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“Deleuze and Negri: Pervert and Subvert”: Multitudes Interview with

François Zourabichvili, June 2002.

Translation Diarmuid Hester, June 2010.

Available at

Intro: Responding to two questions posed by Y. Ichida regarding

Giles Deleuze's conception of politics and its relation to the notion of
the multitude, François Zourabichvili attempts to refine Deleuze's
conception of an in-voluntarist politics by distinguishing it from the
thought of Toni Negri: the concept of the multitude, he concludes, is
not Deleuzian; furthermore, the “institution” in Deleuze’s thought
does not correspond to Negri’s “constituent”. Where Negri proposes
a total theory, Deleuze proceeds by a series of local skirmishes,
going from localised struggle to localised struggle; one position of
instability to another. The opposition between Deleuzian
“involuntarism” and Negrian “voluntarism” signals a disagreement
over the system of actualisation.

Multitudes: 1. With regards to the [perceived] absence of every

political project in Deleuze's work, you have spoken, in “Deleuze
and the possible” (Deleuze. Une vie philosophique, ed. E. Alliez,
1998), of an “involuntarism” that is characteristic of his “leftism”
and you have identified a Deleuzian politics in his conception of the
possible as that which is not realised but rather created. From this
point of view, can the “multitude” as a political subject be
Deleuzian? What relationship do you see between the insistence of
Toni Negri on the “subject” (often called absolutely voluntarist) and
this Deleuzian “involuntarism”? 2. If, for Deleuze, politics consists of
creating and actualising the possible can philosophy have a role to
play in this actualisation? Or does Deleuze's silence regarding the
concrete creation of the possible mean that politics becomes
separate from philosophy?

FZ: The absence of a project doesn’t indicate a lacuna, but is in fact

the condition of what Deleuze calls “believing in the world” (not
believing in another world, or one transformed): Deleuze held that
faith in the world or in what happens to us is the problem, or at least
has become so (cf. Cinema II: The Time-Image). It’s not that images
and games make us lose our sense of reality, as conventional
discourse would have it, but rather that the habitual condition of this
belief has collapsed upon itself. The “fact of modernity” is that
recognisable systems, to which we ordinarily submit in every walk of
life (in work, in conjugality, in militantism, in art, etc.), tend to
appear to us as the clichés they are: we oscillate between an
experience of déjà-vu and the bare event because we do not know
how to stop participating in systems that are no longer secure
in their function. Here, concerning the concept of “revolutionary-
becoming” (devenir-révolutionnaire) (as opposed to concerns about
the revolution’s future [l'avenir de la revolution]), the general theme
of “involuntarism” relates to politics. This concept is less a political
carpe diem than a veritable trial: shall we know, one day, how
to grant a reality to events as they are (1905, the Liberation, 1968),
independent of both a plan for the future which assigns to them a
certain degree and signification (“répétition générale”), or a
retrospective judgement that evaluates them after have come to
pass (as a revolution missed/betrayed/toxic)? We always want an
event to have an end, but an event is from the outset a rupture, a
transformation of collective perception (new relations to work, to
knowledge, to childhood, to time, to sexuality, etc.). Thus believing
in the world is about believing in the reality of the world's internal
ruptures. According to Deleuze and Guattari, political
potential resides in these ruptures (systematically misrecognised
by those prescient and retrospective assessments); indeed, they are
the source of law and every new economic, social or political
assemblage, that is to say, institutions in general (new laws, new
relations at work or school, or even new forms of conjugal life).

As for what you call “the concrete creation of the possible” there
must, as a rule, be silence. No one knows how to anticipate that
which can only be created (witness Deleuze's obstinate silence at
the end of “Postscript on the Societies of Control”): it is not possible
to highlight the axes of a new kind of struggle because these
struggles are already at work (cf. “May '68 didn’t happen”). Yet this
theoretical aporia doesn’t necessarily mark the destitution of
thought: it could be, rather, the courage of a thought which exposes
itself to time. The role of the philosopher in the actualisation of open
possibilities is another matter, and Deleuze makes himself quite
clear on this point, most notably in an interview with Foucault in
1972: the time of the philosopher as guide of the masses is over,
dispatched by philosophy itself, whose internal transformation
encourages the philosopher to think of himself as having a different
kind of status. Not that the role of philosophy in “becomings-
revolutionary” is negligible, in fact one might say it’s the sole
purpose of the philosopher-as-scout; but philosophy, like other
disciplines, assumes a role inasmuch as its practices are
not immutable and its own transformations resonate with the
transformations of other practices, theoretical or militant. In this
sense, transformations - and their political potential - go
through philosophy. In a book like A Thousand Plateaus, the practice
of these resonances is a very condition of the transformation of
philosophical discourse and what should be studied [in this work] is
the Deleuzoguattarian outline of an immanent or “literal” discourse.
“Literality”, that is to say the nomadic distribution of
meaning arising from the division between proper and figurative
sense, is nothing other than the production of certain effects in the
political field. For instance, to take up the example of Cinema II
regarding the transformation of political cinema in the second half
of the 20th century, statements like “bankers are killers” and
“factories are prisons”, at a certain level must be heard literally, not
as metaphorical agit-prop clichés. Certainly, bankers are rarely
killers in the proper sense, but on the other hand, if we all we have
here is metaphor, the system of banking remains unscathed and
we are confined to merely imagining certain humanitarian
adjustments. However, everyone more or less intuits this literal
understanding, maybe it’s even an aspect of this “fact of
modernity”; what remains to be done is to produce philosophical
conditions in it; to seize it with a discourse that shows its
legitimacy and explores its virtualities. This is an essential
dimension of Deleuze's work since Difference and Repetition - an
essential, but puzzling dimension, since most people think that
Deleuze's discourse is metaphorical or do not understand how this
can be tenable.

Is the concept of the multitude Deleuzian? I don't think so. But I

don't think it matters. For if we are in the presence here of two
thoughts instead of only one, there is cause for delight: we’re very
fortunate. I think that the major difference concerns the institution.
For Negri, the institution does not play any role: in relation to the
notion of “constitutent power” it is pure exteriority (cf. the
opposition between limited and unlimited; measurable and
immeasurable). He isn’t concerned with the institution which comes
from without, as integration and distortion. Consequently,
“constituent” poses a problem: everything that this shapeless and
“omni-versatile” power constitutes, it must immediately negate in
order to remain itself; yet in so doing, it seems to me, it cannot but
negate a part of itself. With Deleuze, the institution understood in
two senses, distorts equally desire and the creative moment but it is
no less positive for this: the act itself constitutes and actualises a
creation. Without doubt at a certain level the two models,
integration (or “capture”) and actualisation (or “assemblages”,
always threatened by “stratification”), are similar (as we see in
Foucault). Nevertheless, they continue to be distinguished from one
another, and Deleuze is the first to formulate the
incommensurability of the common (understood as “a
communication of the heterogeneous”) to the external measure of
the “common sense”. He does so by linking the “small” and the
excessively large, in those lines which seem to me to have inspired
the original developments on poverty in Kairos, Alma Venus,
Multitude (cf. Difference and Repetition [52-55]). In short, the
relation of the virtual and the actual is that which dramatises the
relation between desire and the institution in Deleuze. Nomads lie at
the edge of this and for this reason do not leave a mark upon
history. They cross the threshold of representation only negatively,
as acts of resistance: every form of resistance is reciprocal and
nomadic (cf. the concept of the “war machine”). Therefore, what
tends to go unperceived is the positivity that envelops resistance:
that is to say, the specific space-time that establishes itself in every
case and that does not allow itself become institutionalised in the
ordinary sense of the term, but reveals the paradox of the
institution, inseparable from a crisis and a struggle, and opens
possibilities for social or juridical assemblages that were previously
unthinkable. These are, very roughly, the two meanings of
institution in Deleuze.

Perhaps it is in this sense that power is constituent in Negri: perhaps

there is a possible convergence between insurrectional space-time
in Deleuze (which makes itself apparent to “spatio-temporal
dynamisms”, of which it is a question of the theory of the Idea, cf.
Difference and Repetition) and Negri’s revamped Marxist “living
labour”. Anyhow, it can only be at the level of this detail that a
convergence is possible and not around the general rallying cries of
“immanence!” and “event!”, that is to say, notions emptied of their
conceptual force (loss of detail is always the price to pay for a
unitary philosophy). But what is clear, is that as soon as Deleuze
posits the relation of actualisation, action can no longer be directed
towards ignoring or destroying institutions. One of the leitmotifs of
A Thousand Plateaus is that “molar” (hard “segmentarities”, the
institutional cutting-up or scansion of our lives) is not less necessary
to life than the “molecular” (where life produces, invents, creates
itself): a minimum of reproduction is necessary, even if we suffer
from the fact that the latter occupies all of the field. In any case, the
naked Body without Organs (a little like the analogue of constituent
power) is nothing other than death itself, which is why every
becoming involves a relationship to death, a sort of death drive (the
repulsion of all institutions, of all “organs”). From this, and against
Negri, we can posit a perversive rather than subversive model (on
this opposition, cf. in particular Logic of Sense). In contrast to Negri,
Deleuze never believed the promises of subversion, on the contrary,
he was attentive to the manner in which every order, every
institution, is incessantly perverted by “lines of flight”. Hence, a first
difference of a methodological order: where Negri proposes a total
theory, Deleuze proceeds by skirmishes, by localised
destabilisations. For example, [Deleuze] often approaches the topic
of the institution, but from a diverse range of angles which never
resolve themselves into a unified theory. Thus, as regards the topic
of institutions, of course his discourse seems lacunary, because he
eschews explanation, always looking for sensitive points where the
predominant doxa can be affected: for him, theory is a practice, a
perverse practice. His conception of politics is similar: always going
from one localised struggle to another, having these instances
communicate in solidarity, yet never revealing an enterprise for
total subversion. (This is why he admired the individual militantism
of Foucault and Guattari.) The second difference is of the order of
the chronotopic: the thought of Deleuze and the thought of Negri
are both governed by the general dynamism of the inside exit, of
the immanent flight (to finally conquer the earth!); but with Deleuze
we cannot flee [fuir] except by frightening a given system [faire fuir]
(the perverse model - cf. the formulation “leave philosophy by
philosophy”). Negri, on the other hand, posits the subversive and
splendid myth of an Exodus by considering the tendency of the
capitalist order to nourish itself on the cooperative work of the
multitude, which in turn, by its own work ceaselessly subtracts itself
more and more from the capitalist order (if this myth is true, it
would be a great trick played on the powerful who watch over us). A
confirmation of this divergence is the indifference of the authors of
Empire regarding the distinction between the migrant and the
nomad, which is so essential in A Thousand Plateaus.

As for the voluntarist remnant of Negri's thought, it is easily

attributable. Certainly, according to one explanation the new post-
Fordist paradigm was imposed on capitalism by the great anti-
disciplinary transformation of collective subjectivity and this clearly
inclines towards the side of the involuntary, and from this point of
view brings about an exciting complement to “Postscript on Control
Societies”. But the obstinacy of making even an open-ended subject
of the multitude, for me leads to a logical impasse: the insoluble
paradox of a voluntarist involuntarism. Negri, with ample lucidity,
gives it this formulation: “effective action has always attracted new
successes” (Insurgencies, [418]). Obviously, this conversion of the
practical cannot be self-sufficient, it must find the sources of its
confidence elsewhere, in real movements, and that's why Empire is
in principle the indispensible complement of Insurgencies. But
herein lies the surprise: in place of an empirical foundation of
voluntarism, we fall back on a voluntarism which lies at the heart of
a description of real movements, on the traditional Marxist mode of
prescription of the ineluctable: the Exodus of the multitude out of
capitalism is an a priori deduction. The deduction was elsewhere
acquired at the end of Insurgencies: “this domination is always
irredeemably undermined by the constituent sabotage of the
multitude” ([437]). For the latter, this voluntarism falls back upon a
presumption of the permanence of innovation, the event and
creation, with rare moments of crystallisation. For Deleuze and
Guattari, however, one must not confuse the conditions of creation
and effective creation: that there are always lines of flight does not
mean that we know how to recognise them or that we can trust
them, the strength of the multitude being most often “separated
from what it can do”. Thus the same disagreement over the system
of actualisation. Thus, Negri's disenchanted enthusiasm (his own
words) differs greatly from Deleuze's joyful pessimism.