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Gilles Deleuze was born in the 17th arrondissement, or district, of Paris in 1925. His father was a World War I veteran and an engineer. Deleuze grew up during the occupation of France by Nazi Germany in WWII. His brother was arrested during German occupation for resistance activities and died on his way to the Auschwitz concentration camp. His parents took Deleuze and fled to Normandy where he attended a public school because of his parents financial state. It was at this time where Deleuze met his first source of academic inspiration.
He was motivated by a teacher, under whose influence he read Gide, Baudelaire and others. After returning from Normandy, Deleuze attended the Lycée Henri IV, where he finished his kâgne, an intensive year of study for students of promise. Upon completion, Deleuze went to Sorbonne, also known as the University of Paris, to study philosophy and complete his teaching certification from 1944-1948 (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Deleuze began teaching philosophy at numerous high schools until 1956.
He decided to teach at the collegiate level where he got his own degree in 1957. He eventually transitioned to the University of Lyon from 1964 to 1969. Here he published his most important work on Nietzsche, which increased his credibility and spread Nietzschean understanding to France. It was during this time when he began his long lasting friendship with Michel Foucault. They met each other when Foucault nominated Deleuze for a position at the University of Clermont Ferrand, impressed with Deleuze’s philosophical work.
Deleuze took the position as Professor of Philosophy at the behalf of Foucault. When Foucault died, Deleuze dedicated a book to studying his work titled Foucault, in 1986 (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
The late sixties were some of the best and worse times for Deleuze. He published his doctoral thesis in 1968, comprising of Difference and Repetition and Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza. Following the student uprising in May of 1968, Deleuze’s thought and writings became more politically engaged. In 1969 he took a teaching position at the experimental University of Paris VII, and continued his teaching career there until his retirement in 1987. It was at the Paris VII that he met the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, who became a partner of Deleuze in multiple writings such as Capitalism and Schizophrenia and A Thousand Plateaus (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Deleuze had many avenues to express his political activeness. He was particularly passionate about homosexual rights, the Palestinian liberation movement, and collaborated in Foucault’s “Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
In the eighties, Deleuze transferred his passion for writing over to the cinema. He wrote the novels Movement-Image in 1983, and Time-Image in 1985. His final collaboration in writing was with Guattari was on a piece called What is Philosophy? which was published in 1991. At this time, Deleuze’s pulmonary illness had confined him severely, making it near impossible to write. He published his last set of writing, Essays Critical and Clinical, in 1993. Depressed by his chronic illness and deteriorating health, Deleuze took his own life in 1995 (Encyclopedia Britannica).
One of the main prospects of Deleuze’s work in philosophy is the the subject of philosophy itself and its history. Deleuze had two main criticisms against ‘traditional philosophy. First, he believes the idea that in order to “think’ or ‘philosophize’one must have read all the great thinkers of the times such as Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Heidegger. He also states “An image of thought called philosophy has been formed historically and it effectively stops people from thinking” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). He would argue that the construct of philosophy pushes away the idea of thinking to the individual because of it’s ivory tower construct. His second criticism of traditionality of philosophy is on reflections versus production. He argues that “philosophy isn’t a particularly reflective discipline. It’s rather like portraiture in painting. Producing mental, conceptual portrait” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Deleuze believes that most philosophical texts are just a repetition of what other philosophers have already said. Thus the works that Deleuze has reexamined always attempts to create another concept out of their work rather than just reanalyze it. The revelation in the role of new thinkers allows a reawakening of older ideas, into more modern concepts (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
In his essay Postscript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze continues on Foucault’s concepts of disciplinary institutions of power. He applies it to more modern examples of innovations in the social institutions pointed out by Foucault and others that share the prison’ or ‘factory’ layout and mentality. One example he uses is the evolution from the factory to the corporation. Deleuze explains that the factory owner used surveillance and disciplinary actions to make the workers equal in terms of worth and benefit to the factory owner. However he explains:
The corporation constantly presents the brashest rivalry as a healthy form of emulation, an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within (Deleuze 5).
Modern development of the corporate world has extended the separation of power not just macro politically, but also micro politically, constructing opposing forces within proletariat structures themselves. Deleuze notes the shift from capitalism’s goal of production of finished products over to the more modern concept of selling services, marketing, and sharing stocks. He recognizes that these “societies of control” have expanded from individual disciplinary structures to expansive networks of control (Deleuze 3-6).
Deleuze’s work with Guattari is mostly synthesized in there most popular work, Anti The authors criticize “modernity’s discourses and institutions which repress desire and proliferate fascists subjectivities that haunt even revolutionary movements” (Postmodern Theory). They explain how modern constructs have subdued the desire for r/evolutionary political change. The societies of control attempt to formulate blockades that prevent the masses from demanding reform as well as achieve it. This collaboration came in response of the student/worker protest in May of 1968 – a revolutionary situation that was subdued by the exertion of power to meet the demands of the masses, mastering desire.
Based on the multiple aspects of post-modern inquiries Deleuze has pondered in his lifetime, there are a few ways that his philosophy can be practiced. First is the ability to synthesize information from previous thinkers and ways of thought in order to create a unique concept. Deleuze criticizes the act of reflection in philosophy because it results in everyone repeating what other philosophers have already said. Doing something simple such as expanding on observations you find interesting, and making philosophical inquiries available for common people participation is exactly what Deleuze thinks is necessary to tackle the hegemony of philosophy. In context of his observations and criticism’s of modernity, Deleuze’s alternative to societies of control is a nomadic lifestyle. Since social, political, and economic structures have utilized constructs to master the desire of revolutionary change in the individual, the response to withdraw from this network of living. Deleuze anticipates a possible postmodern way of existing, where individuals can overcome repressive modern forms of stasis in order to become “desiring nomads in a constant process of becoming and transformation” (Postmodern Theory). An example of living this nomadic lifestyle should look to the lives of civil disobedience advocates Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi. Thoreau escaped social and political life by escaping to Walden pond to live in isolation and discover life’s meaning.
I personally find Deleuze’s observations of power and control in society more convincing than Foucault’s; not because of more subsequent analysis, but rather that Deleuze’s theories are easier to relate to in a world dominated by corporate world network. His expansions of postmodern thinkers and collaborates and adapts them within contexts of status quo ways of living make his argument even stronger. While the idea of nomadic lifestyle seems primitive and individualistic on the surface, I believe it stems deeper. He argues that we need to master our own desire, specifically our desires for revolutionary change, calling for an eradication in political passivity, exclusion, and hierarchies. His hope for change stems into a communal process of ‘nomadity’ that is necessary for deconstructing macro exertions of control.
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