Wednesday, 2 June 2021

A Note on Deleuzian Concepts

Writing comes with risks, especially when musing aloud on thinkers like Deleuze and Guattari. For philosophers of complexity and the hammers of reductionism, it's fitting anyone reading and commenting on their work can form multiplicities of their own in the eyes of others: the sophist, the erudite, the revolutionary, the clueless, the lost. Sometimes if not nearly always simultaneously. Working through their two chief works, Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus is to find books that resist review and easy summary. They are difficult, and reading the latter is not recommended before reading the former. From the off you're hit with their concepts in action before they define them in necessarily fuzzy, dynamic ways. This stylistic move which some might find infuriating cuts to the core of their standpoint. In a world in which everything is multiple, where everything is a configuration of elements in which elements acquire their meanings and nature in relationship to the other elements they are assembled with, a concept cannot be a neat definition with hard borders. Conceptual clarity as a virtue might make for logical systems of thought and pose as the apparent enemy of woolly thinking, but their privileging of certain elements analytically removes them from the contexts that give them form and function, thereby changing the nature of what is being described.

Gobbledegook? Not in the slightest. Consider the academic discipline of political science and make a comparison between its assumption of politics and actually-existing politics. The objects of analysis are political parties, their electoral performance, their relationships with one another (privileging coalition and blackmail potentials), how electoral systems work, strategies and manifestos, memberships, etc. In the analytical world they inhabit, all of these things are removed from the real world forces that assemble and constitute them and are entirely repurposed in a conceptual ensemble that not only distorts politics as it appears in political science, but is the prism through which actual politics are written about and understood, even to the point of providing normative models for political activity. That one has to step outside political science so conceived to understand power relationships, the dynamics impinging in and constituting parties, how politics works outside of formal political systems through social movements and subterranean shifts in mood and opinion is demonstrative of Deleuze and Guattari's point. Oppose what I call militant political science which treats politics and its elements in its multiplicity to the stilted formalism of political science, and it's like comparing day to night. Except the more expansive militant variety is concerned with breaking politics, whereas its academic nemesis is content to commit violence to real dynamics and flows to uphold its intimate relationship with the power it refuses to recognise.

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