The Idiocy of the Event: Between Antonin Artaud, Kathy Acker and Gilles Deleuze

Frida Beckman
Abstract Exploring the evolution of the conceptual persona of the idiot from the philosophical idiot in Deleuze to the Russian idiot in Deleuze and Guattari, this article suggests that their use of the figure of Antonin Artaud as a model for an idiocy that is freed from the image of thought is problematic since Artaud in fact evinces a nostalgia for the capacity for thought. The article invites the writings of Kathy Acker and argues that Acker makes possible a more successful way of thinking of the event of thought beyond the Image and thereby a new conceptual persona of the post-Russian idiot. Keywords: idiocy, image of thought, conceptual persona, Antonin Artaud, Kathy Acker, Gilles Deleuze
There is thus something that is destroying my thinking, a something which does not prevent me from being what I might be, but which leaves me, if I may say so, in abeyance. (Antonin Artaud)

I. The Philosophical Idiot
this is a table, this is an apple, this is the piece of wax, Good morning Theaetetus. (Deleuze 2004b: 171)

In Chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, Gilles Deleuze asserts that the tradition of philosophy is based on a presupposed capacity and trajectory of being and thinking toward truth through good sense

The Idiocy of the Event 55 and common sense. the philosopher fails to recognise that his self-reflection is based on a very strong presupposition regarding his own natural capacity for thought. exemplified by. was so certain and so assured that all the most extravagant suppositions brought forward by the sceptics were incapable of shaking it. the act of thinking which is neither given by innateness nor presupposed by reminiscence but engendered in its genitality. The thought which is born in thought. thinking must break with this Image. But what is such a thought. ‘takes the side of the idiot as though of a man without presuppositions’ (Deleuze 2004b: 165). Deleuze writes. This means that . Descartes’ famous principle reads as follows: This truth. is a thought without image. for example. Like the idiot. The idiot speaks French rather than Latin and forms his thoughts according to an untutored and perfectly common ‘natural light’. The idiot takes the universal capacity to think for granted and the philosopher. as a universal premise that in itself need not be questioned. Deleuze sees this idiot as an ‘original figure’ in Descartes (albeit anticipated by Nicolas of Cusa)3 who differs from the Aristotelian rational animal in that he carries a natural capacity for thought independent of his political (in the Aristotelian sense) starting point (Rajchman 2000: 37). Deleuze identifies this idiot in Descartes in terms of a belief in the common sense of man regardless of acquired knowledge. Hegel’s absolute spirit or Heidegger’s preontological Being. this presumption that lingers as a problematic beginning of thought. remains as a beginning of thought. I came to the conclusion that I could receive it without scruple as the first principle of the Philosophy for which I was seeking. not only because I am because I think but because in postulating such a claim I take the act of thinking as a given. has nonetheless failed to escape an ultimate reference back to sensible being as the beginning of thought. Deleuze suggests that this tradition of critique. Deleuze shows how the Cartesian self-evidence of thought places the philosopher as the idiot. (Descartes 2003: 23) While Descartes’ presuppositions regarding the self-evidence of the nature of thought have been challenged throughout the subsequent history of philosophy. To break with this ‘beginning’. naturalises these presuppositions of the Image of thought and conceals them as a pure element of common sense. The idiot. Cited from the source.1 The Cartesian cogito.2 As John Rajchman shows. I think. therefore I am. for example. in fact. and how does it operate in this world?(Deleuze 2004b: 207–8) From here.

Moving from Deleuze’s early conception of the idiot to the later one developed with Félix Guattari and from Artaud to Acker. which means that a new . it is the philosophical idiot. The Russian Idiot Descartes goes mad in Russia? (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 63) As has been indicated above. the idiot initially appears in Deleuze’s thought as a character who insists on his own capacity for thought. American experimental novelist Kathy Acker. they state. we are not really thinking. whereby thought returns to confirm the I as the basis of its own trajectory. II. As long as philosophy relies on this moral. To enable this. this paper will suggest firstly that Deleuze and Guattari’s use of the figure of Artaud is problematic and secondly that Acker renders possible a more appropriate and successful way of thinking of the event of thought beyond the Image. It would find its difference or its true beginning.56 Frida Beckman the idiot serves as a basis rather than an escape from the dogmatic image of thought. the idiotic impersonator and perpetuator of the Image of thought. This paper seeks to address the figure of the idiot. The concept is an event rather than an essence. (Deleuze 2004b: 167) Later. In the overarching movement of Cartesian subjectivity. In Difference and Repetition. Antonin Artaud. the critique of this Image and the idiot that upholds it is vehement. the whole of philosophy is at stake. not in agreement with the pre-philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this image. the idiot steps in and allows thinking itself to remain an unthought category. which it would denounce as non-philosophical. and invites the work of a less obvious writer in such a context. the nature of this struggle has been somewhat transformed. dogmatic and orthodox pre-philosophical Image. This is the ‘private thinker’ who trusts implicitly ‘the innate forces that everyone possesses by right (“I think”)’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 62). it would take as its point of departure a radical critique of this Image and the ‘postulates’ it implies. Deleuze and Guattari make use of the freedom of the concept ‘to change and take another meaning’. not only as a neglected theme in Deleuze studies. it revisits one of the most established figures in the history of the writing of idiocy and madness. but also in terms of the ways in which it could be reconfigured and used as a means to move beyond rather than predetermine the Image of thought. Deleuze even imagines a philosophy without presuppositions: Instead of being supported by the moral Image of thought. Indeed. in What is Philosophy?.

The philosophy ‘without any kind of presuppositions’ that Deleuze calls for has turned into a recursive generation of images of thought. As a consequence. as Deleuze puts it. but also the possibility of his own capacity for thought (Deleuze and Guattari 2000: 70). The ‘radical critique’ of and ‘rigorous struggle against this image’ that Deleuze calls for in Difference and Repetition has turned into a focus on a reconceptualisation of the relation between the concept and the problem it responds to and thereby to a more truly immanent principle. Because thought is not ascribed to . but only thinking as a non-transcendent event. Deleuze and Guattari seem to have given up on the project of escaping the Image of thought and try. This multiplication of images. do so in the Russian manner’ (Deleuze 2004b: 166). rather. There is no thinking subject to be immanent to. for as Deleuze puts it in his chapter on the Image of thought: ‘At the risk of playing the idiot. and the absurd to be restored to him’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 63). to develop concepts and conceptual persona that enable a negotiation of thinking. Even if the Russian idiot is thus foregrounded in Difference and Repetition. its appearance has different implications in What is Philosophy? Here. as Gregg Lambert notes. an idiot that does not merely reject the possibility of a public. in the Cartesian-Kantian-Husserlian style. he ‘lacks the compass with which to make a circle’ (Deleuze 2004b: 166). the new idiot that Deleuze and Guattari designate as the ‘Russian’ idiot. becomes possible in What is Philosophy? because thought has become a plane of immanence.The Idiocy of the Event 57 problem will require a modification of the concept (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 21). means a modernity in which common sense ceases to be self-evident (Lambert 2002: 5). Rather than taking his thinking for granted. A post-Second World War state of philosophy. Deleuze suggests that this is a figure who does not recognise himself in the ‘subjective presuppositions of a natural capacity for thought’.4 While the old idiot wanted to be able to judge what was comprehensible or rational. the incomprehensible. Deleuze and Guattari offer a new conceptual persona. this Russian idiot fails to adjust to this supposed self-evidence of thought. general knowledge. As Deleuze and Guattari write: ‘A concept like knowledge has meaning only in relation to an image of thought to which it refers and to a conceptual persona it needs. wants ‘the lost. This figure of the Russian idiot is foregrounded already in Difference and Repetition. a different image and a different persona call for other concepts’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 81). then. Basing his figure on works by Russian writers such as Dostoevsky and Gogol and their fascination with nihilism and the absurd.

Deleuze and Guattari suggest. Recurring in Deleuze and Guattari’s writing. the figure of Artaud is found at the very moment of rupture of the Image of thought. The schizophrenic is crucial to their project because he does not see the world in terms of fixed objects or entities but rather experiences it as a constant process of unpredictable production. For Deleuze and Guattari. common sense and the body. says that the limitless plane of immanence inevitably engenders ‘hallucinations. bad feelings’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 49). erroneous perceptions. Nietzsche. where the subject fails to externalise itself to make the Image part of the Whole and instead breaks apart at the prospect of this Image.58 Frida Beckman a subject but to a thought event. Lambert writes. On such plane of immanence. That Artaud sees thought as the event of a ‘central breakdown’ and as proceeding ‘solely by its own incapacity to take form’ means that he opens for a possibility of creating a thought without Image (Deleuze 2004b: 417). Artaud is the schizophrenic who neglects to confirm the established limits of literature. the point where. thought ‘does not accede to a form that belongs to a model of knowledge. they continue. The plane of immance thus becomes a way. thinking could no longer be said to stem from a will to truth. Deleuze and Guattari point out. ‘this is because thought constitutes a simple “possibility” of thinking without yet defining a thinker “capable” of it and able to say “I” ’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 54–5). then. At this point of rupture. Artaud is praised for his insistent and selfproclaimed incapacity to think. maybe not to escape the Image of thought. Artaud is posited as the Russian idiot par excellence. Thereby schizophrenia becomes a way of breaking down idealistic categories of any kind. as Deleuze puts it in Difference and Repetition. Artaud. it would seem as ‘though thought could begin to think’ (Deleuze 2004b: 168). thinking becomes an increasingly difficult process which lacks method and proceeds by ‘uncoordinated leaps’. In Deleuze. a conceptual persona that enables thought to leap and snarl and thereby to approach the thought without image. thought exposes its own image to an “outside” that hollows it out and returns it to an element of “formlessness”’ (Lambert 2002: 127). most centrally those of the body and thought. When thought precedes the thinker and occurs through the event. But if there is no will to truth. there is no longer any self-evident capacity to think. Deleuze and Guattari suggest. like a dog (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 55). His theatre conveys an uncertainty . makes us see how thought is not a will to truth but rather a process of creation. but at least to lift thought from its basis in a self-evidently capable thinker. rather. or fall to the conditions of an action. Artaud’s literary and dramatic production seems to confirm and even flaunt his inability to think.

In What is Philosophy?. Artaud uses surrealist nonsense to create his own language.The Idiocy of the Event 59 in thought at the same time as it stands as an affirmation of what is lost. squeak and stammer. however. Deleuze traces Artaud’s use of the cinematic medium to reveal a powerlessness to think through the figure of the automaton. frozen instance which testifies to “the impossibility if thinking that is thought”’ (Deleuze 1989: 166). petrified. that he makes thought snarl. The mummy as the bloodless figure that both exists and does not is thus an important figure for Artaud as well as for Deleuze and Guattari in their search for the unthought in thought. and ‘mômo’ which. ‘has become the Mummy. Hayman notes. is slang for ‘idiot’ (Hayman 1977: 133). Artaud compares his ‘bloodless intellect’ to that of the mummy in order to give God ‘a glimpse of the void in which being born necessarily puts me’ (Artaud 1968: 168). the ‘void’ in which he finds himself as a mummy is closely linked to his impotent intellect. cries and rhythms are not so much expressions of an inability to think and speak as they are expressions of a new form of thinking and speaking. Artaud has an ambition to create to ‘create a language which did not depend on words that were not his’ (Hayman 1977: 134). or to try’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 55). His incantations and mumbles. This means. This mummy links back to Artaud and cinema and the way he celebrated the potential power of cinema to disrupt and disassociate thought by ‘un-linking’ images of the Whole.5 Deleuze and Guattari pick up on Artaud’s use of the figure of the mummy in his ‘The Mummy Correspondence’ but also recurring in poems such as ‘La Momie attachée’ and ‘Invocation à la Momie’. that stands as the impossibility of thinking in thought. In the former. Deleuze argues. Deleuze and Guattari follow up on this in describing the idiot as ‘a cataleptic thinker or “mummy” who discovers in thought an inability to think’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 70). ‘which leads it to create. The Time Image. In Cinema 2. In Artaud le Mômo. those who . What Deleuze and Guattari do not pick up on. The destruction of language frees the creativity of thought and enables a subjected ‘deeper intellectuality’ to happen. or vigilambulist. this dismantled. paralysed. As Hayman notes. In Artaud. The loss of stable references of thought is extremely painful but also something more creative than those who ‘fix landmarks in their minds’. his idiocy. Deleuze and Guattari in their turn suggest. incomprehensible and absurd. one that is unhampered by the weight of rationality and language. The spiritual automaton in Artaud’s scripts 32 and Dix-Huit Secondes. is the close connection in Artaud between the word ‘momie’ (mummy).

For me. however. . The poems he so insistently offers to Rivière are crucial to him because an existing uncertainty is still so much more reassuring than non-existence. . leaves him on the border of non-being. it seems. Artaud. Thought continually ‘abandons’ him. he writes. we will see how Artaud struggles to find a way of justifying a thinking that seems to lack the will to truth that would justify it as subjective thought. he is in search for a capacity lost. Artaud’s is an ambitious project that somehow continues to strive toward new possibilities for being and for thought. clearly mourns his professed inability to think. a confrontation with ‘the metaphysics I created for myself. suddenly. and he is also pursued by nostalgia. as he states himself. Returning to thought ‘suddenly’ means a production of thought that does not begin nor return to the innately capable thinker but that is produced in thought itself. While Artaud . it is no less than a matter of knowing whether or not I have the right to continue thinking. it is. in ‘constant pursuit of [his own] intellectual being’ (Artaud 1965: 7). in verse or prose’ (Artaud 1965: 8–9). he nonetheless believes in the creativity of thought. all those for whom there are currents of thought [ . This means that although Artaud rejects the self-evidence of the thinking ‘I’. he writes in the first of his many letters to Jacques Rivière. ‘[I]s the substance of my thought so tangled’. all those for whom words mean something. I am he who knows the inmost recesses of loss’ (Artaud 1968: 74–5). in accordance with the void I carry within me’ (Artaud 1968: 81). (Artaud 1968: 75) Unlike this ‘trash’ of ‘those who still believe in orientation of the mind’. Artaud celebrates and affirms his confusions. ‘and is its general beauty rendered so inactive by the impurities and uncertainties with which it is marred that it does not manage to exist literally? The entire problem of my thinking is involved. If we take a look at Artaud’s private letters.60 Frida Beckman are masters of their own language. But to reach this creativity. Despite his uncertainties and failures. ‘the way one returns to thought. Artaud’s uncertainty about his own ‘right’ to continue thinking suggests a frustration. ] and who have named these currents of thought I am thinking of their specific task and the mechanical creaking their minds give out at every gust of wind. a sense of a capacity lost to him. This loss is the loss of the self-evidence of thought and Artaud thereby rejects the idiocy of philosophy and its presumption about the self-evident capacity to think. ‘I truly lose myself in thought like in dreams’. there must be an originality that only the idiot could provide because to reach real thinking one must slough off the ‘masters of language’ who ‘orient thought’.

and who disrupts what may be called the self-complacency of thinking. As Deleuze himself writes: ‘Insofar as our thinking is controlled by reactive forces. insofar as it finds its sense in reactive forces. At the same time. in pursuit of this possibility. Artaud’s letters suggest that his failure of rationality does not do away with rationality and truth but compares itself with them. It is this pursuit. an idiot that refers back to the dogmatic. and the Event of Thought Artaud’s letters to Rivière and the doubts they bring to light actualise the function of friendship in philosophy. we must admit that we are not yet thinking’ (2006: 100). determined by certain coordinates. While this should mean that error may provide a way of escaping the Image of thought. Error. the figure of Artaud in fact bring out some tensions rather than resolve Deleuze and Guattari’s problem of freeing thought from its own image? As one who constantly doubts his capacity for thought. truth even as he fails to achieve it.7 For thinking to be possible and for new concepts to be created Deleuze and Guattari reconfigure the . Not only does it invest these concepts with a sense of nostalgia. we can see clearly why Deleuze and Guattari would place Artaud as a Russian rather than a philosophical idiot. that constitutes the ingeniousness as well as the tragedy of his sense of mental dislocation. an error which is measured against truth must surely be indicative of a reactive force rather than the active force that throws us into thought. Everything opposed to the image functions to lure thought into error (Deleuze 2006: 98). suggest a ‘pre-Russian’ rather than Russian idiot. Deleuze writes in Nietzsche and Philosophy. or at least unequivocal. the relation to error must be as decisive as the relation to truth. of demolishing the notion of truth at its basis.6 Does this not. Friendship. Ethics. as such. is a concept whose persistence in philosophy illustrates the dogmatic image of thought. To continue along Nietzschean lines. he is still. then. Does not. the fact that the perceptions on the plane of immanence can be described as ‘erroneous’ suggests that Deleuze and Guattari’s conceptual persona of the Russian idiot nonetheless aspires to universal. his recognition of his own lost capacity to think also keeps his thought in the grip of reactive forces and. I would argue. error is central to the classic Image of thought in that it comes to define that which is false in relation to the turning toward truth.The Idiocy of the Event 61 admittedly cannot posit thinking as a comforting proof of his being in the manner of Descartes. even Cartesian plane by measuring his thought according to innateness and doubt? III. in fact. As such. in fact.

The friend. and Objectality [Objectité]. that ‘in order to give an opinion on matters of this kind. a stupefying dialectics. Recognising his own failure he realises that ‘it may be necessary to think further than I do. or. reveals ‘the Greek origin of philo-sophy’ and the way in which philosophical communication and reflection ‘violently force the friend into a relationship that is no longer a relationship with an other but one with an Entity. he writes in a postscript. but that indicate an ethics of ‘being with’ that complicates the origins of thought through the work of Martin Heidegger. they argue. and perhaps otherwise.62 Frida Beckman relation of friendship. but also painfully aware of its submission as an ‘Entity’ to the domination of the old philosophical friendship really affirmative of its own difference? This exchange suggests a very different ethical relation. as I have already suggested. Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Derrida. disables thinking through appropriation and domination of the Other that could unsettle the presuppositions that make up the Image of thought. however. But can the lack of ‘proper’ thinking really be a liberatory thought-event as long as it is measured exactly against the ‘proper’? Is a thinking that is not only nostalgic. While the conceptual persona of the friend is not a person in the material. Such friendship relies on common knowledge and on the self-evidence of thought and thereby blocks the possibility of creating new concepts. In an article on Acker. ‘to will the difference’ of the friend that disrupts rather than negotiates your ability to think. Arguably even more complex.8 At first glance. phenomenal sense in Deleuze and Guattari’s reading. I am waiting only for my brain to change’ (Artaud 1965: 12). an Essence – Plato’s friend’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 3). The true event of thought relies on an ethics of true difference. A philosophical thinking based on intersubjective idealism. I will nonetheless stop for a moment to compare cursorily Artaud’s exchanges with Rivière to an exchange between Acker and Avital Ronell. Furthermore. is the ethics of the production of thought in Acker’s . Artaud anticipates Rivière’s rejection of his work and even justifies it. another mental cohesion and another perceptiveness are required’ (Artaud 1965: 12). the exchange between Artaud and Rivière reveals the lack of common knowledge that philosophy presumes and thereby affirms Artaud’s position as the Deleuzian Russian idiot who rejects the natural capacity for thought. rather. ‘You will say to me’. Ronell characterises her exchanges with Acker by emphasising the ‘co’ in conversation. that is the possibility of thinking. it points to the inevitable ethics of the event. This is a politics of friendship that Ronell theorises in a discussion whose implications lie well beyond the scope of the present essay.

. I would suggest. Deleuze describes his collaborations with Guattari in these terms of the productivity of a ‘theft of thoughts’. is the very reverse of plagiarism or copying. ‘is to rip someone off [. This con.9 Acker strips philosophy and literature of their meaning by removing philosophical statements and narrative pieces from a meaningful context. Acker steals shamelessly from philosophical as well as literary discourse.10 In Acker’s literary production. Deleuze has argued. Indeed. fragments of stories and historical personages from the history of literature and philosophy. or mis-uses or (ab)uses. she transcribes lines from other novels and even ‘steals’ entire book titles. What is the nature of a friendship that steals rather than communicates? What are the ethical implications of such thought? Stealing. do not rely on the ‘co’ so much as the ‘con’ in conversation. Furthermore. it is a dishonesty that displaces this moral system. . then. Pip from Charles Dickens’ novel becomes a woman and a woman (possibly the same. stealing involves a becoming. ]. Acker’s writing seemingly mirrors the thematisation of the thinking subject and the . another Don Quixote. is not a dishonesty within a moral system. who knows) is taken to Roissy to become O. Acker’s unabashed pilfering also challenges the nature of philosophy as a reflective mode of thinking. These conversations. it is a con that displaces the system of self-evident thought. a ‘double-capture’ or ‘double-theft’ that is always ‘outside’ or in between (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: 7). Rather than the deadweight of imitation. of being ‘between the twos’. the act of stealing involves a radical mode of thought because thinking has become an act of immanent creation rather than one of nostalgic reproduction. Acker’s texts.The Idiocy of the Event 63 writing. thought. Pauline Réage’s masochistic protagonist. This kind of tactic does not only challenge representation and meaning in literature. imply a very different friendship than that which relies on common sense. one novel being entitled Great Expectations. ‘I stole Félix. Rather. Stealing is a more radical move than plagiarism in that it produces something new out of the old. Acker writes in Great Expectations. Or. and I hope he did the same for me’ (Deleuze and Parnet 2002: 17). She ‘borrows’ characters. In the former. You’re a con man’ (Acker 1982: 98). She uses. For example. ‘The only way you can get the real self’. she includes the writings of classical Roman poet Propertius and Pauline Réage’s infamous The Story of O as well as quasi-fictionalised versions of real life critics such as Sylvère Lotringer and Susan Sontag. thereby undermining it as a meaning-making process. it is important to note. more radically.

In Empire of the Senseless she writes: ‘[S]ince the I who desired and the eye who perceived had nothing to do with each other . . on a narrative level. thought simply refuses to come back to itself and thereby to ground the being of her characters as constituted subjects. Thinking has two possible outcomes in these novels. Missing is also a logical literary narrative as well as a grammar through which we could determine the ‘I’ and a continuous self-reflexive consciousness that would make thought their ‘own’. Acker’s characters are denied a ‘natural capacity for thought’ in the way in which their identities are disrupted through their stolen roles and nature.64 Frida Beckman possibility of the self-reflexive moment of subjectivity that haunts philosophical thinking. . While situating her characters in a patchwork of philosophical and literary discourse. This means that the philosophical statements that are scattered through Acker’s writing are not part of any coherent argument or thinking on behalf of the characters. a mutual mirroring. they are ruthlessly mingled with a kind of incoherent splutter – ‘I’m a . Acker’s layering of literature and philosophy creates subjects without thoughts and thoughts without subjects. Acker undermines any moment that would enable a dialectical reflection. Her work seems apparently intelligent and reflective but this overtly intellectual self-reflexivity cannot be sustained. Thinking has a problem completing the circle of thought through which the characters could be portrayed as selfreflective subjects. In fact. googoo’ – short notes on sexual assault and pieces of appropriated narrative (Acker 1982: 21). When classic philosophical claims are squeezed in between nameless subjects. Thinking is no longer presented as subjective reflection. In Acker’s fiction. Such a strategy would presume the possibility of knowing. between being and thought. both epistemological and ontological. Instead. incoherent narrative and stolen scenes of sexual violence. But there is no vantage point in Acker’s texts and thereby thinking becomes neither a definition of being nor a mode of reflection. of an autonomous vantage point. between literature and philosophy and also. the presence of philosophical thought does not serve to construct characters as philosophical subjects. any attempt at self-reflection seems to take her characters even further from themselves. In this way. these characters neither come to reflect philosophically on literary events nor do they reflect in a literary manner on philosophical events. Her characters are portrayed as beyond a ‘natural capacity for thought’. it ends either in a stated impossibility of thinking or in the dissolution of the logic of thought and its relation to the subject.

is . Acker’s writing fits well as a thematisation of the Russian idiot that no longer takes for granted his own pre-existent capacity for thought. In her text. Thus far. half-formed misshapen thoughts. what signifies what? What is the secret of this chaos? (Since there’s no possibility. Acker plays with and ridicules the Cartesian agent capable of improving himself through thinking. lousy spelling. By extension. they lose the possibility for coherent self-reflection. does not only reject reminiscence. The common sense of the philosophical idiot functions as such because to him. there is no possibility for thought to be truly self-reflexive – thought cannot return to prove the subjective capacity of the character to think. it also rejects the nostalgia for the capacity to think that haunts both Artaud and the conceptual persona of Deleuze and Guattari’s Russian idiot. thinking is obvious and does not therefore lead to the questioning of thought itself. is exchanged for ‘play’. these philosophical scraps are juxtaposed to the most extreme forms of physical and unconstrained desires. thought comes to be outside itself. When Acker’s characters are temporarily and defectively constituted through philosophical claims. In fact. there’s play. but through someone else’s thinking about thinking. nor through thinking about thinking. Acker’s writing. the ‘instrumental stance’ to one’s desires. incoherences. here. Instead of producing coherent self-reflection. tendencies. We read: ‘Stylistically: simultaneous contrasts. Thought. they also lack the immediate recognition through which thinking could proceed along the path of common sense. inclinations. Acker’s characters do not only lack the capacity for self-reflexivity. not through thinking. Acker seems to resist representation in favour of a stuttering text in which characters ebb and flow without a delineable subjectivity. in Acker’s writing. seemingly philosophical ponderings concerning the nature of being and thinking are mixed with incoherent writings on sadistic and masochistic relations.The Idiocy of the Event 65 and at the same time existed in the same body – mine: I was not possible’ (Acker 1988: 33). however. Acker too questions the self-evident nature of thought. extravagancies. When Acker’s characters are caught in a repetition of thoughts that cannot be identified as their own. Elegance and completely filthy sex together)’ (Acker 1982: 107). Thinking. In this way. In its forceful mixture of challenging and frequently repulsive narrative fragments and its unforeseeable textual spaces Acker’s work is distinctly similar to Artaud’s. beside itself. inclinations and habits. there are no such circles to be made. Instead. habits of thought and feeling is overtly ridiculed. Like Artaud. they are constituted. Acker’s writing violently opposes such self-evidence of thought.

Acker’s writings. Stealing Artaud: New Friendship. ‘rather than objects. to return to Deleuze and Guattari. New Idiocy But where is the thought that is without an I? What is the ethics of the thought-event that is beyond the individual subject? We have still not managed to determine what such an event of thought would be. the totalising power of reason whereby thought could make sense of itself. she denies the friendship of philosophy.66 Frida Beckman not so much a mode of reflection or knowledge as it is an event – an immanent possibility unrestrained by Cartesian cognition as well as by a nostalgia for it. Genitality is a way of pointing to a creation rather than the innate capacity for thought. he is replacing the reproduction of an already existing quality (Image of thought) with the creation of thought through a violent becoming (thought without Image). It is a way of escaping the idiocy of philosophy by replacing the Image of thought in which thinking already exists and can be judged with the birth of thought outside such preordained presuppositions. The event of thought and its embodiments in philosophy and literature is the event of the con. When Artaud says that he is ‘innately genital’ and that he must ‘whip his innateness’ in order to be. It is. IV. ‘Since the world has disappeared’. By inserting philosophical fragments in context without sense. are negotiations of the ‘power relationships inherent in writing’ (Mitchell and Parker 2005: 68). would we not construct another image of thought?) Deleuze takes Artaud’s concept of genitality as a possibility for thinking without an image. stealing becomes an event of thought in that it is unhampered by pretentions to any Image or Idea. (Indeed. As Catherine Dale points out. her strategies of layering of philosophical and literary discourses could be related to negotiating the power relationships inherent in thought. And this is also how philosophy and literature meet in Acker’s texts – through a smouldering within time where transcendent thought is impossible. Artaud can make innateness genital because he sees . efficiently doing away with the transcendent outside. it has been pointed out. there exists that smouldering within time where and when subject meets object’ (Acker 1988: 38). Artaud is he who can think only if he obliterates the Image of thought and genitality violates this image because it threatens the reproduction of the already existing capacity of thinking that the Image of thought presumes. Acker writes. to will the difference. if we did. While this could be related to her infamous strategies of plagiarism.

Both O and Artaud balance between genitality as becoming or disappearing. or the impossibility of speaking and being so central in feminist studies. his castration enabling his access to consciousness which. There was nobody to walk away’ (Acker 1996: 9).12 In the novel. the protagonist. King of the Pirates. O becomes the very possibility for thought. we recall. it seems. ‘I truly lose myself in thought like in dreams’. Acker chains the body to the text. the engendering of thinking in thought as Deleuze calls it. many readings of Réage’s novel have pointed out. One might say. then. Artaud needs to produce a gashing hole in order to reach consciousness and language. in her masochistic surrender and complete abandon of integrity and self-hood is. In her novel Pussy. thought is engendered in itself without presumptions (Dale 2002: 89). Acker invites. ‘the way one returns to thought. the ‘complete nothingness’ from which Artaud snatches his ‘shreds’ of poetry? (Artaud 1965: 8). is about having the courage to confront the idiocy of philosophy. ‘I can’t help myself anymore I really can’t I’m just a girl I didn’t ask to be born a girl. Artaud writes. O’s statement is later followed up by one by (Acker’s) Artaud who declares that ‘Now I am Gérard de Nerval after he castrated himself because consciousness in the form of language is now pouring out of me and hurting me and so I can be with you. This process. Acker’s stealing thus brings the inaccuracies and absences to thought. O has a difficulty with being beyond the hole that her name spells out because ‘I couldn’t walk away because inside the whorehouse I wasn’t anybody. In Acker’s hands. For Acker’s Artaud. Is this then. an O. as the beginning of thought – the aim for Artaud’s nostalgic longing for ‘owning’ the capacity to think. the O. I shall own you O’ (Acker 1996: 21). that Acker takes the cue of Artaud’s/Deleuze’s concept of genitality and brings it into the traditionally female position of non – access to language and consciousness. the .11 Acker couples O’s sexual concerns as a masochistic prostitute with the painful event of thought in Artaud. I know totally realistically I’m an alien existant’ (sic) (Acker 1982: 117). I am he who knows the inmost recesses of loss’ (Artaud 1965: 74–5). suddenly. enables his possession of O. Acker places the O. that Acker has stolen from Réage’s novel. in turn. of facing the possibility of pain and madness as the event of thought. But while O struggles to exist beyond the hole.The Idiocy of the Event 67 it as an autonomous creation. Artaud. But who is O? O. the nothingness. Artaud’s creative idiocy opens a way to engage the female inaccessibility to thought toward a rebellious refusal to think. or rather steals. She sets up an incoherent communication between Artaud and O. a void or a hole – a nothing. O to Artaud and S/M to thought. When I think. with the costs of the loss of self.

49 and 63 respectively). ‘is original only in its omissions and inaccuracies. As the many feminist readings of her work suggest. Both her characters and the text itself lack the common sense that allows presuppositions regarding the nature of thinking.68 Frida Beckman body that it has feared and the potential incapacity that it has ignored. from a genital plane of immanence that disables the reminiscence at the basis of the image of thought from Socrates to Descartes. then. not just beyond a phallogocentric frame of thought. the absences surrounding its inclusions. she follows the critical approach(es) evinced both in postcolonial and feminist quarters that see mimesis as introducing a powerful disruptive force into the dominant discourse that it mimics. that if thinking in Acker’s work is idiotic. Does this mean that we can consider Acker’s fiction as an alternative configuration of idiocy. Acker constructs her characters through statements about the impossibility of identity. one that may be more active than the idiocies Deleuze and Guattari proffer? Considering Acker’s writing in terms of idiocy may be perceived as provocative. Is O the possibility for a thinking that is ‘neither given by innateness nor presupposed by reminiscence but engendered in its genitality’ as Deleuze desires? Beginning with O means beginning from nothing. her literary project can be discussed in relation to Luce Irigaray’s philosophical one. and many others that clearly echo the terminology and thought of what in her contemporary America was called poststructuralism. In other words. However. Acker can indeed be said to challenge the mastery of discourse through pastiche and mimicry and in this particular respect. about moving so fast you become ‘a perfect image: closed’. Acker’s literary production invests Irigarayan mimicry with the problem of thinking. not in the least because many feminist critics have pointed to Acker’s writing as offering an important contribution to the possibility of thinking female subjectivity. Acker’s repetition. By tying philosophy and its presumptions regarding thinking closely to her characters while simultaneously subverting its morals. In this sense. then this is an articulation that does not playfully repeat a masculine framework of thought but that violates it with its repetition. It seems clear. the forgetfulness around its remembering’ (Jacobs 1989: 53). if this strategy opens for ‘another articulation’ as Brennan suggests. Acker creates a space that resists any transcendent logic that could determine the nature of thinking. but thinking in itself. . it is not so in the philosophical sense described in Difference and Repetition. about not being a name but a movement (Acker 1982: 44. Like Irigaray. as Naomi Jacobs suggests. Unlike Irigaray’s repetition that works to bring out the feminine potential in the history of metaphysics.

There is no world. unable to provide the reassuring ‘therefore’ that would allow thought to reconfirm the existence of ‘I’. Acker lets O in Pussy. for it is pinned to knowledge. she takes his ball and runs with it. King of the Pirates state: ‘I thought. nor with the idiot as he who questions this capacity. that is the Russian idiot (Deleuze 1004b: 165). Acker has the courage of ‘modestly denying what everybody is supposed to recognize’ and at first glance her work would thereby seem to correspond to the other version of the idiot that Deleuze proposes. the conceptual persona of the Russian idiot in What is Philosophy? is compromised by an unacknowledged. the being of thought without an I. Her destruction of thought is a way of giving up the project of authenticity altogether and affirming the non-originality of thought itself. As she writes in Bodies of Work ‘The problem with expression is that it is too narrow a basis for writing. knowledge which is mainly rational. Acker finds a mirror. As a complex challenge to Descartes’ proof for his own being through thinking.The Idiocy of the Event 69 she denies the self-evidence of thinking and knowing. there is nobody in the world and thought hangs loose. it coincides quite clearly with the struggle against the Image of thought that Deleuze calls for in Difference and Repetition. As such. ‘even at the cost of the greatest deconstructions and the greatest demoralizations’ (Deleuze 2004b: 166). her writing repeatedly rejects the possibility of a complete circle of self-reflexivity that would allow her characters as well as her texts themselves to become capable of coherent thinking. that while Acker certainly finds an ally in Artaud. At stake in Acker’s fiction is the occasion of thought itself. a reflection of her own project for the unsettling of the Cartesian reign of unsullied. And yet. There is no stable relation . Acker simply refuses to create her fiction and her characters in accordance with a tradition that does not account for any movement outside the circle of self-reflexive thought. however. then. unbodied thought (Harryman 2004: 164). It seems. I would suggest. nostalgia in Artaud. Carla Harryman writes that in Artaud. It neither naturalises the capacity for thought nor mourns its loss. that Acker’s writing of idiocy fits neither with the idiot as the figure of common sense. The inability to think in Acker thus comes to have less to do with the possibility of thinking than with the inability to locate this thinking in a coherent ‘I’. there’s nobody’ (Acker 1996: 57). where I am in this world which is no world. As I have suggested. or at least untheorised. however. In this sense. Acker’s fiction renounces representation and the common sense that upholds the morality of the Image. I trust neither my ability to know nor what I think I know’ (Acker 1997: viii).

thinking becomes a doing. Deleuze cites Maurice Blanchot when he describes the event as ‘the abyss of the present. According to such a tradition of philosophy. Acker’s characters simply are not thinking. The abyss of the present cannot sustain a friendship of common sense. In this abyss of the present. we are not thinking (Deleuze 2006: 101). historical and fictional characters.70 Frida Beckman between inside and outside. . the pre-eminence of stolen material in Acker’s texts. ethics of friendship as a means of evaluating and coordinating thought. her writing resists a presupposed image or Idea according to which thinking could proceed. If it is correct. I would like to express my thanks to Dr Charlie Blake for crucial response to an early draft of this paper. Despite. Through the disjunctive mix of philosophy and literature. that is thinking as the creative and absolutely unrestrained idiocy of the event. If Acker’s writing does indeed achieve this it does so by presenting what may be called a post-Russian form of idiocy. and the possibility of thought demands a refusal of its self-evident nature. the event necessarily precludes the possibility of thinking within the coordinates of a presupposed image. as Deleuze argues through Nietzsche. the time without present with which I have no relation. bits of literary history. it does so through the unveiling of what has been latent in Deleuze and Guattari all along. that as long as our thinking follows the logic of the reactive forces of metaphysics. an action released from any fixed point. of common coordinates. This article has posited that the presumptions of the philosophical idiot are replaced in Deleuze and Guattari by a Russian idiot that does not quite manage to escape a classical. or maybe because of. fragments of sentences and narrative all stand to evince thought as an event unhampered by innate capacities as well as nostalgia for authenticity. no Cartesian consciousness through which the ‘I’ could be a reflection on the very fact of thinking. If it does so. to an anonymous reader for crucial response to a later draft and to Professor James Williams for helping me make sure that I got my Images and images right. Greek. Scraps of philosophical discourse. toward which I am unable to project myself’ (Deleuze 2004a: 172). What Acker’s writing points toward is a sense in which the event of thought must be idiotic in a manner that supersedes both innateness and nostalgia. At the same time. Notes 1. then the event of thought can only take place through an idiocy that is neither that at the heart of philosophy nor that of the Russian madman.

arguably. References Acker. see. Descartes. Jack Hirschman. 4. Kathy (1996) Pussy: King of the Pirates. Artaud. 6. Nicholas de Cusa’s wrote on the figure of the idiot in the fifteenth century and Deleuze and Guattari point toward him as the first to make the idiot into a conceptual persona (What is Philosophy?. . with the seminars called ‘Politics of Friendship’ in 1988–89 in France. London: Pan Books. Kathy (1982) Great Expectations. Bloomington. My aim here. New York: Grove Press. and Epistemon – the public expert (What is Philosophy?. Antonin (1965) Artaud Anthology. is not to make a (belated) contribution to these debates but rather to use the notion of friendship as a stepping stone toward a discussion of the ethics that qualify the event of thought in Artaud and Acker. ed. Acker presents O as a prostitute – in Réage’s novel she is not. 2003: 62). Cited in Hayman (1977: 85). an interesting point in itself in relation to Acker’s strategy of incorporating others’ work and the implications of such strategy on how we think about friendship. London: Serpent’s Tail. The notion of friendship has been extensively theorised by philosophers from Aristotle to Derrida. Kathy (1997) Bodies of Work: Essays by Kathy Acker. however. ‘The conceptual persona’. Acker. for example. so that Nicholas of Cusa. 9. 11. the contemporary interest peaking. IN: Indiana University Press. should have signed themselves “the idiot”. Her book Stupidity was published in 2002. Kathy (1988) Empire of the Senseless. has spent quite a bit of time theorising the notion of stupidity. 3. 5. or even Descartes. 7. Acker.The Idiocy of the Event 71 2. Deleuze and Guattari write. as Lambert notes. works with thought according to three personae. just as Nietzsche signed himself “the Antichrist” or “Dionysus crucified” ’ (Deleuze and Guattari 2003: 64). This exchange between Artaud and O also appears in a slightly modified version as the essay ‘The end of the world of white men’ (Acker 1995). 10. the prefix ‘con’ has its etymological base in ‘com’. Kathy (1995) ‘The End of the World of White Men’. as Deleuze and Guattari show. in Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston (eds. ‘is the becoming or the subject of philosophy. Charles Stivale’s work on these relations including Gilles Deleuze’s ABC: The Folds of Friendship (2007) and ‘The folds of friendship: DerridaDeleuze-Foucault’ (2000). She also writes about stupidity in relation to Acker in the essay ‘Kathy goes to hell: on the irresolvable stupidity of Acker’s death’. 8. Acker. This nostalgia and recognition of his lost capacity for thought also differentiates this Russian idiot from yet another idiot that appears in Deleuze’s essay ‘Plato and the Simulacrum’. San Francisco: City Lights Books. 2003: 221). New York: Grove Press. This idiot. Acker. Polyander – the technician. that is ‘with’. on a par with the philosopher. Eudoxus – the idiot.). Posthuman Bodies. incidentally. Obviously. is more likely to be found in Shakespeare than in Dostoevsky and is characterised less by the naive innocence of the common man than by a ‘will to stupidity’ or even ‘malicious cunning’ that allows him to ignore his effect on the world (2002: 5). 12. Ronell. For this more personal-philosophical aspect of Deleuze and friendship.

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