“Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through--' She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass WAS beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.” 1
Saturday 4th November 1995: On Niel Avenue in the 17th arrondissement of Paris, several people may have gathered, there may have even been quite a crowd. Before them, the body of philosopher Gilles René Louis Deleuze. After his body having become increasingly consolidated, after an operation to remove one of his lungs, after a tracheotomy, but before the prospect of institutionalisation became concrete, Deleuze took to a window and jumped.
So what to make of it? When writers expire, there are always attempts to correlate the circumstances of death within the newly established corpus. 2 Deleuze’s suicide led more than a few to jump to conclusions that equally articulated their inability to conceptualise the event outside of philosophy…
“I didn't really read that closely all of the postings from these last two days because they all seemed to be "Oh please tell me that bitch is lying", "How will we talk about his death?", "Let us talk about his death correctly", "We are reducing his texts to platitudes", " I know better than you how to talk about his death", etc... Deleuze jumped out of a window and it must have been horrible and wonderful, or perhaps the most banal footnote in all of history. A body goes thump and some miserable concierge pulls out a bucket to clean it up.” 3
…And there were, as one might expect, a series of speculations about the event via concepts created by Deleuze (& Guattari) that seemed appropriate to those attempting to come to terms with the news:
“…But hurling from a window - rich, appropriate - a last line of flight? …the day I found about all this (Tuesday), I had been working on "La logique de la sensation" and one of the chapters (number X) deals with "la chute", the fall… The pavement is no concern of Deleuze's, of course. But as a matter of fact, it is a concern of ours -- a matter of concrete substance, and expressive of a surface of contact with Deleuze's body. Pavement leaps, pavement shudders, pavement becomes delirious, see? …reading Deleuze's suicide does not negate or overshadow his philosophy; it illuminates the philosophy.” 4
Taking recourse to the corpus of Deleuze in order to make sense of the suicide reinforces the rigid demarcation of the corpus further narrowing it to moments in the work that linguistically relate to the event; lines of flight, la chute, not to mention the actual occurrences of suicide and death in the texts. But this is a dogged path that runs contrary to the way in which Deleuze thought and wrote. These pickings, temporarily tasty as they may be, unwittingly convert Deleuze’s work into a totality, a corpus vile: something felt to be of so little value that it may be experimented with or upon without concern for loss or damage. In the rush to locate a reason, a meaning, and consequently a truth; the truth of the event, Deleuze is turned against his own work and both are turned towards each other; linked in an inseparable pairing.
“The philosophies that promise to teach us what to think about death and how to die bore me to tears. I'm not at all moved by those things that are supposed to 'prepare us for it.' One has to prepare it bit by bit, decorate it, arrange the details, find the ingredients, imagine it, choose it, get advice on it, shave it into a work without spectators, one which exists only for oneself, just for that shortest little moment of life. Those who survive, of course, see suicide as nothing but superficial traces, solitude, awkwardness, and unanswered cries. These people can't help but ask ‘why?’ the only question about death that shouldn't be asked.” 5
It’s hardly difficult to locate utter refutations of asking why? in Deleuze’s (& Guattari’s) work;
“…we will not look for anything to understand in it. We will ask what it functions with, in connection with what other things it does or does not transmit intensities, in which other multiplicities its own are inserted and metamorphosed, and with what bodies without organs it makes its own converge.” 6
Despite the obvious pitfalls, other, more well-known figures also turned to Deleuze’s work for an appropriate marker; a locale from which to consider again the question of the act and what it means for us, as opposed to finding something to traverse the boundary of the corpus: Jacques Derrida’s tribute 7 traces through Deleuze’s work to locate a suitable quote for ‘the thinker of the event’ and arrives at “ ‘We are faced with a volitional intuition and a transmutation. To my inclination for death’ said Bousquet, ‘which was a failure of the will, I will substitute a longing for death, which is the apotheosis of the will.’ from this inclination to this longing there is, in a certain respect, no change except a change of the will, a sort of leaping in place (saut sur place) of the whole body which exchanges its organic will for a spiritual will.” 8
It’s tempting to again focus on the leap, the paradoxical ‘leaping in place’ that provides Derrida with the kind of figure he can write through and yet another reference to jumping for us, but it is the Will which is pursued through the quotation; the flux of becoming and passing away is not passive but an active process
“It is highly probable that resignation is only one more figure of ressentiment, since ressentiment has many figures. If willing the event is, primarily, to release its eternal truth, like the fire on which it is fed, this will would reach the point at which war is waged against war, the wound would be the living trace and the scar of all wounds, and death turned on itself would be willed against all deaths.” 9
In turning to Deleuze’s philosophy, to his references to death and/or suicide, we enter a debate in which it is always the will in relation to death that is at stake. In the Phaedo, Plato suggests that “…there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him… ” 10
Deleuze’s suicide re-articulates his opposition to the “court of Pure Reason” 11 and without much effort we can trace a history of the conceptualisation of suicide counter to the court: “Above all, remember that the door stands open. Do not be more fearful than children. But, just as when they are tired if the game they cry, “I will play no more,” so too when you are in a similar situation, cry “I will play no more” and depart. But if you stay, do not cry” 12
As we turn towards the corpus and then to related philosophical precedents, we face the problematics of turning towards a “Greek image of thought” which “already invoked the madness of the double turning-away” and “which launched thought into infinite wandering” 13:
“I will not relinquish my old age if it leaves my better part intact. But if it begins to shake my mind, if it destroys my faculties one by one, if it leaves me not life but breath, I will depart from the putrid or the tottering edifice. If I know that I must suffer without hope of relief I will depart not through fear of the pain itself but because it prevents all for which I should live. ” 14
Reading this quote from Seneca, the connections to the circumstances of Deleuze’s suicide are brought sharply into focus, but they serve to obscure Seneca’s point rather than illuminate Deleuze’s act. It is the undeniable locating of the eye on correlative information that leads us both towards and away from the event. So should we continue to wander along these distinct trails in Deleuze’s works and their bibliographies? Should we pursue the investigation along Deleuze’s lines?
As Deleuze (and Guattari) always maintained “…make a map, not a tracing… a map has multiple entryways, as opposed to the tracing, which always comes back ‘to the same.’ The map has to do with performance, whereas the tracing always involves an alleged ‘competence.’ ” 15 This pursuit still runs conversely to the question we have posed; what to make of it? If we continue to trace Deleuze’s steps, if we follow behind him, if we jump out of the window after him, can we make anything of it at all?
“All this time the Guard was looking at her, first through a telescope, then through a microscope, and then through an opera-glass. At last he said, `You're travelling the wrong way,' and shut up the window and went away.” 16
Little trips, endless indices, pick ups, archives, borrowings; defenestres, suidas, fell odyssey, Windows 95, Lao Tsu, Mary Poppins, Yves Klein, Hitchcock, Post-mortemism, scratched vinyl, fingernails, bolt holes, doctores angelici, go, Hradcany, Gardyloo, Rezso Seress.
In a series of filmed interviews 17, intended for broadcast after his death, Deleuze speaks of "un bon coin pour mourir." 18 I won’t continue to attempt to detect what constitutes this corner, elaborate on its demarcations, tie up all of the loose ends like the model detective, who “…in the end always prefers a handful of "certainty" to a whole cartload of beautiful possibilities” 19
Outside of the institution, away from academic proofing, Deleuze’s philosophy continues through people literally taking up the conception of philosophy as always needing to be opened up to an outside, of concepts to be created and as tools to be used; “…people are constantly putting up an umbrella that shelters them and on the underside of which they draw a firmament and write their conventions and opinions. But poets, artists, make a slit in the umbrella, they tear open the firmament itself, to let in a bit of free and windy chaos and to frame in a sudden light a vision that appears through the rent…” 20
The release of ‘Folds & Rhizomes: In Memoriam Gilles Deleuze’ on Sub Rosa in February 1996 still serves to remind us that Deleuze’s work was not ever entirely the province of the academic community;
“…it seems to us that living in his memory as a school is a disaster to be avoided at all costs. And anyone who acts - in no matter what field - using his concepts as tools, will be closer to him than any academic self - proclaiming himself to be Deleuzian…” 21 Like many obituaries, the works on the compilation had been produced before Deleuze’s death, not in anticipation of it; “I said to myself, …there is no better way to be in Deleuze than to use the philosophy and draw a tangent towards something else… I learned of his death on the radio. Something in me said: too late. But the testimonial is still there. Indeed it wasn't a tribute, the whole thing was conceived in life.” 22
“I found a Liberation hanging out of a trash can. It smelled like someone's lunch… Some guy I don't know reported that Deleuze used to tell him something like, "C'est ton chagrin idiot...." Enfin.” 23
1 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass. Penguin (1998)
2 Notably Italo Calvino’s ‘In memory of Roland Barthes’, The Literature Machine, Verso (1997)
3 post to the deleuze-guattari list in the week following the news: http://lists.village.virginia.edu/cgi-bin/spoons/archive1.pl?list=deleuze-guattari.archive/d-g_1995/d-g_Nov.95
4 Ibid; deleuze.guattari list
5 Michel Foucault in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984 Sylvère Lotringer (Ed) SEMIOTEXT(E). New York. (1996) p295
6 G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Athlone Press (1988) p4
7 Jacques Derrida, I Shall Have to Wander all Alone in The Work of Mourning. Univ. Chicago Press (2001)
8 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense. Athlone Press, (1990) p149
9 ibid. p149
10 Plato, Phaedo, Prometheus Books (1994) p62
11 Gilles Deleuze, Dialogues. Columbia University Press (1989) p9
12 Epictectus , The Golden Sayings of Epictectus, XLIV
13 G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, What is Philosophy. (Verso 1994) p54
14 Seneca, De Ira, 1:15
15 G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Athlone Press (1988) p12/13
16 Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass. Penguin ()
17 Pierre-André Boutang [dir.], L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, avec Claire Parnet, (1996)
18 “A good corner(or place) to die”
19 F. Nietszche, Beyond Good and Evil, Penguin (1990) p10
20 G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, What is Philosophy?. Verso (1994) p203
21 DOUBLE ARTICULATION: ANOTHER PLATEAU, liner notes, Sub Rosa (1997)
23 Douglas Edric, Paris. 8.11.1995
Originally published in Straight to Hell: 20th Century Suicides, ed. Namida King, London: Creation Books, 2004.