Friday, 28 December 2012

Deleuze and Metaphor and Non-Metaphor

Deleuze often uses terms which seem obviously metaphorical but which he immediately insists are not metaphors. For example, the crystal in music - of Varese, Mozart and others:
Therefore it’s very complicated, and it all has interest only if you understand that these are not metaphors. It’s not a matter of saying that Mozart’s music is like a crystal, that would only be of minimal interest, it’s a matter of saying that the crystal is an active operator in Mozart’s techniques as well as in the conception of music that Mozart constructs for himself..
In composers such as Mozart and Varese the crystal is most audible. The commonsense understanding of this usage would be to say that what happens in the music of Varese or Mozart is like crystallisation, or is analogous to the crystal. The structure, the principle of construction is similar. The literal crystal is the best approximation we have in thinking about what's happening in the music, but it is an approximation. There isn't really a crystallisation process. So, the concept we are using to describe the music is a kind of shadow concept, a borrowed, secondary concept.

What can it mean, then, to deny that there is anything metaphorical. A number of provisional suggestions:

1. When we use a metaphor we transfer properties from one object to another, A to B. We don't transfer all the properties. With the crystal, for example, the properties of hardness or solidity are not transferred. The other properties, we might argue, really are properties of the music, not only metaphorically. Metaphor simply carries across actual properties from one object to another.

2. Within the philosophical work (as Deleuze sees it), immanently, a new concept of the crystal emerges - i.e., a new sense which is not just an attenuated or derivative version of the literal sense. Or when, for instance, we speak of 'reading' someone or 'reading' a situation, we are not just talking about a 'weaker' or imitative version of what we do (literally) with texts, rather we are using 'reading' in a new sense, a new concept has been created.We have put it to work in a new way, we have included it within a different composition of concepts, such that the old concept of reading has been surpassed.

3. When we identify a literal crystal we do so with a concept which is bigger than that literal crystal. Or when we identify a bridge or a machine we do so with a concept which is always surplus to what we might call a literal bridge. If we  think about, say, the metaphor of the 'frame', it seems at first that an actual frame - that of a door or picture - is the literal level that then allows us to talk about figurative frames. But the other way of thinking about this is that when we identify the actual (literal) frame we are simply isolating and making visible a function, the framing function, which precedes and succeeds the actual (literal) frame. In this sense the metaphorical might be said to come before the literal.

[This last point is perhaps not clear. I'd like to return to it later.]

Monday, 17 December 2012

Deleuze: Old and New



Deleuze,  the great philosopher of the New, of the inaugural Event, is also the unlikely advocate of the labour and patience that must antedate the new.

In abcedaire, Deleuze suggests that to produce something new – in philosophy, in painting, in music, in the novel – one must serve an apprenticeship within the old. The great colourists in painting, for example, Gauguin and Van Gogh, the great innovators, do not simply launch themselves into colour with a mixture of innocence and inspiration. They approach tentatively, respectfully: “They undertake the use of colour only with great fearful hesitation..” It is as if, Deleuze says, “They did not yet judge themselves worthy of colour, not yet able to engage with colour and fully do painting.. It took them years before daring to engage with colour.” There is an “immense slowness”. In undertaking the work of colour they take “years to come close to it”.

The idea that as a painter you first of all launch yourself into innovations with colour is adolescent presumptuousnes. It’s as if (Deleuze says) a novelist were to say ‘I write novels but I never read them in order not to compromise my inspiration'. Whatever one does, Deleuze says, “You have to work for a long time before engaging with something.” Similarly, for Deleuze, it would be ‘shocking’ if a philosopher simply said, at the start, “I’m going to have my own philosophy” without serving a similarly slow and forbidding apprenticeship. Philosophy is in this sense, Deleuze adds, ‘like colour’ – an immense amount of precautionary work is necessary before entering it. None of these innovators simply launch themselves from the present in to the new. 

The idea that you leap, feet first, from the present into the New is a rather modern notion. Or rather Modernist. Similarly, an idea like Ginsburg's oft-quoted "First thought best thought" - the source of innovation is purely within. This would have been a strange idea, presumably to the ancients, who would have found within only a stock of unexamined precepts and received ideas.

Of course, Deleuze’s own philosophical innovations arise through the detour and patient labour of a series of philosophical portraits – Hume, Leibniz, Kant, Nietzsche.  These portraits are preparatory to the innovations we will later witness. Lines of innovation traced within the old and pointing beyond. 

Famously, talking about his own relation to philosophical tradition he uses the image of buggery. To bugger the philosophers of the past and engender a monster, a bastard, which is nevertheless theirs - they cannot dismiss it (as Prospero finally acknowledges Caliban as 'mine').. This monstrous reading dwelt in the contradictions of the text, the pockets of silence. In this sense the New was hiding within the old - in the recesses of a text or body of texts to casually venerated. Everyone thought they knew what Kant or Bergson was saying. But that was only a respectable, institutionally enshrined knowledge, a consensus. The more radical Hume or Bergson was driven into hiding/ underground, awaiting discovery, a discovery inseparable from creation (the monstrous reading).

What Deleuze’s readings of philosophers show is that the old itself is never simply exhausted or complete. The greatness of the old, of tradition, lies partly in this, in its capacity for re-invention, the license it gives to innovators.  The great forms, templates, motifs of art are never simply connatural with their period.

And the great writers, philosophers, artists are never simply or safely 'outmoded'. They are precisely defined as those people capable of forever producing the New.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Few Notes on the New

Proust's point is that genuine novelty in the arts is always experienced as contrived, artificial, wilfully difficult, unnatural - because not yet naturalised, not customary. And by implication, if something is immediately and painlessly recognised as 'new and revolutionary', the very fact of recognition suggests it isn't.The genuinely new is not and cannot be recognised. The categories, explicit or implicit, available to the reader, viewer or critic are those appropriate to the old, and cannot even register the new, which is experienced only as a kind of absence. How many new works (from Beethoven to Joyce) have been described - or dismissed- as chaotic, unharmonious, confused, sprawling, cacophonous. The new typically appears as a monster, a distortion or mutation of the old, the collapse of the familiar, of taste, of decorum, form, structure. In other words, all the critic or auditor can hear or see is the absence of what they are used to. But if they lack the language to name the new, the new is an invitation, precisely, to invent such a language.



In another sense, all artistic products have some elements of novelty, however minor, just as they all have elements of the familiar. A particular arrangement of words in a novel hasn't seen the light of say, even if the words themselves are trite and uninspired. Even an exact repetition is new as a repetition, and in terms of its context, effects, its baptism of the 'original' as an original (i.e. it becomes an original only when copied). The key thing is deciding whether the new elements are significant and in some way inaugural.

Having said that, there is no reason why newness is automaticaly to be marked with a tick, as positive. As someone once wrote 'Something is no more good because it is new than good because it is near'. Novelty of a certain kind is easy. Buy a duck from Waitrose, stick a plastic dolls head on it and wear it as a hat. The point is how to differentiate genuine novelty from mere 'being different'. The commodity, for example, must differentiate itself from competitors by some gimmick, by a name, a feature whose only function is differentiation and therefore has no positive content. A 'newness' which is simply difference in time (i.e., difference not from competitors but from the old) would be empty in the same way as the difference of the commodity - difference for the sake of differentiation.


The genuinely new is not necessarily opposed to the old either. In fact, the New is opposed not to the old but to the present. If we think of the new in terms of breaking with the present - the status quo, the customary - then movements like Modernism, or the Renaissance have used the remote past (the old) as their starting point. Not yesterday (the immediate past), but a distant past, whose difference can be mobilised to challenge what exists.The radical past is a way of displacing and estranging the present.

Lastly, the new does not have to mean something wholly unprecedented. It is often about renewal. The renewal of theatre, for example, might be about returning to the originary spirit of theatre by making radical formal changes - Peter Brooke's empty stage. Formal innovation is in the service of the origin. The new is actually a return to the source - not by repeating the external forms, the props, the trappings of the source (Shakespeare's Globe?) but the spirit. The origin, which is in a sense very old, remote, can only be maintained by innovation.

n.b see here under 'Unoriginal'

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Proust on Newness

It was Beethoven's quartets themselves [..] that devoted half a century to forming, fashioning and enlarging the audience for Beethoven's quartets, thus marking, like every great work of art, an advance if not in the quality of artists at least in the quality of minds, largely composed today of what was not to be found when the work first appeared, that is of persons capable of appreciating it.. it is essential that the work should create its own posterity. For if the work were held in reserve, were revealed only to posterity, that audience, for that particular work would not be posterity but a group of contemporaries who were merely living half a century later in time. And so it is essential that the artist, if he wishes his work to be free to follow its own course, should launch it, where there is sufficient depth, boldly into the distant future.

&

As all novelty depends upon the prior elimination of the stereotypical attitude to which we have grown accustomed, and which seemed to us to be reality itself, any new form of conversation, like all original painting and music, must always appear complicated and exhausting. It is based on figures of speech with which we are not familiar, the speakers appear to us to be talking entirely in metaphors; and this wearies us and gives us the impression of a want of truth. (After all, the old forms of speech must also in their time have been images difficult to follow, when the listener was not yet cognisant of the universe which they depicted. .. people immediately felt the strain, and sought a foothold upon something which they called more concrete, meaning by that more usual.)

Kafka and the Body: A Note




Kafka: 
For about ten years I have had this ever growing feeling of not being in perfect health, the sense of well being that comes with good health, the sense of well being created by a body that responds in every way, a body that functions even without constant attention and care, this source of well being that is for most people the source of constant cheerfulness, and above all unselfconsciousness – this sense of well being I lack.. just as this condition prevents me from talking naturally, eating naturally, sleeping naturally, so it prevents me from being natural in any way.
It is certain that a major obstacle to my progress is my physical condition.  Nothing can be accomplished with such a body.  I shall have to get used to its perpetual balking.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Lives of Philosophers



So, there is a new biography of Derrida, reviewed in theLRB. I was reflecting on why I have little interest in reading this, or indeed any biographies of philosophers, including those I’m more familiar with (such as Deleuze).

We read that Derrida is rejected by his son and in his work there are reflections on paternity; that his work is ‘obsessed’ by the concept of secrecy and he had a ‘secret’ mistress. And so on. Of course, being rejected by your son might well be an enabling condition of reflecting on paternity, it might be the ‘shock’ that thought needs. But the ensuing reflections also have their intelligibility within themselves. The suggestion with biographies, and with their reviewers, is too often that the philosophical reflections help to somehow repair, prolong, compensate or ‘deal with’ the biographical fact. That is, the biographical approach tends towards psychologism. The intelligibility of the ideas resides outside the texts, outside the movement of words and concepts. These are attempts to ‘earth’ the philosophy, to bisect the line of thought with a biographical line.
Most of these attempts to ‘earth’ the philosophy work only by suggestion or insinuation. In the LRB review we get formulations such as:

But in his last two decades, he began to evolve into a different sort of thinker, a globally attuned ethicist, as if in response to the charges made by his adversaries.
He began to write more explicitly about his Algerian-Jewish roots, as if he wanted the world to know who he was after years of hiding from view.

Alongside the implication that philosophy is grounded in the life is of course frequently the reverse implication that the ideas are at variance with the life. This from a review of a Deleuze biography:

For someone who frowned on la vie d’intérieur, Deleuze led a life of unruffled domesticity, and rarely strayed far from the home he shared with his wife and two children.

Now the philosophical critique of interiority clearly has nothing to do with the amount of time one spends in one’s flat. But this is something other than a simple misunderstanding. The subtext is ‘the ideas don’t translate into practice, they are empty talk’. And this subtext in turn seems to repose on a certain received image of the philosopher or thinker as someone removed from even his own reality. At the same time, the critique of inner life is, by implication read as an ‘antidote’ to the enforced confinement of the philosopher due to illness. 

Indeed, behind the biography seem to stand a number of all too familiar personae: the unhappy philosopher, trying to repair personal failings; the idealist philosopher immured in a world of thought that has no bearing on life, his thought often hypocritically at variance with practice. It is these familiar personae that seem to be, time and again, the re-appearing subjects of philosophical biography.