Artistic doing, confronted by philosophical saying: A subject for thought, or outside it?

1Teaching philosophy in art school means devoting oneself to a method of a particular kind, given that the students’ main activity is not to practice philosophy but rather art or design. This does not mean that they are incapable of it: it just means that that is not their main objective, and if it becomes so, it is often through the effect of an encounter or a "bifurcation." [1] This relation of otherness between what I will temporarily call a saying and a doing is what counts, and what seems invaluable to me.

2The problem every teacher faces is to lead students to find the right way of bringing out the meaning of texts, to not obliterate the singularity of philosophical statements by associating them too quickly with other statements that appear similar. The classical approach to the work of understanding philosophy consists in associating a thought to the logical and conceptual system to which it belongs in order to comprehend it in all its singularity and subtlety. The goal of this exercise is for the students to gradually get the feeling they are the potential authors of philosophical statements, and for them to learn how to gradually insert their thinking and their wording into a thought that is unknown to them in order to appropriate it over time, and to be capable of reformulating it pertinently. Philosophy students graft language onto language: in other words, they graft two thoughts together that are homogeneous on a formal level. The problem with art students is that they must simultaneously carry out another graft: they must graft language onto a non-verbal thought, in accordance with the plastic thinking intrinsic to them. Teaching in an art school means being confronted with connection operations that are not performed between statements but between heterogeneous objects, by leaps in thought: a phrase from one book connects itself with one from another, or with a gesture, an object or an artistic practice. As a teacher or lecturer, performing a philosophical analysis of a text in the context of an art school education also means finding oneself before people who are not going to put themselves in the author’s position, but will instead construct their place on the basis of the conjured reality, which constitutes another way of fragmenting the conceptual unity of the philosophical text. Far from limiting the philosophical meaning, this manner of getting something directly from the concrete sense of the text proves to be rich with new interpretations of the concepts concerned. How does this happen? What relation takes shape between artistic practice and philosophy at that moment?

3Both in his teaching and his writing, Deleuze never stopped fighting against the traditional conception of thought as a reflective and rational activity, instead emphasizing what he called "thought compelled by the encounter." The encounter is what happens to thought when it defines itself not as an internal exercise of reason but as an event that forces it to move. "Thinking is always experiencing, experimenting, not interpreting but experimenting, and what we experience, experiment with, is always actuality, what’s coming into being, what’s new, what’s taking shape." [2] In the case with which we are concerned, the encounter takes place in both directions: on the one hand, the young students or artists’ encounter with the philosophical text; and on the other, philosophy’s encounter with the foreign matter of art. In art school, however, the presence of art is not exactly the kind that imbued Deleuze’s work – films, paintings, works of music. Art is often present in an unfinished form, or one in becoming, via works in gestation, research in progress, or questionings. Many students are not accomplished artists, and their gestures as well as their words are often not necessarily well chosen. The plastic thinking is not yet deployed in a work, but is still in gestation, presented in objects that are sometimes a long way from the true artistic forms to come. Moreover, this practice is accompanied by a whole heterogeneous assemblage, comprising thoughts, ideas, and positive or negative perceptions that help it to develop (words provide completion by explaining: they reveal something that doesn’t yet "stand up" from a sensory perspective). At the same time, this assemblage impedes that practice, as do all of the slogans we carry with us. The philosophical text is confronted by all of these perceptions, while fueling that assemblage at the same time. In addition, teaching in an art and design school means coming into contact with current groundbreaking artistic practices that have not been taken into consideration yet by philosophical discourse and questioning. Sometimes a large section of a problem can suddenly appear dated, or even ineffective, requiring reevaluation on contact with this new reality.

Understanding the Smooth and the Striated through the Practice of Skateboarding

4This is how Florian Reigner, a young student at the school of fine arts in Angers, came to understand the notions of "smooth" and "striated" as presented in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s book A Thousand Plateaus: by skateboarding through his town while a can of spray paint strapped under the board left a streak on the road. [3] The artist Raphaël Zarka had already undertaken a reading of the urban space by skateboard, aiming to get a sense of the various surfaces it contains. [4] This experience of smooth and striated surfaces was less concerned with a description of surfaces and their qualities than with a description of the experience itself: skateboarding became in itself a gesture for smoothing out the urban space. This student added a supplementary action to this gesture of smoothing by strapping a can of spray paint under his board. In so doing, the streak left along the way made a new kind of striation appear: not the organized striation of the striated (striation for the purposes of measurement and demarcation) contrasted with the smooth, but a striation intrinsic to the smooth (occupy without counting). [5] Now this is precisely the whole problem of the interaction between the concepts of smooth and striated. The smooth and the striated conflict with each other through their respective modes of inscription in space: a rough trace inseparable from the uniqueness of a trajectory on the one hand, and on the other, a boundary delineation designed to control well-organized movements. What this student’s practice reveals is that the smooth produces a specific striation, which does not constitute a system of preestablished coordinates for the measurement of events, instead transforming the traces of gestures into signs for a space open to reinvention. So contrasting the smooth and the striated also means contrasting two ways of marking time and space: one whose marks concern a unit of measure, the other whose marks form a sign or a rhythm of the event, and a sign for events to come. Paradoxically, the testing of philosophical concepts and their inscription into physical reality lead to the overcoming of the manifest philosophical oppositions between smooth and striated in favor of the subtler differences between two kinds of traces involving two different semiotic regimes. What must be problematized between the smooth and the striated is just as much the opposition between two semiotic regimes as that between space-time and modes of individuation.

5The problem, then, is to find the place for plastic thinking and to not presuppose the form it may take. We are the ones who, in turn, return to the sensory nature of the objects shown to us; we return to the literal sense of the expressed ideas. Speaking with students about what they do often means finding something else in their work besides what they say (and see); by the same token, as long as we see clearly and are not mistaken, it means giving them access to a deeper layer of new material to work with, made of questions, perceptions, and ideas… that will stir up new ideas. And if one of those new ideas concerns philosophy, then these two thoughts will become interlinked, or even concealed within each other, only occasionally revealing themselves through their contortions: a strange meaning given to a concept, a word, a philosophical statement, that the student in question clings to stubbornly, despite the remarks we make about that. It is an effect produced in the works that are exhibited, an effect that is completely ignored. But instead of correcting it and making up for it, it seems that the doing that falls to us, as observers of these projects in progress, is to extract and question the fragments that we pull out of the whole. This is not the same position as that of Jacques Rancière’s ignorant schoolmaster, who knew how to teach a language that he did not himself master. It means teaching about the interrelationship between verbal and plastic thinking, and the need to swing between the two so that one may help the other along.

The Philosophical Text and its Accompanying Environment: The Example of Philosophical Reflection on Standards

6The concrete example used as a line of attack on the text sometimes literally makes the philosophical remark turn on its own axis. I will take as an example a course on standards that I have been developing since 2014 at the Ecole nationale supérieure d’art et de design in Nancy, basing my work on the new approach that Canguilhem and Foucault undertook on that question. [6] Unlike the purely traditional approach that conceives of the standard as a notion emanating from moral law, Canguilhem and Foucault became interested in the historical dimension of technical standards: the appearance of the use of standards is a historical fact that arose at a conjunction between fields of knowledge, techniques and politics. Canguilhem looked into the various issues surrounding the activity of the production of standards that appeared starting in the 19th century in medicine and in technical fields. Foucault continued that analysis by studying how standards have participated in the history of governmentality as a tool for dealing with populations. Foucault’s main argument in Discipline and Punish or The Will to Knowledge is that standards possess a regulatory function that is exercised for the purposes of both normalization and individualization, and in social spaces where they play an explicit role (factories, schools) as well as in spaces where those living on the margins of society are confined, such as hospitals and prisons. Questioning the space of standards is as much questioning their place and how they are exercised as questioning the form of the margins they trace out. Furthermore, Foucault sees hospitals and prisons as the sites for prefiguring standards that will then shape the entire social body.

7Often art becomes interested in standards in order to subvert or transgress them. Art does not take standards as a line of attack so much as the different ways of transgressing them, inventing an otherness in the form of a margin that, in so doing, it reveals. As Foucault points out regarding Bataille, transgression does not merely consist in crossing the line but also in staying on the cutting edge of that line by giving it new substance. Marginality, exception, transgression: each of these positions has its form, its substance, at the same time as its value and specific meaning.

8The position of designers and architects is different, due to the technical constraints of their professions and their objectives. The objects of design and architecture engage with the question of collective and intensive use and must offer a guarantee of solidity and viability. An example is standards for materials, providing a guarantee of safe use. Another is standards for the dimension of objects adapted to the dimensions of individuals of average size. To a certain extent, there are also the social standards by which the commissioners and the end-users of objects must abide.

9And yet in a number of schools, as well as in architecture and design agencies, a subversive attitude is becoming widespread in the face of this imposed submission. New practices in architecture and design by people like Patrick Bouchain and Loïc Julienne, Anne Lacaton and Philippe Vassal, Stefan Shankland, or Olivier Darné assert an unprecedented level of freedom concerning technical standards. This freedom does not consist in transgressing standards in the way art does, but in disobeying their customary use in an industrial context. The norm in a construction site is to work with standards and new materials, with the standards regulating the use of these materials. The working principle for Bouchain’s agency Construire, on the other hand, is to work as much as possible with material salvaged nearby: their sites are supplied with material available in the vicinity, sometimes with what remained from another site. The sheets of metal that made up part of the façade of the Académie Fratellini in Saint-Denis came from a construction site at Disneyland Paris that rejected them because they were the wrong color. Instead of applying the standards in force for new parts, fresh from the factory where they were produced, the Construire team tiled the sheets onto the walls to cover the existing holes, as is done in the slums of African cities. For the old beams at the Lieu Unique in Nantes, Bouchain doubled the structures. The technical standards are not ignored: what is ignored, deliberately so, is the customary standard requiring the use of new materials. The Matière grise (Gray Matter) exhibition organized by the designers Nicolas Delon and Julien Choppin at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal in Paris demonstrated the extent to which this principle of reuse has been adopted in the areas of architecture and design. [7] As a result, a branch of engineering is under development that specializes in devising the specifications for this used material.

10This concerns all standards, not merely technical standards of materials. In parallel with this subversion of technical standards, an aesthetic subversion takes place as a result of the variegated effect of these recycled materials. Since the sheet metal coming from Disneyland had many different colors, a rhythmic arrangement was chosen. Since the Académie Fratellini did not have a building permit, the building can be dismantled in order to respect the law. Contrary to the rules prohibiting the public from entering construction sites, those of the Construire agency are open to everyone: Bouchain managed to make people understand that this guarantees security and cleanliness, since the workers are compelled to tidy up more regularly than if they were alone on the site.

11What shift does this carry out in the philosophical understanding of the concept of standards and norms as Canguilhem and Foucault understood it? They defined normativity as an activity for producing norms that had specific effects on the people concerned by technical objects. Foucault showed how normativities, by developing in a realm beyond the legal sphere, marked a new mode of functioning for rules and for fields of knowledge, a mode that generated new patterns of behavior. The disciplinary systems like the Panopticon that were established at the end of the 18th century in prisons, schools, and hospitals, and the directives concerning the education of children, did not only have normative and prescripting effects: a whole set of different behaviors was redefined on the basis of their criteria. Normativity is both normalization and individualization: it regulates as much as it individualizes, it does not repress until it elicits patterns of behavior.

12Due to their involvement with another configuration of the problem than the one analyzed by philosophy, these examples encourage a shift in the line of attack of the philosophical analysis of standards and norms. What motivates this shift in the reading that philosophy usually makes of standards is the value that transgression of technical standards acquires here. They are neither respected (as in the case of industrial design), nor transgressed (in the sense that an artist may transgress a standard by developing a transgressive practice). They are simply interpreted differently. "The sign said entering the Giardini after 6 pm was prohibited; it didn’t say anything about leaving it," Bouchain said in explaining how it was possible to permanently occupy the French pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2006. [8] What is transgressed is not directly what is prohibited, but rather the meaning usually lent to the statement of that prohibition (interpreting the "prohibition to enter" as equivalent to a prohibition of presence). Usually the standards that art displaces are of a moral or aesthetic nature, but technical standards can also be affected by this principle of subversion. And when that happens, we discover that the use of technical standards is most often subject to a behavioral normativity that ultimately limits any possible inventiveness. By insinuating itself within technical standards, the question of subversion breaks the link between normative and inventive use.

13With these practices, not only does the functioning of the standard undergo reassessment, but also the reading made of the use of standards. For these designers and architects, standards are not just constraints to respect: they are also statements liable to be interpreted, shaped and subverted in the same manner as any material. The use of standards frees itself from normative habits by relying upon a principle of local variability. As the use of used material requires a regularly adjusted load calculation, the subversion of technical standards as a preestablished and constant value is also an act of subversion in relation to a certain conception of work. Standards are no longer a preliminary to construction: they become a parameter that can be handled differently depending on the situation.

14What is at stake here are not so much the subjects caught up in the systems as those who conceive those systems. Once they are conceived and manipulated by creators, objects are no longer just the media for standards and systems affecting individuals: they are themselves endowed with systems of subjectivation provided by the developers grappling with these standards. The experience of teaching a course in philosophy on standards in the context of these new practices reveals that the status of standards is also conditioned by the subjectivation of those who implement standards in objects and invent technical strategies to deal with those standards. Working with the designers Marie Coirié and Anne-Laure Desflaches and the innovation lab La Fabrique de l’hospitalité, associated with the university hospitals of Strasbourg, on the question of care – using texts by Foucault and Joan Tronto – has made it possible to highlight the invention of technical systems (facilities, places, objects…) that do not just convey standards, but produce a new approach to them and establish a certain distance from them. [9] It is not simply a matter of reexamining the layout of a waiting room or a living space, but also of understanding to what extent the existing state poses a problem, what perceptions and what attitudes are associated with the facilities, of working on a new way to live within hospitals and on the ways to make that hospitality visible. We have always thought of space and time as frameworks for our intuitions and our mental images. Foucault reversed that conception: he showed that objects are what frame our mental spaces. In its current critical forms, design reveals the possibility of destabilizing that framing function of material systems from the inside, by expurgating the implicit standards it conveys. It is an entirely different mode of functioning for standards than the one in which they are applied.

15But on the basis of that, new convergences also take shape between intellectual work in design and in philosophy. From the moment that design puts itself in the position of carrying out a critical diagnosis of material forms in the light of the modes of individuation to which these forms give rise, it places its operative field within its usual field of action, at the same location where the philosophical critique of systems of individuation takes place. Design no longer relates to philosophy only as a producer of objects and forms for study, but also through the new ideas it brings from the way mental perceptions function. Where philosophy wonders if mental images resemble what they represent or not – if they are within us or outside us, real or ideational – design asks itself the question of how those images interact with objects. There is a psychomotricity of mental images whose objects are vectors and media, and a designer is someone who knows how to act indirectly – to intercede in this set of indirect interactions, either by transforming the perceptions through their action on objects, or by transforming the objects through their action on the perceptions.

Wresting a Philosophical Statement From Its Context

16The student Florian Reigner then returned to his project in the plastic arts. But his experiment is a good demonstration of how the fact of taking words literally can open a breach in the understanding one has of a philosophical text, and revitalize the way that text is interpreted. Among more experienced artists, we find a way of shattering the continuity of philosophical thought that consists in extracting an apparently very simple statement from it. A philosophical statement finds itself seized by an artistic thought and removed from its philosophical system so as to be plunged into an environment comprising actions, gestures, objects. Extracting, wresting, removing: there are many different ways of performing this graft.

17Take Spinoza’s dictum from the third part of Ethics: "No one has yet determined what the body can do." For Spinoza, saying that no one knows what a body can do means asking the question of the multiple possibilities raised by the laws of nature as well as the question of the soul and what defines its action. It means saying that no soul, nor anyone, knows what affections a body is capable of, given how dependent that question is upon the modes of encounter and of composition between bodies. [10] When choreographers seize upon that remark, it is in order to encourage dance to try out new ideas: not only new movements, but also a new individuation of the dancing body accompanied by a new relationship between the dancer and their body. When dancers appropriate the remark, they take it literally and return to the question of the corporeal modes of individuation, the way in which subjects individuate through the movements that are proposed to, or imposed on, their bodies. What makes one movement appear at a given era, instead of another? The gestures of daily life are associated with material and technical systems – objects, facilities, machines, rhythms – according to which they are carried out and through which individuals enter into different processes of subjectivation. A worker standing at her station, a schoolboy at his desk, are caught up in both physical and mental systems of individuation. But, as Foucault has shown, these technical systems are accompanied by a whole set of discourses on the body that are held by different fields of knowledge. Gestures that "couldn’t" have been carried out – what does that mean?

18For a dancer, questioning what the body can do means going back over the processes of individuation and the diagrams of force associated with movement. But experimenting with Spinoza’s remark within dance’s field of action also means looking at one’s body in a different way, like an unknown object that is at the same time suffused with a history, one structured by the sciences of the body. Learning has maintained a prescriptive or descriptive relationship with dance for a long time: since Louis XIV founded the Académie royale de musique et de danse in 1661. From then on, the theoreticians of dance have continually restructured the criteria on the basis of which one should describe and analyze movement in dance. [11] Spinoza’s remark has not only given rise to work on movement, but also to a new level of interest in dance within the domain of knowledge.

19By returning to the question of what the body can do, dance has embraced the multiplicity of discourses on the body by showing how it is determined and influenced by these discourses. Dancers have exploited the possibilities opened by "research in art" with unbridled joy and a great deal of curiosity for texts and discourses. All knowledge that is produced concerning the body serves to structure it, imposing an organization and a hierarchization upon its organicity and its movements. Take a set of statements defining the role of the tenth thoracic vertebra: for an osteopath/psychoanalyst, that vertebra bears the weight of the relationship to the Name-of-the-Father; for a woman, it’s just below the fastener on a bra; for a spine specialist, it’s at the center of many cases of scoliosis and problems with vision. Like all other bodies, the dancer’s body is permeated and conditioned by all of these discourses. But dancers have the ability to shift the discourses by placing themselves on the level of the force fields that underlie the movements. Dancing enables the development of controlled weight placement, making it possible to get a distinct feel of the specific effects of these statements on spinal posture – and subsequently, the invention of another way of moving and maintaining balance on the basis of that vertebra. "Space must be constructed," [12] as the choreographer Angelin Preljocaj said. This examination of the bases of support used in movement allowed contemporary dance to completely renew the formal approach to movement. Spinoza’s dictum creates practical and theoretical effects in the field of dance by exposing the activity of the dancing body to the normative realities of discursive practices and to dance’s ability to construct variations on these norms concerning bodies. The consequence is not only a freedom of practice in relation to discourses, but also an extension of dance beyond the mere field of art: as "knowledge [savoir] by way of the body" asserting its specific form, dance becomes as much a critical look at the "disciplines [savoirs] of the body" as a new art of the body and its movements. [13]

20Dance develops a critical approach to the disciplines of the body, one that does not adopt the form of a corrective field of knowledge intending to add itself to the others in the discursive domain, instead remaining within the realm of dance.

21Indeed, these new statements are not just a new discourse or a new discipline concerning dance’s knowledge about itself, but a new alliance between language and movement on the level of dance and spectacle themselves. It is as if language and movement forged a new additional link through the dancer’s ability to reveal dance through speech. The choreographed gesture bears a new intensity, with which it can allow the spoken word to be seen, words which as a result then appear to be a declension of dance.

22Perhaps these practices do not directly create another philosophical meaning within Spinoza’s text. But this extraction of the remark from its context and its insertion into the world of dance enriches the author’s philosophical potential by giving that remark a new resonance chamber, within which it becomes available for new virtual relations with other universes and other objects. But the world of movement is not all that dance traverses and appropriates in its fashion. Dance also traverses Spinoza’s remark, which is in turn encouraged to traverse the philosophies of the body and of individuation in order to free them from any naturalist perspectives.

23Something resembling a new experience of the outside emerges from the fragmentary and willfully incomplete readings that take place in these artistic experiments. How do these experiments open thought to an outside? Any philosophical reading must be coupled with a non-philosophical reading, as Gilles Deleuze often repeated. If entering into the understanding of a text means reconstructing the network of internal relationships that form the philosophical system to which it belongs, understanding also means knowing how to deconstruct the text and furnish it with an outside, putting it in contact with something other than language. Most of the time, these linkages take place involuntarily, on a partial basis, through local connections with similar elements that revive meaning: with memories, perceptions, things seen or experienced… But this outside is actually in contact with another outside, within the texts. This is why thinking always means proceeding by a twofold interior and exterior movement. As Foucault said concerning literature, language does not encounter its interiority by withdrawing into itself, but by projecting itself into an absolute outside. [14] The thought of the outside is the experience of a dispersal and a void, of a shattering in which the act of utterance is broken down into segments. Its movement is what it seeks and what passes between phrases. We clearly see that what makes a painting, a film or a piece of music "hold together" – what really makes it painting, music, film or video, and not just one more painting, film, or piece of music – are neither frames nor forms, but rather its ability to construct a looseness of meaning by letting the individuation at work within it slip away. In the case of history, said Marguerite Duras, this also means describing the impossibility of history, or history confronted by its impossibility. It is a story, a motif, that instead of remaining stable all the way through on the level of its content, undergoes a deformation by suddenly slipping across the frontier between form and formlessness, having become pure image that makes distance perceptible, pure music that plunges us into duration. [15] It is by no means a hidden meaning to be deciphered: it is a meaning that slips away and only becomes visible as horizon. Against the power of images, the thought of the outside is on the contrary the thought of their interstices, the limit-experience of the invisibility of the visible. In the same way, what makes a philosophy text and its concepts hold together is a kind of looseness of meaning. And in the same way that at one moment in the history of painting, literature or music, a particular form enables the invention of a new line of flight, the whole problem in philosophy is reaching that point where concepts feed that slippage, that internal movement where thought encounters, in its concepts, just as many dimensions of itself.

24Meaning always contains verbalizable thought, but it is also endowed with another sensory dimension that arises from its own movement. This intimate connection with this inner and absolute outside protects us from the risk of projecting a personal interiority onto the text instead of giving it an outside. In his essay on Blanchot, [16] Foucault listed all the dangers that accompany an oversimplified conception of the experience of the outside: it can be neither reflective nor on the order of a sensory experience of limits and of the other.

25What makes artists and designers unique is that they seem to reverse the process. Instead of starting from the vanishing point that philosophy opens in philosophy, they start instead from an isolated statement that they materialize by subscribing to its meaning. If they manage to graft a non-philosophical universe onto the text, one that involves a real outside, it is because what is grafted is not an existing world but a force potential, a world in becoming. What presents itself with this graft is a relationship with an object, an action, things that are not so much concrete cases – to be taken as examples – as new invitations to think, straddling artistic sensibility and philosophical discourse. These experiments do not return us to concrete cases that would be just so many samples or examples of the problem, concept or notion so much as return us to the Real to which thought belongs. It is a reductionist approach to think that the "real meaning" of a statement is a content, like a distinct object that the mind can put in front of itself. Meaning is much more than an object of thought: it is a universe of which we are a part, which lives a life within us that coincides with our mental operations.

26But in so doing, artists and designers open a new entrance to this inner outside of the philosophical text. This outside, which is neither the outside of personal associations nor the pure inner outside that Foucault discusses, tears the text away from itself in order to immerse it in another world, and send it back, charged with new potential, into the world of ideas. This is what makes the role of research in art school so special. Philosophy does not progress by speculating or hollowing its questions out from within, but by standing on the edge of unanswered questions that it shares with people whose answers, as they are non-verbal, are so many problems to raise again. It is philosophy’s responsibility to extract the philosophical force from these productions, which do not help fill in its gaps but widen them, so that it may rebuild the fabric of its unity.

27We may wonder if Deleuze and Guattari hadn’t already invented the possibility for philosophy to proceed in this manner. The tremendous effectiveness and strangeness of a philosophy book like A Thousand Plateaus comes from how statements and concepts are wrested from their system of meaning, from their technical or philosophical environment, in order to be grafted onto other environments, integrated into other systems in which they start to develop new conceptual potentialities. Deleuze and Guattari’s work probably took place in this form because at the same time, artists were extracting fragments from Deleuze’s classes and texts that they themselves employed in their artistic endeavors.

28What we ultimately learn is that the outside of philosophy is not absolute, but relative. Every philosophy produces its outside like an absolute world of forces (just like the non-verbal, the pure sensible, etc. is absolute) that it situates as its beyond. This philosophical outside is born out of the experience of an encounter with an unfamiliar substance, like art, said Deleuze. But then, in the tension of its own conceptual construction, philosophy may be led to reduce the intense otherness of these outsides. Art then becomes a theoretical object innervated by a theory that passes through it, having managed to regenerate itself through art. These new practices make us understand that a thought, following the example of a machine, also relies upon an associated environment, coupling its forces with that environment like a turbine relies upon the air and water that make it turn. Maybe the art school environment leads us back to this: what we take for an outside has not yet escaped the stratum containing the world of knowledge within which we think. Being in art school means rediscovering the radical exteriority of the encounter with material for thought; it means encountering objects and practices that rupture the fabric of our philosophical knowledge and make us lose the thread of our certainties. But it also means perceiving a horizon within those ruptures: the horizon of a world of thought to be inflected or, more radically, to be remade. If, as Deleuze wrote in his book on Foucault, the universal may be nothing more than "the shadow of a particular and ephemeral combination carried by a historical stratum," [17] it is up to us to derive from these concrete experiences the possibility of pulling ourselves away from the shadow of that stratum to which we are still tied, of abandoning the universal in order to think in tandem with the new world coming into being.

figure im1

29The question is not only to update or regenerate knowledge. It is also to invent a new way of thinking and theorizing upon contact with practices that function as centrifugal forces dissolving the continuity of systems, rather than by developing thought from within on the basis of an initial intuition. It means abandoning the metaphor of germination, and reflecting on questions rather than convictions. The questions are not necessarily fundamental. They often have sensory origins: a striking detail, or an apparently minor idea that leads to a bifurcation of thought. The question that remains open is to know whether philosophy should assert this open and collective form, visibly inscribe the maze of these comings and goings, and question the more classic forms of thought, or whether it should seek out the possibility of finding itself in an environment that is not, for the moment, defined as a breeding ground for philosophical thought.


  • [1]
    In the French system, a "bifurcation" is essentially a switch to another subject or major. Historically it also meant the point in a student’s studies at a lycée when they had to commit to an orientation in either the sciences or the humanities [translator’s note].
  • [2]
    Gilles Deleuze, "Un portrait de Foucault" (interview with Claire Parnet, 1986), in Pourparlers (Paris: Minuit, 1990), 144 ["A Portrait of Foucault," in Negotiations, 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 106].
  • [3]
    Florian Reigner, thesis for the DNSEP (Diplôme national supérieur d’expression plastique) in 2017, written under the direction of Carola Moujan, historian of design at the ESBATALM (École supérieure des beaux-arts de Tours Angers Le Mans) in Angers. For a more complete presentation of this student’s project, see Carola Moujan, "La forme du raisonnement," in David Bihanic, Design en regards (Paris: EnsAD Editions / Art Book Magazine, 2019).
  • [4]
    Raphaël Zarka, La Conjonction interdite: notes sur le skateboard (Paris: B42, 2011).
  • [5]
    See Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980), 609 [A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 488]. Deleuze/Guattari borrow this expression from Pierre Boulez (whose translators rendered "occuper" as "fill"): "[I]n smooth time, time is filled without counting; in striated time, time is filled by counting." Boulez, Penser la musique aujourd’hui (Mainz DE: Denoël / Gonthier, 1963), 107 [Boulez on Music Today, trans. Susan Bradshaw and Richard Rodney Bennett (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), 94] [translator’s note].
  • [6]
    I must also recognize my debt to the work that the philosopher Pierre Macherey has undertaken on this question of standards and norms: De Canguilhem à Foucault: La force des normes (Paris: La Fabrique, 2009); "La raison et les normes," Hypotheses,, 2011, Web, 31 May 2021.
  • [7]
    Julien Choppin and Nicola Delon, Matière grise: matériaux/réemploi/architecture (Paris: Pavillon de l’Arsenal, 2014).
  • [8]
    Patrick Bouchain, Loïc Julienne, and Alice Tajchman, Histoire de construire (Paris: Actes Sud, 2012).
  • [9]
    This dynamic between philosophical reflection on standards and the work of designers was extended into the context of reflections on care, on the basis of Foucault’s work on the societies of care. These reflections were carried out within the framework of a research project comprising a research workshop and a conference – Design et pensée du care, organized by Patrick Beaucé and Jehanne Dautrey at the ENSAD (École nationale supérieure d’art et de design) in Nancy, 2016 – followed by a book. Design et pensée du care: Pour un design des microluttes et des singularités, ed. Jehanne Dautrey (Dijon: Presses du réel, 2019).
  • [10]
    See Ethics, Part III, Proposition 2, Scholium [for example in Benedict de Spinoza, Spinoza Reader: The Ethics and Other Works, ed. and trans. Edwin Curley (Princeton University Press, 1994), 155 - translator’s note], and Gilles Deleuze’s commentary on it in Spinoza: Philosophie pratique (Paris: Minuit, 1981), 168 [Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (San Francisco: City Lights, 1988), 125].
  • [11]
    On this question of research on dance as research on knowledge of the body, see Aurore Després and Philippe Le Moal, "Recherche en danse, danse en recherche," in La Recherche en art(s), ed. Jehanne Dautrey (Paris: MF, 2010), 83-131.
  • [12]
    See Rudy Ricciotti, Angelin Preljocaj, Eric Reinhardt, Michel Cassé, and Jehanne Dautrey, Pavillon noir (Paris: Xavier Barral, 2006).
  • [13]
    We could mention, among other projects, the work led by the researcher Barbara Formis (Université Paris I) within the framework of the Laboratoire du geste, or the performances by the Gens d’Uterpan company.
  • [14]
    "[T]he outside never yields its essence. The outside cannot offer itself as a positive presence – as something inwardly illuminated by the certainty of its own existence – but only as an absence that pulls as far away from itself as possible, receding into the sign it makes to draw one toward it […]." Michel Foucault, "La Pensée du dehors" [1966], in Dits et Écrits I: 1954-1969 (Paris: Gallimard, 1994), 526 ["The Thought of the Outside," trans. Brian Massumi, in Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology (Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984 Vol. 2), ed. James D. Faubion (New York: New Press, 1998), 154-155].
  • [15]
    Similarly, in design we find objects within which design and the impossibility of design intertwine. See Strange design, du design des comportements, ed. Jehanne Dautrey and Emanuele Quinz (Villeurbanne FR: IT, 2014) [Strange Design: from Objects to Behaviours, trans. Jonathan and David Michaelson (Forcalqueiret FR: IT, 2015)].
  • [16]
    Foucault, "La Pensée du dehors," 518-539 ["The Thought of the Outside," 147-169].
  • [17]
    "Beneath the universal there are games or transmissions of particular features, and the universal or eternal nature of man is merely the shadow of a particular and ephemeral combination carried by a historical stratum." Deleuze, Foucault (Paris: Minuit, 1986), 96 [Foucault, trans. and ed. Seán Hand (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988), 90].