Gilles Deleuze was born in the 17th arrondisment of Paris, where he continued to live his entire life except for short periods of his youth. His father was a veteran of World War I and an engineer. His brother was arrested for resistance activities during the German occupation of France and was killed on route to Auschwitz.
Deleuze went to public school before the war, and when the Germans invaded he was on vacation in Normandy. He stayed in Normandy for a year and continued his schooling there, inspired by a tutor to read Gide and Baudelaire among other texts, which he cites as his first positive experience in academia.
He returned to Paris and attended the Lycée Carnot, then studied at Henri IV where he did his kâgne (a year of studies for exceptional students). From 1944 to 1948 he went on to study philosophy at the Sorbonne. He gained his aggregation in philosophy in 1948, then taught philosophy in various Paris lycées until 1957.
In 1953 he published his first book, Empiricism and Subjectivity, on David Hume. In 1956 he married Denise Paul "Fanny" Grandjouan, a translator who specialized in D.H. Lawrence. In 1957 he began teaching history of philosophy at the Sorbonne, and from 1960-64 he was a researcher with the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique.
Deleuze held a number of assistant teaching positions in universities over the next ten years, and in 1962 he published Nietzsche and Philosophy. It was during this time that he began a long-standing friendship with Michel Foucault. They met one another at the home of Jules Vuillemin, when Foucault was petitioning to have Deleuze nominated for a position at the University of Clermont-Ferrand.
Deleuze taught from 1964-69 at the University of Lyon, then took a position as professor of philosophy at Vincennes at the behest of Foucault. In 1968 Deleuze published his doctoral thesis comprised of a major thesis, Différence et répétition (Difference and Repetition), and a minor thesis, Spinoza et le problems de l'expression (Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza). 1968 would also mark the first major incidence of pulmonary illness that would weigh on Deleuze his entire life.
Deleuze was among the first thinkers to register the events of May 1968 in conceptual terms. His response to the student uprisings combined with his elegant ability to think through the various disciplines of politics, psychoanalysis, literature and philosophy, made him a celebrated philosopher of the generation. In 1969 he took a teaching position at the experimental University of Paris VII, and he continued to teach here until his retirement in 1987.
It was at Paris VII that he met Félix Guattari, who became his partner in writing a number of influential texts including the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980). The unique manner in which these books were written, between the two writers and not separately, allows for the emergence in the text of elements that cannot be attributed to either one of the authors on their own. Many ideas central to Deleuze's work undergo a fascinating transformation and move in unexpected directions, or as Deleuze and Guattari might put it, they undergo a process of "becoming."
After the publication of Anti-Oedipus, L'Arc dedicated an issue to Deleuze in which an interview is printed with Foucault. The interview records the two men defining the status of the contemporary intellectual in light of the social and political characteristics particular to the time. Deleuze was politically active through many outlets. Of particular concern to him were homosexual rights and the Palestinian liberation movement, and he was a member of an organization formed in part by Foucault, the Groupe d'information sur les prisons.
Deleuze wrote about philosophers all through his life, with books on Hume, Kant, Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Leibniz, and Foucault. He approached each one with the constructivist attitude, expressed clearly in What is Philosophy? (1991), that was Deleuze's final collaboration with Guattari, who died in 1992.
His last book was a collection of essays called Essays Critical and Clinical (1993). By the time of its publication Deleuze's pulmonary illness had put him in severe confinement, making it difficult for him to write. He took his own life, aged 70.