Friday, March 19, 2010

Immanence and Atheism

I've been preparing, over the last month, for a talk I am giving at the University of Toledo on Deleuze and Spinoza. After finishing the penultimate draft of my MA thesis at the aforementioned university (in 2002; I defended in March 2003), I spent some time reading some of the more contemporary figures in French and Italian philosophy, which included Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, and What is Philosophy? by Deleuze and Guattari. I thought it would be appropriate to return to some of them when I return to give a talk in Toledo.

The talk I am giving next week deals in part with what Deleuze* calls the 'plane of immanence.' He argues that philosophy is the creation of concepts, which has become somewhat of a motto for some Deleuzians, but what is more difficult is figuring out what he means by setting out, instituting, or tracing, a plane of immanence. There are several problems with the proliferation of his 'modes', as it were, of explaining immanence but I am going to leave them aside just to mention one of the compelling reasons in favor of his argument.

The third example of What is Philosophy? reorders the history of philosophy from the point of view of the institution of the plane of immanence. Much of this history becomes a refusal of thinking immanence in favor of contemplation (of the Object), reflection (of the Subject) and communication ('with' the Other); each of those capitalized nouns representing a figure of transcendence. According to Deleuze, these transcendent figures are  reappear in philosophy because they are illusions that arise on the plane of immanence. The decisive move is to attach the problem of immanence to the problem of the revaluation of values. The conceptual link gives us a clear way to assess why immanence has been rejected by so many philosophers,  and why so many have attacked the naturalism of Spinoza to 'save' freedom, because from the standpoint of transcendent values, all other values appear nihilistic, while from the standpoint of immanence, all transcendent values are illusory.

My question is whether or not 'immanence' is the best approach to talking about the philosophical commitments of atheism. An atheist cannot have recourse to supernatural or transcendent explanations or values, and I think immanence captures this. Nevertheless, it seems that Deleuze's plane of immanence neutralizes the divine name while keeping the image of the One-All. It's not even clear if Deleuze maintains a materialist position (this is something like Hallward's critique), so even Spinoza's naturalism might be more strict and more minimal that Deleuze's philosophy. Atheism and materialism reject transcendence, but which concepts are required to think immanence if the One-All won't work? While I can't go into it here, there are at least two options: contingency and inconsistency. Or even possibly the often rejected concepts of necessity or determination. In addition, no matter which concepts 'work', so to speak, there remains the question of relinking these conceptual questions to historical materialism.

*I am leaving aside Guattari, not because I think his approach should be separated from Deleuze's, but because I am also going to critique Deleuze's work on Spinoza. François Dosse's Gilles Deleuze et Félix Guattari, biographie croisée also claims that much of What is Philosophy? was written only by Deleuze (pp. 538-539).

No comments: