Toward an Ethics of the Impersonal Life: Gilles Deleuze and Roberto Esposito

Roberto Esposito urges us to recognise and address the challenges posed by globalisation, large-scale migration, climatic change and massive shifts in geo-politics.  At the core of his philosophy lies the rethinking of central concepts, including the notion of life, politics, and the person, which he feels need to be reconceived outside of our global, dominant liberal economic paradigm.  Esposito draws upon Gilles Deleuze’s “Immanence: A Life” to articulate what he calls the third person. Like Deleuze, the third person or the impersonal, a term borrowed from Simone Weil, Esposito maintains that a person’s life is to be understood as made up of virtualities, events, and singularities. A person’s life, because of its potentiality to actualise itself in unforeseen ways, as evidenced by the immunitary paradigm, has within itself the potential to resist the large-scale governmental determinations that have come to determine modern life. The person’s life is inscribed in what Spinoza and Deleuze tell us is a plane of immanence that is actualised in subjects and in objects, what Esposito calls things. If we conceive of ethics as a way of thinking and living about how we should live with one another, what do Esposito and Deleuze offer us by way of insight about collective, personal life? I argue that Esposito extends Deleuze’s view of the immanence of a life and gives it an ethical force, a force that gives us the potential to undo our governmentalized view of life and reconfigure ourselves along impersonal relational lines. The risk Esposito runs with his new paradigm, however, is that of creating a new ontology that suffers from a Heideggerian Gelassenheit, which imposes some kind of ontological necessity. By returning to the Deleuzian notion of the virtual, Esposito can still extend the possibility of a Deleuzian minor ethics while not lapsing into an ontology that demands certain action and responsibility.

A Research and Publication Project