Chaos and Control 2: Deleuze & Guattari

In their book What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari tell us that “we require just a little order to protect us from chaos” (201). The book is an extended discussion of the proper uses of science, philosophy, and art that very much echoes my experiences with Rothko. D&G say that the three disciplines, each in their own way, are trying to help us commune with chaos without getting overwhelmed. Each “throws a plane over chaos,” or cuts a slice through it, carves out a little place for us to stand, a little eye of the storm. Or maybe the right image is that each provides us with a dwelling place, with an environment that is in the midst of chaos, and connected vitally to it, but it is nevertheless a “home” that we can make sense of and inhabit.

But I want to stress that I think we should not take them to be saying that both chaos and order are ethically equivalent, that we need to balance the two in order to live a good life. They are not making an Aristotelian argument, that the golden mean, the average, the middle road between chaos and order is best, most rational, most upright. That agenda is just a conservative lust for a stable status quo. At least that’s what it was in Aristotle, and I expect it was also in all those similarly conservative souls who third-wayed their way to the top.


D&G don’t want us to come to rest, fat and happy, in some sort of mean. Not at all. They want us to press on, always, out toward freedom, which is best. They want us to always strive to commune with chaos, as fully as we can, without going up in flames. Even if we must have a plane, some form of consistency that shields us from the pure motion/energy of chaos, that doesn’t mean the plane is an ethically good thing. It’s just functionally necessary. We should always leave it, push ourselves on toward the life-force of chaos. It is true that we cannot live in chaos, that we must always return to the plane, always “come home” from our travels. Home, order, the plane of consistency: these are all necessary, but they are not what is good. What is good is what we can do when we are “abroad,” what we can learn, what we can become. We must return home, but when we do we should make sure “no one will recognize us any more when we come back” (191).

Philosophy, and art, and to a lesser extent science, are obligated to give us just enough order to keep us safe from destruction, but their mission is to connect us with chaos. Their purpose is to allow us to draw from its life-force, to touch off as many becomings as possible. That is the ethical and political project D&G champion. Never come to rest, even if we must rest, never settle into order, even if we require a little order to survive.

From this perspective, Rothko’s pictures, with their frames protecting us from chaos, have to keep us from being overwhelmed, sure, but that’s their obligation, not their mission. Their mission is to plug us in to chaos.

I think something very similar applies to democracy, and that’s what I will try to write about next.


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