Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Death of Gilles Deleuze (from a fiction in progress)


When I was midway through my degree I read a news report in Le Monde about the death of Gilles Deleuze. Needless to say, the death of a philosopher was headline news in France, a country where "intellectual" is not exclusively a term of derision or immediately prefaced by the prefix "pseudo", as in England, which is above all others the anti-intellectual country, it's critical faculties withered to defensive irony and self-deprecation. I have over the years read a number of reports of Deleuze's death. He jumped from the window of his apartment to death on the pavement below. It is odd that there is a word, defenestration, to refer to the act of throwing someone, yourself, out of a window. Apart from this curious fact, I have also noticed that people take suicide to be a kind of verdict on the life, a refutation, even, of the life. The life and its works are seen in some way to have failed. Yet the word  "suicide", like most words, is an abstraction, and covers not one but many exits, many reasons, many relations to life and death. And I have always felt, in relation to Deleuze; even if I cannot state it clearly, even if I cannot exactly explain it, that his suicide was a suicide carried out precisely in the name of life. People, especially those with an axe to grind, a point to make, are keen to say that Deleuze, the great philosopher of Life, of Vitality, nonetheless kills himself at the finish, snuffs out his own light. As if it calls everything into question. As if it were a counter-proposition to everything he'd done and said. This is the usual anti-intellectual sloth, employed by boneheads full of resentment, using not argumentation but biographical anecdote to dismiss thinkers and philosophers. "They had an affair, they had soviet sympathies, they hated their mother, therefore.." Therefore nothing. Do the work, bonehead, do the reading. 

He could barely breathe, Deleuze, with his one lung, the blind cancer invading his veins, "chained like a dog" to an oxygen machine, prevented from writing or thinking.  Death held its pillow over his face. But Deleuze surprised death by jumping out of the window, he escaped. A last grab of life from under death's nose. The agility of the thief, the child snatching candy when the shopkeeper nods. I say again, however nonsensical it sounds, a suicide carried out in the name of life. 

 An everyday picture, people sat on the cafe terrace, couples strolling. Then in the corner a jagged detail, something that doesn't fit, something alarming. A man falls from a window. Deleuze, in his writings on cinema called such a detail a demark, like the seagull in Birds, that suddenly falls from the sky to peck at the head, a seaside scene, familiar enough, framed and organized according to conventional themes, but then something drops, deviates, makes the picture wobble. Deleuze in his final minutes was such a seagull, breaking the picture of everyday life, something senseless that stabs at sense. Perhaps in every conventional picture there is a man falling from a window, a bird descending in anger, a puncture wound in the skin of appearances. This is what we must look for if we are to continue to think and to feel. 

Friday, 2 September 2016

Carvel's Lies



Carvel had ended up teaching cultural studies at the University of East London. This was a pathetic destination for Carvel, who had always been a good friend, even if he was a compulsive liar. Every time we met, he said things that were obviously not true.  He told me his uncle had been "sewn up the wrong way" after a bowel operation so that shit came out of his mouth. I remember this example because metaphorically this was also true of Carvel who, when he wasn't talking about philosophy or literature, talked complete bullshit. None of his stories, judged individually, were obviously false, for Carvel was perhaps careful to locate them within the circumference of the possible, but cumulatively they added up to a pile of garbage. He told me that he had attended a Noam Chomsky lecture where Chomsky chose to answer a hostile question in Hebrew. But, unbeknown to Carvel, my friend Scott, who speaks fluent Hebrew, was also at the lecture and verified that no such exchange had taken place. Carvel told me a neighbor of his, back in Belfast, kept a pet lion in the back yard and fed it dead pigeons. Or having let slip that he’d never had a driving license, said to me months later that he was doing the Knowledge and planned to be a taxi driver. He told me that he had failed to attend a college dinner because on the way there a car had run over a bird and splattered him with the chattering guts. He told me that he had a friend in the IRA, a one-armed priest, who we could call on should we ever need "a favour".. and so it went on, a concatenation of bullshit. 

Nonetheless, I never challenged him on these falsehoods, which to be honest never bothered me very much. This was because I am perhaps too respectful of the fragile fictions people spin around themselves to make their lives tolerable, and it is not for me to unravel these in the name of “honesty”. In “telling the truth” there is typically a motive which is questionable, which we fail to acknowledge and which we disown by saying, simply, “but it’s true!”. Thus our motive is to judge, to expose, to catch out, to embarrass, all excused by the alibi “but it’s the truth!” I had no wish to expose, to catch out or humiliate Carvel, I had no particular wish to unravel my friend any more than I might destroy the web of a spider or a tortoise's shell. And in fact, in not challenging Carvel I was respecting his mode of life, which was to weave around himself a cocoon of fictions inside which he disappeared. That was his mode of life, just as one might speak of the mode of life of a bat or other creature. We are all creatures in fact, with our webs, our territories, our nests and secretions, even though these are disguised as words and beliefs and habits. Many of our ways of speaking are in fact ways of crying, of scratching, of nuzzling or hissing. Hence my tolerance for Carvel's lies which were in fact spun by some inner necessity as the silkworm spins its silk.

None of this really mattered to our friendship, on the other hand, which consists solely in an ongoing conversation about philosophy and literature, with its own rhythm and its own rules. Outside that there is nothing. The friendship has an evolution and a life independent of me and independent of him. That is the nature of friendship. Friendships have their own personality separate from that of the actual friends. Or at least that was the case before Carvel’s inexplicable marriage. Carvel was certainly the last person I expected to get married. He is no longer the same man, both on account of his job teaching cultural studies and on account of this marriage. Although Carvel's face is roughly the same, his marriage has altered his soul. Similarly, cultural studies had forced him to think about false problems and diverted him into an intellectual wasteland far from his native preoccupations.