Posted by: Johan Normark | July 21, 2010

Deleuze – the new unfalsifiable academic guru?

At some point one must reconsider the ontological underpinnings of one’s research. During the recent years I have been largely inspired by Bergson, Deleuze and DeLanda in my search for a “posthumanocentric” and “neomaterialistic” archaeological perspective. However, Graham Harman at Object-Oriented Philosophy, in a comment to a blogpost by Jeffrey Bell at Aberrant Monism, argues that:

 “the real problem, I think, is that we are still in the “Deleuze Wins Again!” era of continental philosophy. With the downfall of Derrida as the occupant of the throne of irrefutability (I still remember the days when almost any critique of Derrida was met with the charge that with your criticism you had “already inscribed yourself in the very discourse that Derrida is critiquing,” etc. etc.). I’m afraid it’s become a bit like that with Deleuze. He’s Too Big to Fail. Whatever one claims to say, Deleuze has already said it, or refuted it. There is little pressure on Deleuze to give any ground on anything himself.

And therefore, when “interest in Latour has increased dramatically,” as Bell says at the start of his post, what it turns out to mean for him is that Latour is immediately assimilable to a Deleuzian metaphysics of the event and the virtual. Where, in Bell’s post, do we see the Deleuzian position challenged in any way by Latour? Does this “dramatic increase in interest in Latour” require Deleuzians to reconsider some things? Or is it simply another verification of Deleuze’s overpowering greatness?

I don’t mean these last questions to sound sarcastic. In the mid-1990s, Deleuze’s sudden rise was a badly needed tonic on our miserable landscape of tedious textual weaves and sophomoric puns. But Whitehead and Latour now provide a challenging counterweight to Deleuze, and the wrongheaded tendency to assimilate the first two names to the third removes one of the most promising sources of tension and surprise for contemporary continental thought. It’s an attempt at recuperating something truly new into a Deleuze Empire that has already had its 15 years of fame.

I also have a question for Bell: does anything in Latourchallenge Deleuze? And I don’t mean “valuable case studies that Deleuze ‘wasn’t interested in’”, I mean: does Latour shed any light on some deficiencies in Deleuze? If not, and if he’s simply a case of Applied Deleuze, then that doesn’t make Latour a very interesting figure.

I wonder if we’re now doomed to play “Heads Deleuze Wins, Tails You Lose” for another 10 years. I remember the years when Derrida occupied that role, and I would hate to see as once refreshing a figure as Deleuze turned into the same sort of global and unfalsifiable academic guru that Derrida had become by about 1992.”

It is perhaps time to follow the line of flight out of the Deleuzian territory before he becomes the master-signifier himself? I am getting tired of referring to the same arborescent structures in archaeological thought and I am sure my opponents are tired of them as well.  I need something fresh. I am still searching but I guess I will be held within the Deleuzian territory for the next few publications since they have been developed within the Deleuzian framework. For my next project on water there is a possible way out. Anyway, here are some blogs that may help out in the process (never mind that some of them are “Deleuzian”):

Aberrant monism


John Protevi’s blog

Larval subjects

Naught thought


Object-oriented philosophy

Speculative heresy

The Pinocchio theory



  1. Thanks for the post. One of the reasons for my interest in Latour is not simply to find a useful application of Deleuze’s thought, but to address what I see as a fundamental weakness in his thought – namely, a lack of helpful concepts with which one can analyze the contemporary political scene. On that front I think Latour is much better, even if the metaphysics that underlies it is largely Deleuzian (or Whiteheadian – who is becoming an increasingly common way to find a way out of Deleuze)

    • Exactly what in the contemporary political scene do you wish to analyze with Deleuzian concepts? Although it is a fairly rough description, would not Al Qaida fit his nomadic thought or rhizomes that circumscribe the workings of an arborescent State organization? Or is it the continuous differentiation that makes it impossible to create any stable units of analysis that is the problem?

      • I’d sure like to know what makes nomads susceptible to political hacks like Zbigniew Brzezinski.

  2. Jeffrey, we don’t even have a mechanical description of power.

    I would use a variation on homogenous and heterogenous extents only I call them static and dynamic.

    As an example we have the saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Talent is a static principle. You can accumulate talent. Opportunity is a dynamic principle. Your opportunity depends on your advantage over another.

    Power is the cross product of talent and opportunity. A cursory analysis confirms this. If you have little talent and much opportunity, you have the same power as if you had much talent and little opportunity.

    In mathematics we say a scalar times a vector is a vector. A static times a dynamic is a dynamic. Therefore absolute power is an absolute dynamic, which is a contradiction and so an impossibility.

    So it isn’t absolute power which corrupts but the pursuit of absolute power, an antithesis of Don Quixote.

    I think if we want to use philosophy to analyze politics we have to at least be able to say the above concretely and confidently.

    • I doubt that absolute power exists, the strive to it exist but the “wills to power” are too many for there to be a single top-down center of power. However, I agree that the pursuit of this imaginary absolute power is what corrupts.

  3. Hi Johan and Anti,
    When I said that there was a lack of concepts within Deleuze to help analyze the contemporary political scene I did not mean that there were no concepts. You’re right that nomadism is one such concept and can be used to explain the organization of al qaeda as well as the non-hierarchical neoliberal market mentality (as Luc Boltanski and Eve Theriot argue in The New Spirit of Capitalism). That’s precisely the problem, for some. The concepts are too supple to provide for an effective political agenda and give voice for a political resistance or movement. This is not necessarily to say that we need to go back to Marx and the age of manifestos and political movements based on class identity. I think where we need to search is somewhere in between, and although I think one can tease such a direction out of Deleuze, it’s done much more forthrightly in others (Latour, for example). As for absolute power there are resources in Deleuze and Guattari to think through that concept when they discuss absolute deterritorialization and the war machine. Basically this is the power to destroy all formations, all identities, including itself. I think Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism is still an even better resource for detailing the same idea.

    • Methinks we have an discussion here. Cool.

      What would our esteemed undeified writers say about a tactic I’m trying to develop?

      I’m careful not to be the kind of activist who rationalizes violence. Not only because it is destructive. Not only because the entire spectrum of resistance (protest, riot, revolution) has been studied and packaged into a product by the very structures that one might want to resist. But also because the most ridiculous way to try cause change is trying to get the structure to do that which it does not want to do. It’s that simple.

      Resistance is inaction. If you want change you have to build something. Decoys are useful. But it goes deeper. Manifestos are, to be quite honest, self-defeating. Some structure X is oppressive and must be taken down but it is embedded and unmovable. Say what again? No thank you, Charlie.

      Fundamentally speaking, if you wish to resist you must provide an alternative. Civil disobedience is refusal. That’s nice. What I call Moral Disobedience is a holistic non-dialectical analytical method which begins not with a negative factor which must be opposed, but a positive goal which this negative factor hinders or interferes with. Now I’m not saying that certain activities by these oppressive structures aren’t identifiable as the destructive forces they are. They most certainly are easily judged to be destructive. What I am proposing though is that we quit fighting the method and start working against oppressive structures in ways that actually register a positive improvement or advancement even for the slightest effort.

      The idea is that if you aim to oppose, then your cannon ball will fall right at the feet of your target. If you aim to build something then your cannon ball will go through the target. Now I sense this can be used by unscrupulous individuals to argue for nation building, but nation building has always been a scam anyway so one only need to keep exposing that fact.

      My thinking is basically that not only is Bergson (as far as I have read in the last few days) correct in separating objects in kind rather than degree, but that the natures of the positive and the negative are so different as to be meaningless in juxtaposition without giving them the right consideration.

      I tend to speak of the static and dynamic principles. Slightly Aristotelian, but the basic idea is that the duality that positive-ness belongs to is that of positive and nothingness. Something and zero. Positive is a static concept. Negative is a dynamic concept. I may slow down but speed is always positive.

      By some miracle this seems to be as solid as scalars and vectors. I realize this statement would have me burnt at the stake if philosopher kings ruled the earth, but there it is.

  4. Jeffrey:
    If I remember correctly Deleuze and Guattari discusses Nazism and Fascism as suicidal War machines that have taken control of the State apparatus (rather than the opposite) and that makes them different from for instance Communism. But do they really end with absolute deterritorialization and the end of their own identities? Is their no continuity between the fascism of 1940s and today?

  5. Anti:
    I agree that to have a positive goal is better than opposing what one feels to be a negative structure. A Bergsonian non-dialectical view may be of importance here. Some of the critique against Bergson is that his philosophy cannot be used for political analysis as it focused on “general” tendencies. I do not know if anyone has tried to use him for that reason but since Bergson influenced at least the early Deleuze their philosophies are probably the target for the same kind of critique.

    The opposing of structures that starts from a negative version of the structure one opposes tend to fail in the long run. If they succeed in overthrowing that structure they are usually followed by yet another oppressive structure (such as Tsar Russia being replaced by Communist totalitarian states). The positive movement you mention is what has given us democracy and that is for sure a better option.

    • “Some of the critique against Bergson is that his philosophy cannot be used for political analysis as it focused on “general” tendencies.”

      Cowards. Pedants. Biased carbon based bags of water. Filthy hobbitses.

      It is precisely general tendencies upon which a specific theory can be built. Therefore, as I study these gentlemen more, I would think Bergson is most useful for analyzing politics because his general views can be tested against examples whereas all his critics want to do is make the excuse that the failure of their political belief system is due to the examples you give them not being specific enough.

      I’m not one to be a fanboy but frankly such pigeon holing critiques make me question the whole educational edifice.

  6. According to DeLanda, one of Deleuze’s main contributions to philosophy and science is his replacement of the general and specific (which are Aristotelian concepts). This Deleuze finds in the concept of univsersal multiplicities and individual multiplicities (haecceities – part of this blog’s name) which he partly develops from Bergson.

    • I tend to think in terms of fundamental and derived properties but what I meant by general tendencies was the it seems critics are uncomfortable with a set of tendencies which hold no political philosophy in favor and which the describe the raw material individual tendencies are composed of or explained by.

      I’m making a list of titles I can either purchase or leech (hey it’s the end of the economy as we know it, somebody has to save the good stuff so it’s not lost).

  7. The reason why I found Bergson of interest was that I could easily apply his ideas on archaeological data without there being to much constraints. Unfortunately, when I began to read more on Deleuze I felt that I became more constrained.

    • I would think the only constraints are stuff is, stuff changes, stuff connects, and stuff fits.

      I’m playing with unfuglying quanty mechanics. I say what is represented is not probability components but the time a particle spends in a particular place. Higher probability more time spent there.

      The particle in a box is the problem. It is defined as a place where the particles move freely with no forces but cannot exist outside the constraints of the box. What if QM is smarter than us? What if the specification of the infinite potential wall forces QM to determine that in fact there are forces inside the box?

      What if the proposition from the beginning, force free movement and instant wall, is a contradiction or impossibility for some other reason?

      If QM can force the very picture to change then it is even more perfect than we imagine.

  8. I need to look more into quantum mechanics in order to reply this. I am more familiar with complex systems theory.

  9. This post seems more to be about the problem of the very structures of academia rather than any particular wave of it. That is, the metaphysical underpinnings of research rather than the ontological. Considering and casting aside the ontological underpinnings serves in most cases to alienate the researcher from the unsound quasi-religious practices of academia altogether.

  10. What is quasi-religious in academia? Various rituals or beliefs, the hierarchical structure, its dependence on politics?


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