The Spectre of Immanence: Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault and Deleuze

Christian Gilliam

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis contributes to contemporary debates on the nature of immanence and transcendence in political philosophy by developing the political and micropolitical implications of a philosophical position committed fully to immanence. For many in the current debates who maintain that politics requires some notion of a political subject, philosophies of immanence are considered incapable of mounting an effective politics because they deny the antagonisms and ruptures considered necessary for such a subject. These perspectives often define immanence in terms of ‘complete inclusivity’ of differences, and often accuse it of eschewing emancipation and siding with some form of bourgeois ethics. Against these dismissals, this thesis argues that a philosophy of immanence is integral to the development of an alternative understanding of the political, one that re-orients our understanding of the self away from a still dominant reliance on an idea of the subject. It achieves this by conceiving of the Other or the Outside not (pace philosophies of transcendence) in terms of an absolute but never present fullness or lack, but instead as a disjunctive fold that goes beyond the opposition of interiority and exteriority in favour of the idea of intensity. In this way immanence becomes the ontological centre of a different type of emancipatory politics.

The thesis presents its argument by tracing out a lineage of immanence through the work of Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault and Deleuze. Together these thinkers present a ‘spectre of immanence’ that counters Slavoj Žižek’s proclamation of a ‘spectre of the [Cartesian] subject’ haunting contemporary thought. Proceeding this way, the study shows how a common thread of immanence unites these four thinkers, informs their relations to one another (in terms of what each one picks up and discards from his predecessors), and unifies them in a shared attempt to reconceptualise the terms by which the political is thought. In this way, the theme of immanence acts as the primary catalyst or dark precursor to their thought as a whole. Though presented as an evolutionary chronology in the sense that it outlines a series of progressive moves from Sartre to Deleuze, the lineage the thesis establishes also works by way of a number of productive misreadings each thinker makes of the others. In this respect, the lineage accords with Nietzsche's comparison of the thinker to an arrow shot by Nature, that another thinker picks up where it has fallen so that he can shoot it somewhere else: each arrow is taken up in part through a misunderstanding, or at least a strained understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Widder, Nathan, Supervisor
Award date1 May 2015
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015

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