becoming, in his engagements with ‚the conceptual personae‛ of Spinoza, Bergson and








Nietzsche, without any sacrifice, on Thiele’s part, of the complexity of these thinkers or the








nuances of Deleuze’s appropriation of their work. (

Beyond its specific contribution to the








question of Deleuze’s ethics, Thiele’s work would serve as an excellent introduction to his








work, not least to how he constructs his own plane of thought through ‛minor‛ readings in








the history of philosophy.) Moreover, in her careful attention to how these readings enable








Deleuze continually to ‚move somewhere else,‛ especially in her repeated efforts to ‚slow








down‛ his thought and our reception of it, Thiele succeeds in conveying its characteristic








movement and the new spaces of thought that that movement produces.

















In Chapter 2, Thiele traces how Deleuze learns to think immanence as immanent only to








itself, taking from Spinoza his non-analogising, non-totalising notion of a univocity, which








‚interweaves transcendence (Deus) and immanence (Natura)‛ into a ‚single plane‛; and his








related notion of substance ‚as absolute infinity; a single substance that is always already a








multiplicity.‛5 Going to the heart of his reading, she elaborates how Deleuze, against








Spinoza’s own monism, ‚gives‛ to Spinoza the distinction between ‚what expresses itself,








the expression itself, and what is expressed‛ such that paradoxically ‚‘what is expressed’








has no existence outside its expression, yet bears no resemblance to it, but relates essentially to








what expresses itself as distinct from the expression itself.‛6 She carefully considers the








consequence that the One of being is ‚like the surface of the sea ... a surface of multiplicity,








a One not of already constituted units, but a One that only ever becomes in its very








expressions,‛ such that essence is equated with existence, and the process of expression is








an infinite movement of production.7















The third chapter explores how Deleuze is led to Bergson by the question that is left








unanswered by Spinoza: how a thought of such immanence is possible. Thiele draws out the








significance of Bergson’s method of intuition for Deleuze, how rather than ‚looking merely at








the phenomenal world‛ it allows him to ‚follow the internal lines of things ‘up’ to where they








become pure tendencies that encounter each other,‛ not via some transcendental a priori, but

















4








Ibid., 116, quotation slightly amended.








5








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 33-34, 53.








6








Ibid., 61; Gilles Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Zone








Books, 1997), 333.








7








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 59.








Foucault Studies, No. 8, pp. 169-173








171















by returning to things themselves as pure tendencies characterised by contradictory








‚movements.‛8 In turn, she examines how Deleuze can, consequently, conceive of the








‚actualization of the virtual‛ as involving, not merely the differences of degree of an already








constituted world, but the production of differences of kind (and genuinely different possible








worlds). Finally, Thiele examines the centrality, to this thinking of immanence, of Bergson’s








conception of ‚duration‛: the ‚real time‛ we experience – a time ‚which differs from itself‛ –








such that there is neither a priority of the One or the Many, but a complex movement of








oneness and multiplicity, which is the condition and context of a thought of immanence.9















Chapter 4, in turn, considers how Nietzsche allows Deleuze to answer the question left








unanswered by Bergson’s concern with metaphysical practice rather than with ethics as








such: ‚how is it that this thought can pass the test that it is truly difference and differing?‛10








Here Thiele leads us through the subtleties of the affirmation of life that is the Nietzschean








will to power, in Deleuze’s reading: that singular element, that is neither individual will or








desire in any traditional sense, but that ‚differential and thus invisible moving element that








drives or structures everything without ever being ‘present in the strict sense,’ because it








will only ever become in this process.‛11 She shows how, mediated through the notion of the








eternal return, it is that singular moment of willing the return of difference itself, an








affirmative act that brings to expression and actualization, the differing that is integral to








life, but may be obscured by reduction of reality to the actual. In brief, it is the








‚impersonal‛ will to life, without whose expressive affirmation of difference, there would








be no differing. Thus, Deleuze can be seen not only to derive from Spinoza a consistent








immanent ontology, and from Bergson the resources for conceptualising the immanent








thinking of difference, but, from Nietzsche, the notion that thinking difference is sustainable








only as an ethical affirmation of difference and life.















In drawing together this ‚poet(h)ics‛ of becoming, the final chapter crystallises the ethical








force of Deleuze’s work and counters what Thiele considers the most important of the








recent critiques of his ethics: Badiou’s notion that Deleuze merely perpetually actualizes








new virtualities. Here, Thiele argues that, although it is always a multiplicity, there is ever








only one virtuality – that is, it is never simply a matter of turning from the actual to the








virtual as an alternative realm of being (the virtual is governed by a logic of becoming), but








of thinking the virtual of the actual, as a creative thinking of the specific possibilities of








difference present within any given situation. It is, therefore, not that Deleuze pursues








novelty as a kind of ludic postmodern celebration of a groundless mode of being. Rather








actualization of the virtual, Thiele argues, is a returning to the surface of things, a ‚surfing‛








of the tendencies whose movement supports, yet is obscured by the actual and our

















8








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 103.








9








Ibid., 107-108.








10








Ibid., 113-114.








11








Ibid., 137.








McSweeney: review of The Thought of Becoming















172






















acceptance of it as the ‚given‛12 Indeed, the movement of becoming inherent to the








actualization of the virtual is, moreover, a contradictory Bergsonian movement in multiple








directions at once, so that it is never simply available, but always a problem to be resolved.








In Deleuze’s later terminology, one never knows what ‚a life‛ is. Instead, one repeatedly








encounters, from within situations, the problem of ‚what is to be done next.‛13 As Thiele








puts it multiplicity is always a ‚multiplicity‛ – a creative and productive engagement with








the specific fold between the virtual and the actual.14 As such, Thiele can convincingly








conclude that Deleuze’s ontology, in spite of its apparent ‚extra-worldliness,‛ constitutes








an ethics profoundly grounded in the reality of ‚this world.‛















Of particular interest to Foucault scholars will be the suggestive, if complex parallels Thiele








finds between Foucault’s and Deleuze’s respective emphasis upon the notion of ‚life‛ in their








final works (in particular, between Deleuze’s impersonal ethics of ‚a life...‛ and Foucault’s








‚aesthetics of existence‛).15 If by contrast with Foucault’s deep-seated caution concerning life,








‚the liberation of life in this creation of a life... is undoubted by Deleuze,‛ it is not, she argues,








because the latter is a utopian vitalist. Rather, he is equally realist concerning human actions,








but deliberately probes what ‚a body is capable of.‛16 We cannot understand Deleuze








properly here unless we grasp once more that a life emerges from the interplay between the








pure immanence (the virtual) and all the moments a living subject goes through (the actual).








Although not elaborated by Thiele, there are significant resonances to be explored here with








the dynamic ethical relation to the self of Foucault’s later work.















Nevertheless, a caution is required which highlights a potential limit to Thiele’s otherwise








excellent study. Thiele tends to play down the distance between Foucault and Deleuze – a








distance Eleanor Kaufmann has shown to have haunted Deleuze17 – referring primarily to








the former’s 1967 ‚Theatrum Philosophicum‛ in support of the significance of the latter’s








ethics. What is missing here is not simply a Foucauldian suspicion of the category of ‚life‛








(and of a politics of ‚desire‛ built upon it), but the deeper intuition of his later work –








highlighted by Judith Butler18 – that an immanent ethics must remain open to what is

















12








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 195ff.








13








Ibid.,199.








14








Ibid.,169.








15








Foucault’s final published work, ‚La vie: l’éxpérience et la science‛, was a revised version of his








introduction to Canguilhem’s Normal and Pathological, contributed to a volume devoted to the latter’s








work. See Michel Foucault, Dits et Écrits, 1954-1988, II. Ed. Daniel Defert and François Ewald. 2 Volumes








(Paris: Quarto Gallimard, 2001), 1582-1595.








16








Thiele, The Thought of Becoming, 172.








17








See Eleanor Kaufmann, The Delirium of Praise: Bataille, Blanchot, Deleuze, Foucault, Klossowski (Baltimore








and London: John Hopkins University Press, 2001), 77ff. Kaufmann argues that it is precisely ‚Foucault-








as-thought‛ that haunts Deleuze.








18








See Judith Butler, ‚What is Critique? An Essay on Foucault’s Virtue,‛ in David Ingram, ed., The Political:








Readings in Continental Philosophy (London: Basil Blackwell, 2002), 212-227








Foucault Studies, No. 8, pp. 169-173








173















radically ‚other,‛ even to possibilities which would appear to violate immanence (for








Foucault, the possibility that an ‚originary will‛ is necessary to freedom, or that Christian








mystical experience provides the matrix of modern critique, etc.), if such an ethics is to








recognise the ‚specificity‛ of its articulation of the ‛singular‛ and avoid subtly re-inscribing










a transcendental horizon of thought.19 Thought must ‚proceed by crises,‛ as Deleuze








acknowledged Foucault’s (and others’) thought to proceed,20 in a repeated placing in








question of the very possibility of thought, to the point, if necessary, of its radical








reconceptualization.















The Foucauldian challenge to Deleuze, then, is not primarily centred on any putative








‚utopianism‛ but more fundamentally on how his thought responds to the specificity, not








only of his strategy of exploring what a ‚body is capable of,‛ but of the conceptual








specificity, which such a strategy allows Deleuze to pursue (a ‚naive‛ pursuit of the








ontology of becoming, as Deleuze tended to describe it). How does Deleuze’s ‚becoming








thought‛ avoid setting the conceptual specificity of his articulation of the singular (e.g., of









the ontology developed through the Spinoza-Bergson-Nietzsche series) as a partial








(transcendental) limit that tends to reprioritise the oneness of being over multiplicity? It is








in this sense that, although, arguably, in significant part misplaced, the critique of Badiou








touches upon a significant question for a Deleuzian ethics. It is not that Deleuze’s thought








may well not have the resources to deal adequately with this question, but it would seem to








invite the possibility that the pursuit of a Deleuzian ethics may require of us to ‚move















somewhere else‛ again in relation to his becoming-thought, a grasping of how its








movement carries a Deleuzian ethics somewhere else beyond itself.21 One of the many








merits of Kathrin Thiele’s study is to have mapped the ethical movement of that thought in








all of its subtlety, sophistication and power.

















John McSweeney








Milltown Institute, Milltown Park








Sandford Road, Ranelagh








Dublin 6








Ireland 22

















19








Every effort to define conceptually the plane of the singular will, as a limited specific conceptualisation,








threaten to circumscribe the singular (event) in advance. See Michel Foucault, ‚What is Critique?‛in The








Politics of Truth, ed. Sylvère Lotringer (New York: Semiotext(e), 1997), 72-74.








20








Gilles Deleuze, Pourparlers, 1972-1990 (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1990), 142.








21








Perhaps, it is necessary to rediscover the seismic crises in Deleuze, that he considers to affect every








thought (see Deleuze, Pourparlers, 142), and that may be obscured by his later conception of a single plane








of thought; or, again, perhaps, it is necessary to ‚give‛ concepts to Deleuze, no more than he gives them








to Spinoza, Bergson and Nietzsche, to enable us to think immanently today with Deleuze beyond the








specificity of his context, concerns and concepts.