Deleuzian Exercises and the Inversion of Stoicism Janae Sholtz, Professor of Philosophy, Alvernia University



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Deleuzian Exercises and the Inversion of Stoicism

Janae Sholtz, Professor of Philosophy, Alvernia University

As is well known, Deleuze attributes his ontology of the event to the Stoics. He elaborates upon the Stoic distinction between causal bodies and incorporeal effects to accommodate his ontology of the virtual and the actual. Of course, there is some question as to whether this is a faithful interpretation of the Stoics. For instance, the fact that the Deleuzian Event and ontology of the surface are elaborations that do not make an appearance in Stoic thought, or that Deleuze emphasizes only lekta at the expense of other incorporeals.1 And, at one level, this paper seeks to reconcile some aspects of Deleuze’s philosophy that seem in tension with or diverge from certain Stoic prerogatives, leading me to suggest Deleuze’s perspective as something of an inverted Stoicism.

Deleuze also attributes the only ethics worth pursuing to the Stoic imperative to “not seek events as you want them but want them as they happen,” which extends from one of the Stoic’s guiding principle concerning the nature of desire: to will only that which is within our power and regulate one’s inner dispositions in a way that one finds joy in the present conjunction of events brought about by external causes (Stoic determinism) (Hadot, 44). This Stoic imperative is generally interpreted as an acceptance or affirmation of fate. It is this imperative that leads Epictetus and Aurelius, for instance, to posit the need to develop a cosmic perspective (for this, I am relying upon the excellent analysis of Pierre Hadot, in The Inner Citadel, and John Sellars, who has developed this line of Stoicism in multiple contexts), which in many ways, serves as the backdrop to my paper. For Deleuze, this imperative serves as the backdrop for the only true ethics, the ethics of the event, which he understands as becoming worthy of what happens to us.

The problem is that human beings make judgments based on a limited perspective, thus the aim of a cosmic perspective would be to ‘observe the cosmos free from such human judgments’ (Sellars, 1999, 18). This perspective allows the individual (1) to accept seemingly negative events that befall it and (2) recognize itself as part of a larger harmony.2 In order to accomplish this perspective, the individual must work towards a dissolution of the boundary between Self and Nature which, as Sellars explains, necessitates moving beyond our individual concerns towards a geo-historical perspective in which we see ourselves as part of the totality, subject to all of the processes of Nature.

Of course, this guiding principle is incumbent upon the discipline of judgment itself, to apply the rules of discernment to inner representations, so that nothing that is not objective may infiltrate (Hadot, 35-36), and the Stoics are known for developing spiritual exercises in order to do just this. These spiritual exercises consist of reflecting or meditating on one’s daily experiences,3 in order to identify falsely imposed value-judgments, keeping in mind fundamental principles through daily repetition, and imaginatively invoking a view of the cosmos and relation to is that extends beyond our everyday, self-interested, and banal experience (see Hadot 1991, intro. 31), providing another point of connection to Deleuze, whose writing as a whole is a self-conscious examination of philosophical practices and assumptions of thought. So, at another level, I want to claim that there is an even deeper affinity with the Stoic’s style and practice of philosophy, regardless of the contradictions that I will raise. We can see Deleuze’s constant reflection on philosophy’s illusions, value judgments, and his creative repetition of images and concepts to evoke the plane of immanence, Deleuze’s version of the cosmic, as counterparts writ large to these personal exercises.4

Our intuition is that, though the quest for a cosmic perspective is inherited by Deleuze with the concomitant need to eliminate boundaries between self and cosmos, Stoic and Deleuzian philosophy differ in what it means for this boundary to be overcome, which leads to several issues –the nature of the self, the nature of the cosmos or cosmic, and the form of spiritual exercises which will ensue. That this is also matter of thinking the Event, brings us to the possible dislocation of Deleuze’s philosophy from the Stoics and this paper is an attempt to give careful consideration to these divergences.



The Cosmic and the Event:

A Deleuzian cosmic perspective differs from the Stoic conception of the cosmos5 in ways that I believe fundamentally alter the concept. The cosmic is the immanent and molecular field of intensities and forces, which includes another level of consideration altogether, that of the relation between the virtual and the actual inherited from Difference and Repetition – that is, a method of actualization out of an immanent field of forces and intensities that prefigure individualized bodies. Rather than the virtual and actual being applied to or interpreted as a dualism between body and thought, which I think arises from referring only to Deleuze’s usage of the terms in Logic of Sense where he is specifically focusing on explain the generation of sense, these two levels of the real have to be understood as subtending this distinction – as being a part of all events. Levi Bryant observes,6 Deleuze’s claims about the virtual are not simply about minds relating to world but hold for any entity regardless of whether minds exist.

My claim then is that the issue of what it means to think the event really begins with Deleuze’s delineation of differenc/tiation developed in “The Method of Dramatisation” and Difference and Repetition. The conceptual link between these preceding works and Logic of Sense is significant, as it concerns Deleuze’s invocation of Stoic ethics and also exemplifies the idea of a spiritual exercise as a rhetorical method of amplification – to dramatize in order to institute a conversion towards a more authentic and exact vision of the world (Hadot, 1995, 83).7 Namely, dramatisation, under the auspice of counteractualisation, becomes the method by which we become worthy of events. Dramatisation specifies a stage in the process of differenc/tiation, the core of Deleuze’s ontology of becoming. It marks the emergence of things and concepts, as spatio-temporal dynamisms incarnate selective elements of an Idea. Not synonymous with the actual, dramatization is the ontological process that initiates and animates actualization as part of an ever-developing process or flux. In Logic of Sense, however, Deleuze explicitly pits the ontological version of dramatisation against another, one that invokes the philosophical subject as actor: ‘the actor actualizes the event but in a way that is entirely different than the actualization of the event in the depth of things,’ (Deleuze 1990, 150/176) referring specifically to this as a process of counteractualisation. Rather than a matter of description of the Idea/event, which the method of dramatisation comes to be in relation to the ontological process, this version of counteractualisation involves an imperative and a different method or procedure; the imperative is to affirm the intensive differences that populate any event. The procedure is to go back in to the chaosmos of immanence and explicate the myriad potentialities that insist therein, a dramatic counter-movement that opens and intensifies the event, or particular aspects of the event. From this perspective we can say that dramatisation is the liberation of the ideal events implicated in the actual and of the affective and intensive field within us.

It is no secret that Deleuze relies heavily on his understanding of the relation between Stoic physics and logic in order to develop his account. For what it’s worth, here is Deleuze’s appropriation. He claims that the Stoics were the first to radically distinguish two planes of being (5): bodies and states of affairs and incorporeals. The incorporeals Deleuze focuses upon are lekta, logical or dialectical attributes – he calls them effects, which subsist or inhere to states of affairs that result from bodies; they are expressed as verbs and exist at the limit or surface of being. Growing, becoming smaller, being cut are all examples of incorporeals; these designate a way of being and are intimately connected to bodies.

Deleuze says this Stoic distribution implies ‘an entirely new cleavage of the causal relation” (6). On the plane of being/bodies, they refer causes to causes, while at the surface, bodies are the causes of incorporeal surface effects, which can be multiplied infinitely. Effects can be referred to effects, yet they are not considered causes but only quasi-causes following the laws which express the mixtures of bodies on which they depend. This new distribution upheaves philosophical categorization and reverses Platonic metaphysics that privileges the reality of the Idea. For the Stoics, states of affairs, quantities, and qualities are beings (bodies) and are contrasted to extra-being, which, as incorporeal, is a non-existing entity. Thus, we are set to understand the Event topologically as an infinite series of effects, frolicking at the surface of being, always referring back to a material foundation.

And here is the passage where Deleuze utilizes this theory of the event to proposes another affinity with Stoic philosophy, that of the ethical imperative to accept fate, so to speak:

The event is not what occurs (an accident), it is inside what occurs, the purely expressed. It signals and awaits us… Nothing more can be said, and no more can ever be said: to become worthy of what happens to us, and thus to will and release the event, to become the offspring of one’s own events, and thereby to be reborn, to have one more birth” (LS, 149-50).
But it is also within this passage that we can see Deleuze diverging from Stoicism. We can easily assimilate the willing of the event to Stoic ethics, but what does it mean to release the event? One thing often lost in treatments of Deleuze’s event is the ineluctable double-sidedness that the surface implies: “a doubling which… permits sense, at the surface, to be distributed to both sides” (LS, 125). We can ever only emphasize the effect or the incorporeality of events. In the Twentieth Series on the Moral Problem in Stoic Philosophy, Deleuze reintroduces the question of bodies and passions in light of Stoic physics as an ethics of bodies, acknowledging that that the event cannot be grasped or willed without it being referred to the corporeal cause from which it results, as well as the unity of causes (Physics) (LS, 124). He calls this divination, which is the tracing of lines and points that appear on surfaces (LS, 143) – this is the outline of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism. Effects act as signs of relations, forces, and intensities between occurring between and within bodies. Deleuze says that it is by following the border that one passes from bodies to the incorporeal, releasing the incorporeal double and multiplying the method of expression. Dramatisation is this act of retracing or miming of the event, and it follows that this method not only wills the event as it is, but allows for more of its release.

In fact, Deleuze implies that the more that events traverse the entire, depthless extension, the more they affect bodies which they cut and bruise, implying that the quasi-causality of incorporeals and their combination change bodies, or at least in the choice/selection involved in actualization of particular bodies: “as long as the surface holds, not only will sense be unfolded, but it will also partake of the quasi-cause attached to it. It, in turn, brings about individuation and all that ensues in a process of determination of bodies” (LS, 126). The depth (materiality) has the power to organize surfaces, but Deleuze insists that it is the surface, the locus of the quasi-cause, which is like a theatre for the reshuffling of singularities, condensations, and fusions (LS, 125). As Protevi claims, “the event re-patterns a system.”8 The idea of quasi-cause is idiosyncratic in that it requires an appeal to the Virtual/Actual relation: the incorporeal surface effects are quasi-causes in the sense that through their proliferation, combination, or relations, they bring more of the potentialities of the Virtual, understood as the intensities and forces, to the surface. Thus they do not actually cause, but express that which already exists – as individuations and determinations – only now as re-patterned actualizations.

This is where the language of counteractualisation becomes crucially important.9 The fact is that the event is always both virtual and actual, or in a state of actualization. It allows us to recognize the infinite play that is possible at the surface, and between surface and depth, and that becoming worthy of what happens to us exceeds that which has been actualized, idea or state of affair, in order to recognize that what happens to us is a constant interplay with the virtual reservoir, what is excessive to the event in any instant – a constant demand not to hypostasize existence. Thus, Deleuze implicitly posits excess as central features of the event – excess that is only contingently actualized, which opens up the realm of chance and indeterminacy not present in Stoic ontology.10

Willing the event is willing the release of more of the event, and this is what is at stake in so many of Deleuze’s invocations of the BwO, dismantling the self, and becoming worthy of the Event. Deleuze has said that we need more resistance to the present – let us interpret that in light of what we have just said to mean that resistance to the present means resisting interpreting the real only in terms of the actualized, and then we have a new way of conceiving what it means to be worthy of what happens to us, or as Colebrook says, “The true sense of freedom (is) an embrace of the virtual that is not limited to the possibilities that are contained within our present point of view” (Colebrook, 171). This is a spiritual exercise of prosoche, of “continuous vigilance and presence of mind” (Hadot, 1995, 84) directed towards the infinite excessiveness of the event.

Summarily, what is at stake in the aforementioned quote is: (1) to become worthy of the event equals traversing the event; (2) willing implies a kind of selection, not just assent; The actor/sage occupies the instant, represents and comprehends this instant and in so doing selects (limits) the event in such a way that makes the instant all the more intense (147); (3) releasing the event means accessing more of the virtual event; (4) to be reborn indicates overcoming the Self, a form of dismantling of the paradigms and borders of the self.

Deleuze explains that every event is a kind of wound, because of the doubleness of the event – it is both the present moment of its actualization, an individual or person, personal in this respect, but also the eventum tantum: the future and the past of the event considered in itself, impersonal and pre-individual. The conundrum is “how does one come to truly experience the Event?” If the more encompassing sense of the event is purely virtual, composed of pre-individual and pre-personal intensities and singularities, and we as subjects are hypostasized, already organized and actualised, then how can the subject recognize or engage these virtually imperceptible movements of the Event?

The missing step, and what I am emphasizing as the difference between Deleuze’s dismantling of the Self and Stoic dissolution between boundaries of the self and nature. Counteractualisation, if it is to be an engagement with the virtuality of the intensive Idea/Event, needs the dissolution of the subject; the I must counteractualize itself. In other words, the dismantling of the self has to precede the dissolution of boundary between Self and the cosmos, which Deleuze might say still remains in the realm of the actual. This is an idiosyncratic idea of rebirth that it is predicated on a kind of death, the perpetual and incessant experience of the dissolution of subjectivity into the event.

This is position that we find both in Difference and Repetition and Logic of Sense, where Deleuze calls for the dissolution of self as a kind of performance which would allow the individual to re-engage the intensive plenum, the realm of the Idea or Event. In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze suggests that the process of working through problematic Ideas leads us to the fractured I and the dissolved Self (Deleuze 1994, 259/332), and immediately following this claim Deleuze begins a discussion of the generative capacity of the death. Working through or contemplating the problematic Idea of death is a kind of Deleuzian spiritual exercise, and in this respect, Deleuze joins a long tradition of meditating on death as a transformative practice, including the Stoics.



Counteractualising the Self through the Spiritual Exercise of Death

The problematic Idea that is presented is the doubleness of death, the empirical event and the transcendental instance that constitute the constant, incongruent interface of the personal and the impersonal faces of death. Contemplating the doubleness of death includes a ‘radical reversal… [that] loosens my hold upon myself by casting me out of my power’ (Deleuze 1994, 112/148; Blanchot 1982, 106, 154-55). Deleuze links this Idea, giving priority to the impersonal, to the ethical imperative to be worthy of what happens (the event): ‘the impersonal and infinitive death, which “distances” the ego, causing it to release the singularities which it contains and raising it to the death instinct on the other surface, where “one” dies, where one never succeeds in, or finishes, dying’ (Deleuze 1990, 222/259). What we seek to understand then is how this problematic initiates the experience of a dramatic counteractualisation of Self, or, in a more Stoic vein, leads us to recognize the illusion of the substantial Self as a false judgment.

Deleuze suggests that it is the very practice of contemplating the incommensurability of the two faces of death that constitutes a method of cracking the self. The realization of impersonal death transforms the perspective associated with personal death, which is originally approached only in terms of the individual’s particular world. At the molar level, the level of empirical death, incompatibilities exist between individuals, or persons, and worlds that are actualized; which means that changes or encounters between different individuals potentially destroy the integrity of those individuals. At the other level, that of impersonal, pre-individual singularities, there are no incompossibilities and the illusory boundaries of the Self’s identity and resemblance, as well as the reliance on the principle of non-contradiction, fall away in light of the affirmation of the intensive plenum and pure connectivity. Hence death is affirmed as generative becoming beyond the Self.

Though one could interpret Deleuze’s spiritual exercise of contemplating death is a species of praemeditatio malorum, as a kind of preparation for life’s difficulties, it seems most akin to the Stoic maxims that link the acceptance of death to the contemplation of the insignificance of the human in relation to the Whole, such as Aurelius’ admonition that “every part of me will then be reduced by change into some part of the universe” (V.13)11, which are meant to remind us of our infinitely small place in the grand scheme of the cosmos. This training is meant to elevate thought from the individual to a universal perspective (Hadot, 1995, 97). However, Deleuze’s meditative exercise does not fit either model: first, is important to recognize that even when Deleuze speaks of empirical death, he is not just referring to a final state. As opposed to this, death is present in the living in the form of a ‘subjective and differenciated experience’ (Deleuze 1994, 112/148). The personal face of death concerns an encounter that causes transformation through the cancellation of differences, i.e actualization, and thus represents an affirmation. Second, the thought of death’s doubleness is meant to transform the individual perspective into a perspective of the absolutely and infinitely singular, not the universal – this underlines the difference between the Stoic cosmos versus the Deleuzian cosmic that I want to delineate.

The dismantling of the subject which occurs through contemplating the doubleness of death transforms the subject, loosening the psychic boundaries in order that one begin the work of making oneself a BwO in order to engage more deeply with the fluctuations of intensity of the plane of immanence. Willing that one become an event is thus the deeper sense of becoming worthy of the event.

The Self:

In order to further examine our hypothesis that the resemblance between the Stoic imperative to remove boundaries between the Self and cosmos and Deleuze’s imperative to dismantle the Self is really only superficial, we must look more closely at the nature of the Self. Deleuze’s image of thought is not one of harmonious agreement between faculties or pure rationality, whereas the Stoic soul constitutes just such an image of thought, where rationality is the primary characteristic and ethical goal, guaranteed by its commonality with a rational principle guiding the cosmos.12 What Deleuze realized was that if the boundaries of the self are themselves an illusion, then the image of thought that it relies upon is itself in need of critique, which leads necessarily to a tension between the idea of the rational sage as providing the possibility of objective judgment about the cosmos and the critique of the autonomy of the thought itself. Perhaps paradoxically, for Deleuze, the judgment that must be overcome is the illusion of a Self that is based on an image of thought that endorses ‘good’ and ‘common sense.’

This traditional image assumes a coherence between nature and man (i.e re-presentation), the good nature of thought, or its natural orientation towards truth and reason which guarantees its capacity to judge correctly, and the priority of recognition which assumes the a priori nature of thought and a telos for thought. All of these “crush thought under an image which is that of the Same and the Similar in representation, but profoundly betrays what it means to think and alienates the two powers of difference and repetition” (DR, 167). Stoic reason is linked to the problem of good sense, which only appeals to the real, while Deleuze’s image of thought appeals to the paradox of sense “present at the genesis of contradiction” (LS, 74). Good sense indicates a particular distribution of faculties that relies on assumptions of unification, identification, and recognition. This image obscures the true nature of thought as an encounter rather than representation. As Deleuze says, “do not count upon thought to ensure the relative necessity of what it thinks. Rather, count upon the contingency of the encounter with that which forces thought to raise up the absolute necessity of an act or thought or passion to think” (DR, 176). So dismantling the self is not just a matter of moving beyond our personal perspective or interests to recognize our place in a larger whole, but a matter of overcoming a certain image of thought that assumes common sense (reason) and the good nature of sense (desire for truth).

Though I think it is rather uncontroversial to claim that the Stoics identify reason as the key characteristic of the Self/soul, let’s look at the consideration of the Stoic Self provided by Hadot in The Inner Citadel and the relation of the higher self to a cosmic perspective therein. Hadot says that we develop new awareness of our inner power, that “the self becomes aware of itself as an island of freedom in the midst of a great sea of necessity” (112), when the phenomena of nature is stripped of all adjectives (value-judgments) so that it appears in its nudity and “savage beauty” (112), which would be the perspective of universal Nature and the flow of eternal metamorphoses. Accomplishing this cosmic perspective requires a delimitation of the self, or rather the elimination of certain nonessential elements of the higher self. Hadot calls this delimitation of the Self the fundamental activity of Stoicism (120); it reflects a complete transformation of self-consciousness, of our relation to our body and towards the external. The guiding principle is that anything that is subject to external causality must be delimited, most obvious of which is the body as subject to physical laws. Then there are circles of exteriority which must not enter in to consideration of the true self and its realm of freedom, each of which corresponds to Stoic doctrine concerning those which should be considered as indifferents, the third is the domain of involuntary emotions (particular relevant to Deleuze’s notion of affect), which arise from the body and are conceived as a first shock to the soul that cannot be avoided with the help of reason (117). By delimiting the self from these, the self becomes aware that it stands outside of this flux, but in so doing, now wants and acts only according to reason, which means that the self now coincides with the Reason of universal Nature.13 Eliminating pathoi, value judgments, and delimiting the self in terms of only that which is caused or depends upon the will brings our higher self (inner self) more closely aligned to the Rational world soul.14



The Cosmos

Yet, the assumption – a foundational one for Stoicism – that the universe is rational and ordered is not one shared by Deleuze. For instance, in Difference and Repetition, he says that there is “a history of contingencies, and not of necessity. Ruptures and limits, and not continuity… great accidents… and amazing encounters that could have happened elsewhere, or before, or might never have happened” (DG, 1998, 140). Albeit a later concept, the cosmic is meant to embody this history of contingency. It is a groundless chaosmos rather than a grounded earth, understood as an open dynamism characterized by errancy and chance, (this is what is at stake in Deleuze’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s eternal return as selective, rather than merely repetitive). Though the Stoics embrace a conception of nature as constant flux, these changes and mixtures are guided by reason and causal necessity. Deleuze challenges this on two levels. First, Deleuze and Guattari consistently challenge the idea of a transcendent, pre-established order or necessary harmony15 within the universe. Applying Deleuzian logic, the Stoic conclusion that the cosmos is a living being, rational, and intelligent, commits the primary philosophical error, to think the transcendental in the image of that which it is supposed to ground. Second, Deleuze’s metaphysics of irreducible difference and multiplicity implies that, since bodies are always composites of multiple capacities, actualization is not a matter of linear causality, but what Protevi calls diachronic emergence: “Here we have an irreducible element of ‘chance’ even though the system is thoroughly deterministic.”16 The genetic conditions of the cosmic are bared in Deleuze’s geophilosophy, where he posits a level of continuous variation inherent in ostensibly fixed forms. This becomes the bedrock of the concept of machinic assemblages, which are incessantly engaged in processes of deterritorialization and singularization out of which certain semiotic components and material order can be extracted, though never pre-ordained.17

This is why Deleuze advocates the dismantling of the Self, and why this dismantling differs so dramatically from the dissolving of boundaries between Self and Nature implied by the Stoics. As Skrebowski observes, “there would seem to be an absolute incompatibility between a notion of making the self an inner citadel (as Aurelius suggests) [in order to live according to nature] and dismantling the self (as Deleuze consistently agitates for)” (11). The former subscribes to a natural resemblance between the Self and nature, while the latter unlinks thought from the bonds of a transcendent principle, and allows thought to think its own genetic conditions out of an impersonal and inhuman transcendental field. Ironically, one could claim that Deleuze actually takes the Stoic imperative to become one with or correspond to the cosmic to its ultimate, logical conclusion, if one accepts Deleuze’s dismantling of the idea of rational organizing principle in the cosmos, that is, if nature itself is self-differing, generative and indeterminate. Then, this incompatibility between Deleuze’s dismantling of the self and the edict to live according to nature resolves itself, as thought must think its self-differing genesis and renewal as aligned with this wholly impersonal, non-rational or indeterminate cosmic flux, not stand outside of it.

What this implies is that, rather than the delimitation described by Hadot, dismantling the self is a method of exploring and surpassing limits of our being, which would be inherently externally oriented and which operates through exposure rather than closure. Deleuze presents the becoming and thus dissolution of the Self as a matter of passages and fluctuations of intensity, which is to say, an affective engagement with the world. The goal would rather be allowing these fluctuations and disturbances to flow over and through us, effectively letting them in. Remembering Deleuze’s imperative to release the event, affect is the enacting of a cut or tear in the surface, an encounter that forcefully re-opens the pulsating, primary order from whence sense and surface arises. Wouldn’t this be the brute and savage nature devoid of significations to which Hadot refers. We might consider how Deleuzian spiritual exercises would involve the consideration of affect as a virtue rather than something to be avoided or delayed.

And this is really a crucial difference: the emphasis placed on affect, which indicates the relation between an affecting body and affected body, and, by extrapolation, centers upon the importance rather than indifference towards the body, as both the site of passage of intensity and the locus of these transformations. The immediate visceral experience actually creates changes on and through bodies, potentially engendering different perceptual fields and modes of thought. Encountering new affects, shocking affects, spurs thought to create new concepts, and thus to introduce new ways of being into the social sphere.18 Moreover, the rise and fall, these fluctuations, of affect are the very process by which the individual becomes worthy of the event, or immanently related to the cosmos. Moreover, affect is indicative of a further, ‘more profound and almost unlivable Power’ – rhythm as the synthesis of chaotic intensities – thus bringing us closer in line with the Deleuzian cosmic predicated on ontology of forces which precede perception and rational cognition. This emphasis explains his continual interest in informing philosophy through considerations of art, the emphasis on which would be counterintuitive to Stoic doctrine of indifference towards external things. Artworks are blocs of sensation that introduce us to new and different affective experiences. Encountering artworks is an example of experimentation, the Deleuzian exercise of proliferating and intensifying affects. So, Deleuzian exercises indicate a determination to be affected.

Which brings us to the issue of what it means to experiment and how this implicates the body. Willing the event is to engage in a way of life directed by the intent to take the event to its limit, to always experience more of the event. But if the event is infinite, the limit would be limitless. Deleuze wants us ‘to explore all distances’ (Deleuze 1990, 179/210), transforming ourselves through the process, rather than succumb to any particular actualisation of the event and resign ourselves to our ‘fate’ in a limited fashion. As Sean Bowden says, given the ongoing nature of the sense-event, Deleuze translates the Stoic desire to live according to nature to mean living in accordance with the event, which never finishes coming about (Bowden, 43). This is a process of affirming as much of the event as we can stand to experience and perpetual transgression as the way of life. This is where the Nietzschean element of affirmation melds with Stoic acceptance of fate, and we can understand Deleuze’s emphasis on experimentation as integral to his ontology of the event.

Deleuze says, “the sage waits for the event, understands the pure event in its eternal truth, independently of its spatio-temporal actualizations, as something eternally yet-to-come and always already passed. But, at the same time, the sage also wills the embodiment and the actualization of the pure incorporeal event in states of affairs and in his or her own body and flesh” (LS, 146). Deleuzian experimentation is a matter of imbricating ourselves in immanence (material existence).

Attempts to capture the flows of desire and infinite powers of the event can be disastrous: Artaud’s madness or Fitzgerald’s alcoholism.19 This prompts Deleuze to question whether we should limit ourselves to the counteractualisation of an event that would not include actual physical destruction – to the actor’s simple, flat representation. But then Deleuze flips the question: are we merely to speak of these risks taken to the body and to the extremities of psychic awareness while remaining on the shore? These individuals who succeeded in communicating something of the event only did so through great risk and bodily vulnerability. Remaining at the shore, as a spectator, is not an option. The fine line between tracing the incorporeal crack at the surface and letting this crack deepen exists in tandem with the inscription on bodies: ‘The eternal truth of the event is grasped only if the event is also inscribed in the flesh. (Deleuze 1990, 161/188). The metaphor of the crack is illustrative in that it invokes the metaphysical surface of thought, and instructs us to move beyond this purely ideational plane. Thought must be quickened through the return of exteriority and the depth of the body. The crack, by which we can understand the dismantling of the Self, makes possible the release of the underlying forces and affects that compose the depth (body and materiality) from which the surface is generated. Deleuze likens the greatest health to an open wound – living on the surface of a sheer exposure to the outside and suffering the intensification of this moment.

The construction of the BodywithoutOrgans corresponds to this open wound. Making a BwO is described as a process of freeing of intensities, which is initiated through the fracture of self and reason (Deleuze, 1987, 158/196). One can see how Deleuze’s revision of the image of thought as a genetic provocation of the faculties inverts the priority of rational judgment by positing a more fundamental level of experience that must be accounted for (i.e. affect), issuing in his imperative to think that which is unthought. It is the level of affect, which is found in those intensities that pass between bodies and the variations and resonances between them. But Deleuze is clear; making a BwO ‘not a notion or a concept but a practice, a set of practices’ (Deleuze 1987, 149-50/186), is sustained through pursuit of intense embodied experiences.20 In this way, affect is synonymous with the force of encounter, and our experimentations calibrate our awareness to movements of becoming.21

The Stoics always require the delineation of a particular and rigorous method for their practices; Deleuze’s is a method of repetition and imagination that disciplines us against certain transcendental illusions. It is a method of miming that reminds us of the externality of thought. It is a method informed by the nature of the event, which allows us to place ourselves within its ebbs and flows in order that we become worthy of that event. It is a method of counteractualisation, which releases the event. Finally, it is a method of experimentation, which places our bodies at risk in order to experience and transgress the apparent limits thereof. I have argued that Deleuzian philosophical practices reveal the inversion of several fundamental precepts of Stoicism, namely, the assumptions of order and rationality that underlie the self and cosmos, and eschewal of affect and the body as indifferents.

In one sense, these inversions are actually a deepening of the affinity between Stoics and their intuition of the complicity between the cosmic and the self that Deleuze was able to take farther in virtue of his critique of the image of thought and the concomitant view of the cosmic as including the virtual/actual, which allows us to posit the molecularized plane of immanence as that boundary of thought which can only be felt – which explodes the paradigm of the self, all the while leading us to a more nuanced ability to experience and know the event, and to live according to nature.

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1 See John Sellars (2006) “An Ethics of the Event: Deleuze’s Stoicism.”

2 First there is a meditation on universal flux and the impermanence of all things, designed to offer consolation for loss of various kinds and ultimately consolation for death. Second there is an attempt to see Nature as a whole and to grasp it as a single inter-connected system. Third there is an effort to put into a much wider context everyday human cares and concerns in order to minimize their significance (Sellars, 1999, 12).

3 Through hypomnemata (daily writings). There are two major forms or practices of spiritual exercise, according to Hadot: the writing meditation (hypomnêmata) and the mindfulness exercise (prosochê). Prosochê is the art of attention – being attentive to every action, sensation, or thought at the time that they appear (Buzare, 27). This may be a good match for the sensitivity to immanence that we wish to develop an account of.


4 And, as for the Stoics, these exercises are aimed not merely at the theoretical but towards realizing a transformation of one’s vision of the world, meant to be lived and practiced (Hadot 1995, 21).

5 Moving from parts to whole that a view from above cosmos implies towards a molecular view that implies internal process and movement. Also, the cosmic is a technical concept in Deleuze’s oeuvre that should be analyzed in opposition to the significance of earth/groundedness; a cosmic people in his later work with Deleuze and Guattari (Thousand Plateaus) is associated with affect and multiplicity, and, as well, is used as a commentary on modernity.

6 See https://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2006/08/26/a-brief-note-on-the-virtual/

7 This concept may provide interesting parallel to the Stoic idea of playing one’s role in accordance with a divinely scripted play and one’s particular Nature: “Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.” Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Ch. 17. Rather than playing a role for which one understands predetermined standards, understanding the role becomes the challenge in the face of their being no preset standard but only the singularity of the role at the very instant of the event. See Johnson, Brian E. (2014) The Role Ethics of Epictetus: Stoicism in Ordinary Life.

8 Protevi. “Deleuze, Guattari, and Emergence,” Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 29.2 (July 2006): 19-39

9 Constantin Boundas endorses the importance of counteractualization for Deleuze’s account of freedom: “Deleuze situates freedom in the space of a contradiction between the sterility and impassiveness of the virtual event and the event’s resourcefulness in engendering actual states of affairs (Deleuze, 1990b, 4-11)” (223).

10 “By selecting one possibility, the quasi-cause must preserve, at a distance, but with no less reality, the power of the possibilities that the selection excludes” (Lampert, 2006, 104)

11 Concerning human insignificance: “observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a speck of semen tomorrow will be a mummy or ashes” (Aurelius, IV.48).

12 “It is from universal Reason that comes that reason which is common to all mankind and assures its relatedness (Aurelius, II, I, 3; XII, 26)

13 [O]nce we have driven away all that excites or affrights us, there ensures unbroken tranquillity and enduring freedom; for when pleasures and fears have been banished, then, in place of all that is trivial and fragile and harmful just because of the evil it works, there comes upon us first a boundless joy that is firm and unalterable, then peace and harmony of the soul (Seneca, essays, bk 7, iii. 2–4).

14 This is Hadot’s interpretation of Epictetus’ claim that “The philosopher’s task… he must adapt his own will to events” (On Desire and Aversion, II, 14, 7).

15 This is evidenced by his thesis in LS that all possible worlds obtain, as contrasted to the Leibnizian thesis that only the best of all possible worlds obtains.

16 As Protevi explains, "Diachronic emergence, or creativity in the production of new patterns and thresholds of behaviour, is what Deleuze will call an ‘event’, which is not to be confused with a mere switch between already established patterns or with the trigger or ‘external event’ that pushes the system past a threshold and produces the switch. The Deleuzean event repatterns a system… (“Deleuze, Guattari, and Emergence,” Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory, 29.2 (July 2006): 19-39.)

17 See Guattari. The Machinic Unconscious: Essays in Schizoanalysis, 12-16. Guattari uses the term ‘transformational matter’ to indicate the degree to which assemblages are not part of existing stratifications, but instead are the possibility of change, rupture, and transformation of both the living and inanimate world.

18 One could definitely argue that freedom from passions is not freedom from affects, and the Stoics do in fact distinguish between affect and emotion – emotions, for the most part, being false judgments “about some present or potential state of affairs” (Graver, 4), and affects being involuntary “below-threshold” responses which are precognitive. But Stoic philosophy does not make much of affect, other than as something that we should refrain from judging until we have properly reflected. While for Deleuze, affect is at the center of his transformative ethic—aesthetic politics. In ‘Of the Refrain’ (see MP, 427–8/345–6), it is clear that that task of modernity, of the cosmic artisan, is to free the molecular. The use of affect to direct us toward a greater knowledge could correspond to the interpretations of Graver and Sherman who argue that the Stoics did not promote lack of feeling but rather emphasized the importance of good feeling in habituating one to a state of virtue (Sherman, 1997:117; Graver, 2007). Deleuze, following Spinoza, advocates the promotion of affects of joy – which would be those that effect an increase of one’s power.


19 “If to will the event, how could we not also will its full actualization in a corporeal mixture…? If the order of the surface is itself cracked, how could it not itself break up, how is it to be prevented from precipitating destruction… how can we prevent deep life from becoming a demolition job?” (Deleuze 1990, 157/183)


20 “This is how it should be done. Lodge yourself on a stratum, experiment with the opportunities it offers find an advantageous place on it, find potential movements of deterritorialization, possible lines of flight, experience them, produce flow conjunctions here and there, try out continuums of intensities segment by segment… It is only there that the BwO reveals itself for what it is: connection of desires, conjunction of flows, continuum of intensities.” Deleuze and Guattari. How do you Make Yourself a Bodywithoutorgans? The Dogon Egg and the Distribution of Intensities, November 28, 1947http://www.generation-online.org/p/fpdeleuze2.htm


21 See Gregory J. Seigworth and Melissa Gregg, 2010, “An Inventory of Shimmers” in The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press) pp.1-2.






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