A B [Cinétract/Film-tract]

Gilles Deleuze, revolution, Palestine and stereoscopy

From Lundi Matin #427, (06/05/2024) …


What follows is an extract from Gilles Deleuze’s Abécédaire/The ABC Primer, over a series of images of stereoscopic photographs of Palestine dating from the 19th century.

We have added below the English translation of this segment (and a little beyond, covering the letter “G as in ‘Gauche’” (Left)) of the Abécédaire, as it appears in the translation of the Deleuze Seminars at Purdue University.

And about the revolution going wrong, [Deleuze laughs] that makes me laugh because, really, who are they trying to kid? (de qui on se moque?) When the “New Philosophers” (nouveaux philosophes) discovered that the revolution turned out badly, you really have to be a bit dimwitted (débile), since we discovered that with Stalin. So henceforth, the road was open, everyone discovered it, for example, quite recently, about the Algerian revolution – “Hey, it turned out badly” because they fired on students![1] Who ever thought that a revolution would go well? Who? Who? People say the English could not have a revolution, but that’s absolutely false.

I mean all that… Today we live with such a mystification… The English had a revolution, they killed their king, etc., and who did they get? They got Cromwell. And English Romanticism, what is it? It’s a long meditation on the failure of the revolution. They didn’t wait for [André] Glucksmann to reflect on the failure of the Stalinian revolution. They had one, really, they had one. And the Americans never get discussed, but the Americans blew their revolution, as badly as if not worse than the Bolsheviks. Let’s not kid about it! People never talk about the Americans when they… even before the War of Independence – and “independence,” I say –, they presented themselves worse than… or better than a new nation, they went beyond nations exactly like Marx spoke later of the proletariat: they went beyond nations, nations are finished! They bring forth a new people, they have a true revolution. Just as the Marxists count on universal proletariatization, the Americans counted on universal immigration, the two sides of class struggle. This is absolutely revolutionary, it’s the America of Jefferson, of Thoreau, of Melville – Jefferson, Thoreau, Melville, all of them, it’s a completely revolutionary America that announces the “new man” exactly like the Bolshevik revolution announced the “new man”.

That revolution failed (a foiré), all revolutions fail, everybody knows this, and now people are pretending to “rediscover” that. They really have to be dimwitted. As a result, everyone is getting lost in this, this contemporary revisionism. There is [François] Furet who discovered that the French Revolution wasn’t as great as had been thought. Well, sure, fine, it failed too, everybody knows that. The French Revolution gave us Napoleon! People are making “discoveries” that to me are not very impressive in their novelty (on fait des découvertes qui ne sont pas très émouvantes par leur nouveauté). The British Revolution resulted in Cromwell, the American Revolution’s results were worse, the political parties, Reagan, which does not seem any better to me.

So, people are in such a state of confusion… Even if revolutions fail, go badly, that still never stopped people or prevented people from becoming revolutionary. They are confusing two absolutely different things: the situations in which the only outcome for man is to become revolutionary… And yet again, we have been talking about that from the start: it’s the confusion between becoming and history, and if people become revolutionary…

[Change of cassette (16)]

Deleuze: Yes, this historians’ confusion… Historians speak of the future of the revolution, the future of revolutions, but that is not at all the question. They can always go so far back and try to demonstrate that if the future was bad, it’s because the bad element (le mauvais) was there right from the start.

The concrete problem is how and why do people become revolutionary? And fortunately, historians can’t prevent them from doing so. It’s obvious that the South Africans are caught up in a becoming-revolutionary, the Palestinians are caught up in a becoming-revolutionary. Then, if someone tells me afterwards, “oh you will see, when they have won, if their revolution succeeds, it will go badly,” etc., well, first of all, there will not be the same kinds of problems, and then a new situation will be created, once again becomings-revolutionary will be unleashed. The business of men (des hommes), it’s in situations of tyranny, of oppression, effectively it’s to enter into becomings-revolutionary because there is nothing else to be done. And when someone tells us afterwards, “oh, it’s not working out,” we aren’t talking about the same thing, it’s as if we were speaking two different languages — the future of history and the current becomings of people (les devenirs actuels des gens) are not at all the same things.

Parnet: And this respect for the “rights of man” (les droits de l’homme) which is so fashionable these days, but it is not becoming-revolutionary, quite the opposite.

Deleuze [wearily]: Listen, this respect for the “rights of man” – this really makes me want to say, almost to make some odious statements. It belongs so much to this weak thinking (pensée molle) of the empty intellectual period that we discussed earlier [under “C as in Culture”].[2] It’s purely abstract, these “rights of man.” What is this? It’s purely abstract, completely empty. It’s exactly like what I was saying earlier about desire, what I tried to say about desire: desire does not consist of erecting an object, of saying I desire this… We don’t desire, for example, freedom, etc.  It’s zero. Rather, we desire… we find ourselves in situations.

I choose the example of the contemporary problems of Armenia, it’s very recent.[3] What is this situation, if I understood it well? One never knows, really, you can correct me, but that would not change it much. An enclave in another Armenian Soviet republic, there is an Armenian republic, an enclave, so that’s the situation, a first aspect. There is this massacre by some sort of Turkish group, to the extent that we know anything right now because we could learn, I guess… But here we have yet again this massacre of Armenians. So, in the enclave, the Armenians retreat into their republic, I guess – you can correct all my mistakes — and right then, there is an earthquake. You’d think you were in something written by the Marquis de Sade, these poor people go through the worst circumstances that humans face, and when they reach shelter, it’s nature that gets involved.

When people say, “the rights of man,” it’s just intellectual discourse, for odious intellectuals at that, for intellectuals who have no ideas. First, I have always noticed that these declarations are never made as a function of the people who are directly concerned, the Armenian society, the Armenian communities, etc. Their problem is not “the rights of man.” What is it? It’s… Now this is what I call an assemblage (agencement). When I was saying that desire always comes through assemblages, well, there’s an assemblage: what is possible in order to suppress this enclave or to make it possible for this enclave to survive? What is this enclave within all that? It’s a question of territory, not one of “the rights of man,” it’s the organization of territory. What do they think that Gorbachev is going to make of this situation? What is he going to do so that this Armenian enclave is not given over to Turks threatening all around them? I would say that it’s not a question of “rights of man,” it’s not a question of justice, rather it’s a question of jurisprudence.

All the abominations that humans undergo are cases, not elements of abstract rights. These are abominable cases. You might tell me that these cases resemble each other, but these are situations of jurisprudence. This Armenian problem is typically what can be called an extraordinarily complex problem of jurisprudence. What can we do to save the Armenians and to help them save themselves from this crazy situation they find themselves in? Then, an earthquake occurs, an earthquake, so there are all these constructions that had not been built as well as they should have been. All these are cases of jurisprudence. To act for freedom, becoming revolutionary, is to operate in jurisprudence when one turns to the justice system. Justice doesn’t exist, “rights of man” do not exist, it concerns jurisprudence… That’s what the invention of law is. So those people who are quite satisfied to recall and to recite “the rights of man,” they are just dimwitted, it’s not a question of applying “the rights of man,” [Deleuze laughs] but rather of inventing forms of jurisprudence, so that for each case, this would no longer be possible. It’s entirely different.

If you like, I will give an example that I like a lot because it’s the only way to help people understand what jurisprudence is, and people understand nothing… well, not all, but people don’t understand it very well. I recall when smoking in taxis was forbidden…. People used to smoke in taxis… So, a time came when people were no longer permitted to smoke in taxis. The first taxi drivers who forbid people smoking in the taxis created quite a stir because there were smokers who protested, and there was one, a lawyer…

I have always been fascinated by jurisprudence, by law… If I hadn’t studied philosophy, I would have studied law, but precisely not “the rights of man,” but rather I’d have studied jurisprudence. That’s what life is; there are no “rights of man,” only rights of life, and so, life unfolds case by case.

So, [back to] taxis: there is a guy who does not want to be prevented from smoking in the taxi, so he sues the cab. I remember this quite well because I got involved in listening to the arguments leading up to the decision. The cab lost the case – today it would not have happened, even with the same kind of trial, the cab driver would not have lost. But at the start, the cab lost, and on what grounds? On the grounds that when someone takes a taxi, he is renting it, so the taxi occupant is assimilated to the [status of] renter or tenant, and the tenant has the right to smoke in his rented location, he has the right of use and abuse. It’s as if he were renting, it’s as if the owner of a building told him, “No, you’re not going to smoke in your place…” “Yes, yes, I am the tenant and I’m going to smoke where I live.” The taxi is assimilated into being a rolling apartment of which the customer is the tenant. Ten years later, that [practice] has become universalized, there are none or practically no taxis in which one can smoke. The taxi is no longer assimilated to renting an apartment, it has become assimilated instead into being a form of public service, and in a mode of public service, there exists the right to forbid smoking.

All this is jurisprudence… It’s no longer a question of the right of this or of that, it’s a question of situations, of situations that evolve, and fighting for freedom is really to engage in jurisprudence. So, the example of Armenia seems to me quite typical: the “rights of man,” you referred to them, so what do they mean? It means: The Turks don’t have the right to massacre Armenians. Fine, the Turks don’t have the right to massacre Armenians, and then? How far does that really get us? It’s truly the feeble-minded or hypocrites, all this thought about the “rights of man,” it’s zero philosophically, zero. The creation of law, it’s not the creation of “rights of man.” Creation in law is jurisprudence, and only that exists, and therefore fighting for jurisprudence.[4]


1. On revolutions and history, see Deleuze, Negotiations 152-153. See also Deleuze’s essay against the French nouveaux philosophes, “A propos des nouveaux philosophes et d’un problème plus général” (1977). Deleuze comments briefly on the “new philosophers” (among whom are Bernard-Henri Lévy and André Glucksmann) in a 1988 interview, contemporary with the Abécédaire , reprinted in Negotiations: “If Anti-Oedipus seeks to criticize psychoanalysis, it’s in terms of a conception of the unconscious that, whether right or wrong, is set out in the book. Whereas the new philosophers, denouncing Marx, don’t begin to present any new analysis of capital, which mysteriously drops out of consideration in their work; they just denounce the Stalinist political and ethical consequences they take to follow from Marx. They’re more like the people who attributed immoral consequences to Freud’s work: it’s nothing to do with philosophy” (145).

2. On culturally rich and poor periods, see Deleuze, Negotiations 26-27.

3. This is a reference to the First Nagorno-Karabakh War, an ethnic and territorial conflict occurring between February 1988 and May 1994, in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in southwestern Azerbaijan, between the majority ethnic Armenians backed by Armenia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

4. On rights and jurisprudence, see Deleuze, Negotiations 152-154. Deleuze refers to jurisprudence several times in the seminars, notably Cinema 4 session 10 (22 January 1985) and Foucault session 10 (14 January 1986), and with specific reference to taxis, in Cinema 2 session 21 (May 24, 1983) and Leibniz and the Baroque session 15 (April 28, 1987). The reference to the Armenian earthquake indicates that this interview took place after that event on 7 December 1988, since “G as in Gauche” was filmed at the end of the first day of production, indicated both by Boutang’s comment in the transition to the final cassette of the day, and by the change of clothing and setting that occurs between “G” and “H”.

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