On ‘The Image of Thought’

A chapter on the emergence of subjectivity (after the heavy history of philosophy of ‘Difference in Itself’)

Remember the motor of Deleuze’s writing is investigating what is the nature of thinking.

Objective misrecognition of difference (history of philosophy) vs the subjective (implicit presuppositions) that shape how we think the world. There are two senses of this dogmatic image: natural and philosophical.

Natural = the set of presuppositions: ‘Everybody knows that…’ the image of thought is in play. Habitual ways of thinking that tend to cliche the world = theater of thinking/the image of thought.

Philosophical = an attack on doxa, cliche, myth, superstition but philosophers have also bought into these cliches at a second, higher level. Philosopher erect from mistakes, everyday slippages to recreate as presuppositions/principle, a rule for thinking as such. Philosophers do this as well, but their second order is extrapolation cloaked within the trappings of a specific language that masks their presuppositions.

We would do better to ask what is a subjective or implicit presupposition: it has the form of ‘Everybody knows…’. Everybody knows, in a pre-philosophical and pre-conceptual manner… everybody knows what it means to think and to be. . . . As a result, when the philosopher says ‘I think therefore I am’, he can assume that the universality of his premises – namely, what it means to be and to think… – will be implicitly understood, and that no one can deny that to doubt is to think, and to think is to be… Everybody knows, no one can deny, is the form of representation and the discourse of the representative. p.130

Genetic character:

  • explain the genesis of the philosophical errors via extrapolation from natural presuppositions. Real meaning of philosophical critique is a critique of tracing.
  • explain the genesis of the natural dogmatic image of thought of the basis of the nature of thinking itself.

Kant: how do we explain how it is that Leibniz came to think as he did? What were his presuppositions? How would we trace this?

Thought does not have a form, a set of quintessential elements that we can lay out.

It would find its difference or its true beginning, not in an agreement with the pre-philosophical Image but in a rigorous struggle against this Image, which it would denounce as non-philosophical. As a result, it would discover its authentic repetition in a thought without Image, even at the cost of the greatest destructions and the greatest demoralisations, and a philosophical obstinacy with no ally but paradox, one which would have to renounce both the form of representation and the element of common sense. As though thought could begin to think, and continually begin again, only when liberated from the Image and its postulates. p.132

The philosopher has to play the role of the idiot, of being uncertain.

On the contrary, it is a question of someone – if only one – with the necessary modesty not managing to know what everybody knows, and modestly denying what everybody is supposed to recognise. Someone who neither allows himself to be represented nor wishes to represent anything. Not an individual endowed with good will and a natural capacity for thought, but an individual full of ill will who does not manage to think, either naturally or conceptually. Only such an individual is without  presuppositions. Only such an individual effectively begins and effectively repeats. For this individual the subjective presuppositions are no less prejudices than the objective presuppositions. p.130

Eight postulates of the image of thought*. Postulates are not propositions, they are “propositional themes that remind implicit and are understood in a pre-philosophical manner” p.131

  1. The Postulate of the Principle, or the Cogitatio natural universalis: (The good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought.) Postulate 1: The element of the thought, the good will of the thinker and the good nature of thought. Thought naturally seeks the truth. Belief that everyone can think, and it is natural to think. This is a natural postulate. (False)
  2. The Postulate of the Ideal, or Common Sense: (Common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution that guarantees this accord.) Postulate 2 of common sense: the harmonious activity of faculties in thought. Indebted to Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. a) capacity (powers) in thought b) plural and different in kind remembering, speaking, knowing, understanding etc c) together constitutive of experience and knowledge (recognition) d) necessarily in relation to an encounter with reality that knowledge comes to be. (False)
  3. The Postulate of the Model, or of Recognition: (Recognition presupposes the harmonious exercise of our faculties on an object that is supposedly identical for each of these faculties, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty.)
  4. The Postulate of the Element, or Representation: (Difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed.) Counter-Postulate of Involuntary Thought/Fourth postulate: the element of representation – Differential theory of the faculties – The discordant functioning of the faculties: the violence and limits of each – Ambiguity of Platonism – Thinking: its genesis in thought
    • Thought happens in us because something happens to us. Something in the world forces us to think.”

All truths of that kind are hypothetical, since they presuppose all that is in question and are incapable of giving birth in thought to the act of thinking. In fact, concepts only ever designate possibilities. They lack the claws of absolute necessity – in other words, of an original violence inflicted upon thought; the claws of a strangeness or an enmity which alone would awaken thought from its natural stupor or eternal possibility: there is only involuntary thought, aroused but constrained within thought, and all the more absolutely necessary for being born, illegitimately, of fortuitousness in the world. Thought is primarily trespass and violence, the enemy, and nothing presupposes philosophy: everything begins with misosophy. Do not count upon thought to ensure the relative necessity of what it thinks. Rather, count upon the contingency of an encounter with that which forces thought to raise up and educate the absolute necessity of an act of thought or a passion to think.” p.139

“Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter. What is encountered may be Socrates, a temple or a demon. It may be grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering. In whichever tone, its primary characteristic is that it can only be sensed. In this sense it is opposed to recognition. In recognition, the sensible is not at all that which can only be sensed, but that which bears directly upon the senses in an object which can be recalled, imagined or conceived.” p.139

  • The first faculty…
  • faculties in their transcendent-transcendental operation. Thought is a shock. It is monomaniacal rather than harmonious. It cannot be characterised as recognition, because we can’t recognise the world. Kant was the first to provide an example of the ‘discordant harmony’ between the faculties p.146. It manages to push around the other faculties, another shock to other ways of thinking. e) the genesis of the faculties, how is it that a certain capacity fro thought arise in the first place.
  1. The Postulate of the Negative, or of Error: (Error expresses everything that can go wrong in thought, but only as a product of external ) Only extrinsic factors can result in ‘wrong’ thoughts -> Descartes Kant=reason itself wanders off the path, nothing stops it doing this illusion is always available for thought.
    • Two locations in D&R (not the same stupidity)
      • The true form of the negative in thought: thought’s absence
      • as thought’s original state: thought has no nature, but begins through a sensible encounter of shock.
    • Madness
  2. The Postulate of the Logical Function, or the Proposition: (Designation or Denotation [theory of reference] is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than a neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition.) Sixth postulate: the privilege of designation – Sense and proposition – The paradoxes of sense – Sense and problem –
    • in propositional terms (according to the image), though is propositional in nature: S is P
    • Questions are taken as inversions of propositions: Is S P?
    • the proposed essential solvability of questions…
    • true and false are defined in terms of…
    • This image of thought structures our relation to society.
  1. The Postulate of the Modality, or Solutions: (Problems are materially traced from propositions, or are formally defined by the possibility of their being solved.)
  2. The Postulate of the End or the Result, or the Postulate of Knowledge: (The subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture [or paideia] to method.)
    • There is a natural method for proceeding to truth. BUT
    • There is no such thing as method, thought is socially formed. Thinking is organized socio-politically.
    • What is the status of learning? Is learning the passage from non-knowledge to knowledge? No. It is not a voluntary act. We are apprentices, every shock that we encounter. The apprenticeship is never finished. We can’t think about learning to think as passing from one lesser state to a more advanced sense. Genuine learning is an encounter with problems that grip us.


* I am indebted to this post by John Protevi that helped me organize these postulates as the lecture by Jon Roffe moved very quickly. His notes are well worth a read.




This week I am attending a ‘summer school’ organised by the Queensland School of Continental philosophy focusing on one of the more complex philosophical texts of the 21st century, Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. The course is run by Dr Jon Roffe, a philosopher currently plying his trade at UNSW. The summer school consists of 5 x 2 hour presentations run at night at Griffith University. Each 2 hour presentation aims to focus on one specific chapter or section of the book. My plan is to use this blog as a place to rewrite my notes, and then come back to them and slowly work them up to more intelligible posts. I expect that this will take a few weeks, this is a complex book that ranges across the history of Western philosophy and asks a pretty intriguing question: how can we think of difference in itself, without recourse to what Deleuze calls the four mediations of aspects to ‘reason’ which function to affect representation:

identity, in the form of the undetermined concept; analogy, in the relation between ultimate determinable concepts; opposition, in the relation between determinations within concepts; resemblance, in the determined object of the concept itself. These forms are like the four heads or the four shackles of mediation p.29

The first session, which focuses on Chapter 1: Difference in Itself can be found here.

The second session, which focuses on Chapter X: The Image of Thought, can be found here.

On ‘Difference in Itself’

Difference and Repetition was Deleuze’s PhD thesis that he completed in 1968 but only defended in 1969 due to a recurrence of tuberculosis that was to effect him for his life.

The book is structured around four distinct, yet related aims.

  1. To read the history of philosophy from the point of view of difference
    1. What do philosophers make of difference?
    2. What does their use of difference allow us to think?
    3. It is a woven text, pulling threads out of the history of philosopher and then stitching them together.
  2. To effect a critical reconstruction
    1. Difference is always thought in relation to identity
    2. Repetition is understood as the repetition of the Same
    3. But for Deleuze, there are profound meanings hidden beneath these superficial assumptions. He wants to critique the subordination of difference to identity in the form of the concept. Through this critique, Deleuze wants to construct a new concept of repetition, the condition for our everyday selves.
  3. This new concept of difference, or difference-in-itself, is what Deleuze calls Being. The new conception of repetition is time. Thus, the book may be considered to be a radical conception of Being IN Time, an obvious play on Heidegger’s Zeit and Zine (assuming Deleuze was across Heidegger in 1968, something that was discussed after the lecture).
  4. Finally, it is important to think about the structure and style of the book. I’ll finish this later, perhaps with a rumination on free, indirect discourse (like Joyce) and the insistence on philosophy as storytelling.

Kant and the critique of representation

Deleuze is writing the book as a critique of the concept of representation that he finds in Kant, typical of what he sees as the problem of Western philosophy, namely the subordination of difference to identity. These problems are constructed in 4 distinct ways:

  1. Instead of a concept of difference, we get conceptual difference, or differences based on comparisons of form and identity.
  2. The phenomenological reduction of perceptions to the primacy of similarity based on experience.
  3. The difference between kinds of things (the category of being) where existence is always relative to a higher concept such as the form of analogy so common in philosophy.
  4. The logical register, or the opposition of predicates (such as the predicate fly/don’t fly logically extended to birds to indicate comparative difference.

The ‘I think’ is the most general principle of representation – in other words, the source of these elements and of the unity of all these faculties: I conceive, I judge, I imagine, I remember and I perceive – as though these were the four branches of the Cogito. On precisely these branches, difference is crucified. They form quadripartite fetters under which only that which is identical, similar, analogous or opposed can be considered different: difference becomes an object of representation always in relation to a conceived identity a judged analogy, an imagined opposition or a perceived similitude. Under these four coincident figures, difference acquires a sufficient reason in the form of a principium comparationis. For this reason, the world of representation is characterised by its inability to conceive of difference in itself; and by the same token, its inability to conceive of repetition for itself, since the latter is grasped only by means of recognition, distribution, reproduction and resemblance in so far as these alienate the prefix RE in simple generalities of representation. The postulate of recognition was therefore a first step towards a much more general postulate of representation. p.138

The journey that Deleuze takes us on leads us through Aristotle, Hegel, Leibniz, Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Plato. All in the first chapter (as I said, it isn’t an easy read) to arrive at the argument that to understand difference as difference-in-itself we need to understand that Being is time, whereby atemporality (in the guise of the Creator who sits outside time) is no longer available. Reality is produced without reference to a higher ideal, there is only time, dynamism and eternal return. Reality, for Deleuze, is the reality of impermanence, and as a metaphysician the absolute is impermanence.

Beyond Public Education

This is a paper I gave with Sam Sellar (now at Manchester Metropolitan University) at AARE in Perth in 2015. It’s… well… a somewhat controversial line.

Beyond public education

Sam Sellar and Greg Thompson


Privatisation is one of the biggest issues currently facing education globally. The entry of new non-state actors into education policy making and service provision has been enabled by state restructuring. The state has become an enabler of network governance with private companies, NGOs and philanthropic actors. One response to this changing politics has been the mobilisation of Education International and teachers’ unions in response to the global education industry seeking to maximise economic opportunities opened up by state restructuring and technological changes that create new opportunities to profit from data work in education. What is being contested here is the ideal of public education in the face of political and technological challenges to its integrity. In this paper, we draw on the work of Deleuze and Guattari to problematise these new relations between thought/learning, public education, technological change and privatisation.

For Deleuze, thinking or learning does not occur through recognition; it requires disruptions of perceptual and cognitive schema. Something must force us to think and thought is a deterritorialising force. In their collaborative writing, Deleuze and Guattari developed a theory of the relation between capitalism and State formations that attributes a deterritorialising function to capitalism and a reterritorializing function to the state and the family. Each of these institutions, which can be considered primary sites of education in capitalist societies, provide a model for thought and desire that captures learning in pre-existing territories. In contrast, the deterritorialising force of thought and capital raises interesting questions concerning possible affinities here. Moreover, as an anti-Platonist, Deleuze does not recognise transcendental forms and thus provides no conceptual grounds for conceiving of an ideal ‘public’ against which the privatisation of education can be opposed. Deleuze is also critical of actually-existing-democracy due to its consensualism and its alliance with essentialist groundings of human rights. But, Deleuze and Guattari are also strongly critical of the commercialisation of education and of conceptual work by the advertising industry. Using Deleuze and Guattari’s seven axioms of capital as outlined in A Thousand Plateaus presents us with interesting problematisations of the relations between learning, democracy, public education and privatisation that unsettle the coordinates that usually structure debates about these issues. The paper will develop a theoretical argument concerning these problems through readings of key texts on public education in the Deweyan/progressive tradition of educational scholarship.


Our paper seeks to unsettle a particular problematisation: public versus private schooling. In this respect, our paper may have been more appropriately titled, Beyond public versus private schooling. Specifically, we are interested in asking what it is about public schooling that should be affirmed; put differently, what is it about public education which is important? This is a very significant question, particularly given our current times where the project of State-owned education, usually conceived as a public good, is on the cusp of change effected by forces both within and without the State. We will propose that the answer to the question about what should be affirmed is no longer a matter of which organization funds a school or school system, or the principles of access that govern that school or system, rather what matters most in our contemporary times will be the relationship between thought (understood as the move beyond thought “as a model the process of recognition – in other words, a common sense or employment of all the faculties on a supposed same object” to become “as involving encounters which escape all recognition; or as confronting its true enemies, which are quite different from thought; or as attaining that which tears thought from its natural torpor and notorious bad will, and forces us to think” Difference and Repetition p.xvi), commercial organisations (understood as edu-businesses, new policy actors and networks) and the State (which is entering into new partnerships with edu-business and instantiating new policy networks that in and of themselves are trapped in the traditional image of thought).

In other words, our thinking about public education has poorly prepared us to work against its commercialisation because the logics that have sustained public education are being deployed in new ways by commercial interests to effect change. In this, we use Ball and Youdell’s (2008) distinction between the privatisation of education and privatisation in education, defining the latter as ‘the opening up of public education services to private sector participation (usually) on a for-profit basis and using the private sector to design, manage or deliver aspects of public education’ (p. X). Our focus here will be on privatisation in education, or the reconfiguration of public education that has occurred with the restructuring of the state and new opportunities for edu-businesses “symbolic of new and complex forms of governance, characterised by the formation of new policy networks and communities of expertise, new transnational policy discourses and new knowledge flows” (Thompson, Savage & Lingard, 2016, p.1). However, the language of privatisation can be confusing because it can be understood to include the provision of education by any non-government organisation, from the Catholic Church to Microsoft. We will prefer the term commercialisation, and the notion of commercialisation in education, in order to sharpen the focus on for-profit modes of education.

In particular, we draw on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari to open up the problem of commercialisation in education. Public education has become a placeholder for a variety of progressive arguments about liberal democracy, social democracy and a specific version of egalitarianism. These definitions of public education tend to focus on its importance for democracy; that is, a belief that inclusive access necessarily strengthens the demos. Within these powerful logics of sense, critiques tend to focus on commercialisation as containing threats to democracy: for example Harvey’s (2005) term the ‘accumulation by dispossession’. This accumulation of dispossession occurs in two ways, first when any public good is turned to private profit (commercialisation), and second when a few profit from unequal provision of what ought to be an equally available public good (elite schooling). However, as we have stated above, the problem with this line of thinking is that it is precisely the values of equity, quality and inclusivity that are central to the claims of commercialisation. One thinks here, for example, of Pearson’s for-profit schools in Africa. In searching for new ways to think through this problem, we turn to Deleuze and Guattari’s line of critique that does not begin with values (e.g. democracy). The problem with thinking public education through its apparent or ideal values is that this becomes a circular argument, what is valued is what is taught and what is taught, is what is valued. Thus, the commonly held argument that public education is a democratic good elides the fact that it serves a particular economic structure that it replicates through the values that are inscribed. In other words, if the highest value of thought is to create a new way of thinking, when public education remains a mask for modes of capitalist individuation and cognition, we remove a possibility of thinking otherwise and indeed perpetuate the logics that commercialisation requires to reconfigure public education.

Our presentation will be divided into three main parts. I will begin by providing a brief outline of commercialisation in education and why this constitutes the most pressing challenge to public education today. I will then draw on Deleuze and Guattari’s final collaborative book, What is philosophy?, to consider their argument as to how commercialisation affects the conditions for thought; that is, the relation between commercialisation and the limitation of the concept. Greg will then consider the relation between thought and the State; a relation that is analysed at length in Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. We will conclude by problematizing the prevailing understanding of public education as a moral endeavour: it is not a matter of public versus private but rather rethinking public education as pedagogic practice rather than concern with funding.

Commercialisation and computerisation: A brief history of teaching machines

If we are posing commercialisation as central to the problem of public education, then we must begin by asking: When did public school systems first invite commercialisation? And what was the problem for which commercialisation was presented as a solution?

The commercialisation of education has a long history. An early example would be the provision of text books by private publishers. Commercialisation has only become a pressing and highly politicised issue recently because it has intensified greatly and changed in nature due to the computerisation of teaching and assessment. We are seeing the creation and spread of teaching machines that dramatically affect education policy and practice, however, teaching machines have a long history in schooling.

The earliest patent of an educational invention was registered in 1809 for a method of teaching reading. By 1936, there were nearly 700 devices patented for educational uses (see Mellan, 1936). Yet only a few of these meet the criteria specified in the earlier definition. Most fall short on one or more dimensions. For example, George Altman’s apparatus for teaching arithmetic, patented in 1897, was self-controlling, provided a means for the learner to respond, and provided feedback about the correctness of the response. (Benjamin, 1988, p.704)

Furthermore, banks and other commercial organisations have long sponsored education programs as a means to build brand loyalty and capture consumers (e.g. Dolomites). And the introduction of computers into schools, as with many other institutions, production systems and areas of everyday life, created new opportunities for commercial interests in public education following the Second World War. Apple introduced computers into schools in the 1970s and others followed, leading to schools having to make a choice between operating systems from the 1980s onwards. The point is that there is nothing new about commercial interest in public education. However, it appears that there is an intensification of the surplus value that can be extracted through public education, and the scale of mobilisation to extract that surplus value is changing the public education assemblage, the purpose of this assemblage and the various de- and re-territorialisations effected.

For example, companies such as Pearson are reworking their business models to move from a focus on publishing to a focus on measuring learning outcomes, analysing education data and developing adaptive learning programs? Edu-business are also now actively opening for-profit schools, English language centres and proliferating the provision of other assessment services. We are seeing a shift from selling education inputs (textbooks) to using expertise/technology to measure performance, personalise learning and shape policy debates. Furthermore, in these reconfigure public education assemblages, profit can become the reason for public education as evidenced by charter, and free schools in various contexts.

Teachers’ unions around the world, led by Educational International, are now acting in a concerted way to oppose and resist these new modes of commercialisation. Opportunities for, and the profitability of, commercialisation in education are speeding up dramatically with the computerisation of learning. But there is another more complex answer that can be drawn from the work of Deleuze and Guattari.

Deleuze and Guattari: Commercialising the concept

Critics of commercialisation, such as teachers unions, argue that it undermines the quality and equity of educational outcomes for students. Arguments tend to focus on: (a) the reconfiguration of the purposes of education; (b) unequal patterns of access to education based on capacity to pay; and (c) worsening outcomes for those who cannot access premium services and products. But there are challenges for this position, for example the provision of for-profit education in circumstances where public education is not available. If FPE could provide better educational outcomes for students that would not have access to education otherwise, then arguments about equity and equality become difficult to sustain. While arguments about the purpose of education may retain their force in these cases, arguments concerning the relation between profit and equity may lose their traction.

Critiques of commercialisation tend to focus on the social relations of education (purposes and access), but do not directly address the question of how commercialisation affects thought and learning. It is unclear in the position above whether commercialisation remains suspect if it was accessible to all (subsidization) and produced excellent outcomes. The problem with basing arguments against the commercialisation of education on a notion of the public good or questions of access is that it cedes the ground on intellectual rigor. If commercial organisations can demonstrate better learning outcomes from their products and services, or that these products and services can be provided in a way that contributes to the public good, then proponents of public education are placed in the position of appearing to defend their own interests (jobs, salaries, conditions) rather than the importance of learning and thought as a collective project.

Deleuze and Guattari provide a different conceptualisation of this problem (that privatisation of commercialisation is and, rather than focusing on the practice of education, that the problem is money rather than learning). In other words, the question is not who funds or profits from education but rather whether the practice of education of education can intensify thought, and result in substantive learning. This problematisation does not begin from a moral position, but rather an argument concerning the relation between capital, understood in this context as marketing, advertising, professional training etc and the concept. In the Introduction to What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari (1994) provide a brief history of the concept, from its origin in Greek philosophy to recent challenges to philosophy from the human sciences that seek to transform concepts into the collective representations of different peoples. The most recent period in this history is singled out by Deleuze and Guattari for sharp critique:

Finally, the most shameful moment came when computer science, marketing, design, and advertising, all the disciplines of communication, seized hold of the word concept itself and said: “This is our concern, we are the creative ones, we are the ideas men!” … Marketing has preserved the idea of a certain relationship between the concept and the event. But here the concept has become the set of product displays … and the event has become the exhibition that sets up various displays and the “exchange of ideas” it is supposed to promote.

What is central here for Deleuze and Guattari is that commercial training focused on the communicating information, which they see as an ‘absolute disaster for thought whatever its benefits might be, of course, from the viewpoint of universal capitalism’ (p. 12). Deleuze and Guattari juxtapose communication with creation: a conception of pedagogy as a violent and unpredictable process of learning as the production of concepts and subjects (see Biesta 2006). Of course, this mode of pedagogy simply cannot be packaged up as a standardised educational service.

The question that emerges here is: How does commercialisation affect the conditions of possibility for thought? For Deleuze and Guattari the commercialised relation between the concept and the event is an impoverished one. What is of utmost importance is raising thought to its highest creative power. We can see the importance of this emphasis in Frederic Jameson’s observation that it has become more difficult to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. From this perspective, the creative force of thought is both jeopardised by, and is perhaps the only remedy to, the banal communication of information for profit.

Deleuze was very critical of information and communication, or at least communication based on common sense. To explain and justify this critical position, it is necessary to briefly rehearse the central claims of Deleuze’s ontology. Like many of his contemporaries, Deleuze can be understood as a philosopher of difference for whom being is understood as becoming in a world of pure immanence. For Deleuze, the world is an immanent or ‘flat’ multiplicity of series in which there are no original models, in which another essential, secret world is not to be found behind appearances or simulacra. The question of models and copies thus occupies an important position in Deleuze’s ontology. Deleuze (1994) argues that the formal and moral distinction between models and copies that is dramatized in Plato subordinates difference to identity. Our debates about public schooling conceal a specific genesis of each public school as a ‘fallen’ copy of the ideal form. Each public school it is supposed, both as a concrete entity that ‘works’ and as a trope for political debates, in some way borrows legitimacy from its simulation of the idealised form. In this, the public school is [insert quote here about de jure].

Thus, the public school borrows much of its authorisations, and indeed signifying systems from a perceived relationship to an ideal public school. This ideal public school is an aspirant; it contains all that is ‘good’ and ‘desirable’ about education itself. Of course, this only works if we ignore the devastating critiques of the public school (remembering that they were not talking about private education) advanced by Foucault etc. The good and desirable are insigned in many ways, in the articulation of the school as the key institution of liberal democracy (forgetting that much of the theory that defenders of public education work with is revolutionary in nature, wanting to disrupt liberal democracy), in its virtue as an inclusive institution, in its egalitarianism, ignoring the fact, of course, that in a classed system where schools serve communities vastly different in terms of material resources, this appears to be a context dependent claim.

However, as Deleuze reminds us, the Platonism inherent in this articulation is flawed, both in that the recourse to an ideal form is a non-sense, and in that misunderstanding of the temporal, it falls victim to repetition, affirmative change is not possible while we see the public school as descended from, and in lineage to, an ideal form. This extends the critique of commercialisation from questions of purpose and access to questions of whether what is accessed can even by substantively considered ‘learning’. However, Deleuze and Guattari are also critical of the State, arguing that it provides a model of thought that also inhibits learning in the strong sense of this term. Does public education, the provision of education by the State, provide a creative alternative to the communication of commercial training? 

Deleuze and Guattari: Thought and the state model 

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari advance a theorisation that one of the reasons that capitalism is so effective, so successful, so ubiquitous, is the way that it organises, produces and encourages thinking and centres of thinking that are essentially repetition. In particular, this is affected first, through the relation between the State and the image of thinking that ‘passes’, is acceptable and second, through the ways that this dogmatic image provides a surface for various capitalist (and often schizophrenic) schizzes. Thus, public education has essentially become State education, a dogmatic image of thinking about both ‘the public’ and ‘education’ that is becoming colonised by a specific desire to commercialise because that dogmatic vision stresses a specific moral vision. However, as Deleuze and Guattari remind us, capitalism (or commercialisation in this context) is essentially axiomatic:

Not only, as Hegel said, does every State imply “the essential moments of its existence as a State,” but there is a unique moment, in the sense of a coupling of forces, and this moment of the State is capture, bond, knot, nexum, magical capture. Must we speak of a second pole, which would operate instead by pact and contract? Is this not instead that other force, with capture as the unique moment of coupling? For the two forces are the overcoding of coded flows, and the treatment of decoded flows. The contract is a juridical expression of the second aspect: it appears as the proceeding of subjectification, the outcome of which is subjection. (…)The extreme perversion of the contract, reinstating the purest of knots. The knot, bond, capture, thus travel a long history: first, the objective, imperial collective bond; then all of the forms of subjective personal bonds; finally, the Subject that binds itself, and in so doing renews the most magical operation… The State is assuredly not the locus of liberty, nor the agent of a forced servitude or war capture. (…) There is a machinic enslavement, about which it could be said in each case that it presupposes itself, that it appears as preaccomplished; this machinic enslavement is no more “voluntary” than it is “forced”. (A Thousand Plateaus, p. 460)

One of the reasons that public education is becoming commercialised is because of the project of public education itself! The challenge then, if we decide that public education must be defended, is to push public education to become ‘ambulant’, that is, as institutions that rediscover the movement of the metallurgist, neither of the space of the nomad nor of the striation of the State. And this is the challenge, if we consider the governance of public education as ‘fixing’ movement within the walls of the governed town (thinking here for example of national teaching standards, curriculums and assessments), then engagement with the wildlands necessarily involves a new image of thought, a wilding if you like. Without it, we may as well accept that commercialisation is becoming-public education, and forget our strange, romantic nostalgia for some idealised, value of public education.

Thought contents are sometimes criticized for being too conformist. But the primary question is that of form itself. Thought as such is already in conformity with a model that it borrows from the State apparatus, and which defines for it goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon. There is thus an image of thought covering all of thought; it is the special object of “noology” and is like the State-form developed in thought.This image has two heads, corresponding to the two poles of sovereignty: the imperium of true thinking operating by magical capture, seizure or binding, constituting the efficacy of a foundation {mythos); a republic of free spirits proceeding by pact or contract, constituting a legislative and juridical organization, carrying the sanction of a ground (logos). These two heads are in constant interference in the classical image of thought: a “republic of free spirits whose prince would be the idea of the Supreme Being.” And if these two heads are in interference, it is not only because there are many intermediaries and transitions between them, and because the first prepares the way for the second and the second uses and retains the first, but also because, antithetical and complementary, they are necessary to one another. pp.374-375


We never really finalised the conclusion. We will do, one day.

It is easy to see what thought gains from this: a gravity it would never have on its own, a center that makes everything, including the State, appear to exist by its own efficacy or on its own sanction. But the State gains just as much. Indeed, by developing in thought in this way the State-form gains something essential: a whole consensus. Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right, of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality. p.375


On failure

In my last post, I focused on an ongoing debate about obscurantism that is occurring in regards to academic writing. In it I said I wanted to talk about writing obscure work in regards to a specific paper and explain the thought process and why, ultimately I think it failed on its own terms. In 2013 I published in Studies in Philosophy of Education a paper (co-written with Ian Cook) called Mapping Teacher-Faces. The first point I would suggest is that this is a highly specialised journal, catering for a very specific readership. As the abstract suggests,

This paper uses Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of faciality to analyse the teacher’s face. According to Deleuze and Guattari, the teacher-face is a special type of face because it is an ‘overcoded’ face produced in specific landscapes.

Now this may appear pretty obscure stuff, and I do wince a little when I read that. Obviously in the paper  we define these terms, and apply them to what we see as a problem with much of our discourse about education, namely what do we mean by change, an implicit assumption in much of the school reform impetus that seems pretty ubiquitous in the contemporary moment.

The paper emerged from an empirical problem that arose from some research I was doing into NAPLAN, Australia’s literacy and numeracy tests. In a large survey of teachers that asked them about NAPLAN, focusing on positive and negatives, impacts on their teaching and school, there was a certain ‘regularity’ to the responses. Now, in terms of the responses they could be described as being roughly 80% negative about NAPLAN and 20% positive. This may or may not be surprising, at the time NAPLAN was very much in the news. However, with the exception of the 80/20 division, the responses were remarkably regular. How is it that a survey of almost 1,000 teachers records similarities, not just in terms of content (it may be expected that teachers like/dislike similar things) but in terms of phrasing, tone etc? Presumably experience is uniquely perceived, how is it that language becomes regulated in this case? The argument that we develop in the paper is that institutions, and the histories that saturate those institutions, act as a form of authority as to what is possible to be said.

I suppose I should say that I am deeply interested in what constitutes change, particularly within institutions. In other words, how do we ‘know’ change when we see it? What are the essential ingredients or characteristics that show that there has been a decisive rupture with what has occurred previously? Or what is new? Why should we desire this difference, presumably change is not inherently positive. I have been thinking about these questions since my UG Honours degree in History and Literature from UWA, where I spent years thinking about change and continuity in the context of history, and how often what we understand as the new can be thought of as a return of the old. My thesis was on fascism and Nazism, and its constitution as a new-old movement deeply rooted in mythologised notions of volk, blood, leadership.


But I digress.

My point was that defining ‘newness’ or ‘difference’ is not as easy as we think. I think this is a particular problem for education discourse, the appeal of ‘the new’ is seductive, and it is used in a variety of ways with one of the most obvious being a certain commodification – if you can convince people that something is new, it is much easier to sell. Often I think we don’t really want something new, rather we want something comfortably similar, and their may be good reasons for this.

For me, the most interesting philosopher of the new is Gilles Deleuze. In his book Difference and Repetition, a book Deleuze himself said is “full of academic elements, it’s heavy going”, Deleuze grappled with what he called simulacrum,  that is, those things that appear to be different/new but are really repetitions. In the end, his argument was that the only difference that is new, that is difference in itself, is thought. This has been something I’ve been thinking through for years.

There is much talk around in education these days about change, as a society we appear to have a fetish for innovation, and social media appears full of exhortations for teachers to change. Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to this, but I often find myself asking what is really different in what is being proposed.

The implications for teachers are complex, as Graham Nuthall maintained. Teaching is inherently a rhythmic, traditional repetition of patterns and memories, passed down through experience.

One of the most significant things about culture is that it becomes so much a part of ourselves that we can no longer see it for what it is. The more familiar it is, the more it is like the air we breathe the harder it is for us to see it.

School teaching is like that. We all spend at least 10 of the most formative years of our life in school. We all become, through this common experience, experts in what it means to be a teacher and a student. As we often jokingly complain, everyone is an expert on schooling.

I have been involved in research on teaching and learning in classrooms for about 40 years, and it has taken that long for me to understand just how much of what we do in schools is a matter of cultural tradition…

But to get back to the paper, it was an attempt to think through why it is so difficult for teaching to change, to become different, rooted as it is in a normative expression of culture that continue to suggest that the teacher should do this, say this, act like this. It tried to theorise the limit points of disposition, of the extreme historical philosophies that could be held and still claimed to be doing teaching. It was enormously fun and challenging to write. It went through 6 reviewers, because each time there was a split decision, one reviewer loved it and one reviewer thought it was absolute pants. At the time I thought this was a sign that it was cutting edge, a testament to its innovation.

But ultimately, the paper has been a failure thus far because it has attracted little interest. I think there are three reasons possible for this:

  1. It is too obscure. Reading back through it now the paper seems a bit smugly convinced of its own cleverness, and as such fails the test of audience. No one really reads it because it is written for itself.
  2. I think good theoretical work is where ideas and contemporary problems meet such that a conceptual contribution can be made to debates. As I reflect on this now, I wonder how urgent the problem of the meeting of culture and teaching, the theorisation of difference and repetition, as subjectivity actually was. After all, as Deleuze said:

A theory is exactly like a box of tools… It must be useful. It must function. And not for itself. If no one uses it, beginning with the theoretician himself (who then ceases to be a theoretician), then the theory is worthless or the moment is inappropriate… It is strange that it was Proust, an author thought to be a pure intellectual, who said it so clearly: treat my book as a pair of glasses directed to the outside; if they don’t suit you, find another pair; I leave it to you to find your own instrument, which is necessarily an investment for combat.

3. It just might not be very good.

Ultimately, it is probably a combination of all three of these. On the one hand, if I had my time again, I sometimes wonder if I’d write this paper differently. It would be well discussed and cited, and I could bask in the glow of an academic done good. Utility and all that. But I probably wouldn’t. Ultimately academic writing shouldn’t be about popularity, it served a necessary purpose in thinking through a problem. And we can never know how ideas will be taken up, which work resonates, and why. There is no controlling readership I guess. Ultimately, I learnt a lot from the writing of this paper, perhaps some thoughts on what not to do in the future.