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Out of This World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation

by Peter Hallward
Verso, London and New York, 2006
160 pp. Trade, $90; paper, $25.00
ISBN: 1-84467-079-1; ISBN: 1-84467-555-6.

Reviewed by Eugene Thacker
School of Literature, Communication & Culture
Georgia Institute of Technology


Creation is a confusing affair. There is creation-as-process (e.g. the creation of the world, e.g., on the seventh day, clones were made), but there is also creation-as-product ("…my creation!" Victor Frankenstein says). In addition, creation is a theological affair (this is its pre-modernity). In the later Middle Ages, Aquinas would synthesize the ongoing debates surrounding creation, distilling them into the triad of Creator, creation, and creature. Of course, at the center of the debate was the nature of the relation between Creator and creature (was the former totally separate from the latter, and if so, then in what way could the human said to be divine?). Creation is also an aesthetic affair (its modernity). Kant, in writing about aesthetic experience, often made reference to the triad of artist, art-making, and the art work — and yet his primary examples of the sublime are examples from nature (e.g. mountains, storms, cliffs, and anything represented in a Friedrich painting). Finally, creation is a formal affair (an ancient problem). The Platonic theory of forms begins from a distinction between the immaterial Idea and the particular, instantiated instance of that Idea, with the noological process of philosophy situated between them.

However all of these aspects of creation presume a context, a container, a "space" within which creation occurs or takes place. Even the Biblical injunction implies this — a primary space of nothing that serves as the platform, or the stage, for the dramatic unfolding of the substantial something. Being is assumed to precede creation; creation happens "after" being. Aquinas carefully safeguards this primordial space by granting God a similarly primordial nature beyond which nothing can be thought (the first Being, the prime mover, the most necessary Being, the most perfect Being, the organizer of hierarchies). Kant, in stepping back (though only a little) from theology, would re-cast this limit as a problem of reason detached from the companion faculties of the sensibility and understanding (leading to the contradictory statements in debates over the nature of God, the cosmos, and the soul). And, of course, we know what Plato thought of poets . . .

Hallward’s book can be seen as an attempt to trace an alternative to this lineage by focusing on the work of Gilles Deleuze. The overarching claim Hallward makes is that, for Deleuze, creation does not come "after" being, but instead, creation is being, and vice-versa — being is creative. While many of the concepts presented in Hallward’s book will be familiar to readers of Deleuze (e.g. the virtual, becoming, the event, sense, multiplicity), what Hallward does is to re-cast such concepts within a larger framework that is ontological — that of the concept of creation. This project is noteworthy because much Deleuze scholarship tends to oscillate between two poles: those that argue for a Deleuzian ontology of infinite production, virtual potential, and difference (the process-Deleuze), and those that argue for a Deleuzian ontology of a univocal One-All, and a pure plane of immanence (the flat-Deleuze). In essence, Deleuze-the-Heraclitean (everything flows, everything moves, everything is change) vs. Deleuze-the-Parmedian (everything is everywhere, at all times, cutting across all material-conceptual orders).

Obviously these are not mutually exclusive, and Hallward turns to the concept of creation as a way of mediating between these two perspectives. The overall organization of Hallward’s book offers a kind of outline of his thesis. The first two chapters establish the key elements of Deleuze’s ontology for Hallward: that being equals creation, and that being/creation exists as such through a modality of the actual and the virtual. Simplifying to the extreme, the Deleuzian ontology presented reads as follows: Being is creative; All is One (or univocal); All is real but not actual (that is, virtual — recall that for Deleuze the actual/virtual pair is different from the real/possible pair — the possible is negated by the real, while the virtual subsists within the actual, making for a wholly different notion of change, modality, and memory). Finally, the aim (or better, the intension) of all this is to move "out" towards the virtual by passing through the "creatural opacity" of the actual (56).

This last point is the real contribution of Hallward’s book. And it will perhaps raise some controversy in the reading of Deleuze (if such a thing is possible). Hallward refers to Deleuze as a "redemptive" thinker, one whose thought is always denying all moves towards transcendence, but whose thought always moves "out" but not necessarily "beyond" (64, 80) the actual. Chapters three and four detail this movement (from the virtual to the actual, and from the actual to the virtual). The way in which this is achieved is through Deleuze’s notion of "counter-actualization," a kind of negation that is proliferation, a "creative subtraction." Again this emphasis on counter-actualization is an important contribution, for too often is the Deleuzian notion of the virtual read in additive or supplementary ways. The virtual is not added to or even in excess of the actual in Hallward’s reading; rather the virtual is precisely what is subtracted from the actual in order that the actual can open onto the virtual.

The final chapters discuss creating-as-such, and focus on art and philosophy, or affect and concept. Do these constitute a kind of technics of redemption for Deleuze? This question is left open by Hallward, as is the question of the role of modality in Deleuze’s thought (in particular, the way in which the Deleuzian ontology of being = creation sort of jumps over the question of becoming). But, amidst the relatively large output of Deleuze scholarship, Hallward’s book stands out for its perceptive articulation of Deleuze’s philosophy through the single theme of creation. In addition, I would also argue that it points to another, rather under-explored area in Deleuzianism. Deleuzianism in its British and American variants is largely split between the sciences (studies linking Deleuze to complexity science) and the humanities (studies emphasizing Deleuze’s phenomenology of affect). Hallward’s study points to another approach — that of theology — one in which the question of Deleuze’s "vitalism" (as Alain Badiou has perceptively noted) is brought together with Deleuze’s emphasis on "pure immanence."



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