Craig Lundy and Daniela Voss, eds., At the Edges of Thought: Deleuze and Post-Kantian Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015; 337 pp. ISBN: 978-0748694631.
Reviewed by Tyler Tritten, Gonzaga University.
This book is a collected volume of fifteen essays in three parts, preceded by the editors’ introduction. The organization is roughly historical rather than thematic, e.g., essays on Deleuze’s political philosophy are interspersed throughout, rather than grouped together. It is also probably fair to say that Deleuze’s “transcendental empiricism” (or his metaphysics, in the broadest sense of the term) is treated most extensively. One advantage of the way the editors have chosen to arrange the essays is how it highlights the role of Maimon, a perhaps underappreciated influence on Deleuze but certainly an underread philosopher in his own right. Many of the essays draw attention to the influence that Fichte, Schelling and Wahl exerted on Deleuze. Other chapters provide a balanced view of Deleuze’s inheritances and departures from Kant and Hegel. Although a book on Deleuze and post-Kantian philosophy, many chapters also rightly indicate the role of pre-Kantian figures in Deleuze’s corpus, e.g., Spinoza, Leibniz and Hume. If Deleuze is post-Kantian, it is only insofar as he is able to mobilize pre-Kantian thinkers to respond to or invert questions posed by Kant. For example, in his book on Hume, instead of asking how the given is constituted by a subject (as Kant does), Deleuze asks how subjectivity is constituted in the given. Finally, the editors did a superb job of selecting essays that avoid repeating what is already well-known. There are no chapters dedicated solely to Nietzsche, Bergson, Heidegger or Foucault, while there are chapters dedicated to Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. I applaud this decision, as Deleuze’s post-Kantianism is interesting, in large part, because of his attention to the so-called “minor” traditions.
Of particular interest are the excellent treatments of what Deleuze terms “transcendental empiricism.” As Lundy and Voss state in the Introduction, the “Kantian transcendental project is based on facts of consciousness,” which makes its reasoning hypothetical. (7) “If we have objective experience, then the categories must be objectively valid.” (7) Primarily following Maimon (but also Fichte and Schelling), the book repeatedly argues that Deleuze rejects transcendental conditioning for a genetic account, and Kant’s analytic method for a synthetic method that accounts for both the “genesis of objects and subjects, thought and concepts.” (11) Nothing can be assumed as a mere fact, not even subjectivity or the categories of thought; a genetic account must be provided for everything.
As Daniel W. Smith contends, Kant’s approach applies pre-given concepts to the data provided through intuition, but according to Smith’s reading of Deleuze, “concepts can never be given ready-made or a priori.” (39) Concepts do not exist in a transcendental domain set over and against the empirical, but they are rather created from and out of the sensible. This is why Deleuze can call himself an empiricist while at the same time denying the existence of ready-made objects of experience that would be given to an already constituted subject. As Smith informs the reader, concepts are themselves an instance of heterogenesis, a novelty that “actualizes a certain number of singularities and renders them consistent within itself,” such that there is also no pre-given referent corresponding to the concept (because the object is created along with the concept). (40) Deleuze’s position is transcendental, insofar as it constitutes objects of experience through concepts, but not by informing matter from without, and thus not by locating the transcendental within subjectivity. His position is thus empirical, insofar as concepts must be generated, rather than simply found. A Deleuzean empiricism goes further, generating not only concepts but also their referents (objects). Both concepts and objects must be “inductively” generated. Both objects and the concepts that refer to them, i.e., thought or subjectivity, must be provided a genetic account. As Beth Lord argues, “Deleuze presents a reading of Kant that builds inwards, that reconstitutes the mind from the outside in.” (102) The movement is centripetal, because the question does not assume a subject which then must ask how it can get outside itself, i.e., get to pre-given objects. The question is how a domain of interiority (subjects) and “its” experiences (objects) come to be in the first place.
One of Deleuze’s criticisms of Kant’s transcendental idealism is that the conditions of experience are posited after the fact of and, therefore, according to the image of the conditioned, which means two things: 1) that possibility is fallaciously posited as if it existed prior to the actual (a lesson learned from Bergson); 2) that the conditions of experience are wider (the transcendental ideal as the totality of all possible predicates) than that which they condition (actual experience); and 3) that the possible is fallaciously thought to resemble, i.e., to represent, that which it conditions, which puts the cart before the horse. These are some of the motives behind Deleuze’s scathing critique of representation. As Welchman suggests, “[T]he ‘transcendental’ of transcendental empiricism concerns not the various conditioning procedures that … go to comprise representation, but … the constitution of what resists representation.” (246) Rather than the constitution of objects of representable experience, Deleuze’s transcendentalism is instead concerned with the exposition of the non-representable, the non-sensible conditions of sensibility: chaos, the Idea and virtuality. There is thus a privileging of the encounter with the sensible over the understanding because, as Henry Somers-Hall observes, “the understanding is incapable of the discovery of genuine novelty.” (268) Where there is novelty, there is something that escapes the purview of pre-given concepts, so that concepts must be created. In turn, since concepts organize their object, i.e., they assemble a referent that does not pre-exist its concept, and where concepts are created there too is novelty. Neither objects of predication (the empirical) nor the concepts that predicate (the categories of the understanding), nor that which Kant thinks synthesizes the given with concepts (subjectivity) can be assumed as pre-given facts. If both subjects and objects (or predicates) must be generated, rather than found, then, as Jay Lampert states, “both S and P are accidental, so the copula itself is effectively the subject of the sentence.” (282) In other words, subjectivity is just as conditioned as objectivity, and both are secondary to the copula. What is significant here is that the subject is in no way transcendental. The transcendental domain is not located inside a subject, but also not in the outside world, as inside and outside are relative notions. The truly transcendental, qua genetic, as generative of both the interior (the subject) and the exterior (the object of experience), is a domain of absolute immanence, transcendent to, i.e., exterior to, no pre-existing boundaries.
Within the field of Deleuze studies, this collection of essays is one of a kind. Its breadth reaches from metaphysics to politics, treated as systematically related rather than as parallel domains (but with an emphasis on the former). The book constructs a vision of Deleuze’s work as an “assemblage,” while offering an illuminating and informative account of Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism. Gregory Flaxman even demonstrates how this form of empiricism plays out in Deleuze’s writings on cinema, showing how film is empiricist (insofar as it does not analytically parse pre-existing concepts but creates concepts). No serious scholar of Deleuze studies should bypass this book, which merits being read cover to cover.