“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Deleuze’s Platonism and Cosmic Artisanry

Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently picked up Joshua Ramey’s The Hermetic Deleuze again after having had to temporarily shelve it back in August due to other research obligations. Having all but completed my comprehensive exam on Whitehead, I’m turning now to focus on a paper on Deleuze for a process philosophy seminar. Having tried (admittedly not very hard) and failed to read and understand Deleuze’s books for myself in the past, I’d hoped Ramey’s treatment of Deleuze’s ideas in the context of religious esotericism and spiritual aesthetics might provided me with at least some sense of orientation as I begin reading Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? in preparation for my paper. On the menu earlier today were chapters 4 called “Overturning Platonism” and 5 called “Becoming Cosmic.” These two chapters on Plato and what Deleuze calls the “cosmic artisan” excited me greatly.

As for ch. 4, trying to “overturn” Plato requires no more than continuing to “turn over” Plato–as in continuing to turn over the pages of his dialogues to be reminded that, as Whitman would say, he contains multitudes. Or as Emerson put it:

“the acutest searcher, the lovingest disciple could never tell what Platonism was; indeed admirable texts can be quoted on both sides of every great question, from him” (journal entry, Oct. 1845).

Deleuze destroys the two world theory of perfect ideas poorly copied by sensory images, but he feels the erotic lure of Plato’s alternative conception of difference in itself. Where Aristotle reduces difference to the comparison of similars, Plato’s path forces him into the spiritual ordeal of thinking the dark and difficult idea of difference in itself. Individuals are not constituted by their substantial forms, or by their special determinations of a genus, as in Aristotle; nor is knowledge of individuals constituted by generalizations from a series. Rather, Plato’s is an ontology of singularity, where knowing an individual means intuiting its uniquely authentic line of descent, rather than representing or identifying or abstracting its general form. In other words, as Ramey puts it, “Knowledge is not a matter of generalization but of participation.” He continues:

“The claim to participation is not simply the claim to be identified as a member of a class or token of a type. It is a claim to have passed a test or to have a basis for one’s claim. The difference between the just and the unjust, pretenders to justice and authentic stewards of justice, is not a difference between any two, but an internal and constitutive difference. It is the difference an ‘immediate fact’ of participation makes. Unlike the Aristotelean development of form in matter, the participation of becoming in being is not the development of a material substrate. It is the selection of an icon from within a prodigious field of idols, false images” (THD, 118).

The difference is initiatory. That is, it has to do with undertaking the descent into the underworld and returning to tell the tale. Philosophy without initiation quickly becomes stale. Without stories to tell of planes beyond the horizon of sensory experience, a philosopher’s concepts can take on no flavor, nor acquire any personality. Once the journey into the darkness of pure difference has been undertaken, in the difficult idea one has partaken are discovered signs of its ingression into the light of appearances. The world becomes a problematic network of occult icons whose enigmas can only be known intuitively by the mental magic of talismanic thinking. Ideas are traced into appearances as signs, moments of discontinuity in physical time-space out of which the oddity of self-reference emerges. These recursive oddities fold themselves into the physical plane and erupt as problematic forces requiring of the flesh-hewn mind not new representations of a supposedly extra-bodily world, but self-transformation, metanoia. Deleuze’s Plato creates concepts not only iconically, but ironically, in that he never claims to represent an idea as true, but only to participate in an idea as “a way of problematizing, a manner of posing questions” (THD, 121). Deleuze pushes his Platonism as far away from any two world caricature as possible by positing, according to Ramey,

“the genesis of mind in direct encounters with imperceptible forces of perception, moments when the subtle and elusive patterns of difference and repetition animating life force the mind to interpret and even to create” (THD, 125).

This sounds like the Plato of Timaeus describing the genesis of the World-Soul from the mixture of the movement of the Same (the fixed stars) with the Different (the moving planets).

In ch. 5, Ramey discusses the role of “conceptual personae” in Deleuze’s thought. He describes these evocatively, so I’ll just quote him at length. Conceptual Personae are:

“internal dramas, replays of historical and archetypal potentials whose repetition enables forces to play a role in concepts…[They] introduce an idiosyncratic, impersonal element into thought, and that somehow this ‘cosmic’ element is the true subject of enunciation, the enigmatic voice of the real…[They] do not emerge through calculated deliberation; they befall the thinker in ordeals of becoming…[In] philosophy it is not the ‘I’ who speaks…Philosophy itself is…a mode of mediumship, and thought is…a séance where the mind channels mercurial avatars and confronts its atavisms” (THD, 166-167).

These personae think in me. “I” would seem to be merely one of their thoughts. I’m reminded of James Hillman’s polytheistic psychology. But somehow, this swarm keeps warm together, enduring at least for a time as some form of concrete and limited social value amidst an environment of more or less differing values. Plato called it a soul, each unique in its virtues. Even if the “I” is no more than an interesting habit it would seem a habit of enormous historical consequence.




2 responses to “Deleuze’s Platonism and Cosmic Artisanry”

  1. Deleuzean Diagrammagic « Footnotes 2 Plato Avatar

    […] Deleuze’s Platonism and Cosmic Artisanry (footnotes2plato.com) […]

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