Deleuze, Gilles Essay

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French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) made significant contributions to post structural theory, cultural studies, and critical social theory, analyzing forms of control and domination and modes of resistance. In addition to his postmodern critiques of the control society, he proposed an affirmative theory of the subject as a desiring machine, a “body without organs” (BWO) perpetually in the fluid process of becoming “other,” and envisioned the full creative freedoms of the ethical revolutionary.

Control Society

In the latter period of his career, Deleuze developed a concept of the control society in writings and conversations such as “Postscript on Control Societies” and “Control and Becoming.” Where Michel Foucault characterized a historical transition from sovereign to disciplinary societies, Deleuze envisioned and theorized flows of atomized power morphing and moving outward into a third historical stage. In the concept of control, Deleuze argues for the emergence of a type of society characterized not by the individual sovereign, nor the hierarchy of disciplinary institutions, but a control that is nonlocatable and that is for the most part administered through devices such as computers, new forms and advances in technology such as cybernetic systems, and new media apparatuses.

In the control societies that Deleuze theorized, the sovereign and the hegemony of the social institution are not replaced. Rather there is a transformation that results in a shifting of power, one where the hegemony of locally situated sovereigns and institutions are surpassed by technical systems that act on behalf of the individual subject in society. Such a historical-technical shift narrated in Deleuze’s postmodern philosophy represents a significant contribution to social control theory, as appropriated by the field of theoretical criminology.

Desiring Machines, the “Body Without Organs” (BWO), and Becoming “Other”

Deleuze, along with his coauthor Felix Guattari, theorized subjectivity as a desiring machine. For Deleuze and Guattari, the concept of desire does not have a negative connotation nor is it a euphemism for a higher, grander, or purer state of consciousness. It is simply defined as dynamic and productive. Desiring machines are energized bodies constantly in flux, moving nomadically from locations at varying degrees of intensity and certain limits of speed, where relocatable sources of desire are pursued and founded, as part of a larger, continual process of reconfiguration. In such a construction, desire is conceptualized as always action-oriented and affirming, a faculty of the emotions capable of intermeshing all the things that come to characterize reality. And in this coalescing, the individual’s body finds itself still unstructured and nonsituated both in its social and molecular existence, rendering it a BWO.

The full BWO is a body teeming with multiplicities. Such a body is characterized by ever present becomings. The full BWO, in contrast to the empty one (which has been emptied of molecular flow), is in complete connection with the affirmative energies of desire. It is nomadic and spontaneous. It is free flowing yet is characterized as a becoming-something. There are infinite becomings for Deleuze and Guattari. There are many forms of becoming. Becoming-other involves developing a profound understanding of difference and otherness in the world. It exemplifies becoming one with the other in society.

Becoming is a process of change, or movement within an “assemblage,” according to Deleuze and Guattari. The process of becoming does not presuppose imitation. In Deleuze and Guattari’s radical reconfigurations of the individual subject, as theorized in Capitalism and Schizophrenia, the process of becoming is intended to describe a new way of being, one that represents diverse influences and energies in the world instead of resemblances. The process is one of removing the body’s molecular composition from its original functions and realigning it with new ones.

Becoming imperceptible is the highest state one can reach in Deleuze’s philosophical system, as partially developed with Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari suggest an alternative organization of being human, one that can form the basis of innovative suggestions for transformative practices that move toward representing a radically new approach in understanding the human subject. Becoming for Deleuze and Guattari is also a case of molecular “play.” Bodies Without Organs are always in process and morphing, always becoming-something that is becoming-other, such as becoming-imperceptible. In such a process, the postmodern subject is surrounded by various types of becomings with there being a strong sense of interconnectedness.

All types of becomings are molecular. Deleuze and Guattari find that in postmodern society, people are in a constant process of change, of reconfiguration, at speeds, intensities, magnitudes, locative’s longitudes and latitudes that are constantly in flux. In postmodernism, the subject is constantly breaking away from stable forms and reconfiguring itself into something new. For Deleuze, the subject has the potential to follow an infinite number of becomings. A characteristic of Deleuze’s postmodern theory is that it is not possible to know in advance where these becomings may lead. The very process of becoming-other places molecular-based processes in resolve with one another, informing and sensitizing along the way what it is to be the other, and offering a new way of social existence in a postmodern world. Postmodern “constitutive” theories of crime have been proposed that characteristically employ the affirmative energies of Deleuze’s becoming “other” as a counter to critical dimensions of social justice, law, and criminology.

The Ethical Revolutionary

Morality begins at the level of the individual for Deleuze and his model of postmodern society. One of Deleuze’s goals in his philosophical system is to set in motion a creative revolution in mind leading to a fundamental change in how people think. Deleuze found that in control societies people tend to move from law to politics. Deleuze found that there were legal systems for all discourses and disciplines (such as laws for new areas of biology), but that never presupposed an ideological commitment on behalf of the subject.

Deleuze’s philosophy intended to promise a revolution in ethical theories. Deleuze never wrote a book devoted to ethics, but he in fact proposed a nomadic ethics in his works, one that involved the ethics of freedom, and in general the philosophy of freedom. The nomadic ethics of Deleuze affirms the positivity of otherness. This nomadic ethics of freedom can become relational but never negative. It is a radical ethics of transformation. The affirmative energies associated with desiring machines encompass creative capacities for Deleuze and not sameness.

The most important qualities of this nomadic ethics of freedom in Deleuze’s philosophy are self-determination through resistance and transgressive discipline. In this sense, Deleuze’s nomadic theory is a postmodern variety of ethical pragmatism. This complements Deleuze’s reflections on control and the transformative potential of becoming. Deleuze proposed and engaged an ethics of internal difference in his work on the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who was a major influence in his intellectual thought.


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