Law, Religion, & The Place of Serenity (Deleuze Foucault)


Just finished reading Deleuze’s beautiful and remarkable book, Foucault. It may in fact be the most concise recapitulation of Deleuze’s own doxa as much as a reading of Foucault. But you knew that already, right? Here’s what I wasn’t expecting:

The Foucauldian figure of “Knowledge” is transformed into the Deleuzian figures of strata, formed matters and functions, composed of by statements and visibilities and by the disjunction, integration, and indirect relations between what one says and what one sees. “Power” is transformed into the Deluzian figure of mute and blind lines of diagrammatic forces.

What I found surprising is this. Instead of reducing one to the other and the other to the one, for Deleuze reading Foucault, the two couplets of power and knowledge do not form into an identity. In a deep methodological dualism, Deleuze maintains them as distinct and separate.

Is there something outside power and knowledge? The critical pushback vis-à-vis Foucault emerges in the fifth chapter, where Deleuze asks if Foucault had trapped himself in power/knowledge, the terrifying void of “the outside,” and the “slow, partial, and progressive deaths” that constitute resistance (pp.78-9). But what Deleuze finds, what saves him, as it were, is a new “axis” beyond power/knowledge, which is the “self,” conceived of as an “inside,” which Deleuze marks as “fold,” a place of “serenity.”

The Deleuze-reading-Foucault-world-picture then presents a map made of intermeshing four areas: [1] historical, institutional strata, [2] strategic zones, [3] the outside and its line, [4] the inside of the fold.

The place of serenity snatched from death, named as such by Deleuze, and the life of the unthought as a kind of “divine violence,” this goes unnamed as such by Deleuze –these put him on the border of religion, and if not on religion itself, then at least a theory of religion, and also a theory of Halakha.

Force breaks in from the outside, like revelation in Buber and Rosenzweig, or divine violence in Benjamin, but the inspiration here is American, i.e. Melville. The line from outside is a twisting, turning, terrible one. “But however terrible this line may be, it is a line of life that carries man beyond terror. For at the place of the fissure, the line forms a Law, the ‘center of the cyclone, where one can live and in fact where Life exists par excellence’…This is the central chamber, which one need no longer fear is empty since one fills it with oneself. Here one becomes a master of one’s molecules and particular features, in this zone of subjectivation: the boat as interior of the exterior (pp.100-1)

Against the grain of critical theory, this is why I love Deleuze, and why I think he provides such profound importance for the study of religion –which, by the way, he says is not reducible to power/knowledge (p.85). “There will always be a relation to oneself which resists codes and powers…For example, it souls be wrong to reduce Christian moralist to their attempts at codification, and the pastoral power which they involve, without also taking into account ‘the spiritual and ascetic movements’ or subjectivation that continued to develop before the Reformation…” (pp.85-6).

The indirect bearing on religion has to do with the exquisite sense of mobile forces in relation to place and to the place of an image. He also has some things to say, directly, about the figures of God and infinity, which I’ll address tomorrow in my next post.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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