Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pure Immanence

Shortly before his death, the philosopher Deleuze wrote about what he called "pure immanence". It was the last piece he ever wrote. A daring, and some would say naive move, to entertain an idea such as purity in a cold-hearted intellectual world. It is much easier to tear apart something like purity, to deny it, to destroy it with cheap and easy questions. And immanence! Who talks of immanence these days? And why bother? Why not tackle the hard questions? Relevant questions such as the environment, gender; questions of justice, of governance, of war and peace. Why, at that late date in his life, did Deleuze not put his mind to such grand and contemporary issues?

But think of Deleuze, the man, for just a minute.

Beginning with the most stark of facts -- he took his own life. Deleuze suffered from an illness that was killing him. Rather than continue with his suffering, at the time of his own choosing, on his own terms, he ended his life. Just weeks before, at the time of his last writing, Deleuze was all-too aware of the idea of immanence -- the immanence of his own death, the immanence of suffering. Yet, at that time, when he wrote of immanence, he wrote of it as if it were life.

Derrida called Deleuze the "thinker of the event," I consider him a "thinker of life." His readings of Spinoza, of Hume, Berkley, Nietzsche, Foucault, of so many, continually brought forth a life which is lived, life in the midst of living. A live beyond words, beyond descriptions, beyond labels. A life whose very "immanence" could never be reduced by any identity, any narrative, any essence.

Deleuze often in his writing evoked the idea of life, Alive, of immanence, but, in these last words he wrote he allowed the idea to emerge through two particular images.

First of all, there was this character which Charles Dickens created. A miserable, nasty old man, who pushed every caring soul away. Yet, when this man was upon the brink of death, a community emerged, a people gathered around, and whatever could be done to save this man's life was quickly and eagerly done. At that particular moment, poised between life and death, that man's identity, his history meant nothing. However, in the midst of that very moment the man's life came to mean everything.

Secondly, Deleuze talked of small children. I cannot recall Deleuze ever discussing small children before in his writings, but in those last days this is precisely what he did. He particularly noted their play and their faces. He spoke with adoring words, tender words, words of love. A dying man gazing into the eyes of childhood. No, no... not childhood, into the eyes of a child. And there he saw what he called "pure power" and "bliss." It was life, simple unadulterated life, lived in a moment, all focus upon that moment. He saw joy -- beautiful joy.

These two images, the dying old man, the eyes of a child, brought alive for Deleuze the idea of pure immanence.

Yet, this immanence, this life, is not a rare thing. It is everywhere around us. But one must pay attention, one must, as Wittgenstein said, "look, don't think." For pure immanence is not understood, it cannot be claimed in language, rather it is felt, one brushes-up against it. In the realm of language one can play with it, invite it, talk of it in fleeting terms, but one can never approach its definition, never truly know it.

My cat has just joined me -- she sits upon my desk. It's in the eyes... between her eyes and mine. She looks directly into my eyes then she calmly closes her own as only a cat is able to do. In that moment a bliss breaks into the day, just as it did when Deleuze looked into the eyes of a child, just as it did as he watched the child in her play... A gentle explosion of bliss.

Pure immanence -- not evasive and endangered, no unattainable perfectionism, as some may think, but contagious, even explosive, and always close to hand.

And our words... they are anything but useless. They can call, invite, they can evoke and invoke. Oh yes, yes, and best of all, words can sing. I venture to guess that one day some anthropologist, or perhaps a biologist, will come to the conclusion that the spoken word is simply an evolution of the lyrical word -- the singing of song came first! Pure immanence... and the voice of song.

As for life, it comes eagerly. But, whether the old man on his death bed, whether the eyes of the child, whether the bliss of a cat, one thing repeatedly emerges -- life always comes, and only comes in the moment of its living.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

I can understand why you quote from this wonderful Deleuze text which I wasn't aware of even if I have studied and been inspired by Deleuze's thinking for some time now.

But don't you think we should be careful not to turn his affirming philosophy into metaphysics as you seem to be on the verge of?

Another quote that I find interesting is,

We constantly lose our ideas. This is why we want to hang on to fixed opinions so much. We ask only that our ideas are linked together according to a minimum of constant rules. All that the association of ideas has ever meant is providing us with these protective rules - resemblance, continuity, causality - which enable us to put some order into ideas, preventing our "fantasy" (delirium, madness) from crossing the universe in an instant, producing winged horses and dragons breathing fire.

(From What is Philosophy? by Gilles Deleuze and FĂ©lix Guatarri, 1994)

- the book by the way gives a great definition of his ideas of why the creation of concepts is a true form of becoming.

All the best,

Orla Schantz

Christopher Kinman said...

Thanks for your comment Orla... I certainly connect with you on the thought that there is a danger of turning an idea, a concept into some "thing" which becomes a fixed reality, not just a concept or idea, but a description of the way the world "is" -- and always "is". This is the dilemma one faces in creating anything... it can cease to be an experiment in moving through life, and can become institutionalized truth.

Yet, I think we still must create -- even in the face of such a danger. And it sure feels to me that Deleuze's emphasis on affirmation (of life, becoming, etc.) is an under-heard creation, an emphasis which is all too often minimized and trivialized. It just is not the usual way of doing things --whether in politics, education, the therapeutic professions,the media. To me, it seems to be an idea which requires some space within the various corners of our culture.

Again... appreciate your thoughts...