The Friend as Conceptual Persona in Deleuze and Guattari

Mathias Schönher
University of Vienna

Friendship is a matter of perception.
— Gilles Deleuze, "F comme Fidélité", an episode in L'Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze

[1] Even if the friend is nowadays no longer thinkable according to his traditional concept as a socio-political category, we still have, as I shall argue in the following paper, a friend in thought. I will mainly refer to What Is Philosophy? and the correspondence between Deleuze and Dionys Mascolo from 1988. I will thus draw upon the same texts as Gregg Lambert did in his essay "Deleuze and the Political Ontology of the Friend," which I will use to contrast my own interpretation.

[2] While Mascolo admits his perplexity in the face of Deleuze's articulations and Deleuze clearly differentiates his own questions from Mascolo's, Lambert tries to bring their claims in accordance with each other by affirming Mascolo's analysis of the contemporary situation and using it as a foundation for his own argument that in Deleuze and Guattari the Other as socio-political identity can no longer be thought as the friend. As long as Lambert examines the concept of the friend and the division of thought between myself and another self, his interpretation adds to that of Deleuze and Guattari, as I understand it. However, as soon as he moves from the concept to the conceptual character in order to support his argument, the two approaches, as I will argue, become incompatible. [1] As Lambert's genealogical investigation of the concept of the friend comes to the conclusion that we no longer possess a concept allowing us to conceive of thought divided between friends, he concludes that "'the friend' no longer constitutes thinking's internal presupposition". [2] His argument thus leads to the conviction that in thought we no longer have the friend and that the conceptual character has to be thought as the Other.

[3] I will argue that for Deleuze and Guattari the conceptual character is always a friend; it is the internal condition of all philosophical thought, and it is the friend of the concept. The conceptual character is the friend in the literal sense, as it shares the sensations with the concept; it has the perceptions and affections of the concepts that turn it into the singular friend of these concepts. This is why Deleuze's questions, as he articulates them for Mascolo, do not turn towards historical or socio-political conditions and their connection with the concept of the friend. His question, aiming towards the transcendental experience of the friend in thought, goes to the heart "of what we call and experience as philosophy", namely, "How can a friend, without losing his or her singularity, be inscribed as a condition of thought?" [3] What Deleuze finds in Mascolo is the attempt to think the friend of the concept itself as friend, to take seriously again the philos of philosophy and trace back the other that thinks in me, not, for example, as Plato does to Socrates but to the friend.

[4] In his genealogical investigation, Lambert follows the traces of everything that characterizes Deleuze and Guattari's concept of the friend. He arrives at the determination of the concept in its contemporary sense by means of exposing the concrete connection between the changing historical and socio-political conditions with the concept of the friend. The basis for this connection is what Lambert calls a necessary "primary division of thought" between myself and an Other, that is, another self, claiming that in a society determined by dialectics and communication this is what allows for the division of thought that thereby gains its actuality. [4] Thought has to differ from itself in order to be effective as an internal presupposition of sociability. This division, and here Lambert corrects the text he draws upon, is "rather [a division] of thought outside itself" within an Other and not a division of thought within itself. [5]

[5] For the Greeks, this primary division of thought is accomplished amongst friends facing each other as rivals, but not without thought being reunified through dialectics and the rivals being reconciled through friendship as the art of mediation. However, as Lambert maintains, already the Other as rival endangers this idea of friendship as democratic consensus of friends, which finally fails when, in modernity, the Other becomes the enemy. Thus, when friendship is confronted with war and thereby undergoes a catastrophe, dialectics is converted into an antagonism of identities, which can no longer be brought together under the "archaic concept of friendship". [6] Lambert concludes, however, that since we do not yet possess a "postwar concept of friendship", thought can no longer be conceived of as divided between friends: "On the new ground we occupy, following the changed sense of friendship that we have been evoking all along following Deleuze, 'the friend' no longer constitutes thinking's internal presupposition or fundamental power as a 'social faculty' ... [W]e must conclude that the actual category of friendship may no longer have anything in common with philosophy from this point onward". [7] According to Lambert, this situation requires us to trace back the friend to the inappeasable Other, even where Deleuze and Guattari still speak of the friend. In his genealogical investigation, Lambert thus arrives at the point where he identifies this friend as Robert Antelme, that friend of Mascolo's who inhabits the latter's thought as conceptual character and can, according to this mode of thinking, no longer be reconciled by means of friendship. This is why Antelme remains hidden behind the Other. Due to his experience of catastrophic violence, he returns from Dachau as an Other, which brings Lambert to conclude that friendship has been exhausted by physical violence from the outside.

[6] Mascolo himself, whose analysis Lambert draws upon in his interpretation of Deleuze and Guattari's thinking, admits his perplexity when it comes to Deleuze's articulations. For him, friendship can only be retrieved starting from the contemporary antagonism in a shared concern about the impossibility of unified thought today. Deleuze, however, writes to him: "Friendship comes first for me. Obviously friendship would not be a more or less favorable external circumstance, but ... it would be an internal condition of thought as such. Not speaking with your friend ... but on the contrary going through ordeals with that person ... that are necessary for any thinking". [8] Where Deleuze's basis for the foundation of such a friendship comes from, if no shared distrust of thought precedes it, remains incomprehensible for Mascolo – unless Deleuze refers to "the all too easily obtained and empty agreements" that we find in the Platonic dialogues, where Socrates lays out the shared truth as the ground on which the harmless rivals compete. [9]

[7] That Mascolo does not understand Deleuze's question, that he does not consider that the friend as internal condition of thought is not someone with whom one speaks, and that Deleuze's question has nothing to do with dialectics or communication, is, as can be argued with Deleuze and Guattari, because Mascolo already fails to understand Plato in this respect. In What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write: "The idea of a ... democratic conversation between friends has never produced a single concept". [10] This is why "Socrates constantly made all discussion impossible ... He turned the friend into the friend of the ... concept, and the concept into the pitiless monologue that eliminates the rivals one by one". [11] With the philos of philosophy, the friend of the concept, we have always been living through those ordeals necessary for thinking, ordeals that the friend as subject of dialectics or communication does not withstand.

[8] The friends being introduced into the heart of thought by philosophy "are hardly Greek, arriving from elsewhere as if they had gone through a catastrophe, that draws them towards new living relationships raised to the level of a priori characteristics ... [and] converts friendship itself to thought of the concept". [12] This friendship, in which philosophical thought brings all its concepts together, is always "traversed by a fissure that leads them back to hatred or disperses them in the coexisting chaos where it is necessary to take them up again, to seek them out, to make a leap". [13] The leap into chaos is a catastrophe, an ordeal that is too powerful: it deprives us of the power to say I and awakens in us the other, who is able to take upon herself the violent movements of thought and to create concepts.

[9] In my interpretation, the catastrophe at issue in What Is Philosophy? is thus not, as Lambert has claimed, the violence suffered from the outside that makes it impossible to think the Other as friend, as another I with which thought can be partitioned, thus making it impossible that "friendship has anything in common with philosophy". Rather it is, as Deleuze and Guattari already wrote in A Thousand Plateaus prior to the correspondence with Mascolo, that which lets chaos break in. [14] From the chaos that lends thought its infinite movement, the other as subject of philosophical thought always emerges as friend. According to this, it is the other as the one who thinks in me and creates concepts. My interpretation posits the division of thought as a division of thinking within itself and not as a division of thought outside itself. The conceptual character transforms the thinker into a friend of the concept by exposing him to a becoming in the violent movements of thought. The conceptual character is nothing other than this friend of the concept, for with the concept that it creates, it divides thought and stands out from thought as the real subject of thinking: "The conceptual character is the becoming or the subject of a philosophy". [15] In a Socratic manner Deleuze and Guattari ask: "Does this mean that the friend is friend of his [or her] own creations? Or does the act of the concept refer to the power of the friend in the unity of creator and his or her double?" [16] The power of the friend refers to the thinking of the concept—Not speaking with your friend Socrates! "So tell me", he asks in the Lysis, "when someone loves someone else, which of the two becomes the friend of the other, the one who loves or the one who is loved? Or is there no difference?" [17] Socrates, with whom the friend turns into the friend of the concept, carries on the monologue and constantly becomes another through all of his concepts. As such, he has nothing in common with "an abstract personification ... or an allegory" because he is the other that thinks inside of us. [18] He is, as Plato shifts into Socrates and Socrates shifts into Plato, our own becoming. And here it is, on the one hand, not necessary, where Deleuze and Guattari speak of the friend, to trace this back to the Other as Lambert demands, because the friend of the concept is always the other that thinks within us. But on the other hand, it is not possible that Antelme remains hidden behind the conceptual character – as a friend hidden behind the other, because, as Lambert claims, he cannot be reconciled with friendship due to his experience of catastrophic violence and for this reason would always remain the Other. Even if we do not yet have a postwar concept of the friend, I conclude that the other who inhabits philosophical thought, who shares the concept's sensations, is invariably the latter's friend.

[10] In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write: "[I]t is thought itself that requires the thinker to be a friend so that thought is divided up within itself and can be exercised". [19] It is first in the violent movements of thought, knowing neither subject nor object, however, that the other emerges in us as friend, as Deleuze and Guattari write, due to the "amorous striving toward the object of desire" as subject of thinking. [20] As friend or lover of the concept, she is able to carry on the pitiless monologue of the concept, raising it to the highest power of thought. The other divides thinking ever anew in itself by letting the movements of thought revert constantly to themselves, thereby staking out a plane, which the other always applies as a whole to each and every concept.

[11] As Deleuze writes in the second book on cinema about time dividing itself in every moment into the present and past into two movements (the first of which lets the entire present pass, while the second preserves the entire past), so too the concept in philosophical thought refers to a redistribution of the plane's entire movements and the plane to the entirety of relations between concepts. And just as Deleuze declares that the one who "sees the gushing of time" from its origin as division, as separation to be the "visionary", the "seer", so too is the conceptual character, dating back to the origin of the division of thought, the seer. [21]

[12] "[O]n the plane", it is said in A Thousand Plateaus, "desire directly invests the field of perception, where the imperceptible appears as the perceived object of desire itself". [22] Due to her inner connectedness with her object of desire, the friend becomes the seer of the imperceptible; she has the perceptions of the concept together with its affections. Corresponding to the concept's peculiar mode of perception and affection, that require performing the movements of the plane and applying them to the concept, the friend establishes the correspondence between concept and plane and serves as a "living category" of thinking. [23] Friendship is no longer an external circumstance but rather the foundation of the friend's transcendental experience. Her transcendental experience is an inner sensation; the perception connected to it consists of symptoms of movements on the plane and through the concept, which exposes her to a constant becoming. In this she remains without a fixed identity as she constitutes herself at the same time as does her concept; she passes through all concepts, as developed in the Anti-Oedipus, triumphs over her rivals, exploits the others as her allies and exacts the bounty of her mutation on every side. [24] This mutation itself, which she undergoes together with the concept, distinguishes the friend amongst the claimants. As Deleuze and Guattari write in What Is Philosophy?, it is already Plato who provides the model for the concept: "a claim will be justified only through a neighborhood", through proximity that one has had in the relation to the concept, "in the survey of an always necessarily anterior time". [25] This means that the concept's inner sensation, always mobilising the entire plane as the entire past, turns the true claimant into the friend of the concept.

[13] The proximity to the concept refers to the power of the friend. In order to relate the selection of claimants to their power, one must, as Deleuze wrote in 1992 in "Plato, the Greeks", follow Spinoza and turn Plato against himself. [26] In this sense we can return to Spinoza in the Ethics considering his definition that virtue and power are one and the same, and thus one could say that the virtue of the friend is her power. [27] And finally she is the friend of the concept for the very reason that she withstands the ordeals that are immanent to thought. "Are we not already on another plane, for love is like the violence that compels thinking – 'Socrates the lover'", Deleuze and Guattari ask, not only on the level upon which "friendship asks only for a little goodwill?" [28] For Deleuze, it is Mascolo, I argue, who does not leave the Greek terrain of the shared truth as the ground on which the rivals come to "all too easily obtained and empty agreements". For Mascolo, the antagonists arrive at a reconciliation of a shared virtue through dialectics. Corresponding to Aristotle who directly followed Plato and who gave the Greeks their Ethics, where friendship is borne out of mutual good will based on the recognition of one's own virtue in another, Mascolo writes in a letter to Deleuze that, for him, friendship can be found through "an emergence of confidence ... on the basis of the same distrust" .[29] But when Deleuze asks, "How can a friend, without losing his or her singularity, be inscribed as a condition of thought?", he suggests to Mascolo – whose book he is engaged with in an "interior monologue" – that he is not invoking a shared quality such as the shared distrust. [30] With the friend as condition of thought, "friendship itself" is transformed into the "thought of the concept". And the friend maintains her singularity as friend through distinguishing herself in thought as that who shares the concept's sensations, as the true friend amongst the claimants.

[14] In an interview from 1985, Deleuze said: "When I work with Guattari ... each of us understands in his own way concepts put forward by the other." [31] And along the lines of my own argumentation, every thinker is exposed to a constant becoming-other as friend of the concepts that she creates. And following this it seems, here thinking about Deleuze's own words, that a friendship is possible that brings two thinkers together as singular subjects in thought. This friendship will without a doubt always remain "traversed by a fissure" because it is not based on a shared quality. But perhaps this is precisely "the question of what we call and experience as philosophy" today.

General Remarks

This paper is an expanded version of a presentation given at the Second International Deleuze Studies Conference at the University of Cologne (2009). The argumentation presented here is part of my forthcoming doctoral thesis on the conceptual character in Deleuze and Guattari's What Is Philosophy?


[1] I translate "personnage conceptuel" with "conceptual character". I left the more widely used "conceptual persona" in the title and my biographical notes but changed the translation to "conceptual character" in the quotations from What Is Philosophy? and throughout the rest of my paper. For the justification of the choice made by the translators Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, see Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia UP, 1994), 2-3. And for my justification see note 18.

[2] Gregg Lambert, "Deleuze and the Political Ontology of 'The Friend' (philos)," in Deleuze and Politics, eds. Ian Buchanan, Nicholas Thoburn  (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008), 50.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, "Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo," in Two Regimes of Madness. Texts and Interviews 1975-1995 (New York: Semiotext(s), 2006),  332.

[4] Lambert, "Political Ontology of 'The Friend,'" 50.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 46.

[7] Ibid., 49, 50.

[8] Deleuze, "Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo," 329. The English translation reads: "Friendship comes first for you", which follows the French: "Ce qui serait premier pour vous, ce serait l'amitié." Gilles Deleuze, Deus régimes de fous. Textes et entretiens 1975-1995 (Paris: Minuit, 2003), 307. Following the German translation: "Für mich käme die Freundschaft an erster Stelle." Gilles Deleuze, Schizophrenie und Gesellschaft. Texte und Gespräche von 1975-1995 (Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp, 2005), 312. I have replaced the "you" with "me". Deleuze sums up Mascolo's position as claiming that shared concern, "if found in another person, is the basis for friendship", and then asks: "Couldn't we reverse the order?" In other words, couldn't we go so far as to say that through distrust of a friend with friendship a concern is brought into thinking? And to this Mascolo replies: "You suggest ... making friendship come first." Deleuze, "Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo," 329, 331. In addition, I have replaced "trials" with "ordeals", in accordance with the translation of What is Philosophy?.

[9] Deleuze, "Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo," 331.

[10] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 6.

[11] Ibid., 29.

[12] Ibid., 5.

[13] Ibid., 203.

[14] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia (London, New York: Continuum, 2004), 343.

[15] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 64.

[16] Ibid., 5. I have changed the original English translation which reads: "Or is the actuality of the concept due to the potential of the friend, in the unity of creator and his double?", while the French text reads: "Ou bien est-ce l'acte du concept qui renvoie à la puissance de l'ami, dans l'unité du créateur et de son double?" Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Minuit, 2005), 10.

[17] Plato, "Lysis 212a-b," in Plato on Love. Lysis, Symposium, Phaedrus, Alcibiades, and Selections from Republic and Laws, ed. C. D. Reeve (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2006).

[18] The following sentence is missing from the English translation: "Le personnage conceptuel n'a rien à voir avec une personnification abstraite, un symbole ou une allégorie, car il vit, il insiste", and should be placed between the following two sentences: "I am no longer myself but thought's aptitude for finding itself and spreading across a plane that passes through me at several places. The philosopher is the idiosyncrasy of his conceptual personae". Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 64. Compare the French: "Je ne suis plus moi, mais une aptitude de la pensée à se voir et se développer à travers un plan qui me traverse en plusieurs endroits. Le personnage conceptuel n'a rien à voir avec une personnification abstraite, un symbole ou une allégorie, car il vit, il insiste. Le philosophe est l'idiosyncrasie de ses personnages conceptuels." Deleuze and Guattari, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?, 62. That the sentence is missing where Deleuze and Guattari explicitly state the conceptual character has "nothing to do with an abstract personification" is symptomatic for the English translation because the translators not only chose "conceptual persona" for "personnage conceptuel" but also equate the conceptual persona with a mask, through an incorrect translation: "Mais les noms propres auxquels se rattache ainsi l'énonciation ont beau être historiques, et attestés comme tels, ce sont des masques pour d'autres devenirs, ils servent seulement de pseudonymes à des entités singulières plus secrètes. Dans le cas des propositions, il s'agit des observateurs partiels extrinsèques, scientifiquement définissables par rapport à tel ou tels axes de référence, tandis que, pour les concepts, ce sont des personnages conceptuels intrinsèques qui hantent tel ou tel plan de consistance." Ibid., 29. The English translation: "But however much the use of proper names clarifies and confirms the historical nature of their link to these enunciations, these proper names are masks for other becomings and serve only as pseudonyms for more secret singular entities. In the case of propositions, proper names designate extrinsic partial observers that are scientifically definable in relation to a particular axis of reference; whereas for concepts, proper names are intrinsic conceptual personae who haunt a particular plane of consistency." Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 24. While in the original the antecedent in the second sentence is left open with "il s'agit" and "ce sont" the English translation uses "proper names" in both cases making the reference seem unambiguous: in the case of the propositions, the proper names refer to the partial observers, while in the case of the concepts, the proper names refer to the conceptual characters. But following my interpretation and French usage, the partial observers or the conceptual characters are the "entités singulières", the "more secret singular entities", that remain concealed by the masks, by the proper names: "[T]he philosopher is only the envelope of his ... conceptual character". Ibid., 64. The conceptual character is the singular process of becoming in thinking but in no case a mask that hides these processes. For this reason I do not use the translation "persona," which could be understood as "the aspect of a person's character that they show to other people, especially when their real character is different". Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, 7th Edition (New York: Oxford UP, 2005.), s.vv. "persona." In my opinion it is not exactly correct to write: "The conceptual persona is the becoming or the subject of a philosophy, on a par with the philosopher", but rather following the original – "Le personnage conceptuel est le devenir ou le sujet d'une philosophie, qui vaut pour le philosophe"– one should write: "The conceptual character is the becoming or the subject of a philosophy, that is valid for the philosopher". Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 64; Deleuze and Guattari, Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?, 63. The translators of What Is Philosophy? can easily support their interpretation with passages from Deleuze's work before he started to work with Guattari. In Difference and Repetition, for example, we read: "The mask is the true subject of repetition", but such a reference seems to neglect the singularity and move away from the intentions of Qu'est-ce que la philosophie?. Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (New York: Continuum, 2004), 20.

[19] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 69.

[20] Ibid., 4.

[21] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2. The Time-Image (New York: Continuum, 2005), 79.

[22] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 313.

[23] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 3.

[24] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia (New York: Continuum, 2004), 97.

[25] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 30.

[26] Gilles Deleuze, "Plato, the Greeks," in Essays Critical and Clinical (New York: Verso, 1998), 137.

[27] Benedict de Spinoza, Ethics, Definition 8 of Part IV.

[28] Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, 71.

[29] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 3, 1155b-1156a; Deleuze, "Correspondence with Dionys Mascolo," 331.

[30] Ibid., 329.

[31] Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972-1990 (New York: Columbia UP, 1995), 126. I have replaced "notions" with "concepts", in accordance with the translation of What Is Philosophy?.