via fuZZYface (Linda Stewart)

The possibility of thinking law as thinking life

Deleuze in a conversation with Foucault, suggested that a new relationship between theory and practice is emerging. Deleuze explains the relationship between theory and practice was considered to be a process of totalisation where practice was either perceived as the application of theory or practice inspired the development of theory to oppose practice. Colebrook elaborates on the relationship between theory and practice in the context of law. Law is grounded in the ‘terror of the signifier’ and is still very much subjugated to the linguistic paradigm. This means that law assumes that life is ‘necessarily experienced as mediated or constituted through a symbolic system of language’. She argues that theory relates to law, because theory assumes that ‘there must be some lawful process through which such a world is constituted’ insofar ‘as we experience a world as having a certain being that is other than ourselves’.

Braidotti, Colebrook and Hanafin, suggest the idea of thinking life which entails thinking law with Deleuze. Thinking law with Deleuze, requires that one do away with the perception that theory and practice are separate and contradictory and that language mediates lived experiences. Colebrook explains that Deleuze rejects the idea of theory as ‘the capacity to consider conditions for the possibility of experience and knowledge, with an accompanying move to a transcendental position of critique where one would always place claims to the universal beyond experience’. In the context of law as the ghastly terror of the signifier, thinking law as thinking life demands thinking beyond current knowledge apparatus (as delimited by our discursive conditions), and resisting the conditions already established by it.

Deleuze as a Spinozist, proposes the idea as a way of thinking, that trigger thought about the potentialities presented in the virtual. Thinking intensively implies creating concepts in philosophy, functions in science and affects in art. One has to move beyond the idea that thinking law is contained to that which is conceptually possible and one has to surpass the notion that law demands institutionalisation and a certain language. Colebrook proposes that one needs to investigate how concepts are created and ‘what reality must be if something like societies of law and lawful relations have evolved’.

Intensive thinking therefore requires that one think about a process or an event as occurring simultaneously in the actual (historical) and the virtual (a-historical) while acknowledging that pure events or becomings is not only those events that has been actualised in history.[1] The aim of the creation of new concepts in thinking law, may open up questions whether a particular concept works, and whether it unlocks a series of possibilities in a given situation.

Deleuze and Guattari’s radical philosophy of immanence therefore, presents one with tools to think law as thinking life itself and do jurisprudence focussing on the interest of material bodies rather than the abstract formless subject of law. It entails doing way with the Oedipal fiction, the idea that we are subjected to the law.

Deleuze in his course on Rousseau, explains that one enter into the social contract only with one self and not with the sovereign. He argues that we know how to legislate but we don’t know what to legislate. In the course Deleuze proposes that instead of focussing on organising our relations with others, we should focus on organising our relations with things. This can be read to suggests that one needs to organise our collective ways of acting and being acted upon insofar an arrangement is triggered by power where it is in our interest to change current established ways of doing. For Deleuze, as a proponent of immanence, genesis and emergence, theory, thus entails the overcoming of our situated and assumed opinions of the human, the lived and the subject in favour of real conditions. This implies that we don’t talk about the world from an anthropocentric viewpoint in terms of what the world ought to be but perceive the world through empty time. Braidotti, asserts that thinking life therefore, entails a post-anthropocentric approach where life itself ‘is analysed by way of focussing on processes and interconnections in an attempt to broadening the sense of community’.

Deleuze presents one with tools or ways to empirically investigate both the actual and the virtual. In conceptualising theory and practice through pure (empty) time and space, we can think about the potentialities presented by the coming together of different forces in a particular relation focussing on the event. Colebrook gives the example of how the concept of the subject may be thought beyond the actual. Instead of only enquiring what is presented in a given particular situation, in other words, ‘all the beings we might generalise as subjects’, thought should be extended to the virtual possibilities of a particular situation, in other words ‘what might a subject be?’

Therefore, thinking life in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s radical philosophy of immanence may present one with the possibility to think law as a hybrid of styles of thinking philosophy, science and art.[2] It implies that in the context of thinking law, theory becomes the invention of concepts, functions and affects that opens the possibility to distinguish between the surfacing and production of lawfulness, ‘a lawfulness that goes beyond human institutions, beyond concepts and ideal categories and beyond the world as it is given actually in chronological time’. Such a way of thinking moves one to think beyond identity and opens the possibility to think about the complex ways in which our capacity to affect and to be affected are produced by an event.

When thinking law in terms of immanence, one is called to think about the law ‘as it is’, instead of thinking about the law, as it ‘ought to be’. In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze remarks that justice is the law and the law is what the law is. This opens the possibility to think justice as a concept, function and affect with a plurality of meanings when arrangements of power are triggered, allowing one to call an established position into question. It implies the overcoming of current knowledge apparatus where habit and memory serves to fuel justice with resentment and false consciousness (the idea that one is necessarily guilty). It calls for a politics of the affirmation of the multiplicity.

I would suggests that the affirmation of the multiplicity is possible when one disengages with law in the form of prohibitions and start actively engaging with law in terms of Spinoza’s ethics. By thinking law as thinking life one injects the possibility of transforming actual fields or assemblages, to produce change in our current established knowledge apparatus. Escaping into the plane of immanence empowers one to surpass false consciousness and morality. It liberates doxa through knowledge (in terms of understanding). It forces one to move beyond perceiving the self as enemy fixated by the image of death. It entails the affirmation of one’s capacity to act and the potentiality endowed in that. It moves one to see the irrelevance in prohibition and the importance of preserving the many multifaceted parts that form relations with the body self and the body and another. Most liberating of all is the idea that thinking law as thinking life opens up thinking law to become other than it presently is.


[1] As Patton explains, the actual (the plane of organisation) is ‘where history unfolds through processes of relative deterritorialisation and transformation or metamorphosis of existing institutions, forms of life and subjectivity, along with processes of reterritorialisation, capture, or blockage of such transformative processes’. The virtual (the plane of immanence) is where ‘we encounter abstract machines, pure events and becoming-imperceptible’.

[2] For example, law proceeds from philosophical concepts such as rights and justice but it also engages in scientific thinking for example posing questions as to what constitutes conditions where live is no longer liveable. Changes in established positions (ways of acting and being acted upon) furthermore produce affects.


  • Braidotti Rosi, Claire Colebrook and Patrick Hanafin (2009) ‘Introduction’ in Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook and Patrick Hanafin eds., Deleuze and Law, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 1-3.
  • Braidotti, Rosi ‘Locating Deleuze’s Ec-Philosophy between Bio/Zoe-Power and necro-politics’ (2009) in Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook and Patrick Hanafin eds., Deleuze and Law, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 96-116.
  • Colebrook, Claire (2009) ‘Legal theory after Deleuze’ in Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook and Patrick Hanafin eds., Deleuze and Law, New York: Palgrave Macmillan 7-8.
  • Deleuze, Gilles (1988) Spinoza: Practical Philosophy trans. Robert Hurley,San Francisco: City Lights Books.
  • Deleuze, Gilles (1994) Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (1994) What is Philosophy?, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (2000) Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, and Helen R. Lane Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari (2005) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Deleuze Gilles (2014) Course on Rousseau – Sorbonne 1959-1960, trans. Arjen Kleinherenbrink Radboud: University Nijmegen.
  • Foucault, Michel and Gilles Deleuze (1977) ‘Intellectuals and power: A conversation between Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze’ in Donald F. Bouchard ed., Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: selected essays and interviews by Michel Foucault, Ithaca: Cornell Paperbacks originally recorded 4 March 1972 and published in L’Arc 49 33.
  • Lefebvre, Alexandre (2012) ‘Human Rights in Deleuze and Bergson’s Later Philosophy’, in Desutter, Laurent and Kyle McGee eds., Deleuze and Law, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 48-68.
  • Patton, Paul (2012) ‘Immanence, Transcendence, and the Creation of Rights’. in Desutter, Laurent and Kyle McGee eds., Deleuze and Law, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 1-14.

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