University of David
Gilles Deleuze (January 18, 1925–November 4, 1995) was one of the most influential and prolific French philosophers of the second half of the twentieth century. Deleuze conceived of philosophy as the production of concepts, and he characterized himself as a “pure metaphysician.” In his magnum opus Difference and Repetition, he tries to develop a metaphysics adequate to contemporary mathematics and science—a metaphysics in which the concept of multiplicity replaces that of substance, event replaces essence and virtuality replaces possibility. Deleuze also produced studies in the history of philosophy (on Hume, Nietzsche, Kant, Bergson, Spinoza, Foucault, and Leibniz), and on the arts (a two- volume study of the cinema, books on Proust and Sacher-Masoch, a work on the painter Francis Bacon, and a collection of essays on literature.) Deleuze considered these latter works as pure philosophy, and not criticism, since he sought to create the concepts that correspond to the artistic practices of painters, filmmakers, and writers. In 1968, he met Félix Guattari, a political activist and radical psychoanalyst, with whom he wrote several works, among them the two-volume Capitalism and Schizophrenia, comprised of Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). Their final collaboration was What is Philosophy? (1991). Deleuze is noteworthy for his rejection of the Heideggerian notion of the “end of metaphysics.” In an interview, he once offered this self-assessment: “I feel myself to be a pure metaphysician…. Bergson says that modern science hasn’t found its metaphysics, the metaphysics it would need. It is this metaphysics that interests me.” [Villani 1999: 130.]) We should also point to the extent of his non-philosophical references (inter alia, differential calculus, thermodynamics, geology, molecular biology, population genetics, ethology, embryology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, economics, linguistics, and even esoteric thought); his colleague Jean-François Lyotard spoke of him as a “library of Babel.” Although it remains to be seen whether the 20th century will be “Deleuzean,” as his friend Michel Foucault once quipped, Deleuze’s influence reaches beyond philosophy; his work is approvingly cited by, and his concepts put to use by, researchers in architecture, urban studies, geography, film studies, musicology, anthropology, gender studies, literary studies and other fields. One of the barriers to Deleuze’s being better read among mainstream philosophers is the difficulty of his writing style in his original works (as opposed to his historical works, which are often models of clarity and concision). Deleuze’s prose can be highly allusive, as well as peppered with neologisms; to make matters even more complex, these terminological innovations shift from one work to the other. While claims of intentional obscurantism are not warranted, Deleuze did mean for his style to keep readers on their toes, or even to “force” them to rethink their philosophical assumptions. (We will discuss this notion of being “forced” to think below in 3.1.) As befits an encyclopedia entry, we will concentrate on the conceptual architecture of his thought, though readers should be aware that, perhaps more than with most philosophers, such a treatment of Deleuze’s work removes much of the performative effect of reading the original.