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Alan Taylor

Related: Gilles Deleuze - ontology

Positive Ontology

In A Thousand Plateaus, moreso than in any other of their books, Deleuze and Guattari construct what could be called a "positive ontology." Their business here is in simply describing what IS-the is-ness of the universe as it unfolds itself. This ontology is positive in the sense that it rigorously avoids what is not. Unlike many previously advanced Western ontologies, perhaps even every ontology since Plato, Deleuze and Guattari make a conscious choice not to base A Thousand Plateaus on lack, on negation, or on any structure that points to or requires "nothingness" for its existence. Post-Saussurian semiotics, for example, has come to argue that the world is created in and through language, and that language, as a structure, functions through negation. For instance one understands the meaning of "dog" only because one is involved in a symbol system that assures us dog is NOT cat, NOT table, and NOT computer. One can't really "know" the meaning of "dog" in this system; one can only know and say what a thing is not. In semiotics one understands only negation. Semiotics, then, could be called a "negative" ontology, one predicated on the negative.

In A Thousand Plateaus, however, Deleuze and Guattari will have nothing to do with negation. Theirs is an ontology of what is beyond the negative. For them human experience, the human being, and the entire world know nothing of the negative. There are only positive manifestations of energy, particle flows, machinic assemblages, strata, and the body without organs. The negative has no place here.

For an illustration one might consider D & G's description of the body without organs:

matter ... the unformed, unorganized, nonstratified, or destratified body and all its flows: subatomic and molecular particles, pure intensities, prevital and prephysical free singularities. (43)
Their description of a "plateau" follows a similar pattern:

a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end. ... any multiplicity connected to other multiplicities by superficial underground stems in such a way as to form or extend a rhizome. (22)
-- http://www.uta.edu/english/apt/mus(e)ings/d&g.html

--Essays in the "Mus(e)ings on Deleuze & Guattari" collection were originally published as part of a collaborative HyperNews project for a graduate seminar facilitated by Victor J. Vitanza.

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