Gilles Deleuze Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: Deleuze has provided important interpretations of crucial figures in the history of philosophy, including Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, David Hume, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. He has also developed what he has called a philosophy of difference.

Early Life

Gilles Deleuze was born in 1925 into a conservative, bourgeois family living in the seventeenth arrondissement of Paris. Deleuze’s father, a veteran of World War I, was an engineer and inventor whose first business failed just before World War II. When the Germans invaded France from Belgium in the summer of 1940, the Deleuze family was in Deauville (in Normandy) on vacation. Because of the invasion, the family stayed in Deauville, and Deleuze attended the lycée there. At the lycée, Deleuze met a young teacher, Pierre Halwachs, who was the son of a famous sociologist. Deleuze refers to this encounter with Halwachs as an enlightening experience. Halwachs introduced Deleuze to the works of writers such as André Gide, Anatole France, and Charles Baudelaire. The two spent so much time together that suspicions were aroused about the nature of their relationship.

After a year in Deauville, Deleuze returned to Paris and attended the Lycée Carnot. Deleuze’s father worked in a factory that originally made dirigibles but had been turned into a rubber raft factory by the Germans. The income from this job was minimal, and therefore Deleuze was forced to attend public rather than private schools. While at the lycée, where Maurice Merleau-Ponty was a professor, Deleuze was placed in a class with a philosophy professor named Vialle. Deleuze greatly admired Vialle for the enthusiasm and energy he brought to his classes. In Vialle’s class, Deleuze acquired a love for learning philosophical concepts and realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing philosophy. From this point, he excelled academically.

In 1944, Deleuze graduated from the Lycée Carnot and entered the Sorbonne to further his studies in philosophy. Deleuze’s primary teachers at the Sorbonne were Ferdinand Aliquié (a René Descartes specialist and expert in Surrealism), Georges Canguilhem (who was Michel Foucault’s supervisor), and Jean Hyppolite (a Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel specialist). Deleuze’s friends at the Sorbonne included Michel Butor, Michel Tournier, and François Châtelet. In 1948, Deleuze passed his agrégation de philosophie, a difficult postgraduate examination for teaching positions at lycées, and until 1957, he taught philosophy at various lycées. He first taught at the lycée in Amiens, then moved on to teach in Orleans, and finally returned to Paris to teach at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. In 1953, Deleuze published a study on the English philosopher David Hume titled Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. The book was well received and is perhaps largely responsible for Deleuze’s being offered a position at the Sorbonne, a position Deleuze took. From 1957 until 1960, Deleuze taught the history of philosophy at the Sorbonne.

Life’s Work

Deleuze left the Sorbonne to pursue his own research, and in 1960, he joined the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, where he would meet Félix Guattari. Deleuze published numerous book reviews and articles during this time, many of which would later be expanded into books, but by far the most important and influential work was his book on Friedrich Nietzsche, Nietzsche and Philosophy. This book immediately established Deleuze as an important new voice on the French philosophical scene, and it perhaps single-handedly renewed interest in Nietzsche, for two years later, at the 1964 conference at Royaumont, Nietzsche’s writings would be discussed by those who would later become the most important philosophical figures in France. Among those who participated in this conference besides Deleuze were Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Sarah Kofman, Jean Granier, and Eric Blondel. In the same year as the Royaumont conference, Deleuze published a book on Marcel Proust, Proust and Signs, which was also well received, though not as influential as his book on Nietzsche. In part because of the book’s success, Deleuze received an academic appointment at the university level, and at the urging of Foucault, Deleuze accepted an appointment at the University of Lyon that was to begin in 1969.

Deleuze’s appointment at the University of Lyon was conditional upon a successful defense of a major and minor thesis. Deleuze had been quite prolific while at the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique, so it was simply a matter of defending previously written texts. Deleuze’s defense was the first to be conducted following the events surrounding the May, 1968, protests. The ongoing protests caused Deleuze to protest that the professors conducting the defense seemed...

(The entire section is 2049 words.)