In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari argue that matters of expression, such as figures of speech, which romanticism had ranked prior to materiality, since the latter is not thinkable, would have to submit themselves to a kind deterritorializing capture, a molecularization process in which we can no longer speak of formalizable matter any more than of rendering ‘nonvisible forces’ visible (p. 342). The purpose is quite simple: to return their forms of expression to their non-formal source, the Cosmos. As modern literary and visual arts demonstrate in favor of a postromantic conception of matter, and against the predominance of linear analysis and interpretation of texts (with matter sidelined to its formal expressibility), ‘matter’ in itself has done exhibiting the usual “corresponding principle of intelligibility in form” (ibid.). Modern arts instead return their ‘forms’ (as expressions of a territory, for instance) to their pre-synthetic singularities as ‘forces, densities, and intensities,’ deterritorializing their essence as localizable earth materials:
Matters of expression are superseded by a material of capture. The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, non-formal and energetic Cosmos …. This is the postromantic turning point: the essential thing is no longer forms and matters, or themes, but forces, densities, intensities. The earth itself swings over, tending to take on the value of pure material for a force of gravitation and weight (ibid.)
In contrast, to think of the earth as pure material in the formal sense of its expressibility is to think of it as a “synthetic identity ensuring a continuous intelligibility of matter” (ibid.). This identity-form is an example of a negative conception of the earth. Under the principle of its categories, nothing exists outside the apriori synthesis. In the following outline, notice a similar but much earlier pronouncement by Schelling rejecting any hint of linear causality between ground and existence in terms of the relation of gravity and light:
Gravity precedes light as its ever dark ground, which itself is not actu [actual], and flees into the night as light (that which exists) dawns. Even light does not fully remove the seal under which gravity lies contained…. [Here] there is no first and last because all things mutually presuppose each other, no thing is another thing and yet no thing is not without another thing (Philosophical Investigations, p. 27).
In these passages, the Deleuzean notion of material capture finds its counterpart in Schelling’s challenge to language to represent the ‘dark ground’ in precise logical and categorical terms. Concerning language, Deleuze, in an early work, takes note of a similar notion of the dark ground (or dark precursor) as the following lines suggest:
It is not by poverty of its vocabulary that that language invents the form in which it plays the role of dark precursor, but by its excess, by its most positive syntactic and semantic power. In playing this role it differentiates the differences between the different things … relating these immediately to one another in series which it causes to resonate. For the same reason […] the repetition of words cannot be explained negatively, cannot be presented as a bare repetition without difference. However, it remains a question of drawing together a maximum of disparate series (ultimately, all the divergent series constitutive of the cosmos) by bringing into operation linguistic dark precursors (here, esoteric words, portmanteau words) which rely upon no prior identity, which are above all not ‘identifiable’ in principle (Difference and Repetition, p. 121).
The dark precursor stimulates a maximum potential for material capture, not giving in to conventional terms of expression, causing language to irrupt, as if it has become the matter it aims to represent. Language activates becoming-other by welcoming chaos – ‘a maximum of disparate series’ – which disrupts linear causal interpretation. It disrupts linearity’s complacency by creating its own sense, ab initio, all the more in terms of disrupting time-systems.
Incidentally, by its own ‘positive syntactic and semantic power’’ or the non-formality of the material’s ‘excess,’ we can interpolate a contemporary challenge that the current geological era has ushered in our time. As Claire Colebrook spells out, one of these challenges is how to think of ourselves “in a future that will not be an extension of the present” (Death of the Posthuman, p. 114). This is one of the chief predicaments of the Anthropocene. As Colebrook described, the Anthropocene is a temporal irruption supervening on our collective imaginary as a species, whereby as a syntactic power in itself, the ‘scene of Man’ ‘invents the form in which it plays the role of dark precursor’ (Difference and Repetition, p. 121). The Anthropocene emerges from this collapse of time- and language-systems, out of which this abyssal phenomenon of nature presently unfolds.
The present is the manifest thought- and time-image of the earth undergoing cataclysmic change. As a product of nature’s infinite productivity, the earth’s participation in deep cosmic time, however, lies beyond the power of concepts to represent. In Schellingian terms, it is “the deepest of what remains if everything accidental and everything that has become is removed” (Ages of the World, p. 31). The cosmos is impervious to thought, all the more to time-systems that historical consciousness has forged across time to make sense of nature’s arcane formerity, since the explosion of intelligence separated the hominin from the hominid, setting off an irruption of minds in the history of primate evolution.
In the advent of agriculture, however, the earth, which is cosmic by origin, has become a territorialized concept, enabling large-scale human settlements, technical innovations of teleology’s economic machine, dear to the Enlightenment, making room for artificial time-systems. In the same regard, Colebrook describes a notion of time- and thought-image of the earth that has become “humanized” and “nationalized” (Death of the Posthuman, p. 114). The deterritorialization of present-time by the collapse of the world (as the Anthropocene portends) will, therefore, have to follow the critical path of the becoming-cosmos of the earth once again (but not a ‘bare repetition without difference’). For the earth’s future, the planet must become itself beyond the sense of territory. As Colebrook suggests, this means the apolitical becoming of the Earth concept as a ‘territory’ over-coded by extinction. Already, this rounds out a formidable system of natural breakdowns, a Schellingian-Deleuzean double theory of the collapse of the earth as apriori synthesis. In both terms, collapse is the handiwork of art destroying the world through a form of transversal collaboration with the non-formal expression of the source of the ‘nonorganic,’ the cosmos. (In visual arts, Francis Bacon is the art-form that best expresses this meshwork for Deleuze. In literary arts, it is Dante’s Divine Comedy, a non-genre that ‘requires its own theory,’ for Schelling). Through arts, natural chaotic processes, or non-formal matters of expression, are put into play, in contrast to a discursive form of collapse. In short, the real task of the philosophy of nature, in both the Deleuzean and Schellingian sense, is to put an end to this world.
Its resonance in Schelling studies has revived the earliest challenge to Kant’s Copernican turn, whose birthright coincides with the defense of the principle of immortality by denying the in-itself. Kant’s critical project, in a word, is a pure discourse of collapse. For either of these two strands of contemporary philosophy of nature (Deleuzean and Schellingian), Kant is the source of discursive negativity, the source upon which a false concept of progress is based. It is false, not only because it does not take place as progress. Instead, it bases itself on the expulsion of external reality as the real source of the purely productive, against which Deleuze and Schelling proposed natural systems breakdown. This shared criticism of Kant’s legacy would later extend to the dialectical negation of externality, arguably, the culmination of the progress of negative reason that the Copernican turn has enabled through the becoming-subject of the world in varying forms of reterritorializing capture.
Colebrook, Claire, Death of the PostHuman, Vol. 1 (Michigan: Open Humanities Press, 2014.
Deleuze, Gilles, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (London and New York: Continuum, 2001).
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
Schelling, F.W.J.,The Ages of the World(Fragment) from the handwritten remains, Third Version (c. 1815), trans. Jason M. Wirth (New York: State University of New York Press, Albany,2000).