Commentaires et littérature critique
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The coloured thickness of a problem

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PREFACE A LA TRADUCTION ANGLAISE DE LA SIGNATURE DU MONDE (ED. AUGMENTÉE DE 2 APPENDICES), LONDON, CONTINUUM, 2004 A new Meno would say: it is knowledge that is nothing more than an empirical figure, a simple result which continually falls back into experience; whereas learning is the true transcendental structure which unites difference to difference, dissimilarity to dissimilarity, without mediating between them – not in the form of a mythical past or former present, but in the pure form of an empty time in general. (Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition)

The strictures of quality assessment and the self-reinforcing imperatives of the market have consigned philosophers, as of late, to a regime of publication – of poubéllication, to adopt Lacan’s portmanteau quip – dominated by the exhaustive introduction, the definitive treatment, or the comparative exercise in ecumenical interdisciplinarity. What is most insidious about this synoptic regime, whose hegemony is strongest in the Atlantic, or Anglo-American, sphere, is that its steady, irrepressible advance takes place under the seemingly unimpeachable banner of pedagogy. This predicament is all the more symptomatic when it comes to the presentation of thinkers gathered under the exquisitely equivocal heading of ‘Continental’. In this instance, we are faced with a generalised practice of reduction of complexity (‘the gnomic, impenetrable dicta of philosopher X finally made clear, accessible…’) uneasily accompanied by the claim, often emblazoned on the book’s packaging, that what we are dealing with is the ‘most radical’, ‘newest’, ‘most extreme’ intellectual project to date. It is rarely the case that the claims made on behalf of the thinker under consideration exert any influence on the approach, the style, the mode of presentation. A kind of degree zero of writing, unaware of itself, often suffices. In the case of Deleuze and Guattari, this serves to exacerbate the paradox of an ideal of untrammelled communication being put to the service of a philosophy which condemns that very ideal as a capitulation to opinion (doxa), as a collusion with the most reductive and regressive tendencies in contemporary capitalism. This situation, the outcome of a disciplinary conjuncture which sees the circulation of ideas being ever more restricted to a wilfully pre-constituted ‘projected readership’ is all the more difficult to resist inasmuch as it is driven by a forced (re)production of the ‘new’, which, to all intents and purposes, makes the promotion of the unexpected into the sine qua non of intellectual life. But, as What is Philosophy? and The Signature of the World tell us, the concepts of philosophy are not the distant cousins of the ones constantly hatched in the sleek interiors of advertising companies around the globe. Or, to take the point a bit further, everything points to the conclusion that a philosophy moulded by the demands of marketing is necessarily a philosophy incapable of thinking in and through capitalism.

The reasons why these questions of philosophical culture and transmission might be exacerbated when the work of Deleuze and Guattari is at stake do not just boil down to these authors’ engagement with the question of capitalism and their trenchant polemic against its regimes of communication and consumption. Both in collaboration and in their separate writings, Deleuze and Guattari foreground the issue of pedagogy, and the related notion of apprenticeship, with remarkable insistence (it would not be otiose to contrast their efforts on this score with those of contemporaries such as Lacan, Derrida or Rancière, or, perhaps more fruitfully, with the overt preoccupations of American pragmatism). The crux of the matter is that pedagogy is not restricted to a set of operations aimed at facilitating access to a preexisting object, nor, conversely, is it a divining practice that coaxes, from a subject of teaching, some latent cognitive content. Following upon Spinoza’s treatment of the common notions, Deleuze, in Difference and Repetition, subtracts apprenticeship, or learning, from the representational logic of instruction, making it into a matter of the sub-representational contemplation or better contraction of singularities, into the ability to extract a material schematism, or spatio-temporal dynamism, out of one’s encounter with what he elsewhere terms, following Blanchot, the outside of thought. In view of Alliez’s distinctive concern with the sensible conditions of philosophy, science and art, with the transversal character of aisthesis as both affect and experiment, passive synthesis and invention, it is important to note the intimate bond between philosophical apprenticeship and the question of sensibility as presented by Deleuze. It is this bond, sealed by the dependence of conceptualisation on an encounter, which turns learning away from an objective method and toward the necessarily ‘subliminal’ nature of the Idea, which makes philosophical culture something other than (scientific) knowledge. As Deleuze writes: ‘There is no more a method for learning than there is a method for finding treasures, but a violent training, a culture or paideïa which affects the entire individual […. Method is the means of that knowledge which regulates the corroboration of all the faculties. It is therefore the manifestation of a common sense or the realisation of a Cogitatio natura, and presupposes a good will as though this were a “premeditated decision” of the thinker. Culture, however, is an involuntary adventure, the movement of learning which links a sensibility, a memory and then a thought, with all the cruelties and violence necessary…’. Learning, and the indirect apprenticeship that a commentary constitutes, are thus not vanishing mediators between an initial situation of non-knowledge or ignorance and a final state of completed – which is to say representable – knowledge. Instead, as the constitution or invention of a determinate or differentiated problematic field, learning is the very essence of philosophy as an experience of construction whose concern is not with the production of stable propositions in a present voided of virtuality or becoming. As a truly transcendental exercise, learning (and the commentary as one of the guises learning takes) eschews the empirical actuality of a solution, endeavouring instead to link the subjectivity of the apprentice (or the commentator) to ‘the singular points of the objective in order to form a problematic field.’ Rather than as a mediator between the (ignorant) reader and the (final) text or doctrine, a commentary can thus be conceived as a novel problematisation of the ideal connections that define a particular philosophical object, a repetition of the text that does not seek to identify its theses as much as turn heterogeneity into consistency, uniting differences to differences, and open the work in question both to the ‘empty time’ or Aion of the event and to the specific virtualities of a contemporary situation.

Expanding upon some of the pedagogical suggestions offered by Difference and Repetition, What is Philosophy?, with its exploration of the auto-positional nature of the concept, provocatively enjoins us to think the pedagogy of the concept, the delineation of its parameters of construction and components, as being one with the pedagogy of the concept, the concept’s own becoming and variability with regard to ‘its’ encounters with a non-philosophical outside. Likewise for the notion, delved into at length by Alliez both in the main text and the appendices, of a phenomenology of the concept, in which the cognitive, perceptual and sensory attributes of the concept are, in the order of construction, prior to any ascription of phenomenological properties to (the concept of) a subject. The tensions and contradictions raised by subjecting the work of Deleuze and Guattari to what I initially called the synoptic regime are compounded once we consider the correlate to the pedagogy of the concept, the stratigraphic revolution in the practice of the history of philosophy. Here lies perhaps the most significant contribution of Alliez’s own work, which, beginning with Capital Times, combines (1) a radical recasting of the very notion of philosophical history, (2) a polemical genealogy of modernity understood in terms of different conduits of time, as these relate to the constitution of capitalism, and (3) a reactivation through virtualization of past philosophies and their distinctive temporalities. Despite the somewhat heavy-handed dichotomy of geology and genealogy in What is Philosophy? we can say that both a stratigraphic approach and a counter-genealogy of the kind practiced by Alliez are committed to treating philosophers and their concepts outside of the linearity, continuity and divisibility that characterize the customary teaching of the history of philosophy. By the same token, they view the reactivation of the virtualities of a given philosophy in terms of their potentially subversive re-insertion into a present conjuncture, which is why, as Alliez writes, ‘from a philosophical point of view, the history of philosophy is only worth our while is it begins to introduce some philosophical time into the time of history’, according to a ‘principle of contingent reason’ which remains attentive to the intimate resonances between the singularities of a concept and non-philosophical becomings and events. Whence an open battle against any brand of teleology in the history of philosophy, whether this be the moral teleology of Critique, the dialectical teleology of self-consciousness, or the passive nihilism that characterizes the anti-telological teleology of postmodernism, the litany of the end of philosophy. Against all these options and tendencies, Deleuze and Guattari, as Negri has noted, present us with ‘a discontinuous history of singularity’.

Whilst today’s pseudo-scholasticism is set on the saturation of secondary markets dominated by canonized names (even when the canon is a canon of ‘marginals’), there is in the work of Alliez, as informed by his own ongoing and innovative research into the tensions and transformations in Mediaeval and Renaissance thought that set the stage for the divergent trajectories of philosophical modernity, in its dialogue with the groundbreaking efforts of contemporary historians of philosophy such as Alain de Libera and Jean-François Courtine, a rare sensitivity to the sheer daring and intellectual complexity manifested by the scholastic practice of reading and commentary, in all its guises. What transpires from this attention to and reactivation of Mediaeval textual practices is both a novel style of philosophical composition and a very distinctive approach to the history, or better genealogy, of philosophy, as well as the history of the history of philosophy. Much like the commentaries of the Mediaevals, it is fair to say that The Signature of the World is not at all an ‘easier’ read than What is Philosophy?, nor that it provides a kind of heuristic algorithm which, industriously applied, would allow us to reduce the difficulty and complexity of the original. Not a guide, and certainly not a substitute, it demands to be read alongside the text of Deleuze and Guattari; only thus can it perform the signal task of the commentary: to intensify the complexity of the text by selecting and modulating certain moments and perspectives within it, to reorient the reader by inflecting its topology, and, most importantly, to spur the labour of new repetitions, new habitations of the text giving rise to novel connections and redistributions of its singular points. Unabashedly systemic, Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is not by that token doctrinal, in the sense it would allow itself to be reduced or represented by a set of conveniently enumerable theses. The commentary, in this sense, is not a contribution to the construction of an orthodoxy, with all its attendant disciplinary effects, but a necessarily partial, perhaps partisan, effort to revitalise a philosophy, by a judicious combination of detailed excavation, on the one hand, and the potentially catalytic adjunction of new components, on the other.

Is it possible to write about a philosophy, without representing it, without reducing it to a set of easily registered and reproduced theses, indexes and subdivisions? Or, to specify the question in terms of Deleuze and Guattari, if (their) philosophy is a theory of multiplicities, and the concept itself is best designated as an intensive or virtual multiplicity, is it at all warranted to treat their thought as a quantitative multiplicity, one that could be measured, divided and represented – or, to abide with our concern, expounded and introduced – without fundamentally changing its status? These doubts about representing an anti-representational thought should not in the least be confused with a crypto-theological injunction to silence, be it tragic, therapeutic or sublime. On the contrary, besides the crucial conceptualization of the role of repetition in the history of philosophy, with which Alliez opens Chapter I and which he explores further in ‘Deleuze Virtual Philosophy’ (Appendix I), Deleuze provides us a fertile model for an other, non-representational and non-propositional, pedagogy when it comes to philosophers and their texts, what he calls counter-actualization. The ‘ethics’ of philosophy, the focus of the first Chapter of The Signature of the World, is not only the appraisal of systems of thought through the Spinozist lenses of pure immanence – the mobilisation and perception of what Alliez calls ‘the non-discursive auto-enunciation of the event’ – it is also a matter of what it might mean to be ‘worthy’ of a philosophy in the same sense that Deleuze, in The Logic of Sense, spoke of being worthy of an event. To wrest Deleuze and Guattari from a synoptic regime of doctrinal introduction – the repetition that makes no difference – is also a question ‘of becoming the quasi-cause of what is produced within us, the Operator; of producing surfaces and linings in which the event is reflected, finds itself again as incorporeal and manifests in us the neutral splendour which it possesses in itself in its impersonal and pre-individual nature, beyond the general and the particular, the collective and the private.’ The commentator as quasi-cause or Operator of a philosophy, rather than the knowing purveyor of conceptual generalities, as adequate to a series of propositions as they are blind to the Event in or of a philosophy: here lies the role for philosophical commentary and philosophical history of the notion of the virtual. When it is not reified into standing for the mystical heart of production, the virtual allows us to delve into the specificity of philosophy as a kind of trans-historical machine for counter-actualization, which, instead of being tied to the constrictive and sterile parameters of objective or representational fidelity, tells us that the most ‘constructed’ of repetitions will also be the most expressive, that the most abstract will also be the most concrete, which is to say, the commentary that goes deepest into the problematic field that generates the philosophical concepts which ‘secondary literature’ can only grasp as a static sequence of propositions. Whilst the latter is dead set on studiously actualizing a philosophy’s problems into a digestible and well-ordered series of propositions, whose internal disparateness and heterogeneity has been thoroughly evacuated, the true commentary’s task, again to quote The Logic of Sense, is ‘to be the mime of what effectively occurs, to double the actualization with a counter-actualization, the identification with a distance, like the true actor and dancer, to give the truth of the event the only chance of not being confused with its inevitable actualization. [… To the extent that the pure event is each time imprisoned forever in its actualization, counter-actualization liberates it, always for other times’. And, this being the interventionist and conjunctural character of the commentary, for our time, breathing life into the concept (and the concept of the concept) by allowing it to resonate with the different virtualities, different potentials.

This is just by way of supporting evidence for the assertion that philosophical pedagogy, as conceived by Deleuze and Guattari and traversed by Alliez, is necessarily a counter-pedagogy, an ethics of philosophy and philosophical writing that rejects the currently dominant picture according to which we should aspire to an information transfer with the least possible noise – a position this that happily ignores the Deleuzian redistribution, again in Difference and Repetition, of the clear-and-obscure over against the distinct-and-confused (the use of Deleuze and Guattari as guarantors of a rhapsodic, sloganeering and awkwardly ‘poetic’ style is merely the counterpart of such academicism, equally failing to attain the consistency of the concept). Such a counter-pedagogy is intimately wedded to the very distinctive concern with ontology, and more specifically with ‘onto-ethology’, advocated by Alliez. Against the preparation of concepts for conspicuous consumption so prevalent today, the aim of onto-ethology is instead to traverse, in order to reactivate them, the singularities that compose a concept. This is inevitably accompanied by a reinsertion of the concept – and in particular the ‘concept of the concept’ advanced by Deleuze and Guattari in What is Philosophy? – into the contemporary philosophical conjuncture, to elicit new interferences with the domains of art and science. In this regard, there is no hard and fast distinction between the prescriptive or interpretive concerns we’ve been rehearsing up to now and the constructive and expressive practice of philosophy itself. What is Philosophy?, as read by Alliez, is emphatically not a meta-philosophical tract or propaedeutic, but a bona fide ontological intervention, a potent reconfiguration of philosophical practice inseparable from a novel sequence of conceptual invention which, as Alliez shows, namely with respect to the status of science and the appraisal of Bergsonism, both prolongs and transforms the collaborative work undertaken in the earlier Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes. Given the equation of expressionism and constructivism that constitutes the privileged axis for Alliez’s reading, we cannot sunder the affective and sensory qualities of the concept, of the concept as an inhabited, virtual reality, from its conditions of formation and transmission. If there is a privileged channel between art and philosophy it has to do with the former’s capacity to mobilise and activate the sensible components of the concept, and thus to function as a possible catalyst or relay for philosophical activity itself.

Once again, the uniqueness of Alliez’s text in the current panorama of presentations and interpretations is linked, despite its well-founded suspicion of any prescriptive methodological appropriation of Deleuze and Guattari, to its fidelity vis-à-vis the intimate link or even equation between the conditions of exercise of philosophical practice (which is to say the parameters for the construction of concepts) and what we are often lazily led to consider as the ‘claims’ of a given philosophy. Onto-ethology rescinds the representational logic whereby such claims might try to legitimate themselves. It does so by elucidating how the practical immersion into concepts and their singularities (components) is not some supplementary epistemological exercise but rather lies at the very heart of ontology. Conversely, by drawing the consequences of the dismantling of the representational image of thought, with its connections to the static or quantitative multiplicities mentioned above, it circumvents the imperious demands of critique; if ontology as onto-ethology simply is the entry into the concept with its material resonances, its expressive potential, its non-philosophical outside – if the concept must perennially be reconstructed, differed in its repetition, linked to a perspective in and of the world – then we have abandoned any privileged vantage point that would allow us immanently to draw out the limits or boundaries of speculation and thereby attain the legislative eminence of meta-philosophy. The crucial lesson of What is Philosophy?, then, as ‘repeated’ by Alliez, is precisely that any separation of ontological from expressive (and sensible) content, any sundering of philosophical ‘statements’ from their conditions of production, from the experience of construction, freezes philosophy into an easily manipulated, but ultimately lifeless, collection of propositions. By trying to attain the status of propositional knowledge, by trying to purify itself of the ‘obscure’ perceptive and affective components of the concept in the image of an impoverished, cleansed science, which is to say by severing its connections with art, philosophy would evacuate itself of its specificity, its attention to the life of the concept.

Alliez’s relentless attention to the pedagogical link between the construction and expression of the concept, his raising of montage and style to matters of philosophical import, also leads him to provide a path through the thought of Deleuze and Guattari which, in its connections and consequences, goes against the grain of much of the diverse and often inconsistent (rather than positively metastable) field of ‘Deleuzism’ which has been gaining mass if not momentum in the years following the publication of What is Philosophy? This goes to demonstrate, if further demonstration were needed, that the pedagogical and presentational angle we’ve chosen to highlight is not the province of propaedeutic or meta-philosophical questions, but is endowed with all the speculative dignity and political charge of ontology, in its Spinozist incarnation. Two ‘doctrinal’ topics are most obviously affected by Alliez’s traversal of What is Philosophy? It is worth dwelling on these at some length both to assay the considerable consequences of his particular portrait of the ‘pedagogy of the concept’ and to begin to imagine how such an intervention might help to reconfigure current debates and undermine a certain consensual reading of Deleuze (and Guattari) which currently seems to be making some headway. These two topics are the image of science, on the one hand, and the relation between ontology, phenomenology and aesthetics, on the other. Both, we shall argue, hinge on the status accorded to notions of subjectivity and point of view.

Much as the obvious sympathy displayed by Deleuze and Guattari toward certain currents in scientific theory might tempt us to align their project with some contemporary research programme – complexity theory, for instance – the speculative engagement with science in What is Philosophy?, reconstructed and expanded with considerable originality by Alliez, militates against any notion of a philosophy that would provide the ontological supplement for a given scientific theory, as much as it puts paid to the project of a critical eminence of philosophy over science. The passage from the perspective of critique to the project of ontogenesis and heterogenesis, from conditions of possible experience to conditions of real experience, signifies the relinquishing of any epistemological pretension, in full awareness that ontological scepticism, realism and their derivatives are hardly the urgent concern of today’s science, with its surfeit of ideal-material entities, quasi-objects and quasi-subjects. Rather than trying to shore up a particular research programme or, vice versa, employ it to provide philosophical practice with some spurious legitimacy, What is Philosophy?, as traversed by Alliez, is preoccupied with delineating the constructive specificity of science, its manner of engaging with the chaos that beckons thought. It does this by focussing on individuation in science (of the states of things or affairs, of functions, limits and partial observers) and correlatively on the individuation of science – whence the seemingly paradoxical heading of Chapter 2, ‘The Aetiology of Science’ – against the objectivist ontology that pervades the determinist or mechanist tradition. Such a tradition is wedded to the essentially transcendent – because non-relational and force-free – individuation of non partial-observers; there is thus a correspondence between the view from nowhere of the scientia dei and the abstract ontology of the object which only an attention to the problematic and polemical constitution of scientific objectivity can undermine. It is this joint conception of the heterogenesis of thought and the ontogenesis of being which represents the hallmark of what Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus term transcendental materialism. To regard the latter as the ontology of a given scientific approach would be to ignore that the ‘image of science’ outlined in What is Philosophy ? is a construction produced from within philosophy and its history, specifically against mathesis universalis, Laplacean determinism, the physics of states, rather than a kind of ideological supplement or support for a particular scientific theory.

At the opposite and complementary extreme of the proto-analytic and post-positivistic, ‘Quinean’, take on the relation between philosophy and science is the creeping tendency to elide the ‘new materialism’ of Deleuze and Guattari with the various phenomenologies of embodiment that take Merleau-Ponty as their principal referent. The originality of Alliez’s stance in this respect lies, first, in reading the confrontation with aesthetics in What is Philosophy? (which prolongs Deleuze’s work in The Logic of Sense and Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation) as a practical refutation of any confusion between the thinking of the Body without Organs and the Merleau-Pontyian concern with the flesh; second, in identifying the passage to a materialist phenomenology of the concept as the best antidote to the ambient pieties of intentional consciousness and its collapse into absolute alterity (Levinas) or spiritualist immanence (Michel Henry) – ‘a phenomenology of the concept to put an end to all phenomenologies’, as Alliez writes in De l’impossibilité de la phénoménologie. The indissoluble link between the pre-individual character of sensibility and affect and the unabashed artificiality of artistic invention, taken as the prism through which to grasp the singularity of contemporary art, is thus employed against any notion of art as the site of a manifestation of subjectivity. Whilst the eliciting of certain figures of subjectivity from the capture of chaos in certain assemblages of percepts and affects is certainly not to be discounted, the consistency of the artwork cannot be simply enveloped in a perceiving subject without lopping off one of the two halves of aesthetics (sensation and experiment, passivity and artifice) which Deleuze so insistently endeavoured to think in unison. From this standpoint, that of ‘the sensible idea of a material indiscernibility between Art and Life’, phenomenology ‘denatures’ the plane of immanence by forcing life into the confines of a teleologically ordered subjectivity, commanded by the principles of good sense and common sense. Concurring with Badiou’s polemical characterisation of Deleuze’s project in his review of The Fold, though reversing the verdict, Alliez identifies the wager of this philosophy in the notion is of a self-description of Life in a ‘virtual phenomenology of the concept’ as experience and experiment (whence the characterization of Deleuze’s philosophy as an empiricism). The term phenomenology, of course, is used in the most provocative a of guises, since the notion of description is here divorced from any figure of subjective interiority, intentionality or embodiment. The ‘self’ in self-description indicates a kind of torsion or fold of the plane of immanence in the fractured individuality of the philosopher (Difference and Repetition) and the self-positing of the concept (What is Philosophy?). However, against the circulating opinion that notions of subjectivity are simply alien to Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) philosophy, Alliez, following the entire thematic of the ‘brain’ in What is Philosophy? and the arguments of shorter texts such as ‘The Conception of Difference in Bergson’, ‘HowDo We RecognizeStructuralism’, ‘Immanence: A Life…’, or ‘The Actual and the Virtual’, does allow us to move toward a novel conception of subjectivity no longer wedded to the Cartesian subject of knowledge or the phenomenological subject of perception. Whence the importance of the Leibnizian discussion of Whitehead in What is Philosophy?, where the ‘question is no longer that of the methodological dependence of the object in relation to the subject, but of the ontological auto-constitution of a new subject on the basis of its objects’. Following Whitehead, the subject (or rather ‘superject’) arises from the prehension of its world, meaning that the ontology of the sensible is not separable from the constitution of material processes and assemblages themselves. This neo-Leibnizian philosophy of subjectivation also provides speculative support for the thesis that contemporary art does not provide a site for the reflection of a pre-existing phenomenological subject but elicits the machinic production of new subjects, new fulcrums of prehension. The humanist telos of the phenomenology of perception, always more or less implicitly bound to the ‘proper function’ of embodiment, is dissolved by an experimentation with the senses that doubles the constructivism of the concept. A constructivism this not so distant from the kind articulated by the great Soviet director and constructivist Dziga Vertov, when he wrote: ‘The mechanical eye, the camera, rejecting the human eye as crib sheet, gropes its way through the chaos of visual events, letting itself be drawn or repelled by movement, probing, as it goes, the path of its own movement. It experiments, distending time, dissecting movement, or, in contrary fashion, absorbing time within itself, swallowing years, thus schematizing processes of long duration inaccessible to the normal eye.’

In a review greeting the appearance of What is Philosophy?, Antonio Negri spoke of that book as the first philosophical system of the 21st century, ‘a common philosophy alternative to capitalist modernity. In its rigorous materialism it presents itself as a common philosophy, in its instance of absolute immanence it liquidates the postmodern’. Also ascribing to the thesis of a turn away from foundationalism but toward ontology, instead of hermeneutics, Alliez himself rehearses a variety of appellations to capture the uniqueness of Deleuze and Guattari’s approach: metaphysical materialism, ontology of the virtual, empiricism as speculative materialism, a finally revolutionary philosophical materialism, Ideal-materialism of the pure event, experimental naturalism, practical vitalism, ontology of experience, virtual phenomenology of the concept. We could even say that one of the principal aims of these commentaries and variations on the difference of Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is to displace the commonplace assurances that still permeate philosophical discourse about terms such as idealism, realism, naturalism, phenomenology and, above all, materialism. As we have seen, Alliez suggests that philosophical materialism need not entail a subservience to some variety of scientific realism (whether deterministic or otherwise) and that, through an attention to the processual, expressive and constructive character of contemporary art, it can also present itself as a ‘material meta-aesthetics’. In this regard, Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy is portrayed as a hitherto unheard of convergence of an ontology of ‘fluid and crystalline’ matter as the site of processes of assemblage and individuation and a thinking of practice which encompasses a range of activities from conceptual construction to political organisation. The separation within materialism of a determinist or mechanist tendency, on the one hand, and a philosophy of praxis or ‘materialism without matter’ (to quote Balibar), on the other, is diagonally undermined by a thinking of the heterogenesis of material objectivity and subjective action from a pre-individual field, divergently accessed by philosophy, science and art. It is here that the equation of expressionism and constructivism – inasmuch as ‘expression is the constitutive activity of being’ – is doubled by the indiscernibility of experience and experiment, such that material individuation and conceptual invention can be thought on the same plane. This also explains why, against both the phenomenology of intentional consciousness and the determinist thinking of a lifeless matter, Alliez sustains the polemical thesis, based on a philosophical lineage which includes Leibniz, Gabriel Tarde and A.N. Whitehead that it is only by resuscitating, within the context of contemporary science, a certain perspectivism or panpsychism that one can really be faithful to materialism, a materialism for which matter turns into a sensed-sensing energy with multiple centres, foldings or perspectives that precede the formation of measured and measuring subjects. Or, to slightly change register, any naturalism that doesn’t prioritize natura naturans (the pre-individual) over natura naturata (the individuated) will remain a thinking of possible rather than real experience.

But what is perhaps most significant about Alliez’s operation, and what might also account for the scanty attention given to What is Philosophy? by most Deleuzeans, is the absolute centrality he accords to the question of thought, which he places at the very heart of Deleuze and Guattari’s recasting of materialism for the 21st century as a materialism of the concept. For What is Philosophy? clearly shows that it is impossible to answer the question without also expanding it to ‘What is Thought?’ and to the conflicts, interactions and interferences between philosophy and non-philosophical thought, as well as between thought and the tendencies and transformations that traverse the contemporary world. In a sentence that perhaps best encapsulates the crux of his project, Alliez writes: ‘In practice, the question is that of a theory of thought capable of diagnosing in our becomings the ontological conditions for the real experience of thought’. These ontological conditions are therefore not invariant schemas of possibility, but the consequence of real transformations in the problematic fields or abstract machines that engender our actual predicament and our philosophical legacy. The practical and interventionist (or polemical) impetus of this kind of enquiry cannot be ignored; constructivism cannot do without the insertion of ontology into a present state of affairs and the counter-actualization of this state of affairs through a sensitivity to the event and its material repercussions. This is why ‘thought only says what it is by saying what it does’ (‘Deleuze Virtual Philosophy’, Proposition I). Eschewing an interrogation of this anti-epistemological and non-rationalist theory of thought as a practice of invention and counter-actualization, most treatments of Deleuze and Guattari have either reduced their philosophy to a kind of dogmatism that represents matter in a set of theses regarding its flux-like nature, its dynamism, its processes of stratification and… its non-representable character, or sutured it (to paraphrase Badiou) to a condition (be it science, art or politics) which is no longer a condition of real experience but more like a pretext. Whence the use of certain artistic products or movements as illustrations of a putative Deleuzo-Guattarian doctrine or the depiction of a given research programme as the experimental extension of their materialist ontology. In both instances we lose the specificity of philosophical practice, together with its articulation and sometimes polemical discontinuity with regard to other forms of thought, turning the risky ethics and ethology of thought into a pacifying ideology, the paradoxical representation, rather than real repetition, of a thought without an image. Where the thinking of Deleuze and Guattari is often reduced to an updated variant of classical materialism, an adjunct to new scientific models or a less Christian branch of phenomenology, Alliez, armed with the insights of neo-Platonism, Bergsonism and Tardean monadology, points to ‘the speculative identity of a philosophy of intuition and a philosophy of the concept’, manifested in the turn from essence to ethology, as the hallmark of this philosophical system for the 21st century.

If the ‘involuntary adventure’ of culture, as Deleuze notes, is what allows us to ‘penetrate the coloured thickness of a problem’ [l’épaisseur colorée d’un problème, we can only hope that The Signature of the World will contribute, against the forced generation of slogans and facile certainties, to intensifying the problematic character of the work of Deleuze and Guattari, which, conceived as an intensive multiplicity in its own right, as a system in heterogenesis – perfectly determinate without being inert – demands the creativity of commentary rather than the sterile tedium of exposition.