- François Zourabichvili’s “Deleuze and the Possible: on Involuntarism in Politics”
First published in 1998, the following article presents French philosopher François Zourabichvili’s (1965–2006) most sustained reflection on the Deleuzian concept of political rupture. In it, he argues that it is not the realization but rather the exhaustion of the possible that hatches new modes of living. The living ground of politics lies not in the program or the party but in the visionary and involuntary mutation of our experience by encounters that render this world insufferable. In an epoch marked by the obsolescence of the Left’s imagination of revolution, Zourabichvili calls for an ethics of situated rupture, wherein the destitution of the possible enables the elaboration of experimental collectives oriented around convergent perceptions of the intolerable.
What follows aims to take up the political stakes of Deleuze’s thought, in a manner that is at once provisional and restricted. It is not immediately evident which leftism can be said to characterize Deleuze. Regardless of the variant one considers, the left is generally defined by its voluntarism. Deleuze, on the other hand, developed the least voluntarist philosophy imaginable: he celebrates the ‘ill will’ of the Idiot in the Russian style, and the ‘nothingness of the will’ of the Eccentric in the American style.1 He has always insisted on the fundamentally involuntary character of all true thought, of all becoming. Nothing could be more foreign to Deleuze, therefore, than the enterprise of transforming the world according to a plan, or in view of an end. At the same time, he never ceased to celebrate, to remain on the lookout for, and if need be, to accompany what he calls ‘revolutionary-becomings.’
The space of ordinary political perception is completely occupied by the dualism of conservation / transformation, to such an extent that it is difficult to even conceive of a political attitude that aims neither to conserve nor to transform, nor—as with reformism—to transform what is conserved or to conserve what is transformed, which is to say, [End Page 152] to adapt. As soon as we begin to harbor doubts about certain political organizations and their intentions, we will immediately be asked what we ‘propose.’ Deleuze always refrained from proposing anything, though this serene abstention implied no lacuna or deficiency in his eyes. In politics as in art (or in philosophy), he regarded a certain kind of disappointment as being a subjective condition conducive of something positive [effectif] (a ‘becoming,’ a ‘process’).2
Anyone can see that the Left no longer believes in programs. That it nonetheless continues to be identified with the realization of programs would appear to leave it no other choice than to repudiate itself, or else to attempt to believe in what it no longer believes: renunciation or denial. In this sense, the voluntarism at issue here no longer even concerns action per se, but the very belief in action. Meanwhile, leftist philosophers receive vague reproaches for not producing an ideal in which the Left can once again believe, as if a certain weakness or excessive complexity led them to an inadequate or failed survey of the possible.
The last great text Deleuze wrote, published in 1992, is called ‘The Exhausted.’ It is not a political essay, in that it is devoted to Beckett. Yet it appears less than three years after the fall of the Berlin wall, at a time when self-satisfied discourses proliferated about the death of utopias and the illusion of any alternative to the market economy; and its theme is the exhaustion of the possible.
“There is no more possibility: a relentless Spinozism.”3 With Deleuze, it would be highly unlikely for the invocation of Spinoza to be a sign of affliction, although this does not exclude the possibility of its being sarcastic. At first glance, therefore, we might reassure ourselves that there is nothing political at stake here. Except that Deleuze attributes to the personae of the exhausted the famous formula of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, to which he had only recently dedicated a text with expressly political content.4 Still, one does...