by Steven Craig Hickman
As I’ve been reading Joshua Ramey’s work The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and the Spiritual Ordeal I kept asking myself: Why am I interested in such a book? What does it truly say about Deleuze? I know that Deleuze pushed the limits of philosophical speculation, that he was very much an independent thinker, who was schooled and trained in the disciplines of a stringent academic world; yet, he formulated an aesthetic philosophy that followed the fine lines between material anorganic and organic life, its affective relations, its uncanny demarcations in the nerve center of time. Even his concepts of time are not our normal ones.
I still return to Ray Brassier’s Nihil Unbound with its unique reading of Deleuze from time to time. The thing about Brassier’s writing is its density, its weight, which forces one to return again and again, to repeat the process of ingesting little nuggets rather than chewing the cud of the whole discursive cow in one sitting. Brassier presents a Deleuze as a philosopher of Time, a psychonaut of the fly lines of temporal differentiation (NU 162).1 This is the being qua time of Deleuze’s ontological univocity. Yet, as Brassier notes the modality of this being is of a special type, because of his reinterpretation of univocity is brought under the sway of time what we get in Deleuze is a “modality of individuation, that of the psyche” (163). It is just here that Deleuze formulates what Brassier terms a third sense of time based on Freud’s ‘death-instinct’: the psyche is the battlefield of immanent forces in which “individuation becomes fully potentiated as the differentiator of difference” (163).
Brassier makes a point that we should not see in this use of the ‘death-instinct’ any sense of a return to the inorganic in Deleuze, instead for Deleuze ‘Death has nothing to do with a Material Model!’ (163). It is here that we come to Deleuze’s third sense of time. As Brassier notes for Deleuze there is a fine line between death as a “bare objective repetition and death as an ‘intensive’ form of subjective individuation” (163). The psyche when confronted with this ‘intensive’ form of death acknowledges it not as a form of the physical material world, but as the “empty form of time” itself (163). Brassier commenting on this says:
“Thus though he suspends consciousness’s transcendental privileges, Deleuze turns thinking into the privileged locus for an apocalyptic individuation whereby, in a striking re-inscription of Heidegger, the future ‘ungrounds’ the past and death becomes the subject of a time that splits the self. Ultimately, for Deleuze, death, like time, is no-one’s” (163).
Brassier then describes the audacity of Deleuze in Difference and Repetition where he not only invokes Kant’s first Critique but rewrites it in his own colors. We already know that in his early work Kant’s Critical Philosophy that for Deleuze it is the third Critique of Judgment in which aesthetics take priority that he found a more congenial companion to his own project. It is in this work that we discover the power of reflective judgment that entails a movement of knowledge to desire, and speculative interest to practical that “prepares the subordination of the former to the latter” (67), and allows the influx of death as the empty form of time (finality) to produce from within nature the realization of freedom. So we are not surprised when Brassier sees Deleuze folding the Transcendental Dialectic into the Transcendental Aesthetic. Nor are we surprised when we see Deleuze supplanting the mediating role of the Transcendental Analytic “by an account of spatio-temporal individuation which provides the sufficient reason for a non-conceptual synthesis of reason and sensibility” (163). Death as the empty form of time emerges within the split subject as the creative force that causes both the suture and the synthesis of reason within sense. As Brassier states it Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism “treats the concept (i.e., the Idea as virtual multiplicity) as the object of an encounter which is no longer governed by the logic of recognition: thus Deleuze declares ‘concepts are the things themselves, but things in their free and untamed state, beyond ‘anthropological predicates’ (164).
Joshua Ramey adds to this discourse on time, saying, “the mental or ideal time in which the meanings of a death are played and replayed is not linear and sequential, but aberrant and discontinuous, the effect of life’s being embedded in a relativity and an intensity proper to different experiences and different overlapping series of sense” (KL 2261). In the Logic of Sense Deleuze will call this the time of Aion, which Ramey describes as follows, saying,
Since Aion’s characteristic is to elude the continuity of experience, it is the time of non-sense. Yet, Deleuze argues, Aion’s non-sense deeply and powerfully haunts the good sense of Chronos: Aion insists in the interstice of the instant, dividing the present from itself. This interstice is not the “passing” of the present as we live it, but a point that marks the present as present without itself passing. (Kindle Locations 2264-2267).
Or, as Deleuze himself tells us: “Plato rightly said that the instant is atopon, without place. It is the paradoxical instance or the aleatory point, the nonsense of the surface and the quasi-cause. It is the pure movement of abstraction whose role is, primarily, to divide and subdivide every present in both directions at once, into past-future, upon the line of Aion” (LS, 166).
This Wild Empiricism – as I like to call it, brings reason and sense together in that strange realm of the conceptual and the aesthetic, one that brings art to the center of the Deleuzean vision for philosophical speculation. This brings me back to Joshua Ramey’s work in which he seeks to understand Deleuze’s involvement with modernist art. ”
Many early twentieth-century artists were obsessed with “primitive” artifacts-masks, weapons, ceremonial objects-from animist and shamanic cultures. Yet if there is a kind of “spiritualism” of forces of line and color in painting, music, theater, and visual art, for Deleuze this is not so much a reflection of the reality of the supernatural as an intimation of forces that haunt nature from within.2
I do not think the Deleuze sees these forces as haunting nature so much as they show forth the wildness at the heart of the natural order. I think we as humans have tamed nature and what we call the forces of the natural order to the point of extinction, and a part of this taming process was the creation of religion. Religion from its earliest roots in both Shamanic (ecstatic) and in its Voodouan (immanent) forms has tamed the forces that work within the natural order of which we too are members (*see note). As Ramey states it: “the hermeticism of Deleuze’s take on the arts is reflected in how he sees artists as visionaries, as seers who develop the rites and conditions under which the arcane forces of matter itself can be revealed” (KL 2018-2020).
Deleuze’s fascination with modern artists brings the idea of a wild empiricism that unites an earthy primitivism into the heart of philosophical speculation. As Ramey shows us, Deleuze’s appreciation found in the writings of Henri Michaux, Artaud, Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Stockhausen, aesthetic discipline in quest of an intensified spirituality is an explicit goal. He goes on to say:
It is in part Deleuze and Guattari’s profound regard for these artists that place their own work in proximity to the hermetic, philosophical impulse-present in Cusa, Bruno, Spinoza, and others – to cultivate vision, even to establish, through philosophical syntax, the ritualistic, pragmatic contexts under which psychic and somatic transformation is made actual. With their affirmation of a “plane of immanence” that must be laid out and traversed, Deleuze and Guattari develop a thought that both invites and relies on participants whose exact natures are not known in advance, but appear in uncanny acts of mediation. (Kindle Locations 2024-2029).
Having studied enthnopharmacology and ethnobotany in relation to material religious practices as both a historical and multiethnic discipline I feel confident that we have barely scratched the surface of our knowledge of the human mind and its defensive systems against the truth of the real. I still believe that in the future philosophy will grow wilder and more speculative, but this wildness will merge with a new form of science that is willing to explore more and more of reality that is still bound to an outmoded cultural and ethical world of mores and customs that disallows certain forms of thought as extravagant and dangerous. Very few philosophers work beyond the staid and trusted paths of historical philosophy. Someday I hope to see philosophers that are willing to truly step out of the shadows of the mundane truly test the waters of the real with new tools and visions.
It seems that the dilemma of philosophy is at the two extremes: on one side you have the Scientific lot who want to subsume everything under the sign of science and respectability, have consultations of peer review and academic enforcement; while, on the other hand, you have the independents, the rogue philosophers who wander on the fringe of academia, spouting their strange speculative notions, ideas, thoughts hoping someone within the academy will hear them, read them, notice that yes, they too have thoughts worth being incorporated into the main stream. But where is the third path, the path of the mavericks of our world, the ones on the frontiers edge, the ones who discover or invent the way forward? What place do they have? If we listen to Foucault, we know that many of these fall by the way side because there ideas do not fit into the discourse of their day, so never see the light, never become a part of the world of scholarship. Yet, as we know, such strange thought still persists, still rises out of the historical matrix from time to time. Is this not what the hermetic strain in our culture is? And, I do not mean the occult new age world, I speak of that strange world of renegade scholars that have throughout history formulated dangerous thoughts, seen things on the fringe, discovered aspects of the real that others either could not understand or could not bare. As T.S. Eliot once said: “Humans cannot bare too much reality.”
What about you? Will you be one of those mavericks? One of those who bucks the system, who rises beyond the staid and conservative, the academically respectable, and forge a new philosophy, a new wildness? In my own respect I have always felt that we need invert religion, not worship these forces as something objective, as powers in their own right; but, instead to understand that these powers are the intensive energies of our own immanent worlds, the forces of death and time working within the real that are neither sublime nor grotesque, but just are as they are; and, more than that, they are us as we are in our selves. Religion is not some mystical mumbo jumbo, it is a very material practice that over centuries lost its roots in practice and turned to ritual and drama instead of experiential embodiment. Until we can overcome our own prejudices toward these very earthly practices we will never grow as a culture or society, nor shall we ever discover the way forward for our sciences or philosophies. This is why we need such speculators as Deleuze, and why his wild empiricism is still unfinished, still awaiting its epigones.
Ramey describes how Deleuze with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus use the figure of the Smith, a metallurgist, to describe the no-man’s land between organic and inorganic matter they describe as the “machinic phylum, a constellation of singularities prolongable by certain operations, which converge, and make the operations converge, upon one or several assignable traits of expression” (ATP, 406). These smiths are defined by “their relation to others results from their internal itinerancy, from their own vague essences, and not the reverse” (ATP, 415). Ramey describes the process by which these smiths were shaped as (following Husserl) being formed from “ambulant coupling [s] ” with his notion of anexact essence (ATP, 408). For Husserl anexact essence was neither prime matter, nor a sensible object, but something between the two: what Deleuze and Guattari would call an ‘affect-event’: a transformation taking place in matter that is not yet the imposition of a form, and yet is inseparable from expressive or intensive quantities.
What both the smith reveals through his transformational processes is the truth of matter at the limits:
“…a single phylogenetic lineage, a single machinic phylum, ideally continuous: the flow of matter-movement, the flow of matter in continuous variation, conveying singularities and traits of expression. This operative and expressive flow is as much artificial as natural: it is like the unity of human beings and Nature. But at the same time, it is not realized in the here and now without dividing, differentiating. We will call an assemblage every constellation of singularities and traits deducted from the flow-selected, organized, stratified-in such a way as to converge (consistency) artificially and naturally; an assemblage, in this sense, is a veritable invention. (ATP,406)
The figures of the smith as Cosmic Artisan provides Deleuze with an aesthetic approach to life and art that tries to first eliminate clichéd figures and stereotyped narratives in order to capture the imperceptible and the indiscernible, and to make new worlds from them, thereby incorporating the aleatory traces of those forces in matter that are the kernel of sense-datum. What these transformative processes of the smith, artist, and muscian produce is the figures that provide the “conditions under which the arts produce affects of stone and metal, of strings and wind, of line and color, on a plane of composition of a universe” (win, 66).
Ultimately what we discovers is that “Art and philosophy crosscut the chaos and confront it, but it is not the same sectional plane; it is not populated in the same way. In the one there is the constellation of a universe or affects and percepts; and in the other, constitutions of immanence or concepts. Art thinks no less than philosophy, but it thinks through affects and percepts” (win, 66). Artworks become the site where both the conceptual and non-conceptual intraact within a continuum that is a machinic phylum producing “new modes of sensible and affective engagement within the world as multiplicity, clueing us in to the potencies of our existence in and as a massive, open-ended machinic phylum on which new possible assemblages can be constructed” (KL 2232).
As Ramey states it: “these stakes are nothing less than the ultimate prospects of cosmic and psychic reintegration. They are also, at least in the hermetic tradition, the spiritual stakes of philosophy itself, which explains why Deleuze incorporates a certain cosmic dimension into his account of philosophy as “the creation of concepts. (KL 2240 )” He concludes this segment, saying,
“Conceptual creation takes place on the basis of conceptual personae to the degree that philosophy precipitates forces of affect and percept into thought. Contact with cosmic forces becomes the basis on which thought thinks an always incomplete incorporation of historical, mythic, and biopsychic dimensions. Encompassing art, science, and philosophy, Deleuze’s vision thus constitutes a distinctly contemporary hermeticism.”(Kindle Locations 2243-2245).
*(This is not the place for me to grapple with my own research into the history of religions and religious practice, but I will admit that over the years I’ve come to accept a naturalist perspective onto religion – yet, not one that is reductionary, and derogatory toward religious practices; but, one that sees in these practices deep seated human needs, both ethical and political, that have bound humans and the natural world together in a material cultural matrix that we should incorporate into our philosophical spectrum rather than anathematizing if we are ever to find a path forward.)
1. Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound Enlightenement and Extinction. ( Palgrave McMillan 2007)
2. Joshua Ramey. The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal (Kindle Locations 2015-2017). Kindle Edition.
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