- ---- by Claire ColebrookPerhaps the most profound challenge of Deleuze's work today is its rejection of nonbeing. The question of nonbeing goes back to the very origins of western philosophy - in Parmenides - and the twentieth-century critique of western metaphysics. Traditionally, and this is the problem opened by Parmenides, if we try to speak of nonbeing, or say what is not, then we have already said that nonbeing is. Negativity, negation and nonbeing have been subordinated to the thought of what is, not only because in speaking we attribute being to nonbeing, but also - as Martin Heidegger insisted in his readings of Parmenides and Plato - we pass over nonbeing because we have always begun thinking from the simple beings before us, those things which are present and remain the same. The challenge which Heidegger put to this tradition, and one which is continued in different ways by Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan, is that before we can have beings - things that are or are not - and before we see nonbeing as the simple absence of being, there is a nonbeing at the heart of being. First, any experience of something that is must come into presence or be revealed through time; being is never fully and finally revealed for there are always further experiences. Second, we experience something as something only by bringing it into the open, and thereby disclosing it; it was, therefore, not always fully present, but must come to presence or come into being. This emphasis on the nonbeing in being or presence is intensified by Derrida, who argues that presence, or the possibility for experience, depends on a process of tracing which is not. And for Lacan, while we live and desire in a world of structured and meaningful beings, we are nevertheless oriented towards that which is other than or beyond being, that inarticulable desired fullness, jouissance or plenitude that is not a being, not a thing, nothing.Now Deleuze will have none of this death, nonbeing, or negativity in life; in effect this is the main affirmative thrust of his work and the inspiration for all his philosophy. There may be effects of nonbeing, but these are productions from the fullness of life. If I experience my life as governed by 'lack' - that I am forced to decide among things but never arrive at the thing - then this is only because of a structure of desire (such as the Oedipal fantasy) which has produced this negative beyond. And Deleuze and Guattari spend much time in showing how this nonbeing beyond desired things is produced; from all the beings of life we imagine some ultimate nonbeing or beyond, but this is only because we have a far too miserable and limited conception of being. From the orders of speech, structure and culture, we assume that what cannot be named or given extended existence is nothing, or nonbeing. Against this paltry opposition between being and nonbeing Deleuze, in Difference and Repeition, refers to '?being'. That is, being cannot be reduced to the world of present beings or things, or what we can say is, but this does not mean we should posit some negative beyond being or nonbeing. Rather, being (as ?being) is life understood as the potential for creation, variation and production in excess of what we already know to have existence (or being in its traditional sense).Deleuze tends to read the history of philosophy as though it is always the production and affirmationoflife,buthedrawsparticularlyuponFriedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson in his criticism of nonbeing. For Nietzsche, all philosophy, even the most moral and ascetic, needs to be understood as ﬂowing from life. Those philosophers who attend to nonbeing are suffering from reactive nihilism; they posit some ultimate good or being, and when this cannot be found their piety merely directs itself to nonbeing, the absence, lack or negation of values. For Bergson, similarly, nonbeing is formed from a failure to think life in due order. We may perceive an absence or 'lack' and assume that something like nonbeing has torn a hole in life; but we are really perceiving more rather than less life. If I go into an untidy room I do not see an absence of order. I see the room, and then add to it my expectation of how it ought to be. Following Bergson, who insisted on the fullness and positivity of life (and who argued that negation was secondary and illusory), Deleuze rejects the negative idea of nonbeing which has been at the heart of western metaphysics. Deleuze wants to reject the strong idea of negativity or nonbeing, so he does not attribute a lack of being or reality to error, destruction, the assertion that something is not, or even change and development. But Deleuze also wants to affirm a positive nonbeing, which he also writes as ?being. On this understanding, nonbeing is not the lack of presence, such as when we say that something is missing or lacking or not the case. Nonbeing (as ?being) is the positive power of life to pose problems, to say 'no' to the commonsensical, self-evident or universally accepted. This nonbeing is fully real and positive.Connective
The Deleuze dictionary. Revised Edition Edited by Adrian Parr . 2010.