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  • The World Seen From Within: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Events
  • Paul Patton (bio)

It is easy to decry the abstraction and sophistication of political theory and to advocate a return to a more immediate engagement with real events. It is more difficult to specify the nature of this theoretical engagement or to define the ‘real events’ with which theory is summoned to engage. One response modeled upon the sciences would suggest that events serve to confirm or refute particular theories. However, like experimental results, events require interpretation and it is impossible to disentangle their meaning if not their very nature as events of a certain kind from the theories which inform their description. This points to a different response, according to which theory engages with events at the level of their identification and specification: what kinds of events are there? what kind of event is this? Foucault provides many examples of this form of engagement with events. For example, by showing that the prison and its associated discourse of reform have always co-existed, Discipline and Punish transforms a typical political response to prison protests into a non-event: the intention to make prisons more effective mechanisms of rehabilitation turns out to be a continuation of the modern apparatus of criminal punishment rather than a break with its past. 1

Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of philosophy as the invention of concepts which ‘express’ events might also be understood in terms of the identification and specification of events. On their view, the task of philosophy when it creates concepts is to extract an event from things, to give them a new event. The aim is to engage with everyday social and historical reality in a manner which would challenge received ideas about the nature of events. The conceptualization of new events enables us to become conscious of processes and forces at work in the present, those which we might seek to advance as well as those we might oppose. Philosophy understood in this manner is intended to orient political thought and action. Deleuze and Guattari insist upon the utopian vocation of philosophy, arguing that the creation of new concepts may contribute to the emergence of ‘a new earth and people that do not yet exist’. 2 In order to clarify their stated aim of a philosophy which would be ‘worthy’ of the event, it may be helpful to examine Deleuze’s concept of the event and to ask how this might apply to present social and political events.

Throughout his work, Deleuze has always drawn the key elements of his concept of the event from the Stoics. In The Logic of Sense, he argues that they were the first to create a philosophical concept of the event, describing this as ‘... an incorporeal, complex and irreducible entity, at the surface of things, a pure event which inheres or subsist in the proposition.’ 3 The Stoics drew a fundamental distinction between two realms of being, a material realm of bodies and states of affairs and an incorporeal realm of events. Events are expressed by means of language, in statements, but they are attributes of bodies and physical states of affairs. Thus, the knife opening up a wound in flesh is an attribute of the interpenetration of bodies, but the event of ‘being cut’ is what is expressed by the statement ‘He was cut with the knife’. The fact of being cut is a property of neither the flesh nor the knife, it is an incorporeal attribute of the flesh. It is an event which may be expressed in a variety of ways, for example in the statement that he has a wound. On this account, events are the epiphenomena of corporeal causal interactions: they do not affect bodies and states of affairs but they do affect other events, such as the responses and actions of agents. Pure events are both the expressed of statements and the ‘sense’ of what happens.

There is a parallel here with the views of Anscombe and others in the philosophy of action, according to which actions (a special class of events) are always events under a description. This is because actions involve intentions and intentions presuppose...

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