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he philosophical oeuvre of Gilles Deleuze is traversed by an ambiguity concerning an unequal relationship between time and space, notions traditionally understood as existing on par with each other. Since the fluctuating course of Deleuze’s tendencies with regards to space and time and the meaning of a preference for one term over the other were not explicitly problematized by Deleuze himself, the reader is left alone to make sense of this obscurity and to decide upon which tendency is dominant. For instance, one of his early works, Nietzsche and Philosophy (1983 ), exhibits an indirect but crucial distinction between space and time, with temporal concepts treated affirmatively and spatial ones reserved for negation (“topology” for reactive/nihilistic forces, “the eternal return” for active/affirmative forces). James Williams seems to find a deepening of this distinction in the intermediary works (Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense) that are marked by a clear preference for time over space, while he acknowledges that Deleuze’s subsequent writings with Guattari tend towards a more spatial mode of thinking (2011: 2). Louise Burchill claims instead that the early valorization of time continued to be dominant through the later works that are known to be topological/geographical, up until the end of Deleuze’s career (2007: 158, 159). Meanwhile, Mark Bonta and John Protevi’s focus on the “geophilosophy” of Deleuze relies on defining the task of thinking itself as a geographical “mapping” of the things under investigation (2004: 31). It is possible to find a mid-ground too, as Craig Lundy (2012: 32) does by stressing the association of the pure spatium of depth with the eternal return. Deleuze studies can thus be said to be dispersed along a wide palette of spatio-temporal gradations, swaying between the most spatial and the most temporal.
Arun Saldanha’s Space After Deleuze (hereafter SAD) can be imagined as opening against the backdrop of this diversification, and situates itself patently on the side of a far-end spatial reading of Deleuze. This essay will point out the strengths and novelties of the more spatial Deleuze of Saldanha, and conclude with suggesting that the lack of a discussion of Nietzsche’s eternal return is its weak spot, but also the moment when it can gain a superior objective criterion for the projects it sets forth for itself, while establishing a new balance between space and time, in a similar manner found in Lundy’s suggestion.
The aim of Saldanha’s book is two-fold, with the rather modest first aspect setting the stage for the more forceful and original second, and in total it can be seen as a problematization of a certain unequal distinction between time and space and as a response to the question what is truly at stake in such an imbalance. The first goal of his endeavor is to demonstrate the spatial essence of both Deleuze’s individual works and those written collaboratively with Guattari, largely neglected in Deleuze studies. The modest side of Saldanha’s work hence consists in shedding new light on the topological features of Deleuze’s ontology and political theory. This presents “entry-points” (SAD: 210) into Deleuze’s philosophy for those who want to read him from the point of view of geography and space. Saldanha’s reading is mainly organized around A Thousand Plateaus, and the former time-oriented works are discussed through the lens of its explicit geography, as if they were implicitly paving the way for it. Furthermore, the works following A Thousand Plateaus, primarily Deleuze’s The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque and Deleuze and Guattari’s final collaborative effort What is Philosophy?, are considered in terms of their attempts to improve on the spatial characteristics of A Thousand Plateaus, as evidenced in the former’s purely topological notion of “fold” and latter’s “geophilosophy” project. Such a selective organization of Deleuze’s writings allows Saldanha to theorize a wide range of issues within geology, urban studies, linguistics, psychoanalysis, painting, and even music, all from the perspective of the spatial depths that provide their genesis.
The second, more forceful aspect of Saldanha’s project runs parallel to the topological line drawn by the first, but refuses to stay within the borders of the framework formed by Deleuze. Saldanha argues that Deleuze himself was not completely aware of the importance of space in his own work (SAD: 210), and therefore a new topological examination might well discover dimensions which had remained obscure even for Deleuze. However, Saldanha’s assertion gains its full force when he suggests that Deleuze’s theory of space, which seems to lie at the core of his ontology, should be developed by rendering Deleuzian theory, and the very act of thinking in general, “more spatial” than ever (SAD: 12). This strong emphasis on space stems from a much deeper concern, transcending the limits of Deleuze studies, and arriving at probably the most important practical-ethical problem humanity on the Earth has ever encountered: the Anthropocene. For Saldanha, what is at stake in the alternative between time and space is Earth itself. The priority given to space does not arise from a theoretical polemic within the history of philosophy, let alone Deleuze studies or critical geography in particular, but from an attempt to combat (Saldanha devotes a whole section to this neglected theme, SAD: 90-96) the terrifying event that announces the possibility of the ultimate destruction of most living beings. Precisely because space is more significant than the bodies of living things (SAD: 132), the defense of topology becomes the fundamental concern of both political and philosophical struggle. But it would be a mistake to say that the excessive commitment to space is simply pragmatic and strategic, as though philosophy is used as a mere instrument. The Anthropocene does not haunt philosophy as an external, alien force, but pertains to its origin and destiny. Saldanha shows that the problematization of the Anthropocene, along with that of capitalism, is inseparable from a critique of fundamental notions governing the history of philosophy.
The Anthropocene seems to be the final trap capitalism, which is based on a certain conception of space whose first ontological construction, it can be argued, is found in Plato and whose first geometrical exposition happens in Euclid. That is, the theoretical foundations of capitalism and the Anthropocene were laid out much earlier than their emergence. How so? Saldanha states, first, that Plato’s well-known ontological distinction between ideas and copies is intrinsically spatial (SAD: 5). The concept of Idea is both the ground of thinking and the ultimate reality it aims to reach (SAD: 9). Such a conception of ground and reality is in conformity with Euclidean space, understood as an empty container qualified by immobility, extensity, homogeneity, quantifiability, and discrete parts that are ad infinitum subsumed by larger parts. Capitalism makes use of this axiomatic structure in order to sustain its continuous expansion and carry out violent tasks such as setting boundaries, planning, measurement, land surveying, ownership, and colonization (SAD: 147). The subjugation of an entity or a living body to a transcendent spatial instance defined as a model or Idea serves as the condition for the ostensibly unavoidable growth of capital. Despite the drastic changes it has undergone, the history of philosophy testifies to the preservation of this Platonic-Euclidean spatiality. For example, Kant is symptomatic of this persistence when he situates space within the a priori domain while taking on, via Newton, the same Euclidean premises. Shifting the locus of space from transcendence to immanence, from heavens to earth, or from a mind-independent reality to a mental form does not cause any change in space as such. Saldanha follows Deleuze’s conclusion that the combat against capitalism is impossible without a radical critique of the spatiality it rests upon, but also adds that the same combat and critique should be developed in the context of the Anthropocene.
Deleuze derives his critique and the potential for combat from the non-metric geometry of Bernhard Riemann, which allows him to propose a new concept of space that is intensive, heterogeneous, mobile, immeasurable, and creative. It provides the genesis of all other extensive spaces, spaces which present the actual object of experience. Such a space is neither beyond the things it generates, as is the case with the model-copy duality of Plato, nor is it a mental entity as with Kant. It is both real and immanent: it calls for an exploration into the depths of the earth from which concepts will emerge, and functions as the internal and generative element of lived experience. Saldanha, then, devotes his efforts to elucidating the potentials discovered through this new notion of space for countering the catastrophies of capitalism and the Anthropocene. One crucial feature of this space is that it allows its inhabitants to disclose a completely new mode of combat. Unlike traditional modes of struggle, which reside in discrete dualities such as anarchy-authority or creativity-control, this complex and immanent topology gives rise to a combat that is neither in the name of a transcendent cause nor against an external enemy, but that rather occurs inside, between the parts of the combatant or between a multiplicity of heterogeneous forces (SAD: 92). What combat does is reveal the topological space that generates and individuates the combatants, and hence all living, extensive beings. Saldanha thus anchors his analysis at the intersection between topology, ontology, and politics: to combat and to think are unified in such a way that philosophy itself transforms into a revolutionary practice and political act gains access to the spatial core of life and the objects of theoretical investigation.
Deleuze and Guattari’s term “nomad” designates the social type that will perform such politics. What distinguishes nomads is their mode of inhabiting the earth (SAD: 57). Nomads are able to affirm the self-ungrounding of the earth, which is a result of its own mobile and heterogenous topological qualities. The earth moves or deterritorializes itself while producing the nomad. In return, the nomad is able to communicate with the flows that are prior to the construction of states and even history itself. The crucial point Saldanha underlines is that nomads are not actual historical figures but “tendencies that exist in all human populations” (SAD: 55, emphasis in original). This shows that human populations that are subordinated to the acts of states and to historical progress are produced by prior geographical/topological movements, which can in turn be experienced by the nomadic tendencies or flows that are inherent to these populations. Against overly temporal accounts of the notion of the “to-come”, Saldanha argues that this nomadic tendency is related to what Deleuze calls the “people to-come” as a potential within populations. The question proper to the to-come is not when but where (see SAD: 67). A revolutionary becoming in and against history and in and against human populations will emerge from the exploration of the topological depths of the earth by way of the creative intervention of the people to-come as a nomadic and geographical flow.
However, one of the moments where Saldanha gives precedence to topology is with the eternal return, and this is precisely the point when he seems to miss the very criterion I think is necessary for resisting the nihilistic destruction of the Anthropocene. According to Deleuze, Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return is the ultimate thought experiment and an ethical principle designed to distinguish between productive/life-affirming and destructive/nihilistic forces. With its motto “whatever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return”, it puts all forces expressed in existence to a test which makes them go to their final limits, so that those that are possible to be willed eternally transform and stay, and those that cannot be willed at all are eliminated (Deleuze, 1983: 68-71, emphasis in original). This is precisely how something new is produced and how thought is able emancipate from present and open to future (Deleuze, 1994: 115). It is the eternal return which throws the reactive forces to past and brings active forces to the future. For this reason, the eternal return is probably the most important aspect of Deleuze’s philosophy of time, and still here Saldanha prefers to vindicate an inevitable recourse to space (SAD: 208). It is then no surprise that he understands the dice throw—the very game that executes the eternal return—solely as something that puts the ground at risk (SAD: 204). Such an account of the dice throw is consequently linked to the ungrounding that culminates in nomadism.
Although Saldanha’s demonstration of space as an independently fluid realm affirms, to a certain degree, the autonomy of earth with respect to human control and subjectivity, this space is nevertheless deprived of a tool to evade “good will” as the philosopher’s supposedly natural inclination for truth (Deleuze, 1994: xvi) or subjective choice. While Saldanha points out the presubjective dimension of the very nature of making a decision and its direct relation to combat (SAD: 93), the questions of how exactly this decision is made, and, more importantly, why decide at all, are left in the dark as long as we do not also think an objective mechanism that would respond to them. It is uncertain whether any spatial operation such as topology or ungrounding is able to account for such an enterprise at all. The Nietzschean decision concerning the abolition of nihilism is not up to our common sense or good will or moral law, but to the test of the eternal return itself. The questions of why to choose affirmation instead of negation, or creation instead of the destruction of all life, cannot be answered without this test of the eternal return (Deleuze, 1983: 86).
To conclude, we might say that the nomad should be related to the eternal return, as Saldanha also attempts to do. This cannot take place by simply spatializing the eternal return, however, but only by supplementing the nomad with an eternal willing. In fact, there is a glimpse of this idea in Saldanha too, when he speaks of the affirmation of earth not as an obsessive battle against “every return to territory” but as a way of making “territoriality return differently by mobilizing the earthly affects beneath it” (SAD: 118, emphasis mine). Following this brief argument, can we thus imagine a new people to come that will emerge from the geographical flows of the earth and from these “earthly affects”, but that is nonetheless able to will the eternal return of that which is willed? This would carry the very act of willing to a planetary level. One could envisage a global political movement effectuating an unheard of eternal willing traversing the surface of the earth, and bringing forth its heterogeneous space as a resistance to the Anthropocene. Maybe what is lacking in the uprisings in various parts of the world is precisely such an eternal willing that might obtain a criterion against nihilism, which is also a passage to future. Against the disastrous and suicidal future imposed by capitalism, such a movement might trigger a test that eliminates the nihilistic forces governing the Anthropocene, and finds a connection between the productive topology of the earth and the emergence of a vital future. In such a futuristic willing, it wouldn’t merely be us to transform the forces governing the Anthropocene, but the very test of the eternal return as it is regained by the new politics and ontology of space framed in Saldanha’s work.
I would like to thank Iain Campbell for recommending Space After Deleuze for my research on Deleuze and space, and also for a careful reading of this essay and giving invaluable suggestions.
Bonta M and Protevi J (2004) Deleuze’s Geophilosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Burchill L (2007) The Topology of Deleuze’s Spatium. Philosophy Today. Volume 51, Issue Supplement: 154-160.
Deleuze G (1983) Nietzsche and Philosophy. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson, New York: Columbia University Press.
Deleuze G (1994) Difference and Repetition. Trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press.
Lundy C (2012) History and Becoming. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Saldanha A (2017) Space After Deleuze. London: Bloomsbury.
Williams J (2011) Gilles Deleuze’s Philosophy of Time. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Halit Evrim Bayindir holds an MA degree inPhilosophy from Yeditepe University and is currently pursuing post-graduate study in Critical Philosophy at The New Centre for Research & Practice.