Deleuze on Wittgenstein: a ‘massive regression’ of all philosophy


L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze (recorded in 1988, first broadcast in 1996)

An abecedarium is a a means to learn the alphabet. It is also used to denote an A to Z of a certain subject. Such as David Toop‘s A to Z of Dub and A to Z of Electro, and Gilles Deleuze’s A to Z of his thought, as interviewed (for seven and a half hours) by Claire Parnet.

On W, Wittgenstein, Deleuze says:

« Pour moi c’est une catastrophe philosophique […] c’est une régression massive de toute la philosophie […] S’ils l’emportent, alors là il y aura un assassinat de la philosophie s’ils l’emportent. C’est des assassins de la philosophie. Il faut une grande vigilance. »

In English:

« ‘a philosophical catastrophe’, a ‘massive regression’ of all philosophy »

Update: A summary to be found online says:

Parnet says, let’s move on to W, and Deleuze says, there’s nothing in W, and Parnet says, yes, there’s Wittgenstein. She knows he’s nothing for Deleuze, but it’s only a word. Deleuze says, he doesn’t like to talk about that… It’s a philosophical catastrophe. It’s the very type of a “school”, a regression of all philosophy, a massive regression. Deleuze considers the Wittgenstein matter to be quite sad. They imposed <ils ont foutu> a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty introduced as grandeur. Deleuze says there isn’t a word to express this kind of danger, but that this danger is one that recurs, that it’s not the first time that it has arrived. It’s serious especially since he considers the Wittgensteinians to be nasty <méchants> and destructive <ils cassent tout>. So in this, there could be an assassination of philosophy, Deleuze says, they are assassins of philosophy, and because of that, one must remain very vigilant. <Deleuze laughs>

11 thoughts on “Deleuze on Wittgenstein: a ‘massive regression’ of all philosophy

  1. Pingback: L’abécédaire de Deleuze « Jahsonic

  2. jahsonic


    I agree that from this particular excerpt, nothing concrete is mentioned. I am not enough of a Deleuze connoisseur to point to other bibliographical references.

    It must probably also be remarked that if Deleuze chooses Wittgenstein for W, Wittgenstein must have been of importance to D.


  3. lichanos

    I sort of agree with his assessment, but I know nothing of Deleuze. Thanks for the post – I find his language hilarious. I used to refer to W and his friends as The Running Dog Lackeys of the Empiricist Scourge, and I though I was being bombastic.

    They imposed [ils ont foutu] a system of terror in which, under the pretext of doing something new, it’s poverty introduced as grandeur.

    See, not THIS is absolutely true of so much of the analytical school, the “poverty as grandeur” part. But for this man to throw around the word “terror” so lightly, as do other francophone philosphers, I wonder, do they know what terror can mean?

    They remind me of my children who, when I express my displeasure with something they have said or done, even though I keep a steady tone and don’t raise my voice, say, “Don’t YELL at me!” Sometimes I reply, “You don’t know what it means to be yelled at…”

  4. jahsonic

    I’m a sucker for French philosophy, and I am not a philosophy major. It is true that they like to use heavy words.

    My favorite quote on terror is by my French philosopher (not my favorite: those are Deleuze, Bataille and Debord off the top of my hat):

    “Terror is as much a part of the concept of truth as runniness is of the concept of jam. We wouldn’t like jam if it didn’t, by its very nature, ooze. We wouldn’t like truth if it wasn’t sticky, if, from time to time, it didn’t ooze blood.” –Jean Baudrillard

    Thanks for your generous comments;

    Have you read Colin Wilson on Wittgenstein in The Misfits? Very enlightening on the aspect of Wittgenstein’s philosophy and his sexuality. It throws new light on W.’s iconic phrase “What can be said at all can be said clearly; and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”

    Wilson links Wittgenstein’s homosexuality with his reluctance to speak about his own uncertainties and doubts.

    I quote:

    “Bartley’s comment [on Wittgenstein’s homosexuality] help us to understand Wittgenstein’s attitude to philosophy. Wittgenstein possessed the disposition that is often found in saints and ascetics: a powerful craving for meaning and purpose, and immense self-disgust at his own failure to find them. […] It was this sense of failure, of living on the brink of an abyss, that produced in Wittgenstein the craving for certainty that led him to create the philosophical system of the Tractatus.”


  5. lichanos

    I’m not a serious student of French philosophy, but I am a sucker for that sort of language too. I still am not quite sure why…I loved Everyday Life in the Modern World with its society of terroristist bureaucratic consumption, or whatever…

    I have not read Wilson on W, but I TOTALLY agree with the sense of that quotation. I commented similarly in my post “Wittgenstein, Phoney?”

  6. Naklov

    Do not merge spoken language and oral language.
    Moreover, the principle of this video is based on a personal interview of Deleuze with a friend.
    So, he can speak naturally, without making amazing sentences…
    That becomes a drift to think that we have to think with imcomprehensive
    It is a very stuck-up attitude
    I think that it is good thing that he speak like this It contrasts with the old image of the philosopher which is in gap with real life

    Excuse my french, I’m french^^ I probably make some grammatical errors

  7. jahsonic

    Do not merge spoken language and oral language.

    I get your point, the spoken language is the origin of all language.

    The old image of the philosopher which is in gap with real life

    Everything Deleuze is not to my mind.

    Welcome to the blog!

  8. naklov

    I answers little late, sorry
    Thank you for the reception, but it is true that it doesn’t improve the image of the philosopher. We can make philosophy with all which surround us.
    The philosophy for me doesn’t live in the benches of the faculty, but by the experience, the practice.
    It is even the origin of the philosophy in a sense: Socrates walked in the street and questioned everybody, he did not adopt an conceited attitude

    PS:I do not know why Deleuze hates Wittgenstein, moreover, I did not read Wittgenstein, just a few excerpts of Deleuze book’s (I love especially the Stoics and Kant) but don’t think that Deleuze is a sub-philosopher, obviously he’s not equal to Heidegger or to Spinoza, but he knows about what he speaks.
    Just notice that these videos are personnal videos that he agreed to make to enjoy itself, it is not a support of the thought of Deleuze.
    Contrary to a Bernard Henri Levy ( a false philosopher), Deleuze is not a man which is only interrested to appear in the media, he was very discreet in his lifetime.

    Sorry for the several mistakes that I made, I don’t write very well in english…

  9. K H Brown

    Are Deleuze’s remarks directed at the Tractatus Wittgenstein, the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein, or both?

    Whatever else he did, Wittgenstein’s philosophies at least had that aspect of becoming to them, that he established one system and then repudiated it.

    Is it that the later Wittgenstein looked to ordinary language / language games, whereas Deleuze didn’t like ordinary language / concepts because they limit thought?

  10. Marc

    The entire film is now available subtitled from Semiotext[e], and I’ve been watching and enjoying it. Coming across this online exchange here, I must add in, despite being two years after the fact, that one of the amazing things about the film is how down-to-earth and accessible Deleuze is here. To add to the clarification made above to the first responder’s comment, Deleuze didn’t choose the topics, his friend and former student, Claire Parnet did; he probably would have preferred not to talk about Wittgenstein at all, but the alphabet had to be filled out. It is one of the briefest of the letters they cover (“Culture” for C, on the other hand, much lengthier). It is, though (along with Deleuze’s discourse on tennis and admitting his appreciation of Benny Hill), one of the more enjoyable moments in the almost 8 hours of film. (To add to what Naklov says above: it is so refreshing to listen to someone like Deleuze speak naturally, in conversation, rather than in an “official” status, from a dais; and refreshing to listen to him expressing his “terror” of “cultured people” and “intellectuals” who seem to have endless reserves of knowledge.)

    Regarding the comments above on questioning what the French could know about terror and their light-handed use of the word (and the, let’s be frank, insulting comparison between French philosophers and children): I speak as an American, and I think no one could be better accused of this than the Americans, today more than ever, where we have appointed leaders spreading fear about “terror babies” and secular portrayals of Muslims. The French are coming from a 20th-century history that I suspect I as an American will never completely be able to understand, even with my “trump card” of 9/11: I was struck by a recent interview with Virilio in which he made it clear that his experience growing up in WWII, being “occupied” and the idea that neighbors could be threats and that the notion of the fifth column was part of everyday life, with German bunkers on your beaches, etc., has played a great role in shaping his thinking and philosophy. Baudrillard can indeed be accused of flippant attitudes and needless provocation in his language; he is an exception, though: this notion of French philosophers as some gaggle of arrogant inexperienced kids, which is kind of widespread, is one I’ve grown to object to. I am emerging from this lengthy film with an understanding of how someone loves philosophy, and engages in it to improve the world, if only through a reduction of, or a “resistance to” the stupidity ruling it (as Deleuze more or less puts it at one point in the film). He spends a section of it insisting that philosophical concepts are not abstractions, but concrete things, very much a part of the real world.

  11. ariadne69

    Speaking of late…but I could not resist. listening to the abecedary I could not help wonder why Deleuze was so categorical towards the Wittgenstein heritage (and Wittgenstein himself?) as I have the foggiest notions on Wittgenstein. so I looked him up, what was his work about. And I think the key of Deleuze ire is in the lettre H of the abecedary: History of philosophy. Deleuze is speaking about his writings on philosophers and said that the error is to consider philosophy as abstract: philosophical concepts are invented in response to specific concrete problems. But the problem need some work to be identified. historical work. he goes on to develop Platon and his Idea. since Wittgenstein dismisses metaphysical philosophy as abstract and false because using language that is not grounded in everyday life, Deleuze’s aversion makes more sense. to me at least.

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