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

Transcendental Earth: Thinking Horizontally with Deleuze and Guattari

Some other bloggers (AGENT SWARM and Time’s Flow Stemmed, for example) have been been ruminating over this beautiful string of sentences from Deleuze and Guattari’s What Is Philosophy?:

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.

So the movement is one from the transcendent to the horizontal? No, it can’t be that simple…

What moderns lost in verticality for their thought they gained in fact by the invention of the spaceship. The transcendental has not been replaced by the horizontal; rather, the horizontal has been brought to its completion in a noöspheric earth, a “transcendental star,” as Sloterdijk calls it: “A star on which the theory of stars appeared, the earth shines with self-generated phosphorescence” (p. 25, In the World Interior of Capital).


Horizontality, so long as we conceive of it as a going and a return, shares an essentially circular structure with verticality. Its just transcendentalism with more speed, with escape velocity. Still, whether Platonist or Humean, we ascend and descend, we travel far away and we come back home again. Sure, sometimes we get bored and give up. Sometimes we are blinded by the light on approach. Other times we die on the way back (and what unimaginable lines of flight might draw us then?). But if there is a flat plane before philosophy, there must be a curved sphere after it.

Were we to take flight toward the fading sun at the precise rate of earth’s counter-rotation, time would appear to cease and we would feel as though we needed no sleep. But when we finally came down from our magic flight, our friends back on solid ground would see the dreamlessness in our eyes. Though their subjectivity is nothing like the chains of common sense, even sorcerers are subject to the grip of gravity. Earth holds us all.

I am more inclined to bear the cross of horizontal heavens with transcendental planes than I am to let one tip the other over on its side…

The transcendental and the horizontal meet in the terrestrial.




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4 responses to “Transcendental Earth: Thinking Horizontally with Deleuze and Guattari”

  1. terenceblake Avatar

    Hello Matt, thanks for your poetic counter-rumination. Let’s be clear: Deleuze and Guattari are not proposing a new Grand Narrative, but just one possible micro-story. Another story of movement may be more to your taste. Deleuze claims that the notion of movement has changed from that produced by the application of an external force. “All the new sports – surfing, windsurfing, hang-gliding – take the form of entering into an existing wave.There’s no longer an origin a sstarting point, but a sort of putting-into-orbit” (NEGOTIATIONS, 121). So I think you can have your orbit and your horizon too. The movement is noetic, this is why Deleuze and Guattari talk about the “eyes of the mind”, and so finds its place in the noosphere. I think the “bad” verticality is the move away from the Earth, considered as a Cavern of Illusion, but the getting into orbit story shows that verticality is not an essence to be universally proscribed. Also the text talks about running to the horizon AND coming back, so there is a notion of gravity, one could call it “horizontal gravity”. Deleuze and Guattari are in favour of multiple dimensions, what they call “n minus one” dimensions. What is subtracted is not necessarily verticality in a literal sense but a dimension dominating all the others, in whatever direction. So the transcendental sphere, as a multiple dimensioned mega-hyper-sphere, is a good image of that. If you look at the movements described in LOGIC OF SENSE and also in the CINEMA books you have lots of descriptions of intensities as rising and falling, so intensive verticality is OK for Deleuze. Don’t forget that Deleuze has two time axes that intersect perpendicularly in his diagrams, virtual time or AION and actualised time or CHRONOS, so the image of the cross is not absent from Deleuze’s imagination of the cosmos (despite what many think).

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      That is all very helpful, Terence. I am still digesting Deleuze, if such a thing is possible. I’ve really encountered him only recently (less than 2 years ago), but already I can tell my mind and body have been permanently disturbed, altered, infected. I consider Deleuze both a friend and an enemy to my own thinking. I owe my introduction to Joshua Ramey’s “The Hermetic Deleuze”– Ramey’s is supposedly a less “materialist” (more esoteric spiritual) and so less reputable Deleuze. “What Is Philosophy?” and “Difference and Repetition” I’ve read twice each. “D&R” I read the second time with a reading group here at CIIS. Otherwise only chapters here and there of other works (“The Fold” and “ATP”). Not a smidgen of the “Cinema” books, though as a result of a few insistent friends (and now your recommendation, as well!), I think they will be my next assignment.

  2. […] Segall has in a pluralistic spirit posted a counter-rumination to my preceding ruminations, so I am cross-posting my comment […]

  3. dmf Avatar

    check out Caputo @ around 1:20 on the “insistence” of the world:

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