The question what is philosophy? can perhaps be posed only late in life [. . .] in a moment of quiet restlessness, at midnight, when there is no longer anything to ask. It was asked before, it was always being asked [. . .] [but] [t]here was too much desire to do philosophy to wonder what it was, except as a stylistic exercise. That point of nonstyle where one can finally say, “What is it I have been doing all my life?” [mais qu’est-ce que c’était, ce que j’ai fait toute ma vie?] had not been reached.

Deleuze and Guattari, WIP?, pg. 1


I’m no philosopher and have no intention to be (“I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be…”), so why do I sympathize so strongly with this passage? Is it because I too am restless? Have I already reached my “point of nonstyle”? I ask because it seems I’ve been able to do little else these past few months than wonder (somewhat self-pityingly, I admit), “What am I doing? What have I been doing all my (adult) life? What am I going to do?” Mais qu’est-ce que c’était, ce que j’ai fait toute ma vie?

Perhaps I’ve finally become J. Alfred Prufrock: “I grow old, I grow old . . .”

Even things I’ve been doing feel as if they take the form of this question: mais qu’est-ce que c’était, ce que j’ai fait toute ma vie? Nearly every time I prepare a lesson plan; every time I walk into the classroom; every time I sit down to post a picture, a quotation, a meditation, or a slow reading on this site; every time I put one book down (unfinished) in order to take up another (usually at random, which will also remain unfinished); every morning I prepare my coffee; every evening while I delay my bedtime ritual one or two or three hours in case I might stumble upon something: through it all I seem to question—pose the problem—of what I’m in the midst of doing and how and why.


How many of us ask ourselves, not once and for all time but frequently and at different times, how might one live? How many of us embrace that question, not only in our stories but in our actions, our projects, our commitments? How many of us open the door to the possibility that, however it is we are living, we might live otherwise?

Todd May, Gilles Deleuze: An Introduction (2005), pg. 1


Perhaps the questions, “What am I doing? What have I done? What’s this all for?” are adequate to the questions, “What am I, and how am I?” In Dialogues, Deleuze and his other collaborator, Clare Parnet, ask their readers, “What are your rigid segments[?]”; “What are your supple lines, what are your fluxes and thresholds?”; “What are your lines of flight, where the fluxes are combined, where the thresholds reach a point of adjacence and rupture? Are they still tolerable[?]” (143-44). How do I map my segments, thresholds, and lines of escape, collapse, flight? What am I? How am I? I don’t know how to answer these questions yet. But I am a slow and distracted reader of a few literary writers, a slow and distracted peruser of several other writers, a gather of and tinkerer with ideas, and a teacher of literary reading and college writing (at least for the time being). I am a few other things too—an advisor, a program coordinator, a signature, a bus passenger, a runner, a life partner, a dish washer, a gamer, a pro wrestling fan, a slight depressive, a son, a brother, an uncle—but what really prompts me to wonder about what I am and what I have done is my life as a stuttering reader of other lives and works, of the vital potentiality of works that others have left behind.

Life and work. Life AND work. Giving an account of the vital AND between life/work. I think this is what I have been doing, and it’s what I want to keep doing. Somehow.

Reading on . . .

2 thoughts on “Mais qu’est-ce que c’était, ce que j’ai fait toute ma vie?

  1. Sarah Kruse says:

    Life IS work and work IS life. I don’t really believe there is anything else. What one’s work does in the world does not matter, but let me finish first. It does not matter, I think, that we think about things in the grand scheme of things (though it is very difficult not to if we are already thinking humans). We are always already a part of grander things that we have not yet been able to see. I tend to believe that the real work to be done is the work we do on ourselves and how that work affects us, not because we should be self centered or selfish by any means, but because that is the most difficult work we can do, and I think that change and progress we make has further reaching reverberations beyond what we can ever intend or hope for. The difficulty then, I think, is the ability to believe in that which we cannot yet see and at times even imagine. How to dwell with uncertainty and questions, as Rilke says, so that one day “We can then live on into the answer.”

  2. Sarah Kruse says:

    Life IS work and work IS life. I don’t really believe there is anything else. What one’s work does in the world does not matter, but let me finish first. It does not matter, I think, that we think about things in the grand scheme of things (though it is very difficult not to if we are already thinking humans). We are always already a part of grander things that we have not yet been able to see. I tend to believe that the real work to be done is the work we do on ourselves and how that work affects us, not because we should be self centered or selfish by any means, but because that is the most difficult work we can do, and I think that change and progress we make has further reaching reverberations beyond what we can ever intend or hope for. The difficulty then, I think, is the ability to believe in that which we cannot yet see and at times even imagine. How to dwell with uncertainty and questions, as Rilke says, so that one day “We can then live on into the answer.”

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