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date: 19 August 2017

Deleuze, Gilles

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.

Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) was a contemporary philosopher who taught at the University of Paris, Vincennes-St. Denis. He produced a wide range of work, from commentaries on philosophers (Kant, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Hume, Liebniz, and Foucault) to analyses of film, literature, and painting. Two of his key contributions to philosophy are The Logic of Sense and Difference and Repetition. With his collaborator, the radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, he wrote four influential books, including Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia and A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze did not develop a coherent and set framework of concepts, but rather an approach to philosophy that was based on immanence rather than transcendence, becoming rather than being, and multiplicity rather than singularity. Deleuze’s work is an affirmation of life and creativity, a vitalism. “Everything I’ve written is vitalistic, at least I hope it is, and amounts to a theory of signs and events” (p. 143). Each book of Deleuze’s seems to generate a new collection of concepts to grapple with the problem at hand. Three key concepts for Deleuze are rhizome, multiplicity, and assemblage.

For Deleuze and Guattari, the guiding image of thought was that of the rhizome. The idea of the rhizome is contrasted with that of the tree or the root. In the latter, there is the singular origin, the center. A rhizome is a structure without a center; it grows by sending off shoots (like crabgrass or potatoes). You are always in the middle with a rhizome, never at the start or end. The point is to connect. Like rhizomes, multiplicities must be made, and they are made by subtracting the unique. Multiplicities and rhizomes have sections that get structured, stratified, and pinned down, but then also always have lines of flight by which to escape.

An assemblage “establishes connections between certain multiplicities” (p. 23) and “stake[s] out a territory” (p. 503). An assemblage is always territorializing (bringing together various elements in a particular arrangement) and de-territorializing (opening up onto other territories, de-organizing). In addition to this dimension of an assemblage, it is also the stratification of systems of language and systems of technology in a relation of expression and content. The former they call collective assemblages of enunciation and the latter, machinic assemblages (of bodies, “actions and passions”). An assemblage is always articulating arrangements of bodies, discourses, affects, and other elements. Crucially, assemblages are always in process and are not stable structures; they are becomings.

How then to think of communication within this conceptual context? Deleuze and Guattari reject the idea of communication as intersubjective. There is not an individual subject speaking, there is only the collective assemblage of enunciation. They speak instead of language, but a language of order words. Communication is not about representation or signification. Deleuze tends to treat communication as a form of control. Some of Deleuze’s final essays and interviews were spent explicating this new social power of control. Contrasting with Michel Foucault’s influential ideas on the rise of disciplinary society, Deleuze maps the emergence of societies of control “that no longer operate by confining people but through continuous control and instant communication” (p. 174).

For those studying communication, Deleuze’s legacy is featured in three areas: the material turn in communication studies and critical theory; the rise in theories of affect; and notions of control with regard to theories of contemporary surveillance.