An inscription of the event May 68 : recorded voice of Gilles Deleuze

, par Frédéric Astier

Recorded lectures of Gilles Deleuze at Paris 8 University

The audiocassette recordings of Gilles Deleuze at the University of Paris 8, 1979-1987 (177 courses, 400 hours) transport us, his listeners and readers, in the ebb and flow of the words lines and chapters of the philosopher. His classes were the moment at which he could sharpen an idea or elaborate a concept out of an abstraction, then create concrete examples that would captivate and address specialists and non-philosophers alike. A philosophical notion repeated in class would enrich itself with a multitude of artistic, political, and scientific references ; anecdotes shaped lifestyles as well as conceptual approaches. These various points of view led to a form of experimentation. In the same movement, a new philosophical vocabulary and a “pedagogical approach” were invented. Far from the academic philosophy, the teachings of Gilles Deleuze at Vincennes resulted in an unprecedented encounter, an inauguration of creative reasoning and the virtual. According to a dialogical style of teaching, his oral philosophy was a prerequisite to his books and a laboratory necessary to the unfolding of the "affect of the concept". Oral philosophy is followed today by the movement towards "become-listener" thus linking with oral tradition, creative writing, the transmission of philosophical notions and living university research.

I was used to crossing Richelieu Street by the subteranean passages at the national Library of France to forward ancient 78 records to the Vivienne studios of the Phonotèque Department, but one morning, much to my surprise, I could hear behind a thick glass wall the voice of Gilles Deleuze, with the background noise of a motorway, amplified by a prefabricated room usually intended to immigrants (The LOPOFA). A great deal of audiotapes had been sent to us by a few students. Some months later, as an humble employee, confident with a few years of Studies at Paris 8 University, I suggested to my superiors my taking care of the checking, and then classifying, labelling, classification marking and technical verifying of the durations of these recordings transfered on compact disc, and in order to do that, I had to listen to them.
As luck would have it, I remember that I laughed when hearing him as he would with his hoarse, metallous voice, that the philosopher must talk to the non philosopher, or again that Nicolas De Cuses’ idiot is a very good observer. I felt myself in the skin of both of them, that is the least I can say.
And this is how for months, I noted ideas developped in these 177 lectures, 400 hours – from 1979 to 1987, a shadow work.

To get on the thought of Deleuze, I thought, needed basic knowledge and a horizon of references, since however much our author would say « don’t you worry, everybody can understand », as a philosopher or not, I hardly believed him.
This invitation however was very effective « take what you want, what suits you , it is up to you » because it enabled me to feel at ease, comfortable and at the same time, I was bound to ask myself : but what concerns me in what he says ?

What suits me, what talks to me, what makes me think of something, that is a freeing remark which encourages you to work for yourself and by yourself. Deleuze knows how to institute the other as an author : of his notes, his corrections, his comparisons, his own plans.

Then, after having left my ears rest for a year no doubt, I resumed my listening to lectures of certain years in order to verify my notes more calmly, ones a few courses, during which I had probably been dozing, namely the fourth and last year that Deleuze dedicated to cinema.
The recorded lectures of Gilles Deleuze, soon after the Paris 8 University moved from Vincennes to Saint Denis, may be consulted at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, at the Paris 8 Library, and are progressively avaible on www. website.

Deleuze’s style – One may say that his lectures enabled him to test out logical suites, those of his next chapters, but in a way opposite to the speed of the brilliant professor. Very slowly, with ebb and flow he went forward then backword. Deleuze was obsiously following very precise notes, even if his references of editions, dates or pages were incomplete. His lecture was an experimentation, in the strong sense of the word. He could hear if his corrections happened from time to time, the small lights of the eyes.

Some main lines go through the lectures of Gilles Deleuze :
First of all, his meticulousness. He doesn’t look so at first sight but the preparation is extreme, all main lines are written, but developments happen like waves, by preliminary repetitions. That is the whole constructed dimension of the lecture, its mastery and unity. No room for the appeal of the orator, or for his arm flourishing, it is the auditor who perceives, who sees, who evaluates his needs.

Then, the framework of the lectures, the duration of the working thought and its resumptions, the abstract notions and the links which Deleuze verifies. He forces himself to make clear, to suppress misunderstandings, to rebuild bridges for comprehension. As one of may speak of a medicine, he speaks with delayed effects, he takes a knot tied long before, he formulates in a different way and evaluates, and he brings comfort : « feel how beautiful it is, let yourself go, you will understand later ».

Finally, a last stage for the brightest, from whom he demands that they understand absolutely : Deleuze needs them, absolutely, the next lecture is at stake, together with its preparation, its repetition. That is why, sometimes again, Deleuze considers that his lecture failed as far as comprehension was concerned, that it lead to a deadend, which he makes sure to assert in the next lecture. And he therefore resumes, going back to the previous lecture.

The auditor and the reader will not be surprised. The recorded lectures and their written works are not some syllabus, neither perfect index, nor a summary, it is at best concepts, authors, sentences uncertainly distributed as lectures went for months and years. I did not mean to cover all sets of concepts, but I rather drifted, looking for what talked to me most. One must say that Deleuze incites to do so. His lectures have to be followed as an angler who follows his float from the riverside, one has to be patient, to accept not to understand, to accept as well this hesitating way which finally authorizes the auditory to follow him in spite of its lack of knowledge.

A last word about Deleuze’s flat refusal of letting his lectures be published. This is because for him, to speak is not to write. There is a radical breach between them. If speaking may stand hesitation, postponements and emptiness, laughs and shouts, writing is a cooling process. The spoken word has not to be written, nor therefore to be retranscribed, since it is « inhabited with voices ». It sets tapes in notion, it picks, captures and shatters.
Like a set of broken rings, speaking is often made of discussions, just to say one goes forward, just a brief interactive moment which must stay as such.
If one may say that the May 68 events brought free speech, dispute and argument do not frame Deleuze’s lectures at Saint-Denis’University. To speak for one’s self, to experiment concepts, these are remarkable way of speaking of philosophy, which are intended to minorities, in an impersonnal mode. The May 68 events introduced this way of speech, but Deleuze took it in a style and code ethics which were his.
Let’s bet that the recorded lectures may clarify some perspectives, may enlighten the issues of such and such painter, such and such movie director, may enable to join concepts according to such and such philosophical, artisted, political, personnal issue.
Let’s bet as well that when listening, you will know to lose your time, in order to increase in speed of thinking.

Traduit du français par Agnès Gallois