Expressive Agency in Deleuze’s Logic of SenseDr Sean Bowden (Deakin University)
221 Burwood Highway
- The Alfred Deakin Research Institute, the Centre for Citizenship and Globalization and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences
It is common to differentiate between two kinds of events: actions and mere occurrences. Whereas the latter are events which are passively undergone, the former are things that are actively done. Actions, it is typically held, are the intentional doings of some agent. In The Logic of Sense, however, Deleuze appears to collapse the distinction between actions and mere occurrences, holding that events of both kinds are ultimately only ever impassive happenings. He asserts an ontological distinction between the corporeal realm of causes (including psychological causes) and the realm of events, holding that events exist only as the ‘expressible’ of propositions. In relation to the category of action, this gives rise to the counter-intuitive thought that what I appear to actively do does not really depend on my prior willing or conscious intention to do it; it rather depends on the open-ended expression of the ‘sense’ of what I do. And insofar as my apparent action does not coincide with my conscious intention or volition, it appears to me as something for which I am not ultimately responsible.
At the same time, however, Deleuze does not jettison the idea of ‘willing the event’ in The Logic Sense. Nor does he dismiss the ideas of agency and personal responsibility for what happens. ‘Willing the event’, however, does not consist in directly willing some particular action. It rather consists in expressively engaging with the pure ‘sense-event’ in which all events are determined.
In order to make sense of this position, this paper will offer an outline of a conception of ‘expressive’ agency that Deleuze appears to be working with in The Logic of Sense. This account involves four claims. The first claim is that while the intentional agent can no longer be thought to be behind her actions in the traditional sense, she is certainly ‘out there’ in her actions such as these are made sense of by others. The second claim is that while the actions of agents are multiply interpretable by others, these others are themselves ‘out there’ in their multiply interpretable actions. The third claim is that an action will count as the action of a particular agent insofar as both this agent and other agents are able to recognize him in that action. The final claim is that these multiple interpretations and recognitive processes take place in a shared expressive medium – call it ‘language’ – which is not fixed but always being produced. Taking these four claims together, we will see that an action will come to count as mine, not because I directly will it and subsequently achieve what I intended to do; but because both I and others expressively produce the conditions in which we are able to recognize a particular action as expressing something about me as an agent.
Dr Sean Bowden is an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin University, Australia. He is the author of The Priority of Events: Deleuze’s Logic of Sense (Edinburgh University Press, 2011), and the co-editor of Badiou and Philosophy (EUP, 2012).
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