On Daniel Coffeen, Rhetoric, Deleuze and Such

Daniel in his native habitat

[editors note:  Daniel was our guest on the Deleuze episode recently and will be posting a bit in our blog over the next couple of weeks]

Since I discovered Deleuze in grad school, he has pervaded in various ways my teaching, writing and thinking. My dissertation proffered a model of rhetoric and specifically the trope; its final chapter focused on Deleuze.

And so when I began teaching the Intro to Rhetoric at at UC Berkeley (where I also earned my doctorate), I delivered a highly Deleuzian view of rhetoric (even though we never read Deleuze in that course —an intro lecture is no place for Deleuze). The texts included Barthes' "Death of the Author," JL Austin's How To Do Things With Words, Nietzsche's "On Truth & Lie" and Plato's Phaedrus.  I taught that for the sophist a text is never right or wrong, true or false. It's our job as readers to maximize what's interesting in a text, to articulate its performance (not just what it says but how it says). This, alas, is how Deleuze and Guattari argue we should assess philosophical concepts: Not whether they are true but whether they are interesting, remarkable and important.

Here are my Berkeley Rhetoric lecture on iTunes U

Those podcasts put me in touch with various folks including PEL.  After our lively discussion about Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy?, I recorded a podcast just to get all my ideas and rants off my chest. It's about a 20 minute screed in which, in one great whoosh, I try to explain the book.

My podcast on Deleuze & Guattari's What is Philosophy? 

Another person I've virtually connected with is the writer Doug Lain on whose podcast, Diet Soap, I have appeared a few times, one of which was dedicated to Deleuze.

Me on the Diet Soap podcast talking about Deleuze

When my rhetoric lectures were podcast I discovered a wide world of interested and interesting people. So I left teaching — mostly for financial reasons — knowing that I could still interact with people via the web. I blog about philosophy, film, books, capitalism, tequila, whatever strikes my fancy. But what connects my writing is a rhetorical approach to life which, to me, is a relentlessly critical practice that operates at the juncture of ideas and life, of what it means to lead a life of the mind.

My blog, An Emphatic Umph






  1. Profile photo of Tammy says

    Hi Daniel – I will follow-up on you work, so thanks for sharing your links. I listened to an On Being podcast feat, Andrew Zola introducing “resilience thinking,” in a world of constant change. Zola mentions [paraphrasing] “We’re not in Kansas and we’re not in Oz.”—drawing on in-between place we seem to be stuck in, yet, attempting to move forward in life. (http://www.onbeing.org/program/a-shift-to-humility-andrew-zolli-on-resilience-and-expanding-the-edge-of-change/5501)

    Interestingly, Howard F. Stein’s article titled “HISTORICAL UNDERSTANDING AS SENSE
    OF HISTORY: A Psychoanalytic Inquiry” is the subject of history through the lens of theory of mind. Stein writes:

    “Why do we love our memories in this feverish, anxious way? A psychoanalyst might suggest that what we are doing as we flood ourselves with the bits and pieces of what we remember is to forget—to “repress”—the very earliest of our memories, which for so many of us are extremely painful. Anxious as they are, our memories are still substitutes for those we find literally unbearable (p. 1).

    At least two generations have grown up with George Santayana’s famed dictum that people who forget history are condemned to relive it. Yet somehow, schooled as we are in the recall of history, the formula for preventive medicine has failed to work. It would seem that historical memory is itself the problem. Our fateful amnesias are filled in with collective screen memories (recollection governed by retrospective falsification) by which we enshrine histories in order to enshroud the past. Forgetting—repression—is only one side of it. Literate and preliterate societies alike overlearn their official histories, those shared party lines, and official pieties which each generation wishes to ensure that the next generation never forgets. We remember the representations of our defense mechanisms, not the traumata and conflicts we seek to avoid.

    Our psychoanalytic reply to Santayana’s warning is that history is our collective way of agreeing not to remember the past but to replace it with a myth, a shared dreamwork about the past. One can hardly learn from a past in which one is immersed in the present. Thus James Joyce’s exclamation through the mouth of young Stephen Daedalus, “History is a nightmare from which I am struggling to awaken,” is the beginning of insight into what history is for: for him, a nightmare to recover from; for most, a cozening narcotic to dull the senses. One can safely advance the formula: we learn history so that we do not have to know the past, personal and group. As a consequence, in history there is an uncanny prescience of eternal sameness—one that, I hasten to add, one dare not tamper with. Everything changes, but nothing moves. Time stands still, affixed in the need for eternal return.”
    (Source: http://www.psych-culture.com/docs/stein_history.html)

    I’m also researching, K.O.L. Burridge author of “Mambu,” which is a historical investigation on Cargo movements in New Guinea, “Myth-dreams” of the indigenous people and how Burridge’s work influenced the 1960s Civil Rights movement in our academic institutions. Peter F. Drucker, notices similar themes re political correctness and American Academe, which is enabling a myth which I lean toward. (Source: Anthropological Forum. May99, Vol. 9 Issue 1, p99. 7p.)

    My question is, after working collaboratively with educators in specialized fields, when is it time to take a strong stand and speak out that something is amiss? Are our education systems being enablers of a broken system instead of being a solution by seeing a problem that perhaps they would rather ignore when it comes to injustice? I hear the term “victim” thrown around a lot but I question this too. I see it more as an injustice to our most vulnerable, which in my state is our youth.

  2. Profile photo of Tammy says

    Hi dmf – Regarding your comment about “always use more voices offering resistance and alternatives to the market-driven powers that be” and the YouTube link “Deleuze’s Postscript on the Societies of Control,” Merton discusses this in the book I linked. I think it is too extensive to write about in blog format without reading the book.

    As you have, recommend books to me on similar topics I return a recommend read to you on this topic, which is similar to Delueze and Stielger’s philosophies on Societies of Control. I’m not trying to be snotty, more I think it’s repetitive on my part.

    By way of contrast, in an attempt to be objective there is an essay by Peter F. Drucker I cited in my initial comment. I think Drucker makes some interesting observations re the state of American academia and the liberal arts looking back at the Stalinists’ appeal in the 1930s through an educational, political, and sociological framework.
    (Drucker, Peter F. “Political Correctness and American Academe.” Society 35.2 (1998): 380-385. SPORTDiscus.)

    • dmf says

      thanks I didn’t know that Merton had addressed hyper-capitalism (it wasn’t obvious from the book title) and look forward to seeing what he had to say about it before it metastasized into it’s current supercomputerized forms, would have been interesting if he had lived longer to see if he would have supported folks like Martin Luther King in taking a strong stand for human rights in the economic realm. Reminds me I have to read some Dorothy Day sometime, do you have any recommendations of books on her life’s work?

        • dmf says

          interesting lady but never really found her place in the lives of laborers and other oppressed peoples like Jane Addams and co. tried to do. Arendt is sort of on the edges of these worlds of activity and retreat.

          • Profile photo of Tammy says

            Are you kidding, dmf? Weil certainly did join in with the suffering of the oppressed and laborers, in my opinion, to the extreme. Meaning her practice of ascetics and re the roots of her faith and her decision too not convert to Catholicism (Sacrament of Baptism).

            Interestingly, there was another good podcast I listened to yesterday and oddly thought of Weil last week when I read your question, admittedly annoyed because of circumstantial things going on re education.

            Anyway, if you’re interested you can listen here: http://www.onbeing.org/program/a-call-to-doubt-and-faith-christian-wiman-on-remembering-god/4535

            Thanks for the links, etc., and again I will follow-up.

          • dmf says

            no not kidding she always strikes me as a neo-platonist, but will gladly give the podcast a listen thanks.

    • Profile photo of Tammy says

      Thank you, qapla. I really enjoy On Being because of the variety of topics . I think Trippett is doing a wonderful work and certainly has found her niche. Unfortunately, variety is hindering my intended focus – too much of a good thing sometimes isn’t. That’s a compliment to PEL and an observation about what I wish to work on (someday). I just so enjoyed Christian Wiman and agree life is so precious.

    • Profile photo of Tammy says

      Thank you very much, qapla, for the On Being podcast. Ironically, last summer given different lectures to attend (within my means) at Chautauqua, I felt (and still do) I should learn more about the Islam faith. I enjoyed listening to The History of Doubt from a philosophical and religious lens.

  3. Profile photo of Tammy says

    Well, as I sit here taking a break from yard work and listening to A History of Doubt I have to pause. My oldest son–now 17–whom I am careful to speak about because he is a young man who can share his views with persons he chooses (his privacy) really has been a prime influence in my life and growth as a person. However, I think what I will say is OK to say the following.

    It was this time years ago I was finishing a Religious Studies Certification to head a faith formation position for the Catholic diocese at our local parish. I was taking a Christology course and my son was finishing sixth grade. He loved sixth grade because he had an all male teaching team with the exception of the reading teacher. Since I have always had to keep open communication with my son’s teachers I spoke often with his science and history teacher because they were homeroom teachers and he was very influenced by these two young male teachers in particular. I will forever remember that sixth grade team and think very highly of them and their work with my son.

    Anyway, science and history were my son’s favorite topics and he would come home and speak about Alexander the Great (his history teacher’s icon). On the other hand, required reading for Christology was Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times by Joerg Rieger and as is the case with our kids they think their teachers know more than their parents. Of course, he was looking for male identity, which is the norm and healthy (detaching from the women in his life[myself, aunts, grandmother and great grandmother]).

    Looking back his history teacher probably thought I was making moves, but I was enjoying watching my son’s enthusiasm and his starting to think for himself. I wish we had more male teachers in middle school because I think our education system needs that balance for our young men. Sorry, anyway, I kept asking my son to take me JR book to his history teacher and his best friend did. I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. I did notice racism and antisemitism attitudes that very much concerned me in a rural school district both secular and in our Catholic parish.

    Doubt was never a problem for me growing up, and I didn’t have the perfect family but who the heck does? None of us if we’re honest. Some are more dysfunctional but with community most middle class families make it though and manage. But my parents did their best and my father always instilled in me respect for other people (African Americans) and religions. My mom was a cradle Catholic and more conservative, which was good because even amongst a messy divorce she instilled structure and the importance of family.

    All this to say, I guess doubt really had the biggest impact on me at this particular time in my life.

    • Profile photo of Tammy says

      To be fair, I will add if I would not have been exposed to academic religious study, specifically Understanding Scripture (Hebrew Bible), I don’t think I would have known to confront my own disrespect and antisemitism re people of other religious faith (verbally).

      Speaking with or friending people of different religious beliefs, non-beliefs, etc. was never a problem and welcomed it from my youth on. However, I have to say my favorite class was learning about the Hebrew Bible – really opened the Christian Bible – and making my religious faith my own vs. my parents.

      I haven’t read the Christian Bible for two years and I don’t know why.

  4. qapla says

    @ Tammy

    speaking of religions much in the spirit of Deleuze and difference this is an awesome book and great video if you want to watch it

    Stephen Prothero, “God is Not One,” interviewed by Sally Quinn

    Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University

    About the Program
    The bestselling author of “Religious Literacy,” presents why he believes each religious tradition has its own path to a distinct God, and that trying to blur the differences between religions may heighten political discord and hamper international relations. He explores the topic with Sally Quinn, co-creator of the Washington Post feature “On Faith.”

    watch video


    much respect

      • qapla says

        I guess “in the spirit of Deleuze” was the wrong choice of words.

        Deleuze is saying that different philosophers ask different questions and to solve a problem created by the philosopher they create a concept. (I’m over simplifying, I know he’s making a whole lot of other points)

        Prothero is saying that all of the worlds religions are not all the same and they are not all paths to the same God(s). He’s saying that they start with seeing the problem of the human situation very differently and so they come up with very different solutions.

        So why do we pretend that the world’s religious traditions are different paths to the same God? We blur the sharp distinctions between religions at our own peril, argues religion scholar Stephen Prothero, and it is time to replace naïve hopes of interreligious unity with deeper knowledge of religious differences.

        To claim that all religions are the same is to misunderstand that each attempts to solve a different human problem. For example:

        –Islam: the problem is pride / the solution is submission
        –Christianity: the problem is sin / the solution is salvation
        –Confucianism: the problem is chaos / the solution is social order
        –Buddhism: the problem is suffering / the solution is awakening
        –Judaism: the problem is exile / the solution is to return to God

        I brought up the book as Tammy mentioned religious studies. But one could probably skip the book and get the gist of his argument/point from the video.

        much respect

        • dmf says

          gotcha, I’ve read the book and had some exchanges over the years with Prothero, while it was a welcome antidote to the kind of unitarian theology posing as history/sociology authored by Huston Smith and co. (and proselytized by Tippett who wrongly conflates all things from religious views to physics into examples of her belief in the myth of the blindmen and the elephant), but wrongly assumes that there are such Things/Ideas/Traditions as “Christianity” or “Buddhism” that like some kind of agent/author do anything, let alone set and solve problems, this kind of reification/deification is part of what Deleuze and co. were working against. cheers

          • Profile photo of Tammy says

            dmf – Ironically James Gates was the guest this week. I’m completely a lay listener when it comes to physics, but I LOVE the subject all the same. Anyway, Gates is definitely a favorite physicist and enjoy learning about physics -why? – I don’t know exactly why I just do.

            Last night watch a show on the science channel re a knew species about to be birthed. I don’t remember the man’s name but he is from Europe (maybe a neuroscientist?) explaining how our individual brains learn re neurons that are now merging with technology because of the Web.

            Basically, and this is real basic (my explaining), his assertion is that chemistry (the human brain) and technology (Web) is merging, creating a new global brain and human species. Something like that so don’t quote me.

          • dmf says

            some good thinkers are guests on the show, among other things the host refuses to differentiate between mysteries (what we don’t yet know), especially in scientific ventures, and Mysteries which are supposed to be in some absolute sense unknowable. If she would just own her religious convictions and stop projecting them onto other peoples’ work I wouldn’t have any problem with the show as religious programming per say.

          • dmf says

            they are pretty explicit in her re-framing of her guests’ contributions but I guess if you haven’t been exposed to that after HustonSmith/JosephCampbell almost unitarian PBS style liberal seminary theology than you may not have ears to hear which would likely make it a better show, I know a lot of folks who just sort of tune her out and enjoy the guests but in a thread on Deleuze and rhetoric her flattening of all perspectives into one and the same over and over again is worth rejecting.

  5. qapla says

    @ Tammy

    additionally I should have added that I’ve long been a listener to Krista Tipppett’s “On Being” but originally it was “Speaking of Faith”. It was after a couple emails and suggesting the video and book that she changed the name to “On Being”

    much respect

  6. Profile photo of Donald says

    They say publish or perish so immortality here I come. I am posting here since I first had this idea while listening to PEL, but only carried the concept to its current state after finishing episode 31 of Coffeen’ Rhetoric podcasts.

    Donald Parker quotes himself as saying, “Gravity is the effect of mass pushing things forward through time.”

    What I am not sure of is whether this follows logically from current Physics theories, whether it can be used to explain other phenomenon such as the apparent expansion of the universe, or whether it is useful or interesting to anyone else or indeed whether it is even novel.

    Thirty years ago while considering Einstein’s thought experiment about being in an elevator that was steadily accelerating upwards this would be indistinguishable from the effects of being on a planet with matching acceleration due to gravity. At the time I found this idea exciting and since have often returned to it.

    Only recently it occurred to me I could add this to his relativity concept asking if there was some way that being stationary on a planet could actually be the same as accelerating into space? I pictured the Earth somehow pushing me forward headlong into the heavens. But for some reason after listening to Coffeen talk about Burroughs I imagined that this idea might make more sense if time was somehow a direction into which I was being pushed! This also fits with the concept of time seeming to move faster for those experiencing more acceleration or near a more massive object, since then you are being pushed faster through time.

    I wonder if this would also mean that objects that were gravitationally linked would move together into time/spacetime and whether this causes distant galaxies to appear to be moving away from each other.

    Should I quit my day job?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *