- A Relentless Spinozism:Deleuze's Encounter with Beckett1
If I begin by stating that this paper will focus on the encounter between Gilles Deleuze and Samuel Beckett, that is, if I suggest that the nature of Deleuze's engagement with Beckett took, and continues to take, the form of an encounter, this is in part because the notion of the encounter in Deleuze's work has still not received the attention it deserves.2 Most frequently discussed are notions of becoming, planes of immanence, or lines of flight—notions of flux, we might say, rather than those of articulation or delimitation. Yet the articulating concept of the encounter may be singularly more characteristic of Deleuze's thought than any other, if at the very least because it is characteristic of what thought is for Deleuze, in general.
Every encounter produces effects in two directions: in one, in the direction of sensation, because what is encountered always takes the form of a sensible sign. Hence Deleuze claims that the "primary characteristic" of the encounter is that "it can only be sensed" ["il ne peut être que senti] (Difference and Repetition 139/182fr.). In the other direction, it poses a problem, a problem that can only be thought, and that transmits to thought an irrevocable necessity. The sensible encounter, in short, is nothing less than the condition of thought. This is not to say that thought is occasioned by a body or material object, because objects as such have already been constituted as objects of recognition for subjects. Rather, it is to assert the necessity of sensation to the exercise of thought, as Deleuze makes clear in his central chapter of Difference and Repetition, "The Image of Thought" (144). What is encountered is not an object but a difference in sensation, one that wounds or strains existing categories of sense perception, and that transmits a shock to thought because it disrupts thought's ready concepts, determining instead a mutation in thought (Zourabichvili 38). The primacy of the encounter as the condition of thought means that thought has a constitutive and positive relation to what it has not yet thought or been able to think: to what bites and scratches, to what it will drag, kicking and screaming, into thought.
The encounter is not the beginning of thought but thought's genetic middle point; it is thought's confrontation with its own limit, which in turn [End Page 124] serves, in Deleuze's terms, as "the genesis of the act of thinking within thought" (Difference and Repetition 159). By thought's "limit," I mean its constitutive exteriority with respect to itself (Sauvagnargues 84), the point at which it necessarily enters into relation with what does not depend on it (Zourabichvili 29). In Deleuze: Une philosophie de l'événement, François Zourabichvili argues that thought for Deleuze is fundamentally related to psychological affect. Zourabichvili and Deleuze both draw on Spinoza's philosophy on this point, namely on Spinoza's definition of affect as an idea of the body that indicates a bodily change of state—a modification of the body or a being-affected (Deleuze, Expressionism 219-20; cf. Spinoza III Def. III). If the encounter is able to determine a mutation in thought, this is only because, like the body, thought is passional, and has the capacity to be affected. Thinking is engendered within thought because to encounter a limit means "to be affected involuntarily... [A]n affect is involuntary by nature because it comes from outside, because it implies an encounter, because it is the index of a [relation of] force" (Zourabichvili 45; trans. mine). What philosophy in turn receives from the passional nature of thought is the imperative to encounter domains outside itself, an imperative which, in Deleuze's case, often takes the form of a turn to art.3
Constructing the Possible
Writing on Samuel Beckett, Deleuze claims that one of Beckett's great contributions is to have shown the coincidence of the logical and physiological in the attitude of exhaustion ("The Exhausted" 154). In his treatment of this coincidence, we might also read something of Deleuze's own understanding of the relation between thought...