Deleuze on Sexuality: ‘a badly founded abstraction’?
Last year I was a bit restless again about what was the real motif that would explain the irreparable distance emerged between Foucault and Deleuze. This was mostly because of a 1981 interview I read [here] where Deleuze’s response seemed to be harsh towards the question of sexuality. I wanted to get the gist of why Deleuze’s answer sounded so unwarm, suspecting that it might have to do precisely with Foucault, who by those years still had the aim to complete his History of Sexuality. Was sexuality the conceptual reason that would explain the distance emerged between Foucault and Deleuze? For a few months, I managed silently this idea as something that might be possible, but it came the occasion to comment it on a post published at Foucault News, a blog we know is administered by Clare O’Farrell. As I have the habit to publish [here] every comment I share in the blogosphere, on that occasion WordPress pinged up a pair of malformed trackbacks to Clare’s blog, so I made another comment there to apologize about it and to ask her if she could correct and delete them. Some few minutes later I received an email of her thanking me for my comments and telling me that she already deleted the malformed trackbacks. Though it was just a brief and technical comment, it was nice to see that she also wanted to add something regard to my restlessness expressed on the question:
“BTW On the question of Deleuze’s and Foucault’s friendship – you might find more clues in the biographies – in particular Didier Eribon’s book on Foucault. The split was over their differing views on terrorism rather than anything conceptual.”
As I don’t quite agree with Clare about that last statement, I considered it was a good chance to extend my concern, so I replied to her as follows:
“I am aware about the public reasons that explain the split happened between Foucault and Deleuze, though I think the problem was also conceptual in many discrete respects. We can see this mostly if we take the differences that were emerging between them retrospectively and more from the Deleuzian point of view. While it is said that the case was regarded to their different positions with respect to terrorism, there were also differences regards to the case of Foucault being detained in Germany, as far as I remember, though I really don’t swallow that they got distant just because of that. Their differences became truly hostile despite they admired and loved each other so much. We can see this clearly if we account Foucault’s interview with Watanabe, where he seems to be pretty offended and sad about what friendship turned out to be: of course he never called explicitly any name, but it is not hard to link this with what happened with Deleuze. In the same tone, while Deleuze was even more discrete, he also declared something pretty harsh, though indirectly, to Foucault’s decision to continue with his project of a History of sexuality. On a 1981 interview, Arnaud Villani asked Deleuze: “Thought is ‘spermatic’ in your work. Is there a clear relation, in this sense, with sexuality?” and Deleuze answered:“That was the case up until Logic of Sense, where there was still a specifiable relation between sexuality and metaphysics. Afterwards sexuality seemed to me rather to be a badly founded abstraction.” It should be clear that in another time, Deleuze would never dare to say such a thing having in mind his friend’s tendency. Deleuze was displeased with Foucault, maybe because Foucault would not follow his suggested conceptualizations… So, I guess there is a way to read all this between lines and draw some conclusions. The very point is that Deleuze obsession with conceptualization was too dense, even for Foucault: if we read his book on Foucault, for instance, we can deduce how he was very clear about Foucault’s work in terms of its implied conceptualization, and given his obsession, even clearer than Foucault himself. Of course, no one likes that someone else would have a better and clearer idea about your own work, and Foucault was not the exception. We can also think that the differences they had also were differences on how they experimented philosophy, that is for sure.”