At our website “The Deleuze Seminars” we are creating edited, paginated, and formatted pdfs of Deleuze’s lectures in order to make printable versions of the material more reader-friendly and accessible. We have just posted our first one here.
KANT: SYNTHESIS AND TIME
1978-03-01 TO 1978-04-30
In Gilles Deleuze, From A to Z, Deleuze describes his motivation for working on a philosopher with whom he had little in common: first, for Deleuze, Kant’s writing constituted such a turning point in numerous ways, and, second, he initiated something in philosophy that had never been advanced previously. Specifically, says Deleuze, he erected a tribunal of reason, things being judged as a function of a tribunal of reason. To do so, he invents a prodigious method called the critical method, the properly Kantian method. Deleuze admits finding all of this aspect of Kant quite horrible, but it’s both fascination and horror because, for Deleuze, this is so ingenious. For Kant created an astonishing reversal of concepts: rather than time being derived from movement, Kant reverses the subordination, with movement henceforth depending on time, and thus, time ceasing to be circular and becoming a straight line. And late in his life, Kant introduces his conception of the Sublime, in which the faculties enter into conflicts, having discordant accords, then reconciling, but no longer being subject to a tribunal. For Deleuze, then, Kant is clearly a great philosopher, with a whole undergirding in his works that makes Deleuze quite enthusiastic, on top of which is a system of judgment that Deleuze says he would like to do away with, but without standing in judgment.
Available for Preorders now at OUP here (ASFLYQ6 to save 30%: $21) and Amazon here.
“It is rare to find a genuinely novel reading of Marx and yet that is exactly what Thomas Nail provides in this remarkable book. In an ambitious, pathbreaking, and admirably lucid analysis, Nail offers us a ‘new materialist’ Marx that both resonates with ecological, feminist, and postcolonial Marxisms and suggests answers to some of the central political problems of our age.” — Simon Choat, author of Marx Through Post-Structuralism: Lyotard, Derrida, Foucault, Deleuze
“Thomas Nail’s Marx in Motion is the most penetrating account of the origins of Marx’s overall philosophical outlook to appear this century. Relying on his extensive background in Epicurean philosophy, Nail explores the emergence of Marx’s materialist dialectics and his ecological-metabolic views as these first appeared in nascent form in Marx’s 1841 doctoral thesis on Epicurus. The result is a revolutionary understanding of Marx’s historical ontology of motion, a whole new starting point for the philosophy of praxis.” — John Bellamy Foster, author of The Return of Nature: Socialism andEcology
“Why does Marx return in such a lively way after being banned from philosophical and political debate? Nail, who is an excellent reader of Lucretius, reminds us that Marxian thought finds its basis in the powerful ancient materialism. It is of that light that it shines. Beyond the positivist folklore of the Soviet Diamat, beyond the anthropocentric universalism of Marxist humanism after World War II, beyond the surrealist drift of post-structuralism, this book invites us to let ourselves be taken by the ancient materialist rhythm of Marxian concepts, and thus to accompany that philosophical return to political action.” — Antonio Negri, co-author of Empire
“Karl Marx is the most historically foundational and systematic critic of capitalism to date, and the years since the 2008 financial crisis have witnessed a rebirth of his popular appeal. In a world of rising income inequality, right-wing nationalisms, and global climate change, people are again looking to the father of modern socialism for answers.
As this book argues, every era since Marx’s death has reinvented him to fit its needs. There is not one Marx forever and for all time. There are a thousand Marxes. As Thomas Nail contends, one of the most significant contributions of Marx’s work is that it treats theory itself as a historical practice. Reading Marx is not just an interpretative activity but a creative one. As our historical conditions change, so do the kinds of questions we pose and the kinds of answers we find in Marx’s writing.
This book is a return to the writings of Karl Marx, including his under-appreciated dissertation, through the lens of the pressing philosophical and political problems of our time: ecological crisis, gender inequality, colonialism, and global mobility. However, the aim of this book is not to make Marxism relevant by “applying” it to contemporary issues. Instead, Marx in Motion, the first new materialist interpretation of Marx’s work, treats Capital as if it were already a response to the present.
Thomas Nail argues that Marx was a new materialist avant la lettre. He argues that Marx did not believe history was determined, or that matter was passive, or that humans were separate or superior to nature. Marx did not even have a labor theory of value. Marxists argue that new materialists lack a sufficient political and economic theory, and new materialists argue that Marx’s materialism is human-centric and mechanistic. This book aims to solve both problems by proposing a new materialist Marxism.”
A rebirth of Marxism is occurring today. For many people Marx never faded away, but for the rest of the world Marx made his most recent return to the public eye during the financial collapse of 2008. After the financial meltdown, international book sales of Capital exploded for the first time in decades. Marx’s face and ideas appeared all over the world, in newspapers, on television, and on the internet. Universities and occupa- tion teach-ins hosted public events in which Marxists were asked, for the first time in a long time, to speak out widely on capitalist crisis and “the idea of communism.”1 Everyone, it seems, was reading Capital again.
The reason for the return to Marx is obvious: taxpayer bailouts of banks “too big to fail,” government austerity, student-loan debt, millions displaced from their homes by the collapse of subprime mortgages, his- torically large income inequalities between the 99 percent and the 1 per- cent, record-breaking migration, and human-induced climate change all appeared to be inextricably connected to global capitalism. As the most his- torically foundational and systematic critic of capitalism to date, Karl Marx remains our contemporary. “Marxism,” as Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote, “re- mains the philosophy of our time because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it.”2
Every era after Marx has reinvented his ideas to fit its needs. The pre- sent era, inaugurated by the 2008 financial crisis, is no exception. There is not one Marx forever and for all time, just as there is not one theory of capitalism, materialism, or communism for all time.3 There are a thousand Marxes. In fact, one of the greatest insights and contributions of Marx’s work is that it treats theory itself as a historical practice. Marxism is not just an interpretive activity but a creative one. As our historical conditions, including new knowledge in physics, economics, ecology, culture, and so on, change, so do the kinds of questions we pose and the kinds of answers we find. Marx in Motion is a contribution to a twenty-first-century return to Marx.
“Classical literature is full of humans, gods, and animals in impressive motion. The specific features of this motion are expressive; it is closely intertwined with decisions, emotions, and character. However, although the importance of space has recently been realized with the advent of the ‘spatial turn’ in the humanities, motion has yet to receive such attention, for all its prominence in literature and its interest to ancient philosophy.
This volume begins with an exploration of motion in particular works of visual art, and continues by examining the characteristics of literary depiction. Seven works are then used as case-studies: Homer’s Iliad, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Tacitus’ Annals, Sophocles’ Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus, Parmenides’ On Nature, and Seneca’s Natural Questions. The two narrative poems diverge rewardingly, as do the philosophical poetry and prose. Important in the philosophical poem and the prose history are metaphorical motion and the absence of motion; the dramas scrutinize motion verbally and visually.
Each study first pursues the general roles of motion in the particular work and provides detail on its language of motion. It then engages in close analysis of particular passages, to show how much emerges when motion is scrutinized. Among the aspects which emerge as important are speed, scale, and shape of movement; motion and fixity; the movement of one person and a group; motion willed and imposed; motion in images and in unrealized possibilities. The conclusion looks at these aspects across the works, and at differences of genre and period. This new and stimulating approach opens up extensive areas for interpretation; it can also be productively applied to the literature of successive eras.”
Here is a short introduction to my Lucretius book project I wrote for Book Launch Magazine…
Every great historical epoch returns to Lucretius like bees returning to their flower fields in search of nourishment. I first returned to Lucretius in 2014, when I taught Book II of De Rerum Natura for a class on the philosophy of movement. I added Lucretius to the syllabus because he was an overlooked figure in the history of philosophy who wrote about motion. I was excited about the text, but I was also skeptical that anyone who believed in ‘eternal unchanging atoms’ could have motion as their philosophical starting point. What I encountered, however, absolutely shocked me.
There were no atoms. I scoured the whole Latin text. Lucretius never used the word ‘atom’ or a Latinised version of this word—not even once. Translators added the word ‘atom’. Just as shockingly, I could not find the great isolated swerve in the rain of atoms, for which he is so well known. In Book II, Lucretius says instead that matter is always ‘in the habit of swerving’ [declinare soler- ent] and if it were not [nisi], ‘all would fall like raindrops’ [caderent]. The solitary swerve and the rain of matter are counterfactual claims. Lucretius never said there was a rain and then one atom swerved. He says that matter is in the ‘habit’ [solerent] of swerving, meaning that swerving happens regularly. This, he says, is the only way to avoid the problem of assuming that something comes from nothing: matter must have always been swerving.
This small but significant discrepancy made me wonder what else had been left out of translations and interpretations. Could it be possible that there was a whole hidden Lucretius buried beneath the paving stones of Greek atomism? If there are no solid atoms and no solitary swerve in Lucretius, can we still make sense of the rest of the book? In 2016 I decided to find out. I dedicated a whole seminar just to Book I of De Rerum Natura read in Latin. To my delight, a whole new view on this foundational text emerged that year. I published the results of this study in 2018 as Lucretius I: An Ontology of Motion.
Find out where it all started: we’re offering a free ebook of Lucretius I when you buy a copy of Lucretius II. Just add a copy of Lucretius II (paperback, hardback or ebook) and a Lucretius Iebook to your basket, and enter the code Lucretius2 when you check out. Visit the webpage for Lucretius I
This is a short excerpt on the philosophy of movement from a recent interview I did with Nico Buitendag for Undisciplined Podcast.
Nico Buitendag: When we first begin to look at the world through motion, what are some of the first things that were previously obscured that suddenly—at least then for you when you started this project—what were some of the things that quickly sprang up for the first time that became very obvious to you that you didn’t expect?
Thomas Nail: To qualify very quickly: It’s not like nobody’s ever talked about motion. Everybody has talked about motion. There’s not a philosopher or theorist, or anybody who hasn’t said something about motion. The difference is whether motion is ontologically primary, whether that’s the starting point of analysis or whether that’s a secondary, or derivative feature. In my view, almost everybody in the history of Western thought at least has treated motion as a secondary thing: something that happens to what is already primary, some substance, or eternal form, or vital force, or temporal a priori or whatever.
But to answer your question, some of the first things that I found to be very shocking when I started looking at this was that: 1) Movement was a subordinated term, but also movement was actually the primary ordering structure of things. Matter is moving around, and that all these other things get built on top of it. And so the interesting question to me—which it’s taken me a lot of years trying to get the answer to it—is if being really is in motion, then how could we have missed this for so long?
What are the techniques and tools…how do we perpetuate other perspectives that cover over that movement? What are the techniques of explanation that obscure the movement of matter and convince us that it’s not actually important or primary? And that has all kinds of answers in aesthetics, in politics, in ontology, and so on.
One of the answers, with respect to ontology, actually has to do with the material techniques of doing ontology,of writing. We don’t know what anybody thought. We always say “so and so thought this,” “so and so thought that,” but we don’t have access to anybody’s thoughts. What we have access to are the residues of historical practices, material cultures, and writings and texts, and all kinds of stuff, but we don’t actually have access to the thoughts of dead people, of what people have thought in history.
So the challenge, at least in Being and Motion, was to go back and say “what are the material techniques?” For example writing, books, printing press, typewriters—what are the material techniques, and what’s their structure of motion? What is the form of motion that covers over the fact that they’re using a material motion in order to generate some thought of the ideal, of the abstract, of the universal, of time, of space? What are they really doing? So there’s a kind of media archaeology that goes along with that from a materialist perspective.
And the second thing I saw, and this is maybe the major thing I found I suppose, are these patterns. Kinetic systems are systems of motion, patterns of motion. These are centripetal, centrifugal, tensional, and elastic. These are major patterns of motion in physics. Obviously, there are subtypes, combinations, and hybrids, but these are the four kinds of patterns that are going on in each of these different historical periods, and these patterns take on a kind of dominance in each period. All of them are always happening, but in some time periods, one of them really takes hold and becomes a guiding structure, and that happens across disciplines. It doesn’t have to do with just politics or ontology, it’s historical. It’s really the way that matter moved and circulated in a given time. So to me, those four types of motion were really important discoveries, and I’m very curious to see how people will respond to those. It’s an empirical kind of argument so I’m open to being wrong about those patterns, but it was quite a discovery.
As more books of mine come out people have been asking me how they all fit together. I have been meaning to create a single table showing my philosophy of movement and how all the books fit together, so here it is, or at least how I have been imagining it so far.
So far there are three series of books. The first series covers the traditional core domains of philosophy (politics, ontology, aesthetics, science, and nature). The second traces the intellectual genealogy of three figures who have made motion primary in their work. These first two series are basically done and are either published already or on their way toward publication. The last book left to write is Lucretius III. The third series is what I am working on now. It is written for a wider audience and is intended to share some of the key findings from my academic books.
The patterns of motion have different names in each domain and are associated with a historical period.
It’s an open project so there are more series to come. I am open to adding new theorists of motion and have some leads but nothing solid yet. I have been teaching a class called, “The philosophy of movement” to find new theorists, but none of the thinkers I thought would make motion primary actually did. Its been a fascinating journey. At this point, I am feeling that “philosophy” might be the least likely area to find people taking motion seriously.