Reading Deleuze and Guattari: The Pedagogy of the Concept in What Is Philosophy?

What does this phrase—”the pedagogy of the concept”—mean? Near the end of their introduction to What Is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari make several baffling claims about the philosophical concept:

[T]he concept is not given, it is created; it is to be created. It is not formed but posits itself in itself—it is a self-positing. Creation and self-positing mutually imply each other because what is truly created, from the living being to the work of art, thereby enjoys a self-positing of itself, or an autopoetic characteristic by which it is recognized. (11)

They continue:

[. . .] Hegel showed that the concept has nothing whatever to do with a general or abstract idea, any more than with an uncreated Wisdom that does not depend on philosophy itself. [. . . Yet t]he post-Kantians concentrated on a universal encyclopedia of the concept that attributed concept creation to a pure subjectivity rather than taking on the more modest task of a pedagogy of the concept, which would have to analyze the conditions of creation as factors of always singular moments. If the three ages of the concept are the encyclopedia, pedagogy, and commercial professional training, only the second can safeguard us from falling from the heights of the first into the disaster of the third—an absolute disaster for thought whatever its benefits might be, of course, from the viewpoint of universal capitalism. (12)

In Part One, Chapter 1, “What Is a Concept?” Deleuze and Guattari return to this idea of the concept’s pedagogic nature. They write,

[. . .] in philosophy, concepts are only created as a function of problems which are thought to be badly understood or badly posed (pedagogy of the concept). (16)

The relativity and absoluteness of the concept are like its pedagogy and its ontology, its creation and its self-positing, its ideality and its reality—the concept is real without being actual, ideal without being abstract. The concept is defined by its consistency, its endoconsistency [i.e., that of its components or parts] and exoconsistency [i.e., that of its relation to other concepts], but it has no reference: it is self-referential; it posits itself and its object at the same time as it is created. Constructivism unites the relative and absolute. (22)

What’s the best way to follow the great philosophers? Is it to repeat what they said or to do what they did, that is, create concepts for problems that necessarily change? (28)

The same pedagogical status of the concept can be found everywhere: a multiplicityan absolute surface or volume, self-referents, made up of a certain number of inseparable intensive variations according to an order of neighborhood, and traversed by a point in a state of survey. The concept is the contour, the configuration, the constellation of an event to come. (32-33)

To turn things around on Deleuze and Guattari: by what logic, according to what resonance does pedagogy work as a component of the concept (or, to be more precise, the concept of the concept)? Though these passages may seem a bit incoherent out of context (especially to those who haven’t read What Is Philosophy?), it’s clear that D&G see pedagogy as a term that balances the competing dimensions of the concept: its subjectivity and objectivity, its createdness and self-positedness, its relativity and absoluteness, its history and its becoming, its relation to planes and problems, its mutability and singularity, etc. Though I know many scholars have addressed Deleuze’s comments on pedagogy (especially those in L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze on being a professor of philosophy), I’m not sure we’ve really thought through the importance pedagogy as a component of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the concept. This is merely a note (to myself, in a sense) anticipating future work that will do just that.

Reading on . . .


  1. This same tri-partite division in relation to perception is proposed by Deleuze in his “Letter to Serge Daney” in NEGOTIATIONS. There he discusses 3 different views of the cinema lists the encyclopedia of the world, the pedagogy of perception, and the professional training of the eye (which Deleuze ties to the function of control). This is developped in similar terms in CINEMA 2, Chapter 9, comparing and contrasting Rosselini’s or Straub’s pedagogy with Godard’s. It is also tied in with the change in the image of thought described in DIFFERENCE AND REPETITION in the decline of the model of truth and the rise of the power of the false, and the emergence of apprenticeship or learning as primary over doctrine.

    1. Thank you for these references, Terence! The passages on learning and apprenticeship in DR were very much on my mind (“We never know in advance how someone will learn…”; they align nicely with sister passages in Proust and Signs), but I did not recall the passages from Negotiations or Cinema 2. Much appreciated!

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