Apr 27, 2008


Hardt, M. Gilles Deleuze - An Apprenticeship in Philosophy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993 [link]


Hegel and the Foundations of Poststructuralism

Continental poststructuralism has problematized the foundations of philosophical and political thought. Perhaps dazzled by the impact of this theoretical rupture, diverse American authors have embraced this movement as the inauguration of a postphilosophical culture where philosophical claims and political judgments admit no justification and rest on no foundation. This problematic, however, settles too easily into a new opposition that obscures the real possibilities afforded by contemporary Continental theory. At the hands of both its supporters and its detractors, poststructuralism has been incorporated into a series of Anglo-American debates-between modernists and postmodernists, between communitarians and liberals-in such a way as to misdirect and blunt its force. The importance of poststructuralism cannot be captured by posing a new series of oppositions, but only by recognizing the nuances and alternatives it proposes within modernity, within the philosophical tradition, within the contemporary field of social practices. If we look closely at the historical development of poststructuralist thought, at the complex social and theoretical pressures it encountered and the tools it constructed to face them, we can recapture some of its critical and constructive powers. Poststructuralism, we find, is not oriented simply toward the negation of theoretical foundations, but rather toward the exploration of new grounds for philosophical and political inquiry; it is involved not simply in the rejection of the tradition of political and philosophical discourse, but more importantly in the articulation and affirmation of alternative lineages that arise from within the tradition itself.

The roots of poststructuralism and its unifying basis lie, in large part, in a general opposition not to the philosophical tradition tout court but specifically to the Hegelian tradition. For the generation of Continental thinkers that came to maturity in the 1960s, Hegel was the figure of order and authority that served as the focus of antagonism. Deleuze speaks for his entire cohort: “What I detested above all was Hegelianism and the dialectic” (“Lettre à Michel Cressole” 110). In order to appreciate this antagonism, however, we must realize that, in the domain of Continental theory during this period, Hegel was ubiquitous. As a result of influential interpretations by theorists as diverse as Kojève, Gramsci, Sartre, and Bobbio, Hegel had come to dominate the theoretical horizon as the ineluctable centerpiece of philosophical speculation, social theory, and political practice. In 1968, it appeared to François Châtelet that every philosopher had to begin with Hegel: “[Hegel] determined a horizon, a language, a code that we are still at the very heart of today. Hegel, by this fact, is our Plato: the one who delimits-ideologically or scientifically, positively or negatively-the theoretical possibilities of theory” (Hegel 2). Any account of Continental poststructuralism must take this framework of generalized Hegelianism as its point of departure.

The first problem of poststructuralism, then, is how to evade a Hegelian foundation. In order to understand the extent of this problem, however, we have to recognize the serious restrictions facing such a project in the specific social and historical context. Châtelet argues, in curiously dialectical fashion, that the only viable project to counter Hegelianism is to make Hegel the negative foundation of philosophy. Those who neglect the initial step of addressing and actively rejecting Hegel, he claims, those who attempt simply to turn their backs on Hegel, run the risk of ending up as mere repetitions of the Hegelian problematic. “Certainly, there are many contemporary philosophical projects that ignore Hegelianism…. They are dealing with the false meaning of absolute beginnings, and, moreover, they deprive themselves of a good point of support. It is better-like Marx and Nietzsche-to begin with Hegel than to end up with him” (4). Hegelianism was such a powerful vortex that in attempting to ignore it one would inevitably be sucked in by its power. Only anti-Hegelianism provided the negative point of support necessary for a post-Hegelian or even a non-Hegelian project.

From this point of view, the early works of Gilles Deleuze are exemplary of the entire generation of poststructuralist thinkers. In his early investigations into the history of philosophy we can see an intense concentration of the generalized anti-Hegelianism of the time. Deleuze attempted to confront Hegeland dialectical thought head-on, as Châtelet said one must, with a rigorous philosophical refutation; he engaged Hegelianism not in order to salvage its worthwhile elements, not to extract “the rational kernel from the mystical shell, ” but rather to articulate a total critique and a rejection of the negative dialectical framework so as to achieve a real autonomy, a theoretical separation from the entire Hegelian problematic. The philosophers that Deleuze selects as partisans in this struggle (Bergson, Nietzsche, and Spinoza) appear to allow him successive steps toward the realization of this project. Many recent critics of French poststructuralism, however, have charged that the poststructuralists did not understand Hegel and, with a facile anti-Hegelianism, missed the most powerful thrust of his thought. 1 Deleuze is the most important example to consider in this regard because he mounts the most focused and precise attack on Hegelianism. Nonetheless, perhaps since this cultural and philosophical paradigm was so tenacious, the attempted deracination from the Hegelian terrain is not immediately successful. We find that Deleuze often poses his project not only in the traditional language of Hegelianism but also in terms of typical Hegelian problems-the determination of being, the unity of the One and the Multiple, and so on. Paradoxically, in his effort to establish Hegel as a negative foundation for his thought, Deleuze may appear to be very Hegelian.

If Hegelianism is the first problem of poststructuralism, then, anti-Hegelianism quickly presents itself as the second. In many respects, Hegelianism is the most difficult of adversaries because it possesses such an extraordinary capacity to recuperate opposition. Many Anglo-American authors, seeking to discount the rupture of Continental poststructuralism, have rightly emphasized this dilemma. Judith Butler presents the challenge for anti-Hegelians in very clear terms: “References to a 'break' with Hegel are almost always impossible, if only because Hegel has made the very notion of 'breaking with' into the central tenet of his dialectic” (Subjects of Desire 184). It may seem, then, from this perspective, that to be anti-Hegelian, through a dialectical twist, becomes a position more Hegelian than ever; in effect, one might claim that the effort to be an “other” to Hegel can always be folded into an “other” within Hegel. There is in fact a growing literature that extends this line of argument, claiming that the work of contemporary anti-Hegelians consists merely in unconscious repetitions of Hegelian dramas without the power of the Hegelian subject and the rigor and clarity of the Hegelian logic. 2

The problem of recuperation that faces the anti-Hegelian foundation of poststructuralism offers a second and more important explanation for our selection of Deleuze in this study Although numerous authors have made important contributions to our critique of Hegel, Deleuze has gone the furthest in extricating himself from the problems of anti-Hegelianism and constructing an alternative terrain for thought-no longer post-Hegelian but rather separate from the problem of Hegel. If our first reason for proposing Deleuze as an exemplary poststructuralist thinker was that he is representative of the antagonism to Hegelianism, our second is that he is anomalous in his extension of that project away from Hegel toward a separate, alternative terrain. There are two central elements of this passage that Deleuze develops in different registers and on different planes of thought: a nondialectical conception of negation and a constitutive theory of practice. We cannot understand these elements, I repeat, if we merely oppose them to Hegelian conceptions of negation and practice. We must recognize their nuances and pose them on an alternative plane. These two themes, then, negation and practice, understood with their new forms, comprise the foundation of the new terrain that post-structuralism has to offer for philosophical and political thought, a terrain for contemporary research.

Let us briefly examine the general outlines of these two central elements of Deleuze's project. The concept of negation that lies at the center of dialectical thought seems to pose the most serious challenge for any theory that claims to be anti- or post-Hegelian. “Nondialectical difference, ” Judith Butler writes, “despite its various forms, is the labor of the negative which has lost its 'magic'” (184). The nondialectical concept of negation that we find in Deleuze's total critique certainly contains none of the magical effect of the dialectic. The dialectical negation is always directed toward the miracle of resurrection: It is a negation “which supersedes in such a way as to preserve and maintain what is superseded, and consequently survives its own supersession” (Phenomenology of Spirit §188). Nondialectical negation is more simple and more absolute. With no faith in the beyond, in the eventual resurrection, negation becomes an extreme moment of nihilism: In Hegelian terms, it points to the death of the other. Hegel considers this pure death, “the absolute Lord, ” merely an abstract conception of negation; in the contemporary world, however, the absolute character of negation has become dreadfully concrete, and the magical resurrection implicit in the dialectical negation appears merely as superstition. Nondialectical negation is absolute not in the sense that everything present is negated but in that what is negated is attacked with full, unrestrained force. On the one hand, authors like Deleuze propose this nondialectical concept of negation not in the promotion of nihilism, but merely as the recognition of an element of our world. We can situate this theoretical position in relation to the field of “nuclear criticism, ” but not in the sense that nuclear weapons pose the threat of negation, not in the sense that they pose the universal fear of death: This is merely the “standing negation” of a Hegelian framework, preserving the given order. The negation of the bomb is nondialectical in its actuality, not in the planning rooms of Washington but in the streets of Hiroshima, as an agent of total destruction. There is nothing positive in the nondialectical negation, no magical resurrection: It is pure. On the other hand, with an eye toward the philosophical tradition, we can locate this radical conception of negation in the methodological proposals of certain Scholastic authors such as Roger Bacon. The pure negation is the first moment of a precritical conception of critique: pars destruens, pars construens. The important characteristics are the purity and autonomy of the two critical moments. Negation clears the terrain for creation; it is a bipartite sequence that precludes any third, synthetic moment. Thus we can at least gesture toward solid grounds for this radical, nondialectical negation: It is as new as the destructive force of contemporary warfare and as old as the precritical skepticism of the Scholastics.

The radicality of negation forces Deleuze to engage questions of the lowest order, questions of the nature of being. Deleuze's total critique involves a destruction so absolute that it becomes necessary to question what makes reality possible. We should emphasize that, on one hand, the rejection of Hegelian ontology does not lead Deleuze to some form of deontological thought. Although he denies any preconstituted structure of being or any ideological order of existence, Deleuze still operates on the highest planes of ontological speculation. Once again, to reject Hegelian ontology is not to reject ontology tout court. Deleuze insists instead on alternatives within the ontological tradition. On the other hand, however, we should be careful from the outset to distinguish this from a Heideggerian return to ontology, most importantly because Deleuze will only accept “superficial” responses to the question “What makes being possible?” In other words, he limits us to a strictly immanent and materialist ontological discourse that refuses any deep or hidden foundation of being. There is nothing veiled or negative about Deleuze's being; it is fully expressed in the world. Being, in this sense, is superficial, positive, and full. Deleuze refuses any “intellectualist” account of being, any account that in any way subordinates being to thought, that poses thinking as the supreme form of being. 3 There are numerous contributions to this project of a materialist ontology throughout the history of philosophy-such as Spinoza, Marx, Nietzsche, and Lucretius-and we will refer to them in our discussion to provide illustrative points of reference. We will focus, however, on Deleuze's constitutive conception of practice as a foundation of ontology. The radical negation of the nondialectical pars destruens emphasizes that no preconstituted order is available to define the organization of being. Practice provides the terms for a material pars construens; practice is what makes the constitution of being possible. The investigation of the nature of power allows Deleuze to bring substance to the materialist discourse and to raise the theory of practice to the level of ontology. The foundation of being, then, resides both on a corporeal and on a mental plane, in the complex dynamics of behavior, in the superficial interactions of bodies. This is not an Althusserian “theoretical practice, ” but rather a more practical conception of practice, autonomous of any “theoricist tendency, ” a “practical practice” that is oriented principally toward the ontological rather than the epistemological realm. The only nature available to ontological discourse is an absolutely artificial conception of nature, a hybrid nature, a nature produced in practice-further removed than a second nature, an nth nature. This approach to ontology is as new as the infinitely plastic universe of cyborgs and as old as the tradition of materialist philosophy. What will be important throughout our discussion is that the traditionally fundamental terms-such as necessity, reason, nature, and being-though shaken from their transcendental fixity, still serve as a foundation because they acquire a certain consistency and substance in our world. Being, now historicized and materialized, is delimited by the outer bounds of the contemporary imagination, of the contemporary field of practice.

I elaborate these conceptions of nondialectical negation and constitutive practice in Deleuze's work by reading the evolution of his thought, that is, by following the progression of critical questions that guide his investigations during successive periods. The evolution of Deleuze's thought unfolds as he directs his attention sequentially to a series of authors in the philosophical canon and poses them each a specific question. His work on Bergson offers a critique of negative ontology and proposes in its stead an absolutely positive movement of being that rests on an efficient and internal notion of causality. To the negative movement of determination, he opposes the positive movement of differentiation; to the dialectical unity of the One and the Multiple, he opposes the irreducible multiplicity of becoming. The question of the organization or the constitution of the world, however, of the being of becoming, pushes Deleuze to pose these ontological issues in ethical terms. Nietzsche allows him to transpose the results of ontological speculation to an ethical horizon, to the field of forces, of sense and value, where the positive movement of being becomes the affirmation of being. The thematic of power in Nietzsche provides the theoretical passage that links Bergsonian ontology to an ethics of active expression. Spinoza covers this same passage and extends it to practice. Just as Nietzsche poses the affirmation of speculation, Spinoza poses the affirmation of practice, or joy, at the center of ontology. Deleuze argues that Spinoza's is an ontological conception of practice; Spinoza conceives practice, that is, as constitutive of being. In the precritical world of Spinoza's practical philosophy, Deleuze's thought finally discovers a real autonomy from the Hegelian problematic.

One lesson to be learned from this philosophical project is to highlight the nuances that define an antagonism. Once we stop clouding the issue with crude oppositions and recognize instead the specificity of an antagonism, we can begin to bring out finer nuances in our terminology. For example, when I pose the question of the foundations of poststructuralist thought I mean to contest the claim that this thought is properly characterized as antifoundationalism. To pose the issue as an exclusive opposition is, in effect, to credit the enemy with too much force, with too much theoretical terrain. Poststructuralism does critique a certain notion of foundation, but only to affirm another notion that is more adequate to its ends. Against a transcendental foundation we find an immanent one; against a given, teleological foundation we find a material, open one. 4 A similar nuance must be made in our discussion of causality. When we look closely at Deleuze's critique of causality we find not only a powerful rejection of the final cause and the formal cause, but also an equally powerful affirmation of the efficient cause as central to his philosophical project. Deleuze's ontology draws on the tradition of causal arguments and develops notions of both being's “productivity” and its “producibility, ” that is, of its aptitudes to produce and to be produced. I will argue that efficient causality, in fact, provides a key to a coherent account of Deleuze's entire discourse on difference. The nuances in the use of “foundation” and “causality” are perhaps best summarized by the distinction between order and organization. By the order of being, of truth, or of society I intend the structure imposed as necessary and eternal from above, from outside the material scene of forces; I use organization, on the other hand, to designate the coordination and accumulation of accidental (in the philosophical sense, i.e., nonnecessary) encounters and developments from below, from within the immanent field of forces. In other words, I do not conceive of organization as a blueprint of development or as the projected vision of an avant-garde, but rather as an immanent creation or composition of a relationship of consistency and coordination. In this sense, organization, the composition of creative forces, is always an art.

Throughout this study we will encounter unresolved problems and propositions that are powerfully suggestive but perhaps not clearly and rigorously delimited. We do not look to Deleuze here, however, simply to find the solutions to contemporary theoretical problems. More important, we inquire into his thought in order to investigate the proposals of a new problematic for research after the poststructuralist rupture, to test our footing on a terrain where new grounds of philosophical and political thought are possible. What we ask of Deleuze, above all, is to teach us the contemporary possibilities of philosophy.

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