Reading D&G: Learning

Nate over at An Un-canny Ontology responded to my brief comments on his blog, so I have left another comment that I have pasted below with some additional material from Albert Toscano’s excellent preface to Eric Alliez’s Signature of the World:

Nate, to understand the ‘concept’ of the concept I suggest you read Eric Alliez’s The Signature of the World. Concepts are events, repeated in different ways, for sure, but each use of a concept has an intensive — not necessarily extensive — consistency with the series of differentially repeated concept-events (G: objet petit whatever + D: dark precursor become D&G: desiring machine becomes abstract machine, many philosophers and others have mapped these shifts in D&G’s work). Therefore, to use a concept effectively means apprehending the problematics that lead to the creation of the concept. You have a problematic and whoever created the concept has a problematic. Are they congruent? How do they vary?

To use a concept means following the event-series. The event-series is a map of the problematics for which it was created and deployed. When D&G talk about the artisan working on wood or whatever, the philosopher follows a similar path, but instead of knots in the wood, he or she follows singularities rendered consistent in discourse (if not method). For example, I had to read Whitehead to understand The Fold, read Kant to understand basically any of Deleuze’s earlier solo-authored works, read Lacan to understand Guattari’s solo-authored works and so on. Toscano in his introduction to Alliez’s SotW:

Deleuze, in Difference & Repetition, subtracts apprenticeship, or learning, from the representational logic of instruction, making it into a matter of the sub-representational contemplation or, better, contraction, of singularities, into the ability to extract a material shematism, or spatio-temporal dynamism, out of one’s encounter with what he elsewhere terms, following Blanchot, the outside of thought.

So it is not a question of making claims about what D&G are ‘really’ stating or not (which is a neo-Platonic model of truth ie, here is the ‘real’ D&G that through my majesty as the Oedipalised Master ‘I’ shall reveal to you), but apprehending the problematic that led to the creation of concepts. This is a material and time intensive process, which in the simplest description means understanding the philosophical context in which D&G, D or G or whoever was working. Hence my brief gesture, out of philosophical friendship regarding the emergence of the concept of desiring machines in the work of Guattari.

Using concepts without this grounding is a problem, a bad problem, not a good one! Normally those reading and using D&G’s work learn this the hard way, maybe the hard way is necessary, I don’t know. Again, Toscano:

As Deleuze writes: ‘There is no more a method for learning than there is a method for finding treasures, but a violent training, a culture or paideia which affects the entire individual […]. Method is the means that knowledge which regulates the collaboration of all the faculties. It is therefore the manifestation of a common sense or the realisation of a Cogitatio natura, and presupposes a good will as though this were a “premediated decision” of the thinker. Culture, however, is an involuntary adventure [see my previous post about stairs!] , the movement of learning which links sensibility, a memory and then a thought, with all the cruelties and violence necessary…’ Learning, and the indirect apprenticeship that a commentary constitutes, are thus not vanishing mediators between an initial situation of non-knowledge or ignorance and a final state of completed – which is to say representable – knowledge. Instead, as the constitution or invention of a determinate or differentiated problematic field, learning is the very essence of philosophy as an experience of construction whose concern is not with the production of stable propositions in a present voided of virtuality or becoming. As a truly transcendental exercise, learning (and the commentary as one of the guises learning takes) eschews the empirical actuality of a solution, endeavouring instead to link the subjectivity of the apprentice (or the commentator) to ‘the singular points of the objective in order to form a problematic field’. Rather than as a mediator between the (ignorant) reader and the (final) text or doctrine, a commentary can thus be conceived as a novel problematization of the ideal connections that define a particular philosophical object, a repetition of the text that does not seek to identify its theses as much as turn heterogeneity into consistency, uniting differences to differences, and open the work in question both to the ‘empty time’ of Aion of the event and to the specific virtualities of a contemporary situation.

The point -> OOO’s ‘object’ does not relate in any way to the problematic that the concept of the ‘desiring machine’ was developed to engage with. On this point, Levy should know this and considering he is the one tracking use of OOO in the interwebs he should be working on helping you as someone interested in reading this to avoid pitfalls when working with D&G and OOO. Were my comments purposefully discouraging? YES. In what world do you think all pedagogical discourse should be ‘encouraging’?

‘Lines of flight’ similarly has a specific conceptual context. It is a movement between two planes of consistency (or between two moments of the BwO to use the AO terminology). For example, a line of flight in your case would require you to look within and beyond the grad student persona and recompose yourself as something else.
Forget ‘ideas’, or making links between them, think about the materiality of concepts and the conditions that can make the material ideational, then make material connections to understand ideational relations.

Yes, Levi’s split objects. I prefer Deleuze’s baroque house. See Hélène Frichot’s essay, “Stealing into Deleuze’s Baroque House” from the edited collection, Deleuze and Space. Beyond superficial reasons such as intellectual fads and the like, I am not sure why OOO is happy to restrict itself to the ontology of objects, when D&G developed a far richer ontology of events.

Anon, I don’t separate epistemology and ontology in practice. Epistemology is not a simple ‘knowing’ of the world but the material conditions of possibility of knowing, too. The conditions of possibility of knowing are necessarily ontological. Additionally, to approach it from the other side, if claims are being made about the world, such claims are also necessarily epistemological, even if they are ontological claims, otherwise they couldn’t be made as such.

3 thoughts on “Reading D&G: Learning”

  1. I share many of your concerns about OOO and Levi’s particular (but not absolute) tendencies towards the monomaniacal/a-historical, but there really are limits to debate, as D&G often pointed out, so I would suggest building the best (most attractive) baroque house that you can and see who/what comes to roost, rather than trampling on the tinkerings (how better to learn?) of grad-students.

  2. dmf, thank you for your concern. My intention is not to trample on the work of grad students. I hope everyone who reads my blog will appreciate the sentiment of that statement.

    As I have clearly stated, and stated a number of times over now over a number of years, I genuinely do not understand how OOO is a useful approach to much else besides appreciating the simplest of objects. As soon as OOO thinkers attempt to move away from simple objects far more sophisticated methods of analysis are available. Why would any thinker want to restrict themselves in the way that OOO seems to encourage? I find it troubling!

    Levi, yes, a special case. I found his blog far more interesting years ago, before OOO.

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