Deleuze was a philosopher deeply influenced by his French predecessor Henri Bergson and early on by philosophical phenomenology, though he moved away from the latter in his most famous work. The pattern of his most influential work emerged in Nietzsche and Philosophy (first published in 1962), where he read Friedrich Nietzsche as the opponent of dialectic and negativity in Hegelianism. What Nietzsche offered as an alternative was an approach based on the affirmative, on forces, and on chance. After this, Deleuze’s work becomes more individual and quirky, less systematic and formal in approach. His style now gives the impression of forces overflowing conceptual boundaries and in which he practiced the philosophical theory he had put forward in relation to Nietzsche. In accordance with Nietzsche, he tries to overturn the Platonist-metaphysical heritage in Western thought. He questions Plato’s hierarchy of ideal forms, objects as imitations of forms, and our perceptions as imitations of those objects, by suggesting that such a hierarchy makes the forms dependent on their being copies of the forms. If the existence of the forms rests on the possibility of there being copies of them, then the metaphysical priority of forms over objects and perceptions is undermined. If Platonist metaphysics is undermined by the possibilities of difference and repetition of metaphysical forms, then all conceptual rigidities are undermined by the way that sense always runs into contradictions. I cannot even name anything without being caught in the contradiction between claiming that the name is connected uniquely with what it names and claiming that names and objects are distinct entities.
Deleuze was able to advance into a rich affirmative alternative to logical-metaphysical philosophy through a collaboration with the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. The central result was the project Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which appeared as two books: first. Anti-Oedipus (first published in 1972), and then its sequel, A Thousand Plateaus (first published in 1980). It is the latter book that has become the standard reference point for Deleuzians. Capitalism and Schizophrenia superficially seems to weave together Freudianism and Marxism, but it is at least as much an attempt to collapse the Marxist and Freudian systems as it is an application of them. Deleuze and Guattari jump between literature, philosophy, psychoanalysis, anthropology, physical sciences, and all domains in an approach that takes force and the direction of force as its basis. Force appears in production, but production produces antiproduction as it forms itself into different kinds of machines. As in Bergson, there is an emphasis on constant flows and becoming in an approach that aims at being both transcendental and materialistic, “transcendental materialism.” The materialism is transcendental because it does not refer to fixed forms, but to the constant transformations of forces. There is no deep structure behind what we sense, there are just endless multiplicities of levels, or plateaus, where energies appear, transform, and move between plateaus.
The social levels are defined through production of machines by machines and the ways in which that flow of force always breaks itself up, creating static despotic and paranoiac systems as we try to encode the Earth. As production encodes, the codes are unstable, interrupt production, and must collapse as codes are scrambled and new codes are produced. This approach is sometimes explained in terms of Benedict de Spinoza’s philosophy of the complete immanence of being, that is, being as what exists only in the material world. It is also brought into discussions of literature, painting, cinema, and Michel Foucault. Foucault wrote the preface to Anti-Oedipus, but there was a later conflict and a critical though appreciative book by Deleuze on his old associate.
- Gilles D. (1983). Nietzsche and philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.
- Gilles D., & Guattari, F. (1983). Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
- Gilles D., & Guattari F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.