Private thinkers, untimely thoughts

Deleuze, Shestov and Fondane

Bruce Baugh

pp. 313-339

It has gone largely unnoticed that when Deleuze opposes the "private thinker" to the "public professor," he is invoking the existential thought of Lev Shestov (1866–1938). The public professor defends established values and preaches submission to the demands of reason and the State; the private thinker opposes thought to reason, "idiocy" to common sense, a people to come to what exists. Private thinkers are solitary, singular and untimely, forced to think against consensus and "the crowd." Deleuze takes from Shestov and Kierkegaard the idea that genuine thinking manifests itself in a thinking which rebels against rational necessity, a theme central to Shestov's leading French interpreter, Benjamin Fondane (1898–1944). Although Deleuze at first (Nietzsche et la philosophie. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1962) expresses doubts as to whether Shestov's critique of reason can overcome the legislative reason of Kant, or whether it is entirely free of ressentiment, I argue that Shestov and Fondane's anti-rationalism is more radical than Deleuze sometimes admits, and show how Deleuze's attitude toward Shestov became more unreservedly positive over the years. On the other hand, against Shestov and Fondane, I agree with Deleuze that the private thinker is in solidarity with the "strange powers" which can remake the world, and thus with "the people to come." Nonetheless, I argue that Deleuze's philosophy cannot form the basis of a politics of egalitarian consensus, but that "the people to come" can only be a "broken chain" of untimely and singular exceptions.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11007-015-9332-6

Full citation:

Baugh, B. (2015). Private thinkers, untimely thoughts: Deleuze, Shestov and Fondane. Continental Philosophy Review 48 (3), pp. 313-339.

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