Gilles Deleuze
By: Mark Kingwell | Categories: HiLo Heroes

When French philosopher and cigarette addict GILLES DELEUZE (1925-95) threw himself from his apartment window, hardly able to breathe without medical aid, he joined a long line of Parisian thinkers for whom defenestration is apparently the de rigeur sign of intellectual seriousness. Andrew Hussey argued that for les soixante-huitardsnot to seek death by one’s own hand would be disgraceful, implying some kind of academic fraud” and so the falling bodies are simply “inevitable casualties of the postmodern condition.” But Deleuze would have seen this sally for the reactionary claptrap it is. Following 1968, he helped establish a free-form teaching institute in the Paris suburb of Vincennes and met the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, who became a cherished collaborator. In 1972 they published Anti-Oedipus, their “schizoanalytical” attack on conventional psychoanalysis. It sold 53,000 copies in France and was followed by the companion volume A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze’s critique of capitalism revolves around the tendencies of power apparatuses, or “machines,” to stifle creativity. He and Guattari coined the term “nomadology” (a play on peripatesis and monads) to describe the “lines of flight” that ideas can take up against power, and used the botanical concept of the rhizome, or non-linear root mass, as an “image of thought” that generates multiplicities rather than binaries or hierarchy. Deleuze’s later books — there were 30 in all — combine careful aesthetic theory with brilliant excavations of the history of philosophy, including the works of Hume, Leibniz, and Spinoza. “Philosophy,” he said some time before his final line of flight from the open window to the cobbles below, “throws us all into constant negotiations with, and a guerrilla campaign against, ourselves.”

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Danny Kaye.

READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist generation (1924-33).

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Mark Kingwell is a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto.