The image of thought and thought without image in Deleuze & Guattari

1 Our recent research [1] aimed at elaborating the meaning of the Deleuzian theory of thought without image that appears in Difference and Repetition. In the same movement, in fact, Deleuze operates the radical critique of the image of thought, from which arise the conditions of a thought without image that substitutes itself to it. The problem that we had to solve had to do with the relationship between thought and image in the philosophy of the “first” Deleuze. We would like to extend this research here by questioning the meaning of the relationship between the image of thought and thought without image in the philosophy of Deleuze-Guattari: is the relationship between the image of thought and thought without image to be found in their philosophy? Is it the same relationship as in Deleuze’s philosophy alone? And if so, in what forms does it appear and for what reasons is this relationship maintained? At the same time, the terms of this relationship themselves change: why is the term “image of thought” maintained, despite its ambivalence? For what reasons does the image of thought as representation give way to a plurality of images of thought? As for thought without image, how do we reach it from now on? Is it still by means of the critique of the image of thought? Finally, what forms, then, does thought without image take, when the term disappears?

2 It is a question, in short, of showing that the relation between image of thought and thought without image, established by Deleuze, persists while being metamorphosed in the philosophy of Deleuze-Guattari.

The image of thought and thought without image in difference and repetition

3 The image of thought is the image that thought gives itself—the mental and implicit image that precedes and conditions thought. In other words, before thinking, thought already has an image of what it means to think. It is this image that Deleuze undertakes to critique radically by showing that philosophy, by giving itself an implicit image, can only distort itself and subject itself to it, incapable as it is of grasping the meaning of the act of thinking. As long as this image is operative, thought ignores its own nature and the conditions of its exercise. However, Deleuze already strives at the same time to conquer a “new” image of thought. This is because the image of thought has a double meaning: in a negative sense as a representative image or representation, it is equivalent to the conditions of possibilities—abstract and general—pre-existing to the act of thinking, in other words, to the presuppositions of representation; in a positive sense as a new image, it is equivalent to the real conditions proper to a problem posed to thought and necessary to its resolution. Deleuze thus assimilates the first image to representation and looks for a thought without image which would be a thought without representation. In sum, the movement of Deleuze’s philosophy is triple: critique of the image of thought; construction of a new image of thought; emergence of thought without image. It is, for him, the very movement of thought, as it emerges as the genesis of the act of thinking in the thought itself.

4 The philosophy without presuppositions, considered by Deleuze in Difference and Repetition, thus answers a double requirement. The first one consists in the critique of the postulates of the image of thought which constitute the most general presuppositions of philosophical thought and form the dogmatic image of thought—supposedly natural. Indeed, these presuppositions are the presuppositions of opinion, from which the philosophers are unable to extract themselves, and which they renew without their knowledge. In this sense, the philosopher remains with a natural, non-philosophical thought. The main postulates are the following: the good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought; the common sense as concord of the faculties and the good sense as guarantor of the distribution; the model of recognition, inviting the faculties to exercise themselves on a supposedly same object; the element of thought as representation.

5 The second requirement consists in producing, from this radical critique, a new image of thought as a set of conditions capable of giving rise to a thought without image. The Deleuzian image of thought requires, in fact, the following conditions: the unwillingness of the thinker and the inability to think; thought, constrained by the violent encounter of a sign, is forced to think the unthinkable, that is to say what it cannot think, but that it must think; in its discordant exercise that brings it to its limit, thought is born in itself, by the conquest of an intensity.

6 To the two previous requirements, relating to the image of the thought, Deleuze poses a third requirement which consists in the emergence of thought without image itself. The latter is an immanent thought, within the sensitive, a pure and wild thought, without prior orientation. Far from being a spontaneous and natural thought, it requires real conditions, not abstract, general and pre-existing (conditions of possibility), but internal and immanent—conditions proper to a problem posed and necessary to its resolution. These conditions do not exist prior to thought, but do not exist outside of philosophy. For the thinker, it is a question, from these real conditions that they have determined, of liberating thought without image, that is to say of creating its advent. The destruction of the image representative of thought is thus done for the benefit of a thought engendering its very act, the self-creation of “thinking” in thought. For this, thought must have changed elements, its exercise must take place outside of any model, any representation. To the representative image of thought, it is necessary to substitute a non-representative image, “sub-representative,” without resemblance, in the manner of abstract art which operates such a revolution in the field of pictorial art. Abstract painting frees itself, indeed, of any subjection to an external object, to conquer by itself “the being of painting” (space, color, form, material, intensity) by producing non-figurative images, not representative, but which are nevertheless still images. Art thus shows philosophy the way to bring about its own revolution: by changing elements, philosophy can conquer “the being of thought,” by carrying out the passage of a thought subjected to the element of representation towards a thought freed from it, thus falling under the sub-representative element.

7 The “revelation” of a thought without image is carried out with the system of the simulacrum which replaces the categories of representation by nomadic notions: the depth where the intensities are organized, the dark precursor which puts them in communication, the couplings, internal resonances and forced movements, the passive selves, the larval subjects and the pure space-time dynamisms, etc. These notions find their unity in an informal chaos which is the bottomless, the world of metamorphoses, of communicating intensities, of differences of differences, of impersonal individuations or pre-individual singularities. In representation, thought may have had a presentiment of the bottomless, but represents it only as an undifferentiated abyss, dark bottom without difference, devoid of individuality and singularity. In reality, the world of the bottomless overflows representation: it is the bottom which detaches itself from the dark bottom and rises to the surface, which does not take form, but insinuates itself between the forms, decomposes them, leaving only to subsist the abstract lines as the only determinations adequate to the indeterminate. From then on, thought explores the Idea (the problem), without any preconceived image, but by forming a new image that conditions it. In other words, the condition (the new image) and the conditioned (thought without image) are both distinct and inseparable. This means that chaos is not already there, prior, pre-existing to any thought, undifferentiated abyss, as representation maintains. Chaos emerges with the new image of thought, like a sky illuminated by the surge of lightning during a storm. Indeed, lightning is opposed to something that cannot be distinguished from it (the black sky). It distinguishes itself from the dark sky by dragging it along with it, as if it were distinguished from that which is not distinguished. Chaos is more thought than given, because there does not seem to be any experience of chaos. It is the image that conditions it, at the same time that it escapes it.

8 With Guattari, Deleuze himself will consider continuing the questioning of the image of thought, pluralizing and historicizing it, transforming it into a plane of immanence, while continuing the search for a thought without image. The latter now takes the shape of a certain exercise of thought: [2] to the thought without image, is substituted the notion of Body without Organs, which is then made equivalent to chaos. Consequently, two axes of questioning seem to be a priority: first, how does the image of thought, brought closer to the plane of immanence, maintain a relationship not only with the other images of thought, but also with a thought without image? Then, through which conceptual metamorphoses does thought without image go through and how can it be identified as such?

From the image of thought to planes of immanence

9 In a 1988 article, collected in Negotiations, [3] Deleuze returns at length to the image of thought, to the fact that it haunted his early works and resurfaced, later, in his works with Guattari. In fact, it reappears as early as the introduction to A Thousand Plateaus, which presents the rhizome as the new image of thought, under that of the trees. It is from the image of the rhizome that they critique the classical image of the tree. Then, Deleuze extends the analysis in Cinema 1 and 2: according to him, film-makers try to establish relations between cinematographic images and thought. Artaud even maintains that cinema has as its object the functioning of thought, the construction of an image of thought: it itself constructs a new image of thought, revealing the inability to think at the heart of thought. According to Deleuze, cinema has always wanted to construct an image of thought, of the mechanisms of thought passing, from Eisenstein to Resnais, from a classical image to a new image of thought.

10 In Dialogues, Deleuze gives the reasons for the continued search for a new image of thought in his work with Guattari. In particular, he confirms that they have not stopped searching for a thought without image, made necessary by the critique of the image of thought. They show the necessity of it by proceeding to critique the history of philosophy: they present the latter as an apparatus of power of the thought that gives it an image to which one submits. This image covers all thought. The history of philosophy has always been the agent of State power in thought: it has played the role of repressor, of school of intimidation. In short, with the history of philosophy, an image of thought has historically been constituted that prevents thinking. [4] By considering to become the official language of a pure State, philosophical thought makes its exercise conform to the goals of the real State, to the requirements of the established order, as well as to the dominant meanings.

11 How, then, can thought be removed from the model of the State? By a counter-thought, affirm Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. These counter-thoughts refuse the subjection to the State and to dominant thought—they even destroy the image of thought. These counter-thoughts put thought in relation with external forces and turn thought into a war machine. They testify to solitary thinkers, but whose solitude is extremely populated, thus tying up the thread with “a people to come”. However, this form of exteriority of thought is not another image, but a force that destroys the image and the very possibility of subordinating thought to a model. Thought is without image: it does not have an image to make a copy or to constitute a model, but it has relays, reminders. Thrown like an arrow into the world, counter-thought is picked up and thrown further by another thinker. As a result, thought is understood as a process: grappling with external forces, thought proceeds, like a nomadic thought, by unfolding in an environment without horizon (smooth space) and without a universal thinking subject (tribe that populates the desert). As an agent of State power in thought, the history of philosophy can only crush all that belongs to thought without image and denounce counter-thought as a nuisance. In short, to the dogmatic image of thought of Difference and Repetition that they wanted to destroy, in favor of a thought without image, Deleuze and Guattari substitute, in A Thousand Plateaus, nomadic thoughts, without image, in relation with the forces of the outside: they are war machines, destined to resist the dominant thought subjected to the State. A new field of research can then be explored: “noology” or the study of the images of thought which constitute the prolegomena to philosophy.

12 A new transformation takes place in the second chapter of What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari bring together the image of thought and the plane of immanence, which was sketched out in the 1988 Negotiations article. The plane of immanence constitutes what thought can claim by right, what it selects and envelops, that is to say, infinite movement. Indeed, in their last joint work, Deleuze and Guattari define the plane of immanence as the image of thought, “the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought.” [5] From then on, the image of thought is understood positively, as plane of immanence which cuts through chaos. All philosophy consists in the art of creating concepts: these, born of a throw of the dice, nevertheless resonate with each other on one and the same plane. The plane of immanence, constructed by thought, gives consistency to concepts, while being infinitely open, like a fluid medium required by the infinite speed of thought. Thought traces the plane, establishes it as the absolute ground of philosophy. Consequently, every original philosophy gives itself a particular image of thought, and every great philosopher draws up their own plane of immanence. In short, the image of thought is pluralized and historicized: each corresponds to a major thinker or to a historical period of thought that they open up. The critique of the image of thought is no longer done from a perspective of elimination, of destruction, but of its transformation in history. The image of thought is presented, no longer as a “non-philosophical presupposition,” but as “pre-philosophical comprehension” which is a necessary prerequisite for any philosophy. In order to determine the conditions of philosophy, it is a question for Deleuze and Guattari of updating the images of philosophers’ thought. Indeed, philosophers no longer have the same image of thought as their predecessors. In reality, the image is transformed according to a double constraint: the socio-historical determinisms (external) and the becoming (internal) of thought. For example, since Nietzsche, one no longer seeks the true but the sense, by struggling with non-sense.

Does thought without image persist in Deleuze and Guattari?

13 In Deleuze-Guattari’s philosophy, thought without image does not disappear, although the term disappears after A Thousand Plateaus: it is transformed, while retaining certain characteristics. The first metamorphosis of thought without image takes place with the Body without Organs. In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze has already initiated this displacement. Deleuze has substituted the system of the simulacrum of Difference and Repetition with the Body without Organs, borrowed from Artaud. The body without Organs is thought without image under the angle of organicity, on the side of the inorganic. The body without Organs operates in depth, where the surface organization, guaranteeing meaning and the distinction between body and words, has disappeared. It is the revelation that there is no longer any surface, no longer any border between things and propositions. The body is now only depth, grabbing things in its gap. Without surface, the interior and the exterior no longer have limits and sink into universal depth. In short, Deleuze “describes” a certain exercise of thought, freed from any model and any resemblance: it is thought without image. Thought is exercised in such a way that by determining its real conditions, thought without image can be born in thought. From this arises a sub-representative world, this unthinkable that thought does not know how to think, but that it must think, in order to free itself from dominant meanings.

14 In Anti-Oedipus, the analysis of the Body without Organs (which we will designate as BwO) operates a first displacement, linked to the critique of psychoanalysis and its conception of desire: with Guattari, Deleuze henceforth considers the BwO beyond the organism. It is no longer a schizophrenic entity, but the body of desire that the schizophrenic experiences in the extreme, by suffering from the interruption of the process of desire. From then on, Anti-Oedipus deploys a new metaphysics, in which the BwO becomes an egg, “crisscrossed with axes and thresholds, with latitudes and longitudes and geodesic lines, traversed by gradients marking the transitions and the becomings,” [6] a slippery surface or an amorphous and undifferentiated fluid, in which nothing is representative, but everything is life and lived.

15 In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari once again take up the analysis of the BwO, by questioning the body of the BwO and by proceeding to a second displacement. The body, which is in question here, is neither the ordinary bodily experience that the phenomenologists describe, nor the rare experience, reached with the help of chemical substances (drugs), even less the proper body, constituting the interiority of the Self. In reality, the body of the BwO, is the limit of the lived body, a limit reached when it is traversed by affects or becomings: the body is the unlivable power of desire that never freezes in forms. As such, there is not, strictly speaking, an experience of the BwO. With respect to the organs, the BwO is both repulsion (it is the condition, so that the organism does not sediment) and attraction (it is what the organs are inscribed on as intensive states). The production of the real is thus the fragile articulation of repulsion (which borders on self-destruction) and attraction (the organs as intensive states). The substitution of thought without image (sub-representative world and informal chaos) in the BwO (limit of the body traversed by sub-representative becomings and affects, and unlivable and informal power) takes place here. Deleuze and Guattari also take up the idea that the BwO is an egg that one brings with oneself, as one’s own environment for experimentation. While Difference and Repetition established that the system of the (sub-representative) simulacrum was an egg (a medium of pure intensity), A Thousand Plateaus shows that the BwO is populated only by intensities, passing and circulating. The BwO passes intensities, by producing and distributing them in an intensive spatium which is neither a space, nor in space: it is energy, intense, unformed, unstratified matter. It is the production of the real as intensive magnitude. Here again there is a close proximity to the characteristics of thought without image in Difference and Repetition.

16 The second metamorphosis of thought without image takes place in the substitution of chaos for the Body without Organs. Indeed, for Deleuze and Guattari, thinking cannot be reduced to a natural and spontaneous activity: thinking is an activity that puts us in the situation of facing chaos. Chaos constantly threatens the plane of immanence, of collapse, of crumbling. The plane of immanence being a cut on chaos, the cut requires, at the same time, to succeed in sinking into the chaos and to be extracted from it: it is not enough to protect oneself from chaos, as the opinion does, it is necessary to face it. For this, the philosopher must consolidate the plane by giving it consistency through the creation of concepts, without however losing the infinity in which thought has plunged. The problem of philosophy is thus to acquire consistency. Thinking begins with making a cut and establishing a plane of immanence. This plane is pre-philosophical: it is the set of internal conditions of philosophy. And Deleuze and Guattari distinguish it from the field of immanence. Unlike the plane of immanence, conceived as an image of thought, the field of immanence is THE plane, the pure given, not the possible experience that protects us from chaos (the recognized), but the real experience that envelops or implies chaos: it is the non-thought of each plane of immanence. By establishing THE plane or field of immanence, thought accomplishes the conversion to pure immanence. THE plane is the unthought that thought does not know how to think but must think, that which thought can only approach, because to coincide with it is to be swallowed up by chaos. THE single plane is non-transcendent: it is that which recognizes chaos as outside of all planes. In reality, each plane of immanence is a variation, hierarchizable according to the quantity of illusions of transcendence that it allows to subsist or, conversely, according to the greater or lesser part of immanence that it envelops and that brings it closer to pure immanence. Also each philosophy, as a variation, tries to encompass chaos to save infinite movement, by creating concepts which give it consistency. But no plane can exhaust chaos, unless a plane is drawn up that would include chaos. This is the attempt made by Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy?. Chaos is a void, not a nothingness, but a virtual one. Chaos contains all the possible particles and draws all the possible forms which arise to disappear at once: it is an “infinite speed of birth and disappearance,” [7] with which any form, barely sketched out, dissipates. Chaos therefore has no consistency. Yet, paradoxically, chaos is that which cannot be thought (chaotic virtuality) but must be thought (virtuality that has become consistency). In other words, each philosopher traces a plane of immanence which cuts chaos and, through the creation of concepts, carries events to infinity, under the action of conceptual characters, thus saving infinite movement. They thereby give consistency to chaotic virtuality. At the end of this study, let us summarize the results obtained. The aim was to examine the transformations that occurred in the passage from Deleuze’s metaphysics to that of Deleuze and Guattari. We followed the evolution of the relationship between the image of thought and thought without image during this passage. The image of thought is first critiqued, before being transformed, pluralized, and historicized, into planes of immanence. As for thought without image, it metamorphoses first into Body without organ, to then become chaos. In reality, Deleuze and Guattari maintain until their final work the relationship between the image of thought and thought without image, but this relationship is also transformed: the latter moves from the critique, led by Deleuze alone, of the dogmatic image of thought in favor of the emergence of thought without image, to noology, or the study of images of thought conceived as planes of immanence, hierarchically ordered according to their greater or lesser proximity to pure Immanence, that is to say, according to the consistency of the concepts that allow for the closest approach to chaos. In this sense, Deleuze and Guattari renew the very definition of thought and invite us henceforth to think of a pure or whole immanence.

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  • [1]
    Bénit, Bernard. Deleuze. La critique de l’image représentative de la pensée (1); Deleuze. La pensée sans image (2). Paris: L’Harmattan, 2018.
  • [2]
    D. p. 23: it is no longer a question of “describing this exercise of thought,” but accomplishing it, “exercising thought in this particular way.” Also see TP, pp. 185-204, “How to make a Body without Organs?”.
  • [3]
    N. pp. 202-204.
  • [4]
    D. pp. 19-20.
  • [5]
    WP. p. 37
  • [6]
    AO. p. 19.
  • [7]
    WP. p. 118.