I’m going to begin a series of posts on “theoretical drawings” with this fantastic piece from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s What is Philosophy? (Columbia University Press, 1994), pages 56-7.

The key to the schema reads:

What is this? They offer it as a “machinic portrait” of Kant’s philosophy. Deleuze has performed remarkable summaries of Kant before, in a 100-page book, and in a later essay that distills Kant into four “poetic formulas.” (See Deleuze, Kant’s Critical Philosophy.) But this drawing is something else: it’s closer to a blackboard sketch, where each line bears some kind of significance or requires some kind of explanation. It involves elements of caricature (the bizarre “ox head wired for sound”), visual metaphor (the turning wheel of the schemata, in conjunction with the categorical “shafts,” like the working of a giant mill), and three-dimensional diagramming (the choppy currents of time moving left and right, the scooped-out boundary of spacing opening outward, toward the foreground). Note how lines #5 and #7 also compose the top of a globe. What’s most remarkable of all is the dotted line (#8), which gathers up the lower cluster and returns it to the upper “I” and its “illusions,” thereby rendering the “plane of immanence” as a “transcendental field.” At this point we realize that the numbers provide not just a locator key to a static diagram, but enumerate steps in an argument. We can imagine the drawing being made in the order it is described. You might say that Deleuze and Guattari mark their most fundamental philosophical differences with Kant through this dotted line leading to the three halos around the ox head: this looping return from the lower to the upper–where everything is delivered to the Ideas as transcendental illusions–is precisely what their concepts aim to undo.

Deleuze and Guattari  offer this drawing in the middle of a discussion about how to approach “the history of philosophy.” They say that it can be practiced as “the art of the portrait.” One does not need to make “likelike portraits” that exactly resemble what a philosopher has said; instead it is a matter of producing “mental, noetic, and machinic portraits” that locate what plane of immanence has been instituted and what new concepts have been created in each philosophical “image of thought.” (55) They refer to paintings by Tinguely that attempt to present various philosophers (Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, etc.), but they find that Tinguely has not drawn out the distinctive planes and concepts at work in each thinker.

Here we have to wonder: what is the best way to draw a concept? How can we show a plane of immanence?

(Note: the typographic numerals are an addition to the English edition; in the French edition, the numerals are hand-drawn–that is to say, part of the drawing. Can we say the drawing itself has been translated?)