Deleuze Interest Group creates forum space for philosophical discussion

By Carlina Duan, Community Culture Writer
Published November 21, 2013

“The shame of being a man — is there any better reason to write?” These were the words of Gilles Deleuze, a renowned philosopher and writer whose ideas and theories have influenced multiple disciplines across centuries, including music, literature, film, architecture and fine art. Deleuze’s work, spanning from the 1960s until his death in 1995, is often taught in University classes.

The Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop — titled the Deleuze Interest Group — has created a forum space and “Material Encounters” lecture series, centered around untangling Deleuzian principles and extending academic conversation. The Deleuze Interest Group will bring several guest speakers onto campus throughout the year, as a way to invite the campus and broader community to think critically about Deleuzian philosophy.

“(His ideas) are fresh,” said American Culture Ph.D. student and Deleuze Interest Group co-coordinator Stephen Molldrem. “They’re new readings of works that a lot of people are familiar with.”

Deleuze and French philosopher Félix Guattari often partnered together to create a new landscape in the field.

“What they tried to do was make a radical break from some of the defining features in philosophy,” Molldrem said. “They’re (inviting) you to think with them. That’s actually quite joyful and does a lot for you if you’re working with them.”

The Deleuze Interest Group, sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School Interdisciplinary Workshop program, began in winter 2012, after several students had taken an English literary theory seminar during the fall. After several discussions in and outside of class, students came together and proposed the idea of a workshop centered around Deleuze. LSA junior and co-coordinator of the Deleuze Interest Group Nate Gallant noted that the class was an effective gateway course to further dissecting philosophy and theory.

“That class was a really great place where a lot of people who were interested in continental philosophy and literature could come together,” Gallant said. “There aren’t a terrible amount of classes that could offer a (focus) on just one theorist or philosopher.”

After the class ended, the conversation continued in Deleuze Interest Group meetings, which served as forum spaces where the group would discuss readings. This year, the Deleuze Interest Group established a speaker series to introduce Deleuze’s philosophy, as well as the multi-dimensional feature of Deleuzian work in other fields.

University of Wisconsin-Madison Geography Prof. Dr. Keith Woodward gave a Deleuze Interest Group talk on Nov. 1, titled, “Affect, State Theory, and the Politics of Confusion.” Woodward applies Deleuzian concepts in his study of political consequence and social theory, and centered his talk around an example of the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. Regarding occupations and social movements, Woodward noted the applicability of Deleuzian thought.

“He subverts the ‘normal’ reading of the history of philosophy, and he also subverts the canon in philosophy,” Woodward said. “So his project in part was to read the minor thinkers rather than the major thinkers.”

This interdisciplinary philosophy has generated further conversation among scholars and students alike.

“You can have Deleuze be reframed through this other subject matter too,” said co-coordinator and LSA senior Taylor Portela, “There’s that possibility to have multiple viewpoints be in flux with each other.”

However, the group emphasized that the Deleuze Interest Group does not center on Deleuze himself, but rather the discussions that derive from Deleuzian ideas.

“It’s the conversation that we can have because of Deleuze, not necessarily Deleuze’s work itself,” Gallant said. “He offers up the philosophical space for interdisciplinary conversations that we’re hoping to have in these forums.”

Furthermore, group members, who come from a diverse background of different fields, years and majors across the University, stress that their studies on Deleuze allow them to both further enhance their own projects in their individual areas of study, as well as find common ground to engage in philosophical conversations with one another.

“This is such a great opportunity that Rackham and the University of Michigan give us, so even just to have the chance to bring in these speakers and to partner with other departments — it just really speaks so highly of the amazing community that we have here at the University,” Molldrem said. “It’s about what (Deleuze) lets all of us come together and do.”