mediathek philosophy on stage #3

Deleuze, philosophical diseases and the thought of illness // Performance-Text

Laura Cull (CV)
Laura Cull // Deleuze, philosophical diseases and the thought of illness // Philosophy On Stage #3

Introduction
The organizers of this event – Philosophy on Stage 3 – set their contributors a difficult
task: to seek out the bodies of philosophers themselves; to seek out the body itself
within theories of the body; to examine the specificity of philosophers’ bodies in the
act of performing philosophy: thinking, lecturing, speaking, writing. Philosophers
have specific bodies with which or through which they perform these acts. But all too
often, the organizers suggest, these bodies are disavowed; they fail to make their
presence felt in the various concepts of ‘the body’ (as if there were only one) that
philosophy creates. Our task, then, is to foreground that which has been put in the
background, to articulate the ways in which the very practice of thinking or
philosophizing is constituted by its relation to the body of the thinker; by a body that
breathes, heats, eats, shits and fucks – to put the problem in the terms of the
philosopher whose multiple bodies I will seek to stage here: Gilles Deleuze.

It is hard to be imagine that Deleuze was ever able to forget his body. It is
1947: ‘Deleuze’s health was already sufficiently poor that he did not receive the
medical certificate required for taking the aggregation examination’; he experienced
‘violent asthma attacks’ and was ‘having trouble breathing’ (Dosse 2010: 98). It is
1968: Deleuze is working on his doctoral thesis, Difference and Repetition. He is
‘often extremely tired’ and consults a doctor who diagnoses ‘the return of his
tuberculosis, which had resisted antibiotics and made an enormous hole in his lungs’
(ibid., 178). Tuberculosis: one of the mysterious diseases Susan Sontag described as
problematically ‘encumbered by the trappings of metaphor’ and romantically
understood to be ‘apt to strike the hypersensitive, the talented and/or the passionate’
at least in 19th century discourse. It is a very visible disease, Sontag suggests, which
‘makes the body transparent’; ‘The sufferer is wracked by coughs, then sinks back,
recovers breath, breathes normally, coughs again’ (Sontag: 11). TB is also the disease
– surely not by coincidence – that Deleuze has in common with others he wrote about:
Spinoza, Kafka and D.H Lawrence; the shared embodied experience of ‘the body
turning to phlegm and mucus and sputum and finally, blood – and of air, the need for
better air’ (ibid., 13).

The idea of air, and particularly of the breath of fresh air repeatedly appears in
Deleuze’s thought, in the thought of a philosopher whose embodied experience was of
the struggle to breathe. In Dialogues, for instance, he describes Jean-Paul Sartre as
‘our Outside, he was really the breath of fresh air from the backyard… And Sartre has
never stopped being that, not a model a method or an example, but a little fresh air – a
gust of air even when he had just been to the Café Flore – an intellectual who
singularly changed the situation of the intellectual’ (D, 12). Likewise, in 1977,
Deleuze describes working on Spinoza as giving him ‘a feeling of a gust of air
pushing you from behind every time you read him’ (Deleuze in Dosse 2010: 143). In
Anti-Oedipus, in turn, Deleuze and Guattari suggest that ‘a schizophrenic out for a
walk is a better model than a neurotic lying on the analyst’s couch. A breath of fresh
air, a relationship with the outside world’ – this is the image of the immanence of
thought and the world. Or again, in What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write
of the need for the painter to erase the clichés that already inhabit her canvas before
she begins to paint in order ‘to let in a breath of fresh air from the chaos’ (WiP, 204).
And, in this lecture, I want to suggest that there are four key concepts of what
defines bodies within Deleuze’s philosophy that let fresh air into the discourse of the
body.

1. A body can be anything, not just a human body;

2. A body is the sum of its affects, a becoming not a being nor a mere container for the
passage of immaterial thought;

3. The body is a body without organs or a material process of disorganizing and

4. A body forces us to think in the form of new thoughts that are irreducible to
thought defined as rationality.

In each case, the emphasis will be on bodies construed as becomings, and becoming as
a complete process in itself, rather than as a dialectical operation between a duality of being
and the void. Having expanded upon each of these concepts, I will then propose why these concepts
resist the criticism that have been leveled at them, and at Deleuze more generally in recent years. Then
finally, I will return to the question of ill-health, Deleuze’s affirmation of which will not be understood
as an affirmation of asceticism, but as part of a new way of thinking health, bodies and thought beyond
their traditional humanist and anthropocentric formulations.
But before we embark on this trajectory, I will briefly describe the symptoms of 3 ‘philosophical diseases’
as Deleuze calls them; Platonism, Cartesianism and the tendency within thought that Deleuze diagnoses
as ‘Interpretosis’. Because it is these ill-conceived images of thought, amongst others, that Deleuze’s
own theorisation of bodies attempts to treat.

1. Behind the glass: philosophical diseases
For Deleuze, ontological dualism is an illness; the ill-thought notions of an immaterial mind and unthinking
body register the persistence of Platonic and Cartesian ways of thinking. ‘There are properly philosophical
diseases,’ he argues, congenital illness that are passed on from one generation of philosophers to the next.
For Platonism, Deleuze suggests in The Logic of Sense, it is the disease of idealism that is congenital.
The philosopher is a being of ascents; he is the one who leaves the cave and rises up. The more he rises
the more he is purified… The popular image of the philosopher with his head in the clouds depends
upon it (LoS, 145). And indeed it is this image of the upwardly oriented philosopher’s body that is put on
stage in Aristophanes’ comedy The Clouds, first performed in 423 BC, which famously satirizes Plato’s teacher,
Socrates as the archetypal other-worldly philosopher: ‘If I turned my mind to lofty things,/ but stayed there on
the ground, I’d never make/the least discovery’ (Aristophanes 2008: lines 279-281).
So, for Deleuze, Platonism orients thought in an upward movement away from the body and from earth. But he
also argues that all forms of thought, all attempts to perform ‘what it means to think’ (LoS, 148), contain some
kind of bodily orientation: ascending to the heights, diving into the depths, remaining on the shore. ‘The
philosopher is… the animal which is on a level with the surface – a tick or louse’ (LoS, 150). The Stoics, for
instance, Deleuze says, ‘establish themselves and wrap themselves up with the surface, the curtain, the carpet,
and the mantle’ (LoS, 150); whereas Cartesian thought constructs a clear frame separating observer and observed
in a manner echoed in traditional proscenium arch theatre. Indeed theatre historian
David Wiles has emphasized the extent to which transcendent philosophy and
transcendent approach to theatre impacted upon one another in this regard. For
instance, Wiles calls the divide between active actor and passive spectator ‘the
Cartesian theatrical dichotomy’ since it was Descartes who ‘cultivated the detached
scientific gaze: reality viewed from a non-place somewhere on the margins’ (ibid., 4).
Descartes’ philosophy conceived of the mind as somewhat like a ‘miniature theatre’ in
which an ego or self ‘could contemplate reality and decide how to deal with it, before
sending appropriate messages down… to the body’ (ibid.). Human thought was not
understood as in the world, or as part of the world but as a separate representative
system that produced and responded to its own images of reality. (Wiles 2003: 7)

In turn, in A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘transcendence is a specifically
European disease’ (ATP: 18): we suffer from ‘interpretosis’ – a Western philosophical disease
that manifests itself in the ceaseless search for some beyond that might found, ground or otherwise
justify what is.
Freudian psychoanalysis has a particularly bad case of this. As Deleuze points out in
Letter to a Harsh Critic: interpretation isn’t really a productive way to relate to
bodies; for instance, to a specific aspect of Deleuze’s body, his fingernails ‘which are
long,’ he says ‘because I don’t cut them’. Deleuze continues: “One might say that my
mother used to cut them for me and it’s to do with the Oedipus complex and
castration (a ridiculous interpretation but a psychoanalytic one). One might also note,
looking at my fingertips, that I haven’t got the normal protective whorls, so that
touching anything, especially fabric, causes such irritation that I need long nails to
protect them’ – a teratological interpretation, meaning one that is inspired by the
study of physiological deformities. Alternatively, Deleuze suggests, ‘one might say,
and it’s true, that I dream of being, not invisible, but imperceptible, and the closest I
can get to the dream is having fingernails I can keep in my pockets, so I find nothing
more disconcerting that somebody looking at them (a social psychologist’s
interpretation’ (Negotiations, 5).

2. An open window, a breath of fresh air: What is a body?
With the association of philosophy and illness then, Deleuze firmly repositions
thought in the body and in life. Deleuze’s thought presents us with a number of
conceptualization of bodies and embodiment that stand in fairly stark contrast to this
reduction of the body to the state of mere appearance, dumb matter or the material
stand-in for a meaning elsewhere. In what follows I will attempt to outline 4 of these
concepts.

2.1 A body can be anything
First Deleuze’s philosophy is characterized by a thoroughly expanded definition
of what counts as a ‘body’, an inclusive approach to what can be understood to belong
to the category of things we call ‘bodies’. ‘A body can be anything’ Deleuze says; ‘it
can be an animal, a body of sounds, a mind or an idea; it can be a linguistic corpus, a
social body, a collectivity’ (Deleuze 1988: 127). Language is a body (LoS 146); the
duality of ‘body/language, to eat/to speak – is not sufficient’ for Deleuze; rather, we
eat our words. Likewise, “A concept is a brick. It can be used to build a courthouse of
reason. Or it can be thrown through the window”. And Deleuze’s concept of the body
is just this: a brick that can be thrown through the window of Platonism, Cartesianism,
and psychoanalytic interpretation; it can be used to shatter any philosophy that
consigns us to view the world at a difference, from behind the glass. So whereas the announcement
for this event – Philosophy on Stage 3 – argues that philosophical theories of bodies ‘put a concept
of it in the place of the body itself’, Deleuze would argue that the concept is a body.
To say everything can be a body is not to render the term ‘body’ meaningless.
To say Deleuze’s lungs, the concept of the BwO and the University at Vincennes and
are all types of bodies is not to say that they are all the same. Ontologically speaking,
an idea is a body in the ‘single and same sense’ as my body is a body, but it is also the
case that each body has individuated differently and come to be organized differently
(ibid.). For Deleuze, in contrast, a body is that which has individuated itself from ‘the
chaos of pure difference’, a set of relations at a degree of organization but always also
shot through the forces of disorganization. A body is a relatively open and relatively
closed instance of organization in a field of forces.
As Anna Cutler and Iain MacKenzie have recently discussed, this expanded
definition allows us to consider not only knowledge of the body, but knowledge as a
body, or in other words, a body of knowledge: such as knowing how to swim.
Conventionally, they suggest, the ‘physical’ bodies of the swimmer and the water are
understood as qualitatively different from the ‘ideational’ body of knowing how to
swim. They are understood to belong to different categories of things because ‘it is
usually assumed that the latter is organised by way of conscious conceptual
construction whereas the former are the result of unconscious, physical processes’
(Cutler and MacKenzie 2011: 55). My physical body just happens, whereas my
bodies of knowledge are the outcome of a conscious decision. But this just isn’t how
things work for Deleuze, nor indeed for Bergson who discusses the example of
learning to swim in Creative Evolution. How can we learn how to swim without
already knowing how to swim? Surely I will drown if I don’t know how to swim
before I throw myself into the water?
In response to such dilemmas, Bergson argues that philosophy has developed an
‘exaggerated confidence… in the powers of the individual mind’ (CE, 201), leading
to an overemphasis in the role of the intellect with respect to how we learn to live in
the world. But we cannot learn on the basis of conscious knowledge; or to put it in the
terms of Gilbert Ryle no amount of consciously knowing that ‘the mechanism of
swimming is connected with that of walking’ (ibid., 204) will produce the know-how
I need not to drown when I jump in the water. And vice versa, I don’t really need to
know that the butterfly stroke involves ‘an emphasis on the back trunk and lower limb
muscle groups’ in order to know how to do it. Bergson says:
If we had never seen a man swim, we might say that swimming is an
impossible thing, inasmuch as, to learn to swim, we must begin by
holding ourselves up in the water and, consequently, already know
how to swim. Reasoning, in fact, always nails us down to the solid
ground. But if, quite simply, I throw myself into the water without
fear, I may keep myself up well enough at first by merely struggling,
and gradually adapt myself to the new environment: I shall thus have
learnt to swim (CE, 203).
Going beyond intelligence cannot be done through intelligence, Bergson argues; only
through action. ‘You must take things by storm; you must thrust intelligence outside
itself’ (204). Likewise for Deleuze, we need to shift our focus from knowledge to
learning, to liberate the process from the product, or better to see the process as an
end in itself, in order to articulate the embodied nature of ideas. Learning is a
corporeal experiment in relation to other bodies, like a body of water. Learning to
swim, he says ‘means composing the singular points of one’s own body…with those
of another… which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and
unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated,’ he asks ‘if not to those
problems which demand the very transformation of our body’ (DR, 241)?
Learning, Deleuze says, is not the result of pre-meditation but an ‘involuntary
adventure’ (Deleuze 1994: 165); it ‘always takes place in and through the
unconscious’ (205); and again, ‘we never know in advance how someone will learn…
what encounters make them a philosopher’ (DR, 205). But this is not to position the
learner as entirely passive; we can choose to embark on an apprenticeship, to set out
on the treasure hunt. Indeed, we might suggest that performance is one way to stage
the ‘involuntary adventure’ that is the process of embodied learning; a site in which
bodies unlearn old habits and learn new ones, including unlearning the old Cartesian
thinking habits which doubtless die hard.
2.2 A body is the sum of its affects
Secondly, whereas ‘Descartes claims that we can know the nature of the body
(res naturans) as that which thinking being (res cogitans) is not’ (Cutler and
MacKenzie 2011: 61), Deleuze and Guattari ventriloquize Spinoza:
We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in
other words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into
compositions with other affects, with the affects of another body,
either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to
exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing
a more powerful body (ibid. 257).

That is, Deleuze and Guattari define a body ‘dynamically’ in terms of ‘the sum total
of intensive affects it is capable of at a given power or degree of potential’, as well as
by its speeds or in terms of its relations of movement and rest (Deleuze and Guattari
1988: 206). The body is not merely a vehicle for the passage of immaterial thought as
immaterial, nor the creaturely aspect of a more vital process of creation going on
elsewhere. Rather, it is a perpetually self-differing, self-creating assemblage of
processes affecting and being affected by the other bodies it encounters. And given
that, for Deleuze, thought just is creation; we can also say that this affective body is
doing it own kind of thinking alongside the traditional notion of thinking as
something that only rational human minds do.
2.3 The body is a body without organs
Thirdly, Deleuze and Guattari conceive bodies in terms of the processes of
organization and disorganization, and famously, in terms of what they call the body
without organs’ – an image first created by Antonin Artaud. In his 1947 radio play To
have done with the judgment of god, Artaud suggests that man thinks as he is made.
As Catherine Dale describes, Artaud ‘throws both mind and body into consternation
accusing man of thinking along the organized lines of the organism, that is, of
thinking in the same way as he is constructed and vice versa’ (Dale 2002: 87).
Likewise, Deleuze and Guattari argue that bodies are, at the most fundamental
ontological level, processes of disorganization, chaotic matter which is only
secondarily subjected to processes of organization, and particularly to those processes
that order matter into the form of ‘organisms’. ‘You will be organized, you will be an
organism, you will articulate your body – otherwise you’re just depraved’ (ibid., 159).
Another way that Deleuze thematises this organizational operation is as a process of
judgment – a oppressive, top-down force that serves to stultify creativity ‘at the level
of the body’ (Deleuze 1998: 130). In turn, Deleuze and Guattari argue that ‘The way
to escape judgement is to make yourself a body without organs, to find your body
without organs’ (ibid., 131) – understood as a process that involves to learning to
think, as a body, differently; to think differently with and through the body by
reorganizing oneself other than according to organic prescription.
In ‘La Parole Soufflée’ (1965) Derrida argues that Artaud’s concept of the
body without organs constitutes an appeal to simple, or metaphysical presence
without difference. For Artaud, Derrida says, it is the division of the body into organs
which introduces difference into the body and ‘opens the lack through which the body
becomes absent from itself’ (Derrida in Bell 2006:157). In turn, given their
appropriation of the concept of the body without organs, one might wonder whether
Deleuze and Guattari’s account might be equally deconstructed. But as Jeffrey Bell
has also emphasised, the enemy of the body without organs is not the organs or
organisation per se, as what divides and differentiates an otherwise supposedly
unified body, but the organism as the ‘organic organization of the organs’ (ibid., 158
– emphasis added). The organism inserts itself into the BwO in order to prescribe to
bodies a distinct and restricted function, molar identity, or specific, fixed strata. For
Deleuze and Guattari,
The BwO is not undifferentiated, but has its own inner
differentiation, its composed and positioned “true organs”, and it is
in this manner, then, that Deleuze and Guattari can read Artaud’s
call for a BwO as not being a call for a One in opposition to the
multiple (ibid., 159) nor, indeed, for presence as opposed to difference. In this sense,
the concept of the BwO plays a central role in Deleuze’s effort to re-think the process of creation
(whether as thought, art or nature) without the need to posit a transcendent, organizing
Law, or what Artaud called ‘the judgment of God,’ as that which controls the creative
process from a position outside of it. Conjoining Artaud with Spinoza, the BwO
constitutes a refusal of any distinction between worldly products and a transcendent
producer, between organizing mind and organized matter, in favour of a univocal
notion of being as a processuality ‘immanent in whatever manifests it’ (Deleuze 1990:
16). To make yourself a body without organs is both to find and to construct that
immanent processuality as it is manifested in the processes of thinking, living,
philosophizing, performing.

2.4 A body forces us to think
Fourthly and finally, Deleuze conceives the body as defined by the power to
think the unthought:
‘Give me a body then: this is the formula of philosophical reversal. The body is no
longer the obstacle that separates thought from itself, that which it has to overcome to
reach thinking. It is on the contrary that which it plunges into or must plunge into in
order to reach the unthought, that is life. Not that the body thinks, but, obstinate and
stubborn, it forces us to think, and forces us to think what is concealed from thought,
life. Life will no longer be made to appear before the categories of thought; thought
will be thrown into the categories of life. The categories of life are precisely the
attitudes of the body, its postures. ‘We do not even know what a body can do’: in its
sleep, in its drunkenness, in its efforts and resistances.’
For Deleuze, thought does not begin with the categories of language but with
‘something in the world’ that presents itself to sensation: difference. Thought is not
the product of language but of what Deleuze calls a ‘fundamental encounter’ (Deleuze
1994: 139). Here, he makes a clear distinction between what he calls ‘objects of
recognition’ and those of encounter. Objects of recognition, Deleuze argues, ‘do not
disturb thought’ insofar as they provide thought with ‘an image of itself’; they
reaffirm for thought, in other words, what it already thinks it knows. For Deleuze,
instances of recognition do not involve genuine thought. We only ‘truly think’ when
we have difficulty in recognizing something (ibid., 138). Such things produce
encounters as the forcing of thought, or as Deleuze puts it:
Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an
object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is
encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be
grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering.
In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be
sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition (ibid., 139 – first
emphasis original, second emphasis added).
The object of encounter, then, presents itself to affect or sensation alone, rather than
to conscious thought or recognition. Indeed, the encounter ‘defies consciousness,
recognition and representation’ (Bogue 1989: 78). Conceived in terms of its power to
be affected, Deleuze also argues that the body can think in ways from which
consciousness would do well to learn. Difference in itself is that which ‘can only be
sensed’, since consciousness works with identities.

3. Problems with Deleuze’s bodies
So, we have looked at four concepts of bodies created by Deleuze. But is it
misleading to frame his thought in this way; namely, as thoroughly but not
simplistically materialist and as immanent rather than dualist or transcendent in its
approach to the mind-body problem? Well according to Peter Hallward – in his 2006
book Out of the World – it is; and Deleuze’s philosophy, on the contrary, is best
summarised as a call for a dissolution of the material self in order to become the
adequate vessel for the passage of a dematerialised thought. Hallward’s opening
contention is that Deleuze ‘assumes that the most creative medium of our being is a
form of abstract, immediate or dematerialised thought’ (ibid., 2). Dematerialised,
Hallward says, because Deleuze invokes a separation between thinking and the world.

Genuine thinking as creation can only be ‘out of this world’, since any connection to
reality constitutes a distortion of its pure form.
…To claim that purely creative thought becomes abstract or
immaterial is not to say that such thought is then simply empty or
‘non-extended’, so much as liberated from any constituent relation
to anything external to itself… A thinking that proceeds
independently of any reference to or mediation through a world or
reality external to itself will prove to be our most adequate means of
expressing an absolutely creative being or force (Hallward 2006: 2 –
original emphasis).
For Hallward, Deleuze creates a hierarchy between the virtual and actual, where the
former is conceived as the source of creativity and difference, and the latter is often
conceived – almost Platonically – as an inadequate manifestation of this greater
vitality elsewhere. More problematically still, Hallward argues that Deleuze’s orients
thought away from the world in a manner that reduces it to an apolitical practice.
More than a hundred and fifty years after Marx urged us to change
rather than contemplate the world, Deleuze, like so many of his
philosophical contemporaries, effectively recommends instead that
we settle for the alternative choice (Hallward 2006: 7).
But from a Deleuzian perspective, Hallward’s critique seals off politics purely
into the realm of human bodies as well as restricting thought, after Badiou, to rational
process of deduction and calculation. In contrast, while Deleuze and Guattari do
suggest that we disorganize our bodies, and do invoking the idea of reducing oneself
to ‘an abstract line’ or a ‘trait’ as a prerequisite for locating ‘one’s zone of
indiscernibility with other traits’, this is not a process of dematerialization or
disembodiment. Becoming a body without organs for instance should be understood
as form of participation – as adding to yourself, rather than subtracting from yourself,
or as the subtraction of that which prevents us from taking part in the life of the world.
Whereas Hallward arguably still thinks in terms of a dialectic between being
(presence) and the void (absence), human politics or no politics – Deleuze allows us
to think in terms of a body-politic involving the extension of both human and
inhuman bodies’ powers of acting.

4. ll-thought / The thought of illness
So to conclude, let us return to the the issue of illness with which we began.
Like those who inspired him – Spinoza, Nietzsche & Artaud – Deleuze experienced a
poor state of health during much of his working life: beginning in 1968 with the first
major episode of the pulmonary illness that would dog the philosopher’s body until
his fatal defenestration in 1995. But what was the relationship, for Deleuze, between
philosophy and illness, between thought and the body in poor health? In 1988
Deleuze took part in the eight hours of interviews with Claire Parnet that constitute
the film project called the ‘ABC of Gilles Deleuze’, including a discussion of the
subject of illness under the letter ‘M for Maladie’. Filmed in the apartment that would
later serve as the setting for his suicide, a clearly frail, sixty-four year old Deleuze
proposes that illness is not a mere object of thought. Rather, ‘a fragile state of health’
might have a secondary benefit of endowing us with a greater capacity to attune to the
differential forces of life. He continues, clarifying: “illness is not an enemy, not
something that gives the feeling of death, but rather, something that gives a feeling of
life, but not in the sense that ‘I still want to live, and so once I’m cured, I’ll start
living’” but rather in the sense that “illness sharpens a kind of vision of life or a sense
of life”. “It’s not that one is tuned in to one’s own life,” Deleuze says “but for him, it
did seem like he was tuned into life” – per se, to a life or impersonal Life.
But why might this be? One answer comes from the link Deleuze goes on to
establish between thought and excessive affect. Drawing from the examples of D.H.
Lawrence and Spinoza, whom Deleuze describes as having seen “something so
enormous, so overwhelming that it was too much for them”, Deleuze then suggests
that a degree of fragility might be what forces genuinely creative thought upon us. He
argues: “One cannot think if one isn’t already in a domain that exceeds one’s strength
to some extent, that makes one fragile”. That is, whilst there are clearly degrees of
fragility and ill health that have a disabling effect, there are others that can enable. Or
as Deleuze implies in Nietzsche and Philosophy – summarized here by Paul Patton:
‘The same physiological state may weaken some powers but also open up new
possibilities of feeling or bring about new capacities for acting and being acted upon’
(Patton 63); varying from case to case, illness can operate as both an active and a
reactive force to different degrees. As reactive force, illness ‘narrows my possibilities
and condemns me to a diminished milieu to which I can do no more than adapt myself.
But, in another way,’ Deleuze suggests ‘it reveals to me a new capacity’ (61); as
active force, illnesses can also ‘bring us new feelings and teach us new ways of being
affected’.

Here and in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, Deleuze reveals the complexity of
affective experimentation and the difficulty of the task of coming to know what our
bodies can do. It is not simply that another body is good or bad for me; the so-called
“same” body ‘can agree with us in one respect and disagree with us in another’ and/or
what I once found disagreeable about a particular body can later come to agree with
me as I age, as I become ill (SPP, 33). The discussion of illness’ positive effects also
allows Deleuze to emphasise the distinction between power as physical force and
power as puissance or capacity; the physically weak are not necessarily weak, on the
contrary they may live more at the limits of their power to affect and be affected than
the physically strong. On the one hand then, we can conclude that it depends on the
one who is ill, on how we react ‘having experienced too strong an excitation’, as
Deleuze puts it. The man of ressentiment reacts to illness by wishing ‘for those in
good health to become sick’; or, if bad conscience takes over, my illness becomes my
fault (123). But on the other hand, we can also conclude that any given illness is never
the same; that illness is itself a body that is defined differently in each singular
context.
To affirm some philosophical benefits of illness in this way may well be
deemed as romanticism or indeed, asceticism by some. But as Deleuze reports, it was
another sickly philosopher, Nietzsche, who exhorted us to ‘make of sickness an
exploration of health’ and to contemplate not one but many healths with respect to
bodies. ‘Is this not the Great Health…? Is this not what permits Nietzsche to
experience a superior health at the very moment when he is sick?’ (LoS). As Leen De
Bolle puts it, for Nietzsche and Deleuze ‘sickness and health are not contradictions
that exclude each other… sickness is a[n embodied] point of view, an exploration of
health and vice versa’ (141). In their perpetual transformation – even in becomingbreathless,
in a lung-oxygen-tank conjunction – bodies provide us with new ways of
thinking and tune us in to the other human and inhuman bodies thinking alongside us.

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