I’ve been trying to sort through what I take to be differences between Buber and Deleuze. In the end, the significant ones don’t have anything to do with God and atheism, and nothing with ethics. It is world-view and tempo that matter more, at least to me.
I was at first tempted to agree with Peter Hallward and to understand Deleuze as a thinker who seeks to get “out of this world,” who focuses more on pure creativity versus creaturely being. That would then set him in contrast to what one might call the creature consciousness of Buber. But this isn’t quite right. I can find also the moments when Deleuze seeks to find a line of flight out of this world. It’s particularly prominent in his book on Francis Bacon. But the thought is more conscious in the two cinema books, and also, I think in Thousand Plateaus. At the moments of most intense de-territorialization, there is always the move to re-territorialize, to bring consciousness back into territory. This is probably a conservative reading of Deleuze, into whose guts I don’t want to enter here, in part because I’m away from my books.
The difference that matters most to me between Buber and Deleuze comes down not to the question of creatures versus pure, non-creaturely, creativity. The difference comes down to humanism. Deleuze was an anti-humanist who sought to break free from (transcend, horizontally) the restrictions of human consciousness, representation, and signification. Hence the idea of the intensification of thought that comes with becoming woman, becoming animal, becoming machine, becoming molecule. The point is a view of the world outside of a human standpoint. In contrast, Buber remained a humanist; he stuck to the human creature always and under every condition. There is no line of flight in Buber, most likely because he was committed to the idea of relationship in ways that Deleuze was not.
Tempo is also at play. Take the I-You or I-It form of relationship. It doesn’t matter which because the same thing happens to both when read through Deleuze. Buber’s thought was non-foundational because for him what mattered was not the identity of either party to the polar dyad. What mattered to him was space in between. That’s the place of encounter. That’s the place of revelation where objects catch fire and become incandescent. (About this I wrote in my Abstraction chapter in Shape of Revelation.) Now what happens when you take this model via Deleuze? In Deleuze there is this acceleration of consciousness, which warps forward at light speed. At the superfast speeds, things become indiscrete. Intentional consciousness and noematic objects speed up for Deleuze, and as they do, they tend to fall apart and change, before slowing down into another territory. In contrast, Buber is a slow thinker. Things don’t move as fast for him as they do for Deleuze.
What is common to both Deleuze and Buber is the notion of an animating impulse or force that shoots through creaturely life. I like a lot what Deleuze can do to Buber, to accelerate, his thought, to reterritorialize it, to introduce it to the thought of the inhuman. Both Buber and Delueze are spatial thinkers, and this is not an unimportant common point of view. At the end of the day, I’ll stick with Buber, or rather come back to Buber, because he works at slower speeds more amenable to human life-forms, and because I think that in some way he’s more “reliable.” In this, his thought makes fewer claims on critical credulity than Deleuze who seems to have sought or to have claimed to shot through the limits of consciousness and other human points of view. At any rate, I think they meet up rather neatly. While revelation might be a form of de-territorialization in Buber’s thought, the move to re-territorialize thought brings Deleuze back onto the human terrains theorized by Buber.