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Deleuze, Phenomenology and the Real

In this paper I argue that Deleuze and Guattari stand between the
phenomenological tradition and the recent resurgence of interest
within Continental philosophy in metaphysical speculation of a realist
orientation. The paper has two aims, one interpretive, the other
conceptual.

First, the interpretative aim: Deleuze and Guattari are an enigma.


Even the most basic questions of fundamental philosophical doctrine
remain unsettled: is their project essentially continuous with the
natural sciences (DeLanda forthcoming; Protevi 2010)? Is it by contrast
a description of the specificities of lived human experience, a
phenomenology (Williams 2008; Hughes 2008)? Or are they
speculative metaphysicians of the early modern rationalist tradition of
Spinoza and Leibniz (Villiani 1999)? No one seems quite sure.

I think their position can be made clear, but only by seeing them as
emerging out of the intellectual framework of German idealism, a
tradition initiated by Kant. The central thought of Kants mature
philosophy is the distinction between things as they appear to us, and
things as they are in themselves. Kants view sees human experience
of the world as having two essential ingredients: there is a contribution
from the world (from, as he puts it, things as they are in themselves),
and a contribution from the human cognitive system. For Kant the
contribution the human mind makes to perception is the condition of
possibility of experience of any kind at all. It follows that if we remove
this contribution, even in thought, then the world is resistant to direct
experience, unknowable.

German idealists responded to the inaccessibility of things in


themselves in two different ways. The dominant mainstream of idealist
thought dismissed the idea of things in themselves as paradoxical and
unnecessary. But a counter-tradition, including Schelling, Maimon,
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, took the idea as a challenge and
responded by attempting to give a positive characterization of things
in itself that is maximally abstracted from the contribution of human
cognition. Deleuze and Guattari are operating in this German counter-
tradition because they regarded the project of gaining such cognition
of the thing in itself as a task that philosophy must struggle to perform.

On this way of understanding Deleuze and Guattari, there is a


phenomenological component to their thought: they sometimes start
from descriptions of human experience (i.e. things as they appear to
us). But Deleuze and Guattari are not interested in establishing
invariant structural features or conditions of experience. Rather they
are interested in peak experiences, for example experiences of art
works that break everyday experience apart and allow us to see
something else. Equally, they are metaphysical thinkers. Their
metaphysics is not, therefore and despite appearances, of a traditional
type; rather it is filtered through Kants notion of the thing in itself: a
realism that goes beyond the real of everyday experience, and hence
beyond the invariant structures that classical phenomenology
identifies as its conditions of possibility. Thus understood, it presents
an internal challenge to classical phenomenology.

(485 words without references)

References

Joe Hughes (2008) Deleuze and the Genesis of Representation


(London: Continuum)

Manuel DeLanda (forthcoming) Assemblage Theory (Edinburgh:


Edinburgh University Press)

John Protevi (2010) Adding Deleuze to the mix Phenom Cogn Sci
9:417-436

Arnaud Villani (1999) La gupe et lorchide: essai sur Gilles Deleuze


(Paris: Belin)

James Williams (2008) Gilles Deleuzes The Logic of Sense: A Critical


Guide and Introduction (London: Continuum)