dialogues at greenwich: 18th APRIL 2009 - One Day Workshop on Deleuze's 'Foucault'

dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

1 May 2009

18th APRIL 2009 - One Day Workshop on Deleuze's 'Foucault'


The workshop on Deleuze’s Foucault, held on 18th April 2009 at the University of Greenwich, was a very productive day. There were four presentations and very wide ranging discussions. A number of problems and issues were located in the text and developed in relation to the wider context of the philosophies of Deleuze and Foucault.

The notion of the ‘historical a priori’ was discussed at length. Deleuze locates this notion in Foucault’s work as part of an account of different historical eras. The disjunction between statements and visibilities, or between language and light, embodies the a priori specific to a historical period. This reading was contrasted with the version of Foucault favoured in the social sciences. This is based upon his later writings and privileges empirical analysis. On this reading Foucault is concerned with description and presents us with a hyper-empiricism. The philosophical dimension is removed. Such a contrast was seen to show that Foucault is playful and very hard to categorise. This is reflected in David Macey’s The Lives of Michel Foucault where he writes that ‘Alive, [Foucault] would have rejected the advances of any biographer; in death, he still struggles to escape them’ (p. xi).

In contrast to the social science approach, Deleuze locates a philosophical account of experience in Foucault. This account is thoroughly historical without being a form of historicism. It is an account which provides us with historical a priori’s and these are the disjunctions between language and light or statements and visibilities. As part of this reading Deleuze locates ‘a sort of Neo-Kantianism’ in Foucault, something which was explored in the first presentation of the day by Edward Willatt of the University of Greenwich. An a priori account of experience is made historical and is also ‘externalised’ by referring not to faculties but to statements and visibilities that mark out the space and time of different historical eras. Discussion focused upon the structure of change in this account. How do historical a priori’s change?

A further issue for discussion was Foucault’s concern with history and finitude. He seeks to explain how finitude became a problem within history. It is the transcendental-empirical double that arises as a problem within finitude and history. Also discussed was the ‘biopolitics’ that Foucault formulated in the late 1970s. This does not involve any pre-determinate specificity but can impose any form of behaviour on any human multiplicity or society. The problem was raised that this makes the a priori in Foucault formal rather than historical, challenging Deleuze’s reading. Deleuze and Guattari had tried to account for the specificity of capitalism in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes but Foucault’s biopolitics is non-specific. This leaves us wondering if Foucault’s a priori is too abstract.

Foucault’s articulation of the relation between the diagram and the outside was shown to make resistance primary. The ontological primacy of forces is set against ‘capture’ or ‘articulation’ in the diagram. It is the fold that remains in the outside, unlike the diagram. It was noted that instead of drawing upon a notion of ‘force’ or ‘life’ Foucault emphasises techne and technique. His strategic thinking does not need any sort of ontological primacy – such as that which we could attribute to force – because it is cartographic and typological. Thus, it was argued, we do not need to access a more ontologically primary dimension. This was presented as an anti-transcendental account of subjectivation. Foucault is seen to have undermined the ontological discourse that divides the primary and the derivative. We have strategic thought that does not rely upon an ontological dimension of subjecthood. In Foucault’s later work we find a description of different practices or forms of description rather than anything philosophically rich. This reading was set against the ontological Nietzscheanism that Deleuze locates at the base of Foucault’s thought. Deleuze seeks to start with forces and then explain things (as we see in his Nietzsche and Philosophy). This differs from the agnostic stance that Foucault pursues.

The second presentation was given by Alberto Toscano of Goldsmiths College, University of London, and foregrounded cartography and spatial terminology in Deleuze’s Foucault. Forms are composed by relations of forces in Foucault’s work, something that provides an ontological continuity that undermines the discontinuity between historical formations. Deleuze focuses upon the way in which statements and their relations produce different spaces in Foucault’s account. This is an intensive and abstract space, not a physical or dynamic one. This produces a determinate topology, one that is ontological insofar as topology is the type of thinking most adequate to multiplicities. It is the form of the abstract most adequate to multiplicities which are supremely concrete by their very nature. This was situated in opposition to any conception of totality and historical movement, such as we find in Hegel and Marx. Power is topological and strategic rather than implying any totality. Forms and abstractions operate but do not imply totalising or dialectical thought. Thus capitalism is presented as a whole but is located everywhere, as Deleuze and Guattari seek to show in their Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes.

The danger of solipsism in later Foucault was raised. If the event is an opening to forces, exposing the subject to variation, is it necessary to avoid solipsism? Foucault does allow forces to have this role but how does he define them as they operate in the event? The outside is always ‘within’ and resistance can only take place on the inside. This brings with it the danger of a constant falling back onto death (something which Peter Hallward claims to find in Deleuze’s work, pointing to his reference to Charles Dickens in ‘Immanence: A Life’ [Peter Hallward, Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, p. 24-5]). The solution is folding, where we go ‘outside inside’. We don’t go outside ourselves but undergo ‘tiny deaths’ inside the subject rather than a ‘big death’ that takes us beyond the subject. A philosophy of death is developed here, one which doesn’t go the outside or ‘deterritorialise’ too fast. This concern with interiority and selfhood was developed as an alternative to leaving the subject behind, a way of re-thinking the subject rather than abandoning it in favour of an outside.

After lunch the place of Deleuze’s Foucault in the history of Foucault scholarship was explored by Rodrigo Nunes of Goldsmith’s College, University of London, in the third presentation of the day. The course of Deleuze and Foucault’s correspondence was also considered. The defractions and points of misunderstanding between these two thinkers were brought out in their exchanges. This presentation suggested that Deleuze’s concern to separate saying and seeing, or light and language, in Foucault was a ‘forcing’. However, it does bring out what is unique about Foucault. Whereas Foucault disliked Deleuze’s conception of desire, associating it with a Freudian and Lacanian notion of lack, Deleuze disliked Foucault’s conception of pleasure, seeing it as an interruption of desire, a reterritorialisation. For Deleuze, in contrast to Foucault, strategy is something associated with systems of power and is secondary to desire and its potential lines of flight. It seems as if Deleuze and Foucault come at the same philosophical problem from different directions: via desire in one case and pleasure in the other.

The presentation also tackled the problem of freedom in Deleuze and Foucault. For Deleuze freedom seems to be a condition of being – it is ‘just there’. Does this mean that there is no need to worry about repression? However, for Deleuze resistance happens but we do need to analyse it, to discover its conditions. You do care about oppression because it happens and you feel it. However, for Foucault metaphysics doesn’t embody an ethics and a politics. It doesn’t matter what it is but it matters what you can do with it. This constitutes Foucault’s positivity – ‘what actions are possible within the dimension made possible by the diagram?’

For Foucault we must be non-philosophers, drawing diagrams rather than being concerned with how a diagram can be drawn as Deleuze is. He doesn’t seek to think the new conditions in which things can be thought, he just goes and does it. It is always a matter of where you are, provoked from where you are, under the strategic conditions of where you are. Where you will be tomorrow doesn’t matter. For Badiou Deleuze’s weakness is that he makes everything continuous, continuity is everywhere. Time is the unchanging and continuous form of all change. For Foucault you think from where you are. There is here a ‘performative contradiction’ because there is no yard stick external to time. One must always refer back to oneself because one is implicated in what one describes. This is Foucault’s radical ‘immanentism’ – immanently producing an immanent philosophy.

The final presentation of the day, given by Matt Lee of the University of Greenwich, defined the ‘statement’ as the transcendental formulation of Foucault’s notion of discourse. Rather than a totalising notion of progressive development there are series of connections distributed around singular points or statements. In his Archaeology of Knowledge statements are connected to monuments. We have explicitness here because there is nothing to be drawn out of the statement, no non-set to be drawn out of the set. There is no latency – its rules are found at the same level as itself. In Deleuze’s Foucault we find an anonymous ‘associationism’, an imaginative and fictionalising process. Archivists catalogue the anonymous murmur from which this arises. At the end of the book we find a call to become master of one’s speed and one’s own molecules. This led to the question: what about animals with no language?

It was argued that while in Foucault we find life, labour and language, only language is involved in Deleuze’s reading of his work. It is language that provokes transcendental reflection and Deleuze is caught in this emphasis on statements. These statements are so abstract that they do not seem to be language at all or to be associated with human activity or communication. Statements are mapped onto singularities. It seems as if Foucault is providing an account or ontology of language. The argument was made that Deleuze is in fact bringing together The Archaeology of Knowledge and The Order of Things when he talk about ‘language’ in his Foucault book. In fact, while the former can be described as a radicalisation of John Searle’s work, taking speech acts further, the latter presents an ontology of language.

Foucault tells us how, and not why, a certain discourse formation emerges. Deleuze, however, has trouble accounting for the continuance of statements and curves without invoking empirical connections of meaning in language. He is trapped because he starts with discourse and risks explaining association via meaning structures.

Deleuze’s move back to the subject in Foucault was shown to involve folding as a process of individuation. This, it was argued, was individual subjectivation rather than the collective subjectivation present in the Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes that he wrote with Felix Guattari. An account of individuation is to be found in Difference and Repetition but now returns in the form of folding and without a notion of dissolution of the self. The self has a consistency it didn’t have in Difference and Repetition. The conclusion was drawn that Deleuze has to fold in order to avoid being a philosopher of death.

This was related to Deleuze’s move in his essay ‘The Actual and the Virtual’ (to be found in Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet’s Dialogues II). Here a naturalistic move is made with the virtual understood as a cloud surrounding a thing. We even find a pure ‘actualism’ here, something also suggested by Deleuze’s notion that everything is real in Foucault’s notion of the statement and by his reading of Spinoza. Is this the effect of Foucault’s positivism, an ‘actualism’ full of forces and folds which introduce a dimension of virtuality.

This highly productive workshop left us with a number of questions which go to the heart of Deleuze’s relationship with Foucault. These included…

• Is Deleuze distinguished by his concern to provide a philosophical account while for Foucault it is not the ‘why?’ but the ‘how?’ that matters?
• Is Foucault’s zone or field of strategies more immanent than Deleuze’s neo-Kantian concern to provide a philosophical account of experience? Is practice more immanent than theory? Can we have one without the other?
• Does Foucault avoid assuming the role of force or language while Deleuze tends to make such things ontologically primary without actually accounting for them?
• What is the role of Foucault in Deleuze’s return to the subject in his later work?


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