Waving to Nicholas McClintock

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The reading group on The Fold progresses well, with a core of 6 people attending and a rhythm to the sessions as we work through various moments in each chapter before trying to establish something like a broader ‘shape’.  Yesterday’s session focused on Chapter 5, ‘Incompossibility, Individuality, Liberty’, where the text moves onto a different terrain from the ‘ontological’ pure and simple.  The famous example of ‘Adam the sinner’ and the world in which he sins being the best possible world is what the chapter opens with and the dynamic is to work from the concept of incompossibility through to the ‘moral’ problem addressed by the Theodicy.  The chapter title, naming these three peculiar concepts, tracks this trajectory.

As usual we retired to the Amersham Arms after the session for a pint or two and a decompression, finding ourselves drinking in the outside garden, a kind of side alley to the pub strewn with a vibrant graffiti art exhibition.  Towards the end of the reading session I had increasingly questioned the viability of the account of morality that Deleuze draws and we had encountered one of the perennial questions of Deleuze scholarship and discussion – does a Deleuzian ontology exhibit a kind of moral injunction to radical lifestyle?  There is a reading of Deleuze, that is now frowned upon perhaps, which used to take the work of Deleuze and use it to justify ‘extremities’ of lifestyle – wine and strange drugs as a means to ontological intellectual intuition.  It’s doubtful that it much matters whether this is an ‘accurate’ reading of Deleuze since it is no doubt possible to draw upon his work to either justify or berate such a lifestyle, such means of knowledge.  It is clear, even from just this chapter of F, that there is some sort of injunction that can be drawn from Deleuze, an injunction that is found here in the form of ‘increase the clear region of your monad’.  Take the following for example:

…it can be said that when a monad is summoned to ‘live’ – yet more when it is called to reason – it unfolds in itself this region of the world that corresponds to its enclosed enlightened zone: it is called upon to ‘develop all its perceptions’, and therein its task lies. (F:74)

or the following:

Extending its clear region, prolonging God’s passage to the maximum, actualising all the singularities that are concentrated on, and even won over to, new singularities would amount to a soul’s progress. (F:73)

or the following:

Morality consists in this for each individual: to attempt each time to extend its region of clear expression, to try to augment its amplitude, so as to produce a free act that expresses the most possible in one given condition or another. (ibid)

These passages, of course, write of the Leibnizian, not of the Deleuzian, though the Leibnizian in question is the free indirect Leibniz conjured by Deleuze.  No easy ascription of an ‘injunction’ can be simply imputed to Deleuze, although all attempts to deny such content seem entirely spurious.  At best Deleuze avoids explicit injunctions of content (‘do as many drugs as you can during your lifetime’) not because he disagrees with the content but with the form of an external injunction, attempting instead to encourage a creative development of the reader’s own skills and reason.  There is, however, a clear ‘ethos’ or tone which does lend itself, no matter how out of fashion this might be within radical academia nowadays, to just such injunctions being generated.  The haeccity of Deleuzian philosophy inclines towards experimentation.

The response to the initial exaltation of ‘wine and strange drugs’ in the reading of Deleuze has been to emphasise the radical experimentation capable of occurring in thought itself.  In many ways I prefer this reading, since it doesn’t reduce Deleuze to the giver of moral injunctions (‘it is good to take acid since it increases your clear region’) and assimilate the sense of an injunction that can be found (the tone, the ethos) to one that is judgemental.  If you respond to Deleuze’s work with a kind of enthusiasm, it might say, this doesn’t mean you should feel bad about yourself, should feel a failure, because you don’t have an extreme lifestyle.  Your life includes your thought and you might experiment with the radicality of thought.  Think well and you will live well – that is, if you feel the need to take an injunction from Deleuze, if you need to get an answer from his work as to the problem of life. 

Something is right with this reaction to the initial hedonistic reading, but something also seems skewed.  This is only a bare thought at the moment, something I would have to develop a lot, but there is nothing to beat experience.  In terms of thinking, in terms of thinking well, of course, this holds as much as elsewhere.  Yet the cliche points to something important.  The ‘experience’ doesn’t need to be hedonistic, of course, doesn’t need to be ‘wine and strange drugs’ but I would suggest that it needs to be capable of being extreme, capable of taking you to a limit and in the course of such experimentation, no doubt, causing casualties along the way.  From hillwalking in Scotland, regular running, skydiving and basejumping to Ayahuasca, DMT rituals and body modification, the experimentation needs to – if we are to accept a call to ‘extend our clear region’ – engage the body and the life in its full range of capacities (amplitudes).  In this situation, it should be noted, certain practices that might seem extreme – and drug taking is one of them – might become, in fact, rather pedestrian or safe forms of experimentation.  The sheer amount of people that engaged in the experiment with Ecstasy, or that continue to engage in alcohol or hashish use, offers a rather greater and more mapped field of experimentation than, for example, the amount of people who might engage in hillwalking or running.  It might be that the real problem with the hedonistic reading of Deleuze is not that it’s too extreme, but that in fact the paths that can be walked within the field of ‘wine and strange drugs’ are too well-trodden, to territorialised, to be capable of offering viable fields of experimentation.  The problem might be one not simply of encouraging people to think well, to experiment with thought rather than think they can short-circuit this through acid but rather one of finding those practices that are, at present, capable of offering a field of experimentation in which ‘new possibilities of life’ can be found.  One of these fields of experimentation, perhaps one of the most difficult, might be the encounter with the stranger.  To that end, I raise my glass to Nicholas McClintock and wave at the one that brought a little poetry from the stranger into yesterday’s evening. 

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philosopher and filmmaker from brighton, currently teaching philosophy at the Free University of Brighton

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