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Rhizome of Boehme and Deleuze: Esoteric Precursors of the God of Complexity

From: SubStance
Volume 39, Number 1, 2010 (Issue 121)
pp. 62-75 | 10.1353/sub.0.0066

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

1. Deleuze and the Occult

Though it has been claimed that Deleuze sought to delink his thought from all religion (Bryden), a close examination of his major writings, as well as his collaborative work with Guattari, shows that he was closely attuned to the subterranean mystical currents that pervade Western religiosity, often running counter to the dogmas of surface theology and not infrequently becoming entangled with sorcery and things un-faithful. Deleuze was steeped in the esoteric and the occult, as a brief perusal of the "1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal" plateau in A Thousand Plateaus (henceforth "ATP") makes obvious (Kerslake Occult Unconscious, Somnabulist; Reggio), and consistently references their French artistic/literary and German Idealist derivations and offshoots (e.g. Novalis, Schelling, Artaud, Klossowski). Nevertheless, he seemingly taunts his readers by burying important (but uncited) nods to the likes of Hermeticist Giordano Bruno and Tarot revivalist Court de Gébelin deep inside Difference and Repetition (henceforth "DR") and the Logic of Sense (henceforth "LS"). One has to know one's way around the literature of mathesis universalis, hermeticism, and the 19th-century European occult revival (see, for example, Ebeling, Harvey, Jacob, Monroe, Owen, Szonyi, C. Webster) to begin to understand just how and why Deleuze makes use of what is clearly neither Science nor Philosophy -- to get beyond them, as it were, in his ontological project of explaining the workings of the chaotic cosmos. There IS religion in Deleuze, even God, but It comes as one of H.P. Lovecraft's Outsider abominations, via witchcraft, trickery, and all things unholy.

Christian Kerslake, as well as Reggio, MacKay, and Delpeche-Ramey, have now opened the door for a closer examination of Deleuze's substantial but often difficult-to-detect engagement with esotericism and the occult, which in this article I shall argue brings him into resonance with Jakob Boehme. So as to not scare the reader off, it needs to be stated categorically that "we sorcerers" (ATP 239) do not claim Deleuze as an esotericist—rather, we simply recognize that he is one of many in a long line of Western intellectuals who have engaged Western esotericism and "secret knowledge" but -- possibly out of fear of losing credibility in mainstream philosophical circles -- have buried it deep in their work. In this, he is far more adept than Schelling and Hegel, who plagiarized—or perhaps sanitized -- the concepts of mystical alchemists (see Magee, Milbank, D. Webster, Wirth). German Idealism, it is generally recognized, was heavily indebted to the mysticism of Jakob Boehme and Meister Eckhardt—Schelling, Schopenhauer, Hegel, and Novalis being the most obvious examples—though Philosophy is still at pains to belittle and minimize the influence of what is often naively misunderstood as ineffable, vitalist, and so forth. Hegel himself regarded Boehme as the father of German philosophy (Wirth). Moreover, the French arts and letters upon which Deleuze draws (Antonin Artaud is a flagrant example) were as indebted to the various strains of the Western occult revival as they were to non-Western shamanisitc practices such as those of the Tarahumara. As MacKay tells us in an introduction to Deleuze's youthful work on the Mathesis Universalis of Romantic occultist Malfatti, intellectuals in post-war Paris did not exclude Western esotericism as they eagerly delved into "exotic" beliefs and practices for ideas on how to construct an anti-Fascist "new earth." Deleuze evidently learned to mix and match unorthodox sources where he needed to, as one can surmise from this account:

During his early years (1944-48) at the Sorbonne, Deleuze participated in monthly salons organized by the wealthy banker Marcel Moré, a friend of Bataille's. In the leftist Catholic context of the soirées at Moré's apartment and the so-called sessions de la Fortelle hosted in mediaevalist Marie Madeleine Davy's grand château as "cover" for Resistance activities, discussions of esoteric topics undoubtedly played a part in what must have been a heady atmosphere, mingling extra-academic intellectual exploration with furtive, morally-charged acts of resistance. Young lights of the Parisian intellectual scene including Deleuze and his close friend Michel Tournier were also, no doubt, respectful of mystically-inclined hostess Davy, whose work suggested that...

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