Deleuze, Guattari and the art of multiplicity: A book review

Deleuze, Guattari and the Art of Multiplicity (Radek Przedpełski & S.E. Wilmer, eds., 2020): A Book Review” – Arun Saldanha, 2022

Deleuze, Guattari and the Art of Multiplicity exemplifies the strongly transversal nature of Deleuze and Guattari studies — denational, nondisciplinary, multiplicitous. Based on a gathering in Dublin, many authors are well-established in the international Deleuzoguattarian field. There are also those like the Lithuanian philosopher Audronė Žukauskaitė and the Turkish art theorist Burcu Baykan who prove that the flipside of the hegemony of the English language in the field is an efflorescence of subscenes of intellectual production in an increasing variety of contexts. The book’s introduction summarizes Deleuze’s philosophy of multiplicities. Written as covid-19 was infecting the global capitalist order and body politic, it reminds us of Deleuze and Guattari’s example of zoonotic viruses for transversal communications between divergent evolutionary lines. The book’s first part then sheds detailed light on the logico-ontological, biophysical, and political facets of Deleuzian multiplicity, building on the philosophical significance Deleuze and Guattari found in such surprising themes as mining (Daniel Voss) and central banks (Eugene W. Holland). A key French philosophical precursor to Deleuze who is rightfully revisited here is Gilbert Simondon.

Then second part delves into specific artistic practices, from artists whom Deleuze and Guattari themselves wrote about and who directly encountered their philosophy (composer and conductor Pierre Boulez being one of the most famous; see Adi Louria Hayon) to practitioners demonstrably providing new Deleuzoguattarian lines of thought. Some of this book’s authors are themselves engaged in creative, collaborative, and activist practice. As we know, art for Deleuze and Guattari thinks and its material is affects, from which philosophy extracts concepts. Hence there are sculptures like Patricia Piccinini’s that condenses today’s structure of feeling surrounding the uncanny technoscientific queering of human bodies, sculptures lending themselves elegantly and pedagogically to Deleuzoguattarian elaboration (Baykan). Meanwhile, the avant-garde stagings around the themes of migration and exile of Théâtre du Soleil can be interpreted to have cut through the dense xenophobia of Europe since the 1960s, which culminated in the 2016 refugee crisis (S.E. Wilmer).

The chapters resonate with each other through their differences. There are important biobibliographical observations to be found (Gary Genosko on Guattari’s relationship to underground music and sound art) and a fascinating twist on contested imperialist political geographies and ecologies as refracted through archeological art objects and contemporary Eastern European art (Radek Przedpełski). Altogether the collection peruses the Deleuzoguattarian corpus fruitfully, especially the Capitalism and Schizophrenia volumes, but Deleuze’s solo-authored work is drawn upon at many critical junctures. Some central Deleuzoguattarian problematics passing and taking form between chapters include affect, the machinic phylum, technology, singularity, individuation, nomadism, and the esoteric. While a few readers might complain the focus on multiplicity is not sustained throughout the collection, it is arguably because the discussion of that concept has multiple entryways that a rhizomatic exploration of a variety of cognate concepts is called for. Similarly some other readers might have wished for chapters engaging literature, poetry, architecture, dance, textiles, or other creativities and crafts, but no Deleuzoguattarian book aims at comprehensiveness, and it seems much preferable to have the discussions of art first framed by philosophical musings on the everyday (James Williams) and cinema (Mieke Bal).

What this book hints at often is the central place the artistic imagination should occupy in taking affective stock of the Anthropocene’s disastrous yet incandescent muddling of the coordinates of thinking and of human life. Cosmic and earthly matters from wildfire and flooding to capital’s urge to launch into outer space — to the virtual reality or emerging specter of a World War III at the time of writing this book review — have always required artists and arts to be made sense of, as much as but in a different way from social and other scientists. Under “arts”, then, we understand not just music and painting, not just “the arts and humanities”, but the art of war, the art of asking questions, the art of creating peoples-to-come. The “art of multiplicity” then bleeds into a politics of invention that can turn disaster around.

Arun Saldanha is Professor in the Department of Geography, Environment, and Society at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Amongst his writings are Space After Deleuze (2018), “A Date with Destiny: Racial Capitalism and the Beginnings of the Anthropocene” (Society and Space, 2020), and the special issue of Deleuze Studies coedited with Hannah Stark “A New Earth: Deleuze and Guattari in the Anthropocene” (2016).