The Stroll: Reflections on Deleuzian Ethics

John Lundy

I. The Stroll

[1] I like to stroll. I don't like to walk necessarily. Walking is usually a chore. You have to fill a prescription, walk to the pharmacy. You're out of toilet paper, walk to the corner shop. You're getting fat and out of shape, better walk for exercise. You have a seminar, walk to campus; in fact, you're late, better run! None of this is strolling. By "stroll" I have in mind a very particular sort of activity, and I think it's something most of us will be at least somewhat familiar with. In the first place it is walking with no goal in mind outside the activity itself—just walking for walking's sake. Strolling, as I will discuss later, has close analogs in many other activities, such as cruising (driving for driving's sake), but for present purposes I'll stick to talking about my love: strolling. I enjoy strolling to such an extent that it had even occurred to me that I might consider undertaking a major strolling expedition. Inspired by friends who have hiked, cycled, or paddled across the county, I thought: "Wouldn't it be fantastic if one were to stroll across the country?" But, in the same instant this thought occurred to me, I realized the absurdity in it. If one set out with the goal of crossing the country one is certainly not strolling. However, one could set out on a stroll and find that one ends up crossing the country. When out for a stroll you can find yourself doing all sorts of things.

[2] This brings me to a second aspect of the stroll. To stroll properly, means to be radically open to possibility. Because the walk is not instrumental, you do not need to be at point-B by t2, you do not have to get your heart rate into the target zone etc., you are free to express your desires; your direction is determined by your own caprices: "That park looks nice." "I've never been down that street before." "What's all the commotion over there?" I might, for example, head out for a stroll, meet a friend and end up at the pub. And when another friend shows up five hours later and asks what I am up to, I could legitimately reply: "Well, I'm just out for a stroll." While strolling, I might end up swimming, or on a road trip, or helping a friend move, or helping a neighbor fix their roof, or falling in love, or at a party, or a film, or a lecture, or a protest. Different people will be drawn to different possibilities, but one could find oneself doing nearly anything on a stroll. This make sense once we understand a stroll not just as a walk but a mood, an attitude, a way of comporting ourselves to the world. To stroll, is to just walk out your front door and say "Let's see what the world has in store" or "Let's see where my desire takes me."

[3] This characterization might make the simple strolling activity seem rather romantic and adventuresome, and it is, however, usually a stroll is just a leisurely amble about your city or neighborhood, and this can never be a disappointment. If it is, then you were never really strolling in the first place; you were out looking for something that you did not find. Strolling is just going for a walk, so we cannot feel cheated if it fails to deliver more action or excitement than that. But, since we are walking no place in particular, following a path of our desire, and open to whatever possibilities present themselves, we are ready for whatever action might come our way. Therefore, the spirit of adventure, exploration, and play is always alive in a stroll. This is the reason why you always need some time to stroll. I could not go for a stroll right now, for example. I could go for a thirty-minute walk, but I know I need to get back to work on this paper. Even if a stroll only lasts thirty minutes, one needs at least several hours free in order to remain open to possibilities to an extent that would allow one to enter a proper strolling frame of mind.

[4] Although it's not necessary, sometimes, certain strolling paraphernalia helps. I like to bring my camera; it slows me down and helps me look at things in different ways. This is important for a proper stroll; in order to be receptive to possibility, a stroll usually has to be a slow going thing. In my strolling bag I also tend to carry a selection of accoutrements that allow me to be prepared for, and able to take advantage of, various contingencies. I like to bring, for example, my pocket sized kite. Even if one had the inclination to, given the fleeting nature of wind, it is difficult to plan to go kiting. But, if I'm in a kiting mood and I find myself in an open space, with a sufficient breeze I'll put up my kite. Accoutrements can be dangerous however. They can be unseen routes by which instrumentalizing forces can infect the stroll. A camera, if one is not careful, could turn a stroll into a photographic expedition. In all likelihood, no gear is intrinsically stroll enhancing; one must carefully and skillfully use ones equipment in an appropriate way if it is to facilitate rather that pervert a proper stroll.

[5] Finally, I should acknowledge that my concept of the stroll is something of a normative ideal. In all likelihood, any particular walk in the actual world will only approximate more or less closely to the set of characteristics that define an ideal stroll. In truth, no walk is likely to escape any encroachment by the instrumentalizing forces that shape our lives. But even if a perfectly ideal stroll is unrealizable in practice, as an ideal, the concept of the stroll can be practically useful as an aim that structures and guides our activity.

2. Strolling as Improvised Practice

[6] My hope is that if my simple notion of the stroll is made clear and to some degree relatable, then it can be employed as an entry into the idea that life itself is best lived as a practice of this kind. In this paper I want to consider a version of the idea that a stroll-like mode of being, and by extension a spectrum of related improvisatory modalities, might form part of, or actually constitute, the best way to live one's life across the range of human experience. The idea, in other words, is that this mode of being is not merely a way of becoming a good stroller, a good thinker, a good artist, or, more generally, a master of any particular practice, but a good human being; that is, a master of living a good life. Here I will focus on a version of this idea that I claim to be central to the work of Gilles Deleuze (in Section 3 of this essay). Finally, I will conclude with some thoughts on its possible political implications, briefly touch on its affinity with other traditions of thought, Kant and Western Marxism in particular, and give some consideration to how an approach of this sort might be justified (in Section 4). Before that, however, I want to spend some time fleshing out the notion of the stroll introduced above.

[7] Drawing on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin popularized a twentieth century intellectual engagement with the notion of the flâneur, which has since been taken up and developed in several different directions, most notably by Guy Debord and the situationist movement, and today, inspired by this tradition, by a number of thinkers contributing to the growing field of psychogeography. I want to address this topic first since readers familiar with these literary and philosophical movements may, quite correctly, recognise similar themes in my articulation of the stroll. While there may be good reasons for drawing comparisons, my stroll should not be confused with Flânerie.

[8] The flâneur is not simply one who strolls. The word "flâneur" has no straightforward English translation since it names a multifaceted figure imbedded in specific traditions of thought and entangled with a complex set of motifs within those traditions. My idea of the stroller lacks many of the central characteristics of Baudelaire's and Benjamin's flâneur. For instance, beyond being a leisure walker, the flâneur is an idler or loafer whose activities are motivated, in part, by a sort of laziness. Flânerie, the walk of the flâneur, is also a very particular kind of activity. Notably, it is a distinctly disengaged, even cynical or voyeuristic, form of urban spectatorship. [1] The flâneur may be perceptive and aesthetically aware but seeks to operate with anonymity, adopting a role that remains essentially uninvolved. Traditionally, it is also closely associated with dandyism, a lifestyle of devotion to personal elegance and leisurely pursuits. Guy Debord appropriates much from this tradition, yet articulates a unique account in the form of his theory of the dérive. [2] The dérive (drift) is, once again, a very specific sort of walk. Here, one uses specific techniques, such as playfully constructive interventions and rapid movement though diverse environments, in order to realize a specific surrealist goal: the achievement of a higher level of truth and awareness beyond immediate reality, through the convergence of reality with surreality. I want to be clear that my notion of the stroll contains none of the features listed here and may, in fact, be incompatible with most of them. While I grant that my appeal to the notion of the stroll invites obvious comparisons with this tradition and that a full analysis of the points of tension and agreement between them would be a worthwhile endeavour, it is not a project I pursue any further here. Rather, my principle, constructive aim is to show that my account of the stroll has much in common with other philosophical traditions that are not explicitly built around any notion of strolling, but are nevertheless relatable in terms of such a concept.

[9] So then, what is the core element of the stroll on my account? I want to suggest that the mode of being or operating, which I have called the stroll, is essentially an improvisational mode with equivalents in a wide array of activities, both theoretical and practical. Walking is not the essential element—as Deleuze himself once said in a work with Guattari, "there is no reason to oppose an interior voyage to exterior ones." [3] Part of the reason I have chosen the stroll as an example of an improvisatory practice through which Deleuzian ethics can be entered and related, is that the stroll is something I understand and participate in as well as something I hope is relatively straightforward and pervasive. However, many other examples could have been chosen. Perhaps one of the clearest cases of an improvisatory and essentially stroll-like method, operating in the specific practice of a defined tradition, is jazz music. In briefly considering some of the more salient connections to these musical practices I want to demonstrate, by way of example, the affinity of the stroll with other practices, and at the same time help clarify what is common to them all.

[10] Up to and largely including the first half of the twentieth century, Western music has been dominated by the composer and written musical notation, which fixed, more or less completely, the resulting sound performance. By the turn of the century the fusion of African and Western musical styles in the southern United States gave rise to jazz, which slowly injected occidental musical forms with, amongst other things, a significant role for performer improvisation. By the mid-twentieth century this influence had fermented, creating a climate that allowed for the rise of, so called, experimental music in the 1950's (e.g. John Cage) and free jazz in the 1960's (e.g. Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane etc.). Key developments of this time period sought to supplant the composer/composition dominance as well as many of the formulae and conventions of traditional music. Primarily this occurred by granting freedom to performers, and in some ways audiences, by allowing them to express themselves by taking part in the creation of a music event spontaneously, rather than enacting a predetermined musical plan.

[11] Today, many quite different styles of music embrace this improvised form. For present purposes, in using the terms "jazz" or "experimental music" I intend to encompass all such forms. While it is true that improvisation in this strong sense has not come to dominate, many late-twentieth century forms of popular music (rock and roll, etc.) have embraced elements of performer interpretation and the chance and contingency involved in the live musical event. It is improvised music, in its various stylistic forms, which I now suggest to be stroll-like in several ways.

[12] When Sir Edmund Hillary set out on his famous walk to the top of Mt. Everest he had every reason to expect his trek, if successful, would be one for the history books. In like fashion, a traditional composer poised to present his latest work might stand before a symphony confident in the expectation that he is about to deliver something truly impressive and unprecedented. For improvisers of any kind, it never works quite this way. Just as a walk improviser sets out with the modest intention of taking a walk, it seems to be the experience of many musical improvisers that musical improvisation often begins with the equally modest impulse to play or jam—to simply engage in a musical exploration with one's partners. When jazz players begin a session they do not typically do so with a plan to deliver a groundbreaking contribution to music. Even when the highest example of an inspiring and impressive performance happens to be the result on some particular occasion, this is not the result of enacting a preconceived purposive plan designed to achieve this end. Rather, it is the chance (though not entirely unexpected) outcome of skillful engagement over time in the practice of improvising—simply playing together in an expression and exploration of musical possibilities. Both the stroll and the jam session are forms of expressive and exploratory play, which tend to yield interesting and desirable outcomes that are not mapped out in advance but are more or less likely in proportion to the appropriate attitude and skill of the practitioners.

[13] A walk can only become a stroll when it is freed from a pre-determined purposive plan, just as music cannot be jazz so long as the performance is mapped out in advance—so long as the performer is heavily bound by the fact that he or she is scheduled to arrive at certain notes at certain times. Relatedly, a proper stroll, as noted above, cannot take place in a narrowly constrained space of time. The same is true of jazz; jazz cannot exist within the four-minute confines of a pop song. As with the stroll, this is not an issue of quantity, indeed a jazz song may well end in less than four minutes, but an improviser cannot be free to explore the range of possibilities that might arise if a narrow time constraint is externally imposed as a limitation.

[14] In what way and to what degree one ought to be free in improvised music is unsurprisingly a matter of some controversy. John Cage saw some rather clear limits, arguing that innovations in method, form, and material can only be improvisations on some basic pre-given structure. Theodor Adorno wanted less structure, criticizing the jazz tradition for offering an insufficient, surface-level form of improvisation that did not grant true freedom of expression to the performer. These concerns quickly lead to the heart of perennial philosophical questions regarding the very nature of human freedom. I do not wish to wade into the precise nature of free musical improvisation and can say little here regarding the more fundamental notions of freedom that underpin these concerns. Nevertheless, however we conceive of freedom, it would seem that we must do so in a way that faces up to the fact (recognized so well by Spinoza) that we are not masters of the universe, that no matter how strong our will or creative vision, our own power is infinitely exceeded by the power of external causes.

[15] For instance, a musician is limited by the form and function of the available instrumentation, by the physical environment (its acoustics properties, the amount of space for performers or audience members, etc.), by the social environment (including the dynamic between the performers and between performers and audience), by the capacities of their own mind and body (for example, a performance is ultimately limited by the body's need to eat and rest), and most interestingly by the sound environment produced by the creative contributions of other performers. The upshot is that we cannot ask or expect any creator or experiencer, improvisational or otherwise, to produce an intervention or create a work of art that is purely an outcome of a monological process or purely an expression of a subjective state or feeling, and, moreover, this cannot constitute the meaning of freedom. This suggests that there exists in any creative practice, including the practice of living a human life, a dialectic between what I would call creative expressions and exploration, or more crudely put between the productive moment and the moment of consumption.

[16] In improvised music or improvised walking we are giving expression to our thoughts, feelings, and desires by taking part of ourselves and putting it, so to speak, out into the world in the form of our music or our travels and the creative choices that take place therein. Self-expression, in this sense, can be considered the telos of a human being qua artist, and it seems to be a fundamental aspect of human life. A corollary element of human life, which I call exploration, is one in which the ego experiences or takes in both the natural world and the expressions produced by an alter (art and other forms of communication). Both moments are necessary for dialogue and the resulting richness and varied complexity of fully human social interaction. As I see it, an especially significant fact about improvised practices is that both moments are at play in a particularly acute way. An improviser is simultaneously taking in or exploring an environment or situation, cognizing the expressions of others actors, and then responding with his or her own expressive actions, thereby co-creating a dialogical intercourse.

3. A Strolling Life

[17] Strolling, it seems to me, is a good example of a Deleuzian practice. In fact, I will contend that the core suggestion of Deleuzian ethics is that we should approach life like a stroll. [4] I wanted to try to imagine what it would look like, what it might feel like, to approach the practice of living life in the way Deleuze seems to recommend. I believe I grasped the Deleuzian outlook most clearly when I came to conceive it as the attitude of the stroll radicalized and writ large. Although the analogy is an imperfect one, and I admit a rather anecdotal or idiosyncratic one at that, I believe it may prove helpful in facilitating an explanation of how aspects of Deleuze's thought might cohere to form an account of ethics (or such is my hope) for the stroll as an actual practice, attitude, or way of being (or becoming) in the world. The stroll is something relatively concrete and easy to imagine, which, as such, can serve as a touchstone for thinking about the more difficult-to-grasp concept of Deleuzian ethical practice.

[18] With Nietzsche, Deleuze advocates amor fati, a total affirmation of the chance that exists in every moment. [5] As with the stroll, this means having the fortitude to throw the dice and embrace the outcome, whatever it may be. For Deleuze, it is only through embracing a Nietzschean "eternal return" that we can truly achieve a philosophy of pure immanence that does not seek ultimate value in some illusory otherworldly realm. Much like the non-instrumental value of the stroll, the value of life is not to please any transcendent God or to have an effect in a supersensible realm, rather, it is simply to create and maximize connections and expand the possibilities inherent in life itself.

[19] Deleuze stresses the idea that instead of judging what we are or what we should be on the basis of any transcendent values, we affirm that the value of life is inestimable in this way since we don't yet know what we are capable of or what we might become. The move is from what Deleuze calls morality: transcending good/evil thinking based on salvation to what he calls ethics, an immanent good/bad approach based in experimentation. [6] That is, an approach which seeks to explore the unknown capacities of the body and the unconscious of thought. The spirit of experimentation, which animates the practice of ethical life for Deleuze, is the same spirit of exploration that animates a stroll. In either case we are playing with or investigating the possibilities of life, the potentials of our own bodies.

[20] Drawing on Spinoza, Deleuze also argues that the ethical life is one in which we seek to operate through active forces rather than reactive forces. [7] Reactive forces do not allow us to realize our potential, since one remains dominated by external forces, or dominated by purely reactive forces working against our own power and potential. Active forces dominate rather than submit to domination, freeing us to explore the very limits of what we can do. [8] Here the creative, affirmative, productive power of will and desire is unfettered. Just as you can never predict how a stroll will turn out, what the good life looks like cannot be prescribed in advance. One could only say that the good life is a life capable of sustaining an active experimentation conducted with the desiring machines that are ourselves, and an exploration of the limits, in every direction, of our will.

[21] For Deleuze, reactive forces negate difference, where the affirmative, active forces would celebrate and enjoy difference. This is far more radical than it sounds. According to Deleuze, traditional metaphysics has prioritized being. Therefore, even if one agreed with the thesis that difference is to be affirmed, the agreement with Deleuze would be trivial, provided one is still operating within the standard metaphysical paradigm of being. What prioritizing being means, insofar as difference is concerned, is that difference is understood as a measure of relative sameness. For example, we might talk about different beer. [9] This one is dark and bitter, that one is light and crisp, and another is copper and a bit sweet. But, we can talk about these differences because they all belong to a group of things that have a fundamental sameness: they are all beer, a beverage made from water and fermented grain.

[22] If we want, we can even compare beer with very different things like octopi, planets, courage, or justice, because all these things belong to one huge all- encompassing universal grouping called "being." In this perspective, everything exhibits a fundamental preexisting sameness, called being. This view is certainly intuitive. We normally use difference merely as a relational term. We might say "Dolphins are different than fish because they are mammals," or "Dolphins are different from galaxies because they are smaller," etc. Often, the relationality is only implied. If I simply say, "Larry is different," I mean he is different than most other people. If I say, "My pencil is different," it naturally invites the question, "Different from what?" It is just as if I said "My pencil is ten feet away," which invites the question, "Ten feet away from what?" With respect to the last question, it would certainly seem nonsensical if I were to reply, "It's not that the pencil is ten feet away from anything, it's simply that it possesses the inherent property of ten-feet-away-ness." But that is exactly the sort of radical shift Deleuze wants to make with respect to difference. In order to understand or experience the difference of my pencil we do not need to contrast it with some other fundamentally similar thing. Deleuze's thinking is a philosophy of pure difference, which stresses the fundamental and irreducible uniqueness and particularity of every aspect of reality. Instead of a fundamental underlying being there is only becoming—the unique development of diverse singularities. [10] Realizing and affirming uniqueness—the primary character of reality as difference and becoming—requires freeing our senses from established tendencies. I believe this would mean orienting ourselves to the world, as much as possible in a stroll-like fashion, wherein we strive to free ourselves from organizing schemes, extricate ourselves from purposive/rational teleology, slow ourselves down, and allow ourselves to experience the particularity of things and events.

[23] Imagine you walk past a certain building every day on the way to work. The building is nothing to you; it is simply that unremarkable building you walk by every day. Or rather it is something very specific; its the signal that you are two thirds of the way there. Now imagine that one day you happen to stroll past that building. For the first time you encounter the building outside the context of your daily routine. Since it's no longer a point on a route, you are now in a state of greater receptivity to the difference of the building. It might strike you that this familiar building is particularly beautiful or particularly ugly, or that it reminds you of a building that you worked in before, etc. That is why, for me at least, my camera helps me move into the strolling spirit. It helps force me to break my senses out of habitual tendencies, and see things in new ways and see new connections between things. This relates to what Deleuze calls rhizomatics, the idea that there are always multiple entries to the world. [11] An object or a thought can be approached in multiple ways and be connected in multiple ways with others.

[24] For Deleuze, the motor of active force—the productive core of an ethical life—is desire. [12] What does this mean? To begin, Deleuze conceives of existence as a series of material flows, a multiplicity of pure difference in a process of becoming. In order to exist, societies necessarily structure these natural material flows of life—a process he calls coding. [13] Societies enforce rigged restrictions on flows and reproduce fixed ways of doing things. Capitalist societies are unique in that they actually decode flows. Capitalist economic aims, it turns out, are best served by allowing flows to remain fluid and multiplicity to proliferate. Deleuze thinks this decoding is a positive development, however, in the case of capitalism, the catch is that decoding is coupled with axiomatization. In short, although flows remain fluid, they are commodified by the imposed economic law of general equivalence, which means they are emptied of meaning. [14] Further, despite the fact that capitalism is a decoding/axiomatization machine, it is ultimately a coding regime, insofar as it is still a society, since it depends on regulating structures like the state and nuclear family. Hence, modern capitalist society leaves the individual in a schizophrenic state where codes are being subverted and desires freed by market forces, while desires continue to be captured and programmed with the values and traditions of coding regimes such as the state, family, church etc. [15]

[25] For Deleuze, the repression of desire is the opposite of ethics—it is fascism. [16] According to the more traditional metaphysic, which Deleuze rejects, there are two worlds, material existence and a transcendental realm of value, which submits desire to a system of regulations. Relatedly, Deleuze would also agree with Hume, Spinoza, and Nietzsche in rejecting any dualistic distinction between the body/passions/desires on one hand and mind/reason/restraint on the other. For Deleuze there is only material flows, hence, ethics could only be based in the positive and productive force of desire. Like Marcuse in Eros and Civilization, Deleuze stresses the regressive nature of the psychoanalysis tendency to advocate repressing desire. Yet, Deleuze's break with psychoanalysis is more radical than Marcus' because Deleuze also targets the traditional psychoanalytic definition of desire in terms of lack. Desire, Deleuze argues, is not governed by a law that sets out its goal in advance; it is not an insatiable need for something. It is not that we are missing something—for instance, pleasure—and desire is our corresponding drive to fill that void. Rather, desire is a free experimentation process on a plane of immanence where anything is permissible. [17]

[26] Once we grasp that Deleuze's concept of desire is explained in terms of experimentation, we are in a position to recognize its special affinity with the desire that necessarily guides a stroll. While on a stroll we are free to follow our desire, but that would mean something particular in the context of a stroll, given my characterization of it as animated by a spirit of exploration. So, if we are sitting at home and feel a need for ice cream and follow our desire straight down to the convenience store, this is clearly not a stroll. It is a structured, purposive quest to quench a specific lack. The sort of desire that would guide us while on a stroll seems like it would need to be a particularly Deleuzian desire. On a stroll we're simply out to see what we can find, what unknown we might get up to. Because there are no rigid time constraints, end points, or tasks to accomplish, we are free to express the creative and productive power of our will. It is a sort of experimentation free from any juridical system of regulation. A stroll is a fluid thing in a particularly Deleuzian sense.

4. Towards a Normative Core For a Politics of The Stroll

[27] To summarize, Deleuze thinks the best sort of life is a light and active one that is lived as an exploration of our own bodies, our own desires. In other words, as I have said, an ethical life is very much like a stroll through life. It is about affirming becoming, multiplicity, and chance. It is about expanding horizons, through new possibilities and new connections. It is about finding out what is possible for us, what our minds/bodies can do. It is about being bold in the face of chance and the arbitrary and irregular flows of life. Instead of forcing ourselves into a particular mold that will shape our life to resemble some prescribed model of "the good life" we need to recognize that this model is a fantasy and that we must rupture the mold in order to find the truly good life that lies beyond it.

[28] Put differently, the good life is about becoming what Deleuze calls a "body without organs." [18] This doesn't mean that we strive not to have heterogeneous parts (as the phrasing seems to imply). It means that we eschew hierarchal organizing schemas that define the role of each part in relation to a pre-determinant whole. In a body, the organs are rhizomatic parts that can connect to any other part. They come together in different ways to form a moving matrix—an inter-relational assemblage of multiplicity. [19] The "individual" has no prior or transcendental unity. The individual remains multiple. Once we see ourselves this way, we can begin to free ourselves from the fascist organizing principles that structure and define us and the free flow of our desires. Only then—not ahead of time, but only through an experimentation or active exploration— can we discover and test the limits of what we can truly do and become. Politically, if we recognize desire as the wellspring of production, and the lifeblood of an ethical life, this would mean that the right societal organization is the one that allows for social productive forces to be subject to no law other than the desires of its members.

[29] Here, the points of connection between Deleuze and Marx begin to reveal themselves. Before concluding, I would like to briefly consider these connections for the following reason: On the face of it, the claim that Deleuzian ethics is an ethic of the stroll, appears in danger of oversimplifying or de-radicalizing Deleuze by reducing the stroll to the subjectivist maxim, "Just walk around and do whatever you want." I take this to be a very serious hazard. I will struggle to avoid it by considering how Deleuzian ethics, seen as stroll-like, might be a truly radical position with normative teeth. A related worry is the lack of focus on the political, a blind spot which I will also attempt to correct by way of an inquiry into Deleuze's social and political concerns, and ultimately his connection with Marx.

[30] Dialectics, even in a materialist form, are a species of the "logic of identity," which opposes multiplicity by reducing difference to sameness. [20] This, among other things, makes Marx and Deleuze seem like strange bedfellows. Indeed, it cannot be denied that they are uneasy ones. But Deleuze's engagement with Kant in his book, Kant's Critical Philosophy, is evidence enough that Deleuze is quite willing, at times, to lay down with the most unlikely of intellectual companions. On the other hand, one might expect Deleuze's Spinozism to align him with Marx over and against the likes of Kant and Hegel. However, there are (at least) two Spinozas, both of which have a strong claim to represent accurate and coherent reflections of his texts. On one hand, there is Deleuze's Spinoza, who leads most naturally to Nietzsche. On the other hand, there is a Spinoza who might seem to lead more directly to Marx—call him Althusser's Spinoza. Marx posits the all-important distinction between theory and ideology. Marx's historical materialism claims to be based on a rigorous theoretical understanding of the forces that shape history, whereas ideology is belief severed from genuine theory. Althusser sees this clearly prefigured in Spinoza's central distinction between imaginary, confused, or inadequate ideas which characterize ideology, and conceptually valid or adequate ideas which characterize theory side. [21] To think that experiential knowledge based on lived experience or common sense is adequate, is simply naïve realism for Spinoza. Knowledge produced in thought is the exclusive source of adequate ideas. In short: Spinoza really is a rationalist. There is a superior cognitive standpoint that allows us to judge true and false, and human freedom consists in acting in accordance with the dictates of right reason/adequate ideas.

[31] In his reading, Deleuze glaringly de-emphasizes these aspects of Spinoza. The parts that Deleuze selects for emphasis derive from Spinoza's materialist ontology and anti-Cartesian mind-body connection thesis. This reading emphasizes the idea that if there is only one substance with different attributes, then adequate ideas cannot exist in some space outside the bodily or sensual realm. Again, Deleuze always wants the stress to be on immanence. His nemesis, the enemy of true ethics, is the idea that there is a kingdom of purpose, beyond experience, that we can tap into, and on the basis of which we might derive ideas or principles that would serve to legislate over life and determine what it should be in advance. This reading of Spinoza also aligns with, in its own way, with important aspects of radical socialist politics. In the words of Antonio Negri, a Marxian inspired by Deleuze, once transcendental authority is rejected in favor of immanence:

[I]f one could still speak of sovereign power this could only be in the form of the democracy of the multitude, that is, as the absolute self government of the set of individuals who, in the unfolding of their desire, work toward the constitution of the common. [22]

Negri further elaborates:

Thus Spinoza, by way of Deleuze' reading proposes a new ontology. These readings reconstruct an ontology that attributed to Spinoza, philosopher of the modern, the surpassing—within the limits of the metaphysical sequence of modernity—of all the essential characteristics that distinguish the modern: an ontology of immanence that destroyed even the faintest shadow of transcendentalism, an ontology of experience that refused every phenomenalism, an ontology of the multitude that undermined the immemorial theory of forms of government that was rooted in the sacredness of an arche (principle of command), a genealogical ontology that related the ethical and cognitive responsibility for the world to human doing (fare). [23]

Ultimately however Deleuze's philosophy of immanence will have to face an issue that already confronted Hume, what Ian Buchanan calls the "empiricist problem." [24] The problem is this: A transcendent subject cannot be affected by the world it inhabits but conditions/determines it, while a simply given subject is wholly constituted by external forces and thus cannot have any affect on the world, forestalling any hope of positive political change. Whether or not Deleuze can resolve this tension will depend on whether or not he succeeds in making room for a purely immanent transcendence. Here we see the importance of the link with Kant. Daniel Smith argues that Deleuze's conception of ethics is not a rejection of Kantianism but its fulfillment. Smith suggests that Deleuze holds to the notion that, while Kant was right not to look for errors outside reason (senses, body, passions etc.) Deleuze was stuck with the problem that reason had to be the judge of itself, which meant the "natural interests of reason" [25] themselves had to be unjustifiably shielded from doubt. [26] Thus, the immanent critique is ultimately subordinated to transcendence in Kant. Deleuze's project seeks to fulfill the Kantian aim, and succeed where Kant had "a transcendence within the heart of immanence." [27]

[32] As a transcendental empiricist, Deleuze seems to be concerned with the conditions for the contingent possibility of our actual experience, unlike Kant who sought after the necessary conditions of any and all possible experience. Moreover, in Deleuze, the focus has clearly shifted from reason to desire. For Kant, we can only experience the world the way we do because we posses certain cognitive capacities, which structure experience and make a priori knowledge possible. Illusions and metaphysics are the purely immanent result of our faculties performing illegitimate (that is, transcendent) syntheses. [28] Similarly, Deleuze:

[I]nsists that the unconscious...operates according to a set of constitutive synthesis in order to process or constitute experience in such a way as to guarantee the free play of desire; and [Deleuze] insists that psychoanalysis must either conform to these processes or else be condemned as metaphysical. [29]

Deleuze himself recognizes the central importance of not abandoning transcendence and instead being able to locate it within immanence. In Deleuze's own words:

Although it is always possible to invoke a transcendent that falls outside the plane of immanence, or that attributes immanence to itself, all transcendence is constituted solely in the flow of immanent consciousness that belongs to this plane. Transcendence is always a product of immanence. [30]

But, once again, only insofar as Deleuze's materialist ontology is successful in locating transcendence within immanence, that is, only insofar as he is able to articulate how principles prescribing normatively binding duties and responsibilities can circumscribe subjective desires on a wholly internal plain, could his stroll ethic successfully connect with the revolutionary/emancipatory aims of neo-Marxian socialism. A full assessment of whether or not Deleuze succeeds in this regard is clearly a topic that would require a separate treatment. What I want to stress here is that the basic idea of a stroll ethic does depend on locating transcendence within immanence. Whether or not we draw on the arguments of Deleuze, Marxian critical theory, or some other approach that attempts such a maneuver, an important next step for anyone interested in defending a stroll ethic, as I have presented it here, will be a clarification of how this is achieved.


[1] Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin (New York: Belknap Press, 2002).

[2] Guy Debord, "Theory of the Derive," in Situationist International Anthology, ed. and trans. Ken Knabb (Berkeley, CA: Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), 62-66.

[3] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. (1972. Reprint, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 84.

[4] To what extent would Deleuze agree with this claim? While I don't speculate at length, I strongly suspect he would be sympathetic to this basic characterization. Nevertheless, I do not claim to be a faithful Deleuzian, but aim to present a Deleuzian inspired view that will, at some points, diverge from Deleuze's own.

[5] Gilles Deleuze. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson (1962. New York: Continuum, 2002), 27-30, 68. On Nietzsche's own account of the eternal return see Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science, ed. Bernard Williams, trans. Josefine Nauckhoff (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 162, 194-195.

[6] Gilles Deleuze. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, trans. Robert Hurley (1970. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988) 17-29.

[7] Baruch Spinoza. Ethics, ed. Seymour Feldman, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1992), 103.

[8] Adrian Parr, ed. The Deleuze Dictionary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 116.

[9] See Chapter 1 of Gilles Deleuze. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (1968. New York: Continuum, 2007). Here Deleuze differentiates his notion of difference from a range of traditional understandings, particularly Plato, Aristotle, Leibniz, and Hegel.

[10] On this account of difference see Pharr, 73.

[11] Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, "Introduction: Rhizome" in A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (1987. Reprint, New York: Continuum, 2008), 3.

[12] Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 101-104. Here we see the influence of Spinoza on Deleuze's account of desire.

[13] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 352-353.

[14] On Deleuze's account of the function of capitalist society see: Pharr, 36.

[15] Ibid, 237.

[16] Deleuze and Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, 53-54.

[17] On Deleuze's account of desire and its contrast with accounts based on lack see: Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 154-157; and Pharr, 63-64.

[18] Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 25.

[19] Pharr, 32-34.

[20] Ibid, 153.

[21] Christopher Norris, Spinoza & The Origins of Modern Critical Theory (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), 15.

[22] Antonio Negri, Subversive Spinoza (New York and Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 114.

[23] Ibid, 115.

[24] Ian Buchanan, Deleuzism: A Metacommentary (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000), 85.

[25] Gilles Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 253.

[26] Daniel W. Smith, "The Place of Ethics in Deleuze's Philosophy: Three Questions of Immanence," in Deleuze and Guattari: New Mappings in Politics, Philosophy, and Culture eds. Eleanor Kaufman and Kevin Jon Heller (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998), 251-269.

[27] Deleuze, Kant's Critical Philosophy, 258.

[28] Smith, 253.

[29] Charles J. Stivale, ed. Gilles Deleuze Key Concepts (Montreal and Ithaca, NY: McGill-Queen's Press, 2005), 59.

[30] Gilles Deleuze. Pure Immanence: Essays on A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 31.