The method of dramatisation

Report from Volcanic Lines reading group, Monday 22nd January 2007

The essay in question for this session was ‘The Method of Dramatization’, contained in ‘Desert Islands and other texts:1953-1974’; Semiotext 2004:94-116.  I gave a short introduction, not really a paper but simply a set of thoughts and notes intended to begin the discussion…you can find the notes from my introduction and the discussion that followed over here.

As a kind of preliminary, I just wanted to note some vague connections to phenomenological concepts, though without any intention to ascribe any value, interpretative or otherwise, to these connections. To begin nwith then the initial move to shift the nature of the question from a ‘what’ (quid) to a ‘how’ (quia) form seems in some ways like a development from the phenomenological combination of the quid-quia questions within Husserl’s noematic (quid) / noetic (quia) structure. For Husserl, of course, the quid will be ‘meaning’ or ‘essence’, whereas for someone like Sartre this seems to develop into a more basic notion of quid as investigating the thing (as an in-itself). The phenomenological shift to the combination of ‘meaning’ and ‘way of meaning’ (Husserl) as a method of returning to the things themselves could presumbaly be seen a s a development that adds the ‘how’ top the ‘what’ and in this sense Deleuze’s emphasis on the ‘how’ alone strikes me as perhaps an attempt to move forward from this phenomenological method precisely by radically breaking with the very notion of essence (in whatever form, but predominantly the Husserlian meaning-content structure) as part of an attempt to articulate his own methods’ originality.

The other possible connection that interested me recently, though this is not directly related to the ‘Method’ essay, was the concept of a “zone of indetermination” that can be found in Deleuze’s book ‘What is philosophy?’ but which is prefigured in a very peculiar passge in Husser;s’ ‘Ideas’. In Section 27 of Ideas, famous as one of the central places in which the ‘natural attitude’ is characterised and Husserls’ concept of presence ot the world is articulated, there is this strange account of the presence we are within in the natural attitude constituting a presence to infinity, temporally, spatially and ideally. The immediate sensuous presence of the world to hand extends infinitely, although indeterminately. At the greater reaches of this extension the indeterminacy is contingent and these regions are determined as and when attention is paid to them, flickering in and out of determinate presence as they continually fall back into indeterminate presence. The regions constitute what Husserl calls a “clear or dark, distinct or indistinct co-present margin” (Ideas:S27) and this margin forms an “empty mist of dim indeterminacy” which is precisely named as “the zone of indeterminacy” which is characterised, as previously mentioned, as infinite.

Turning back to the ‘Method’ essay then the first thing to note is that the shift in question structure from what (quid) to how (quia) is argued on what almost appears a pragmatic basis. The ‘what’ question is situated as the root of the aporetic dialogues of Plato and Deleuze argues that in the practical, substantive Platonic books, such as The Republic, the ‘what’ question is demoted in favour of a more open question-set. Presumably, then, there is this sense of the ‘what’ question – which we might tentatively characterise as the ‘core Socratic’ rather than ‘Platonic’ moment – being impractical. Reasons’ practice, perhaps, is at stake.

The next notable distinction I was interested in was that between the essence and accident and the differentiation between contradiction (from Hegel) and vice-diction (from Leibniz). In particular the phrase “to have the inessential include the essential” (Desert Islands:96). As James Williams points out in his ‘Introduction’ to ‘Difference and Repetition’ (DR), this notion can be understood via the arguments about the essential difference made by the inessential, with the example of Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon being that found within Leibniz (Leibniz; Discourse on metaphysics:S13). The example of Caesar is used by Leibniz to argue for his notion of a ‘complete concept’ being one in which all the predicates are contained within the subject, such that the inessential (predicates) are part of the essential (subject). Deleuze seems to have a form of almost reversed Leibnizianism in mind when he talks of the inessential (predicates) including the essential (subject).

Deleuze goes on to explicitly state the classically sounding philosophical question of ‘what is a thing in general’ (Desert Islands:ibid) and answers with the twofiold characterisation of a thing as having qualities and extension. (It is worth noting, however, that these qualities and extsnions are “the conditon of the representation of things in general”). The concept of extension is rapidly stretched, however, and ideas such as ‘territoriality’ (much more prominent in later works such as ‘A Thousand Plateaus’) are used to push extension beyond the more commonplace 3-dimensionality of an object towards a notion of ‘organisation’, connecting it to notions such as grid, network and suggesting, perhaps, something like the ‘meshwork’ concept Manuel de Landa has put forward. The notion of the ‘thing in general’ (asked, amusingly, in the form of a ‘what’ question) appears designed to govern our understanding of the process of differentiation. Here another note should be marked, since the concept of ‘differentiation’ as found in the ‘Method’ essay is, it appears, prior to the split c/t notion found in DR (ie; Athlone 1994:209). In DR the ‘t’ version refers to the virtual process whilst the ‘c’ version refers to the actual and the entwinement as a ‘c/t’ mark refers to the reciprocal nature of the process of determination, reciprocal between the actual individuation and the virtual Idea. Within the ‘Method’ essay the ‘t’ version appears to be referring to the actualised ‘thing in general’.

The crucial notion for Deleuze, however, is that the virtual needs to be posited as the condition of experience of the thing in general and the actual thing in general has qualities and extension or organisation produced by the STD’s – the ‘spatio-temporal differences’ that underlie it. These STD’s are both conceptual and natural and ‘in this sense’, Deleuze suggests, “the whole world is an egg”. The STD’s presuppose a field of intensity which they are immanent to and this intensity is precisely difference itself, hence pushing the need to develop a concept of difference (as against a merely conceptual difference – this after all being the theme of DR) in order to grasp these STD’s as the condition of the world. Differences of intensity, Deleuze suggests, must communicate in order to produce these STD’s and the communicative element, that which brings teh differences together is the ‘obscure precursor’. (A brief note: another translation one participant had with them used the phrase ‘dark precursor, clearly akin to that used in DR, and this ‘dark’ or ‘obscure’ difference couldn’t be directly checked at the time as no French version of the ‘Method’ essay is to hand. Clearly the ‘obscure’ translation seems to connect the notion of the precursor to the concepts of the clear-confused and distinct-obscure more immediately).

With the notion of STD comes the concept of ‘larval subjects’ and the whole gamut of pre-individual subjectivities that Deleuze will maintain as central to his work. The STD’s, however, form the condition for all concepts, representations and things and the crucial part of the essay in many ways is the structural role that is given to the STD’s. For Deleuze the STD’s are the conditions of experience (not, note, possible experience but, as he will call it in DR, always real experience – the conditions are not limited by the necessary and the impossible as they must be within Kant’s structure of possible experience). Just as in Kant, therefore, something like a schema appears needed to connect the conditions and the experience and it is precisely the method of dramatisation that is named as structurally akin to the Kantian schema – “What I am calling a drama particularly resembles the Kantian schema” (Desert Islands:99). ‘Drama’ refers to the STD’s as a collection of “abstract lines coming from the unextended and formless depth” that is “comprised of pure determinations, agitating time and space, directly affecting the soul” (ibid:98). The notion of this ‘drama’ is explicitly drawn from Artaud’s cocnept of a ‘Theatre of Cruelty’. For Deleuze the necessity of ‘the method of dramatisation’ is drawn from the necessity to extend the Kantian schema and its inability to determine the concept and is carried out because, for Deleuze, “poure spatio-temporal dynamisms have the power to dramatise concepts, because first they actualise, incarnate, Ideas” (ibid:99). In reference to this I think a key notion of the dramatisation of the Idea can be found in the example of Lenin that Deleuze uses in DR (Atlone 1994:190) where the ‘two faces’ of the Idea, love and anger, the search for fragments and the condensation of singularities, are found clearly. It also points us to indicate that STD’s dramatise concepts as differentiated incarnate actualities and in order to do so they will need to dramatise the concept as having a certain quality and extension (a species and organisation). This also suggests the need for the STD’s themselves to have a double aspect.


(no doubt a very limited account here as my note taking is not as rigorous as other members of the VL seminar series we could mention)

There was some comments on the quia / how question format, with the suggestion that the answers to quia questions are not entities but rather processes (perhaps akin to Whitehead…) and that there are different types of answer to different types of question.

The issue of examples came up, with some suggestion that the examples Deleuze uses might somehow limit his accout of conditions, infecting it with the empirical, specifically his own bourgeois tastes. Comment was made that Derrida has suggested that a focus on exmaples can reveal the implicit presuppositons of philosophers, it being one of the routes through which ‘conceptual contraband’ can be smuggled in. It is also not just a matter of purifying the examples since there might be nothing but a set of examples.

The role of ‘anger’ came up, connecting the quote on Lenin in DR to an asnwer Deleuze gives to questions about the ‘Method’ in which he connects anger to larval subjects, using the idea of an explosion of anger as an example of the larval subject (Desert Islands:107,108).

The role of the dark precursor was questioned (see comment above about ‘dark’ or ‘obscure’) and the thought raised there there might be something interesting in Agambens’ discussion of the ‘dark’ and the problems associated with it (I am not familiar with this, so perhaps someone else can comment further?).

A brief discussion touched on the role of the familiar, again in part with reference to examples and the abstact nature of the ‘Method’ essay. Many artists, it was suggested, are working with Deleuze enthusiastically because they come across something familiar in his thinking about the world and his method of making the familiar unfamiliar – this was connected to Novalis and his concept of the rasing something to its ‘highest power’, clearly of central concern for Deleuze more widely.

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