In Search of a New Image of Thought: Gilles Deleuze and Philosophical Expressionism by Gregg Lambert
Gregg Lambert has been something of a star in the expanding scholarship that surrounds the work of Gilles Deleuze, a magnesium flare in the night of interpretation. Lambert’s previous books and essays include The Non-Philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (2003) and The Return of the Baroque in Modern Culture (2005), both of which stood out for their clarity of thought and expression. Here Lambert uses his concise skills to read a continuity in the enigmatic French philosopher’s oeuvre, this continuity being the search for an image of thought. Lambert turns to Deleuze’s work on literature and cinema as a way of describing this continuity, that first appears in his 1964 work Proust et les Signes, marking the moment at which a young philosopher begins to look outward beyond the history of ideas taught in the French education system. Deleuze’s innovation here is to turn to literature for inspiration, rather than to philosophy, although as Lambert points out, he is no more or less radical than his contemporaries in 1960s France. The difference between Deleuze and his fellow poststructuralists lies in the way that he anticipated a new beginning, rather than marking an end of the philosophical tradition. It is not so much that Deleuze is their idiosyncratic cousin as a sibling who presumes the end of philosophy has already taken place.
It is from this sensible historical position that Lambert is able to argue more radically that Deleuze’s search for an image of thought, the continuity of his philosophical project, looks principally to literature. The argument explains something of Deleuze’s persistent returns to literature and the other arts, even while he remained deeply engaged with radical philosophers such as Leibniz and Spinoza. It also enables some colourful comparisons, as Lambert places Descartes next to Proust and describes the difference of their isolations, the one inventing a concept of thought while the other an image of the world. It is this image that Deleuze wants to capture in philosophy, in so doing dissolving the difference of consciousness with the universe that it manifests. Lambert argues that the famous concept of the rhizome comes out of this Proustian contradiction, as that which is left when the subject gives themselves over to their own subtraction. As the multiple without the one, the rhizome is literature at its most singular. Kafka also stands for a literature [End Page 403] so original that it can have nothing in common with any other literature. Readers and interpretations also have nothing to share. On this point Lambert defends the indefensible, as he argues that Deleuze’s book on Kafka would not work for anybody else, and that Deleuze’s readings of literature are only viable for particular writers. The point is that Deleuze’s readings are not interpretations as such, but philosophy that is immanent to the worlds that Proust and Kafka build around them. While these chapters are succinct and breathless, they are haunted by the canonicity of these authors, whose works have produced more interpretations than most.
A second, related argument is that Deleuze’s concepts are only possible because of art, cinema and literature, so that concepts arise somewhere in the twilight zone between the philosopher and the encounter with powerful, canonical works. The contradiction here lies in the appropriation Deleuze himself makes of all kinds of things, not only high-end works of art, cinema and literature but also from the history of philosophy and science. In this sense, the image of thought is only artistic because it is indifferent to the boundaries of this art, rather than being a product of art. Here Lambert turns to Derrida’s Artaud and Melville’s Bartelby, other well-trodden regions in literary theory. In Lambert’s hands however these works sound brave and fresh, not only because they mark an unfashionable return to literature as a subject in its own right, but because the author is proposing literature as a way of conducting and understanding philosophy.
The test of the generality of this argument, however, comes in the last couple of chapters, where Lambert change gear to focus on Deleuze’s cinema books, and to shift the case for literature into a much more ambitious and speculative philosophy of mind. Here Lambert’s interest in a singular, rhizomatic literature becomes an interest in the possibilities of Gestalt psychology. Lambert wants to explain something called the mind-image as a metaphysical version of the philosophy of literature he had been proposing. There is a tension here between the terms of his studies of Proust and Kafka, and this mind-image that largely emerges out of a reading of Deleuze’s final collaborative book, What is Philosophy? While Lambert is attempting to grapple with the totality of Deleuze’s trajectory, he has also changed terminology from the singularity of art to the generality of a philosophy of mind. Gestalt psychology arrives as a kind of deus ex machina for literary theory, as a way of converting the labour he has already performed on Kafka and Proust into something else. In this, Lambert’s argument is more conservative than it may first appear, as he covers over the infinite differences of literary singularities with numinous conclusions about the mind. That such books by Kafka and Proust stand so singularly would seem to mitigate against Lambert’s concluding remarks about the incommensurability of thought with itself as the image of thought. [End Page 404]