Deleuze’s Intensive Reading (IV): Reading With Love
We have seen that in his interview with Jean Noel Vuarnet and in his interview with Jeannette Colombel [here and here], Deleuze exposes the same ideas that he would develop five years later, in a more affective fashion, in his Letter to a Harsh Critic ―specifically in his famous ‘ass fuck’ quote [here]―. As we have seen, Deleuze refers to the same ideas about intensive reading and the process he went through to liberate himself from the constrictions that the history of philosophy imposed to him as a philosopher, a process that meant for him to give voice and to make speak the singularities in the work of the authors he loved ―i.e, the singularities that inhabit their thought―, which is also the process that leaded him to write in his own name. But we need to bring into account that, in his response to Cressole, Deleuze was taking retrospectively his work and himself as a philosopher, in order to give answer to Cressole’s accusations and critiques. With this regard, when he refers about how he saw the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery, he does so to express how he coped with the constrictions that such discipline imposed to him, as a sort of resistance with respect to its rationalist tradition and in favour of the authors he loved, i.e, in favour of the affirmation of life contained in their respective philosophies ―and concretely, in ‘their critique of the negativity’ as Deleuze puts it―. As he implies in his retrospective, it is with respect to these constrictions that he imagined himself compelled to ‘take from behind’ the authors he loved so to make them speak all what he wanted them to say, meaning such constrictions as implying a depersonalization meant not by love but by subjection. Given that the history of philosophy was for Deleuze something like “philosophy’s own version of the Oedipus complex”, seems obvious that the implication of this depersonalization through subjection would prefigure a sort of buggery or sodomy as its resultant, that of which conception would still be the author’s offspring, yet it would be “monstrous” as well. But we also have seen in which sense Deleuze likes to use the word “monstrous”: for him, the author’s offspring was necessarily “monstrous” not because it was regarded to such an author and to his philosophy, but because of the oedipical constrictions imposed by the history of philosophy that Deleuze would also ascribe as part of the Hegelian “monstrous enterprise to submit life to negativity”.
We can see that, on the one hand, while the idea of what is philosophically “monstrous” for Deleuze can be tracked its way back to the ideas he declared in both of his 1968 interviews, on the other hand, the idea referred by him about how he saw the history of philosophy as a sort of buggery, in his response to Cressole, can only come as an effect of his retrospective point of view. For instance, we have seen that in his interview with Jean Noel Vuarnet, the implication of engenderment as ‘immaculate conception’ is already referred when Deleuze speaks about how the philosopher needs ‘to work’ his way back to the problems posed by the work of an author, so to ‘extract something’ that still belongs to him, though that would also be turned ‘against him’. This implication is also referred when he describes how the method of intensive reading would demand the philosopher to be ‘inspired’ and ‘visited by the geniuses’ he denounces. So, in his response to Cressole, Deleuze would give himself the chance to extend in terms of buggery this conceptual implication, given the affective fashion of his epistolary exchange. Though, it is because he was speaking then in his own name that he was also deploying a retrospective point of view that would let him illustrate this implication in such terms. To this point, we can think that the terms of buggery that Deleuze employs in his famous ‘ass fuck’ quote, can only be taken as such, precisely as the result of his liberation, as the result of being able to speak in his own name. As we can see, what Deleuze is retrospectively describing in terms of buggery, is how the intensive reading that he did of the authors he loved was constricted by the depersonalization effected by the history of philosophy. So, in this specific sense, we have to consider that, for Deleuze, the method of intensive reading was not a procedure of buggery but a procedure of philosophical love that would be resisting to the negativity that threats life and its affirmation. This is why he declares, in his response to Cressole, that he really enjoyed all the constrictive procedure of ‘doing’ history of philosophy: not only because he really got away with the authors he admired and loved ―and this includes his critique of Kant―, restoring and reintroducing their philosophies in history mostly in the case of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, and Hume, but also because he was confident that they were doing so far a good job with their ‘critique of the negativity’, and that they would remain to be an implacable resistance in this regard, which is to say that, despite all those constrictions, they would make worth the resistance as they affirm life in the most active way.
In the same sense, it is necessary to remark how Deleuze managed himself to take position with respect to the constrictions and subjections imposed by the history of philosophy, and this is very clear with regard to the way he treated Hegel in his interview with Jeannette Colombel: with Hegel, Deleuze betrayed such discipline assuming ‘the role of traitor’, but if he assumed such a role was because he positioned himself in favour of life and its affirmation. We can see that if Deleuze could speak since then about his ideas on intensive reading, was because he took life and its affirmation as reference, but not in order to betray the history of philosophy as its prime objective ―i.e, by not giving any voice to Hegel’s work―, which is just a consequence of his position, but in order to uncover the singularities that compose and give consistency to the thought of authors he loved, as he insisted from the beginning. Deleuze is giving us the clue here to understand how intensive reading works: we have to take life and its affirmation as a reference that would be in absolute contraposition with the history of philosophy and its constrictions, in order to contrast and differentiate that what has not been said yet of the work of an author, i.e, what is untimely about his philosophy, so to uncover the ‘impersonal, pre-individual singularities’ that inhabit his thought, which “are not reducible to individuals or persons, nor to a sea without difference”, as Deleuze explains. We see that, for Deleuze, the idea of taking life and its affirmation as reference is what permits the philosopher to ‘distribute’ all these singularities in an ‘open space without enclosures or properties’, i.e, a procedure that would put on relief the constrictions imposed by the history of philosophy. In regard to the method of intensive reading, we have to keep in mind that this is a procedure of philosophical love that would lead us retroactively to speak in our own name: it is a Spinozian relation of love-comprehension that would engender a creative and transformative conception of thought in us: a depersonalization through love that is affected by life and its affirmation. In this sense, fortunately: despite that the argument and the affective tone in Deleuze’s response to Cressole would extend a few paragraphs after his famous ‘ass fuck’ quote, Deleuze would finally resume all these ideas about intensive reading but now in machinic terms: taking life and its affirmation as a reference that would position the philosopher in relation with an ‘Outside’ ―i.e, as Deleuze puts it, in relation with ‘a more complicated external machinery’―:
“There are, you see, two ways of reading a book: you either see it as a box with something inside and start looking for what it signifies, and then if you’re even more perverse or depraved you set off after signifiers. And you treat the next book like a box contained in the first or containing it. And you annotate and interpret and question, and write a book about the book, and so on and on. Or there’s the other way: you see the book as a little non-signifying machine, and the only question is “Does it work, and how does it work?” How does it work for you? If it doesn’t work, if nothing comes through, you try another book. This second way of reading’s intensive: something comes through or it doesn’t. There’s nothing to explain, nothing to understand, nothing to interpret. It’s like plugging in to an electric circuit…This second way of reading’s quite different from the first, because it relates a book directly to what’s Outside. A book is a little cog in much more complicated external machinery… This intensive way of reading, in contact with what’s outside the book, as a flow meeting other flows, one machine among others, as a series of experiments for each reader in the midst of events that have nothing to do with books, as tearing the book into pieces, getting it to interact with other things, absolutely anything. . . is reading with love.”