Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Deleuze & Confucius?!

Below is a short sample from the third revision of a paper originally published in Interplay: Selected Proceedings from the 4th Annual North Georgia Student Philosophy Conference. Aflague, Jones, Swanson; eds. Marietta: Luxor Media. 2006.

This is where I've been for the past two weeks; I've been preparing this for my writing sample to be considered by Emory's Philosophy department. It's also how I arrived at the name of this blog. Don't worry: it's only a very short sample.

Kudzu Kongzi: A Rhizomatic Zhongyong中庸
Paul Boshears[1]

Does not the East…offer something like a rhizomatic model opposed in every respect to the tree?[2]

The way of heaven and earth can be captured in one phrase: Since events are never duplicated, their production is unfathomable.[3]

If we accept Foucault's position that Anti-Oedipus is primarily an introductory text to non-fascist living, Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus should then be first thought of as an educational text. In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world by reconceptualizing desire as meaning production, Anti-Oedipus was thought by its authors as creating an “air sain,” a healthy region that would overcome the tyranny of psychoanalysis. There were unexpected results: some took the text as advocating experimentation in all manners, including drug abuse, thus leading to self-destruction and the opposite of health. Deleuze and Guattari always felt a sense of responsibility for those that took this path.[4] Their schizoanalysis engendered novelty generation, a mode of self-creation that would overcome the tyranny of structuralism by emphasizing the interconnectedness of everything such that no structural boundary can resist constant ebb and flow through its borders; Anti-Oedipus sought to show this as the nature of things. Their emphasis and trust in the co-creative nature of humanity and faith that promoting this will ensure a flourishing human community is shared by the Classical Confucian text, Zhongyong中庸.

To suggest that Confucianism could be understood in any way other than as institutionalized apology and bureaucratic oppression will likely strike the reader as not only odd, but that Confucianism and the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari share mutual worldviews is perhaps perverse. In no small part this is due to a fundamental misreading of the texts by the first translators of the Chinese traditions. Primarily these were completed by Christian missionaries who simply had a bias towards teleology and an ontology of fixed identity that had not been the worldview of the Chinese philosophical tradition.[5] With the philosophical translation of Roger Ames and David Hall the reader and text benefit from a radically different Confucius (and China), this is largely due to the translators use of Whitehead’s process theory and their use of the language of both John Dewey and William James.[6] The central concern of Confucianism, then, is not about establishing an unbroken chain of authority but an exploration of how one becomes authoritatively human. Virtuosity is determined in how well one can perform their humanity, a creative process of synthesizing what has come before and harmonizing its contents with the changing world in which we find ourselves.

The elevation of the human being to co-creative status is one of the truly distinctive features of the Zhongyong[7] and it is here that we see the most obvious harmonizing with Deleuze and Guattari's works. The central message of the Zhongyong is to promote an understanding that tian (天), the predominant natural, social, and cultural circumstances shape (ming 命) both the initial human tendencies (xing 性) and overall human development (dao 道); the text then suggests that education (jiao 教) is crucial in the process of self-creation.[8] The primary gift of education is personalization and this transactional process is a creative act as it is, “the realization of the focal self and the field of events – the realization of both the particular and context.”[9] We are told that developing our ability to harmonize the particular with the context is “the great root of the world.”[10] It seems fair to say that the plant growing from the nourishing soils of Deleuze, Guattari, and the Zhongyong will not be arboreal and tree-like, but rhizomatic like kudzu.[11] In reconceptualizing the self and its relationship to the world we may consider how one might live and this is certainly a matter of pedagogy, of teaching creativity.

[1] An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 13th National Asian Studies Development Program, Seattle, WA, February, 2007; and has benefited greatly from comments it received there. I thank David Farrell Krell for his comments.
[2] Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Brian Massumi, trans. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2003. 18. Hereon ATP.
[3] Ames, Roger T. and David L. Hall. Focusing the Familiar: A Philosophical Translation of the Zhongyong 中庸. Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press. Verse 26. Page 107. Hereon FF.
[4] Stivale, Charles J. Gilles Deleuze’s ABC Primer with Claire Parnet. “D as in Desire.” Found at
[5] On the importance of translation to philosophy see Charles Bernstein’s comments in his “Breaking the Translation Curtain: The Homophonic Sublime,” stating, “philosophy in translation suffers perhaps more greatly than poetry if only because its readers are often less conscious of the semiotic cost of translation…and even less willing to cede significance to what is unrecoverable.” Found in Toward a Foreign Likeness Bent: Translation. Jerrold Shirma, ed. Sausalito, CA: Duration Press. 2004.
[6] See their Thinking Through Confucius Albany: SUNY Press. 1987; as well as The Democracy of the Dead: Dewey, Confucius, and the Hope for Democracy in China. Peru, IL: Open Court Publishing. 1999.
[7] FF, 30
[8] Ibid. 26
[9] Ibid. 32
[10] Ibid. 89
[11] Based on comments from readers outside the southern United States I should clarify both kudzu as a plant and kudzu as a social phenomenon. Kudzu was imported into the southern U.S. to combat rapid soil erosion, the result of the wide-spread deforestation that accompanied the industrialization of the south after the Civil War. Kudzu was seen as drought-resistant and a panacea for farmers. Ask anyone who tends a garden in the southern U.S., however, and you are likely to hear one of many stories of the bale that this plant has become. The plant is now listed by the U.S. Congress as a Federal Noxious Weed and anyone with familiarity will tell you that this once ornamental plant is measured in miles per hour rather than inches per year. I choose the image less for its noxiousness and rather to stress its success in propagating itself through a decentralized physiognomy.

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