History of Literature

French literature



Gilles Deleuze

born January 18, 1925, Paris, France
died November 4, 1995, Paris

French writer and antirationalist philosopher.

Deleuze began his study of philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1944. Appointed to the faculty there in 1957, he later taught at the University of Lyons and the University of Paris VIII, where he was a popular lecturer. He retired from teaching in 1987.

Two of Deleuze’s early publications, David Hume (1952; with Andre Cresson) and Nietzsche and Philosophy (1962), were historical studies of thinkers who, though in different ways, emphasized the limited powers of human reason and mocked the pretensions of traditional philosophy to discern the ultimate nature of reality. In the 1960s Deleuze began to philosophize in a more original vein, producing two major works, Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969). In the former he argued against the devaluation of “difference” in Western metaphysics and tried to show that difference inheres in repetition itself.

A central theme of Deleuze’s work during this period was what he called the “Eleatic-Platonic bias” of Western metaphysics—i.e., the preference, which originated with the pre-Socratic school of Eleaticism and the subsequent philosophy of Plato, for unity over multiplicity (“the one” over “the many”) and for sameness over difference. According to Deleuze, this bias, which manifests itself in the characteristic philosophical search for the abstract “essences” of things, falsifies the nature of experience, which consists of multiplicities rather than unities. In order to do justice to reality as multiplicity, therefore, a completely new set of philosophical concepts is required. Deleuze also criticized traditional metaphysics for its “arboreal” or “treelike” character—i.e., its conception of reality in terms of hierarchy, order, and linearity—and compared his own thought, by contrast, to the structure of a rhizome, an underground plant stem whose growth is aimless and disordered.

Following the student uprising in Paris in May 1968, Deleuze’s thought became more politically engaged. Anti-Oedipus (1972), the first volume of a two-volume work (Capitalism and Schizophrenia) written with the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari (1930–92), is an extended attack on traditional psychoanalysis and the concept of the Oedipus complex, which the authors contend has been used to suppress human desire in the service of normalization and control. The book concludes with a rather naive celebration of schizophrenia as a heroic expression of social nonconformity. In the second volume, A Thousand Plateaus (1980), which they present as a study in “nomadology” and “deterritorialization” (the former term suggesting the nomadic lifestyle of Bedouin tribes, the latter a general state of flux and mobility), Deleuze and Guattari condemn all species of rationalist metaphysics as “state philosophy.”

In 1995, depressed by chronic illness and his generally deteriorating health, Deleuze committed suicide.

Richard Wolin



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