Deleuze’s Encounter With Whitehead
By Steven Shaviro
In a short chapter of The Fold (1993) that constitutes his only extended discussion of Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze praises Whitehead for asking the question, “What Is an Event?” (76). Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1929/1978) marks only the third time – after the Stoics and Leibniz – that events move to the center of philosophical thought. Deleuze wrote less about Whitehead than he did about the other figures in his philosophical counter-canon: Lucretius, the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hume, Nietzsche, Bergson, and Foucault.
But Whitehead is arguably as important to Deleuze as any of these other thinkers. It is only today, in the wake of Isabelle Stengers’ great book Penser avec Whitehead (2002), that it has become possible, for the first time, to measure the full extent of Deleuze’s encounter with Whitehead. My work here is deeply indebted to Stengers, as well as to James Williams (2005) and to Keith Robinson (2006), both of whom have written illuminatingly about Whitehead and Deleuze.
“What is an event?” is, of course, a quintessentially Deleuzian question. And Whitehead marks an important turning-point in the history of philosophy because he affirms that, in fact, everything is an event. The world, he says, is made of events, and nothing but events: happenings rather than things, verbs rather than nouns, processes rather than substances. Becoming is the deepest dimension of Being.
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