Deleuze & Guattari’s Metaphysics: Already “beyond nature and culture”

“Guattari and I want to get back to our joint work, and produce a sort of philosophy of Nature, now that any distinction between nature and artifice is becoming blurred.”
(N, p. 155 [1])

1 A number of books and collections of articles are devoted to “Deleuze’s metaphysics”, that is to say, to his philosophical system and its innumerable aspects—in particular, its ontological aspect (ontology of the problem, of the virtual, of the event, etc). Almost as many are devoted to the “political philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari,” its historical anchoring, its theory of history, its current anthropological and geopolitical relevance, etc. Whoever, without direct knowledge of the corpus, takes a quick look at the main body of literature that has been devoted to it for almost thirty years now, can be led to think that Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy might only be the political aspect or the historical-practical translation of Deleuze’s philosophy, which would only have a metaphysical and ontological dimension. Such an image is however very reductive and largely erroneous. The reason is twofold. On the one hand, there are already a good number of political passages in the works written by Deleuze alone before (as well as after) his meeting with Guattari, from Instincts and Institutions to Essays Critical and Clinical. But on the other hand, and above all, if the works of Deleuze and Guattari, from Anti-Oedipus to What is Philosophy?, have an absolutely undeniable political or historical-practical dimension, and if this dimension is indeed anchored or, at least, supposes or even arouses the prior or simultaneous deployment of a metaphysics, of a philosophical system that does not leave aside any aspect of the real, as is the case with all great philosophy, starting, to mention only one, with Spinoza’s, this metaphysics can be found nowhere else than in these same works that they wrote in common. [2]

2 Directly dealing with this far too long neglected object, this collection of articles aims to characterize as precisely as possible the “Deleuzo-Guattarian metaphysics” by situating it around the fundamental problem that animates it. This problem, which Deleuze will formulate as such in 1988, just before starting their last collaboration, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie ? [What is Philosophy?] (whose 30th anniversary is being celebrated this year), is the erasure of any difference “between nature and artifice”, in other words the surpassing of the dualism nature/culture. Such a surpassing is itself metaphysical insofar as, like any philosophical system, it aims to critique and thus surpass certain previous metaphysics, in this case those which structured this dualism, in particular, as Descola has since shown, by unifying one of its poles by its only contrast with the other under the figure of “naturalism” [3] (a nature presupposing the relativity of cultures). In the formulation that Deleuze gives—“a philosophy of Nature”—one will notice that such a surpassing of the dualism is supposed paradoxically to take place in service of one of its two terms. Does this mean that Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy would itself remain a “naturalism” (a flag that Deleuze alone has often claimed, characterizing Lucretius’s and Spinoza’s systems in this way [4])? Naturalism may or may not have a reductive effect depending on the sense given to nature, obviously double here: either nature has an “anthropological” or even “anthropocentric” meaning by defining only all that would be distinguished from culture, would be “devoid” of culture, would precede it or subsist in an underlying way; or it has a “metaphysical” or “cosmological” sense by defining all that is, the ultimate “encompassing”, to speak like Jaspers, leaving nothing to subsist outside, neither God nor man. Nature can in this sense designate what is situated “beyond nature and culture” without being reduced to either of these two terms (anthropocentric and Western-centric). Nature, or God, if we go back to Spinoza, unfolds in an infinite number of infinite attributes (and finite modes) without ever letting itself be exhausted by any of them, be reduced to one of them, the latter is, from the point of view of another, designated as “nature.” In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari prefer the concept of immanence, of “plane of immanence,” to these “encompassing” terms, which are undoubtedly too signed, dated, and connoted, which are responsible for effecting the same erasure between nature and culture, the same surpassing of a dualism which refers, in its greatest degree of generality, to none other than to that between being and thought (two attributes among an infinity of others in the Spinozist system).

3 It remains to be seen how to proceed to erase any difference between being and thought, nature and culture, or even nature and history—series of dualisms which largely overlap without merging completely. To want to overcome them, is this not contradictory, on the one hand, with the deep desire, evident from their first collaboration, to “find enough innocence for generating universal history” [5] and thus seek to bring out the transhistorical unity of history, its own consistency—which certainly does not mean its autonomy? Is it really coherent, on the other hand, with the programmatic desire, just as evident before their last collaboration, to define what philosophy is and thus to identify, in contrast to any other activity, in particular with the other creative practices that are science and art, its own consistency—which here again does not refer to any autonomous or separate existence? No incompatibility in one case as in the other: it is that one can precisely overcome or erase the dualism only by crossing and flying over one of its poles to bring out its deep unity, the transversal logic, and show how they identify and finally merge with those of the other pole. Thus, it is by identifying, in the terminology of Anti-Oedipus, the “object” of “universal history” (desiring machinic production and flows), in other words, in that of A Thousand Plateaus, the “unity of composition” of the “anthropomorphic stratum” or “alloplastic” (the double process of “variation,” always first, and of “stratification,” always second) that one also identifies what underlies the anthropocentric nature, that is to say, the other physico-chemical and biological dimensions of reality, and that one therefore erases the distinction between history and nature. In the same vein, it is by identifying in What is Philosophy? the fundamental nature of philosophical thought (creating “concepts”, establishing a “plane of immanence,” populating it with “conceptual characters”), that we thereby identify that of the other creative thoughts (art and science), and thus the triple nature of thought, and that we erase the distinction between thought and being, by understanding that the very nature of reality is manifested in this way, the triple way in which it unfolds and is created.

4 One can therefore proceed in two concrete ways to erase the relationship between nature and culture, nature and history or being and thought. The first process consists in starting from a supposedly primary nature in order to gradually absorb or adsorb all culture into it in such a way as to finally deny any meaning to this primacy. This is how the Marx of the Manuscripts of 1844, claimed guide to the enterprise launched by Anti-Oedipus, endeavored to inscribe the history of man in the history of nature in order to reach this point of indistinguishability between man and nature: “History itself is a real part of natural history—of nature developing into man” so that, according to a formula which seems to prefigure the idea of a Body without Organs, “Nature is man’s inorganic body.” [6] The chapter “Geology of Morals” in A Thousand Plateaus constitutes in a way a textbook case of this first process, making the “anthropomorphic” or socio-historical stratum one sheet among others of reality, no stratum being superior nor autonomous with respect to the others in the stratified system of Nature. The second process consists in the opposite direction, starting from a supposedly second culture to gradually absorb and desorb from it nature as a whole so as to empty this secondarity of its meaning. This is what is at stake in the theory of forms of thought in What is Philosophy? whose explicit model could be this time, unexpectedly for those who would have remained stuck on Deleuze’s anti-Hegelianism, the Hegelian theory of the concept [7] and whose case study would undoubtedly be the chapter entitled “Concept and Function” which elaborates a theory of science by ballasting it with maximal ontological weight, by making this revolutionary “epistemology” nothing less than a “cosmogenesis.” [8]

5 The four articles that make up “Cursus” give an overview of each of these two processes in turn borrowed by Deleuzo-Guattarian metaphysics to reach this zone of indiscernibility “beyond nature and culture”. The articles by Vincent Jacques and Igor Krtolica essentially explore the first path, while those by Bernard Bénit and Jérôme Rosanvallon rather retrace and pursue the second. In his article, Vincent Jacques shows that Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, a fine reader of A Thousand Plateaus, draws from it conceptual tools, in particular the concept of becoming, allowing him to overcome the divide between nature and culture in anthropology. This is how he interprets Amazonian perspectivism and cannibalism, but also how he rereads the work of Pierre Clastres, whose thesis of society-against-the-State is decentered from his “sociocentrism” to open it up to a cosmopolitics “beyond nature and culture” which clearly emerges on the horizon of A Thousand Plateaus: the “cultural” point of view of anthropology thus dissolves into a kind of cosmic naturalism (what is called its ontological turn). Igor Krtolica’s article also follows the movement of thought that goes from nature to culture to disturb their too simply human attributes by relating the genesis of the concept of rhizome. He shows that this new image of thought is particularly dependent on Haudricourt’s hypothesis that there is a correspondence between the treatment of nature and the treatment of others—a hypothesis which will also be decisive for Descola’s key work. Between philosophy and anthropology, we will thus see how, just as in the previous article, an intense conceptual fabric develops to absorb the cultural fact into a new naturalism.

6 Starting therefore implicitly from the other pole of the dualism, Bernard Bénit’s article traces the conceptual development of the couple “image of thought”/“thought without image,” resulting from the work of Deleuze, in that of Deleuze and Guattari: he shows how the two terms are progressively weighed down with a historical dimension (according to the “noological” perspective sketched in A Thousand Plateaus) and an ontological dimension (by virtue of the identification made by What is Philosophy? between the “image of thought” and the “matter of being” and their relation to “chaos,” the ultimate figure of “thought without image”). Similarly, Jérôme Rosanvallon’s article compares the nature and role of the concept of “self-overflight” [“auto-survol”] in the work of Raymond Ruyer (who first uses it to characterize the perceptual field before giving it a physical and biological sense) and in that of Deleuze and Guattari (who use it in particular to define the concept of concept in What is philosophy?). Where Ruyer finally makes it one of the poles of an ontological dualism subordinated to a neo-finalist perspective, Deleuze and Guattari inscribe it, according to an immanentist or naturalist perspective, in an irreducibly triple ontology (identifiable with an “ontogenesis,” a “cosmogenesis” and a “biogenesis”).

7 In the interview conducted for the “Words” section, Pierre Montebello then returns to all the issues of Deleuze’s metaphysics with (but also without) Guattari according to the different qualifiers likely to characterize it, philosophy of Nature or of absolute immanence. Recalling the post-Kantian or rather non-Kantian lineage of this metaphysics, he shows that it deploys a “fundamentally inclusive, differential, multiple, non-anthropomorphic” Nature, which cannot be reduced to the figure it assumes in the dominant version of naturalism or modern physicalism. What unfolds in this way, insists Pierre Montebello, is a plane of communication of differences, a plane of univocity which does not leave the multiple undetermined and which is therefore clearly distinguished in this from other contemporary metaphysical constructions which could be assimilated to it—Bruno Latour’s “irreductionism” but also Tristan Garcia’s “flat ontology” or Quentin Meillassoux’s “speculative realism” in line with Alain Badiou’s “ontology of the multiple”. It is that the fundamental stake of this plane of univocity or immanence, our guest concludes, is precisely to identify being and thought, to show how one is woven into the other and vice versa, by refusing all primacy of the thinkable (and its intentional correlate) as well as any primacy of being (and its physicalist correlate).

8 We hope that all these contributions will thus enable the reader to better understand the autonomy and coherence of the work of Deleuze and Guattari (without however neglecting its obviously close links with the philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari alone) and will convince them of its ontological-political dimension. Because if “politics precedes being,” it is only by virtue of this point of indistinguishability between nature and culture making it ultimately impossible to know what “precedes.”

List of abbreviations used in the issue and in Readings

Works by Gilles Deleuze

9 PS: Proust and Signs. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

10 B. Bergonism. Zone Books, 1991.

11 EPS: Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Zone books, 2005.

12 DR: Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, 1994.

13 LS: The Logic of Sense. Athlone Press, 1990.

14 D: (with Claire Parnet) Dialogues. Columbia University Press, 1987.

15 SPP: Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. City Lights Books, 1988.

16 MI: Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

17 TI: Cinema 2: The Time-Image. University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

18 F: Foucault. University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

19 FLB: The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Continuum, 2006.

20 N: Negotiations. Columbia University Press, 1995.

21 ECC: Essays Critical and Clinical. Verso, 1998.

22 DI: Desert Islands and Other Texts. Semiotext(e), 2004.

23 L: Letters and Other Texts. Semiotext(e), 2020.

Works by Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari

24 AO: Anti-Oedipus. University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

25 K: Kafka. University of Minnesota Press, 2003.

26 TP: A Thousand Plateaus. University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

27 WIP: What is Philosophy?. Columbia University Press, 1994.

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At Vanessa Brito’s suggestion, the cover and iconography of this issue were created by Silvia Maglioni & Graeme Thomson
(HDV, 116 min., FR/ I / UK, 2009)
(HDV, 72 mns., FR/ I / UK, 2013)
Composed of eight sets, Facs of Life is situated at the porous border between documentary, essay, fiction, and experimental cinema. The film follows several trajectories of life and thought through a series of encounters: with video archives of Gilles Deleuze’s lectures at the University of Vincennes (1975-1976), with students who appear in these images, with the Vincennes woods where the university buildings were located, with students at the new university in Saint-Denis, and with the ghosts of the revolution, both cinematic and political, that haunt the collective desire. Each set is built around a concept that defines the singular nature of the students’ relationship to Deleuze and his thought, and informs the visual and sonic character of the encounter between them and the filmmakers. In sketching out a narrative of the making of the film, the eight sets fold and unfold within each other, thus forming multiple non-linear assemblages.In Search of UIQ unfolds a project by Félix Guattari, A Love of UIQ, which is both a missing film and a missed opportunity for cinema. Using video and sound archives, letters and other documents that are interwoven in a series of fabulations and spectral reconstructions, the film explores what a cinema of the Infra-Quark Universe could have been (and still can become) in terms of Guattari’s thought and clinical practice. It addresses the implications of this cinema in terms of the social and biopolitical transformations of everyday life and the omnipresence of digital networks. Through a process of idleness, which constructs a dynamic counterpoint between the unfilmed scenario and its various possible manifestations, the film creates a ghostly topography of this missed encounter on the big screen involving science fiction, schizoanalysis and molecular politics—virtually projecting UIQ towards the horizons of present and future struggles as a tactical weapon of sabotage in the war of images.
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  • [1]
    The list of abbreviations common to all of the articles in this issue can be found at the end of this introduction.
  • [2]
    On the fact that one can or cannot speak of metaphysics or even ontology in Deleuze and Guattari’s work and on its degree of autonomy in relation to those of Deleuze and Guattari alone, we refer to the collective discussion that opens the issue and expresses the divergent and convergent points of view of Manola Antonioli, Vincent Jacques, Igor Krtolica, and Jérôme Rosanvallon on these questions.
  • [3]
    Philippe Descola. Par-delà nature et culture. Paris: Gallimard, 2005, p. 91-131 et 241-279.
  • [4]
    See LS, p. 322-324, EPS, p. 211-213 and SPP, p. 120-121, Spinoza’s naturalism even taking on physicalist accents under Deleuze’s pen: “everything is “physical” in Nature”, EPS, p. 213.
  • [5]
    AO, p. 139.
  • [6]
    Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Trans. Martin Milligan), Progress Publishers, 1959, p. 48 and 31. On Marx’s “naturalism,” one will gain a lot by reading the article by Stéphane Haber in Lire les Manuscrits de 1844 (ed. E. Renault), PUF, 2008, pp. 129-145, who shows that this affirmation “of a unique mode of being for the natural and the social” leads Marx to interpret “the overcoming of alienation as the reaffirmation of Nature, and not as the triumph of the Subject” (p. 144 and 137).
  • [7]
    See WIP, pp. 11-12: “Hegel powerfully defined the concept by the Figures of its creation and the Moments of its self-positing” but thereby missed the “independent movement of the arts and sciences” (whose creations are thus, according to Deleuze and Guattari, different in kind of the concept).
  • [8]
    Eric Alliez was the first to have insisted, shortly after the publication of the work, on its fundamental ontological dimension too often ignored or misunderstood: La Signature du monde ou qu’est-ce que la philosophie de Deleuze et Guattari, Cerf, 19