[Dans le cadre de la préparation du spectacle Aux Corps prochains, prévu pour le printemps 2015, ont eu lieu au théâtre de Chaillot deux journées de réflexion autour de la phrase de Spinoza « Nul ne sait ce que peut un corps » (Ethique, II, 3), et de son commentaire par Deleuze, avec la participation de Thomas Dommange (Montréal) et Paola Marrati (Johns Hopkins, Baltimore). Le texte de la conférence de Paola Marrati, prononcée le 9 janvier 2014, n’étant pas disponible, nous publions ci-dessous une partie d’un article paru en anglais qui comporte des éléments développés par la conférencière. La conférence de Thomas Dommange est publiée dans la même rubrique de ce blog : http://denisguenoun.unblog.fr/spectacles-en-cours/aux-corps-prochains-sur-une-pensee-de-spinoza/conference-thomas-dommange-8-01-14/]



(extrait de : “Deleuze on Gender and sexual Difference”, Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 21, No. 51, November 2006, ed. Routledge)

Paola Marrati


Problems  and Freedom

In the  second  part  of his Introduction to  Metaphysics, ‘The Stating  of Problems’, which opens the volume of collected essays entitled La Pensée et le mouvant, published in 1923 and rather unhappily translated  as The Creative Mind, Henri Bergson challenges  the tendency  of philosophy  to construct  abstract  metaphysical  systems and  its readiness  to rely on generic  concepts  that  merely express social habits embedded in language.  Both attitudes  are  indeed   complementary,  and   together  they   prevent   philosophy   from achieving its own freedom. Bergson writes:

« [These concepts]  have most often been  elaborated by the social organism in view of an object which has nothing  to do with metaphysics. In order to form them society has cut up reality according  to its needs.  Why should  philosophy  accept  a division which in all probability will not correspond to the articulation of the real? This division, however, it does  usually accept.  It accepts  the  problem  as it is posited  by language.  It is there- fore  condemned in advance  to  receive  a ready-made  solution  or, at  best,  simply to choose between the two or three only possible solutions, which are co-eternal  with this positing of the problem .. . But the truth is that in philosophy and even elsewhere it is a question  of finding the problem  and consequently of positing it, even more than solving it .. . But stating  the  problem  is inventing  it .. . Invention gives being  to what  did not exist. » (1992, 51)

What is at stake in this passage  is a conception of philosophy  and of thinking in general that reverses a hierarchy that is all the more powerful because  it often goes unnoticed.  We believe  that  the  task of thinking  consists  in solving problems,  in finding or producing correct  answers and  adequate solutions, no matter  whether  we are dealing  with a field of  knowledge   or  a  field of  social  organisation.  The  creativity  of  thinking * scientific, technological,  or political * would  thus  be  exercised  in the  search  for new  solutions  to problems  that  would, so to speak, present  themselves  ready made.

What  is dangerous about  this  conception of thinking,  according  to  Bergson,  is precisely the privilege it accords to solutions to the detriment of problems, the denial of the power of problems as problems.  A problem defines a field of possible experience, it sets out  the  meaning  of the  questions  one  can ask and  prefigures  the  cases of its solution. Answers necessarily derive from the form of the problem, but the problem  is not given in advance; it must be constituted. The freedom  of thinking thus consists in the elaboration of problematic  fields, and it depends on a critical attitude  towards  what is given, on our ability to experiment,  to open  up the limits of that  which presents  itself as necessary.

This is why the prejudice  that  has us believe that  to think is to find solutions is an essentially social prejudice. According to Bergson, philosophy, however, has no reason to have  its problems  dictated  by the  ‘administrative archives of the  state’ (1992, 50). The importance  of this aspect of Bergson’s thought did not go unnoticed by Gilles Deleuze. In his Bergsonism, first published  in 1966, Deleuze not only underlines  the fundamental  role that the concept  of the problem  plays in Bergson’s work, but he also sees in it one of the major contributions of Bergsonism (1991, 27).(1) Two years later, in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition (1968), the  idea  that  thinking  is exercised  in the  quest  for answers,  that  the domain of the true and the false concerns solutions alone, independent of the position of problems themselves, is described  as one of the postulates of what he calls the ‘dogmatic image  of thought’  (Deleuze 1994, chap.  3). If problems  necessarily delimit the  space  of what is thinkable, the true and the false first of all concern  the constitution  of problems:

« Far from being concerned  with solutions, truth and falsehood primarily affect problems. A solution  always has the  truth  it deserves  according  to the  problem  to which it is a response,  and the problem  always has the solution it deserves  in proportion  to its own truth  or falsity * in other  words, in proportion  to its sense. » (1994, 159)

To believe the opposite is an infantile prejudice, derived from the example of the ‘good’ student who merely has to answer the questions  of a teacher  whose authority is beyond doubt.  It is a social prejudice,

« with the  visible interest  of maintaining  us in an infantile state,  which calls upon  us to solve problems  that come from elsewhere … Such is the origin of the grotesque image of  culture  that   we  find  in  examinations   and  government  referenda   as  well  as  in newspaper  competitions (where everyone  is called upon  to choose  according  to his or her taste, on condition  that  this taste  coincides with that  of everyone else). Be yourself, being  understood that  this self must be that  of others. » (1994, 158) (2)

We must  note  that  what  is at stake for Deleuze and  Bergson in this ‘right to problems’ (Deleuze 1994, 158) is as much  the  freedom  of thinking as the  freedom  of experience. What we have of freedom depends on how we state our problems and on how we ask our questions;  the  very possibility of opening  up the  field of experience  depends upon  the truth, or sense, of the problems we are capable of setting up for ourselves. Experience and thinking cannot  be separated from one another: hence the ethical and political dimension of philosophy, even when it does not explicitly take politics as its object.

If there  is, or can be, a Deleuzian contribution  to gender  and  queer  theory  it lies mainly, I would like to argue, in his attempt to change  the way in which we understand the problem of the body, the very way in which we ask our questions  about bodies.(3) While phenomenology introduced  the question  of one’s own body (le corps propre), of sexuality, and of death into a rather disincarnate philosophical tradition, thereby offering to feminist and gender  theories some conceptual tools, Deleuze’s contribution  is situated  elsewhere. He provides an account  of the temporal,  affective, and physical becoming of bodies  that, without  denying  their  biological and  social dimensions,  is not  confined  to  them.  This conception of the becoming  of bodies is closely related to issues in gender  studies as well as to gender practices; that, at least, is the hypothesis I would like to develop in this paper.


What  Can a Body Do?

Deleuze’s conception of the body is laid out mainly, if not exclusively, in his reading of  Spinoza.  One  of  the   key  chapters   of  Spinoza: Expressionism in  Philosophy,  published in 1968, is significantly entitled  ‘What Can a Body Do?’ In this erudite  book, which still today  constitutes  one  of the  most  powerful  studies  of Spinoza’s thought,  Deleuze develops several themes that are essential to understanding his own philosophical project. The  ontological   thesis  of  the   univocity  of  being,   the   difference   between  numeric distinction  and  formal distinction,  and  the  question  of expression  are  some  examples; his conception of the body is another  one.(4)

The chapter  in question  treats the problem  of the relation, in Spinoza, of substance to its finite modes, and it proposes  an interpretation of active and passive affections and of their  correlation  in the  finite modes.  For the  present  purpose,  I  will abstract  from the general context  and focus only on the conception of the body. According to Spinoza, all bodies, no matter  how small, are always composed of a very large number  of extensive parts. What defines the individuality of a specific body is the relation that establishes itself between its parts, and such a relation is one of a composition  and decomposition that is necessarily endowed with a certain kind of elasticity. Leaving childhood  or entering  old age, for example, are processes  made  up of so many insensible or abrupt  changes  in the singular relation that  characterises  a body (Deleuze 1992, 222). But what constitutes  the determinate relation of a body, its individuality? Following what rules do extensive parts, and  parts  of parts, compose  and  decompose? Deleuze remarks that  there  is a physical inspiration  to  Spinoza’s conception of  the  body,  more  precisely  a  kinetic model:  the compositions   and  decompositions of the  parts  are  effectuated according  to  relations of rest and movement,  of speed and slowness; what determines connections  and disconnections  among  particles are spatio-temporal dynamisms (1988, 123, 1992, 204).(5)

It follows from this kinetic definition  both  that  all bodies  stand  out  among  other bodies  and that  their limits have nothing  essential about  them; they can vary and stand out or overlap differently. The individuality of a body is a singular relation of speed  and slowness, but this relation is not only endowed with a certain elasticity, it can also be taken in by other  relations, an individual body  can combine  with other  bodies  and become  a part of a different individual. To use Diderot’s metaphor in D’Alembert’s Dream, a text that links up with the Spinozist tradition, the whole universe is like a spider’s web in which all threads  are somehow  related,  and  what  we call individuals are the  connections  among threads,  while, of course, the threads  can always be arranged  differently (1966, 168).(6)

A body, however, is not only made  up of kinetic relations of rest and movement:  it also has a power to affect and to be affected, since the very nature  of the extensive parts that compose  it is to affect one another. Deleuze remarks that in his definition of the body Spinoza in fact proceeds  from the parts to their affections, and from the affections of parts to the affections of the existing mode as a whole. Now, this apparently  harmless idea has consequences that are far from harmless since it implies that the individuality of a body is defined as much by a certain relation between its parts as by its power of affecting and of being affected:

« A horse, a fish, a man, or even two men compared  one with the other, do not have the same capacity to be affected: they are not affected by the same things, or not affected by the same things in the same way. » (Deleuze 1992, 217)

It is important   to  notice  that  the  term  ‘affect’ does  not,  in this  context,  refer  to  the psychological  domain  of subjective  emotions and  feelings, but  to  a capacity  of acting and  suffering that  constitutes   all bodies  in general  as well as the  different  parts  of a singular body. The affective individuality of a body  is thus  no psychological  metaphor; rather, subjective feelings presuppose the domain  of affects in which they are rooted.  In phenomenological terms: the body is affective as such, in its own materiality, if you like; the body is affective before being a lived body (corps ve´cu) or even before being my own body (corps propre).

We must thus add another  aspect  to the  kinetic dimension  of the  relations of rest and movement that defines the (variable) limits of a body. According to this other aspect, which Deleuze calls dynamic, the singularity of a body lies within the limits of its affective power.  In other  terms:  the  question  of the  structure of a body,  of the  composition  of its  relations,  is equivalent  in Spinoza  to  the  question   of nature  and  the  limits of its power to be affected. For Spinoza, thus, the traditional question  ‘What is a body?’ is strictly synonymous  with another  question,  the  question  ‘What can a body  do?’ (Deleuze 1992, 218). We cannot  know the  nature  of a body  if we do not  know its power. The fact that these two questions  become  equivalent  must not hide the major displacement operated, at least in Deleuze’s interpretation, by Spinoza’s Ethics.

The question  ‘What is a body?’ in fact refers us to  the  description  of a structure, which is in principle exhaustive. To know a body * whatever  it might be: a star, an organ, an animal, or a society * amounts  to knowing its constitutive  parts and the laws of their organisation.  Whatever the difficulties, de facto, of attaining  such knowledge, nothing, de jure, limits or complicates  it. To draw up a list of all the  elements  that  compose  a social body or a galaxy and of the laws that govern their relations may be an arduous  task, but the question  asked is as simple as the form of the answer is clear. In fact, for many bodies, such knowledge  is available and familiar to us. We know well, for example, which organs form the human  body and what functions they ensure.

Do we thereby know everything there is to know about  a body (for example, about the human body)? In a sense, yes, no doubt. I know that I breathe  with my lungs and that I see with my eyes. From the point of view of physiology that is all there is to know (even if it  should  be  noted   that  contemporary medicine  and  biology  work  in  more  complex frameworks  than  those  suggested by the  classical approach).  Deleuze claims, however, that  we can obtain  a very different perspective  if we consider a body from the  point  of view of its affective power; if, instead of limiting ourselves to a classification by genus and species, we try to draw up a list of affects. A horse  and  a cow belong  to two different animal species, and yet there are more differences between a race horse and a farm horse than between a farm horse and a cow because  the farm horse and the cow share affects unknown  to the race horse (Deleuze and Guattari 2000, 257).(7)

To be sure, this is not to deny differences of species between bodies  and certainly even less to deny the organic structure  of animal life. The question  is a different one; it is concerned  with showing  how  a purely  organic  conception * just as a classification by species and genus * does not tell us everything there  is to know about  a body. Deleuze maintains that it would be a mistake to assume that this kind of knowledge, necessary as it may be, could give all possible answers to the question  of the body, that is, that it could exhaust the problem of the body. In other words, according to Deleuze, framed in terms of structure, the knowledge  one can attain is a general, or generic one: I know what a horse as an animal species is, the cow as species, or I know what the human species is. This is all good and very useful in certain contexts, but such a knowledge of the species does not yet tell me what exactly this singular, individual body can do. Knowledge of the species does not tell me what a body can do.(8)

The singularity of bodies  is neither  generic  nor  organic.  It is affective: a body  is defined  by the  affects it is capable  of, in action as in passion. What is crucial is that  this power is not delimited in advance, which is why Spinoza’s new understanding of the body, on Deleuze’s reading, is best expressed  in the statement, ‘we do not yet know what a body can  do’ (Deleuze  1992, 26). What is referred  to  here  is not  a  contingent limit of our knowledge that should be overcome; on the contrary, what is at stake is the impossibility, in principle, of knowing the power of a body in advance. Even more importantly, it should be noted  that such an impossibility is not a necessary, however regrettable, limit imposed upon  human  knowledge,  as for instance  in Kant’s articulation of the finitude of intuition. Instead of marking a limit of knowledge, the fact that we do not yet know what a body can do opens  up a field of experience  or of experimentation, a field that constitutes  the very domain  of ethics and of freedom.

Indeed,  if we do not  yet know what  a body  can do, it is because  the  active and passive affects of which it is capable  are not  given in advance  by its organic or specific structure  but are dependent on encounters with other bodies. What we have to find out is how the affects of one body can arrange themselves with the affects of another  body, how one  exchanges  actions  and  passions  with  the  other.  But while everything  hinges  on encounters,  it does not follow that these encounters are all the same: some encounters are good, that is to say, they increase the power of a body; others  are bad since they reduce the  power  of a body  or even  destroy  the  singular relation  that  constitutes  it. It is this aspect   of  Spinoza’s  thought  which   constitutes    its  properly   ethical  inspiration.   Its importance   for Deleuze  must  not  be  underestimated because  it is precisely  in these terms that Deleuze himself understands the realm of ethics. It is certainly true that Deleuze criticises moral notions  of good  and evil as well as abstract  normative  standards,  but  he does so in the name of an immanent  ethics. That is to say, that the problem is not how we are to free ourselves from values and hierarchies * we neither  can nor should * but  it is instead  how we conceive of values and hierarchies.

The value of beings and things should not be measured  by some external principle, a transcendental law, or  the  conformity  to  norms,  no  matter  whether  they  be  social, religious, or moral, since  in the  end  all these  come  down  to  the  same.  According  to Deleuze, the criteria of value are purely immanent: ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are always a matter of what  increases  or diminishes  the  power  of a given  body,  and  the  ethical  question  is whether  a being  can live up to the  limits of which it is capable.  In this sense, even  the notion  of a hierarchy becomes  purely immanent:  it does  not  compare  beings  with one another  in order  to rank them.  On the  contrary, hierarchy evaluates  the  power  of each singular being  in relation to itself (1994, 37).

From this ethical perspective,  a distinction has to be made between the capacity to act and that  to suffer. While the  capacity of a body to be affected  remains more or less constant,  whatever  the  relative proportion  of active and  passive affections may be, the passive affects, the sad passions, distance  and detach  the body from its power  of being; the  active affects, joy or even  beatitude, on the  contrary, bring it closer to its power  of existing.

For Deleuze, reader  of Bergson as much  as of Spinoza, the  notion  of a power  of existing (conatus) coincides with that of life. Power is the power of life, and life is creative: everything that is cruel and intolerable, the injustice that crushes beings and things does not  belong  to  life, but  to  what  oppresses  and  disfigures  life. Of course,  this  is not  a philosophical thesis one could argue for or refute. It is a presupposition that is necessarily pre-philosophical, but without it philosophy would have nothing to rest on. You could call it, perhaps,  an act of faith.(9)


Becoming.  On Time and Affects

Does thinking about  the body in terms of what it can do * instead of asking what it is * hold  any  consequences for gender  and  queer  theory?  To address  this  question,  I would like firstly to deal with the very distinction between sex and gender. This distinction has played, and continues  to play, a decisive role in feminist and gender  theory. At least since Simone de Beauvoir’s famous claim in The Second Sex that ‘one is not born a woman,  but  rather  becomes  a woman’ (1973, 301) it has opened up new directions  for research and an entire field of studies whose theoretical  and political importance  it would be hard to  overestimate.   Whatever  the  historical  and  strategic  importance   of  the  conceptual distinction  between sex and gender,  however, its sustainability has become increasingly problematic. Even if significantly modified in a wide variety of ways, it almost unavoidably reintroduces  a divide between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ whose pertinence  is more and more doubtful. Within its framework, it is difficult not to think ‘sex’ as supposedly natural and in consequence fixed, and ‘gender’ as supposedly  cultural and as such socially and politically constructed.  The obvious  gain  would  be,  of course,  that  gender  would  hence  be  the object  of a possible  change  in its meaning  through  political and  cultural struggles  and negotiations. The shortcomings  of this approach  are also evident. Behind the conception of sex as a bare biological fact lies the assumption of the stability of life and living forms; and of a nature without history implicitly or explicitly conceived of at once as a blank slate upon  which humans  project  their social forms of life, and as the  absolute  limit imposed  upon  human  agency.  Sex and  gender  are two  sides of the  same  way of understanding nature  simultaneously: as an empty frame and as an unavoidable  destiny. Yet both  fail to see all the ways in which human  and non-human forms of life are intertwined  along lines that  the distinction between nature and culture certainly cannot  map.

In this regard, contemporary developments in the biosciences  and biotechnologies are just the most visible aspect  of the pressing need  for us to acknowledge  the mobility and transformability of living forms and processes, including the most ‘natural’ ones: those of sexual reproduction and  gender  identifications.  At the  same  time, issues of life and death  tend  to become  more  and more  a crucial issue for state  policies and regulations. They do so not only in the form of the medical treatment of diseases and disabilities, of sexualities and reproduction, but also in the ways in which different forms of kinship are either  legitimated  or prohibited  at  a global  scale (policies of adoption,  migration,  and public  health,  etc.). Life, death,  birth,  disease,  mourning,  parenting can  no  longer  be understood and experienced  as purely ‘natural events’, assuming  this was ever the case. Both sex and gender  are categories  too broad  to work with.(10)

Deleuze’s thought is situated  largely outside  this web  of problematic  distinctions, hence  its potential  interest.  Bodies * and  souls * dwell on  one  and  the  same  plane,  a plane of immanence,  where ‘nature’ and ‘culture’ partake in a single process of becoming instead  of  dividing  themselves  or  opposing   each  other.(11)   Bodies thus  compose   and decompose themselves  along lines that  have nothing  to do with the  lines that  separate the natural from the technical or the social. A hand and a tool, be it a stone or a computer, constitute a singular body, which is in turn related, or unrelated,  to other  bodies. In our context,  this  means  that  we  are  not  born  with  a body  endowed with  a more  or less determined biological  sex on  which  social norms  inscribe  a  gender.  In that  case,  we would  be  left to  accept  these  norms, contest  them,  or deploy  them  differently, always constrained  by the limits imposed  by our biological sex (or the current state  of biotechnologies).   For  Deleuze,  however,  the  distribution   is  of  a  different  kind.  Each body is traversed and constituted by biological, institutional, technological, and social lines whose relations are complex and variable. Each of these layers has its degree  of rigidity, a tendency  to immobilise, to freeze, but they also have an intrinsic mobility, a possibility of becoming.(12) Our freedom, therefore, does not emerge  in the margins of transformation  or subversion for which a given culture allows, independently of a more or less unchanging and timeless nature. Freedom, rather, finds its place at the intersection of all these lines, in a possibility of becoming.

What  exactly are  we  to  understand by  ‘becoming’? Deleuze  defines  the  affects constitutive  of bodies  as becomings:  affects are becomings that  unfold in time or, more precisely, affects are a mode of time, although  not a chronological one (2000, 238).While it is impossible to engage here in a fully fledged exposition of Deleuze’s thinking of time, I shall try nonetheless to clarify in what sense  becoming  is a mode  of time and how it is related  to questions  of gender  and sexual difference.

The problem  Deleuze addresses  is how to conceptualise a becoming  that traverses all fixed identities. In this context,  it does  not matter  whether  this fixity is the  rigidity of social functions and norms, or of biological and organic forms, or even that of the barriers that separate  classes, sexes, ages, and natural kingdoms. The task is to think of a becoming that takes away with it everything that assigns us to a determinate and fixed place in the order of beings and things. For instance, Deleuze viewed all of Virginia Woolf’s work (not just Orlando) as testifying to the power of becoming  (2000, 276). Literature in general does not cease to encounter all sorts of becoming: becoming-animal,  -woman, -child, -music or -imperceptible.  There is the  becoming-vegetal of Albertine in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time,  or  the  becoming-rat in Hugo  von  Hofmannsthal’s  Lord Chandos’ Letter,  or  Mrs. Dalloway’s becoming-imperceptible in Woolf’s homonymous novel, to name only a few of the examples given by Deleuze in A Thousand Plateaus and elsewhere (2000, 293). The fact that  most  of  these   examples  come  from  literature  must  not  lead  us  to  assume * erroneously * that  becoming  is of the  order  of the  imaginary, the  fantastic, or that  it is a process of identification in the psychoanalytic sense of the term. (Nor, for that matter, is literature in Deleuze’s view.) But what is the reality of becoming?

Let us follow Deleuze’s analysis of one  of his favourite  examples: the  passage  of Hofmannsthal’s story in which Lord Chandos  recounts  the  experience  of contemplating rats in agony and claims that it is in him, across him, that ‘the soul of the animal bares its teeth  at  monstrous   fate’ (2000, 258). We are  not  dealing  here  with  a  feeling  of pity, triggered  by some sort of vague identification with the dying animal. Nor are we dealing with an imitation: Lord Chandos  does  not  begin  to  imitate  the  rat. Least of all are we dealing with ‘being’ a rat through  some mysterious organic metamorphosis. If, then, Lord Chandos’s  becoming-rat  is  nonetheless  real,  it  is  because   becoming    eludes   any identification  as well as any imitation. Becoming is a process  or crossing-over (passage) that finds its consistency in itself and not in the allegedly fixed terms from which it comes and to which it goes:

« Becoming produces  nothing  other than itself. We fall in a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming  itself, not the supposedly  fixed terms through  which that which becomes  passes. Becoming can and should be qualified as becoming  animal even in the  absence  of a term that  would be the  animal-become. The becoming-animal  of the  human  being  is real even if the  animal the  human  being becomes  is not … « (2000, 238)

What, then, is the reality of becoming?  What does such a reality consist of? According to Deleuze, the reality of becoming  is the reality of an encounter between affects of bodies that  produces  a new  affect. It is the  Spinozist conception of the  affective dimension  of bodies that allows Deleuze to think of a becoming  as improbable  as the becoming-rat of a man or Albertine’s becoming-flower as real, not just as imaginary identifications. It is in this sense  that  what  a body  can  do  is not,  and  cannot  be, exhaustively  determined by its organic structure.  There are encounters between bodies,  compositions  of affects we do not yet know anything about. Such encounters,  when they take place, create new affects, just as real as they are unassignable from a physiological or organic point of view. If we do not know what a body can do it is because  we do not know what a body can become, of what new affects it is capable. The reality of becoming  is an affective one and, indeed, as Deleuze writes, ‘becomings are affects’ (2000, 314).

To be sure, bodies  have forms, organs, functions; they are distributed  among  well-determined  categories   and  genres;  and  they  can  be  seen  as  substances   or  clearly individuated  subjects. It would be absurd, and dangerous, to deny this aspect  of things. But this is not Deleuze’s point. For him, it is not a matter  of denying a reality we all know very well, even too well. It is a matter  instead  of thinking another  aspect  of the  real, an aspect  of which we have some sort of experience  as well, and which coexists with, while not being  reducible to, the first aspect. Certainly, a human  being  is not a rat or a flower, but  a human  being  can compose  his or her affects with those  of a rat or of a flower: a composition  of affects can always take  place  between completely  different  individuals, across species and kingdoms. Becoming is nothing  but such a composition  of affects, but such  a composition  of affects is not  nothing:  it has reality and  consequences, it has a creative power  (2000, 238).

The reality of becoming  has its own singularity, its mode  of individuation, and  its temporality, although  this temporality is different from those of people, things, or subjects. These latter obey chronological time, the time that measures  people  and things, organic and social life, following the linear path of the succession of instants. Becoming consists in a  purely  qualitative  temporal   event  that  obeys  no  chronological  law.  The  Spinozist inspiration merges  here, as is so often the case in Deleuze, with the Bergsonian one. The distinction  does  not  lie between the  enduring  and  ephemeral,  between,  let us say, the stubborn constraints  of ‘real’ time on the one hand, and some sort of fugitive emotional state on the other. The difference is rather the one Bergson analyses, between a spatialised concept  of time, which thinks succession in terms of juxtaposition, and time as duration, as qualitative  change  (2000, 238).(13)  Literature may help, once more:

« … never again will Mrs. Dalloway say to herself, ‘I am this, I am that, he is this, he is that.’ And ‘She felt very young; at the  same  time  unspeakably  aged.  She sliced like a knife through  everything; at the same time she was outside, looking on … She always had the feeling it was very, very dangerous to live even  one  day.’ (Deleuze and  Guattari 2000,263) »

If literature, and art in general, provide the best examples of becoming,  it is not because their  temporality  is, at  best,  an  ‘aesthetic’ experience.  It is rather  because  the  purely affective, or qualitative, nature  of becoming  has no easily traceable  archive outside  the realm, precisely, of art. Along with the  well-ordered  chronological  phases  of our lives * that take us, say, from birth to death,  from childhood  to adolescence,  from adulthood to old age * we all experience  at times, or we all could experience,  a becoming-child  or a becoming-girl, that traverses all ages and all sexes. This is a becoming  that does not efface birth dates  or ‘biological’ sexes but  which also is not  confined  to these  and  has just as much power  and reality. This, at least, is Deleuze’s claim.



Translated by Nils F. Schott



1.      It is worth noting that ‘problem’, not ‘need’, is the main biological category. Life forms are cases of solutions to problems; hence  life for Bergson, instead  of an irrational force, is a creative power that includes and produces  forms of rationality. See chapter  2 of Bergson (1998).

2.     Along with Bergson, Nietzsche is obviously the other  main reference  on this issue.

3.      With a few exceptions,  Deleuze has been  less discussed  in feminist theories  than  other philosophers   of  his  generation  like Foucault  or  Derrida.  For  a  history  of  Deleuze’s reception  in feminist  and  gender  studies,  see  Claire Colebrook’s ‘Introduction’ to  Ian Buchanan  and  Claire Colebrook’s Deleuze and  Feminist Theory (2000). Some  feminist interpretations of Deleuze will be discussed  below.

4.      It would  be  a  mistake  to  separate   in Deleuze’s oeuvre  his studies  in the  history  of philosophy * Hume,  Bergson,  Nietzsche,  Spinoza,  Kant or  Leibniz * or  literature  and art * Proust, Kafka, Bacon, cinema * from his other works. It would also be a mistake to separate  the  books he wrote  alone from those  he co-signed  with Fe´ lix Guattari. This is not  to deny  the  contribution  and  originality of Guattari as a theorist  but  to claim the consistency   of  Deleuze’s  philosophy.   This  cannot   be   cut   up   according   to   quick periodisations,  let alone according  to a divide between the  ‘history of philosophy’ and ‘philosophy as such’. This is a divide he  explicitly rejects, and  for very good  reasons. Franc¸ ois Zourabichvili strongly insists on this point in his introduction  to the new edition of Une philosophie de l’e´ve´nement (2004, 5  6).

5.      On  the  idea  of  spatio-temporal dynamisms  as  syntheses   of  speeds,  directions,  and rhythms  that  subtend perceptible spaces  and  qualities  just like organic  and  inorganic bodies, see also Deleuze (1994, 244ff.) and ‘The Method of Dramatization’ (2003, 134).

6.      Another metaphor is that of a swarm of bees. In a different register, Pedro Almodovar’s film All  About My Mother (1999) is also a good  example  of a Spinozist conception of bodies  and individualities.

7.      Like Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze is also influenced by von Uexku¨ ll’s work on animal worlds, whom he considers as developing  an ethology consistent  with Spinoza’s insights. On the question  of ethology  in Spinoza and Deleuze’s interpretation of it, see Gatens and Lloyd (1999, 101ff.).

8.      Rosi Braidotti, who for a long time has drawn attention to the importance  of Deleuze’s conception of the body for feminist theory, has repeatedly  argued  that Deleuze can help to articulate a new form of materialism in which the corporeal materiality of the body is not erased and at the same time is not reduced  to a biological given. In her view, such a new  materialism  is strategically  critical for feminist  theory  and  the  production of  a feminine feminist subject. It would allow us to think an ‘embodied and therefore  sexually differenciated  structure  of the speaking  subject’ to play against a traditionally universal (disembodied  and male) subject (1994b, 161). See also her Nomadic Subjects (1994a). It is not  the  purpose  of this paper  to  discuss such a strategy  on its own  terms,  even  if it should  be  noted  that  the  very same  philosophical  tradition  has more  often  than  not identified  femininity with, precisely, materiality  and  corporeality  and,  therefore,  those notions should be used carefully. What I would like to remark, for the present  purpose,  is that  the  notion  of embodiment, taken  too literally, fails to grasp  all the  implications of the  shift from the  question  of ‘What is a body?’ to that  of ‘What can a body  do?’ This second  question,  as will become  increasingly clear, concerns  a temporal  and  affective becoming of bodies that  goes  beyond  the  phenomenological notion  of an  embodied subject  and is irreducible to this notion.

9.     On the  necessity of pre-philosophical  presuppositions for philosophy,  see Deleuze and Guattari (1994, 18ff.). On the importance  and pervasiveness  of dimensions  of faith in all the layers of social and culture life and their irreducibility to religious creeds, see William E. Connolly (2005).

10.     In my view, Judith Butler’s work * and not only her most recent texts but already Gender Trouble (1999) and Bodies That Matter (1993) * aims precisely at undoing  the distinction between sex and  gender.  The emphasis  on  performativity  is a way of displacing  the distinction  between  ‘biological sex’ and  ‘cultural gender’  and  not  of  claiming  that everything  is ‘culturally constructed’.

11.     The importance  of this aspect of Deleuze’s has been  underlined  by Rosi Braidotti (2000). In the same volume, Eleanor Kaufman develops the other side of Deleuze’s philosophy of immanence  and univocity, which looks at the incorporeal  dimension  of thought (2000).

12.     In the  terminology  of  A  Thousand  Plateaus  (2000), the  first are  the  hard,  or  molar, segments,  opposed to  the  molecular  layers. It is both  philosophically  and  politically critical to note, however, that for Deleuze the molecular does not coincide as such with everything   that   is  positive   and   vital:  the   description   of  fascism  as  a  molecular phenomenon should be a sufficient warning for readers  against  such a misunderstand-ing.

13.     Here,  in  A   Thousand  Plateaus,  we  are  referred  back  to  the   Bergsonian  idea  of  a coexistence   of  very  different  durations,  superior  or  inferior  to  ours,  all of  them  in communication.  On Deleuze’s interpretation of Bergson’s complex concept  of tempor- ality, see also my Gilles Deleuze: Cine´ma et philosophie (2004). Elisabeth Grosz (2000) has underlined   the  importance   of  Bergson’s conception of  time  for Deleuze  and  called attention to the  political bearings,  in particular for feminist movements,  of a notion  of time that  proposes  an unpredictable future. She does not, however, seem  to make the distinction between ‘the new’ and ‘the future’ that is crucial to both Bergson and Deleuze and without which their call for futurity might be understood as just one more version of the belief in progress  and in a teleology  inherent  to history.


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Paola  Marrati  is Professor of Humanities & Philosophy in the Humanities Center and the Department of Philosophy at The Johns Hopkins University and is Directrice de Programme  de Recherche at the Colle` ge International de Philosophie in Paris. She is the author of Genesis and Trace: Derrida Reading Husserl and Heidegger (Kluwer, 1998; Stanford University Press, 2005) and of Deleuze: Philosophie et cine´ma (PUF, 2003 forthcoming  in an expanded English edition from the Johns Hopkins University Press).