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Paul Patton, ed. Deleuze: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996. ISBN: 1557865655. Price: £60 (hbk) £16.99 (pbk); US$57.95 (hbk) US$28.95 (pbk).

  • Thaine Stearns

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  • Thaine Stearns
    University of Washington

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Published as a part of the Blackwell CriticalReader Series in 1996, the year after Gilles Deleuze's death, the essays collected in Deleuze: A Critical Reader offer a selection of analytical readings, theoretical appraisals, and reflective elaborations on the French philosopher's oeuvre by an impressive range of philosophers and scholars. This group of writings, including the introduction by the book's editor, Paul Patton, consists of thirteen essays and a thorough bibliography of Deleuze's work, including the pre-1953 texts that he repudiated. Along with Patton, its contributors are Jean-Clet Martin, Daniel W. Smith, Jean-Michel Salanskis, Constantin V. Boundas, Jean-Luc Nancy, Catherine Malabou, Pierre Macherey, Moira Gatens, Francois Zourabichvili, Brian Massumi, Eugene W. Holland, Ronald Bogue, and Timothy S. Murphy. The pieces in this collection address various Deleuzian interests and projects, covering his interpretations of Kant, Spinoza, Bergson, and Melville; his theoretical discussions of mathematics, ethics, and aesthetics; and also his best-known work, the collaborative texts written with the psychoanalyst Felix Guattari.

It helps to come to this collection with a working vocabulary and knowledge of what has been called the "exuberance—and exorbitance" of Deleuze's thought. [1] Understanding concepts occurring in his philosophy such as faciality, virtuality, haecceity, types of becoming, and rhizome, to name just a few of the terms that come up in this reader, is invaluable background to finding entry points into some of the issues under examination here. Similarly, and of particular import with at least three of these essays, it is beneficial to know that for this philosopher, "Ahab's strange relationship with Moby Dick, mixing desire with death, is, since Dialogues, the example of becoming that Deleuze most frequently provides" (Zourabichvili, p. 213 n. 2). To read Martin's essay, "The Eye of the Outside," for instance, without this knowledge would make the connections in this, the second piece in the collection, appear to be non-sequiturs. Martin's essay begins by extrapolating from Deleuze's 1983 The Movement Image an analogy to Foucault, Melville, and finally Neitzsche to construct an argument about perspective, surface, and concept that reaches such conclusions as "this rolled back eye comes up against the frontier of bone, against the empty whiteness, the deadly intermittence of visibility that it ceaselessly transgresses, as though it everywhere encountered an uncrossable border which ran between all the images" (pp. 19-20). In other words, many of the essays in this aggregation do not serve the unitiated Deleuzian reader well; as Martin's piece illustrates, some of these writings have a tendency to bewilder rather than to elucidate.

On the other hand, several of the essays stand out as exemplary discussions that problematize Deleuze's work in important ways. Catherine Malabou's piece, "Who's Afraid of Hegelian Wolves," raises significant objections to Deleuze's treatment of Hegel, whose dialectics represented for Deleuze the system "what I most detested" (Patton, p. 3). Using Deleuze and Guattari's analysis of Freud's classic case of the Wolf-Man in A Thousand Plateaux as her starting point, Malabou argues that Deleuze commits the error of reducing Hegelian multiplicity to a univalent and univocal idea, the equivalent error of which Freud is accused in the first chapter of ATP. This essay avoids the easy polemic of condemning Deleuze's reading of Hegel, to come to the far more interesting conclusion of constructing "a block of becoming called Hegel-Deleuze, as unexpected yet plausible as that of the wasp and orchid, a plateau" (p. 136). In a complementary piece titled "The Deleuzian Fold of Thought," Jean-Luc Nancy begins by noting how "Deleuze's thought is so far removed from the sources, schemata and modes of conduct which, for me, are those of philosophical work" (p.108). Yet from this essential difference in philosophical location ("despite everything," Nancy says), he sketches out in the shortest essay in this book (a succinct, but incisive six pages) the "strange proximity" in their projects, a nearness that depends on a Deleuzian metaphor, a "fold of thought."

Equally helpful are the essays in this collection that explicate Deleuze's philosophy or put it to use in provocative ways. For example, Zourabichvili's essay, "Six Notes on the Percept (On the Relation between the Critical and the Clinical)" uses the Deleuzian notion of "percept" to work through a number of his texts, imbricating an assortment of "discretely posited logical traits" that ultimately mark "the indissociability of aesthetics and ethics" in his philosophy (pp. 188, 211). This synthesized perception of Deleuze's opus is invaluable, given that his ideas, as Patton says in his introduction, "constitute successive moments within a single thought-event, variations upon a unique intuition and exemplars of a novel concept of philosophy" (p. 1). Another essay using Deleuzian systematics to propose intriguing analysis that extends beyond textual or historical interpretation is Moira Gatens "Through a Spinozist Lens: Ethology, Difference, Power." By extending Deleuze's notions of being and immanence to address his reading of Spinoza's ethics as ethology, Gatens offers a useful reworking of gender difference, positing collective assemblages against conventional psychoanalytic molar distinctions. Her essay, like Zourabichvili's, complicates and expands Deleuzian conceptions in a fresh and cogent way.

Perhaps it is endemic to such collections that its individual pieces will ultimately be somewhat disparate. To be sure, not all of the essays here are as lucid nor as productively thoughtful as I had hoped. In addition, it is not altogether clear from Patton's otherwise coherent introduction what logic resides behind either the choice of essays or their order of presentation; a set of writings such as this asks for that kind of rationale. On the whole, however, this reader offers a wide-ranging, occasionally sparkling critical resource for scholars of this "anomalous figure within the contemporary philosophical landscape" (p. 1).