Folger insists that this parasitic projection reflects “a new form of subjectivity, with an altered relation to authority and to techniques of public governance (bureaucracy) and governance of the self (assujettissment)” (148). If medieval statecraft required bodily displays of authority, towards the end of the 15th century states increasingly relied on written and printed texts to govern. The locus of power, as a consequence, no longer depended on the presence of an authoritative body, but merely an authorial signature carrying the weight of law and threat of sovereign violence. In a similar vein, Cárcel introduces a textual barrier between readers and the ramifications of Leriano’s lovesickness. Along with medieval forms of selfhood, he passes away, leaving El Auctor, San Pedro, and readers to tinker with emerging forms of identification. Oddly enough, Folger falls victim to some of the very same anachronisms he disdains by using Jacques Lacan’s psychoanalytical theory as a method of delving into medieval faculty psychology. Claiming that his objective is not “to ‘apply’ his theory,” but instead to “refine premodern faculty psychology—and its underlying epistemology—with psychoanalytic concepts,” he recasts premodern selfhood in Lacanian terms (40–41). This raises a potential dilemma. In framing his discussion in psychoanalytical jargon, Folger runs the risk of marooning readers in a sea of unfamiliar terms that may hamper comprehension. Furthermore, he overlooks the possibility that referencing the “gaze” or “phallus” artificially forces premodern subjectivity into a Lacanian framework, thus committing the sin of “application” he tries to elude. Still, Folger’s insight on the textual mediation of experience, in conjunction with the rigorous historicizing of premodern subjectivity and its centrality in Cárcel de amor, makes Escape a delight to read and an indispensible resource for scholars of early modern Iberian literature. While his organizational preferences are questionable, Folger artfully manages a myriad of texts ranging from the most familiar works in mainstream Hispanism to articles neglected for lack of translation. From this motley grouping of texts emerges an elaborate description of how writers and courtesans conceived of themselves on their own terms, one that challenges the litany of studies that project the postmodern “subject” onto Spanish Golden Age literature. Thus, a few confusing exceptions notwithstanding, Escape fills a yawning gap in the research on subjectivity during the Early Modern period.
Stanford University CHRISTOPHER KARK
Claire Colebrook. Deleuze and the Meaning of Life. New York: Continuum, 2010. Print. 200 pp. Deleuze and the Meaning of Life is Claire Colebrook’s fourth book on the works of Gilles Deleuze. Moreover, this text is the sixth book devoted to Deleuze in the series Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy. The very fact that such
a work emerges in the context of a blossoming of Deleuze-inspired scholarship has a direct bearing on the aspirations and structure of the book itself. Accordingly, Colebrook’s work is synthetic in nature, aiming to summarize, evaluate, postulate, and take sides in a powerful struggle over the significance and legacy of Deleuze’s reception. Colebrook’s book does not undertake to provide an exhaustive account of vitalism in the works of Deleuze, nor does she attempt to explain or redefine some of the most widely circulated Deleuzian vocabularies, such as deterritorialization, rhizomatics, schizoanalysis, and so forth. Instead, her text seeks to situate Deleuze in the broader context of contemporary debates concerning the established and emergent vitalist tradition. As such, she does not offer a chronology of Deleuze’s writings, nor does she chronicle evolutions or transformations in Deleuzian thinking. Instead, her work begins with and unfolds around a central insight: Deleuze stands out among the thinkers of vitalism insofar as his work uniquely articulates a passive vitalism, distinct from and oftentimes in direct contrast with the active vitalist cannon, one that on Colebrook’s account includes the works of Bergson, Derrida, Foucault, and many others to whom Deleuze is in no doubt indebted but from whom he nonetheless departs. In Colebrook’s own words: “The working hypothesis of this book is that the very idea of passive vitalism presents us with a new way of approaching what it is to think” (7). Colebrook summarizes this active/passive distinction as follows:
Vitalism in its contemporary mode . . . works in two opposite directions. The tradition that Deleuze and Guattari invoke is opposed to the organism as subject or substance that would govern differential relations; their concept of “life” refers not to an ultimate principle of survival, self-maintenance and continuity but to a disrupting and destructive range of forces. The other tradition of vitalism posits “life” as a mystical and unifying principle. It is this second vitalism of meaning and the organism that, despite first appearances, dominates today. The turn to naturalism in philosophy, to bodies and affect in theory, to the embodied, emotional and extended mind in neuroscience: all of these manoeuvres begin the study of forces from the body and its world, and all understand “life” in a traditionally vitalist sense as oriented towards survival, self-maintenance, equilibrium, homeostasis, and autopoiesis. (137)
This deluge of “turns” all turn towards conceptions of life with which Deleuze takes issue.
The key point in terms of the relation between life (and the meaning we make of it) is that for Deleuze, and Deleuze and Guattari, one cannot begin from the bounded organism and then consider the sense that it makes of its world; such a point of view begins from a constituted body and does not explain how that body emerges from a potentiality for orientation—a sense—that enables both bodies and meaning systems. (94)
Sense, that is, meaning, is not assigned to life retrospectively, as Descartes would have it and as Bergson cautions against (Bergson would argue that the very concepts that life develops for the sake of efficiency and expediency become
alienating and life-negating when they are in turn applied to life itself). Rather, meaning/sense has a virtual relation to life that is nonetheless real. The significance of this insight comes to fruition in Colebrook’s Chapter 3, “Inorganic Art” (perhaps her most ambitious and profound chapter), where the very title of her work, Deleuze and the Meaning of Life, becomes functional. As Colebrook contends, Deleuze insists
that while sense or the virtual exists only as unfolded in bodies and actual time and space, it has an insistence and problematic being that exceeds the actual and makes it possible. This is probably the most difficult aspect of Deleuze’s thought but it has great significance for where we are today . . . [for instance] while it is true that language emerged from material interactions, those material interactions were only possible because of something like the problem or idea of language—the virtuality of language. (86)
Thus, on Colebrook’s account, it is the virtual (deterritorialization and difference properly articulated) that co-constitutes passive vitality, and indeed, gives meaning to life. Colebrook therefore argues that Deleuze, rather than positing life in-itself and for-itself, espouses a passive vitalism through which becoming-other is co-effectuated by sense/meaning. Once the reader accepts that there is indeed a distinction to be had between active and passive vitalism and that this distinction is predicated on differing conceptions of the relation of meaning to vitality, the rest of the book falls into place. Colebrook’s work unfolds as an application of her formulation of passive vitalism vis-à-vis meaning/sense to the works of many of the most prominent theorists of the continental tradition, including Derrida, Lacan, Bergson, Descartes, Foucault, and on and on (and on). The chapters of Deleuze and the Meaning of Life are subsequently, even if haphazardly, organized as thematic iterations of this same passive vitalist thesis, albeit a thesis that becomes clearer and increasingly convincing as the book progresses. Some of the most striking contributions of Colebrook’s work are the dexterous and thorough applications of her central insight to Deleuzian theoretical formulations of capitalism, language, and psychoanalysis, which unfold over numerous chapters and in detailed elucidations far too complex to be easily summarized. Even more laudable are Colebrook’s employments of historical, political, and even commonplace examples and metaphors to articulate the complexities of her arguments. Yet despite her adroit deployments of such concrete and easy-to-understand tidbits, hers is by no means an introductory text on Deleuzian thought. Instead, this work constitutes a profound intervention in the contemporary vitalist wrangling over the Deleuzian legacy. Colebrook’s leanings in favor of Deleuze are by no means concealed: her accounts of conflicting paradigms (e.g. Derrida versus Deleuze) decidedly conclude in favor of Deleuze (or at least the Deleuze that she argumentatively instantiates). Indeed, Deleuze and the Meaning of Life concludes with a strikingly bold claim: “We might say then that there can be only one philosophy: that of a passive vitalism, but that such a philosophy
must also include all philosophy” (185). This all-encompassing statement may be a bit off-putting to some. But a strong reading by an articulate author is not tantamount to a supplicating coat-tailing. Colebrook has foregrounded a reading of Deleuze that is unique, compellingly argumentative, and in the context of vitalist debates of today, quite groundbreaking. As a notable example, Colebrook undertakes a rigorous de-oppositionalizing of the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle and of Anti-Oedipus, bringing together both thinkers’ theorizations of death as that which exceeds organicism as such. Just as profoundly, Colebrook outlines the stakes of entertaining the concept of the Foucauldian figure of the docile body as well as the Agambenian figure bare life in their own right: both Foucault and Agamben under-theorize and rely on a naïve understanding of their conceptual figures of the docile body and bare life, respectively. Quite straightforwardly, Deleuze and the Meaning of Life takes a serious academic gamble, one whose implications span across numerous disciplines and throughout the oeuvres of numerous significant continental philosophers, staking out a self-avowedly strong reading of Deleuze. This reading insists that there is something profoundly unique in the Deleuzian corpus concerning the relation of meaning/virtuality/sense to vitality, and that this relation depends upon the passivity of its vitalist face. One side effect of Colebrook’s new book is that, in its efforts to introduce the notion of passive vitalism into debates or disagreements between Deleuze and other major thinkers, such as Bergson, Derrida, Foucault, Rorty, and so on, she largely ignores contemporary debates between and among Deleuzians. Contemporary theorists of Deleuze and secondary literatures concerning Deleuze are largely left by the wayside as a consequence Colebrook’s efforts to advance her innovative thesis. In order to make her case, she brings her passive-vitalist account of Deleuze into dialogue with major thinkers in continental thought, but she does not address the works of her fellow Deleuzians in their own efforts to reformulate and retheorize vitality and materiality. In short, she does little to address contemporary debates among Deleuzians but instead focuses on major theoretical disputes between Deleuze and the major continental thinkers. Colebrook has to date already published several texts that advance Deleuzeinspired scholarship significantly. This book uniquely stands out from Colebrook’s oeuvre insofar as this particular text is by no means meant to be read by newcomers, undergraduates, or even entry-level graduate students. It is quite frankly a serious synthetic advance that stakes out a position from which to advance a passive vitalist trajectory in Deleuzian thought. This text, Deleuze and the Meaning of Life, has the potential to reorient Deleuze scholarship. Whether it will in fact do so remains to be seen. Nonetheless, her central (re)hypothesization of Deleuze in terms of passive vitalism must be taken seriously. For scholars of Deleuze specifically and vitalism more generally, this text is a proverbial “must read.”
The Johns Hopkins University SCOTT GOTTBREHT