Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I See Ghosts

Honouring a Haunted & Haunting Love

Honouring Life: Speaking, writing and working in ways which reflect and connect-with the ongoing movements of life... Will reflect a world of overwhelming diversity. Will be in a perpetual state of flux, moving in response to a constantly shifting experience of life.

Mangling Life: Imposing upon the diversity of life understandings, words and actions which are disconnected from life's movements, yet are clearly tied to the confidences and eternal assurances of designated authorities.


I see ghosts within my own work, ephemeral presences moving in and out, speaking loudly and softly, engaging me and those I am connected with, inviting and challenging. These ghosts may be many, yet there are some in particular who are frequently encountered and re-encountered. They are seen and felt moving through the varied doorways and stairways and darkened halls of writing and work and life. One such ghostly influence is the thinking of the French Philosopher, Gilles Deleuze.

I choose to discuss Deleuze at this point because I desire to honour such a ghostly influence, because I am in love with much of his thinking, and because there is little I enjoy more than to be challenged by such vigorous thought, to argue with such rich ideas, and to find, through such involvement, that my own thought and work -- and world -- are reinvented.

Deleuze thought in renewed ways about freedoms, communal movements, radical possibilities. He thought about life -- as it moves amongst people, as it moves in connection with a certain fullness, with animals and plants, roots and rivers and machines, with uncountable bodies and types of bodies. Deleuze was also was a thinker of creation, the act of creating, of bodies which constantly are making and remaking, assembling and reassembling in response to the infinite movements of life.

Deleuze had names for such styles of thought. Two of the currents of thought which he most cherished he called naturalism and empiricism. He did not create these names, they emerged from within history. He wanted people to understand that his own thought did not just appear as something new outside of the twists and turns of time. He wanted readers to see the long flows of these thoughts; the coursing, the shifting and changing, the reawakening and returning of thoughts -- all through considerable stretches of history. These ideas which he loved he saw as permeating, penetrating into and through daily life, awakening connections in a rich and chaotic world, and rejuvenated the actions of life, both intimate and political.

Naturalism and Empiricism

While I have often heard of Deleuze being placed within the camp of postmodern thinkers, Deleuze never identified himself in such a way. Rather, he felt a strong pull toward what he referred to as the naturalism of ancient thinkers such as Lucretius, the Roman poet, and Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, as well as the empiricism of Scottish and Irish philosophers, Hume and Berkeley. And, two of his great loves, Spinoza and Nietzsche, he also saw as moving within these same arenas.

In both these traditions we can see certain flows of thinking. First of all, thought is seen to emerge from life. The ability to produce thought, the very possibility of thinking comes to us as a gift from and within life itself, a gift as fully immersed in the movements of nature as the song of the thrush and the flight of the dragonfly. Deleuze then invites a redirection in this flow of thought, where the current shifts directly within thought itself, within our engagements, back toward the life from which it originated. He proposed that we create flows which honour the movements of life, streams of thought, drifts of dialogue which always call upon a respect and appreciation for life as it is encountered. These moments of response are not given, they are not predetermined; rather they are created, eternally in the making. Moments of thought and language are formed into endlessly transforming assemblages, works of art, always both finished and unfinished, always endeavouring to respond to the events of life as they are approached, as they are engaged with, and as they are crafted.

It must be emphasized that these creations of response are not simply internal to an individual body, they occur within the rhizome space of relationships, constantly tied to numerous lines of engagement -- human and otherwise.

Deleuze observes that much philosophic, religious and scientific thought, as well as most other institutionally-approved modes of thought, move in very different kinds of flows, and in different directions. These manners of thinking are typically not responsive and they are not singular in time, rather they are made rigid and eternal, they are generalized beyond any one specific situation, and they are made to instruct, in detailed form, how human bodies are to move and function. These types of thinking also inform as to the way the cosmos, nature, and bodies, all bodies, human and otherwise, fit within a timeless and permanent understanding of the world. The perspectives that are given are not connected to honest, moving and temporal encounters with life, but they are connected to institutionally sanctioned authorities. Typically there are punitive measures (often exclusionary measures) put in place for those who allow thought to stray beyond these structures.

Such flows do not come from and they do not return to an engagement with life. Instead, they traverse from and toward assumed voices of authority. Deleuze sees the preponderance of thinking in our contemporary world, and throughout most of history, as being formed within such inflexible structures of truth. He also suggests, again with an ear toward Nietzsche, that more often than not thought tends to mangle life, rather than returning to honour it.

It is odd that today the word “empirical” refers to very different passages of thought. In contemporary times the word “empirical” suggests that life is to be defined through the application of mathematical formulas. In fact, this contemporary empiricism holds out, not only the hope of enlightening and delineating life through preset equations, but it does so with almost messianic expectations. It is assumed that these “empirical” methods will bring forth redemptive ends; our questions will be answered, our problems will finally be solved, and our world will be substantially improved, if not saved.

The empiricism which captured Deleuze led toward very different ends. There was no messianic deliverance in the thought of Hume and Berkeley, Spinoza and Nietzsche, instead there was an attempt to talk of life in terms which approach life itself. Simply put, it is about a turn toward life, not life as it could be, but as it now moves amongst us. And, this sense of life is also embedded in a specificity of time and place and relational connections. It is not something which speaks clearly and authoritatively to other times, places and relations, and it says very little toward any generalities or preset populations.

Acts of Creation

The empiricist turn, however, is not just a movement toward life through honest observation and reflection. It certainly can be this, at least in part, but, for Deleuze the empiricist task is especially one of creation. Again, it is not simply about creating language which reflects life, but much more, it is about joining with life in processes of creation, it is about involvement in creative acts which fit within and flow through endless dimensions of life. The human body, with opposable thumbs, with infinite possibilities in language, and immersed within communal flows, is a body which makes things.

With Deleuze’s empiricism, a different spirit is called forth. Not a spirit of knowing, of confidence, of firm conviction, but a spirit touched by a humility, a spirit that does not/cannot truly know, a spirit of wonder at the abundance of life. This empiricism also invites an almost mystical turn where affects and thoughts flow in amazement, through communal spaces, in response to the endless presentations and sheer possibilities of life itself.

I must emphasize that this place of not-knowing is not the same as a place of "anything goes." There is always a sense of not-knowing, in that the world is simply too abundant, too complex and chaotic to be able to firmly hold onto some truth. However, the ideas which we construct, the thoughts we entertain, the movements we make and the actions we take are to move toward life as it is presenting itself to us. We do not hold onto beliefs, values, ideas, actions which clearly affront or attack life in its varied presentations. And, we endeavour to construct understandings which can give honour to the diversities of life as it is encountered.
As Nietzsche so often emphasized, this engagement with life summons us away from the various forms of sadness which seem to dominate our world. That is, away from the controls of authorities, away from those seemingly eternal negations, toward worlds which are joyful and beautiful, filled with freedoms, continuously pulled towards affirmations, always rich with surprise, and repeatedly bringing forth acts of creation. Not at all a world where sad feelings are bannished. But ceratinly a world where affects of joy and love are now thoughtfully and carefully crafted, where affects of sadness were previously simply imposed.

What a bizaar world... where the ghosts who haunt are also the creators of joy!


If the reader wishes to consider specific forms of action which have emerged in response to such thinking, feel free to check out the options detailed in a book I previously self-published. The book is called A Language of Gifts (you will soon be able to access this book through another site –

However, I am always somewhat tentative in offering “applications” for ideas, for the actions I describe evolved in response to the settings and relationships I found myself within. I consider them as simply creative replies to the details of life. I feel a particular joy and curiosity when people immerse themselves within their own living contexts, and in response to such contexts create new and living possibilities of thought and action, possibilities connected to the specifics of a unique time and a unique space and a unique rhizome network of relations.

The art of life is not an art of making copy, it is the art of engagement in the world, and the art of responding with irreplaceable creations .

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