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Deleuze and Learning

Chapter January 2016

DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_68-1


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David R. Cole
Western Sydney University


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Deleuze and Learning and as a theoretical base that resists dogmatism

and encourages the novel and imaginative (re)
David R. Cole creation of theory and practice. In this entry, this
Centre for Educational Research, Western Sydney conceptual toolbox does not represent a free-for-
University, Sydney, Australia all in terms of an anything-goes learning and
educational theory, but, on the contrary, the
Deleuzian toolbox is in many ways deliberately
Synonyms hard to accept and necessarily challenging to put
into action.
Critical philosophy; Critical thinking; Learning;
Poststructuralism; Postulates
Deleuze and Learning

Introduction Deleuzes most direct statements with respect to

learning come in his book on Difference and
Gilles Deleuze (19251995) provides an inte- Repetition. In it, he says: . . . learning always
grated theorization of learning without having takes place in and through the unconscious,
written specically on education. He was a phi- thereby establishing the bond of a profound com-
losopher who worked for the majority of his life as plicity between nature and mind (Deleuze 1994,
an intellectual and university academic. Deleuze p. 165). This is the last sentence of a paragraph on
was propelled into the public eye in 1972, after the problematic ideas and an explanation of how one
success of his rst collaborative work with Flix learns to swim with respect to the idea of the sea.
Guattari, called Anti-Oedipus. He did not write a Deleuzes argument is that one learns to swim in
book on learning, so one must piece together his the sea not by opposing the sea in dialectical
ideas on learning from comments interspersed fashion, nor by deconstructing it, still less by
from within the oeuvre. Despite this apparent imposing a persons will upon the waves in a
lack of direct information and analysis of learning, mythological, Cnut style. Following the philoso-
Deleuzes ideas have gained traction in many phy of Deleuze, one learns through an appren-
educational and creative circles (Cole 2011). Per- ticeship with signs. Further, education is
haps this is because Deleuze provides what he amorous yet fatal (Deleuze 1994, p. 23); in the
described as a conceptual toolbox (Deleuze case of swimming in the sea, the swimmer is able
1980, p. 17), which can be readily applied to to cope with the waves and the currents of the
education in terms of a philosophical framing seas, not by copying or repeating their existence
# Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016
M.A. Peters (ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory,
DOI 10.1007/978-981-287-532-7_68-1
2 Deleuze and Learning

and forms or through any processes of familiari- philosophers do not constitute a history of philos-
zation or thoughts about being a natural sea ophy, nor do they provide straightforward com-
swimmer, but by becoming attuned over time to mentaries on the philosophy of these named
the way in which one has to swim in the seas in thinkers. Rather, Deleuze executed these studies
order to survive and to stay aoat. Deleuze (1994, to come up with new thought, in order to ques-
p. 23) states that one learns from teachers who say tion the classical or accepted image of thought and
do with me and not from teachers who say do to ultimately produce a philosophical system that
as I do; in other words, learning is a necessarily promotes learning through the unconscious and
reciprocating and relational process and nature and questions knowledge as given. In some
includes elements of non-relation, which makes ways, every philosophy produces an image of
questioning of accepted knowledge an imperative thought, even Deleuzes project to come up
and working together communally around knowl- with a new image of thought and to return the
edge problems essential. Inna Semetsky (2009) thought of the philosophers to learning. In this
has suggested that Deleuzes approach to learning context, Deleuzes project is to enable an image
solves Platos paradox in Meno about learning, in of thought that may be innitely divisible or pos-
that the production of new knowledge according sible to be differentiated in itself, until thought and
to Socrates is merely the function of memory or learning themselves become apparent to the
recollection. Plato surmised that all knowledge is thinker and learner. In terms of Western meta-
locked in the unconscious, so that one doesnt physics, the dominant and most far-reaching
learn at all, but recollects what one already image of thought comes from Plato in terms of
knows through the recognition of truths through what constitutes metaphysics. Deleuze (1994)
argumentation and Socratic dialogue. Deleuze could be positioned as one of many thinkers who
(1994) turns this formulation around in Difference have tried to overcome Platos image of thought,
and Repetition, in that the unconscious is no lon- yet the approach that he takes in Difference and
ger a passive receiver of knowledge and the mem- Repetition is distinguished from many others in
ory the active disseminator of knowledge. that the eight postulates that are proposed in order
Contrariwise, the unconscious does profoundly to question the philosophically dogmatic image of
synthetic and positive, i.e., paradoxically con- thought suggest an ultimate escape route from
scious, work according to Deleuze, through the representation as the basis for metaphysics in gen-
clashing of affect and the playing with chaotic eral into learning per se and not only with refer-
material processes through, for example, creative ence to Plato.
experimentation. The unconscious is in the The eight postulates from Difference and Rep-
Deleuzian frame a creative and vital cauldron of etition (see below) constitute a framing of the
new thought. However, to get to this new vision of dogmatic image of thought that specically
the unconscious as the place where learning fun- attempts to dismantle the manner in which
damentally happens, one has to rst attend to thought has been created and recreated more
issues concerning philosophy and the image of recently through thinkers such as Kant and Hei-
thought that it has projected over time. degger. According to Deleuze, Kant and Heideg-
ger create dogmatic images of thought because
their systems for thought must be understood
Philosophy and Learning before any new thought can happen. The eight
postulates signify a means to fully examine such
Deleuze executed a number of philosophical stud- images of thoughts and to allow for unthoughts,
ies during his career, specically focusing on the non-thoughts, and, importantly given the context
philosophies of David Hume, Friedrich Nietz- of this entry, learning through the unconscious
sche, Henri Bergson, Benedictus de Spinoza, and nature to make its way into a new arena for
Immanuel Kant, Michel Foucault, and Gottfried thought. One could argue that everything that
Leibniz. These works by Deleuze on other Deleuze writes after the Image of Thought
Deleuze and Learning 3

section of Difference and Repetition during his of reference] is taken to be the locus of truth,
career relates to these postulates in some way sense of being no more than a neutralized dou-
and is an attempt to create thought without an ble or the innite doubling of the proposition.
image that makes philosophy more democratic 7. The Postulate of the Modality or Solutions:
and fully open to novel reinterpretation. One problems are materially traced from proposi-
could argue that this proposition is perhaps most tions or are formally dened by the possibility
fully realized in the rhizomatics of A Thousand of them being solved.
Plateaus, because the rhizomic text and multi- 8. The Postulate of the End or the Result or the
ple conceptual elements of A Thousand Plateaus Postulate of Knowledge: the subordination of
attempt to fully engage with the notion of imma- learning to knowledge and of culture
nence, including how immanence relates to time, [or paideia] to method.
power, and the uctuations of everyday life (e.g.,
Cole 2013). Immanence is for Deleuze the great These eight postulates from Difference and
leveling concept, which makes new thought Repetition work on the level of problematizing
accessible beyond the philosophical specialism, and questioning the image of thought. The rst
seen, for example, in Kant or Heidegger, and two postulates refer to the ways in which philos-
learning in the moment becomes apparent. The ophers have made implicit agreements between
eight Deleuzian postulates that a new image of themselves about what thought is and what
thought and any consequent learning from thought should be. These agreements might jeop-
Deleuze rest upon are as follows. ardize learning according to Deleuze. Likewise,
The eight postulates: from Difference and Rep- postulates three and four refer to the ways in
etition (Deleuze 1994, p. 167): which philosophical systems have produced
models and represented the image of thought as
1. The Postulate of the Principle or the Cogitatio the self-same. The philosophical systems of
Natural Universalis: the good will of the Kant and Heidegger are good examples of these
thinker and the good nature of thought. types of thinking models or modes of representa-
2. The Postulate of the Ideal or Common Sense: tion that require thinking through their tenets
common sense as the concordia facultatum before any new thought or learning can happen.
and good sense as the distribution that guaran- Postulate ve is a reference to the Hegelian sys-
tees this accord. tem of thought that prioritizes negation in thought
3. The Postulate of the Model or of Recognition: to create difference (Somers-Hall 2012), therefore
recognition presupposes the harmonious exer- making learning dependent on the negation of, for
cise of the faculties on an object that is suppos- example, the thought of nature and the uncon-
edly identical for each of these faculties and scious, which is exactly what Deleuze wants
the consequent possibility of error in the dis- learning to connect with. Postulates six and
tribution when one faculty confuses one of its seven refer to propositional logic and how the
objects with a different object of another denition of the image of thought in these terms
faculty. can produce thought that excludes problems that
4. The Postulate of the Element or Representa- do not t with the strictures of propositional logic,
tion: difference is subordinated to the comple- i.e., irrational and illogical thought. Learning
mentary dimensions of the same and the itself would also be trammeled along the lines of
similar and the analogous and the opposed. propositional logic according to these postulates.
5. The Postulate of the Negative or of Error: error Postulate eight refers to the ways in which knowl-
expresses everything that can go wrong in edge can dominate learning and create methods
thought, but only as a product of external that intercede and take away from the force of
mechanisms. culture. Deleuze wants to return thought to learn-
6. The Postulate of the Logical Function or the ing and culture and not to a set of predened
Proposition: designation or denotation [theory methods or sets of instructions that can take
4 Deleuze and Learning

away from the impact and veracity of new approaching thought, which might turn out to be
thought. merely reactive or responding to moral, narrow-
One needs to systematically go through the minded, reproductive, or power-based dictates.
postulates from Difference and Repetition to This is one of the reasons why Deleuze qualies
arrive at the last postulate, number eight, that his eight postulates with silence and with their
directly relates to learning and is the starting birth in thought, which means they are precisely
point for a new metaphysics of learning from designed to escape the clamor of the contempo-
Deleuze that disavows representation in thought, rary moment and in order to connect to learning,
i.e., gets back to learning qua learning and not the to the unconscious, and to nature. The concern to
thought of learning. Deleuze (1994, p. 167) in make Deleuzes postulates receptive to and part of
Difference and Repetition immediately qualies an exploration of the unconscious predominantly
and questions the eight postulates and says that comes from his examination of the formulation of
they function best in silence. How can one make the drives for thinking in Nietzsche and in the
sense of the notion that the thought that escapes writing processes of Proust in Proust and Signs.
the dogmatic image of thought through the eight In Proust and Signs, the section on the image
postulates returns one to a state of learning, and of thought concerns the ways in which the think-
helps to reverse the traditionally philosophical or ing of the philosopher can miss out on specic
classical image of thought and its accompany- types of knowledge, aesthetic sensitivities, the
ing dogmas, and yet is born in thought (Deleuze learning that comes from the heart, and the
1994, p. 167)? In terms of philosophical analysis, thought processes contained in Prousts writing
the genesis of the image of thought and the style. Prousts In Search of Lost Time sets up a
consequent critique of the image of thought wholly different image of thought to the philo-
through the eight postulates come from Deleuzes sophical image of thought, and it is through under-
earlier (1983) book Nietzsche and Philosophy. standing the processes contained in the writing of
Here, Deleuze begins his sustained move away this book that one is able to go beyond the ratio-
from the tenets of representative thought and nal, historic, and communal assumptions of the
looks to understand how Nietzschean forces may philosophers as listed by the eight postulates.
power thought, such as the contrast between reac- Deleuzes argument in Proust and Signs is that
tive (moral) forces and life-afrming forces. One the writing of Proust adds to the endeavors and
could argue that according to Nietzsche, para- insights of the philosophers and that Prousts work
mount among the forces of reaction and afrma- is philosophical, precisely because it
tion is the force of now, which congeals everyday out-maneuvers what Plato calls simultaneously
forces from a contemporary perspective that may contrary perceptions (Deleuze 2000, p. 101). In
work to corrupt and subjugate the mobility of other words, Proust has the ability to write around
thought. In Nietzschean terms, the power of the such perceptions, and to make art of them, or to
philosopher is derived from the ability to think touch upon sensations common to 2 places, to
(and learn) outside of the prejudices, clichs, and 2 moments (ibid.). Proust is a Deleuzian exem-
banalities contained in the social forces of the plar of a writer able to deal with involuntary signs
contemporary situation. This is why Nietzsche in a creative way and in a manner which forces us
rened his writing technique to such an extent in to think and learn.
order to come up with a new form of aphoristic Parallel to Nietzsche, who is a thinker out of
writing that attempted to pierce the bubble of time (as exemplied by Zarathustra), Proust is a
contemporary values and thought and that could thinker of time. Proust creates an image of thought
execute a powerful critique on the image of that does not represent the tropes of now, but gets
thought connected to now and to reconnect inside the mechanisms of time to encounter the
thinking with learning. In consequence, Nietzsche eeting effects, an apprenticeship in signs, and the
teaches us to be wary of contemporary fashion and delayed action in thought and learning. In Prousts
to exercise critical and affective energies when writing, obvious and scenic or exterior imagery is
Deleuze and Learning 5

substituted for the time dimension to produce factors and strategies of/for learning as analyzed
what Deleuze and Guattari (1988, p. 380) describe statistically by Hattie (2009). However, if one digs
in A Thousand Plateaus in a parallel manner and deeper into the two approaches to learning
with reference to nomadism, as (a)ll of thought is represented by Deleuze and Hattie, one can realize
a becoming, a double becoming, rather than the that the two positions are not so far removed.
attribute of a Subject and the representation of a Deleuze is not adverse to scientic and mathemat-
whole. Deleuze, Proust, and Nietzsche allow for ical explanation of phenomena; in fact he deploys
and give mobility to thought through their art and such means frequently in his writing with respect
hence show what the image of thought is through to, for example, singularities and the virtual,
learning, the unconscious, and nature. As has been yet Deleuze always brings back such explanations
noted above and in contrast to, for example, Kant to thinking, creativity, and social problems.
and Heidegger, whose intellectual comprehension The difference in the two approaches to learn-
requires steadfast study of the structural aspects of ing is that Hattie (2009) stops at the effect size
their thought before new thought can happen, i.e., of every strategy or factor in learning from the
with respect to being, the faculties of thought and 800 meta-analyses that are appropriated, which
the possibility of experience, according to the enables a ranking of the effect sizes. In contrast,
approach of Deleuze, Proust and Nietzsche, have Deleuze has latterly analyzed philosophy, litera-
injected freedom into the construction of thought ture, cinema, capitalism, science, and history to
and into the consequent image of thought with come up with an extended notion of learning as
respect to how new thought and learning happen. questioning the image of thought in these con-
However, if one accepts Deleuzes notion of texts. Certainly, one could argue that Deleuzes
thinking and learning and how it proceeds empir- notion of learning requires evidence-based studies
ically, one should be able to congure these pro- of the type that Hattie (2009) has used in his
cesses in the world in some way. This point comes ranking of the effect sizes of factors and strategies
about not because Deleuzes transcendental to enhance learning. This is perhaps a task for
empiricism as he names this approach in Differ- future educators and future education researchers
ence and Repetition requires any extrasensory or that have been inuenced by the philosophy of
universal validity, but because the ways in which Deleuze to attend to, as they work together to
one can make sense of the eight postulates, the change mainstream educational provision.
learning, and the image of thought that they refer Deleuzes philosophical and intellectual approach
to must relate in some way to practice. This is to learning has the capacity to radically alter the
because it is in practice that the Deleuzian postu- course of educational practice beyond the short
lates can reach their tipping points and any break- term and to make a difference in terms of the
through in the image of thought toward learning measurable effect sizes as calculated by
can be realized, i.e., immanently and in tandem Hattie (2009).
with a concern for power.

Conclusion References

If one compares Deleuzes ideas on learning with, Cole, D. R. (2011). Educational life-forms: Deleuzian
teaching and learning practice. Rotterdam: Sense
for example, John Hatties (2009) book called Publishers.
Visible Learning, which is widely cited in educa- Cole, D. (2013). Trafc-jams: Analysing everyday life
tion, one could state that in contrast, Deleuzes through the immanent materialism of Deleuze and
thoughts on learning describe a form of invisible Guattari. New York: Punctum Books.
Deleuze, G. (1980, October 23). A thousand plateaus.
learning. Deleuze designates pre-personal, uc- Libration, p. 17.
tuating grounds for learning that can seem to be Deleuze, G. (1983). Nietzsche and philosophy (trans:
very different from the systematic analysis of the Tomlinson, H.). London: The Athlone Press.
6 Deleuze and Learning

Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and repetition (trans: Pat- Semetsky, I. (2009). Deleuze as a philosopher of education:
ton, P.). New York: Columbia University Press. Affective knowledge/effective learning. The European
Deleuze, G. (2000). Proust and signs (trans: Howard, R.). Legacy: Toward New Paradigms., 14(4), 443456.
London: The Athlone Press. doi:10.1080/10848770902999534.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. (1988). A thousand plateaus: Somers-Hall, H. (2012). Hegel, Deleuze and the critique of
Capitalism and schizophrenia II (trans: Massumi, B.). representation: Dialectics of negation and difference.
London: The Athlone Press. Albany: SUNY Press.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over
800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London/
New York: Routledge.

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