Derrida, Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics

Claire Colebrook
Abstract In On Touching Derrida locates Jean-Luc Nancy (and, briefly, Gilles Deleuze) within a tradition of haptic ethics and aesthetics that runs from Aristotle to the present. In his early work on Husserl, Derrida had already claimed that phenomenology’s commitment to the genesis of sense and the sensible is at one and the same time a commitment to pure and rigorous philosophy at the same time as it threatens to over-turn the primacy of conceptuality and cognition.Whereas Nancy (and those other figures whom Derrida cites, such as Merleau-Ponty) express a faith in a return to the sensibility of flesh, Derrida presents his own work as manifestly more cognisant of the necessary distance between flesh and sense. Another ‘approach’ to the haptic is suggested by Gilles Deleuze, whose work Derrida locates within phenomenological presence, despite Deleuze and Guattari’s trenchant rejection of ‘the lived’ and the human organism that inevitably subtends any discussion of the relation between sensibility and sense. Rather than decide for or against this border between flesh and cognition, between post-deconstruction and deconstructive rigour, this essay examines this curious border of touch between philosophy and sensibility, and does so by referring to William Blake’s problem of returning the signs of sense to the sensibility of the hand. * How do proper names operate in theory? I ask the question of theory, not philosophy, insofar as theory is both the invasion and disruption of literary studies that occurred on or about 1976 with certain threatening and enticing French authors, and the capacity of a distanced and critical view of a scene whose own relations are not immediately self-evident. Theory can at one and the same time be marked and dated as an event, as a style of thinking, writing and invoking proper names, at the same as

Derrida, Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics


it is also a potentiality that has always been one of thought’s tendencies. Nowhere is this more evident than in today’s theory wars and theory encounters. Proper names, such as those of Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy and Gilles Deleuze can function as territorializing ‘placards’: the mention of a name places oneself in a territory, creates a body of thinkers and a position of enunciation (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). To use names as markers of an orientation in thinking – to see Deleuze as offering a vitalism, or Derrida as offering a post-structuralism – is at once the constitutive gesture of theory, which would place itself in a self-conscious terrain opposed to unthinking naivety; at the same time it is also a form of anti-theory, a consignment of the potentials of a corpus to a name within chronological time. In Deleuze’s use of proper names and ‘isms’ we can discern both these gestures of theory: Bergsonism and Cezanne-ism are, positively, ways of releasing problems from a corpus. To consider evolution creatively – to really read Bergson – is to take the problem of life beyond the problem of human spirit towards which it was directed by Bergson himself (Deleuze 1988). To truly see a Cezanne painting is to recognise the problem of figure and colour that is actualised in the canvases of Francis Bacon (and that in turn opens a virtual future of canvases that will sustain and radicalise the problem of the analogical, or the tracing of distinct figures from visual intensities) (Deleuze 2004). A proper name is both a territory, an orientation and stability that is required for thinking, and a de-territorialising potential or the opportunity to take a body of work beyond its actualised embodiment. Theory may, then, be the mention of proper names that will enclose thinking in a certain habitus. Theory may also be an imperative to deterritorialise a mode of thinking: the potential of taking the style of a problem beyond its actualised and historically contextualised form. When, today, we speak of the end of theory, the death of theory or existing in a state beyond or after theory, we use theory names in a territorializing and diagnostic sense: a proper name can mark a fall into unthinking rigidity (Docherty 1990, 2003). This occurs both with the sense of the invasion of theory, when we can see an otherwise benevolent literary and philosophical scene as corrupted by the intrusion of (usually foreign) names, and within theory itself, as when Deleuze and Guattari will appear to grant certain names – Aristotle, Descrates, Hegel, Freud, Lacan – a certain malevolence that a properly vital thinking ought to overcome. In Jacques Derrida’s On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy (2005) it is possible to see these two gestures of theory, which are quite distinct from philosophical gestures, for they do not concern the pure articulation of

’ and the other thinkers who might have come closer to touch than Derrida himself) functions as a name that is at one and the same time a problem or potentiality that Derrida would applaud. I would suggest. haptic or material must by their very nature fail. accidental or avoidable philosophical endeavour. Before looking at how the names of Derrida. regard Deleuzianism as a flight from actuality (Badiou 2000. structure and possibility of truth: there is no question of remaining at a merely empirical level. Names are both historical markers and future potentials. to add to Deleuze and Guattari’s three styles of proper name – names as they function in art. yet.’ This can be positive. regard ‘Derrida’ as a pernicious linguisticism or transcendentalism that failed to approach life and the sensible (Protevi 2001). Husserl’s problem of tracing circulating texts. that question’s very urgency and essentiality is also its impossibility. where meaning could be reduced to a historical event within the world (Derrida 1978). signs and doxa back to genesis is required by the very sense. or – as Derrida appears to do in On Touching – regard Deleuze (like Nancy) as symptoms of a seduction by the haptic and sensible that a properly articulated philosophy would avoid. as releasing a force that is in tune with his own work. Consider as an example here Derrida’s early work on Husserl. and the marker for a stupidity that one might diagnose as not. when Derrida will insist on not dismissing too quickly a text that might seem to be nothing more than one more instance of a tired naivety. Theory fails: the look or distance that would intelligently differentiate itself from mere presence and naivety must also. we might note how they function today. The question of the emergence of sense is not a misguided. Deleuze. But theory can also be lived and institutionalised as the attribution of this naïve failure to others. Hallward 2006).24 Claire Colebrook problems so much as thought’s capacity to fall back into ‘isms. ‘Jean-Luc Nancy’ (and to a certain extent ‘Deleuze. Similarly one could. One could. but it can also have a sloganising quality. or at least it can be read in such a manner. Nancy and others operate in Derrida’s own text. science and philosophy – a fourth style of name. be other than the life from which it emerges. from a more responsible attention to conditions. empirical. Husserl is at once the limit of thought’s potentiality. Even so. Questions or problems – what we might refer to as theoretical events – that would strive not simply to live in pure immediacy but enquire into the possibility of the sensible. properly philosophical. in the very structure of its questioning. territorially. the names that operate in theory (Deleuze and . from within a Deleuzian industry. which is picked up once again in On Touching.

but they do operate in thinking as disorientations. grasp or give an ostensive definition of any of these undeconstructibles. all those writers who might try to overcome the cognitive relation between the sense and the world in order to arrive at something like touch itself. intensive. would not gather together all the names and failures that have naively tried to return thinking to its genesis. as so many proper names. Science names. to think about touch is already to be in relation. it would strive to create an orientation for thinking. intuit. A proper name in art marks out a certain way of allowing matter to stand alone. Names in art occur in the manner of what Deleuze refers to as the ‘northern line’ or what Deleuze and Guattari refer to as the ‘feminine line’: it is possible to call a landscape Turner-esque. in contrast with scientific functions and art’s affects and percepts. Joyce or Pinter but simply be recognisable as a style or mode of line). even if we cannot yet discern what it says (and it may even not have emanated from the actual hand of a Turner. forgiveness and so on. actualisable. we may not be able to point to instances of justice. An intensive concept of the haptic would not be the touch of this hand towards this tactility. or even imaginable as organs and affects in general. but a concept of the haptic would direct thought beyond its cognitive. generalising or territorializing tendencies. such as ‘Maxwell’s demon’ or ‘Faraday’s law’ designate functions and impartial observers. An intensive concept would be an infinitive: what occurs if we allow ourselves to think (if not know) what it might be to touch. ways of awaking us from our literalist slumbers. That is. If we consider the haptic as an extensive concept (a non-philosophical concept or generalisation) it merely gathers. as some sort of method. to no longer be present. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 25 Guattari 1994). necessarily. at an extensive concept of the haptic.Derrida. A philosophical concept is. Concepts signal the unthinkable in thought: I cannot know. but without the reduction of the sensible to being? What I would begin to suggest is that this concept of the haptic operates in a philosophical-theoretical manner in Of Touching that is not too distinct from Derrida’s own Kantian concepts. for there cannot be an immediate grasp of touch itself. But an intensive concept. ways of considering movements of matter independent of an embodied subject. or even perhaps to create a Pinter-like dialogue: we can view a work and see that it is a Pollock. to arrive at touch itself. as a theoretical concept. And these names would. or a sentence Joycean. signals that which must be thought but which is . or this eye towards this light. to be distanced. democracy. mark out errors or failures. nor may we say that this or that is deconstruction. including the very concept of deconstruction. The haptic. It may not be possible. if there could be such a thing.

it occurs less in the creation of pure problems and concepts. begins from a relation to the world. of what it is to think. which are neither biographies nor general norms regarding selfhood. would be the capacity to think and create concepts. meaning and sense. Even so. even one’s own body and imaginings. but enable styles of existence. that it might . or opening up a style of thinking. If there is something like theory that is distinct from philosophy. solitary and meditative Descartes. in addition to this philosophical-theoretical tendency the ‘haptic’ also functions in On Touching in a territorializing sense. but Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the persona argues for a relation not of presupposition but of attendant styles and forces. as Heidegger (1967) noted. but this means that the force of concepts is tied to sense. responsibly. and more in the questions we ask about the textual. a drama (Deleuze 1983). and does so through a mention of proper names. the intentional. Concepts are creations that enable relations among terms and that also institute modes of life. that one is already within relations. the actual. Philosophical concepts are intensive because they do no merely name already assembled bodies into a collected set (as an extended gathering of entities) but create orientations and relations that effect a certain mode of time. or some image of one who thinks. presumably. The Cartesian conceptual persona is a drama of doubting. Heidegger already suggests that any understanding of existence presupposes a comportment to the world. Whereas philosophy. or a critical Copernican turn without an overly-punctual and dutiful Kant? When philosophers create concepts they also effect certain personae. mathematically oriented. therefore requires a conceptual persona. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari define ‘conceptual personae’ as crucial functions in philosophy: would it be possible to imagine modern philosophy without a doubting. where sense is a mode of living. while Kantian enlightenment proceeds by staging the abandonment of origins in order to recognise. and where presence in turn is that which is extended in space. Creating a concept. productions of an ‘image of thought’ (Deleuze 1994). archival and historical genesis of those concepts. Personae attach to concepts because concepts are not ways of enumerating what might be taken to exist. in order to arrive at some beginning point of pure thought. the human. where what is said to be will be that which can remain present. theory is the location of those pure problems in conditions of textual emergence. Descartes’ cogito. (Deleuze suggested in Difference and Repetition that thought might take place without an image.26 Claire Colebrook also unthinkable: that which represents the laziest of empiricisms – a fall back into the lull of putative immediacy – and that which should always be thought beyond categories.

In Of Touching the adoption of a voice or style – that of Husserl. ways in which one marks out one’s terrain.2 Against the caricatured persona of ‘theory’ one might try to retrieve a Derridean persona that . for theory as an institutional event has had less to do with the creation of concepts. and more to do with forms of territorialisation. and to the ways in which those gestures have produced territories. the problem of this book. Proper names create placards or refrains. Perhaps we can begin to discern.Derrida. ‘we’ theorists have tried to rescue the philosopher or theorist in Derrida from such domesticating gestures.1 And perhaps. these are not conceptual persona. sense and reason. insisting on the rigour. and how will he create (in addition. that there might not be a ‘one’ who would love wisdom. affirmation and legacy that could not be reduced or understood in such a manner. and then followed by a mournful recognition of impossibility. Derrida at once hails the bold gesture of Nancy’s meditation on the sensible. distances oneself from any number of other bodies. here. with beginning thought again. which is a problem of how one approaches the philosophical archive when one is archiving oneself. We all know the Derridean theoretical persona. and then – from within that yearning logic – recognises that such a pure touch would always have been philosophy’s desire and its impossibility. Would this mean that one no longer did philosophy. and perhaps forestall. and places a series of monumental markers around oneself to both enable. Merleau-Ponty. following the journey of Nancy’s voice towards a touch that might exceed sense and logic. which was nowhere more evident than at the time of his death in the newspaper obituaries that ‘mourned’ the passing of this scandalous Frenchman who doubted thinking. excess. and that one might have arrived at theory: a looking that was not preceded or grounded in some proper image of one who undertakes the force of thought?) If theory has its attendant personae. and alongside) those concepts a series of theoretical personae? In order to approach this distinction between concepts and theoretical personae I will begin rather bluntly. encounters. How will Derrida use the personae of the philosophers through whom he created concepts. Thus it was always the case that the persona of Derridean deconstruction was created through gestures of critical effacement. meaning. against this. Nancy or Franck – is taken on with a deferential commitment to the possibility of the other philosopher’s project. What are the theoretical personae of Deleuze and Derrida? One could answer this question by attending both to the gestures within each name’s corpus that produce certain possibilities of recognition. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 27 be possible to create concepts without some attendant norm of good thinking.

at once the most inevitable and vital of ideas. and desires what an other voice would seek to find beyond philosophy. If it is the case that God is absolutely and divinely creative. as an idea. What I want to examine in the essay that follows is not so much the legitimacy or correctness of Derridean deconstruction versus the vitalism of Deleuze. The very idea of a deconstruction of Christianity is at once an idea indebted to Derrida (as deconstruction) and. in Deleuze and Guattari? The very possibility of a deconstruction of Christianity is. and uncannily devoid of force. possibly literalist. and would such a possibility have arrived. or – as in the case of Deleuzism – an overly linguistic or critical Derrida. emergence and vitalism. so easily. then all that exists must emanate . the idea of God destroys itself from within. If ‘Derrida’ functions as a personification for a critical failure of nerve. now answered by a return to life. That idea. a refusal or negation of everything that ‘Derrida’ has come to stand for: would it be possible. through a particular motif gestured to in On Touching: the deconstruction of Christianity.28 Claire Colebrook would once again take up a voice or proper name in order to open its potentiality. or theoretical territories. for us to overcome transcendence. while lamenting the impossibility of such a ‘beyond’ – that has enabled a certain Deleuzian theoretical persona to overtake what remains of ‘theory. but the ways in which these personae – of a responsible linguistically-nuanced critique on the one hand and a postlinguistic affirmation of life on the other – themselves replay certain rigidities in thinking. in turn. committed to the complete divinity of God. as the relation among present and absent personae in On Touching demonstrates. I want to approach these thought figures. rather than recognise it as one more instance of an ‘ism’.’ The notion of a death or end of theory. for a remaining within the conditions for the possibility of experience (with experience narrowly defined as meaningful experience). project of genesis. or a time after theory. and once monotheism is. perhaps a resistance to thinking that we might so easily overcome piety. so crucial to the forward movement of Nancy’s thought. and this brevity of touch (I would suggest) has a certain force of its own. It is just that theoretical persona – a voice that defers to. has itself produced its theoretical personae: an ethically irresponsible textualism that is now ameliorated by a return to history. perhaps before or beyond Nancy. ‘Deleuze’ stands for a release from critique and an affirmative. is touched on in passing by Derrida. To telescope the idea of the deconstruction of Christianity as put forward by Nancy: once Christianity commits itself to monotheism.

Gilles Deleuze (2004) makes a similar argument about the becomingsecular of Christianity in his book on Francis Bacon. For Nancy the sensible is not an escape from philosophy and monotheism. then. and undoes itself. Insofar as I posit a God who would be the very genesis of all that is. and never delimitable existence. immanent. Once we try to think the origin of all that is.’ Their philosophical task. arrive if thought is not to remain pious. properly – at its own fragile singularity. so often figured today in the Deleuzian literature as an enslavement to the linguistic tradition or the ‘signifier. This is the force of Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? (1994) which charts its way through a series of names – from Plato to Whitehead – all of whom indicate a potentiality for immanence. of paint become spirit. a God ‘who’ authors this world. but sensibility as origin. between natura naturans and natura naturata. they suggest. Thought destroys its self-immolation before an infinite that would be other than this finite world. it would be an act of unthinking stupidity. Transcendence is impossible. and must remain finitely incomplete. like Deleuze and Guattari. There is. It might be possible to begin the thinking of ‘the sensible’ by attributing genesis to a transcendence. he suggests that transcendence will overcome itself. Like Deleuze and Guattari. Also. thought arrives – naturally. I move from transcendence to immanence.Derrida. it is the fulfilment of sense. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 29 from His being. similar to Nancy’s. or life-denying malevolence to remain attached to transcendent figures beyond life. ultimately arrives at the spirituality of matter. There is not a finitude. then we arrive properly not at the origin of sensibility. the very ground of being. but as the condition for all figures. but as divine emanation and creation there could not be a radical distinction between creator and created.’ is not only presented as avoidable. the finite as finite is always intimating what is not itself. comes close to arriving at immanence. that has always been thought as the sensible apprehension of being. then God is nothing other than this sensible. and should. Nancy suggests that the logic of transcendence arises from the sensible. The very project of painting the divinity of Christ’s flesh. Once we think of God. the striving to present spirit in matter. would be to release and realise this positive potentiality of immanence that must. The enslavement to transcendence. beyond which we might posit or think an ungraspable infinite. but fails when it places immanence within the plane of ‘the lived. Philosophy . an inevitable progression to Nancy’s position of sensible immanence that is offered (by Nancy) as philosophy’s and history’s fulfilment. a naïve retreat to some beyond of sense. Phenomenology. not as a god who could be figured like any other being.

moments when thought appeals to some life itself that would be beyond. to speak more simply. touch. Indeed. but which needs to be thought as far more complex that a distinction between theories. does Derrida pass quickly over this idea of Nancy’s – this notion of the inevitability of immanence – and instead focus on what does not undo itself: all those appeals in Nancy (and phenomenology before him) to flesh. we might ask. and then proclaims: ‘believe Christ & his apostles that there is a Class of Men whose delight is in Destroying’ (Blake 1966. those moments in phenomenology. William Blake declares war on the received archive and the daughters of memory. To claim. like Nancy’s seemingly deconstructive appeals to the immanence of the sensible. he suggests that this supposed release from piety. Merleau-Ponty’s invocations of the lived and Franck’s appeal to the flesh. it is the haptic or the return to life itself. can be read as (perhaps inevitable) symptoms of a thinking that cannot but – as thinking – present itself as the expression of a more proper ground. It is the possibility of this destruction that presents itself in a blunt form in an opposition between Deleuze and Derrida. that allows Derrida to align a philosophical corpus with a not-properly-philosophical commitment to sensibility. And I want to demonstrate this by taking a simple literary example. is no longer to behave as the unthinking and pious believer (no longer the vitalist affirmer of life). like Husserl’s references to subjectivity. We have two (inextricably intertwined) possibilities that confront us with the idea of the destruction of pious transcendence. cannot take place. this finitude here and now. Or. So why. Now when Derrida cites Deleuze along with Husserl. but to adopt the persona of the destroyer of piety. In the preface to ‘Milton’. and in terms of the personifications enabled by the industry of deconstruction. are moments of unthinking piety. as both Nancy and Deleuze will do. and in Nancy. the haptic and the lived? For Derrida. are unthinking lapses into the metaphysics of presence: the ideal of some ‘in itself’ that then gives itself to be thought. or the inevitable deconstruction of Christianity. Those referential moments in Nancy. before or perhaps between the sense ‘we’ speaking beings make of life.30 Claire Colebrook and its properly immanent trajectory is offered by Deleuze and Guattari. and the power of proper names. Setting aside the problem of naming and authority – the invocation of Christ to sweep away the ‘Stolen and Perverted Writings’ of the classics – let us confront . as a release from transcendent piety. and exposes its own impossibility. that Christianity deconstructs itself. and how. the appeal to flesh and the lived. as directly revolutionary. plate 2). Merleau-Ponty. touch itself. Aristotle and a series of others.

in destroying destruction. Deleuze can operate as a way of upping the anti-. figure. So now I want to ask a stupid question: who is right? Is it possible to think beyond the linguistic paradigm and consider the life from which such systems emerge. The move to Deleuze in theory today is a move to life. On the one hand Blake declares war on destruction. Such a stupidity is. would this amount to the final abandonment of piety. . force or piety of its own. Derrida creates a persona. with the absent god of language no longer being the great mediating condition that figures our subjection? Or is such a turn to life and genesis that would present itself as the overcoming of all piety the most unthinking of pieties. Now. but to the ‘war machine’ that would destroy the force of law and transcendental conditions. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 31 this appeal to destruction. By citing both Nancy and Deleuze as symptoms of a fall back into an appeal to the presence of the lived. the failure to arrive at the haptic is a failure to arrive at real conditions. at the same time as imagination it must – in destroying – take up some weapon. however radical deconstruction might have been in the move beyond the mind of man to the signifier. no accident and is enabled (at the very same time as it is forestalled) in both Derrida’s and Deleuze’s texts. From a Deleuzo-Guattarian commitment not only to the haptic. and who would – in the supposed war on transcendence and the infinite – once more subject thought to an unthinking naivety or piety. a vitalism that sacrifices itself (and the responsibility of thinking) before a life and force that it must always figure as its own? I want to reiterate that this is a stupid question. an affirmation of the forces that generate figures. for it has a double force. but he is able to do so only because the possibilities of theoretical personae – of transforming problems into proper names – is one of the ways in which theory has always destroyed itself. deaden and impede the intellect.Derrida. Such a double sense occurs in any act of self-archiving: to destroy and overcome the past requires both an identification of the way an archive can limit the imagination. on all those writers who would dampen. in which thinking dramatises its own paralysis as an opposition between theoretical personae. let us translate that double sense of war and self-archiving into the way names operate in On Touching: Deleuze’s name is placed alongside Nancy as one who would believe in the haptic. Blake must believe in a spirit or force of war that could overcome the deadening piety of tradition. and a liberation from any body as such that might deprive thought of its immanent power. of course. and he does so in the name of ‘mental fight’ and ‘spiritual war. indeed a malevolent question.’ On the other hand.

writing.32 Claire Colebrook it failed to move beyond the signifier to life. Derrida will only demonstrate the limits of thought from within. One way of thinking about the relation between Deleuze and Derrida has been to argue that while both are similarly critical of the metaphysical privileging of foundational and constituting mind. we remain with a relation to the sensible? How might one decide on the responsibility of these warring proper names: is it responsible to recognise that a thought of the sensible is always a thought of the sensible. So. that however desirable or seductive an approach to the sensible might be. language and the body that would at first glance seem to preclude thought’s self-mastery? In this regard we could place Derrida with Deleuze in the post-phenomenological tradition dedicated at one and the same time (following Husserl and Heidegger) to the destruction of received and constituted systems in favour of genesis and (against Husserl and Heidegger) to the demonstration that such a genesis is plural and anarchic. beyond all the human agonisings. after Deleuze. which would bracket any factual or worldly being of the sign and instead turn back to its origin in constituting sense. matter. What else is metaphysics if not the drive to incorporate.3 In his reading of Husserl’s reduction. while Deleuze will take that next postor anti-Kantian step and intuit the geneses that make up the subject of thought and life. So. Derrida’s inclusion of Deleuze within a haptic . affect or the sensible. the only genuine ethic of philosophy? In On Touching Derrida argues both that a certain privileging of the haptic is essential and necessary to Western metaphysics and that this essence and necessity can be discerned in the work of Deleuze. is the imperative to go beyond the conditions of thinking to life and vitality itself. Isn’t Western metaphysics constituted by a originary privileging of pure ideality: that there can be a sense or eidos grasped in a pure act of apprehension without any medium of touch or affect? Isn’t it this philosophical gesture par excellence which requires writing (or the body through which thought conveys itself) to be posited as secondary. distanced and difficult? Or. master and recognise as always already its own those dispersed fragments of history. Derrida insists that Husserl is the completion and apotheosis of metaphysics. is it a question. incapable of being grasped as thought’s own. parasitic and accidental? It is that logocentric notion of philosophy as thought thinking itself that might appear to be targeted by an emphasis on the body. On the one hand such a definition and an inclusion might come as a surprise. But one can also. as it might appear to be from a certain way of reading On Touching. maintain a hold on deconstructive ethics.

And the same applies to Derrida’s early essay on Artaud and the brief mention of Bergson in the essay on Heidegger’s note in Being and Time (Derrida 1982). On the other hand the appeal to the haptic would be the most naïve of empiricist gestures. Derrida’s inclusion of Deleuze within a metaphysics of ‘hapto-manualism’ brings to the fore a critique of certain of Deleuze’s non-phenomenological precursors who would step outside or beyond metaphysics without regard for any supposed necessary or essential metaphysical implications. a too simple attempt to think the immediate. It is perhaps no surprise. and therefore always located as finite in relation to an infinite that remains undeconstructible and never arrives. for we could see Derrida’s manoeuvre in On Touching to be one of acknowledging the haptic as a way beyond the metaphysical focus on the voice and the eye. that Deleuze’s emphasis on the emergence of thought and signification from flows of life might appear as one critical manoeuvre among others targeted by Derrida in order to consider the more critical approach to touch and the sensible in Jean-Luc Nancy. the haptic would be the violation of thought’s mastery of itself. Derrida (1978) demonstrates the ways in which the abandonment of mastery and the refusal of a relation to life. then. Or as Derrida argues in response to Bergson’s attempt to overcome a vulgar and chronological clock time that reduces the flux of life to so many equivalent units: once we ask about the meaning of time we have already violated the pure difference of temporality – a supposed ‘time in its pure state’ – and subjected time to the concept. . On the one hand. On the other hand. unself-conscious and not-yet-divided-from-itself being of life. any attempt to overcome the relation of mastery that would determine all that is other than the self through the self’s own system. So one could now parcel out the proper names as follows: either a becoming-Deleuzian in which we abandon the locations and points of view of human speech to becomeimperceptible.Derrida. must nevertheless grasp that radical alterity and otherness as its own outside. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 33 tradition running from Aristotle to Merleau-Ponty might not be an act of distancing. In his early work on Bataille. the haptic begins from the body without organs. then. not yet distributed or organised around the mind of man oriented toward cognition. far from being a counterHegelianism plays into a metaphysics of presence. a touch taken by the commanding hand for the sake of the viewing eye and the speaking mouth. or we recognise that insofar as we write and speak we are always already within relations. Any appeal beyond the relations of the concept. The haptic is not the tactile.

act. having overcome Derridean limits and linguisticism. but as answers to the problem of life’s genesis. inscription and a history of texts and names precludes us from attaining the proper level of vital ideas and problems? One thing is certain. in this manner is to appeal once again to auto-affection: in the beginning is not a body or essence that comes into existence. or the necessity and responsibility of thinking that would preclude us from remaining at the level of the haptic. it is possible that the current sense of becoming-Deleuzian. or writing to life. then. trying to account for experience. and how that question functions today in the creation of oppositions. as long as we approach the names of Deleuze and Derrida theologically – as authorities whose texts might disclose the proper direction of theory – we remain in a theoretical Manichaeism that opposes vital life to structuring text. of Deleuze and Derrida. To see Derrida as referring all experience. Is it the case that once we are asking the question of experience. Either there is one vital life that offers itself through all the differences of existence. or materialism. is the metaphysical opening to the infinite. have been read not only as proper disclosures of the unfolding of existence.34 Claire Colebrook What. for in the beginning is the event. and can only be diminished by a consideration of its textual supports (Deleuze) or. difference or distance from which a body brings itself into being. Perhaps the best way to approach this problem – the question of the limits of metaphysics. In the terrain or territory of theory both these names. First. is a violation of both the problem of life and the problem of différance. tracing thought’s power and limit from touch alone? Such a question might allow us to think beyond a simple opposition between Deleuze and Derrida. existence and events to one condition of dispersal from which terms would follow is to allow writing or text to function as yet one more self-productive but absent ground. and a Kantian recognition that life is always given to thought as this or that finite life. But to see Deleuze as having successfully overcome a history of mediation to arrive at life itself – time in its pure state – is to reduce his work to a retrieval of Bergsonian vitalism. beyond an opposition between a Bergsonian and vitalist appeal to life. or whether one can think life beyond the concepts we have of it – is to begin with the structure of the question itself. we only know life as always already divided and dispersed through something like text (Derrida). limits. we have already lost that supposedly pure and unmediated moment of presence in which life would not already be submitted to an order of sense or conceptuality not its own? Or is it the case that a focus on conditions. So let us consider two possibilities. To oppose Deleuze to Derrida. .

Second. a text that destroys its own thesis. synthesising – not in the world but for the world. too lacking in nuanced and post-dialectical distinctions. before experience. to Merleau-Ponty for whom the world is infolded from the ‘I can’. auto-affection or the recognition of oneself as a self which would be required if one is to experience or take up a relation to what is not oneself has always required a normative image of the body. The body is therefore not a container for mind but active. or a body that frees itself from organs)? In On Touching Derrida will make a number of deconstructive manoeuvres regarding the conditions for the possibility of autoaffection. all its responses and motilities are not acts of some . for whom we do not need to prove a world of space and time outside ‘me’ precisely because that ‘inner’ me is already spatial. Deleuze and Guattari’s minimal references to Derrida accuse him of just that fetishisation of writing and signification: as though one regime of signs could overcode or reterriotrialise all others. First. violates and perverts itself. to sense. and one can only feel oneself touching the other if one has already placed oneself in relation. as the reading through of other texts as symptoms. discrete and singular. The body is the vehicle through which the self lives and orients its being. that supposedly immediate touch before submission to the system of conscious concepts. a falling back into a belief in the haptic as such or writing as such. and is already invaded by and conditioned by what is not itself. To feel. Relations cannot therefore unfold from the self. requires his symptomatic proper names. that the opposition between Deleuze and Derrida is too simple and stupid. and this might indicate that something like philosophy – or the creation of concepts and thinking as such – cannot take place today. orienting. This is certainly the case for the phenomenology of the lived body that runs from Kant. is the idea of a body that undoes itself so easily thought (whether that be a God who arrives at immanence. is no longer one’s own. or to live this here and now as one’s own is to already mark it as bearing a relation to oneself. But if auto-affection is no longer possible.Derrida. for Deleuze. the territorial readings of Deleuze and Derrida cannot be dismissed as mere accidents or parasitic excrescences. But Derrida. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 35 while forgetting the ways in which life. The body has always (received through the history of these proper names) been a body of auto-affection. for selfhood or ipseity presupposes relationality.4 Second. To be or live in this pure presence of ipseity requires auto-affection. and to have this self that feels is already to be alien from oneself. then. For there is a use of proper names by both authors that would assign the other’s body of work to a form of piety. and can only operate as theory. also. while one might want to say.

and so critical theory is an account of how the world can be given to a thinking subject. For phenomenology that question is insufficiently theoretical. though. is material. For Kant theoretical knowledge is knowledge of the given. as long as we think of Derrida and Deleuze as theorists whom we might apply to problems. we see them as tools for thinking. the trace or text are relations or subjective conditions through which the world is lived. for Derrida we need to note that it is not the case that writing. by challenging this too simple polarity. focussed on the conditions through which life is thought and lived. for there are also physical potentials that are not yet actualised and that allow us to think of matter in itself possessing virtual powers (De Landa 2002). Certain forms of theory will. is a vitalist. Deleuze’s virtual. when perhaps it is just that notion of theory – or thought looking to its own emergence and possibility – that underpins the Kantianism and phenomenology whose names litter both the Derridean and Deleuzian corpus. but a subject always already in the world. for what really needs to be accounted for is the genesis of ‘the subject’. it is just that concept of language as a system of mediation that would somehow either befall or constitute life that Derrida’s thinking sets out to challenge. nor is it the case that such terms can be identified with language. so that we can think our way towards the more profound problem of life which exercises both philosophers and sets both apart from phenomenology’s attention to the lived. . The world cannot be reduced to its actualised conditions of relations.36 Claire Colebrook distinct and housed mind but themselves intentional and life-oriented. Let us begin. no longer a subject who must live towards the world. the being to whom the world is given. Indeed. There is a tendency now to read Derrida as a primarily linguistic philosopher. différance. as a distance taken from those who simply ‘do’ or ‘read’ literature by those who will ask how such doing or reading is possible. Deleuze. by contrast. Metaphysics is not undone by but presupposes the auto-affective body: the body that effects and knows itself through being in the world. What Derridean thinking enables is both a critique of life and a new theory of life that is at an undermining of the philosopheme of theory. First. In Merleau-Ponty that condition of the given will be flesh. And we might say that this is how the word theory functions today. no longer concerned with linguistic mediation (or any other form of mediation) and even less concerned with ideality. Theoria is the look or gaze we direct to the world. according to those who would place him beyond Derrida. turning back to touch our own emergence. Critical theory becomes a question of how such a look is possible. But we are always still in theory.

lived. This would mean that we would always already be within narrative. never capable of intuiting time in its pure state. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 37 therefore. nations. James and Husserl – for despite his critique of Lebensphilosophie Husserl demanded that reified and technical systems be returned to their animating spirit – the vitalism of William Blake: The ancient Poets animated all sensible objects with Gods or Geniuses. for before the lived as such there would have to be something like writing. But such a reference to conditions and such a notion of theory as selfreflection and critique does not yet yield that positive and affirmative dimension upon which Derrida insists. rhetoric and lived time. there can be no theory of narrative we can think about this negatively and critically: any attempt to offer an account of the emergence of narrative would itself take some narrative form – a before and after – and would therefore have presupposed what it tries to explain. One way of thinking about positivity and affirmation would be through the concept of life. calling them by the names and adorning them with the properties of woods. flesh and the body is not a consideration that comes to Derrida late in his philosophical career. far from being the revolutionary post-Derridean and vibrantly post-human liberation that Deleuzians often claim it to be. then. If theoria is primarily the problem of the received. cities. in turn. not as conditions within which ‘we’ (as linguistic beings) move. would be the metaphysical gesture par excellence. But is there not a positive way of thinking theory and narrative. before the vitalisms of Bergson. and whatever their enlarged & numerous senses could percieve. This would require. text. as Paul de Man argued. rivers. If. And particularly they studied the genius of each . trace. Writing would not be the condition within which we approach the lived. différance) would have to lose their narrow critical sense. intuited and given. If the normative understanding of self-affective life has allowed us to place writing and text after the immediacy and presence of touch. refer to the conditions and assumptions that are in play before reading. that a certain notion of life would have to be re-thought.Derrida. then it might be possible to think beyond theory and beyond the lived to life. theory would be a turning back to the position of reading. mountains. Consider. an attention to the lens or context through or from which we read. where the given is given to some subject. but as the production or unfolding a space of relations? Here both theory and narrative (like writing. then only a different thought of the living being will allow us to move beyond the language of the ‘linguistic turn’. through and with Nancy. This is why a meditation on touch. lakes. Vitalism.

flowing from ‘enlarged and numerous senses. and recall centuries of mourning regarding the loss of life and spirit in merely technical systems (including theory). There has always been a grounding of the genesis of the world in a vital body in a tradition. In Plato’s own texts the Idea is privileged because it is the genetic principle which gives being and life to matter. a normative image of life. that runs from the proper potentiality of Aristotle. From an originally productive. it also brings to the fore the persistent vitalism of the normative body. There is always in the return of systems to life. against Plato and Aristotelian naturalism). but must be that body that can recognise itself as the ground from . ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’. through repetition. to phenomenology. The properly living being from which the question of philosophy ought to begin can never be the body within the world. Not only does Blake’s celebration of energy and animation anticipate Bergson’s appeal to a creative life before the fall into the efficiency of the intellect. Choosing forms of worship from poetic tales. which is also a normative image of the body.38 Claire Colebrook city & country. placing it under its mental deity. of the haptic. and thereby a normative image of touch. But Platonism has never been a simple negation of life in favour of an ordering Idea. thus began Priesthood. active. as Derrida notes. becomes systematised and reified until the instituting sense is forgotten.’ That originally living and animating force. such as the thinking that would be devoted to rhetoric or semblance rather than the life of things. so that even as far back as Plato we can say that there has been a vitalist lament regarding the fall of thinking into inert systems. which some took ad-vantage of & enslav’d the vulgar by attempting to realise or abstract the mental deities from their objects. The condition for the possibility of the lived is the lived and living body. (In Difference and Repetition Deleuze defends a radical and reversed Platonism. (Blake 1966. Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast. Enlarged and numerous senses: the unfallen body is receptive to the flux of life. Till a system was formed. And at length they pronouncd that the Gods had orderd such things. and the resistance to the Platonic distance of ideas from life goes back as far as Aristotle. spontaneous and creative poetry to the system of priesthood: this might seem like the first step in overturning Platonism. plate 11) In the beginning is the expansive and creative act. responsive and creative: giving to the world an animation that would be impossible if the body were one thing among others. for whom the human body is oriented to perceiving the reason of the world.

related to all its subsequent moments. différance or text are not cognitive or linguistic conditions but ways of thinking the non-self-ownness of auto-affection. only subsequently. Is Derrida’s response merely the Kantian objection that any appeal to that world of pure non-relations is itself only grasped from some relation. conditions and intentionality and a vitalist Deleuze focused on emergence. trace. To begin with. . encounter or sensibility not yet subjected to the reified systems of the intellect. In its naïve and celebratory form we will say that the haptic is the affirmation of a sensibility. is a certain punctuality or separation. must be other than the self. just as Derrida is critical of Bergson’s appeal to a pure intuition before a fall into clock time and the dispersion of temporality into technical units. belatedly and after the fact taken as the world of res extensa. to sensation. The self’s being to itself. requires an original auto-affection: mine-ness is given through the mouth that in speaking departs from itself only to recognise itself. or a world to be received. one who feels. available always as an animating and retrievable force. and the relation must depart from. Both Derrida’s and Deleuze’s objections to Bergson’s vital intuitionism concern the positivity of the non-relational. The condition for living on. Thus there is always a being of the sensible: to be sensed requires an intentional relation. so Deleuze is critical of Bergson’s refusal of intensive quantities. be felt by. affect. in order to be the touch or sense of some being. for time’s maintenance. And perhaps we can think this through most radically in his critique of the haptic. Before there is a subject who feels there is this influx or explosion of sensation. to the haptic in favour of thinking? This might appear to be the case at first and would reinforce that simple opposition between a critical Derrida focused on responsibility. conceptualised. there is the absolute immanence of the lived. a hand that in touching its own body relates to and remarks its own sensible being. there is intensity and influx. Derrida’s notions of writing. Touch. though. lived as this or that distinct and differentiated being. Lived time is the time of this being. Before it is thought. Before a world mastered and distributed in extension for an ‘I’ who thinks. some ‘I’ who would seek to overcome in apocalyptic manner its enclosure within the norms of thinking? Is his thought a rejection of an appeal to the body. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 39 which something like a lived world is possible. Time is not a pure flowing forth that can always remain in touch with itself. and returned to. But if we look now at Deleuze’s consideration of the haptic this can help us see what is at stake in the long-running Derridean meditation on a certain normativity of the body in philosophy.Derrida.

This leads us then to Deleuze’s objection to Bergon’s refusal of intensive quantities. While the mathematical background refers to a topology and not to metric space – to the creation of orientations or distances that cannot be measured by a common unit – the notion of smooth space is given aesthetically by reference to the ‘Northern Line’. In both cases we need to go beyond a certain notion of the haptic as the pure event of force. modern art is empathetic: an enjoyment taken in the vital spirit of another organism. primitive art is not yet the subject’s orientation to a body recognised as enlivened like one’s own. a certain quantity. Primitive art according to Worringer is therefore a haptic art of close-range and does not have any depth or perspective. but is a pure abstract form laid over the chaos encountered. but the movement from which all bodies or matters are unfolded. By contrast. there is not a pure quality. Deleuze’s concept of smooth space and the haptic are defined with reference both to Riemann’s smooth multiplicities and Worringer’s (1953) Abstraction and Empathy. It is always a question of certain thresholds being reached. Deleuze insists. to a more radical notion. a haptic that would indeed imply a body that would be nothing more than its open and responsive affectation without loss or remainder. but would have to be a carrying over of a no-longer and an anticipation of a not yet. There has been much work done on Deleuze’s concept of the spatium and its relation both to mathematical topologies drawn from Riemann and to physical concepts of phase space. that then falls into measure. This line – thought from the possibility of a smooth space that has no proper orientation or geometry – yields a more radically haptic aesthetic. For Deleuze these two aesthetic modes – the pure abstraction of flat geometric forms and the naturalistic and representative empathy that uses line to trace the vitality in an other body – have as their condition a more radical potentiality of line that can be thought of neither as the organisation of space. Time in its pure state would not be the continuous flow at one with itself. the ‘life from which all particular sensations emerge or unfold – but what Deleuze refers to as smooth space. Not the sense or pure force of matter to body without the intervention of conceptuality. flux or sensible that would be felt in itself without the system and difference of the intellect. quality. According to Worringer. To define the intense spatium in this way would both . That radical ‘before’ or beyond of the haptic would not be an originary condition – say. nor as the drawing out of a non-spatial inner life of another organism.40 Claire Colebrook which must therefore be marked or syncopated from one moment to the next. that will allow for the unfolding of ‘a’ quality.

for in his most prophetic moments of poetry and visual achievement. and would preclude us from appreciating the ways in which both Derrida and Deleuze move beyond phenomenological notions of ‘the lived’ and physical notions of the vital in order to think movements. I would suggest. At the same time no poet revealed the life of line. The voice that reads Blake at once adopts the apocalyptic tone of declaration. though not present to any single subject. It is . the reading and seeing of Blake disturbs a voice that would read to disclose a sense that that eye would recognise. nevertheless constituted in and through some intersubjective community. Blake’s is a haptic aesthetic: the eye feels the struggle of the hand. it makes sense to return to Blake. accusation. Here. a pure avant-garde return of the line to absolute liberty. The ‘example’ of Blake is. which in presenting living form. There is no lifeworld or horizon which is. This is neither abstraction from the lived nor a representation of the lived so much as a line. Marking this distinction requires thinking of the line neither as the act of a subject who differentiates his world (so not as the linguistic construction of reality) nor a line which would be the pure and abstract force of a subject who had kicked himself free from all notions of the vital. the matter that bears its own tendency for relations that would not be grounded in some prior intent. is always poised between sense and nonsense. sensible. The line would be haptic. syntheses and lines that are not the product of active or embodied intentions – certainly not expressions of a distributed corporeal cognition – for what such lines reveal is that there is no sense in general. producing its own connections. For no poet stressed more vehemently the act of line and difference against the nightmare world of the undifferentiated. connections. therefore. We could not return the line to some preceding intent of which it would be the actualisation. the resistance of the material. not. Instead the line would be at once vital (bearing its own tendencies. This is not only because we can think of the ways in which Derridean literary criticism. judgment and distance from communication at the same time as the eye that hears Blake struggles to sustain the coherence of the poetic object. telling.Derrida. corporeal and vital only in its break from the body proper. unfolding its own worlds) and destructive of the lived. through the Yale school. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 41 increase the divide between a literalist-naturalist Deleuze and a critical/Kantian Derrida. at this point. and in aiming to destroy priestly system and return to inspiration. between the living body and the line that would bring the being of the body to ideal presence. helped us to define a Romanticism that was always already concerned with questions of the genesis of sense.

Patricia Ticineto and Jean Halley. trans. After Theory. trans. Blake. Thus Blake’s work is at one and the same time Christian. Derrida. The Complete Writings of William Blake. Deleuze. precisely because it is a tradition concerned with the incarnation. New York: Columbia University Press. trans. Deleuze. Alan Bass. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.42 Claire Colebrook also because to read Blake through or after Deleuze and Derrida is not to apply theory. New York: Columbia University Press. The Complete Writings of William Blake. Derrida. Bergsonism. trans. trans. William (1966). Jacques (2005). Blake. Derrida. in Margins of Philosophy. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Christine Irizarry. sets itself the task of presenting matter as spirit. Alain (2000). eds. Deleuze. Clough. trans. Jacques (1978). Docherty. Jacques (1978). Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam. ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. at the same time it is the deconstruction of Christianity. trans. After Theory: Postmodernism/Postmarxism. Deleuze. New York: Basic Books. for ‘everything that lives is holy’ and therefore always expressive of some spirit beyond the body. New York: Zone Books. Alan Bass. plate 2. (2007). On Touching – Jean-Luc Nancy. Writing and Difference. Nietzsche and Philosophy. The Christian tradition of visual art and poetry within which Blake is writing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jr. Thomas (2003). the difference between the text and the bodies it touches has always been the spirit of poetry. Gilles (1988). Derrida. Geoffrey Keynes. of allowing matter itself to vibrate. London: Routledge. What is Philosophy?. trans. Deleuze: The Clamor of Being. Hugh Tomlinson. touch. trans. Gilles and Félix Guattari (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jacques (1982). Thomas (1990). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Paul Patton. truly spiritual and truly living could never be limited to the borders of a body. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell. Gilles (2004). Durham: Duke University Press. Docherty. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. William (1966). Gilles (1994). Leavey. ‘Ousia and Gramme: A Note on a Note in Being and Time’. Gilles (1983). . Geoffrey Keynes. ed. for the holy life in everything that lives can never be grounded in a single act of genesis or creation.. Louise Burchill. trans. Difference and Repetition. Stanford. CA: Stanford University Press. The truly holy. Gilles and Félix Guattari (1994). Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. John P. References Badiou. Deleuze. trans. New York: Columbia University Press. plate 11. Rather the question of life. Brian Massumi. Daniel W. Deleuze.

Wilhelm (1953).Derrida. London: Verso. John (2001). 4.’ A Thousand Plateaus. 10 October 2004. p. Abstraction and Empathy. ‘That is the only way Nature operates – against itself. and that the author’s intent could not overcome the inherent contradictions of language itself. Patricia Ticineto Clough. absolute meaning and permanence. Derrida was known as the father of deconstruction. New York: International Universities Press. See the introduction by Patricia Ticinento Clough to The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social. denying that there is anything beyond language – and doing all this in a relentless series of puns and neologisms – bore no resemblance to the person himself. ed.’ The New York Times. the method of inquiry that asserted that all writing was full of confusion and contradiction. What is a thing? trans. 2007). Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. Abstruse Theorist. DOI: 10. ‘Jacques Derrida: deep thinker or truth thief?’ 3. Heidegger. Protevi. NJ: Athlone Press.3366/E1754850009000360 . declaring historical knowledge to be impossible. 2. and it is not surprising that a caricature version of Derrida emerged. robbing texts – whether literature. Notes 1. Deleuze and Haptic Aesthetics 43 Hallward. W. 242. Worringer. Jr. New Brunswick. Political Physics: Deleuze.’ Jonathan Kandell. Dies at 74. Martin (1967). For Deleuze and Guattari. Barton. B. Lanham: University Press of America. Derrida. with Jean Halley (Durham: Duke University Press. Peter (2006). and the Body Politic. Derek Attridge and Thomas Baldwin. was published in The Guardian on 11 October 2004: ‘Imitations of the Derridean style seldom succeed. and Vera Deutsch.’ The caption below the picture of a somewhat startled Derrida read. history or philosophy – of truthfulness. As an example: ‘Mr. An obituary authored by Derridean scholars. ‘Jacques Derrida. But this flamboyantly self-regarding figure. dismissing the search for truth.

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