Deleuze Studies Conference

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Arkady Plotnitsky

The Spacetimes of Nympheas: Matter and Multiplicity in Einstein, Monet, Lautman, and Deleuze and Guattari

Both his own work and his collaborations with Félix Guattari reveal Gilles Deleuze as an uncompromising thinker of, jointly, both materiality and multiplicity. Deleuze and Guattari’s thinking of the multiple is more customarily linked to mathematics, in particular calculus and Riemann’s concept of manifoldness, which radically transformed our understanding of spatiality by giving it the architecture of the irreducibly multiple. I shall argue, however, that these connections may also and, arguably, more fundamentally be seen in terms of physics—classical physics, in which calculus originates, and Einstein’s general relativity, his non-Newtonian theory of gravity, which uses Riemann’s mathematics. Historically, Deleuze and Guattari’s use of Riemann’s ideas was mediated by both Bergson’s and Lautman’s engagements with them, and both engagements were inflected by Einstein’s theory. In part following Leibniz, Einstein’s general relativity tells us that gravity curves the space it defines and gives this space the Riemannian architecture of heterogeneous multiplicity, as against the Newtonian homogeneity of absolute space (pre-existing matter), which defines classical physics. These connections to relativity also allow one to explore, from a new perspective, the role of temporality and dynamics in this architecture.

I shall suggest that Claude Monet’s Nympheas murals in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris offer the image of this architecture. Painted in the wake of Einstein’s introduction of general relativity (in 1915), Monet’s murals might have been impacted by Einstein’s ideas and might even have been painted in part as an image of the Riemannian-Einsteinian world, comprised of spacetime manifolds defined by matter. At the very least, the murals may be seen as such an image, or indeed as a richer image, better captured by Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical architecture cum Einstein’s physical-mathematical architecture than by the latter alone. Ultimately, at stake is what Deleuze and Guattari see in What is Philosophy? as interferences between the planes of philosophy, art, and science “that join up in the brain.” Arising amidst “the chaos into which the brain plunges,” these interferences make “philosophy, art, and science … indiscernible, as if they shared the same shadow that extends itself across their different nature and constantly accompanies them.”

About the keynote speaker

Arkady Plotnitsky is a professor of English and Theory and Cultural Studies at Purdue University, where he is also a director of the Theory and Cultural Studies Program, and a co-director of the Philosophy and Literature Program.  He has published several books and many articles on philosophy of physics and mathematics, continental philosophy, British and European Romanticism, Modernism, and the relationships among literature, philosophy, and science. His recent books include Epistemology and Probability: Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrödinger and the Nature of Quantum-Theoretical Thinking (2009), Reading Bohr: Physics and Philosophy (2006), The Knowable and the Unknowable: Modern Science, Nonclassical Thought, and the “Two Cultures (2002), and a co-edited (with Tilottama Rajan) collection of essays Idealism Without Absolute: Philosophy and Romantic Culture (2004). He is currently at work on the book Space-Time-Matter-Life-Thought: Non-Euclideanism from Riemann to Deleuze.