Histories

Among the various writers who have challenged the ideologies of “objective history” (e.g., Heidegger, MacIntyre, Ricoeur, White, and, most recently, Megill’s Historical Knowledge, Historical Error), it was Deleuze who has most insistently pressed the issue despite rarely explicitly thematizing the problem as being “historical”. We cannot, Deleuze says, speak of “the” history of philosophy but, rather, only of histories of philosophy. (Is this not also a direct consequence of the famous relevant sections of Being and Time?)

When Deleuze’s monographs explicate a history of philosophy, each author is presented as a complex or a composite: it is well-known that Deleuze’s Bergson, Spinoza, and Nietzsche are inseparable, for example; Deleuze is explicit about the “monstrous children” of philosophy in this regard.

We can escalate this procedure in the case of Bergson and Merleau-Ponty by literally intertwining two texts on philosophy and history:

the relation of philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not … what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. [Bergson] Between an “objective history of philosophy” … and a meditation disguised as a dialogue … there must be a middle-ground on which the philosopher we are speaking about and the philosopher who is speaking are present together, although it is not possible even in principle to decide at any given moment just what belongs to each. [Merleau-Ponty] The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them … The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple … [i.e.,] the meaning [sens], which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. [Bergson]

In a letter, Bergson would say that an “ism” is not merely the name of the set of principles held by a particular doctrine but rather a “tendency, a direction of thought followed by a philosopher”. Is this not precisely what Deleuze means by presenting a “Bergsonism” under the guise of a “return to Bergson”? This is obviously not a reactionary move; Bergson performatively made the same point when he instructed his executors and wife to destroy many of his writings on his death.

The “history of philosophy”, above all, must resist the temptation to become a museum or a marketplace. The task of history is to attest (this word is important) to the “life” of ideas. History is not this life; nor can history—lest it devolve into the ideologies of “objective history”—orient itself toward the ideas themselves (nor to concepts—Deleuze, again). The only proper history of philosophy is neither philosophical nor historical but, rather, metaphilosophical and, perhaps, metaxiological.

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3 thoughts on “Histories

  1. Haven’t I read this before (at least the intertwined bergson/m-p passage?Out of curiosity, have you read Lampert’s book “D/G’s philosophy of history?” From what I gather, not so much “philosophy of the history of philosophy” as “philosophy of historical events.”We haven’t talked about Olkowski’s talk yet. I quite liked it, for certain reasons, and she seems quite opposed to the tendancy to set up an easy “deleuzism”

  2. Yeah, I wasn’t saying anything particularly profound here. And those B/M-P texts were ones I’ve cited before in stuff you’ve read, yes. 😛Nope, haven’t read the Lampert. What does ‘historical event’ mean?Yeah, I liked parts of it. I liked the way she wanted to call attention to aspects of D’s Kantianism and that there is a logic to production, to which even Carvalho would have to agree (given what little I heard last year). I’m not sure how I felt about her privileging of the disjunctive synthesis, either because it was mypoic or because she didn’t then allow room for the space of aleatory moments (of creativity!) that are thus made possible (I think this is what Carvalho was getting at). I did appreciate her insistence on the universal determinism of the system, but at the same time it’s a strange kind of determinism and I think she’s overreacting to the fast-and-loose Deleuzians.Your turn.

  3. She is certainly responding to “fast-and-loose” deleuzians. Strangely it almost seems like this approach could lead to a rapprochment between Carvalho and the dreaded word “ontology” (though perhaps providing one brackets the strong emphasis on Kant and logic).If i followed correctly, she wants to push the line that D is an extension of the rationalist project of causally over-determining nature in logico/mathematical fashion + an immanentizing of Kantian transcendental ideas. “I’m going to find the laws for everything, yet realize that this is at best illusory,” and then see what one may do. You know, that stuff about determinism. This is why I kept asking about how she sees the nature of “natural laws.” Unfortunately I couldn’t tell if she gave me an adequate answer or not. Regarding your question, it seems she would want to say that yes, there is room for aleatory events in D’s ontology, but only given the fact that you’ve set up nature (pragmatically and “transcendentally) according to these’s logical laws of production. Now this only becomes a problem insofar as she attempts to read the disjunctive synthesis as both primary among the laws as well as violent. Certainly one can and should question her move there.I actually wish JG were there, as he’s been working on the concept of “law” quite a fair bit these days.We can talk about that elsewhere, though, if you like. The Lampert essay I read (which is a chapter of his book) attempts to determine what it would mean to situate a particular happening or event within an historical timeline. I don’t remember the exact argument though, and i should read it again before i say something incorrect.

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