Wednesday, January 27, 2016
A Thousand Plateaus - A Contemporary Grimoire
Some remarks on Deleuze and Guatarri's A Thousand Plateaus - Capitalism and Schizophrenia in light of the Alchemical Arts.
The verbiage in A Thousand Plateaus appears, at first glance, extremely dense, opaque and difficult to comprehend. There are good reasons for this similar to why alchemical and magical instruction texts are elaborately coded. I suggest that ATP could accurately be subtitled A Manual for the Creation of Higher Bodies or some such. I will give indicators for looking in that direction but will refrain from giving too much away so that esoteric students may find their own way, adopt their own methodologies and practices. We can approach this grimoire like Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poroit and deduce how to apply this material for our own creative output and spiritual growth. This book is a work book, meaning that it takes work on the part of the reader to unlock the information. This helps ensure that the keys get received only when the student is ready.
The first time I read ATP, a little more than a year ago, most of it went completely over my head though I would encounter passages of extreme brilliance that inspired sticking with it. I figured that the majority I didn't understand would help subconsciously teach my brain the syntax of their communication. After finishing it, I spent a year largely reading the literature about ATP, the rest of the D & G oeuvre as well as books, articles, and videotapes by or about Gille Deleuze. I recently finished reading ATP for the second time and received a much better picture of this masterpiece.
To begin with our detective work, we observe that the title, A Thousand Plateaus, plainly suggests multiple levels of reality. It shares that in common with both Sufism and Qabalism. A thousand is a lot of levels though it seems that number has other connotations than the literal. On one level this book is about the creative process, how things come into existence and what happens to them after that; morphogenesis, how organic form arises and develops, only the authors don't limit themselves to the organic. They appear willing to include the more speculative areas of research into the Unknown such as Carlos Castenada's shamanic adventures and experiments. You could call ATP pragmatic metaphysics.
There is little commentary in the supplementary literature I've seen as to why they designated 1,000 plateaus rather than 10,000 or 100 or some other number. One writer compared it to that compendium of Middle Eastern and Eastern folklore known as One Thousand and One Nights. This seems an accurate reference. The framework of that epic is that the virginal Scheherazade tells her new husband the King a story on their wedding night but doesn't finish it. Due to a previous bad experience Shahrya, the King, has a questionable habit of executing his brides the morning after their wedding night before they can dishonour him; male brutality crushing female intelligence. Scheherazade defeats immediate death by telling Shahrya a story every night but not finishing it so that he'll have to let her live another day to find out what happened.
Before examining the ATP title symbolically, we note that both Deleuze and Guattari were directly influenced by qabalistic writers. Two of the most prominent influences in Deleuze's The Logic of Sense were Antonin Artaud and Lewis Carroll. Artaud studied qabalah while Carroll's major literary works are veritable textbooks on the subject. Alice in Wonderland is on Aleister Crowley's reading list of occult books to study. Both D & G cite James Joyce as an influence with Guattari said to be obsessed by him. An English copy of Ulysses was on his bedside table when he died. It seems well established that Joyce used extensive qabalistic artifice and reckoning in his most experimental works, Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. One clear commonality between qabala and D & G is that they both attempt to describe how form comes into being then look at what might happen next.
Why a thousand plateaus? In qabala, a thousand = 3 because of the three zeros. 3 = Binah, the archetypal feminine. 3 also = The Empress in the tarot, another prominent female character whose path, Daleth, corresponds with Venus and is the doorway to the Supernal Triad - what gets considered the real world beyond the world of illusion and appearance. Daleth connects Chokmah with Binah, the Father with the Mother or pure yang with pure yin, the creative with the receptive. We have, so far, three strong female presences connected with A Thousand Plateaus: Scheherazade, the new wife telling stories so her man won't kill her, Binah, and The Empress. I mention this partly in homage to Deleuze's love for tripartite analysis which one commentator said he was almost obsessed with. While this may superficially appear as mashing one system onto another, the importance of the feminine in transformational processes gets clearly delineated in Chapter 10 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible ... Their concept of becoming-woman describes in another way a main theme in Aleister Crowley's Book of Lies, a theme symbolized by the N.O.X. formula. See chapter 35 in that book then read the supplementary chapters suggested in the commentary to see how Crowley articulates while hiding this theme.
We can go further with the ATP title. In my 1994 Minnesota Press Edition the word PLATEAUS appears in a larger typeface than any other word on the cover. Breaking down this word like a Lewis Carroll or Joycean qabalistic portmanteau we have:
PLA = ALP = Joyce's Anna Livia Plurabelle, another strong symbolic characterization of Woman. PLA also = 111 which corresponds to The Fool in the tarot which describes an alchemical process cognate with D&G's terms of deterritorialization, lines of flight, and new becomings.
T = Tau = the cross = The Universe (tarot). T also = Teth, the cross path connecting Geburah with Chesed, balancing Power with Mercy. Teth also = Strength (tarot) and shows yet another aspect of the Divine Woman this time taming a beast. Teth also = Horus.
EAU = the French word for water
S = Shin = fire. S also = Samekh = Art (Thoth tarot), a card describing the alchemical blending related to The Fool.
The symbolic combination of fire and water at the end this of word PLATEAUS that I've mapped as a formula suggests more methods for deterritorialization, lines of flight and radiant becomings (solve coagula). This method of metaphysical steam locomotion gets qabalistically presented at the very beginning of Robert Anton Wilson's Cosmic Trigger I, another important manual for spiritual growth.
Finally, the subtitle Capitalism & Schizophrenia = 68 when adding the initials, a number which recurs regularly in Wilson & Shea's guide to qabalah, Illuminatus! It denotes a particular kind of communication crucial to the alchemy of crystallizing rarefied bodies, bodies with an increased likelihood of surviving physical death.
Moving on ... before reading ATP for the first time I hadn't read straight up philosophy for quite awhile. I didn't relate well too it preferring to get my philosophy from adventurous experimenters like Crowley, Wilson, Leary and Groucho Marx who put it into action. What initially really turned me on to D & G's radical philosophical style was that they reference many sources well outside mainstream philosophy. William Burroughs and James Joyce get recruited along with Nietzsche as early as page six. They reference literature extensively: Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Jack Kerouac, Faulkner, Henry Miller, etc. to illustrate their concepts and lines of thought. Music supplies them with a key concept, the refrain, along with other useful metaphors and examples. John Cage, Stockhausen, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart and Pierre Boulez are some of the composers whose ideas get thrown into the mix. Francis Bacon, Pollock, Kandinsky, are some of the painters drawn upon. Chapter 10 begins with the subtitle, Memories of a Moviegoer, then goes into a discussion of the film Willard. Other subtitles in that chapter include: Memories of a Sorcerer, Memories of a Theologian, Memories of a Spinozist, Memories of a Molecule etc. ATP appears vast, encyclopedic with an incredibly broad range of subjects from the creation of nonorganic life to politics, economics, psychology, metallurgy etc. etc. ...and, of course, philosophy: the wisdom shared by friends.
Alchemy and allusions to spiritual becomings is only one layer in ATP in its massive multiplicities of shifting, yet interconnecting subjects. One reviewer called it a TOE, a Theory of Everything. To me, it seems more like a theory of "Nothing is true, everything is permitted." though that seems limited too. The closest might be to call it a theory of "Here To Go" with the only problem now being that ATP never represents itself as a unified theory of anything. It's loaded with multiple theories and concepts of all kinds backed up with a plethora of references and examples, but doesn't ever appear to be selling a particular point of view or advocating a moral position; just showing an enlightened perspective on how things work.
The writing often appears ridiculously complex, but it varies and at times can be crystal clear. The complexity, upon further examination, appears an experiment to raise the reader's intelligence. Just trying to figure out wtf they are saying at times requires the reader to get smarter or perish in the ignorance of that subject. The Deleuze Dictionary edited by Adrian Parr, D & G's ATP by Eugene Holland, and D & G's ATP A Critical Introduction and Guide by Brent Adkins proved very helpful. Once some penetration into the ATP syntax has been made, it will appear that the writing deliberately stimulates the reader's intuitive faculty much like Crowley and Joyce do at times in their own ways.
Here's a great quote on the creative process simpatico to D&G's views. This shows how the concepts found in ATP can get creatively and practically used.
You think novelistically as a filmmaker ... We had broad-reaching ambitions, and you're reaching for something unattainable like all the great musicians you admire - filmmakers. And only by reaching for that do you get pieces of it. And you get all the pieces and ultimately you decide this is how it must come together with the proper mixture of ... reality and intensity, but also magick and also inspiration that feels honest, and that's the vision we arrived at.
David O. Russell talking about his recent film Joy which he says is also a riff on the emotion of joy. Although Crowley doesn't explicitly appear anywhere in ATP these quotes from the Book of the Law harmonize well with their concept of deterritorialzation:
I:30: This is the creation of the world, that the pain of division is as nothing, and the joy of dissolution all.
II:9: Remember all ye that existence is pure joy; that all the sorrows are but as shadows; they pass & are done; but there is that which remains.
To be continued ...