I am, as I noted in a previous post, making my way through Dosse’s dual biography of Deleuze and Guattari. Dosse treats Guattari’s pre-Deleuze life first and then turns to Deleuze’s pre-Guattari life next. Reading about Deleuze’s early childhood and his time in university was interesting. Apparently he and Michel Tournier spent their nights reading Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and felt that his famous “Existentialism is a Humanism” speech to be a betrayal of the passion they felt for that book. It also details his early writings, which he “renounced” in the official bibliography, one of which launched a polemic against Christianity and the interior life seeing it lead up to the modern society of the bourgeoisie. This was obviously a reaction against the spiritualisme that reigned in French philosophy prior to World War II, yet his admiration for Bergson appears to have been in place as early as 1948 when he defended him against François Châtelet and Olivier Revault d’Allonnes while they studied together for the agrégation.
All of this was interesting, but I already had a vague knowledge of these events as one can pick all of this up from his writing and from snippets of his biography you can find in books here and there. His family life was more interesting. I knew from his L’Abécédaire that he had tensions with his family because his father held right-wing views and hated the France of Léon Blum’s Front populaire that allowed workers to encroach on the political and social territory that the petite bourgeoisie had enjoyed. I didn’t realize how pathetic this class hatred was considering that Deleuze’s parents, while enjoying some privileges, were precarious business owners themselves as his father, an engineer, only had one employee and produced some airplane parts. Apparently a major cause of this familial tension had to do with something Deleuze himself never spoke much about in public: the murder of his brother, a resistance fighter, by the Nazis while being transported to a concentration camp. Apparently, “the wrong son died” in his parents’ eyes.
It was disappointing that there was so little discussion of his wife, Fanny, and literally no discussion about how they met (whereas pages and pages were devoted in the Guattari section to his marriage and subsequent affairs). What’s the point of reading a biography if you don’t get any sexual gossip! There was, however, a story about a very strange phobia Deleuze had. Apparently, after passing his agrégation he finally had the economic independence to move out of his parents’ home (he was living with just his mother as his father had passed away some years prior). Dosse goes on to tell us, “He kept from conflictual relationship vis-a-vis his home life a phobia towards every food product with milk, which surprised his friends: [Olivier Revault d'Allonnes explains that] ‘We had invited Gilles to have dinner several times. He always asked the mistress of the house if there was the least drop of milk in the dish and if that was the case, he would not want to eat (Dosse, p. 124).'” Usually one encounters stories about how oddly long his fingernails were, but this phobia has to be the strangest story I’ve read about the man.