On the 20th anniversary of the death of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, LARB’s philosophy/critical theory editor Arne De Boever and Brad Evans invited several Deleuze scholars to reflect on the continued importance of Deleuze’s life and work today.
HOW MIGHT WE THINK about the death of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as we mark the 20th anniversary of his suicide? Or, to put it another way: If one’s death is simply a personal event in the chronological order of things — the inevitable unfolding of our limited time on earth — how might we now write about Deleuze’s life, his influence since his death, and the at times troubling canonization of Deleuze as a singular figure in the history of thought? It is tempting to go even further: What might be said about Deleuze today that hasn’t already been said many times before?
In his work, Deleuze argued that the sole aim of philosophy was to become “worthy of the event.” This raises the question of whether one could have a philosophy and by extension a politics adequate to the conditions of the event. For Deleuze, the event marks a rupture in the continuity of one’s historical experiences. Events are by definition untimely. An event is time “out of joint.” From this perspective, the event has no evident starting point or terminus. While some may argue that the significance of an event must be measured quantitatively (for example, by how many people are affected by it), one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of the qualitatively singular. What about the event of Deleuze’s work? Many were affected by it. But what is the singularity of his thought? Does it continue to resonate today? How?
One of Deleuze’s most compelling ideas is that resistance is a creative act. Deleuze insisted that when power takes life to be its object — as appears to be the case today — resistance to power puts itself on the side of a creative life against power. For those who resist, “life as a political object was in a sense taken at face value and turned back against the system bent on controlling it.” Life therefore becomes a creative life of resistance. A creative living on, even after one has died. But what kind of life, creation, resistance?
In a short text titled “The Exhausted,” Deleuze explains how exhaustion is fundamentally different from being tired with something. With reference to characters that populate the work of Samuel Beckett, Deleuze argues that exhaustion implies the exhaustion of all possibilities. It is to be done with all possibilities in a current state of affairs. This is not however a cause for lament. Exhaustion is fundamental to the creation of new subjects: it is only once all possibilities have become exhausted that something truly new can come about. It seems a creative life of resistance can only come about through exhaustion.
Of course, exhaustion can also turn into defeat. We may succumb to an illusion of freedom while our lives remain connected to life-support systems that render us catatonic, keep us alive until the point of death (the power over life that was mentioned above). This is something that could be said about certain elements of Deleuze scholarship today, which at times appears to lie defeated in the realization that all possibilities of Deleuze’s work may have been exhausted. However, to feel exhausted by Deleuze, and the Deleuzians, may not be a bad thing. It might also mean we can return to Deleuze’s books from a new angle. The possibilities may have been exhausted within existing images of thought — within the image of the world we have created for ourselves — but the ability to think otherwise remains open. Other images — of thought, of the world — are possible.
Holding onto that idea alone is a good enough reason to celebrate the life of Deleuze: the resistance of his exhausted living on.
Brad Evans’s recent publications have included Disposable Futures: The Seduction of Violence in the Age of Spectacle (with Henry Giroux, Citylights 2015), Resilient Life: The Art of Living Dangerously (with Julian Reid, Polity Press, 2014), & Liberal Terror (Polity Press, 2013).