Friday, May 21, 2010

A Nincompoop

[T]he writer makes a diagnosis, but what he diagnoses is the world; he follows the illness step by step, but it is the generic illness of man.[1] Thus I read Chekhov's Nincompoop, and saw a story about today's ill man that is no longer man confined but a man in dept[2]. For such a man, the life is an ever approaching but never present future. The past is either a sentiment or a gray area, and the present is nonexistent as it is going by while the man is gazed at the future. In this future lie locked all the man's ideals and aims. The future is the promised but forever delayed life.


Both the sense of unworthy (or not being worth enough) and the fear of losing something that one believes one is possessing are the dominant emotional-mental states of the human being in what Deleuze calls control society.[3] When talking about the contemporary society as the control society, as one of its main traits, Deleuze designates the phenomenon of the endless postponement, opposing it to the apparent acquittal in the disciplinary society that it was preceded by. Nothing is ever finished and everything is in a constant process of being created or yet to be reached. One of the most indicative examples that he gives is the phenomenon of continuing education along with its endless degree stadiums both on the horizontal and vertical line. It is an imposed sense that one can always be perfected[4] – more trained, more educated, which implicitly but unmistakably keeps suggesting that one is not knowledgeable enough or competent enough, therefore, one is never ready enough, i.e. never worth enough. However this chain of conclusions might seem logically incorrect when considered from the position of the "common sense" (or of the classical logics), we should be reminded of the "irrational" human logic that we are far more led by. This irrational logic creates a constant anxiety of imperfection and of not being able to fulfill the expectations. Therefore, one rarely dares trying. Therefore, Mary never dares.

Similarly, one sticks to what one has in the fear of losing even that. However, it is also an illusion, for in the control society one rarely actually has, i.e. owns something. Except for debts, which is nothing but a modern slavery. Even when one does own something, one can never be sure to have the full access. It is like Guattari's imaginary town. One can always fear that the password may be denied or that the figures might be somehow changed or confused. The truth or even the very existence is confirmed by the presence in the system. That is the number noted down in Henry's computer – it is at the same time terribly silly and terrifyingly serious.

However, in my story, Mary is not a poor victim, the oppressed worth of shed tears. Control society, as any type of society, can exist only by the consensus of its members – the people of whom it is consisted. It is supported by their will, or the lack of will to confront it. In Mary's case, it is the latter – the decision that is being justified as a present sacrifice for the future life – the delayed one, the one that will probably never come. Finally, the one she essentially might not even want to come, for desire can desire forms of constancy as much as it desires its fluidity.[5] As stated by May, Deleuze goes further in his political thinking by not theorizing only about the oppressive ideology, but instead questioning mechanisms that constitute the individual's acceptance of oppression. This is probably one of the most thorough insights of Deleuze's thought. It is also, once again, his uncompromising insistence on life, therefore, his deep affirmation of it. He does not remain on the level of general and abstract entities, such are systems, ideologies, institutions, the State or revolutions, where is quite easy to lose the sense of an individual and organic, and almost unnoticeably, to start referring to these entities as organisms or structures completely independent of (even transcendent to) the individuals their existence depends on. As a matter of fact, I find this anticipated in his basic philosophical decision of the idea of immanence. By rejecting the transcendent, i.e. an a priori or external cause to the world, Deleuze is making an ethical step that is certainly not a new one but always remains the most radical – he is bringing down the responsibility back to the individual. His affirmation of life is not a jolly one. His concept of becoming does not mean an utterly improvised life. And his own Ubermensch is not an individual that floats wherever the current takes him to. By taking the transcendent, the substance, the eschatological and untimely away from the human, he demands the Individual. At this point I cannot help be reminded of the parable of The Grand Inquisitor and its main statement: they don't want to be free. Or, what May rightfully claims to be Deleuze's great political discovery: what keeps us all from becoming revolutionaries is not that we are fooled, but that we have come to desire what oppresses us.[6] And we persist in being oppressed for the sake of remaining within constancy, within the familiar. For, more often than not, the fear of the unknown will prevent any genuine movement. That is my reading of A Nincompoop.


[1] Gilles Deleuze, “Re-presentation of Masoch,”in Essays Critical and Clinical, trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), pp. 53

[2] Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on Control Societies,” in Negotiations, pp. 181

[3] Although I do not claim that these are the unique qualities of such a society, I do think that they are significantly intensified in it.

[4] And one indeed can, but here the focus is how the fact is being utilized for purposes other than one's perfecting oneself.

[5] Todd G. May, The Politics of Life in the Thought of Gilles Deleuze, SubStance, Vol. 20, No. 3, Issue 66: Special Issue: Deleuze & Guattari (1991), pp. 29 (

[6] Ibid, pp.31

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