Posthumous: 26 Letters to Deleuze

In three sessions between winter 1988 and spring 1989, philosopher Gilles Deleuze, sitting in his living room, answered questions posed by a television crew. The principle was as simple as it was sophisticated. The topics he was confronted with followed the letters of the alphabet—from “A as in Animal” to “Z as in Zigzag.” Via these twenty-six letters, Deleuze revisited and reformulated a variety of his philosophical concepts. To avoid zig-zagging in his discourse, Deleuze received the list of topics beforehand and worked assiduously on the answers he then extemporised during the recordings. It’s the arbitrary form of the alphabet and Deleuze’s way of talking that makes the Abécédaire so fascinating for me: Deleuze offers an incredibly generous, enlightening, witty, and, yes, instructive insight into his philosophical oeuvre—and despite the alleged formality of the alphabetical order, Deleuze does philosophy-on-the-go from A to Z. Now, close to the twentieth anniversary of Deleuze’s death by defenestration on 4 November 1995, I cannot help approaching Deleuze’s Abécédaire from a particular perspective: of the man who spoke to Claire Parnet and to the camera as a living ghost. I know that the room he was interviewed in was not the room from the window of which he leapt, but I can’t help being haunted by that feeling. There on this armchair sits a philosopher, already severely sick, who talks as if he was dead: “What saves me is the clause: all that will be used, if usable, only after my death. I speak from after my death.” I would have wished to sit next to him, to smuggle myself into this room and look at him over the shoulders of the others, to place myself between him and Claire Parnet, to roam around in the living room where they talk and try to take notes, or to hum a tune. Maybe the filmic inserts, the discursive captions, and the puns I put in-between Deleuze’s statements are my way of getting close to him, as if opening a window onto the world, giving way to my perspective of his world, becoming a mute spectator-interviewer who is too late to ask questions. A futile thought of mine, somehow totally inappropriate, but well . . . “The artist tears percepts out of perceptions,” as Deleuze says in “I as in Idea.” Sometimes, tearing out is the equal of smuggling in something else in-between. And this is the idea of me paring down Deleuze’s seven-and-half hours of dialogue to a sixty-minute found-footage movie. This project in becoming (yes, I haven’t used each letter of the Abécédaire, rather I have selected concepts I felt more familiar with from my own work) is addressed to Deleuze without address. My letters to Deleuze are directed toward him—in the direction of—visual postcards everyone can read. Dear Gilles . . .

At the very end of the chapter “Z as in Zig-Zag”—the last letter in the alphabet and the last take of the interview—when the camera has already veered off but is still rolling, Deleuze says off-camera, “Posthume, Posthume!” He says these words with an audible smile of vitality. A first version of the then two-and-a-half-hour video work has been developed and presented at EMPAC Troy/New York in March 2014 on the occasion of an artistic residence.