(Human) Fast Slow Deleuze Buber

deleuze buber

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.

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. http://religion.syr.edu
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9 Responses to (Human) Fast Slow Deleuze Buber

  1. efmooney says:

    Let’s grant that “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.” Is the writer who aspires to transcend the human or become machine or woman no less a writer, a human? Isn’t it a case of becoming hybrid, man-woman, machine-man, etc — or being a fully human writer who is also, additionally, machine and molecule? If you buy his books you buy the books of a very human writer who collects royalties and whose very human writing opens doors to to the extra-human (and hybrid). No?

  2. Bill Plevan says:

    Thanks for this, Zak, it always helps to read your thoughts on Buber, and I enjoy hearing about Deleuze as well.

  3. cheryl gilge says:

    I would have to say that ‘asubjective’ is a better description than an anti-humanist. This gets away from the problems of privileging the unique subject, identity and representation. I might also add that the definition of ‘world’ in ‘to get out of this world’ might want to be held lightly. Less than escapism, Deleuze was very interested in breaking the damaging habits of thought and behavior, and creative acts are one instance that open a new way- or world- of seeing and experiencing.

    • zjb says:

      yes, yes, yes. i think this gets to it just right, especially the notion of “assubjectivity.” i do think, however that it would not be wrong to find a little death drive in Deleuze, and to find those points after Anti-Oedipus where it is recognized by D and G and where the thinking gets drawn back from it. this, by the way, this kind of “spiritual dying” is common in religious thought, it’s very deep in Rosenzweig. in Deleuze i found it a lot in the Cinema books and Bacon. it’s clearly not escapism as much as, perhaps, the most radical line of flight or becoming other. i can’t thank you enough for this conceptual-critical clarification.

  4. cheryl gilge says:

    I’m not sure about the death drive. That makes me a little uncomfortable to think about in relation to Deleuze and puts him too close to psychoanalysis and puts his thought too close to an idea of ‘telos’. Ultimately, so much comes from Spinoza, in which the productive emphasis placed on joy and increasing one’s power of acting; to strive to persevere in one’s being, but not with a ‘goal’ in mind. The line of flight can be productive and also destructive. In ATP, there is a great emphasis on the caution that must be taken when ‘experimenting’, where lines of flight and deterritorialization inevitably lead back to a reterritorialization; complete deterritorialization is death, and they do not argue for that as an ideal condition; reterritorialization in and of itself is neither good nor bad; rather, it is ‘how’ one becomes reterritorialized that either seals off possible worlds or opens us up to other worlds- and I think Cinema 2 really points to this possibility of it being productive. I think any resemblance of ‘spiritual dying’ (and admittedly, I am not a reader of religious thought) in relation to Deleuze’s (and Guattari’s) could be considered in relation to the singularity, the haecceity, etc., one that gets outside of representation, the negative habits and associations that stifle our thought/behavior; but we cannot have a complete break. This is such a strong line that runs through his work, but an important one. I think ultimately, it is a need to hold lightly how we move through the world and resist categorization whenever possible, which brings him to the slower speed that you are looking for in Buber.

    • zjb says:

      thanks again, Cheryl. “death drive” is the wrong word, but maybe not. it’s the tug towards the dissolution of self that i’m thinking about in Deleuze. and yes, i know those points in ATP and Cinema (?) where the discourse steps back from absolute deterritortializaiton. i think the strongest impulse to step out of the world is in the Francis Bacon book. as for stepping outside of representation, i have my own doubts. maybe because i’ve seen it over and over in modernist painting and abstract art. i’m putting it crudely here, but to me, the critique of representation is just one more representation.

  5. cheryl gilge says:

    yeah, the discussion about representation, and what it means to be outside of that is an interesting one- and difficult… I think the only way I can think about it is thinking about holding it lightly and negotiation assumptions, presuppositions and resisting categorization…. Thanks for the discussion Zak.

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