To Think is Always to Follow the Witch’s Flight.

Sigrun posted a quotation from Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? I’ve spent many hours thinking about this puzzling, beautiful text. Sigrun’s post sent me back this afternoon, though, in the end, it was the paragraph below that kept me company with the late afternoon sun. I love that they make a connection between thought and witchcraft, between the contemplation of the morning after and the nights that belong to Dionysus.

Thinking provokes general indifference. It is a dangerous exercise nevertheless. Indeed, it is only when the dangers become obvious that indifference ceases, but they often remain hidden and barely perceptible inherent in the enterprise. Precisely because the plane of immanence is prephilosophical and does not immediately take effect with concepts, it implies a sort of groping experimentation and its layout resorts to measures that are not very respectable, rational, or reasonable. These measures belong to the order of dreams, of pathological processes, esoteric experiences, drunkenness, and excess. We head for the horizon, on the plane of immanence, and we return with bloodshot eyes, yet they are the eyes of the mind. Even Descartes had his dream. To think is always to follow the witch’s flight.

11 thoughts on “To Think is Always to Follow the Witch’s Flight.

  1. I think this is a very illuminating quote. The link between thinking and witchcraft takes us out of the self-contained territories of philosophy practiced as a solipsistic discipline. Witchcraft is little understood, uncanny and disturbing, it makes us wary and inspires mistrust. It puts us “on the lookout”, as Deleuze calls this state in his ABC Primer (A as in “Animal”), a state that Deleuze finds more appropriate to philosophy than the conventional idea of “wonder”. Witchcraft has to do with transformation and flight, with powers and demonic forces, going against Nature as we ordinarily understand it.

    “Thinking provokes general indifference”. As a rule, people are “indifferent” to thought. This indifference is the opposite of being on the lookout. People are blind to what is outside their stereotypes, they cannot recognize thought if it is not sanctioned by academic diplomas and status. In Deleuze’s sense of “recognition”, they only recognize officially structured and sanctioned thought. Yet thought as the object of recognition has little to do with thought as the subject of witchcraft. People are blind, but they are also uncomfortable about the “wrong” sort of thought, they may dip into it a little, but they don’t take it seriously.

    We see this every day with our blogs. As noetic bloggers we practice witchcraft twice over, because writing and maintaining a blog is a magical practice too. Given all the work it takes to write, the “recognition” we may get from time to time is small recompense indeed. I practice blogging not out of narcissism, nor even to communicate, I do it because I can’t stop, just as I can’t stop reading, I’m constantly trying to transform myself and my thinking.

    It is often said that people are indifferent to the dreams of others, that only the dreamer finds the story he is recounting of any interest; I have always been perplexed, even shocked, by such received wisdom. I usually find people’s dreams very interesting, even the seemingly banal ones where nothing strange or untoward happens. I like Deleuze and Guattari’s association of dreams and philosophy, for i find dreams very philosophical, and Deleuze’s philosophy very oniric. I used to (30 years ago!) express this by saying that Deleuze’s philosophical style incarnates a constant “pulsation between the conscious and the unconscious”, but though I still agree with the thought I find the vocabulary too academically “recognizable”.

    People are indifferent to others’ thoughts, just as they are indifferent to an other’s dreams. Until some danger crops up, and their attitude changes. If the danger is to them, they panic and run, or at least give a wide berth. If the danger is to the dreamer or the thinker, people may find an unhealthy interest in observing al that from afar. But it is not the recognizable, “obvious”, dangers that count, recognition is for the indifferent. The dangers, the risks, are in the experimentation, the doing of things outside correct thought that are tied to getting one thinking. If you are not on the lookout you will perceive nothing: “they often remain hidden and barely perceptible”. Hidden in plain sight, if you are willing to use the eyes of the mind.

    The paragraph from WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? reminds me of Deleuze’s “Letter to a Severe Critic”, in reply to Michel Cressole’s accusation that Deleuze was not really a risk-taker, but rather a profiteer of other people’s experiments: “someone who’s always just tagged along behind, taking it easy, capitalizing upon other people’s experiments, on gays, drug-users, alcoholics, masochists, lunatics, and so on, vaguely savoring their transports and poisons without ever taking any risks” NEGOTIATIONS, 11). In his reply Deleuze distinguishes between an outer “correct” marginality based on indifference to the singularity of the other’s experiments, and a more “clandestine” and “imperceptible” marginality tied to one’s “inner journeys” and measured by one’s emotions.

    (Note 1: Deleuze is usually hostile to the term “inner”, especially in the expression “inner voyage, and on the rare occasions that he uses it favorably it is to be understood in the sense of “intensive”).

    (Note 2: Unfortunately the English translation effaces this notion of marginal correctness when it translates “all that crap where everyone’s supposed to be everyone else’s guiltyconscience and judge” (11). A more literal reading would be: “all that crap where everyone’s supposed to be the bad conscience and corrector of the other”).

    The message in both cases is the same: to think is not so much to follow the tenure track, but the witch’s flight (and so much the better if you can do both). There is more to the life of the mind than the academy. Although there is no necessary opposition between the two, and no magic power in affirming marginality for its own sake, thinking is disreputable.

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  3. I have commented this text in a way that is perhaps too rational and too reasonable, by focusing on the explicit conceptual content; Yet the text also performs that content: it does not only speak of dreams and philosophy, but also seems to be a dream and its interpretation (and one must recall Jung’s dictum “the dream is its own interpretation”). There is a pulsation between image and concept here, that needs to be brought out.

    The thinkers are unreasonable and head for the horizon. We know that in science the horizon is only relative: “What is primary in science is relative light or the relative horizon” (WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?, 42, translation modified by me to bring out the idea that the light of science is relative too, and not just the horizon). The philosopher “heads for the horizon”, that is to say “plunges into the infinite”., his or her horizon is absolute, as is the light. This movement is both physical and mental (“in this respect chaos has as much a mental as a physical existence”, 42). If we “return with bloodshot eyes” it is not only because of an excess of alcohol or of light (this is the physical side of the “unreasonable”, pathological or esoteric measures) but also because of our vision of a power that is almost too strong for us. I say “almost too strong”, because in this text the thinker comes back, only changed, with “bloodshot eyes” and with new vision and new concepts. The eyes of the mind have been opened and strained to their limits.

    Both these movements (heading out to, and coming back from ,the infinite) are necessary to thinking. Heading out unreasonably, dangerously and coming back bearing the mark (bloodshot eyes, or in some cases worse) of the voyage towards (which is “inner” only in the sense of being noetic or intensive), or of the encounter with, the horizon, but bearing also the vision, the percepts and the concepts. This double movement is what gives consistency to our philosophical territory: a territory is constituted by the movement of leaving it, which also means exposing oneself to risk, and also by the movement of returning back with a new song or a new colour, a new posture, or a new scent.

    Already by heading off outside we risk indifference turning into “disapproval” (42), because the danger becomes obvious. Academic philosophy is not usually very perilous , but there is the danger to one’s career and to that of one’s friends or allies. This is what Deleuze and Guattari call “obvious” danger, easily recognizable. The disapproval is redoubled when one brings back “outlandish” concepts (according to Deleuze in the ABC PRIMER “outlandish” is a good synonym for deterritorialised).

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