Friday, February 18, 2022

A Thousand Plateaus, Introduction

[I was planing to read What is Philosophy but quickly realized the text was making heavy use of concepts from this book, of which my 15-year-old recollection is fuzzy. So instead I will reread this book (and take better notes) first, arguably a bit of an ambitious undertaking.]

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, (1987 [1980]) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Summary of Translator's Foreword: Pleasures of Philosophy

by Brian Massumi


Massumi emphasizes the contrast between "state philosophy" or representational thinking, and Deleuze and Guattari's project of "nomad thought" which this book is an example of, or a toolset for. State thinking is described in ways very evocative of Aristotle's categories (exclusivity, hierarchy), and also Plato's forms (ideals in relation to which objects, etc. are organized/referred.) According to Massumi (and presumably Deleuze, he is referencing Difference and Repetition), the whole history of the modern university, and of modern philosophy, is about normalizing the state (my paraphrase) and getting policemen into people's heads. 

Massumi states that "A concept is like a brick. It can be used to build the courthouse of reason. Or it can be thrown through the window" (xii). This metaphor is apparently Massumi's (he later notes that Deleuze uses the metaphor of a toolbox). Massumi uses the brick image to describe the concept as part of an [assemblage] of arm, human, purpose, etc. – essentially, circumstances. "Because the concept in its unrestrained usage is a set of circumstances, at a volatile juncture. It is a vector: the point of application of a force moving through a space at a given velocity in a given direction" (xiii). The first part of that statement is strongly reminiscent of Voloshinov's specificity of utterances; the second part actually reminds me a bit of Aristotle's physics... but in any event is useful as a way of describing concepts in relation to space and movement.

Massumi makes a bozo distinction between "power" which builds walls, and "force" which arrives from outside to break them down. To my knowledge Deleuze and Guattari do not also make this dumb distinction, a massive step back from Foucault's key insight. (In the following note on translation Massumi discusses/defines several key concepts, including "power;" both puissance and pouvoir are translated as "power," so this "force" distinction is presumably not related to that (though it sounds like by "force" he means "puissance," but oh well.)

State space is striated space; nomad space is smooth. Movement in state space is "confined as if by gravity to a horizontal plane, and limited by the order of that plane to preset paths between fixed and identifiable points" (xiii). Nomad space, in contrast, allows movement in any direction. We will see how useful this contrast is in the rest of the book.

Massumi concludes with some observations about music (encouraging readers to treat the text as a record with different tracks), discusses what is meant by “plateau,” and gives observations on Deleuze's concept of "style." He ends with Deleuzian pragmatics: "The question is not: is it true? But: does it work?" (xv). What new thoughts, feelings, sensations, and perceptions are made possible? The implication being, that the older state/representational thinking involves a constricting or channeling of these possibilities.

And this for my reading is crucial, because I tend to treat Deleuze and Guattari as adjuncts to Foucault's philosophy (and according to Massumi, this would not bother them, as the book is not meant as a system, but as a collection of tools). So I am interested more in the relation between smooth and striated spaces, and to what extent this relationship itself is significant in the production of society and the operation of power (in the Foucauldian sense). Also, to what extent does this discussion of representational thinking, as implicated in the state, have to bear on the present critique of critique (or post-critique, a la Felski)?

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