Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: “There is no ontology of Deleuze”

cosmic-decayThis is an excerpt from my forthcoming essay in parallax that provides a Deleuzian theory of the State by way of cinema, cultural studies, and rhetorical theory.

At stake for me is a method that proceeds by way of the “powers of the false” outlined in Deleuze’s Cinema 2. I find Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism to be fundamentally methodological, as it offers an analytic for distinguishing between those who use Deleuzian concepts (which must ‘maintain consistency’ even in transportation) and those who simply appropriate insights of his thought (e.g. the target of the essays, the sociologists of the Governmentality School, who are effectively postpositivists).

My defense of the false is methodological. Methodologically, I disagree with those scholars within Governmentality Studies who argue for a shallow definition of the state, which they justify through ‘brute’ empiricism. For these scholars, governmentality is strictly ‘an empirical mapping of governmental rationalities and techniques’ to ‘turn away from grand theory, the state, globalization, reflexive individualization, and the like’.[1] The type of empiricism they invoke is associated with social scientific research methods that use sample surveys, number crunching, and the statistical subject. Even as they are critical of the governmental techniques that result from similar methods, Governmentality Studies participates in a larger disciplinary project within sociology that relies on a particular configuration of realism, empiricism, and scientificity.[2]

Deleuze himself uses a reworked version of philosophical empiricism whereby ‘empiricism is a philosophy of the imagination and not a philosophy of the senses’.[3] Demonstrating the importance of the imagination, Deleuze readily draws on the literary works of Anglo-American writers to demonstrate the principles of his empiricism.[4] In his strictly philosophical work, it appears as the paradoxical formulation of a ‘transcendental empiricism’ as a philosophical alternative to Kant’s transcendental idealism, in which Deleuze separates the transcendental field from its empirical givenness to bypass the personal, individuated world of the subject.[5] Continue reading “Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism: “There is no ontology of Deleuze””


Hostis, Issue 2, Call for Papers: Beyond Recognition


Seeking recognition is always servile. We have little interest in visibility, consciousness raising, or populist pandering. Recognition always treats power as a give-and-take. On the one hand, the dispossessed use recognition as respite from exploitation; while on the other, the State expects its authority to be recognized as the first and final say. According to this logic: for the dispossessed to even get a step up, they must first acknowledge a higher power than themselves.

The particulars of our own time are even more obscene. Following the spread of economic rationality on a global scale, it is clear that the flow of forces has reversed. The State pornographically exposes its long-protected interior for others to abuse while lasciviously grooming what is beyond its regular reach. Recognition chastely reassures the State of its powers. All the while, the most banal State functions are farmed out to the highest bidder. So when their parking ticket is authored by a private corporation, those who seek recognition fall back on the State dictum that nothing good comes from the outside. Continue reading “Hostis, Issue 2, Call for Papers: Beyond Recognition”

Forget the Greeks

subjectivationAs many of you may know, there has been a trend in Foucault Studies to ponder over his late work on the Ancients. Some liberal Foucault scholars looked to him as a guru that offered an ethical system for a new form of life washed of the worries of power. While us radicals scoff at the so-called ‘ethical’ reading of Foucault, it is perhaps Deleuze who best dismisses such a reading.

Gilles Deleuze writes in his book Foucault, that:

If power is constitutive of truth, how can we conceive of a ‘power of truth’ which would no longer be the truth of power, a truth that would release transversal lines of resistance and not integral lines of power? How can we ‘cross the line’? And, if we must attain a life that is the power of the outside, what tells us that this outside is not a terrifying void and that this life, which seems to put up a resistance, is not just the simple distribution within the void of ‘slow, partial and progressive’ deaths?


What remains, then, except an anonymous life that shows up only when it clashes with power, argues with it, exchanges ‘brief and stridence words’, and then fades back into the night, what Foucault called ‘the life of infamous men’, whom he asked us to admire by virtue of ‘their misfortune, rage or uncertain madness’? … This culminated in The Use of Pleasure’s searing phrase: ‘to get free of oneself’. (94-95)


The redistribution or reorganization [found in the Greeks] takes place all on its own, or at least over a long period. For the relation to oneself will not remain the withdrawn and reserved zone of the free man, a zone independent of any ‘institutions and social system’. The relation to oneself will be understood int rems of power-relations and relations of knowledge. It will be reintegrated into these systems from which it was originally derived. The individual is coded or recorded within a ‘moral’ knowledge, and above all he becomes the stake in a power struggle and is diagrammatized.

The fold therefore seems unfolded, and the subjectivation of the free man is transformed into subjection: on the one hand it involved being ‘subject to someone else by control and dependence’, with all the processes of individuation and modulation which power installs, acts on the daily life and the interiority of those it calls its subjects; on the other it makes the subject ‘tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge’, through all the the techniques of moral and human science that go to make up a knowledge of the subject.n24 Simultaneously, sexuality becomes organized around certain focal points of power, gives rise to a ‘scientia sexualis’, and is integrated into an agency of ‘power-knowledge’, namely Sex (here [in The Uses of Pleasure,] Foucault returns to the analysis given in The History of Sexuality).

Must we conclude from this that the new dimension hollowed out by the Greeks disappears, an falls back on the two axes of knowledge and power? In that case we could go back to the Greeks and find a relation to oneself based on free individuality. but this is obviously not the case. There will always be a relation to oneself which resists codes and power; the relation to oneself is even one of the origins of these points of resistance which we have already discussed. For example, it would be wrong to reduce Christian moralities to their attempts at codification, and the pastoral power which they invoke, without also taking into account the ‘spiritual and ascetic movements’ or subjectivation that continued to develop before the Reformation (there are collective subjectivations).n25 It is not even enough to say that the latter resists the former; for there is a perpetuation communcatio between them, whether in terms of struggle or of composition. What must be stated, then, is that subjection, the relation to oneself, continues to create itself, but by transforming itself and changing its nature to the point where the Greek mode is a distant memory. Recuperated by power-relations and relations of knowledge, the relation to oneself is continually reborn, elsewhere and otherwise. (102-104)

Continue reading “Forget the Greeks”

Political Organ-izing against Organ-izations/isms

The body is the body.

Alone it stands.

And in no need of organs.

Organism it never is.

Organisms are the enemies of the body.

-Antonin Artaud, ‘The Body is a Body’

a. “The BwO howls: “They’ve made me an organism! They’ve wrongfully folded me! They’ve stolen my body!'” (ATP: 159)

As an image of thought, the idea of society or the world functioning as an organism is well sedimented.  In its stupidest form, it posits resemblance between the human body and society.  Just as various organisms interact to from an organism as a functional whole, it states, society is a totality stitched together by the cooperation of social institutions.

What is remarkable about the organismic approach is its prevalence, with a history that spans from Ancient and Classical thought, through the Middle Ages, and the modern period, to today.  In contemporary sociology, for instance, a complex version of the organismic metaphor still predominates.  Rather than simple resemblance, it poses a general theory of relationality, positing that relations of interiority between parts form an organic whole.  It is only by virtue of being part of a whole that any part exists.  And if that part were to be separated from the whole, it would lose its value and function.  While avoiding brute functionalism and an inability to understand conflict or difference, it still assumes crucial categories as givens (the social, the state, social classes, and individuals to name a few).  The result?  Social institutions are granted a miraculous existence, put on Earth by the grace of God.  And the idea of directing them away from contributing to the whole or ending their existence altogether is not only at the limit of thought, but offensive.

Continue reading “Political Organ-izing against Organ-izations/isms”