Gilles Deleuze Essay - Critical Essays

Deleuze, Gilles


Gilles Deleuze 1925-1995

French philosopher and critic.

Deleuze is noted for his influential critical writings. He is considered by many to have been a philosopher whose writing reached beyond the realm of philosophy, delving into the fields of linguistics, sociology, literary criticism, and cinematic studies. His complex theories have had implications in several disciplines and dramatically impacted the work of other acclaimed philosophers, such as Michel Foucault. In recent years, his publications have garnered increasing critical attention.

Biographical Information

Deleuze was born in 1925. He attended the Lycée Carnot in Paris, and he began to study philosophy at the Sorbonne in 1944. It was there that he formed friendships with such thinkers as Michel Butor, Michel Tournier, and François Châtelet. After receiving his degree in philosophy in 1948, Deleuze taught philosophy for several years. In 1957 he began to teach the history of philosophy at the Sorbonne, and in 1960 he took a job as a researcher with the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Four years later he began teaching at the University of Lyon. In the 1960s he formed a friendship with the French philosopher Foucault, and the relationship influenced the work of both men. In 1969, at the behest of Foucault, he was appointed professor of philosophy at Vincennes. He retired from teaching in 1987. Deleuze committed suicide in 1995 after suffering for several years from a respiratory illness.

Major Works

Some of Deleuze's most famous work was done in collaboration with Felix Guattari, including their groundbreaking two-volume study, Capitalisme et schizophrénie (Capitalism and Schizophrenia). The first volume, L'Anti-Oedipe (1972; Anti-Oedipus), is considered an attack on capitalism and the theories of Sigmund Freud. In the study, Deleuze and Guattari argue that psychoanalysis and capitalism are closely related. They reject the Oedipal myth and assert that the Oedipal triangle reflects the structure of capitalism. According to this theory, labor plays the same role in the political economy as desire does in psychoanalysis. As a replacement for Oedipal psychoanalysis, the authors offer what they call “schizoanalysis.” Mille plateaux (1980; A Thousand Plateaus), the second volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, includes several new concepts intended for use by other disciplines. Deleuze explored the world of film in his two-volume study Cinéma. The first volume, L'image-mouvement (1983; The Movement-Image), investigates the movement theories of Henri Bergson and the semiotics of C. S. Pierce. L'image-temps (1985; The Time-Image) challenges the notion that all images in the cinema are necessarily in the present. Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? (1991; What Is Philosophy?), also written with Guattari, posits their belief that philosophy is the art of developing concepts which are not mere subjective images of an objective reality, but exist as realities in their own right. Those concepts then must be able to interact with other disciplines, including politics, culture, and science.

Critical Reception

Critics have traced the development of Deleuze's writing from his early histories of philosophy to his later works in critical philosophy and unconventional literary criticism. His disparate interests and writings have prompted many commentators to praise the creativity of his thinking. Yet many scholars have trouble summarizing or classifying his oeuvre. Although Deleuze's utilization of a wide array of resources and references in his work has been cited, most argue that it also can make his theories complicated and difficult to understand. Along with Jacques Derrida and Foucault, Deleuze is regarded as one of the most influential and cited French thinkers in recent years.

Principal Works

Empirisme et subjectivité: Essai sur la Nature humaine selon Hume [Empiricism and Subjectivity: An Essay on Hume's Theory of Human Nature] (essay) 1953

Nietzsche et la philosophie [Nietzsche and Philosophy] (nonfiction) 1962

La philosophie critique de Kant [Kant's Critical Philosophy] (nonfiction) 1963

Marcel Proust et les signes [Proust and Signs] (nonfiction) 1964

Le Bergsonisme [Bergsonism] (nonfiction) 1966

Présentation de Sacher-Masoch [Masochism: An Interpretation of Coldness and Cruelty] (nonfiction) 1967

Différence et répétition [Difference and Repetition] (nonfiction) 1968

Spinoza et le probléme de l'expression [Expression in Philosophy: Spinoza] (nonfiction) 1968

Logique du sens [The Logic of Sense] (nonfiction) 1969

Capitalisme et schizophrénie: L'Anti-Oedipe and Mille plateaux [Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus] 2 vols. [with Félix Guattari] (nonfiction) 1972, 1980

Kafka: pour une littérature mineure [Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature] [with Félix Guattari] (nonfiction) 1975

Francis Bacon: Logique de la sensation (nonfiction) 1981

Cinéma 1: l'image-mouvement [Cinema 1: The Movement-Image (nonfiction) 1983

Cinéma 2: l'image-temps [Cinema 2: The Time-Image] (nonfiction) 1985

Foucault (nonfiction) 1986

Dialogues [with Claire Parnet] (nonfiction) 1987

Le Pli: Leibniz et le Baroque [The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque] (nonfiction) 1988

Pouparlers [Negotiations: 1972-1990] (book reviews) 1990

Qu'est-ce que la philosophie? [What Is Philosophy?] [with Félix Guattari] (nonfiction) 1991

Critique et clinique (nonfiction) 1993

Pure Immanence: Essays on Life (essays) 2001


Jay Cantor (review date 24-31 December 1977)

SOURCE: A review of Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, in New Republic, Vol. 177, Nos. 26 & 27, December 24-31, 1977, pp. 36-37.

[In the following unfavorable review of Anti-Oedipus, Cantor asserts that the book lacks concreteness and is “an extraordinary failure.”]

There is—by definition—no tradition that can include utopian speculations; there are only works. And some of the works are famous: Marcuse's Eros and Civilization, N. O. Brown's Love's Body, R. D. Laing's The Politics of Experience were popular this last decade (a time so unsure of its own traditions as to have a profound taste for such things). But despite their popularity these works appear to take place on the margin, to speak to rather than from the traditional disciplines. Laing, an anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist, left the profession to study meditation in Ceylon. Marcuse was denounced as “petit bourgeois” by every established Communist party. Brown, according to Harold Bloom, is a false prophet of the return of the repressed. (The repressed Bloom assures us—or condemns us—never returns. There are only more or less graceful shoulderings of our burden of heritage and guilt. The Oedipal drama is the way that the authentic tradition is constructed.)

This sense of being excluded from the tradition is to everyone's taste. We've made it a sign of authenticity of radical insights that they must be almost outside conventional discourse. The prophet should leave the encampment for the visions of the desert (the playwright should go off-off Broadway). The saving word comes from outside us. It must alienate again the civilization that is alien to us. It should refuse to make sense. (Anti-Oedipus certainly does that an annoying amount of the time.) And the reader of such speculations should, as the Mad Hatter advises Alice, by ready to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

The schizophrenic (often a somewhat imaginary creation), the one who refuses our syntax, our grammar of feeling, the boundaries we live by and within, is, here, the hero. Artaud and Nietzsche (“I am every name in history,” he wrote, after going mad) are the exemplary figures, as they are for Deleuze and Guattari, and not those who have accomplished a graceful repression, who have resolved Oedipus.

We could, of course, assimilate this whole business to the Oedipal drama: outlaws versus establishment, anti-psychiatry versus psychiatry, palefaces versus redskins, can all be seen as masks of fathers versus sons, attempts to scandalize Dad. But this, as Deleuze and Guattari show, is a way of making things easy on ourselves, of not having to listen to this difficult speech. And it is difficult. The radical word uses its cunning—by clowning, by extravagance, by poetry—to repel assimilation into the established order (or “co-optation” as it used to be called).

This cunning—on the part of the authors and of the “schizorevolutionaries” that they praise—is part of the drama of Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus. As in the “utopian” works I mentioned—and in many speculations since Freud—the unconscious is here the un-co-optable proletariat, outside the tradition, beyond culture, betrayed by civilization. Anti-Oedipus more than any other intersection of Marx and Freud, renders palpable the metaphor of the unconscious as a worker, and does it in a brilliant, appropriately nutty way. (In Marcuse, by contrast, the question of work is by-passed. The millenium arrives when the machines have taken over human labor. The revolution is a pastoral.) For Deleuze and Guattari the unconscious is not an expressive Freudian theater director, putting on that disguised family drama we call history. The unconscious is a factory. It consists of little machines (“desiring machines”), devices made up of circuits that connect “partial objects” (the mother's breast, an old boot, a numinous broken stone) and “flows” (flows of milk, flows of saliva, flows of sunlight), connects them all up into Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. These contraptions include the organs of our bodies. (The mouth “cuts” the flow of milk, or sucks on the stone, and the stone must then be hidden in the boot.) Desire is not desire for...

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Alice Jardine (essay date 1984)

SOURCE: “Woman in Limbo: Deleuze and His Br(others)1,” in Substance, Vol. XIII, Nos. 3-4, 1984, pp. 46-60.

[In the following essay, Jardine explores Deleuze and Guattari's relationship with the contemporary feminist movement as evinced in their work.]

Responding to the appearance of Deleuze and Guattari's (D + G) Mille Plateaux in 1980, Catherine Clément pointed out what could be said about most of Deleuze's books, whether or not his is the only signature: it is a book of history, economy, ethnology, politics, aesthetics, linguistics. And a book of philosophy? “It's philosophy. Or maybe not. It's writing and thinking. Chagrined people—those...

(The entire section is 7594 words.)

Colin Gordon (review date 8 August 1986)

SOURCE: “As Time Goes By and By,” in New Statesman, Vol. 112, No. 2889, August 8, 1986, pp. 27-28.

[In the following favorable review, Gordon perceives Cinema I as an “essay in the classification of filmic signs and images.”]

Of all the famous French intellectuals of the last generation, Gilles Deleuze is probably the most underappreciated in this country and the most engaging. His international celebrity derives almost entirely from one book, The Anti-Oedipus (1972), an eccentric and gargantuan essay-pamphlet on ethics, politics and psychiatry which became a gauchiste bestseller in France and earned Deleuze and his co-author Félix...

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Vincent P. Pecora (essay date 1986)

SOURCE: “Deleuze's Nietzsche and Post-Structuralist Thought,” in Substance, Vol. XIV, No. 3, 1986, pp. 34-50.

[In the following essay, Pecora analyzes Deleuze's interpretation of Nietzsche's philosophy and its relation to post-structuralist thought.]

We have now had roughly a quarter century of “post-structuralism”—if, that is, one can decide that something called “structuralism” ever happened, if one uses the earliest work of Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault as some sort of historical marker, and if (perhaps most of all) one is interested in calculating such things in the first place. It is clearly possible now to take stock of this situation and explain...

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Stuart Barnett (review date Fall 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, in Criticism, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, Fall, 1987, pp. 552-54.

[In the following favorable review, Barnett lauds Deleuze and Guattari's treatment of Kafka's work and his place within modern literature.]

Deleuze and Guattari's Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature is an admirable addition to the University of Minnesota's Theory and History of Literature Series. A brief but dense text, this book has had to wait eleven years to be translated into English. Both the University of Minnesota Press and translator Dana Polan are to be commended for offering us a translation that captures much of the verve and daring of the...

(The entire section is 1442 words.)

Allen Thiher (review date April 1988)

SOURCE: A review of Cinéma 2: L'Image-temps, in French Review, Vol. 61, No. 5, April, 1988, pp. 821-22.

[In the following review, Thiher maintains that The Time-Image “is to be highly recommended to anyone wanting to see how a very intelligent viewer tries to frame a theory of modern cinema covering films from neo-realism to Straub, Duras, and Pasolini.”]

In the first volume of this study, L'Image-mouvement, philosopher Gilles Deleuze offered the reader a study of the grammar of classical film couched in terms drawn from Bergson and Pierce. That volume concluded with some comments on Italian neo-realism and the crisis that it inaugurated in...

(The entire section is 786 words.)

Bernard Flynn (review date October 1991)

SOURCE: A review of The Logic of Sense, in Canadian Philosophical Reviews, Vol. XI, No. 5, October, 1991, pp. 307-09.

[In the following review, Flynn summarizes Deleuze's conceptual apparatus in The Logic of Sense.]

In The Logic of Sense, originally published in France in 1969, Deleuze establishes a systematic opposition between sense and meaning. He does this in large measure by presenting commentaries on both the writings of Lewis Carroll and the works of the Stoic philosophers; and also by making interesting digressions on the writings of Malcolm Lowry, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Antonin Artaud and Plato. This brief review will attempt to outline the...

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André Pierre Colombat (review date 1991)

SOURCE: “A Thousand Trails to Work with Deleuze,” in SubStance, Vol. XX, No. 3, 1991, pp. 10-23.

[In the following review, Colombat traces the critical reaction to A Thousand Plateaus and regards the book as a continuation of Deleuze's earlier work.]

Gilles Deleuze, like Michel Foucault, has often described theory as a “tool box,” the tools being the concepts a philosophy creates and makes available to others in different fields of research. Despite the many new concepts it develops, A Thousand Plateaus comprises a rather unwieldy tool box, since both Deleuze and Guattari refuse to offer their readers a closed system or “recipe” to work from....

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Brian Evenson (review date Summer 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Critique et clinique, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 3, Summer, 1994, pp. 526-27.

[In the following favorable review of Clinique et critique, Evenson contends that the book “serves as an intriguing and varied introduction to Deleuze's ideas, providing a broad picture of his current modes of thought.”]

The French philosopher and literary critic Gilles Deleuze's latest book is a collection of seventeen essays, about half of which have been previously published: The majority of the essays treat of language and literature, with a few focusing on psychological issues. Many of the essays return to those authors and theorists...

(The entire section is 525 words.)

James Williams (review date August 1995)

SOURCE: A review of Difference and Repetition, in Canadian Philosophical Reviews, Vol. XV, No. 4, August, 1995, pp. 233-35.

[In the following review, Williams explicates the major issues in Difference and Repetition.]

This book [Difference and Repetition] is essential for any sustained study of Deleuze's work. Here, the exegesis and interpretation of classic texts from the history of philosophy, allied to a reflection upon a series of scientific and philosophical problems, leads into a well-argued and complex exposition of an original position: a new philosophy of difference. Deleuze's early and influential research on Bergson, Hume, Nietzsche and Spinoza...

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James S. Williams (review date April 1996)

SOURCE: “Literary History and Criticism,” in French Review, Vol. 69, No. 5, April, 1996, pp. 793-94.

[In the following positive assessment of Difference and Repetition, Williams considers the significance of Deleuze's concept and treatment of difference in his work.]

In his new preface to this English edition of Différence et répétition (originally published in France in 1968), Deleuze argues that the book's fundamental aim of thinking difference “in itself” (xv) is central to all his subsequent work and lays the ground for major ideas such as the “rhizome” developed in L'Anti-Œdipe (1972). Why, then, we have had to wait so long for...

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Frederic Jameson (essay date Summer 1997)

SOURCE: “Marxism and Dualism in Deleuze,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 96, No. 3, Summer, 1997, pp. 393-416.

[In the following essay, Jameson investigates the impact of Marxism on Deleuze's philosophy.]

We begin, as one so often does, without necessarily wanting to, with Hegel (heaven only knows if we will also end up in the same place). The motto will be Hegel's prescient analysis of the situation of thought in modern times, which he contrasts to the situation of nascent philosophy in ancient Greece:

The manner of study in ancient times differed from that of the modern age in that the former was the proper and complete...

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André Pierre Colombat (essay date Summer 1997)

SOURCE: “Deleuze and the Three Powers of Literature and Philosophy: To Demystify, to Experiment, to Create,” in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 96, No. 3, Summer, 1997, pp. 579-97.

[In the following essay, Colombat finds a parallel between Deleuze's philosophy and Malcolm Lowry's novel Under the Volcano and considers what Deleuze perceives as the aim of literature and philosophy.]

The “economy” of literature sometimes seems to me more powerful than that of other types of discourse: such as, for example, historical or philosophical discourse. Sometimes: it depends on singularities and contexts. Literature would be...

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Todd May (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: “From Ontological Difference to Ontological Holism: Gilles Deleuze,” in Reconsidering Difference: Nancy, Derrida, Levinas, and Deleuze, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997, pp. 165-201.

[In the following essay, May assesses Deleuze's ontological claims about the concept of difference and discusses the juxtaposition of unity and difference in his work.]

The final study I want to undertake here concerns the ontological reflections on difference offered by Gilles Deleuze. In an important sense, Deleuze's considerations upon difference diverge from those of the previous three thinkers. As we have seen, for Nancy, Derrida, and Levinas, difference has...

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Jacques Derrida (review date Spring 1998)

SOURCE: “I'm Going to Have to Wander All Alone,” in Philosophy Today, Vol. 42, No. 1, Spring, 1998, pp. 3-5.

[In the following review, Derrida reflects on his friendship with Deleuze and offers an appreciation of his accomplishments.]

So much to say, and I don't have the heart for it today. So much to say about what has happened to us, about what has happened to me too, with the death of Gilles Deleuze; so much to say about what happens with a death that was undoubtedly feared—we knew he was very ill—but yet so much to say about what happens with this death, this unimaginable image which in any event would still hollow out, if it were possible, the sad infinity...

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David Neil (essay date Winter 1998)

SOURCE: “The Uses of Anachronism: Deleuze's History of the Subject,” in Philosophy Today, Vol. 42, No. 4, Winter, 1998, pp. 418-31.

[In the following essay, Neil traces Deleuze's philosophical development by discussing important influences on his work.]

Even the history of philosophy is completely without interest if it does not undertake to awaken a dormant concept and to play it again on a new stage, even if this comes at the price of turning it against itself.1


Gilles Deleuze observes a distinction between writing history of...

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Peter Cosgrove (essay date Summer 1999)

SOURCE: “Edmund Burke, Gilles Deleuze, and the Subversive Masochism of the Image,” in ELH, Vol. 66, No. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 405-37.

[In the following essay, Cosgrove uses Edmund Burke's Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful to explore the connection between the beautiful and masochistic.]


The category of the sublime has not escaped the suspicion of concealing a sadistic component, though the category of the beautiful, tied to the sublime as a complement and an antithesis ever since Burke's decisive intervention in the history of aesthetics, has never been considered in the light of the...

(The entire section is 14452 words.)

Dorothea Olkowski (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: “Can a Feminist Read Deleuze and Guattari?”, in Gilles Deleuze and the Ruin of Representation, University of California Press, 1999, pp. 32-58.

[In the following essay, Olkowski elucidates the reasons why Deleuze and Guattari's work has not garnered much commentary from feminist critics.]


In a text that introduced many American feminists to the work of Gilles Deleuze, Alice Jardine forcefully lays out her view of the status of Deleuze and his sometime collaborator Félix Guattari in contemporary philosophy and linguistic and literary studies.1 Largely ignored in the early 1980s by most academics, Deleuze...

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Martin Schwab (essay date 2000)

SOURCE: “Escape from the Image: Deleuze's Image-Ontology,” in The Brain Is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema, edited by Gregory Flaxman, University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 109-39.

[In the following essay, Schwab proposes modifications to Deleuze's image-ontology theory and applies it to the genre of cinema.]

In his two cinema books, The Movement-Image and The Time-Image, Gilles Deleuze offers an aesthetic and historical account of the cinema based on an unfamiliar and intriguing ontology—an ontology of images. Objects, qualities, processes, actions, even the brain: all are images in a dynamic universe of images. In this...

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Further Reading


Baker, Lang. “The Cry of the Identicals: The Problem of Inclusion in Deleuze's Reading of Leibniz.” Philosophy Today 39, No. 2 (Summer 1995): 198-211.

Examines Deleuze's reading of Gottfried Leibniz's work.

Brusseau, James. Isolated Experiences: Gilles Deleuze and the Solitudes of Reversed Platonism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998, 223 p.

Outlines the defining characteristics of Deleuze's philosophy.

Chisholm, Dianne. “Feminist Deleuzions: James Joyce and the Politics of ‘Becoming-Woman’.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 19, Nos. 1-2...

(The entire section is 370 words.)