Book Review – What is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

This is the book to learn about philosophy, what it means, what good it does to us and what makes it different from science and art. Deleuze and Guattari delved into these questions and have produced some convincing answers in this profound and careful interrogation of what it means to be a friend of wisdom.

The authors define philosophy as the discipline that involves creating concepts. The object of philosophy is to create concepts that are always new. The philosopher is the concepts friend; he is potentiality of the concept. Because the concept must be created, it refers back to the philosopher as the one who has it potentially, or who has its power and competence. Concepts are not waiting for us ready-made, like heavenly bodies. There is no heaven for concepts. They must be invented, fabricated, or rather created and would be nothing without their creator’s signature. Although concepts are dated, signed, and baptised, they have their own way of not dying while remaining subject to constraints of renewal, replacement, and mutation that give philosophy a history as well as a turbulent geography, each moment and place of which is preserved (but in time) and that passes (but outside time). To know oneself, to learn to think, to act as if nothing were self evident… the following definition of philosophy can be taken as decisive: knowledge through pure concepts, you can know nothing through concepts unless you have first created them.

What is a concept? There are no simple concepts. Every concept has components and is defined by them. It therefore has a combination. It is a multiplicity, although not every multiplicity is conceptual. So what is the nature of concept or concept of concept. First every concept relates back to other concepts, not only in its history but in its becoming or its present connections. Every concept has components that may, in turn, be grasped as concepts, therefore concepts extends to infinity and being created, are never created from nothing. Second, concept renders components inseparable within itself. Components, or what defines the consistency of the concept, its end-consistency, are distinct, heterogeneous, and yet not separable. The point is each partially overlaps, has a zone of neighbourhood, or a threshold of indiscernibility, within another one. Third, each concept will therefore be considered as the point of coincidence, condensation, or accumulation of its own components. The conceptual point constantly traverses its components, rising and falling within them. In this sense, each component is an intensive feature, an intensive ordinate, which must be understood not as general or particular but as a pure and simple singularity. The concept is in a state of survey in relation to its components, endlessly traversing them according to an order without distance. It is immediately co-present to all its components or variations, at no distance from them, passing back and forth through them: it is a refrain, an opus with its number. The concept can also be viewed as an act of thought, it is thought operating at infinite speed. The concept can thus be defined by the inseparability of a finite number heterogenous components traversed by a point of absolute survey at infinite speed. The concept is also both absolute and relative: it is relative to its own components, to other concepts, to the plane on which it is defined, and to the problems it is supposed to resolve; but it is absolute through the condensation it carries out, the site it occupies the plane a, and the conditions it assigns to the problem. As whole it is absolute, but in so far as it is fragmentary it is relative. It is infinite through its survey or its speed but finite through its movement that traces the contours of its components.

A concept speaks the event not the essence or the thing – pure Event but an entity. It is event and not time that exists between two instants. It is the event that is a meanwhile: the meanwhile is not part of the eternal, but neither it is part of time – it belongs to becoming. The meanwhile, the event, is always a dead time; it is there where nothing takes place., an infinite awaiting that is already infinitely past, awaiting and reserve. This dead time does not come after what happens; it coexists as the immensity of the empty time in which we see it as still to come and as having already happend, in the strange indifference of an intellectual intuition. All the meanwhiles are superimposed on one another, whereas times succeed each other. In every event there are many hetergenous, always simultaneous components, since each of them is a meanwhile, all within the meanwhile. Each component of the event is actualized or effectuated in an instant, and the event in the time that passes between these instants. But nothing happens there, everything becomes, so that the event has the privilige of begining again when time is past. Nothing happens, and yet everything changes, because becoming continues to pass through its component again and restore the event that is actualized elsewhere, at a different instant. When time passess and take the instant away, there is always a meanwhile to restore the event. It is a concept that apprehends the event, its becoming, its inseperable variations. It is necessary to go back to the event that gives its virtual consistency to the concept. There is a dignity of the event that has always been inseperable from philosophy as amor fati: being equal to the event, or becoming the offspring of one’s own events – “My wound existed before me; I was born to embody it.” There is no other ethic than the amor fati of philosophy. Philosophy is always meanwhile.

All the concepts are included on one and the same plane. It is a table, a plateau, or a slice; it is a plane of consistency or, more accurately, the plane of immanence of concepts, the planomenon. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor a concept of all concepts. Philosophy is a constructivism, and constructivism has two qualitatively different complementary aspects: the creation concepts and the laying out of a plane. Concepts are like multiple waves, rising and falling, but the plane of immanence is a single wave that rolls them up and unrolls them. The plane envelops infinite movements that, in each case, pass only through the infinite speeds of finite movements that, in each case, pass only through their own components. The problem of thought is infinite speed, but this speed requires a milieu that moves infinitely in itself – the plane, the void, the horizon. Both elasticity of the concept and fluidity of the milieu are needed. Both are needed to make up the “the slow beings” that we are.

Everyone can think; everyone wants the truth. Do we need only two elements – the concept and the plane of immanence for that or is there something more to it. The authors claim that actually there is something else, somewhat mysterious, that appears from time to time or that shows through and seems to have hazy existence halfway between concept and preconceptual plane, passing one to the other. This is a very strange type of persona who wants to think and who thinks for himself, by the “natural light”, he is a conceptual persona. Philosophy constantly brings conceptual personae to life, it gives life to them. It is possible that the conceptual person only rarely or allusively appears for himself. Nevertheless, he is there, and however nameless and subterranean, he must always be reconstituted by the reader. Sometimes he appears with a proper name: Socrates is the principal conceptual persona of Platonism. Many authors have written dialogues but it is only the conceptual persona who carries out the movements that describe the author’s plane of immanence, and they play a part in the very creation of the author’s concepts. They belong fully to the plane that the philosopher in question lays out and to the concepts that he creates. They then indicate the dangers specific to this plane, the bad perceptions, bad feelings, and even negative movements that emerge from it, and they will themselves inspire original concepts. The conceptual persona is not the philosopher’s representation but, rather, the reverse: the philosopher is only the envelope of his principal conceptual persona and of all the other personae who are the intercessors, the real subjects of his philosophy. The philopher is the idiosyncracy of his conceptual personae. the destiny of the philosopher is to become his conceptual persona or personae. The conceptual persona is the becoming or the subject of a philosophy.

The author’s theorise in the book that this world is full of chaos, there is no doubt to it but they’ve a remedy of sorts and claim that we require just a little order to protect us from this chaos. They say that there is nothing more distressing than a thought that escapes itself, than ideas that fly off, that disappear hardly formed, already eroded by forgetfulness precipitated into others that we no longer master. We constantly lose our ideas. That is why we want to hang on to fixed opinions so much. These are infinite variabilities in the world moving at infinite speeds that jolt us out of our humanly slumber. The authors say that there is a way out of this chaos, they ask only that our ideas are always linked together according to a minimum of constant rules. And the gist of these rules is that chaos has three daughters, depending on the plane that cuts through it, these are art, science and philosophy as forms of thought or creation. These are the three realities produced on the different planes that cut through the chaos in different ways. The three planes, along with their elements, are irreducible: plane of immanence of philosophy, plane of composition of art and plane of reference of science. They are the three planes, the rafts on which the brain plunges into and confronts the chaos. The brain is the junction – not the unity – of these three planes. It is the brain that thinks and not man – the latter being only a cerebral crystallisation. Philosophy, art and science, are not the mental objects of an objectified brain but the three aspects under which the brain becomes subject, Thought-brain.

On the plane of immanence of philosophy, the brain acts as a primary, “true form”, not a perceived form but a form in itself that does not refer to any external point of view, that survey’s itself independently of any supplementary dimension, which does not appeal therefore to any transcendence, which has only a single side whatever the number of its dimensions, which remains copresent to all its determinations without proximity or distance, traverses them at infinite speed, without limit-speed, and which makes of them so many inseparable variations on which it confers an equipotentiality without confusion. Brain is spoken here as landscape: man absent from, but completely within the brain. The brain, under its first aspect of absolute form, appears as the form of concepts, as the faculty of their creation, at the same time that it sets up the plane of immanence on which concepts are placed, moved, renewed and never cease to be created by conceptual personae. Philosophy becomes the plane of immanence that supports the concepts that the brain lays out as its absolute form in agreement with conceptual personae.

On the plane of composition of art, brain-subject acts as soul or force, since only the soul preserves by contracting that which matter dissipates, or radiates, furthers, reflects, refracts, or converts. This force when applied on plane of composition causes sensation. Sensation is no less brain than the concept. Sensation contracts the vibrations of the stimulant on a nervous surface or in a cerebral volume: what comes before has not yet disappeared when what follows appears. This is its way of responding to chaos. Sensation itself vibrates because it contracts vibrations. It preserves itself because it preserves vibrations. On the plane of composition brain acts as a monument unlike a landscape on the plane of immanence. This monument resonates in music, shines in paintings or architecture and radiates in literature over a plane of composition lighted by various aesthetic figures.

These first two aspects or layers of the brain-subject, sensation as much as concept, are very fragile. Not only objective disconnections and disintegrations but an immense weariness results in sensations on the plane of composition, which have now become wooly, letting escape the elements and vibrations it finds increasingly difficult to contract. Old age is this very weariness: then, there is either a fall into mental chaos outside of the plane of composition or a falling back on ready-made opinions, on cliches that reveal that an artist, no longer able to create new sensations, no longer knowing how to preserve, contemplate, and contract, no longer has anything to say. On the plane of immanence, philosophy also delves into the same weariness. In this case, weary thought, incapable of maintaining itself on the plane of immanence, can no longer bear the infinite speeds of the third kind that, in the manner of vortex, measure the concept’s copresence to all its intensive components at once (consistency).

In most cases this relative fall makes the weary thought fall back on the plane of reference of science. The weary thought falls back from infinite speed on the plane of immanence to the relative speeds on the reference plane that concern only the succession of movement from one point to another, from one extensive component to another, from one idea to another, and that measure simple associations without being able to reconstitute any concept. No doubt these relative speeds on the plane of reference may be very great, to the point of simulating the absolute, but they are only the variable speeds of opinion, of discussion or “repartee,” as with those untiring young people whose mental quickness is praised, but also with those weary old ones who pursue slow-moving opinions and engage in stagnant discussions by speaking all alone, within their hallowed heads, like a distant memory of their old concepts to which they remain attached so as not to fall back completely into the chaos. These casualties, associations, and integrations inspire opinions and beliefs in us that are ways of expecting and recognising something (including “mental objects”): it will rain, the water will boil, this is the shortest route, this is the same figure from a different view. But, although such opinions frequently slip in among scientific propositions, they do not form part of them.

Until science subjects these processes to operations of a different nature, which constitute an acting of knowing and refer to a faculty of knowledge as the third layer of brain subject that is no less creative than the other two. Knowledge is neither a form nor a force but a function: “I function.” The subject now appears as an eject, because it extracts elements whose principal characteristics is distinction, discrimination: limits, constants, variables, and functions, all those functives and prospects that form the term of the scientific proposition. The fundamental actions of the scientific faculty of knowledge appear at us in this sense to be the following: setting limits that mark a renunciation of infinite speeds and lay out a plane of reference; assigning variables that are organised in series tending toward these limits; coordinating the independent variables in such a way as to establish between them or their limits necessary relations on which distinct functions depend, the plane of reference being a coordination in actuality; determining mixtures or states of affairs that are related to the coordinates and to which function refer. It is not enough too say that these operations of scientific knowledge are functions of the brain; the functions are themselves the folds of a brain that lay out the variable coordinates of a plane of knowledge (reference) and dispatch partial observers everywhere.

The authors also analysed the state of philosophy closer to our time where philosophy has encountered many new rivals. To start with, the human sciences, and especially sociology, wanted to replace it. But because philosophy, taking refuge in universals, increasingly misunderstood its vocation for creating concepts, it was no longer clear what was at stake. Was it a matter of giving up the creation on concepts in favour of a rigorous human science or, alternatively, of transforming the nature of concepts and turning them into the collective representations or worldview created by the vital, historical, and spiritual forces of different peoples? Then it was the turn of epistemology, of linguistics, or even of psychoanalysis and logical analysis. Finally, the most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men!. We are the friends of the concept, we put it in our computers.”. These pretenders did preserve the idea of a certain relationship between the concept and the event. But here the concept has become the set of product displays (historical, scientific, artistic, sexual, pragmatic), and the event has become the exhibition that sets up various displays and the “exchange of ideas” it is supposed to promote. The only events are exhibitions, and the only concepts are products that can be sold. But the more philosophy comes up against shameless and insane rivals and encounters them at its very core, the more feels driven to fulfil the task of creating concepts that are aerolites rather than commercial products. It gets the giggles, which wipe way its tears.

Philosophers have little time for discussion. Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, “Lets discuss this.” Discussions are fine for roundtable talks, but philosophy throws its dice on another table, the plane of immanence. The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, if the problem at stake are not stated? And when they’re stated, it is no longer a matter of discussiong but rather one of creating concepts for the undiscussible problem posed. Socrates constantly made all discussion impossible, he turned the friend into the friend of the single concept, and the concept into the pitiless monologue that eliminates the rivals one by one.

Written with the energy and inventiveness What is Philosophy? is an enormous achievement. It is a vital book, not only for philosophers but for everyone concerned with the uses of human inteliigence in a chaotic world.

  • Tarun Rattan
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