Gilles Deleuze – R as in Résistance – Abécédaire extract

Parnet reminds Deleuze of something he said in a recent conference: philosophy creates concepts, and whenever one creates, one resists. Artists, filmmakers, musicians, mathematicians, philosophers all resist, but Parnet asks, what do they resist exactly? She suggests taking this case by case: philosophers create concepts, but do scientists create concepts?

Deleuze says no, that it’s a question of ends since, if we agree to reserve the world “concept” for philosophy, another word is needed then for scientific notions. One doesn’t say of an artist either that he/she creates concepts, a painter or a musician doesn’t create concepts. So, for science, one needs another word. Let’s say that a scientist is someone who creates functions, not the best word: creating new functions, e.g. Einstein, but also the great mathematicians, physicists, biologists, all create functions.

So Deleuze asks again, how does this constitute resisting? It’s clearer for the arts, he says, because science is in a more ambiguous position, a bit like cinema: it is caught in so many problems of organization, funding, etc., that the portion of resistance… But great scientists, he continues, also mount considerable resistance, if one thinks of Einstein, of many physicists and biologists, it’s obvious. They resist first against being forced in certain tempting directions <entraînements> and against the demands of popular opinion, that is, against the whole domain of imbecilic interrogation. They really have the strength to demand their own way, their own rhythm, and they can’t be forced to set loose just anything in any conditions whatsoever, just as one usually doesn’t hassle an artist.

Deleuze approaches the question of creating as resistance with reference to a writer he recently read who affected him on this topic. Deleuze says that one of the great motifs in art and thought is a certain “shame of being a man” <“la honte d’être un homme”>. Deleuze feels that Primo Levi is that writer and artist who has stated this most profoundly. [On Primo Levi, see Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? 106-107, and Negotiations 172. The authors refer in What Is Philosophy? to Levi’s The Drowned and the Saved.] He was able, says Deleuze, to speak of this shame, in an extremely profound book that he wrote following his return from the Nazi death camps. Levi said that when he was freed, the dominant feeling was one of shame of being a man. Deleuze considers this to be at once a beautiful expression, and not at all abstract, quite concrete, this shame of being a man. But Deleuze insists that this phrase does not mean certain stupidities that some people might like to attribute to it. It does not mean that we are all assassins, that we are all guilty of Nazism. Levi says that it doesn’t mean that the executioners and the victims are all the same, and Deleuze feels that we should not be made to believe this, there should be no assimilating the executioners with victims.

So the shame of being a man, Deleuze continues, does not mean we are all the same, or that we are all compromised. It means several things, a very complex feeling, not unified. It means at once how could some humans — _some_ humans, Deleuze insists, that is, others than me — do that? And second, how have I myself nonetheless taken sides? Deleuze says this does not mean one has become an executioner, but still one took sides in order to have survived, and there is a certain shame in having survived in the place of friends who did not survive. So the shame of being a man is a composite feeling, and Deleuze feels that at the basis of all art, there is this very strong feeling of shame of being a man that results in art consisting of liberating the life that humans have imprisoned. Deleuze says that men never cease imprisoning life, killing life — “the shame of being a man.” So the artist is the one who liberates a powerful life, a life that’s more than personal life, not his or her life.

After the new tape starts, Parnet brings Deleuze back to this idea of the artist and resistance, the role of the shame of being a man, art freeing life from this prison of shame, but something very different from sublimation. Deleuze insists that it means ripping life forth , life’s liberation, and that’s not at all something abstract. Deleuze asks what a great character in a novel is. It’s not a great character borrowed from the real and even inflated: he refers to Charlus in Proust’s _Remembrance_ who is not the real-life Montesquiou , not even inflated by Proust’s brilliant imagination. Deleuze says these are fantastic life forces, however badly it turns out. A fictional character has integrated into itself… Deleuze calls it a kind of giant, an exaggeration in relation to life, but not an exaggeration in relation to art, since art is the production of these exaggerations, and it is by their sole existence that this is resistance. Or another direction, connecting with the theme “A as in Animal,” writing is always writing for animals, that is, not to them, but in their place, doing what animals can’t, writing, freeing life from prisons that humans have created and that’s what resistance is. That’s obviously what artists do, Deleuze says, and he adds: there is no art that is not also a liberation of life forces, there is not art of death.

Parnet points out, however, that art doesn’t suffice. Primo Levi finished by committing suicide much later. Deleuze responds, yes, but he committed suicide personally, he could no longer hold on, so he committed suicide to his personal life. But, he continues, there are four pages or twelve pages or a hundred pages of Primo Levi that will remain eternal resistances, so it happens this way.

Deleuze pursues the theme of the shame of being a man, not in the grandiose sense of Primo Levi. If one dares to say something of this sort, for each of us in daily life there are minuscule events that inspire in us this shame of being a man. We witness a scene in which someone has really been too vulgar, we don’t make a big thing of it, but we are upset, upset for the other, and for oneself because we seem to support this, in almost a kind of compromise. But if we protest, saying what you’re saying is base, shameful, we make a big drama out of it, and we’re caught. While it doesn’t at all compare with Auschwitz, we feel even on this minuscule level a small shame of being a man. If one doesn’t feel that shame, there is no reason to create art.

Parnet asks if when one creates, precisely when one is an artist, does one feel the dangers surrounding us everywhere? Deleuze says yes, obviously, even in philosophy — as Nietzsche said, a philosophy that will damage and resist stupidity . [On resistance and stupidity, see Deleuze, Nietzsche and Philosophy 105-110.] But if philosophy did not exist, we cannot guess the level of stupidity [there would be], since philosophy prevents stupidity from being as enormous as it would be were there no philosophy. That’s philosophy’s splendor, we have no idea what things would be like, Deleuze repeats, just as if there were no arts, what the vulgarity of people would be… When we say “to create is to resist,” it’s effective, positive ; the world would not be what it is if not for art, says Deleuze, people could not hold on any more. It’s not that they read philosophy, it’s philosophy’s existence itself that prevents people from being as stupid and beastly as they would be were there no philosophy.

Parnet asks what Deleuze thinks when people announce the death of thought, the death of cinema, the death of literature, does that seem like a joke? Yes, Deleuze says, there are no deaths, there are assassinations, quite simply. He suggests that perhaps cinema will be assassinated, quite possibly, but there is no death from natural causes, for a simple reason: as long as there would be nothing to grasp and take on the function of philosophy, philosophy will still have every reason to live on, and if something else takes on the function of philosophy, then it will be something other than philosophy. If we say that philosophy means creating concepts and, through that, damaging and preventing stupidity, what dies then in philosophy? asks Deleuze. It could be blocked, censored, assassinated, but it has a function, it is not going to die. Deleuze says the death of philosophy always appeared to be an imbecilic idea, and it’s not because he is attached to philosophy that it will not die. Deleuze just wonders about this rather stupid, kind of simpering idea of philosophy’s death, which is just a way of saying things change.

But, he asks, what’s going to replace philosophy? Maybe someone will say: you must not create any more concepts, and so, Deleuze concludes, let stupidity rule, fine, it’s the idiots who want to do philosophy in. Who is going to create concepts? Information science? Advertising agents who have taken over the word ‘concept’? Fine, we will have advertising concepts, which is the concept of a brand of noodles, Deleuze says. They don’t risk having much of a rivalry with philosophy because the word concept, he believes, is no longer being used in the same way. But it’s advertising that is presented as philosophy’s true rival since they tell us: we advertisers are inventing concepts. But, says Deleuze, the concept proposed by information science, by computers, is quite hilarious, what they call a concept.

Parnet asks if we could say that Deleuze, Guattari, and Foucault form networks of concepts like networks of resistance, like a war machine against dominant modes of thought. Deleuze looks visibly embarrassed, and says yes, why not? It would be very nice if it were true. He goes on to reflect on networks: if one doesn’t belong to a “school” — and for Deleuze, these “schools” of thought don’t seem good at all –, there is only the regime of networks, of complicities, something that has existed in every period, for example, what we call Romanticism — German or in general –, and there are networks today as well, Deleuze suspects. Parnet asks if these are networks of resistance, and Deleuze says yes, as the function of the network is to resist, and to create. Parnet says that, for example, Deleuze finds himself both famous and clandestine, living in a kind of clandestinity that he is fond of. Deleuze says he doesn’t consider himself at all famous, nor clandestine, but would in fact like to be imperceptible. But being imperceptible is because one can… These questions, they are nearly quite personal… What he wants is to do his work, for people not to bother him and not make him waste time, and at the same time, he wants to see people, he needs to, like everybody else, he likes people, or a small group of people whom he likes to see. But he insists that he doesn’t want this to be the slightest problem, just to have imperceptible relationships with imperceptible people, that’s what is most beautiful in the world. Deleuze suggests that we are all molecules, a molecular network.

Parnet asks if there is a strategy in philosophy, for example, when he wrote that year in his book on Leibniz, did he do so strategically? Deleuze smiles, wondering aloud what the word “strategy” means, perhaps that one doesn’t write without a certain necessity. But he says, if there is no necessity to create a book, that is a strongly felt necessity by the author, then he/she shouldn’t do it. So when Deleuze wrote on Leibniz, it was from necessity because a moment arrived for him — too long to explain in detail why — to talk about Leibniz and the fold. And for the fold, it happened that, for Deleuze, it was fundamentally linked to Leibniz. He can say that for each book that he wrote, what the necessity was at each period.

Parnet continues on this: besides the grip of necessity that pushes Deleuze to write, she wonders about his move from writing philosophy and returning to history of philosophy after the cinema books and after books like _Anti-Oedipus_ and _A Thousand Plateaus_. Deleuze says there was no return from philosophy, which is why he previously answered her question quite correctly. He wrote a book on Leibniz because for him, the moment had come to study what a fold was. He does history of philosophy when he needs to, that is, when he encounters and experiences a notion that is already connected to a philosopher. When he got excited about the notion of “expression,” he wrote a book on Spinoza because Spinoza is the philosopher who raised the notion of “expression” to an extraordinary level. So it appeared to Deleuze to go without saying that it would be through Leibniz, and it happens that he also encounters notions that are not already dedicated to a philosopher, so then Deleuze doesn’t do history of philosophy. But he sees no difference between writing a book on history of philosophy and a book on philosophy, so it’s in that way, he says, that he follows his own path.

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