Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Hermetic Deleuze

The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual OrdealThe Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal by Joshua Ramey

Halfway through my sophomore year of college, I made a change. I was a physics major and hating life. I was waking up literally having nightmares about partial differentials and in a constant state of high-anxiety about my schoolwork and grades. I was already married with a daughter (I married young - and, yes, we are still happily married nearly 30 years later), poor as the day is long, and about to have a series of mental breakdowns if something didn't change. I was tutoring a young lady in math who told me about her major in Humanities. I asked a little bit about it and, after talking with her, my wife said to me "that sounds right up your alley". And she was right. So I changed and, eventually graduated with a BA in Humanities with a History emphasis and an Anthropology minor. One of the best moves I've made in my life.

The Humanities major was intentionally broad and covered a number of different topics, one of which was philosophy. The luxury of my degree's requirements was that much of it could be taken in any order - it was broad and deep, but not as sequentially-arranged as most majors. I waited until my senior year to take the required Philosophy 101 class. Of course, by that time, I had already been steeped in philosophy through my general humanities classes, which gave a gloss on many movements in philosophy as reflected in art, literature, theater, cinema, music, dance, architecture, etc. I also had a few key classes that dove deeper into philosophy - classics, medieval and renaissance history, for example - so I didn't come to that freshman class as a senior without a decent amount of philosophical study behind me.

Early on in my college studies, before that change in major, I was in an astronomy class that was boring me to tears. I love astronomy, but my professor was drop-dead dull. I expressed my boredom to a math professor who I respected a great deal. He told me "you pay for college, get what you paid for! If it's boring, make it entertaining. Make the craziest claim you can and see what unfolds. In your astronomy class you could say 'the whole Hubble space telescope project is a waste of money' or something like that. Other students will jump in with their opinions and, voila, non-boring discussion."

He was right. I tried it and got my money's worth out of that class. I had several students come up to me at the end of the semester saying "I'm so glad you threw out that comment about [whatever it was I actually said - I don't even remember now]. That opened the class up for me!"

Fast forward to my Philosophy 101 class, with me as the only senior in a freshman-level class. I was bored. I threw out a comment that I still think is true: "Socrates didn't even use the so-called Socratic Method. He used leading questions to pull the answers that he wanted from the crowd. They weren't discovering together, they were following his subtle lead." My, oh my, did that philosophy professor not like that. He was an old school (pun intended) academic and did not like me questioning Socrates. After a couple more comments like this, he pulled me into his office and basically told me that I needed to stop being so creative with my critique and just learn the material. I was a little cocky and a lot upset, so I said "basically, you want me to barf back what you feed me". And he answered that, yes, basically, that was it. I was applying to grad schools and wanted the best grades possible, so I did what he asked . . . on tests and papers . . . but not in the classroom. I still spoke my mind and disagreed heartily with the professor many times. He always gave me good grades on my tests and papers because I regurgitated the material, just as he had asked, and, to his credit, he never let our disagreements in the classroom spill over into his grading. I got an "A" in the class and a really sour taste in my mouth for the academic study of philosophy.

Then came grad school. That was a different milieu entirely. We were encouraged to argue our points vehemently, so long as we backed our bravado with solid rhetoric and documentary evidence (my MA is in African History). There was plenty of philosophical meat to our discussions. I learned about Foucault, Chomsky, Derridas, Sartre, and many others, and became more facile in my use of philosophy as a tool to dig for knowledge.

Deleuze was still on the cutting edge of philosophy. He died the year before I got into grad school, so his posthumous popularity hadn't quite blossomed yet. At least his ideas hadn't penetrated far enough into the historical domain to have much relevance to my work at that time. But I heard of him. And I kept hearing of him, in little snippets, bizarre congeries of references spoken in almost spiritual tones. Some people who are a lot smarter than I am really, really were digging this dead dude.

Life intervened and I lost track of Deleuze. Only recently, while listening to the Weird Studies podcast (the single best podcast on the interwebs, if you ask me) did I pick up the thread again. Deleuze (and his compatriot, Felix Guattari) kept getting mentioned again and again and again. Finally, I had to do something about it. But I wasn't going to jump straight in. I had learned enough to know that Deleuzian territory is dangerous, complicated, like the philosophical equivalent of Visitation Zones in Roadside Picnic. I thought about foolishly rushing headlong into Deleuze's work, then thought better of it. I couldn't just brazenly bluster my way out of his woods. I needed to explore. Slowly. Carefully.

When I saw the title The Hermetic Deleuze, I thought "Aha! I can approach Deleuze through my knowledge of hermeticism!" After all, I had done a paper on Pico della Mirandola in my junior year of college that was lauded by the renaissance history professor from whom I was taking the class at the time. My intent was to go "sideways" into Deleuze.

The question is: was it successful?

Yes and no. I was not a philosophy major. I had learned enough in my college years to be dangerous, but not savvy. I was never steeped in the language of philosophy like those friends of mine who were philosophy majors. I stumbled through the vocabulary, more fully learning what words like "heuristic" and "theandric" meant. It was a slow plod because my vocabulary had to be extended with every page for the first third of the book or so. I recalled enough from hermeticism to keep me afloat, just barely. But I had to intellectually float and dog paddle, to get used to the feeling of my philosophical body being in water, so to speak.

Then I started hitting the truly Deleuzian rapids. The latter two thirds of the book I scraped on rocks a few times, got caught in a whirlpool or two, got myself completely turned around and crawled onto the shore only partially aware of what I had just been through. But I made it through. Once. And I'm willing to do it again. Some sections were very clear, others are going to require more serious study and some more grounding in Deleuze's work, unfiltered. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account, I will leave you here with the notes I took throughout the book, with page numbers. I think this reflects the feeling I have looking back on the experience as a sort of stained-glass mosaic, with some panes being crystalline and other panes being so clouded as to be a blind spot.

And though I'm not confident that I understood more than a third of what was going on, I am absolutely sure that I learned many things and that my intellectual horizons have been expanded, and that is what philosophy can do. I will dive into Deleuze's waters once again with one of his own works, then revisit this one at a future date. I have so many questions and potential paths to explore (some listed in my notes below). Philosophy has done its job and Deleuze has got me thinking in ways that I have not thought before. Mission accomplished.

(4) Ready to sink my brain into this. The introduction has definitely whetted my appetite. And I've only had to look up two words: "heuristic" and "theandric"!
(10) A marvelous introductory essay. I'm hoping the book holds up to its promise.
(18) I understood about half the sentences I just read. Now to reread them again and again and again. My vocabulary is being extended with every page. This is slow going!
(24) Having a good background of knowledge in the Hermetic traditions is helping quite a bit. Deleuze is . . . I don't even know the word: oblique? Sidelong? Askew? It's going to take a lot of immersion in his work to really begin to understand his work at a meaningful level. I get hints and allegations, thin wisps of something just beyond my perception. Philosophical ghosts. I'm being willingly haunted,
(29) Just when you wrap your head around Theandry and begin to sense the whiff of Immanence on the air, Deleuze throws three more concepts your way. My brain is bending in new and interesting ways, some remarkably pleasant, some tortuous. I'm just glad I'm familiar with Pico della Mirandola and Ficino, or I would be utterly lost. That senior paper I wrote on Pico is saving me!
(32) This may be a brain-wringer as intense as Gödel, Escher, Bach was. Thankfully, it's about half as long, maybe less. Curious to see if it also has homework exercises!
(44) I was not expecting a deep dive into early Christian theological debates. Dazzling and utterly confusing.
(52) The contradictory notions of Bruno and Pico outlined on page 51 are worthy of exploration. I can feel a short story coming on . . .
(56) Ah, more Pico. This is something I can sink my brain into. I remember finding Pico's writings quite intuitive as an undergraduate. Hopefully, I can slip back into the magic Christian frame of mind easily enough again.
(58) Interesting that Pico considers true Magic not a work in itself - it doesn't cause miracles, it reveals miracles already inherent in, but hidden by nature. Goeteia, on the other hand, calls on the "operations and power of demons". Magic, in his estimation, is noble and complimentary with Christianity, while the dark arts are contradictory. I wonder where he drew the line between the two?
(73) Never use the word "obvious" in a philosophical text. Just don't. Still, I'm starting to see the tip of the iceberg regarding the relationship between Bruno's conception of nature and matter and Deleuze's immanence. It's like it's on the tip of my brain - I can sense a . . . presence about the intersection of the concepts, but can't articulate it.
(82) Bruno views art as potentially generative of magic if the image is less concerned with verisimilitude and more concerned with what may be. "The artist who wishes to move himself must be moved". Art, then, generates resonance with that which is beyond the art itself, so the art is representative, but more importantly, a sort of portal to access that which is beyond mere form.
(92) Biography helps. Deleuze was a member of a Salon during the French Resistance where he was exposed to Hermetic ideas, particularly Mathesis at a young age. He wrote the forward to Malfatti's Mathesis: or Studies on the Anarchy and Hierarchy of Knowledge in 1946, when he was 21. He later renounced this work.
(103) My hypothesis is that we should continue to see, on the horizon of Deleuze's work, the persistence of his adolescent vision of an ecstatic, erotic, and unfinished project of mathesis universalis as that "prephilosophical" or "nonphilosophical" apprehension of immanence alluded to on the final pages of What is Philosophy?
(108) Deleuze, here, seems to be most concerned with symbols as indicating the search for knowledge and wisdom, rather than the categorization of knowledge into discrete containers.

It is rotative thought, in which a group of images turn ever more quickly around a mysterious point, as oppossed to the linear allegorical chain.

I might be starting to "get" Deleuze. Starting . . .
(111) . . . Deleuze continues to be haunted by the connection of philosophy to symbolic iterations - artistic, scientific, and esoteric - that would be adequate for the expression of immanence and indispensable for philosophy as an act of creation.
(125) So, in sum, as I understand it, Deleuze is more concerned with "becoming" as an action than with the platonic "idea," which is a static state of being? I guess? It seems that Deleuze delights in multiplicities, rather than The One. I would love someone to confirm or repudiate my understanding, please!
(126) Aha! The notion of "intensity" in Deleuze provides me a nice window to peer into his philosophy. Now, I just need a glass house made of those windows.
(138) Deleuze's concept of "difference" escapes me at the moment. It is not as simple as one might think. Honestly, I don't even think I have a mental direction to face in order to begin to understand it. Guess I'll just intellectually wallow until I find some piece of driftwood to hang on to.
(148) About two years and three rereads, that's what I'm going to need to crack the code on that last chapter. Phew!
(154) . . . the flesh is pulled or pushed out from the outside by the planes that frame it (in musical terms melody and rhythm push sound towards its pulsing vitality . . . harmony represents the planes that intersect and frame sound in a cosmos, a universe of vectors and dimensions.

This cryptic passage is actually helping me to understand Deleuze's approach/view on art more clearly.
(171) For Deleuze, all genuine artistic experimentation must be understood as a local activation of otherwise imperceptible cosmic forces that move through natures, cultures, and psyches. When it is successful, the work of art suggest new modes of sensible and affective engagement within the world . . .
(173) . . . when a person dies, the event is the result of physical causes, but the meanings of a death are multiple and thus both precede and exceed the physics of the event itself. Teh mental or ideal time in which the meanings of a death are played and replayed is not linear and sequential, but aberrant and discontinuou . . .

Cue: differentiation between Aion and Chronos.
(200) Understanding less and less as I approach the finish! And this after listening to several podcasts about Deleuze.
(208) I will definitely need to give this a reread after having listened to a series of podcasts which are basically "Deleuze for Dummies". I'm definitely able to follow the threads here in a much more informed manner.

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  1. "The artist who wishes to move himself must be moved"...

    I want to say "he can do better" but in creative solidarity will settle for an infinitely distant, "any port in the storm."

    1. Infinitely distant in Zeno's sense...

    2. Always approaching, never arriving? That's an interesting way to phrase Zeno's Paradox: "Infinitely distant". I love it.

  2. And perpetrating the nostalgia and memories.

    1. perhaps in Christian pilgrimage to the Father.

    2. or for others then directed at something like a knot.

    3. or anything else both portent & groovy.