Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by sandra695

The Theory Tool Box Illustration

 “Practice is a set of relays from one theoretical point to another and theory is a relay from one practice to another.”[1]

Gilles Deleuze’s delineates an ostensibly symmetric and elegant figure concerning the relationship between theory and practice. Jane Rendell comments on Deleuze’s symmetry by pointing out that theory is not independent of practice, as practice can be of theory[2]. Eyal Weizman indeed finds a horrific example of theory in use within practice in his description of the actions of combat units in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)[3].

Deleuze states that the role of theory is to oppose power; “theory is by nature opposite of power”. This seemingly static hierarchy could be challenged (here via Rendell) through Derrida’s deconstructive critique of binary thinking where the opposite sides cannot coexist. In Derrida’s philosophy hierarchical relationships can be situational and depending on social construction rather than being constant. Rendell with Diane Elam finds Derrida’s “undecidability” to give opportunity for “determinate oscillation” between possibilities and avoid fixed positions.

A deviation from the overall idea at certain positions within a firm hierarchy seems to be at play in Weizman’s Lethal Theory.  A result of the conceptual frameworks of critical theory used by IDF’s strategists is the warfare through holes in walls. The values of an individual theory may be turned inside out as exemplified in the “inverse geometry” charting the progression of the Israeli Forces where the troops “redefine outside as inside, and domestic interiors as thoroughfares”. In this manner the combat units permeate the urban fabric without having to consider the network of streets and the demolition and victims that are a result of the combative warfare are hidden within homes and interiors. The IDF has maintained a strict structure and hierarchy while the military forces at combat level elaborate and test critical theory. Here theory is used, in an instrumental way at specific levels, without the theory ever affecting the overall structure of the IDF. The use of A thousand Plateaus is startling and translating criticality, and the fight against a dominant power from an inferior position of less power, to merely a fight against as exemplified by Shimon Naveh:  “…we now often use the term ‘to smooth out space’ when we want to refer to operation in a space as if it had no borders”. The theory here communicates to Naveh the possibility of an even more profound destruction and relays other actions than originally expected. To conclude; the result of application or use of theory may rather lie in the interpretation, than the exact formulation, of the original theory.


[1] Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault , ‘Intellectuals and Power,’ in Language, Memory, Counter-Practice, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1977.

[2] Jane Rendell, ‘Introduction: A Place Between’, in Art and Architecture: A Place Between, London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

[3] Eyal Weizman, ‘Lethal Theory’, in Log 7, Winter/Spring 2006.