Today we start our book event on Joshua Ramey’s recent The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. Many of our readers will have noticed that our book events have changed their format over the past year, but for those who are unfamiliar with our book events I thought a few remarks on why we do them would be useful before then turning to a few remarks on the book itself.
The purpose of these events is to highlight recent texts that we feel are making an important contribution to the field that we inhabit, which might be described as a liminal space between philosophy and theology proper, but that also includes religious studies, scriptural criticism, literary studies, and so on. When we originally began these events we would ask our authors to write summaries of the books followed by a short paragraph that would hopefully generate discussion. However, we have moved to something that I think is a bit more substantial. Our authors now are asked to simply respond to the texts in whatever way they see fit within the confines of what a blog can do as medium. This gets closer to the spirit of what we are trying to do with the events. Since the people we ask tend to be very involved within the discipline, producing their own highly original work, this freer engagement allows them to think of how this thinker fits or challenges the work they are already undertaking, it creates a conversation about the work that picks it up and moves beyond just the work itself. In short, we get a true, if virtual, symposium on the work.
Many of our readers, though, will not have read the texts we are discussing, though we hope and invite you to do so. For the sake of those who have not we provide a short synopsis of the text that will help them at least get the basic contours of the text so that they can follow the discussions of the main post authors. Joshua’s introduction to the book, “The Secrets of Immanence“, lays this out very clearly, and so we are happy that he has made that available to our readers. What I will do here is simply situate the text in recent scholarship of Deleuze and explain some of the reasons I think the book will be of interest to many of our readers.
A debate over the legacy of Deleuze’s philosophy has raged ever since the publication of Badiou’s polemic Deleuze: The Clamour of Being which aligned Deleuze’s philosophy with a spiritualist philosophy of the One. This assault on Deleuze for not being a sufficiently orthodox materialist continued with the publication of Žižek’s Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences, which is pretty much a travesty of scholarship and misreading, and Peter Hallward’s Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation, which was a more scholarly and considered extension of Badiou’s polemic. The results of these texts were in some ways comical. Clownish political posturing about who is more revolutionary and ridiculous declarations about Deleuze’s complicity with neoliberalism based off of who saw what kind of person reading his books on the subway (as Žižek claims that businessmen love reading Deleuze). While some of this work is interesting and the charges should be taken seriously — after all it is disturbing that Israeli generals have used principles gleaned from A Thousand Pleateaus in their control and murder of Palestinian bodies — they ignore the warnings that Deleuze (with and without Guattari) made concerning the very possibility of such ideas being turned to reactionary means. If Deleuze is correct, there is no essence, no necessary tendency, of an idea that will allow us to know in advance all the forms it can take.
This brocialist clowning has certainly dominated the discussion of Deleuze in leftwing theory. But there has been another line of inquiry developing partially in response to these polemics and partially as something that came before them. That is, the so-called “spiritualist” elements (Ramey prefers “hermetic” for important reasons) of Deleuze were evident long before Badiou cast the term as a slur. Philip Goodchild’s early and unjustly neglected work Gilles Deleuze and the Question of Philosophy made the case for a philosophy more profoundly concerned with the transformation and intensification of life than a simple description of the way things are. While Deleuze responded to this reading with some trepidation over the re-inscription of transcendence in Goodchild’s own thinking (which Philip has recently discussed), other readers began to see the deeply esoteric aspects of Deleuze’s own engagement with immanence. Christian Kerslake, who is no stranger to spiritual ordeal as one of the few faculty members to stand with the students of Middlesex University and who ultimately paid more of a price than anyone else for that stand, is perhaps the most important figure in this regard. His historical studies on Deleuze, Deleuze and the Unconscious and Immanence and the Vertigo of Philosophy: From Kant to Deleuze went far beyond the paltry connections formed in the polemics and were combined with a philosophical acumen that made that history of philosophy philosophize. After his works there was really no doubt of the impact of esoteric thought on some of the most important concepts of Deleuze as well as the shaping of many of the problems Deleuze wanted to respond to.
Joshua’s work, both here and in the co-editing of a special issue of SubStance in 2010, is part of this positive assessment of Deleuze’s engagement with forms of life, thought, and materials usually considered with suspicion if not utter disdain by professional philosophers. Each of our authors will have their own assessment, positive and negative, of that work. However, for anyone interested in Deleuze the book will be invaluable. Ramey fills in some of the historical work that Kerslake didn’t discuss, showing how various Modern and Renaissance theologians and philosophers connected to the hermetic tradition prefigure Deleuze’s own work and are drawn upon by Deleuze in subterranean ways. Ramey’s summary of the hermetic tradition is incredible and means that readers who only consider contemporary philosophy will be exposed to a tradition often ignored today or unjustly appropriated by reactionary elements. Alongside the discussions of art and subjectivity in Deleuze’s philosophy, Ramey gives us a philosophy of transformation, a kind of naturalism beyond the slavish and pious devotion to nature we find in contemporary naturalism, and a kind of humanism beyond the idiocies of a humanism that confuses the particular for the universal.
I hope you’ll join us as we discuss this book.