Hypatia 18.3 (2003) 237-239
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Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation. By Dorothea Olkowski. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.
The publication of this book confirms the appropriation of Gilles Deleuze by feminist philosophers. A long-time contributor to Deleuze studies, Dorothea Olkowski argues for a Deleuzian "logic of difference" as a creative counterpoint [End Page 237] to the objectifying representations of the metaphysics of being and identity that have marked the history of Western thought (11-15). Olkowski sees in Deleuze's philosophy the possibility of the "ruin of representation," by which she means the overturning of hierarchically ordered time and space (2). It is this order, she claims, that has dominated the West since Aristotle and that covers over an ontology of becoming and change. Following Luce Irigaray, Olkowski locates the representation of sexual difference in the very genesis of the way space/time has been thought in cosmogony and philosophy. This "sexing" of the experience of time and space, she argues, must be challenged if women and men are to achieve an ethical relation. Women must cease to be place and receptacle for men and men must begin to negotiate their own relation to nature and materiality (77 ff). Such obscure metaphysics may not be to every reader's taste. However, Olkowski does make an effort to relate these metaphysical issues to everyday social and political struggles, insisting that the nature of such struggles today shows that the creation of new thoughts, new concepts, and new forms of political action are necessary if we are to create a viable future.
This is an original and difficult book that is dense with scholarship. It requires an attentive and philosophically educated reader but it repays the effort. Olkowski ranges freely over the works of Aristotle, David Hume, Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Luce Irigaray, and Gottlieb Frege, to name a few. Strange bedfellows, perhaps, but all are studied for their contributions to either constructing an objectified representation of life or contributing to the "ruin" of such representations. Olkowski is well placed to offer a critical account of these works and her expertise in aesthetics enriches her approach. For example, the use of Mary Kelly's artworks—some of which are reproduced in the text—as a constant "refrain" throughout the book, allows Olkowski to highlight her own contribution to the "ruin of representation." It is in the inventiveness, or creativity, of productions like Kelly's that Olkowski sees the emergence of difference freed from the bonds of a system of representation that operates by way of the imposition of a rigid hierarchical and normative model of life. Kelly's works, she argues, bridge the gap between practice and concept. This gap is one that is of particular concern to Olkowski and her own approach constantly strives to overcome it. But how? In a telling assessment of the opposing approaches that Catharine MacKinnon and Drucilla Cornell take toward women and their representation, Olkowski draws a distinction between Cornell's "theoretical linguistic" approach and MacKinnon's "pragmatic materialist" approach. Aspects of both approaches are necessary to address the politics of how women are represented, but according to Olkowski, neither will be adequate alone. Rather, what is required, and what Olkowski attempts to construct throughout the book, is a conceptual pragmatics where difference is not suppressed but allowed to proliferate. Kelly's work, viewed as "simultaneously [End Page 238] practice and concept" (3), acts as an instantiation of the creative forces required to overcome the division between language and representation, on the one hand, and materiality, on the other.
Olkowski's strategy is to invest the notion of "the interval"—found in Bergson's philosophy and exploited by Irigaray as the site of possibilities for rethinking the sexual relation—with the power to reconfigure habitual, normative, and normalized, forms of life. This gap between perception and action, being and becoming, is the space in which the liberty to invent an alternative future resides. An interesting and creative reading of both Hume and Bergson allows Olkowski to present her "ontology of change...