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Joshua Ramey. The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal.

Joshua Ramey. The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2012. xii + 291 pp.

Don't be scared off by the title. This is not a deranged portrait of Deleuze the Secret Rosicrucian, but a serious and brilliant study of a heterodox lineage largely ignored in Deleuze studies. It is also a cogent reading of the Deleuzian corpus, from renounced juvenilia to his final essay, that provides a compelling account of the interconnections among nature, thought, politics and ethics in his philosophy.

For Deleuze, philosophy is a mode of experimentation, an involuntary movement induced by cognitive violence that compels thought and the thinker to test the limits of what a body and mind can do. As such, it is a form of ordeal, argues Ramey, and one aimed at creating a "belief in this world," as Deleuze puts it in Cinema 2. Thought "is always an ordeal of becoming-other, a radical transformation of the self that dislocates the center of consciousness and makes it susceptible of non-ordinary states of affect and perception" (22). As practice directed toward belief in this world, thought is a materialist, secularized version of the hermetic project, and in this regard, a "spiritual ordeal" (30).

The hermetic lineage Ramey traces to Deleuze runs from Hermes Trismegistus through Plotinus, John Scotus Eriugena, and Nicholas of Cusa, to Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and Giordano Bruno. Far from being a form of mystical escapism, the hermeticism Ramey finds in these figures treats thought "as a regenerative principle of natural and social development" (5), whose project is "the proliferation, differentiation, and nonidentical repetition of cosmic processes of regeneration" (8). In Spinoza Ramey discerns a culmination of the movement in Cusa, Pico and Bruno toward an identification of God and nature, and in Nietzsche and Bergson a modern version of the hermetic practices of experimentation and immersion in the material and social world.

Central to Ramey's take on Deleuze is the role of the arts in Deleuze's thought. The sign as hieroglyph and the symbol as deterritorializing vector, prominent in Proust and Signs and periodically recurrent in later works, are motifs that Ramey deftly integrates into Deleuze's aesthetics and sets in resonance with elements of the philosophical and artistic branches of the hermetic tradition. Deleuze's scattered references to "sorcery" and "the witch's line," Ramey shows, are not mere jeux d'esprit but serious assertions of philosophy's function as a mode of experimentation on the mind, the body and the world. In this regard, philosophers are "cosmic artisans" (as Deleuze and Guattari call Messiaen and Varese in A Thousand Plateaus) whose ordeals push the limits of perception, sensation, memory and thought in ways that parallel in a separate domain the artistic practices of Antonin Artaud, Henri Michaux, Francis Bacon and others. Despite Deleuze and Guattari's emphasis on the separation between philosophy and the arts in What Is Philosophy?, Ramey sees the conclusion of that book, in which philosophy, science and the arts are brought together in relation to "nonphilosophy," as indicative of the ultimate role of thought as experimentation involving both philosophical concepts and artistic percepts and affects. As Deleuze and Guattari put it, "Philosophy needs a nonphilosophy that comprehends it; it needs a nonphilosophical comprehension just as art needs nonart and science needs nonscience." All three domains partake of chaos, and it is from chaos that they all extract "the shadow of the 'people to come' in the form that art, but also philosophy and science, summon forth: mass-people, world-people, brain-people, chaos-people--nonthinking thought that lodges in the three" (What Is Philosophy?, 218). This passage, for Ramey, articulates the essential, active thrust of Deleuzian thought as a mode of existence and experimental practice.

Ramey's conception of the spiritual is very broad, and one looks in vain for a concise definition of the term. Those materialists with an allergy to the word may be put off by his rhetoric, but Ramey's intention is not to revive a transcendent religiosity. Rather, his purpose is to stress the immanent non-rationality of Deleuze's vitalism of "anorganic life" as a key element of Deleuze's philosophy and his vision of the cosmos. Ramey values the persistent interest of many Western philosophers in the "theurgical, thaumaturgical, mystical, alchemical, kabalistic, or theosophical," but primarily as symptoms of a mode of thought that, when made explicit, positions its practitioners "as bastard and nomadic outliers of philosophy, heretical outcasts of theology, or as reactionaries interfering with the full realization of reason, enlightenment, and progressive politics" (7). The spirituality Ramey recommends is not merely heterodox and heretical, but also thoroughly embodied in the material cosmos. The hermetic tradition, he insists, "does not express the desire for ravishing by unaccountable spirits," but instead "undertakes to comprehend what spirits may become of us, in a cosmos taken as a machine for the production of gods, leading to something like an itinerant, nomadic theandry" (217). Only in this sense does he recommend that we "read Deleuze's philosophy as something like a practical contemporary guide to experimental spirituality" (216).

There are points at which Ramey and I differ in our readings of Deleuze. I cannot concur in his conflation of nomadic, smooth space and the ambulatory, holey space of itinerants. (To my mind, Deleuze and Guattari clearly differentiate the two categories in A Thousand Plateaus when they say that "There are no nomadic or sedentary smiths. Smiths are ambulant, itinerant" [413].) Ramey also stresses the passive dimension of artistic creation much more than I would. But these are mere quibbles. If read with an open and generous spirit, The Hermetic Deleuze should yield rich rewards to anyone interested in the fundamental social, political, artistic and ecological issues Ramey explores so eloquently and passionately in this exceptional book.

Ronald Bogue, University of Georgia
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Author:Bogue, Ronald
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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