How to begin reading Deleuze –with no question marks– is the title of a post published last year by John Protevi [here] that was pretty echoed in the philosophical blogosphere [here, here, here, here, here, and here], and that he wrote in response to a query that took place in Facebook [here]. The query clearly posed a crucial issue that is still worth to retake for the sake of any possible consensus among those who already have achieved a broader panorama about Deleuze’s work. So, how to begin reading Deleuze? The question mainly refers about which book would serve as the best entry to get into Deleuze’s philosophy, presupposing that the beginner is also willing to read more of his books so to achieve this broader panorama as well, in a non-repellent way, and to meet Deleuze conceptually without getting truncated or blocked in the process. While the enthusiasm showed in FB can only be taken in terms of individual and isolated opinions, say, due to a rare Facebook compartimentalization , the query also deserves to be responded beyond any personal considerations, without underestimating the beginner’s philosophical restlessness, and without wielding any user-friendly academic recipes: the query deserves to be responded by putting some historical facts on the table with respect to Deleuze’s work, and by taking them as objective criteria in order to discern which book is finally the best material for beginners to draw for themselves a heuristically well-oriented conceptual portrait of Deleuze. It is precisely because the beginner deserves to set a direct treat with the very body of Deleuze’s oeuvre –which is also what the question is finally about– that responding to the query implies a challenge for those who already have a broader panorama about Deleuze’s work: a challenge concerned not to a personal perspective but to a genealogical retrospective to be abstracted with respect to the whole of his oeuvre.
And it is in this very sense that, on my part, I recommend Nietzsche and Philosophy as the best entry to get into Deleuze’s philosophy: not because I consider it my favourite, but because I understand the importance it has in the whole of Deleuze’s work: an importance concerned to the way Deleuze wanted his work to be known and to be introduced in history (and with this regard, in the comments section of Protevi’s post, Terence Blake confirms it as a one main epistemological entry as well). So it is with this respect that the importance Deleuze gave to Nietzsche and Philosophy is most decisive in his early philosophical trajectory. He published it in 1962 as a combat-book to express his position with respect to the History of Philosophy (implied in his critique of Hegel’s negativity) i.e, by aggregating himself to the lineage of philosophers who criticize negativity and affirm life with their philosophies. Nietzsche and Philosophy is thus a book through which Deleuze introduced his own thought as an event in such a history, i.e, according to a plan that he had prospectively projected of his own work after the publication of his Empirism and Subjectivity in 1953: a plan oriented to develop a philosophy of pure difference and which initial hypothesis took the form of a recusation against Jean Hyppolite’s Hegelianism in his 1954 review of Logic and Existence (‘Would not be possible create an ontology of difference that would not elevate itself to contradiction?’). To this point, it is useful to take into account that what Deleuze retrospectively estimated about his two firsts published books: at least, that his Empirism and Subjectivity was a book published ‘too soon’ (in his 1988 interview with Bellour & Ewald), while his Nietzsche and Philosophy was a book which publication resulted from a ‘late’ reading of Nietzsche (in his 1972 Letter to a harsh critic). These two retrospective evocations need to be taken in their affective way, because with the former Deleuze would refer to a period of ‘catalepsy or a sort of somnambulism’ between the publication of the two books; and with the latter he would refer to the way he found with Nietzsche ‘the pervert taste for saying simple things your own name’.
We know that after this period of ‘catalepsy or somnambulism’, Deleuze re-emerged not only with Nietzsche and Philosophy i.e, boosting Nietzsche’s philosophy, but also with his projected plan to work on a philosophy of pure difference: a plan that he would only fulfil until the publication of Difference and Repetition, in 1968. And it is in this sense that Nietzsche’s philosophy was an event in Deleuze’s trajectory: his encounter with Nietzsche not only demarked a ‘before’ and an ‘after Nietzsche’ in his work, but also opened the way for him to deploy his philosophy of pure difference: a goal that he would only achieve by investigating the Nietzschean event of transvaluation in terms of a pure/absolute affirmation. So it is with this regard that Deleuze’s encounter with Nietzsche would prompt him to say things in his own name, and this transformation occurred not only with the publication of Difference and Repetition, but also with the publication in 1969 of Logic of sense: two undoubtedly Nietzschean books written as part of Deleuze’s Nietzschean investigation about the event (and the difference between these two books can be defined by the way Deleuze considered the event in each one of them: all what in the former is not explicitly said due to academic formalities, in the latter is treated openly and with more freedom for Deleuze to speak and experiment in his own name). In sum, the ‘excess’ implied by the event of a pure/absolute affirmation exposed by Deleuze in his Nietzsche and Philosophy, became a fundamental magmatic reference in Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, but besides these two books, Deleuze’s books on Kant and Bergson can be taken in relation with his Nietzschean investigation too: because on the one hand: after publishing Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze would publish in 1963 his book on Kant as a counterbalance to justify the way he was conceptualizing the event (e.g ‘the sensible nature has the suprasensible as substratum’) in a gesture of ‘knowing the enemy’; while on the other hand, three years later, in 1966, his Nietzschean gaze would also lead him to re-take his older 1956 articles on Bergson and finally publish a book about his work (e.g, ‘Everything happens as if the properly philosophical probability would extend itself into mystical certainty’).
From the perspective of this ‘excess’, Nietzsche and Philosophy is heuristically the proper doorway to follow not only the plan that Deleuze projected to pose a philosophy of pure difference, but also to follow the intensive path of his Nietzschean investigation, which was magmatic all through his work: an investigation that takes his books on Kant and Bergson as part of its very materials (along with other articles that he also wrote on Lucretius, Klossowski, Simondon, and Plato) and that traces a direct intensive line not only to Difference and Repetition and to Logic of sense, but also, and more importantly, to his Anti-Oedipus: the book where this ‘excess’ takes the schizo-break as its model (e.g, ‘there is a schizophrenic experience of intensive quantities in their pure state, to a point that is almost unbearable’). So it is because ‘this excess’ is a magmatic reference that reaches out the very heart of schizoanalysis, that Nietzsche and Philosophy is the best entrance for initiates to begin reading Deleuze: maybe it is not one of his most important philosophical books, such as A Thousand Plateaus, Difference and Repetition, Logic of Sense, his book on Spinoza, or even What is Philosophy?, but it is certainly important as the best introductory book to read Deleuze and to draw a clear conceptual portrait of him: Deleuze conceived it as the book that would introduce his thought in history, as the book with which he wanted to be known as Nietzschean.