[(essay date 2013) In the following essay, Amrine connects Deleuze with Baruch Spinoza and Johann Gottlieb Fichte, detecting that the three, though separated by centuries and despite employing different terminology, share multiple key concepts.]
Sed omnia praeclara tam difficilia, quam rara sunt. [For all excellent things are as difficult as they are rare.] Spinoza, Ethics
The Revolutionary Rhizome
All eyes, it would seem, are on Spinoza at the moment. Much of the credit for this remarkable renaissance is due to Gilles Deleuze, who wrote two books on Spinoza, and then went even further in his best-selling manifesto What Is Philosophy?, anointing Spinoza both the “prince” and the “Christ” of philosophy.1 And Deleuze is hardly alone in his attentions. Spinoza now looms large in our understanding of the entire Age of Goethe.2 The controversy over Spinoza still figures as a minor flap in Lewis White Beck’s classic history, Early German Philosophy;3 but it has become the defining intellectual controversy of the whole age since the publication of Frederick Beiser’s influential study The Fate of Reason in 1987.4 Further, over the past decade, the intellectual historian Jonathan Israel has published three massive tomes asserting that, basically, every significant thinker of the Enlightenment was a closet Spinozist.5 Skepticism may be in order: on Wall Street, this latest development would be read as a “contrary indicator,” signaling a market top. But the centrality of the Spinozastreit (Spinoza controversy) clearly means that we have to understand both the extent and the import of Spinoza’s influence on the Age of Goethe. And the centrality of Spinoza to contemporary discourse is beyond doubt; somehow, he figures in everyone’s equations.
Not so with Fichte. Some outstanding scholarship has been published in recent decades,6 but compared to the boom in Spinoza, Fichte studies remains a cottage industry. Indeed, Fichte has long been the least appreciated and the least understood of the great philosophers. Hegel wanted to be buried next to Fichte, and he was, but Fichte rates only a few sentences in Bertrand Russell’s 836-page History of Western Philosophy, which mentions only the Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation) and dismisses him as perhaps insane.7 Fichte is one of the few major thinkers to whom Deleuze did not devote a study, and he seldom mentions him by name. But I shall argue that, especially in Deleuze’s late philosophy, Fichte contributes the terms that allow Deleuze’s philosophy to add up. Indeed I want to go even further, and suggest that all three of these seminal thinkers—Spinoza, Fichte, and Deleuze—are deeply connected by a Deleuzian rhizome stretching across four centuries.8 Deleuze and Guattari famously put forward the concept of the “rhizome” in chapter one of A Thousand Plateaus, as a model for a complex nexus of influences and connections that transcends local and proximal causality.9 Viewed in this light, both the Spinozastreit specifically and a range of larger issues within German Idealism can be situated within...