Introduction to George Jackson’s Escape-Communism: Deleuze and Revolution

§0. Deleuze-as-Orientation:: Not even Soledad Brother begins at the beginning. It begins with George Jackson’s letters from 1964 onward, when Jackson had already been in prison for three years after being convicted of armed robbery of a gas station for a scant $70 for a term of one-year-to-life. But even before that it begins with a long letter in the form of an unofficial biography Jackson wrote in 1970. There is no one point-of-entry into Soledad Brother, and, following Michelle Koerner’s “Line of Escape: Gilles Deleuze’s Encounter with George Jackson” (2011), I take Deleuze as mine. From 1970 on, Jackson appears and re-appears in Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari’s (D+G’s) work as an anti-statist thinker of escape – most often through Deleuze invoking Jackson’s line ‘I may take flight, but all the while I am fleeing, I will be looking for a weapon!’ I take this as an opportunity to engage with Jackson as a philosophical thinker in his own right, though not on the terms of what Deleuze calls the classical-philosophical image of thought. Jackson’s writing remains unrecognizable as philosophical according to certain pillars of the philosophical tradition – viz., the tradition which consists in positing the end of inquiry as truth, the problem of inquiry as falsity, and the means to achieve truth as rigorous method. [0] Jackson eludes the classical-philosophical image of thought because he substitutes the end of truth with that of revolution, the problem of falsity with the problem of becoming reactionary, the insistence on method with the implementation of militant training-programs. Furthermore, for Jackson, like D+G, thinking begins not with a voluntary selection of philosophical problems, but with an involuntary encounter that provokes a response. [1] My point-of-entry, from Koerner: “Jackson’s letters repeatedly confront us with an image of thought on the run.” Yet, there’s always the risk of reducing Jackson to a mere moment of Deleuze, which would repeat the philosophical misrecognition of Jackson on new terms. Instead, I aspire to practice Deleuze-Mascolo’s communism of thought – making a friend an internal condition of thought without thereby reducing them to a mere moment of your own. For this first piece, I focus only on Deleuze’s reception of Jackson, who proves crucial for Deleuze’s development of a concept of revolution.

§1. Lines-of-flight:: To borrow a Deleuzian compliment – Jackson’s thought is a whirlwind at your back. There’s no question of leaving someone behind, however, for two reasons, two brilliant insights into the nature of any real escape. Jackson tells us (1) we cannot escape alone but only together, (2) true escape cannot rely on trapping others. This is what it means for escape to be revolutionary in character:

Good people say that we must not flee, that to escape is not good, that it isn’t effective, and that one must work for reforms. But the revolutionary knows that escape is revolutionary—withdrawal, freaks—provided one sweeps away the social cover on leaving, or causes a piece of the system to get lost in the shuffle. What matters is to break through the wall […] George Jackson. ‘I may take flight, but all the while I am fleeing, I will be looking for a weapon!’ – Deleuze-Guattari, Anti-Oedipus (277)

This escape-which-is-not-escapism, or the line of flight, is destructive to the status quo but constructive of alternatives to it. [2] To this active escape of Jackson’s, Deleuze opposes “other escapes that are capitalist or personal, etc.” – namely, escapes which are just escapism, leaving the status quo intact and offering no alternatives. It is only when lines of flight are made to connect up with one another that they do so on a revolutionary plane. [3] Revolution is irreducibly social, but it is also an problem of desire.

§2. Functionalism of Desire:: The problem: distinguishing between reactionary and revolutionary libidinal investments. To make this distinction, D+G argue we have to treat desire as machinic – that is, to treat desire “as if desire had nothing to say.” It is no longer an issue of asking “what [desire] means, but how it works, how it functions.” [4] For D+G, any critic of extending ‘production’ to processes excessive to human intentional agency is only a rank humanist upset that things continue to function when people aren’t around to participate and approve. (It would be under the banner of ‘eliminating anthropocentrism’ that the humanist would secure the centrality of intentional human agency to any conception of world…) If desire is productive of the real, it is because desire is production itself. D+G define desire as “the passive synthesis” of the real and the “autoproduction of the unconscious.” [5] Nonetheless, the human subject is no mere illusion. “[B]etween the act of producing and the product,” D+G write, “something becomes detached.” The subject is the residuum of the passage from the act of producing and the product. Start anywhere you like, you’ll always find yourself in the midst of a process of production that you must understand as antecedent to your arrival. For D+G, the human subject serves as a mediator between the act of producing and the product – what Deleuze will elsewhere call an “interceptor” between flows (of matter) and the objects produced through the interceptor cutting-up, redirecting these flows through codes for behavior. [6]

§3. Desiring-production and Social production:: The relevance of desiring-production to revolution: desiring-production, “under determinate conditions,” is social production. D+G: “We maintain that the social field is immediately invested by desire […] There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.” [7] The relation between desiring-production and social production can be read in either direction – from the society as a functional whole (or social machine) to the elementary forces of desiring-production that comprise it; from the desiring-machines making certain social investments (and divesting themselves from others) to the social formation that results from these investments. [8] Therefore (see Spinoza+Reich), “even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire” – that is, given certain determinate conditions. But how is it that the masses want even fascism? [9] Between desiring-production and social production, D+G introduce another mediator – group fantasy, which mediates subjects’ libidinal investments into the social field according to a collective aspiration. However, “fantasy is never individual,” since fantasy is a regulative social device used to direct subjects toward certain investments in the social and away from others, given what is/is not perceived to be conducive for the achievement of political ends specified by the collective aspiration. [10] Neither are fantasies “ideal models,” since the function of fantasies is not to provide an image of a society to collapse social reality into (i.e., not to provide an image with which we ought to bring social reality into 1:1 correspondence). Fantasies, too, are fully functional.

§4. Reactionary Investment and Revolutionary Investment::

A. Reactionary investment: libidinal investment mediated by a group fantasy which directs the libido towards total investment into “an existing social field, including [its] most repressive forms.” Reactionary investment reinforces the status quo. 

B. Revolutionary investment: a “counter-investment whereby […] desire is plugged into the existing social field [only] as a source of energy.” [11] Revolutionary investment undermines the status quo.

By way of example, D+G offer up “the great socialist utopias of the nineteenth century,” which function “as agents of the real productivity of desire, making it possible to disinvest the current social field, to “deinstitutionalize” it, to further the revolutionary institution of desire itself.” [12] Here, Deleuze returns to Jackson, in what is his most extensive engagement with Soledad Brother beyond the refrain quoted above, distinguishing between two mothers:

This classic mother here, is […] acting in such a way that she transmits a certain type of libidinal investment of the social field, namely the type that marries well, he makes love, and this in the strictest sense of the term, with something through his wife, unconsciously, with a certain number of economic, political, social processes, and that love has always been a means through which the libido attains something other than the beloved person, namely a whole cutting up of the historical social field, ultimately we always make love with the names of history. The other mother (of Jackson)–the one who says “grab your gun,” it follows that the two act as agents of transmission in a certain type of social-historical investment, that from one to the other the pole of these investments has singularly changed, that in one case, we can say that they are reactionary investments, at the limit fascist, in the other case, it is a revolutionary libidinal investment. Our loves are like the conduits and the pathways of these investments that are not, once again, of a familial nature, but of a historico-political nature […] [13]

Throughout Jackson’s writing, we find him locked in a struggle against transmission-relays (mediators/interceptors) – parents, teachers, priests – directing him toward reactionary libidinal investment into the status quo. Jackson’s insight is that these transmission-relays can only direct him toward reactionary investments insofar as they obscure the properly social-historical-political effect of his desire. Jackson refuses the privatization of his desire because he recognizes the objective effect of subjective emphasis on personal well-being and private (read: familial/oedipal) couplings-off – namely, preservation of the status quo in all of its respects, even and especially the repressive. Revolutionary investment, for both D+G and Jackson, is a de-personalization/dis-individualization of our desire. 

To be continued…


[0] See Bennett’s Deleuze and Greek Physics: The Image of Nature (2017): “Western philosophy, since at least Plato, Deleuze claims, has been bound by a traditional, classical image of thought. In Difference and Repetition, he articulates eight postulates, which “crush thought under an image which is that of the Same and the Similar in representation, [and] profoundly betrays what it means to think” (DR 167). Elsewhere he boils it down to three interrelated beliefs:

  1. We are told that the thinker as thinker wants and loves truth … that thought as thought possesses or formally contains truth … that thinking is the natural exercise of a faculty …
  2. We are also told that we are “diverted” from the truth but by forces which are foreign to it (body, passions, sensuous interests). …
  3. We are told, finally, that all we need to think well, to think truthfully, is a method … through which we adhere to this nature [of thought] and ward o the effect of the alien forces which alter it and distract us. (NP 96–7)

That is, the dogmatic image consists in the assumption that everybody already knows what it means to think, and that thinking means voluntarily divesting oneself of presuppositions and physical distractions in order to pursue the truth consistently with one’s nature as a thinker.” (2-3)

[1] Under the asupices of the dogmatic image of thought, thinking has to begin with a voluntary selection of problems according to whether these problems are recognized as appropriately philosophical. For Deleuze, however, thinking has to be “not a voluntary and natural exercise but a response to encounters with external forces” (Bennett 2017, 3). This sort of encounter – with “the strange, unprecedented, and unrecognized” (Ibid.)

[2] See Koerner’s “Line of Escape: Gilles Deleuze’s Encounter with George Jackson” (2011)

[3] See Deleuze’s “Five Propositions on Psychoanalysis” from Desert Islands (2004): “Revolutionary forgetting can be tied to another common theme, that of an active escape that is itself opposed to a passive escape of an entirely different kind. When, for example, Jackson, in his prison, says, “yes, I can very well escape, but during my escape, I’m looking for a weapon,” this is active revolutionary escape as opposed to other escapes that are capitalist or personal, etc.”

See Deleuze’s “On Capitalism and Desire” also from Desert Islands (2004): “This is precisely the problem facing marginal groups: to make all the lines of escape connect up on a revolutionary plane. In capital ism, then, these lines of escape take on a new character, and a new kind of revolutionary potential. So, you see, there is hope.”

[4] See Deleuze’s “Your Special ‘Desiring-Machines’: What are They?” from Desert Islands (2004): “Today we are calling for the rights of a new functionalism: no longer what it means, but how it works, how it functions. As if desire had nothing to say, but rather was the assemblage of tiny machines, desiring-machines, always in a particular relation with the big social machines and the technological machines.”

[5] See Deleuze-Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus (1972): “If desire produces, its product is real. If desire is productive, it can be productive only in the real world and can produce only reality. Desire is the set of passive syntheses that engineer partial objects, flows, and bodies, and that function as units of production. The real is the end product, the result of the passive syntheses of desire as autoproduction of the unconscious. Desire does not lack anything; it does not lack its object. It is, rather, the subject that is missing in desire, or desire that lacks a fixed subject; there is no fixed subject unless there is repression. Desire and its object are one and the same thing: the machine, as a machine of a machine. Desire is a machine, and the object of desire is another machine connected to it. Hence the product is something removed or deducted from the process of producing: between the act of producing and the product, something becomes detached, thus giving the vagabond, nomad subject a residuum.” (26)


[7] D+G’s Anti-Oedipus: “The truth of the matter is that social production is purely and simply desiring-production itself under determinate conditions. We maintain that the social field is immediately invested by desire, that it is the historically determined product of desire, and that libido has no need of any mediation or sublimation, any psychic operation, any transformation, in order to invade and invest the productive forces and the relations of production. There is only desire and the social, and nothing else.” (29)

[8] Ibid.: “And if there is such a thing as two sorts of group fantasy, it is because two different readings of this identity are possible, depending upon whether the desiring-machines are regarded from the point of view of the great gregarious masses that they form, or whether social machines are considered from the point of view of the elementary forces of desire that serve as a basis for them” (30)

[9] Ibid.: “Even the most repressive and the most deadly forms of social reproduction are produced by desire within the organization that is the consequence of such production under various conditions that we must analyze. That is why the fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: “Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?” How can people possibly reach the point of shouting: “More taxes! Less bread!”? […] no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.” (29)

[10] Ibid.: “It is not possible to attribute a special form of existence to desire, a mental or psychic reality that is presumably different from the material reality of social production. Desiring-machines are not fantasy-machines or dream-machines, which supposedly can be distinguished from technical and social machines. Rather, fantasies are secondary expressions, deriving from the identical nature of the two sorts of machines in any given set of circumstances. Thus fantasy is never individual: it is group fantasy—as institutional analysis+ has successfully demonstrated. And if there is such a thing as two sorts of group fantasy, it is because two different readings of this identity are possible, depending upon whether the desiring-machines are regarded from the point of view of the great gregarious masses that they form, or whether social machines are considered from the point of view of the elementary forces of desire that serve as a basis for them.” (30)

[11] Ibid.: “Hence in group fantasy the libido may invest all of an existing social field, including the latter’s most repressive forms; or on the contrary, it may launch a counter-investment whereby revolutionary desire is plugged into the existing social field as a source of energy.” (30)

[12] Ibid: “(The great socialist Utopias of the nineteenth century function, for example, not as ideal models but as group fantasies—that is, as agents of the real productivity of desire, making it possible to disinvest the current social field, to “deinstitutionalize” it, to further the revolutionary institution of desire itself.” (30-31)



COMMUNISM OF THOUGHT: Mascolo-Deleuze on the Method of Friendship

(Deleuze, left, Mascolo, right)

§0. Latent Conversation:: By the end of their 1988 correspondence, Gilles Deleuze and Dionys Mascolo (Deleuze-Mascolo) have together developed a beautiful idea: communism of thought. Before the correspondence began, their friendship had already begun – there was a certain latent conversation anterior to their letters. Initially, they cannot agree whether distress precedes friendship (Mascolo) or friendship precedes distress (Deleuze). With Munro (The Communism of Thought 2014), we agree that this apparent contradiction is resolved when we identify the location of distress in each case. For Mascolo, lived distress that two people share becomes the basis of friendship in thought. For Deleuze, lived friendship becomes the basis of shared distress in thought. In combination: lived distress –> lived friendship / friendship in thought –> distress in thought. This dual character of friendship – simultaneously lived and in thought – is what Deleuze finds in the French Resistance, which was filled with affects that were “affects of thought no less than historical and political situations” (48). Of course, members of the French Resistance were drawn together from a plurality of political orientations and economic strata because of the shared distress of nearly half a decade of Nazi occupation of France. Yet, friendship was not merely a solution to the problem of occupation, since it was another sort of problem itself. Having entered the network of covert guerrilla resistance cells, people suffered from a different sort of distress – threats of betrayal, of aphasia, of amnesia. These potential failures – of trust, of communication, of memory, respectively – animated the network throughout its operation. It’s here, at the juncture beyond the establishment of a friendship and ahead of the potential failure of the friendship, that friendship becomes “an internal condition of thought as such” (45). Where does thought come in? It does not superimpose itself onto life, as if the priorities of the lived could be so easily set aside for the sake of thought.

§1. History of Philos-ophy:: For both Mascolo and Deleuze, friendship involves the sharing of thought. It is here “where personal history and singular thought combine” (49). In addition to Mascolo, Deleuze lists Kierkegaard, Klossowski, and Blanchot as authors who “introduce concrete categories and situations as the condition of pure thought,” which “implies a complete reevaluation of ‘philosophy,’ since [they] are the only ones to take the word philos literally” (48). In short, for these authors there is no philo-sophia without philia (no love of wisdom without fraternity). Rather than begin the “sizable history of Philos in philosophy” with Plato, or even with ancient Greece, Deleuze finds Philos continuously displaced throughout history (48-49). Yet, Deleuze does not claim literal adoption of philos is the only way to practice philosophy. Thereby, Deleuze retroactively constitutes an alternative history of thought to that of institutional philosophy – namely, a history of philos-ophy, one that sometimes runs parallel to philosophy and sometimes diverges from it. Mascolo adds Hölderlin to the list of philos-ophers for the following quote:

The life of the spirit between friends, the thoughts that form in the exchange of words, by writing or in person, are necessary to those who seek. Without that, we are by our own hands outside thought. (53)

§2. Communism of Thought:: Mascolo calls this the communism of thought. However, communism ≠ solution. Recall that the sharing of thought can only take place in between a prior shared distress (a lived distress) and a potential shared distress (a failure of friendship). Rather, in affirming the communism of thought, one shares thought because of previous problems and also shares thought despite the problems involved in sharing thought. Mascolo:

[B]ut what if friendship was precisely the possibility of sharing thought, from and in a common distrust with regards to thought? And what if thought that distrusted itself was the search for this sharing between friends? (53-54)

In sum, the problem of thought – the risk involved in sharing thought – can itself serve as an impetus to share one’s thought with another, to come together over the impossibility of coming together at all. Here, it might be useful to invoke that now-infamous mistranslation of Aristotle: Oh my friends, there is no friend! Therefore, the communism of thought ought to be taken as the sharing of thought given the distress that has the potential to arise as a result of sharing thought. We might befriend a snitch, a cop, a Judas over the risk of befriending a snitch, a cop, a Judas.

§3. Subsumption:: In the event that we’ve succeeded in sharing thought with another, there’s the added danger of eliminating their alterity and making them a mere moment of our own thought. Hence, Deleuze asks, “How can a friend, without losing his or her singularity, be inscribed as a condition of thought?” (54). To betrayal, aphasia, and amnesia, we must also add subsumption to the risks built-into the sharing of thought. Subsumption takes the form of an ultimatum, an either/or – you’re either with me or against me. Subsumption demands absolute identity or total opposition, it cannot tolerate anything in between these extremes.

§4. Conclusion:: All things considered, the communism of thought is a very fragile enterprise. The future of philos-ophy depends on our ability to share thought without erasing each other’s singularity. But the temptation of subsumption will no doubt persist as long as we cannot stand the vulnerability of sharing thought. We must learn to distinguish between divergence and betrayal, allowing the former to take place notwithstanding the ineliminable risk of the latter. At some point, it is true, we must say ‘you’re either with me or against me,‘ but only insofar as we anticipate lived distress. Here, we must separate lived distress and distress in thought. Deleuze-Mascolo suggest that communism of thought balances avoidance of lived distress with embrace of distress in thought. But this isn’t unprecedented. It is, perhaps, just a more technical way of saying friendship ought to be and can be both a comfort and a challenge. Think of the French Resistance, a militant intelligence-network that not only functioned in spite of the heterogeneity of its members, but functioned so well because of the heterogeneity of its members. While communism of thought ≠ communism in life, Deleuze-Mascolo suggest, at the very least, that our endeavour to bring about the latter can be immeasurably broadened and enriched by the former. Deleuze:

I no longer remember which German poet wrote of the twilight hour when one should be wary ‘even of a friend.’ One would go that far, to wariness of a friend, and all of that would, with friendship, put the ‘distress’ in thought in an essential way. (45-46)



What advice might Dr. Faustus give us for dealing with the devil?


§0.1. Cause per accidens :: It is of great interest to us that Dr. Faustus – Faustus the exceptional, master of logic, medicine, and law with nothing left to master but arts both forbidden and arcane – is humiliated during his first encounter with Mephistopheles.

FAUSTUS. Did not [Lucifer] charge thee to appear to me?

     MEPHIST. No, I came hither of mine own accord.

     FAUSTUS. Did not my conjuring speeches raise thee? speak.

     MEPHIST. That was the cause, but yet per accidens; [1]

Aristotle’s cause per accidens [2]: water qua heatable is is the cause per accidens of the transmission of heat, Faustus qua temptable is the cause per accidens of the arrival of Mephistopheles. Yes, Faustus, you’re the reason I’m here, though you’re not the reason you’re the reason I’m here. Spinoza tries to disabuse us of the illusion Faustus suffers from in the Appendix to Book I of the Ethics: men take themselves to be free because they know what they desire and don’t know the cause of their desire. [3] Faustus is seduced to conjure by visions of power.

§0.2. Power-phantasm :: In the pages of old “necromantic books,” Faustus-ascendant discovered diagrams – “Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters” – that promised power, honor, omnipotence. It can be no coincidence that the Good Angel warns Faustus of temptation but leaves the temptation unspecified: “lay that damned book aside, / And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul.” To specify is already to tempt, and specification begins with mere exposure. It’s a Spinozist insight. Insofar as we provide an adequate genetic definition of x effect, we necessarily act to bring it about – to define a circle is already to construct it [4]. For Spinoza there is a delirious little positive feedback loop of joy/knowledge/power working under the sad affect swamp we’re mired in, powerful enough to sweep us away. Even imagining power is enough to be carried away in the current. [5] Faustus-ascendant spends enough time imagining his meteoric rise to power that he self-induces an epistemological vertigo, effacing distinctions between mortality and divinity: I’ll study magic to command all things that move between the quiet poles, raise the wind, rend the clouds, become a mighty god. The Evil Angel: “Go forward, Faustus, in that famous art / Wherein all nature’s treasure is contain’d: / Be thou on earth as Jove is in the sky, / Lord and commander of these elements.” Surely, Faustus’ power-phantasm fails Spinoza’s test of images: an image is a mere image if it’s incapable of aiding our understanding the causation of different things as different things [6]. The humiliation of Faustus-ascendant reveals his patent misunderstanding of the mechanism of conjuration.

481 0056

§0.3 Pride-trap :: Faustus’ method? Inscription and incantation. In a circle on the floor, he’d inscribed Jehovah’s name – “anagrammatiz’d” both backward and forward – and abbreviated names of holy saints and figures of the heavens and characters of signs and erring stars. From the circle on the floor, he’d recited incantations, invoking both Jehova and Ghenna, to summon Mephistopheles. Spinoza may have warned us of Christian humility-traps, but he doesn’t think pride is any less dangerous. Spinoza’s concept of the pride-trap: a species of madness concerning the man who thinks more highly of himself than is just and dreams with open eyes that he can do all those things he’s achieved only in his imagination. [7] A tragic flaw? Maybe, but not a moral one. It’s worse – Faustus falls prey to the epistemological pride-trap that will of course prove fatal for him. Has there ever been someone so smug as Faustus when he thought he’d caught the devil for keeps with a few inscriptions and incantations? Faustus sends Mephistopheles away with explicit instruction to lose his all-too-ugly initial form and reappear in the form of a Franciscan friar, an insufferable little joke made worse by Faustus’ self-righteous attempt at institutional critique. Faustus-ascendant generously awards himself the title conjuror laureat. [8] Mephistopheles, a bully, feigns servility, asking “what wouldst thou have me do?” It was cruel of Mephistopheles to let Faustus go on for so long, letting him lay claim to apocalyptic power “to make the moon drop from her sphere / Or the ocean to overwhelm the world,” only to drop Faustus-ascendant from his heights with the brief but significant disclosure: “I am a servant to great Lucifer, and may not follow thee without his leave.” The arrival of Mephistopheles is conditional – namely, on (a) abjuration of the Trinity and the Scriptures and (b) supplication to the prince of hell: “the shortest cut for conjuring / Is stoutly to abjure the Trinity / And pray devoutly to the prince of hell.” Faustus had mistaken his inscription and incantation for the effective cause of Mephistopheles’ arrival, when the true mechanism had less to do with his mastery of magic and more to do with his disavowal of an old master and declaration for a new one. As causa accidens, Faustus hasn’t acquired the devil, the devil has acquired him. Spinoza’s epistemological pride-trap: be careful not to mistake the ease of imagining power-acquisition with the actual process, which is always conditional.


Futokuchi-onna: “two mouthed woman”, a Japanese monster [yōkai] created when a starved woman’s skull splits open to form a second mouth and her hair takes on a serpent-/tentacle-like aspect in order to convey food to the second mouth.

§1.1. Codes and Flows :: Abjuration of Trinity/Scriptures is a de-coding. Social codes function as the blockage of a flow, the redirection of a flow, the filtration of a flow such that something is arrested and something passes through [9]. Coded persons serve as “interceptors” – preventing or allowing passage of flows. What flows? Matter, in different forms, over a social body. Deleuze uses the example of hair, which grows over the social body through individual-interceptors who cut and style their hair so that it’s ‘up to code.’ Of course, there’s a degree of re-coding involved in decoding – a hairstyle worn in violation of a code itself becomes codified, serving as a code for subsequent hair-flow. Flow (+) code coexistence is the minimal condition for any existing society, the coding of which flow is the inaugural action of this society. In this same gesture, the enemy-to-society has been figured – she who presents herself as an uncodable flow. Just imagine a decoding of hair – hair-growth without end, even diverting (decoding) resources away from social utility only to re-code them for its own indefinite end.

§1.2. Deluge :: Whether the flow becomes decoded from within society or overwhelms from without, “a society is only afraid of one thing: the deluge.” The deluge flows over a society, the social body, as something that is not coded, and which in relation to this society even appears uncodable; the deluge would flow and carry away this society which would make the earth on which the society set itself up dissolve; the deluge responds to no code and flees underneath the codes; the deluge is crisis. Deluge is the name for the conjunction of all flows, the uncodable remainder of flows still spilling over the social body after every codification. Faustus would channel the deluge to acquire power, accessing flows of information otherwise coded by logic (“tell me whatsoever I demand”), hemorrhaging flows of blood otherwise coded by medicine (“slay mine enemies”), and diverting flows of goods otherwise coded by law (“give me whatsoever I shall ask”). Of course, for these decoded flows to be useful to Faustus they must be recoded according to his ends. However, someday, the floodgates will be thrown open all at once through what Deleuze calls “the principle by which a society comes to an end” – viz., “the great principle of Thanatos.” Mephistopheles explains that when this apocalypse occurs, “when all the world dissolves / And every creature shall be purified,” then “all places shall be hell that are not heaven.” But apocalypse is a flood on the horizon, and Faustus is only a spot where the social body has sprung a leak.

dr faust study

§1.3. Hell-state/-place :: Faustus never understands hell, despite Mephistopheles’ best efforts to instruct him. Mephistopheles offers himself as proof : “I am damn’d, and am now in hell.” But Faustus still considers hell a place, unable to think of it as a state [10]. Faustus surveys his study: “[if] this be hell, I’ll willingly be damn’d here: / What! walking, disputing, &c.” But if Mephistopheles suggests anything, it’s that, despite centuries of theological scholasticism, hell-as-place vs hell-as-state is a false dichotomy: “when we hear one rack the name of God / […] We fly, in hope to get his glorious soul; / nor will we come, unless he use such means / Whereby he is in danger to be damn’d.” If Faustus is dragged down into hell at the end of the play, it’s only through a widening of the hell-portal he’d already opened during conjuration by abjuring the Scriptures/Trinity. Faustus experiences hell-as-state after abjuring the Scriptures/Trinity, thereby allowing for the expansion of hell-as-place. If this were not the case, Mephistopheles would never have been able to get to him. Devils only take flight when a hell-portal is opened to the new damned, like a blood-red carpet rolled out in front of celebrity. When Faustus asks where hell is, Mephistopheles replies, “under the heavens […] / Where we are tortur’d and remain for ever: / Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscrib’d / In one self place; for where we are is hell, / And where hell is, there must we ever be.” Hell is not the functional equivalent of the deluge (Lucifer ≠ Thanatos). The Deluge, on the one hand, functions as the uncodable remainder of flow(s) that tempts the appetite of humans at risk of damnation with power-acquisition, the prospect re-coding flows for their own selfish ends after de-coding these flows from their previous society-benefitting codification. Hell, on the other hand, functions as the ever-expanding medium of transport through which devils fly toward the hell-portal periphery of the medium to capture the souls of those at risk of damnation. Faustus “what good will my soul / do thy lord?” Mephistopheles: “Enlarge his kingdom.” When Faustus presses him further, asking if imperial aspiration motivates Lucifer’s temptation, Mephistopheles only says “misery loves company” (Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris) in response. Temptation works over the social body, perforating it with hell-portals through which Lucifer’s miserable company spreads.

L0031469 The Devil and Dr. Faustus meet.


contract 1contract 2

§2.1. Contract-formation :: Clearly, Faustus and Mephistopheles have different motives. Faustus conjures to summon a devil-servant capable of empowering him to transcend the limitations of human interceptors to de-/re-code flows. Mephistopheles takes flight to capture the soul of a human at risk of being damned to secure new range for the encroachment of hell over the human social body. However different their motives, their means are identical. Signing a contract with the other is the only way both get what they want – for Faustus to conscript Mephistopheles into his service and become a more powerful interceptor of flows, for Mephistopheles to ensure the hell-portal remains open long enough to drag Faustus’ soul down through it. A human’s power-acquisition and a devil’s soul-capture are both conditional on contract-formation. Faustus himself proposes the contract in the form of an exchange – his eternal soul for 24 years of Mephistopheles’ unconditional service. Lucifer agrees, but with two additional conditions: Faustus must write the contract as “a deed of gift” and do so in and with his “own blood; / For that security craves great Lucifer.” With the contract signed, the play has already come to its conclusion, and we can already hear Faustus lament: “for / vain pleasure of twenty-four years hath Faustus lost eternal joy / and felicity.” Faustus may have desired power to transcend human limitations of de-/re-coding flows, but uses his newfound power only to live a predictably human life, a hedonistic life – he becomes invisible to beat up the Pope, enchants things to cheat poor people out of their money, raises the dead to impress the rich and famous, etc. If Faustus deserves our scorn, it’s for putting superhuman power to disappointingly human use. (We take the adjectives ‘petty’ and ‘human’ to be strictly synonymous…) Faustus would have remained a cautionary tale if he didn’t have a suppressed, masochistic double.


Screen Shot 2018-02-12 at 2.57.23 AM

§3.1. A Study in Masochism :: For Deleuze in Coldness and Cruelty, it is the masochist who understands the contract, who understands that while contract-formation presupposes “the free acceptance of the parties, a limited duration and the preservation of inalienable rights” (91-92), it’s nonetheless the case that “the specific impulse underlying the contract is toward the creation of a law, even if in the end the law should take over and impose its authority upon the contract itself” (77). How does law function? Deleuze: “once established, [it] violates the contract in that it can apply to a third party, is valid for an indeterminate period and recognizes no inalienable rights” (92). The masochist recognizes that “since the law results in our enslavement, we should place enslavement first, as the dreadful object of the contract” (92). The masochist is the only party to a contract capable of performing a “demystification of the contract, inasmuch as it is made deliberately to promote slavery and even death” (92). Therefore, while “[t]he contract represents a personal act of will on the part of the masochist, […] through the contract […] the masochist is led back into the impersonal realm of fate” (102). The lesson: first, the contract ends in law, second, the law ends in enslavement and death, third, the contract can only be demystified if those who will fall victim to the law the contract enables embrace their status as victims of fate.

satan in his original glory
William Blake, Satan in his Original Glory: ‘Thou wast Perfect till Iniquity was Found in Thee’, (1805)

§1.2. Lucifer-Lover:: Lucifer himself is the only one who ever teases out Faustus’ nasty little double. Among the first requests Faustus makes of Mephistopheles is “let me have a wife, / The fairest maid in Germany; / For I am wanton and lascivious.” Mephistopheles refuses at first, but must oblige when Faustus presses, “I’ll fetch thee a wife in the Devil’s name.” Mephistopheles re-enters with a Devil dressed like a woman, “Tell me, Faustus, how dost thou like thy wife?” Faustus curses, the devil-woman, calling her a whore, but whores are exactly what Mephistopheles offers in lieu of a wife, promising Faustus “the fairest courtesans” delivered to his bed every morning and the hearts of women “as chaste as was Penelope, / As wise as Saba, or as beautiful / As was bright Lucifer before his fall.” Lucifer’s inclusion in this list of desirables can’t be an accident. Mephistopheles dismisses marriage as “a ceremonial toy,” asking Faustus “If thou lovest me, think no more of it.” What should we make of Mephistopheles asking Faustus if you love me, let it go? Mephistopheles is under contract to serve Faustus just as Faustus is under contract to, eventually, serve Lucifer. For Mephistopheles to ask Faustus to set aside the question of marriage, and to do so as a lover would, is as suggestive of the eroticism of the contractual relation as Mephistopheles offering Faustus women ‘as beautiful as was bright Lucifer before his fall.’ Later, Faustus’ Good and Evil Angels tug-of-war over his soul and Faustus gives into the promise of the Good Angel that it’s not too late to repent, begging, “Ah, Christ, my Saviour, / Seek to save distressed Faustus’ soul!” This is what brings Lucifer, but not Christ, to the stage. Lucifer himself remarks on Christ’s absence: “Christ cannot save thy soul, for he is just: / There’s none but I have interest in the same.” What Lucifer suggests is that Christ is too just to love Faustus’ temptable soul, and might even rather judge and destroy it. Only I, the fallen one, could still have interest in you, Faustus. Faustus panics, “Faustus, they are come to fetch away thy soul!” But Lucifer hasn’t come to fetch Faustus, to violate the contract’s 24-year guarantee. No, Lucifer comes to tell Faustus “thou dost injure us,” to remind Faustus that he’d promised not to talk about Christ anymore, to think about God anymore. Think of me and my damned instead. Surely, Lucifer no longer radiates like he did before he fell, and Faustus even recoiled at Lucifer’s form when he first appeared, “O, who art thou that look’st so terrible?” However, when Faustus for a pardon for hurting Lucifer, he does more than just apologize. Here more than anywhere else in the play, Faustus masochistic double takes over, demystifying the contract, which is law and enslavement and death at its core, reveling in his submission: “Faustus vows never to look to heaven, / Never to name God, or to pray to him, / To burn his Scriptures, slay his ministers, / And make my spirits pull his churches down.” In an earlier echo of this wicked delight, Faustus says to himself, “The god thou serv’st is thine own appetite, / Wherein is fix’d the love of Belzebub: / To him I’ll build an altar and a church, / And offer lukewarm blood of new-born babes.” This is the Faustus who interests us, the Faustus who commits himself unconditionally to his own insatiability, decoding flows of newborn baby blood for any master who would help him meet the infinite demand of his own appetite. Lucifer, blushing, responds, “Do so,” burn Scriptures and slay ministers and pull God’s churches down, “and we will highly gratify thee.” As a sign of the indulgence to come, Lucifer offers Faustus the “pastime” of watching “the Seven Deadly sins appear in their proper shapes.” But Faustus only makes it through the first three – Pride, Covetousness, and Wrath – before he begins to pass judgment on the remaining sins – Envy, Gluttony, Sloth, Lechery – after the last of which he orders all of the Sins back to hell. Maybe he judged the Sins only so that he could enjoy their transgressiveness even more, but already we might see Faustus’ own moralism creeping back in. After he’d committed himself to Lucifer and before the Sins arrived, Faustus had said, in anticipation, “That sight will be as pleasing unto me, / As Paradise was to Adam, the first day / Of his creation.” Whether or not he knows it, he’s wounded Lucifer again, who only responds, “Talk not of Paradise nor creation; but mark this show: / talk of the devil, and nothing else.—Come away!” Christ isn’t here, Faustus, but I am. Why do you still long for him, to know God, to feel like Adam? Faustus repeatedly betrays the immanence of hell for the transcendence of heaven. (It is no wonder Mephistopheles refuses to tell Faustus who created the world, for Faustus can’t help looking for the divine in origins and endings.) Mephistopheles asks, “Why, Faustus, / Thinkest thou heaven is such a glorious thing? / I tell thee, ’tis not half so fair as thou, / Or any man that breathes on earth. / […] ‘Twas made for man, therefore is man more excellent.” Faustus, of course, misunderstands, inferring “If it were made for man, ’twas made for me,” threatening to repent. Faustus has betrayed his God, appetite, by longing for the satisfaction, satiation, and bloat of a heaven, one ruled by an absent God and accessed through an absent Christ. If God appeared or Christ returned, could we be said to lack them? Lack, an illusion created by the manufactured image of heaven-as-satisfaction, draws humans away from the limitless horizon of their appetite. Heaven as a terminus to human striving doubles as a terminus to time itself. What else could be more discomforting about time than the delay of total satisfaction? What has Lucifer done to deserve such a betrayal? By Faustus’ own words, Lucifer “feeds my soul.” There’s more, Lucifer continues, “Faustus, in hell is all manner of delight.” It’s here that Masochist-Faustus becomes delirious with thoughts of hell: “O, might I see hell, and return again, / How happy were I then!” Lucifer promises to return at midnight (an hour fit for visits from a lover), but leaves a book with Faustus before he goes, one which details instructions for how Faustus might transform himself into whatever shape he wants. Faustus thanks Lucifer, clutching the book to his chest, promising to keep it as carefully as he would his own life. Lucifer’s parting words: “Farewell, Faustus, and think on the devil.” Faustus’ reply: “Farewell, great Lucifer.” How stupid Faustus was, misinterpreting the inscription HOMO, FUGE (MAN, FLY) which appeared on his arm after he’d signed the contract in his blood. He can think only of flying to God, doubting whether or not God would do anything but send him back to hell. Faustus, you idiot, you could have taken flight alongside Mephistopheles on the hunt for new souls. Faustus, you idiot, you could have burned Scriptures, slain priests, and pulled down God’s churches. Faustus, you idiot, you could have served your God, appetite, by loosing flows of new-born baby blood. Faustus, you idiot, you could have made Lucifer so happy, and he could have done the same for you. Faustus, you idiot…

Eugène Delacroix, ‘Mephistopheles in the Air’, 1828

We imagine that if Faustus could give us any advice on how we should deal with the devil, he’d tell us to be taken, under contract, like lovers.





[3] “[A]ll men are born ignorant of the causes of things, and that they all want to seek their own advantage, and are conscious of this appetite. From these [assumptions] it follows, first, that men think themselves free, because they are conscious of their volitions and their appetite, and do not think, even in their dreams, of the causes by which they are disposed to wanting and willing, because they are ignorant of [those causes].”

[4] Spinoza, Emendation of the Intellect, on how the definition of a circle involves it’s proximate cause – namely, the construction of that circle: “the following rules should be observed in definition: (1) If the thing in question be created, the definition must (as we have said) comprehend the proximate cause. (2) For instance, a circle should, according to this rule, be defined as follows: the figure described by any line whereof one end is fixed and the other free.  (3) This definition clearly comprehends the proximate cause.”

Spinoza, Ethics, on how “our mind, insofar as it has adequate ideas, necessarily does certain things” (IIIP1Dem.)

[5] TENTATIVE OUTLINE OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP OF JOY/KNOWLEDGE/POWER Ibid. IIIP53: The more we imagine our acting the easier it becomes to act, IVP18: Desires arising from joy are stronger than desires arising from sadness (all other things being equal), VP3: Affects that are passions cease to be as soon as we form a clear and distinct idea of them, VP6: Insofar as the mind understands all things as necessary it has a greater power over affects and is less affected by them, VP10: Barring exceptional circumstances of being torn by affects contrary to our nature we have the power of ordering/connecting affections of body according to order of intellect, VP20: The more we know god the more we love him and vice versa, VP38: The more the mind understands things adequately the less it is acted on by evil affects, VP40: The more perfect a thing is the less it is acted on and the more it acts, VP42: The more we enjoy blessedness the more we are able to restrain passions, etc.

[6] Ibid., IIP40 Schol. 1: “Those notions they call Universal, like Man, Horse, Dog, and the like, have arisen from similar causes, namely, because so many images (e.g., of men) are formed at one time in the human body that they surpass the power of imagining—not entirely, of course, but still to the point where the mind can imagine neither slight differences of the singular [men] (such as the color and size of each one, etc.) nor their determinate number, and imagines distinctly only what they all agree in, insofar as they affect the body. […] Hence it is not surprising that so many controversies have arisen among the philosophers, who have wished to explain natural things by mere images of things. ”

[7] Ibid., IIIP26 Schol. : “When this imagination concerns the man himself who thinks more highly of himself than is just, it is called pride, and is a species of madness, because the man dreams, with open eyes, that he can do all those things which he achieves only in his imagination, and which he therefore regards as real and triumphs in, so long as he cannot imagine those things which exclude the existence [of these achievements] and determine his power of acting.”

[8] “I see there’s virtue in my heavenly words: / Who would not be proficient in this art / How pliant is this Mephistophilis, / Full of obedience and humility! / Such is the force of magic and my spells: / No, Faustus, thou art conjuror laureat, / That canst command great Mephistophilis”


[10] See 2 Thessalonians 1: 6-10 for both fire and separation: “All this is clear evidence of God’s righteous judgment. And so you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6After all, it is only right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are oppressed, and to us as well, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels 8in blazing fire. He will inflict vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might, 10on the day He comes to be glorified in His saints and regarded with wonder by all who have believed, including you who have believed our testimony.”


Diagrammatics is a practice of thought that changes the way we read and write texts:

We will never ask what a book means, as signified or signifier; we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge. A book exists only through the outside and on the outside. A book itself is a little machine; what is the relation (also measurable) of this literary machine to a war machine, love machine, revolutionary machine, etc.—and an abstract machine that sweeps them along? We have been criticized for overquoting literary authors. But when one writes, the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into, must be plugged into in order to work. – D+G A Thousand Plateaus (4)

Axioms are poorly understood as long as they’re taken to be self-evident. Axioms are propositions or rules without justification that only serve to create the necessary conditions for a game to be played. It cannot be said in advance which axioms would need to be added or subtracted from a game before it becomes a new game entirely, but this is always a possibility.

Axiom 1: Do not interpret the text.

Interpretation turns books into Bibles: “Wagner, Mallarme, and Joyce, Marx and Freud: still Bibles” (127). In the event that a text is not deemed so sacred that it cannot be interpreted, but must only be received and transmitted through literal recitation, interpretation may take two forms.

First, “ different types of coded interpretation are fixed according to axes internal to the book” – for example, the relation between the Old and New Testaments (127). In this case, the rule for interpreting the text derives from its complete or total self-referentiality. Questions about the meaning of one part of the text are always answered by another part of the text.

Second, “interpretation may reject all intermediaries or specialists and become direct, since the book is written both in itself and in the heart, once as a point of subjectification and again in the subject” – for example, protestant hermeneutics of the Reformation (127). In this case, the rule for interpreting the text derives from knowledge of the subject of the text – insofar as the text both (a) plays a role in constituting the topic (subject) to which it refers and the reader (subject) it refers this topic to and (b) originates from an author (subject) who writes it. Questions about the meaning of the text are always answered by reference to knowledge of the topic-subject, reader-subject, or author-subject of the text.

Interpretation cuts the book off from the outside world – other texts, other non-texts – on the condition that the book is made a microcosm or mirror of the world as a whole. Questions about the meaning of the text are always answered without any reference to the outside of the text.

In the service of meaning, or significance, signifiers are placed into correspondence with signifieds to which they refer. However, one never arrives at the signified except in the form of another signifier. As long as we keep searching for an ultimate referent at the end of the signifier regress, the priest still has a job. Naturally, the priest has a vested interest in making sure “interpretation is carried to infinity and never encounters anything to interpret that is not already itself an interpretation” (114). Priests don’t even need to promise us there’s an end to interpretation anymore to keep their jobs as long as they’ve convinced us that we’re still compelled to interpret, always compelled to interpret, even though we’re well aware of the futility of the endeavor. While more sophisticated than the promise of a final signified just-out-of-arm’s-reach, theories reveling in the endless play of signifiers are just as symptomatic of “humanity’s fundamental neurosis” (114) – interpretosis.

Axiom 2: Diagram the text.

Substitute the experimentation of the diagram for interpretation of the signifier (138-139). Deleuze and Guattari refer to Peirce, and while they’ve only adopted his vocabulary after making some adjustments of their own to his terms (n. 41, 531), they remain in fundamental agreement with Peirce that the diagram is an experimental construction. For Peirce, the diagram need not superficially resemble the subject it is a diagram of insofar as it reveals the real relationships between the terms that constitute its subject. In fact, the less the diagram resembles the subject superficially, the more it reveals about the real relations between terms, allowing us to distinguish between the contingent order of terms and the real order of relations (Roberts 2009). Therefore, as D+G say, the diagram “does not function to represent, even something real, but rather constructs a real that is yet to come, a new type of reality” (ATP 142). Where the signifier ‘represents’ the signified, the diagram ‘experiments’ with reality.

Q: But isn’t the diagram of something? Isn’t this ‘of-ness’ a relation of representation?

A: When the diagram reveals real relations between terms of what is diagrammed, the diagram becomes identical with the thing it diagrams. This identity between diagram and diagrammed is distinct from the correspondence between signifier and signified on the grounds that it is a functional identity. When a diagram is good, it works the same way as what it’s supposed to diagram.

Q: What does this mean? Surely not that there’s an identity between the sheet of paper on which I’ve drawn a diagram of a machine and the engine humming away nearby.

A: Rather, the diagram, drawn onto a sheet of paper or even just visualized in my mind, has revealed the humming of the engine to me – not as a superficial sound, but the movement of the mechanism of the machine itself – to the extent that ‘diagram’ and ‘diagrammed’ are just two different ways of approaching the same function. If this strikes you as Spinozist, that’s because it is: the order and connection of ideas is the same as the order and connection of things (IIP7). Spinoza calls ideas adequate when they’re ideas of what things have in common (IIP38-40) – namely, real relations between and internal to things. The reality of these relations isn’t decided by some external criterion of evaluation, but by the immediate effects that follow from possession of an adequate idea. To have an adequate idea is to act (IIIP1). The measure of an idea is its causal efficacy, its generative power. (It is our contention that there never has been such a thing as a ‘Spinozist interpretation’ of anything, let alone a ‘Spinozist hermeneutics’ – each is a contradiction in terms. Spinozism is diagrammatics and nothing else.)

In other words, a diagram is concerned with how something works and not what something means. A diagram concerns the moment at which nothing but functions and matters remain (141). As Deleuze says in Difference and Repetition, we forego questions of essence except insofar as essence is determinable through responses to the following: how? how many? in which cases? (182)

Gilles Châtelet says that diagrams scramble any hard-and-fast distinctions between intuition and concept, and it’s only through this scrambling that mathematics, physics, and philosophy have ever captured action as action – what Châtelet calls gesture. A gesture is a cutting-out of something, a diagram captures this gesture mid-flight, bringing it into rest and doing so before the gesture ever becomes a sign. A diagram is never exhausted because it does not permanently immobilize the gesture it captures. Rather, in sketching the gesture it cuts out another gesture. Perhaps we could call the diagram a relay between gestures, always between two gestures – either two of the same gesture (making the same cut a second time) or two different gestures (making a new cut the second time informed by the effect of the first cut). Châtelet: “the diagram’s mode of existence is such that its genesis is comprised in its being” (10). It is not enough to merely acknowledge the diagram as “a subsidiary ‘tool’ for representing equations” when understanding the diagram is a matter of “appreciating the considerable stakes of an ontological dignity particular to the figural” (11). It is only through its geneticontological operation that the diagram makes disciplines possible that shouldn’t be possible as long as one insists that the diagram is only a representation of an equation we’ve already invented (e.g., kinematics and analytic geometry are possible before the discovery of differential calculus).

Axiom 3: Design thought-experiments

For Châtelet, the thought-experiment derives its value not from providing demonstrations of what we already know, but by doing away with truths that already weigh on us and intuitions that are already available to us – all for the sake of discovering the real beyond what we take to be real already. Châtelet: “If it is ‘ideal’ or ‘theoretical,’ it is not because it is impossible to carry out [the experiment] with ‘real’ instruments, but because it claims to question and uncover processes of idealization” (11). The thought experiment is “very practical,” since the physicist-philosopher needs to lose their bearingssubvert the habits associated with sensible clichés, transport theirself through thought into precincts sheltered from the ‘given’ (11). It is only after the obvious – the given real – is suspended that the real is discovered – namely, that discovery which will be called obvious after the thought-experiment even though it remained unseen before. The thought experiment makes new things obvious to us. “The thought experiment taken to its conclusion is a diagrammatic experiment” (12), and, like a diagram, the thought experiment serves as a relay. The thought experiment is a dis-orientation enabling re-orientation. There is no time for the physicist-philosopher to recline in their armchair. We find Galileo falling in his vacuum, Einstein taking himself to be a photon on the horizon of velocities, Archimedes in the bathtub with a body that’s a gourd of water (12). In each of these cases, the scientist puts himself in nature’s place – “Nature and the Understanding switch places” (12). The thought-experiment is a condensation and amplification of intuition (11), an impossible experience through which the physicist-philosopher discovers, for the first time every time, what’s obvious about their own experience.

Axiom 4: Set ideas free

To Châtelet, the diagram is a project that applies exclusively to what it sketches – this is its “demand for autonomy” (11). Think of the thought experiment, which “does not claim to predict or verify a law” (11). It’s only through the contraction of thought into a diagram or thought-experiment that the subsequent expansion of experience is made possible. A diagram drawn with just a few lines generates another gesture, the thought-experiment through which the physicist-philosopher is sheltered from the given world generates the new obvious. For a diagram to serve as a relay from and to gestures, from and to experiences, it must consist in an emptying-out – a kenosis – of other gestures and given experience. The autonomy of a diagram or thought-experiment is the source of its power to generate gestures and experience. It’s as if Châtelet extends Spinoza’s conatus (IIIP6-8) to ideas themselves. If our ideas are truly conative things and strive to become indefinitely more powerful, then diagrammatics concerns the dis-inhibition of ideas inhibited by interpretation. Find whatever ideas still have fight in them, empower them to become autonomous to the utmost, set them free of their original context and the traditional interpretations from which they are said to derive all meaning. Diagrammatics is a riot, a prison-break. It is a re-wilding initiative setting invasive ideas loose over the landscapes of thought.

Diagrammatics transforms ideas into little automata – compositions of functions and matters – and releases them into the world.

Axiom 5: Construct a system = construct the world

Diagrammatics makes thoughts generative of gestures and experiences, connecting book to world instead of claiming to capture the world in a book (D+G 23). Châtelet: “Schelling perhaps saw more clearly; he knew that thought was not always encapsulated within the brain, that it could be everywhere … outside … in the morning dew” (14). Schelling’s philosophy is philosophy become genetic (Schelling 2001, 30). Perhaps unbeknownst to Deleuze at the time of his letter to Jean-Clet Martin, it was Schelling who had already tried to construct the only sort of system Deleuze said he could believe in: a system not only in perpetual heterogeneity, but a system that is heterogenesis itself (qtd. in Deleuze 2015, 7).

Pace Kantians (but in total agreement with Kant’s Opus Postumum), Schelling understands we learn nothing about existent things as long as we restrict ourselves to establishing a priori conditions for the possibility of the thing in general. Schelling’s solution is thoroughly Spinozist: we only know something once we’ve seen the principles of the possibility of that thing – namely, once we can generate that thing like an inventor with their machines (Schelling 2004, 196). As a consequence, “we originally know nothing at all except through experience” – even the a priori itself (198). Just as with Châtelet’s thought-experiment, through which we learn what was obvious but unseen, Schelling’s experiments – both his own thought-experiments and those of experimental science in his time (with which he was intimately and exhaustively familiar) – reveal that which has always and a priori been true of things, but nevertheless could not have been known before experimental intervention. Schelling: “every judgment which is historical for me – i.e., a judgment of experience – becomes, notwithstanding, an a priori principle as soon as I arrive, whether directly or indirectly, at insight into its internal necessity” (198). Whenever our knowledge is generative of gestures, experiences, and inventions, we know we’ve arrived at the a priori internal necessity of things. Whenever our knowledge is generative, we’ve arrived at the moment where to philosophize about nature is to create it (5). We have become aware that we are nature’s way of constructing itself.

If Schelling proposes a system, a system of nature that is at the same time a system of mind (Schelling 2001, 30), it is the sort of acentered system(s) to which D+G refer:

[F]inite networks of automata between which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems and channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangeable, defined only by their state at a given moment – such that the local operations are coordinated and the final, global result synchronized without a central agency. (ATP 16)

What does this do to thought? If, normally, “thought lags behind nature” (5), what Schelling suggests is nothing less than the acceleration of thought to the pace at which nature generates itself, the speed which thought attains at the moment it becomes generative of real effects. Châtelet:

Galileo sometimes puts himself in Nature’s place, which, in its simplicity, could not have chosen to ‘move at an inconceivable speed an immense number of very large bodies, to produce a result for which the moderate movement of a single body turning around its own centre would suffice.’ Einstein was in the habit of saying that it was necessary to put oneself in God’s place to understand Nature. (12)

Diagrammatics constructs an acentered system, a heterogenetic system, because diagrammatics is construction itself. Diagrammatics is the name of the magic formula we all seek: pluralism = monism (ATP 20).


What is diagrammatics? The automation of thoughtThrough diagrammatics, we have been freed from the “regrettable characteristic of the Western mind to relate expressions and actions to exterior or transcendent ends, instead of evaluating them […] on the basis of their intrinsic value” (ATP 21-22). We have been freed to set ideas free. Whenever we construct our own little diagrams, we join the ranks of the cursed authors who have stopped asking “what must we do?” to ask “what can we do?” (Deleuze 2015, 60). One becomes patient 0 of a new epidemic, a reservoir and vector for thought-viruses we see spread through their symptomatic gestures, experiences, and inventions. But this is just Spinoza’s distinction between the priest and the philosopher. The endless and sterile play of the signifier bores us, and the priest can no longer convince us to play their game. They’re out of a job, but are always welcome to join us in our workshops. We are content to shrug at questions of ultimate meaning because we are so busy, tinkering away at ideas that we will release as little automata out into the world in the form of drawn and written diagrams (diagrammatics is as much of an operation of writing words as it is drawing figures). These automata will generate gestures, experiences, and, perhaps, even inspire others to take up tinkering and work on unruly inventions of their own.

(Pictured: some of Châtelet’s diagrams from Figuring Space)


Châtelet, Gilles. Figuring Space: Philosophy, Mathematics and Physics. Springer, 2011.

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton, Bloomsbury, 2014.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Roberts, Don D. Existential Graphs of Charles s. Peirce. De Gruyter Mouton, 2009.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature as Introduction to the Study of This Science, 1797. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von. First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature. Translated by Keith R. Peterson, State Univ. of New York Press, 2004.

Spinoza, Benedictus de. Ethics. Translated by E. M. Curley, Penguin Books, 2005.