The French Review 72.4 (1999): 797-798.
L'ABÉCÉDAIRE DE GILLES DELEUZE, AVEC CLAIRE PARNET. Dir. Pierre-André Boutang. Paris: Vidéo Editions Montparnasse, 1996. 3 cassettes. 369 FF.
[Reprinted with the permission of The French Review]
During the year preceding his sensational suicide by defenestration
on November 4, 1995, following years of debilitating
illness, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze's conversations with his former student and sometimes interlocutor, Claire Parnet (see Dialogues [Paris: Flammarion, 1977]) were broadcast on the Arté channel for several months. Filmed in 1988 and destined for release only after Deleuze's death, these interviews were instead shown with his permission shortly before his passing. The eight-hour video interchange stands as the primary audio-visual document on the evolution of Deleuze's thought late in his career (a summary in English of these interviews is available at http://www.langlab.
wayne.edu/romance/FreDeleuze.html). As the title of the "abécédaire" suggests, the interviews are arranged in alphabetical thematic order (see list at the end of this review), but rather than proceed alphabetically, I will outline five different, yet overlapping "lines" that Deleuze pursues in these discussions.
The first "line" runs the closest to Deleuze's life,
an "ontological line," rather than a "personal"
one since Deleuze only
warily reveals details of his private life and feelings. In this intermittent "line," Deleuze provides background information
regarding the circumstances that lead to his fifty-year engagement with philosophy: his family, class, and educational origins, philosophical training, and steps of his teaching career (Session E & P); his distaste for talking publicly in interviews and colloquia and for intellectual "écoles" (Lacan serves as a counter-example; Sessions C & P); the effects of his illness, fatigue, and old age on his work (Session M); and "personal" preferences in opera (Mahler, Alban Berg) and popular music (Claude François) as well as a life-long fascination with tennis (Sessions O & T).
The second "line" is epistemological, i.e. how Deleuze develops philosophical knowledge both in his teaching and in his theoretical reflections, as well as the importance of the history of philosophy (Session H) as a necessary basis for "creating concepts", i.e. for Deleuze, the proper practice of philosophy. Deleuze returns to this topic intermittently in discussing his earlier works on Kant (Session K), Nietzsche and Spinoza (Session J). Deleuze also considers how he achieves understanding in an array of domains, e.g. scientific and mathematical readings (Session N), and considers what the role of philosophy is in relation to science (Session U).
The third and most extensive "line" is the conceptual,
Deleuze's discussion of specific philosophical "concepts"
that he has
developed (or was currently developing) alone and with Félix Guattari: Deleuze's "béstiaire" (Session A); desire as "agencement" (Session D); loyalty and friendship as forms of shared perceptions (Session F); jurisprudence in relation to human rights (Session G); affect, joy, sadness, and the -lied- as source of the poetic elegy (Session J); writing and philosophical style (Session S); nomadism and intensities (Session V).
In the fourth "line," the aesthetic, Deleuze frequently explains "creating concepts" (philosophy) in terms of an artist's engagement with his/her creative practice. Writing is a privileged example: as emission signs and marking of territory as do animals (Session A); as a form of "becoming" to make "language stutter" (Session E); as closely linked to philosophical practice (Session L); and as a matter of "style" (Session S). However, Deleuze also draws important examples from painting and cinema to explain how developing "concepts" requires a long apprenticeship in the nuances of philosophical "color," i.e. through the history of philosophy (Session H).
Although it could certainly apply to aspects of the other "line,"
the fifth "line" is socio-cultural, i.e. Deleuze's intermittent
reflections on political, cultural, and social events, past and
present: the cyclical emergence of culturally rich or poor
periods and the disastrous role of the media (Session C); the counter-cultural atmosphere in the early 1970s in relation to the Deleuze-Guattarian concept of desire (Session D); his status as "leftist" as distinct from Communist and from the so-called "New Philosophers" (Session G); the poverty of the current educational system (Session P) and of public political debates (Session Q).
Why is this video document of any interest beyond the unfortunate public voyeurism that characterizes our talk-show era? For at least three reasons, linguistic, philosophical, and interpersonal. Just listening to and watching Deleuze, as distinct from reading his finely crafted, but often demanding texts, provide the rare occasion to hear a brilliant thinker speak and explain colloquially the array of notions for which he is renowned. Although some references may remain elusive, these interviews provide an extraordinary linguistic experience, and selected segments could serve as the basis for discussions in advanced undergraduate and graduate courses. Second, to this watching/listening experience is conjoined the viewer's engagement with a tantalizing array of "concepts," and one can envisage evident pedagogical use of certain sessions in relation to extended readings and discussions from different works by Deleuze and Deleuze-Guattari. Finally, the relationship between Deleuze and Claire Parnet explicitly, and between the philosopher and his students and collaborators more generally, reveals the moving human face of engaging in philosophical practice. Only occasionally visible (in the mirror behind Deleuze) in the first third of the sessions, Claire Parnet poses to Deleuze some very challenging, even potentially annoying, questions and follow-ups, but never is the evident love between them absent from their exchanges and Deleuze's often playful responses. As probably quite evident, I found these interviews to correspond to the "joy" that Deleuze describes in the life-long commitment to education and students, to reading and reflection, and to French culture in all its manifestations.
Interview summary: "A comme Animal," "B comme
Boisson," "C comme Culture," "D comme Désir,"
"E comme Enfance," "F comme Fidélité,"
"G comme Gauche," "H comme Histoire de la philosophie,"
"I comme Idée," "J comme Joie," "K
comme Kant," "L comme Littérature," "M
comme Maladie," "N comme Neurologie," "O comme
Opéra," "P comme Professeur," "Q comme
Question," "R comme Résistance," "S
comme Style," "T comme Tennis," "U comme Un,"
"V comme Voyage," "W comme Wittgenstein,"
"X, Y comme Inconnus," "Z comme Zigzag".
Charles J. Stivale
Wayne State University