by Corry Shores
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[Deleuze Entry Directory]
[Henry Somers-Hall, Entry Directory]
[Henry Somers-Hall’s Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, Entry Directory]
[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos and other distracting mistakes. Somers-Hall is abbreviated SH and Difference and Repetition as DR.]
Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide
A Guide to the Text
Chapter 2. Repetition for Itself
2.4 Deleuze’s Second Synthesis: Bergson (79–85/100–7)
The second synthesis is based on Bergson’s theory of time. It synthesizes the past with the present. Both of which are cotemporal. Why? If a new moment supplants the current one, there needs to be a place for the new one to settle into. There can only be such a place if the present one is already in the past. The solution is to say that the present moment is already in the past, and this is because as soon as new moments are experienced, they are already registered or entered in our memory. For Bergson, the past and all the present are one large entity with no discrete parts. When we recall something, it may seem like we remember a discrete moment in time. Really it is just a part of the whole of memory that is expanded. Every moment of our lives we carry all our memory with us. Sometimes we act in the moment, and all past memories express themselves in how we act, like when performing something we previously practiced many times. Other times we sit back and expand moments, like recalling one memorable practice session. The past is inserted in the present and determines it. But we are free to choose which parts to expand and when to expand them and to what degree to expand them. This mixture of the past’s determinacy without our current freedom of choosing how to experience the past in the present Deleuze calls Destiny.
SH explains that “Deleuze’s first synthesis parallels Kant’s first synthesis” (SH 66). [Kant’s first synthesis is the synthesis of apprehension. Deleuze’s first synthesis is contraction. As I understand it, both are synthesizing the living present. For Kant, we put together a number of close recent moments into a chunk of presence. For Deleuze, the present is a qualitative feeling of waiting and anticipating on the basis of bringing the past to bear on the future using the imagination’s power to reproduce past experiences and foresee future ones.] Deleuze’s first synthesis also “aims to show how we are constituted along with a coherent temporal framework” (SH 66). [We saw this in the prior section.] SH then asks, why for Deleuze is the first synthesis insufficient for explaining experience? This is because the past and future that are in this synthesis are only experienced as presence. This present then can then be replaced by another one. [I think the idea here is that this present must already be synthesized with the ones that replace it, but I am not sure I get this.]
This particular present, with its particular anticipations, can itself become past and be replaced by another present. In this sense, as Deleuze puts it, ‘there must be another time in which the first synthesis of time can occur’ (DR 79/100).
We recall from 2.2 “Kant’s claim was that our imagination reproduced a past present, which is recognised as such by the understanding” (66). So we have the present during which we do the recognizing and the present of the recalled moment. But since both are presents, how do we distinguish them? We somehow represent the past as past. For Deleuze, the past is the mediation of presents. [I do not know what that means. Maybe it is presents that are mediated by means of representations of them being past]. There are two important consequences to this. Firstly, it seems to assume that the past is no more than a series of passed presents. It also assumes that there is no difference between the current present and the passed presents [since all are equally presents, only some have passed.] Deleuze turns now to Bergson’s critique of associationism to explain why this account is flawed. (66)
Kant said that first a synthesis brings impressions into affinity with one another, and secondly past impressions become associated with present ones. [What it means to bring into affinity is not very clear. It seems to be recognizing similarities by means of conceptual relations.] One problem Bergson notes is that everything in some way will have some resemblance with anything else. There is nothing inherent to anything which would make it connect to one thing rather than another. [I am not sure I understand how, but] they are self-sufficient, so no relations can be determined. This means an exterior force like the active synthesis of consciousness must impose those relations. [I think the idea then is, if we give them these affinities, and those affinities were not there, on what basis do we say certain ones have affinities and others do not?] “If this act of relation is external to the elements, and comes after them, then we cannot explain how it is able to operate according to an affinity we find within them” (67). [I also do not grasp well the next idea. It seems to be that just as we experience something, we already associate it with forthcoming instances not previously related with the current one. Please read this part for yourself.]
Bergson presents the following alternative: ‘In fact, we perceive the resemblance before we perceive the individuals which resemble one another; and in an aggregate of contiguous parts, we perceive the whole before the parts’ (Bergson 1991: 165). Bergson’s point is that there is a self-relation of the moments prior to their constitution as individuals that can be given to an active synthesis. This in effect is the claim that active synthesis is transcendentally dependent on a prior passive (non-conscious) synthesis.
Bergson will give an alternative account. For him, the past, or memory, does not resemble the present, or perception. We first note how three domains run together in Kant’s account: “recollection-memory, habit-memory, and perception” (67). [I do not understand how these three run together. Maybe the basic idea is that we perceive things, then we recall similar things, and this is from habitual recurrences. But the difference between recollection-memory and habit-memory is especially unclear to me. Please read for yourself:] “Habits are produced by the re-presentation of actual past experiences by the imagination, just as, presumably, the imagination reproduces particular events from the past that we recollect. These moments are represented as the equivalent of perceptions” (67). But habit [by which we anticipate experiences] directs us to things in the world of experience, while instead reminiscence detaches us from present concerns. (67)
Now we want to see how for Bergson these two notions of habit and reminiscence are related. We first note that for Bergson, consciousness is “fundamentally oriented towards action” (67). [So we sense something and its meaning is the forthcoming action we take in response.] “That means that the present moment of time is to be understood in terms of the connection between perception and action (i.e., in sensory-motor terms)” (67). But how we act in the future can be based on things we learned in the past, in our memory. Now, something interesting is that Bergson thinks that the past and the present are different in kind. Somehow “memory ‘begets sensation’ (Bergson 1991: 141) when it is brought to bear on a present situation” (SH 68). And somehow the present integrates two movements which are different in kind (68) [maybe, the movement from the past into the present and the movement of the present into the future? I am not sure. I also do not yet understand what it means for memory to beget the present.] We now ask, how is the past structured, since it is unlike the present? And, how does it integrate with the present, when the two are different in kind? (68)
[I am not sure about this paragraph, but the idea just seems to be that we retain all past experiences, and select them associatively given the situation.]
Beginning with the first question, we can note that there appears to be a process of selection involved in action. What is similar to the present is brought to bear on present experience. As Bergson notes, children often have far greater facility of recall than adults, which is inversely proportional to their ability to select the experiences appropriate to the present context (Bergson 1991: 154). If the detail of one’s recollections is inversely proportional to action in this way, then ‘a human being who should dream his life instead of living it would no doubt keep before his eyes at each moment the infinite multitude of the details of his past history’ (Bergson 1991: 155). So memory that functions by recollection contains a greater and greater part of the past, until we reach a point at which it is completely detached from action and hence, in the state of pure memory, contains a complete record of the past. Now, for Bergson, memory is different in kind from the present, which relates itself by succession to the future. We can now give a clearer account of its structure.
Firstly, we are not seeing the past as being made of discrete parts. We instead store the whole past as one thing. It might seem that we experience something now, smoke, then we ‘select’ from the past experiences of fire. Instead what happens is we see smoke, then we ‘expand’ in our memories certain parts of the past. These can expand at various levels. Thus Bergson’s cone, where the condensed tip of present action and at the top expanded memory. [See Matter and Memory §84 and especially §91. I am perhaps not saying enough here, so if you would like more elaboration and examples, some from cinema, I give some in my paper, “In the Still of the Moment: Deleuze's Phenomena of Motionless Time.”]
Deleuze says there are three paradoxes involved in this account of the pure past. They result from the fact that representation cannot characterize its own account of representation (70). Yet, if we do not see the past as being represented, the paradoxes dissolve. Paradox 1: Suppose time is a series of distinct moments. As new ones come, they force-out the current ones into the past. But in order to force-out the current ones, it needs to be that the place they occupy in the present becomes vacant. They can only become vacant if the present ones were already in the past. Thus we have not explained how they become past in this account. We only assume it. Instead, the past must coincide with the present. [Just as things happen, they must also, in their presence, take on the trait of pastness, or at least the present moments have in the immediacy of their presence their mirror image in the past. Sometimes we experience something and we feel like it will be meaningful in the future, but we do not know why. Then later something makes us recall that event (which has come to be in the past) and see its significance. Someone is selling us something. They talk quickly about certain things and pass rapidly to other matters relating to the sale. We think at that moment something about this means something. We buy the thing. Later we learn that it is partly broken. We recall the salesperson was talking quickly when discussing that part which was really broken. This means that when we first experienced that fast talk, we constituted it as a memory, even as it was present, because we noticed it was memorable for some reason. We recalled it in advance (precalled it) by noting then that we will recall it in the future.] Paradox 2: [This one is confusing, so you will have to interpret it for yourself. It seems the idea is that we take two assumptions, one, that the present moment is a discrete moment, and two, that the present is different in kind from the past. We then deduce that since the past and present are different in kind, and since the present is a self-sufficient atom, that means the past cannot be atomic. If it were atomic, then part of it could potentially coincide with the present while other parts would not. And if a part of the past does not coincide with the present, then the whole of it must in fact coincide with the present. But there are a couple problems with my explanation. Is it really the case that two things which differ in kind must share no structural features at all? I do not know of some counter example, since we do not know what else could be characterized as different in kind in this way of thinking. Maybe one example could be time and objects. Time is composed of parts, before and after. Physical objects are composed of parts, particles. Both time and objects, which I assume are different in kind, share the structural feature of being composed of parts. So why is it that the Past and the Present, if they are different in kind, cannot share the feature of being made of discrete parts? The other thing that I do not grasp so well is the conclusion, namely that if the past does not partly coincide with the present, then it must do so entirely. Why not that it does not coincide at all? Is it because we ruled that out already by saying such a notion cannot explain the passing of the present and the formation of the past?]
The second paradox is that of co-existence. If the past cannot be constituted from the present, it must be different in kind from it. Now, as what characterises the present is the self-sufficient, atomic nature of the presents which make it up, the past must be non-atomic. If that is the case, then it cannot be only a part of the past which co-exists with the present, but the whole of it.
Paradox 3: The past is a prerequisite for the present. But how can the past come before the present? [I do not understand the problem here very well. I think this would only be a problem for the first moment ever. In that case, how could the past come before the present, if there was nothing before the present? But normally the past comes before the present. How could it come after? Is the problem that first there is a present, then it moves to the past, so the present precedes the past? Still however, the one that is past happened before the one that is present. Or maybe this problem can be put this way: the pastness of the present needs to precede the presentness of the present, but that present is still present and has not yet become past. So how can its pastness precede its presence? But I am not sure. I will quote.] “The final paradox is that of pre-existence. The past, as it is a condition of the passing of the present, must exist prior to the present.” (70)
There is a passive synthesis that synthesizes the present with the past. Then secondly there is an active synthesis which takes the the product of that synthesis (memory as a whole) and, and this active synthesis selects parts of the whole past to expand. (70)
Both passive and active synthesis lead to their own concepts of repetition. “In fact, there are four repetitions at play in Difference and Repetition at this point, as we have two levels, habit and memory, and two modes of synthesis operating at these levels, active and passive synthesis” (71a). How do the levels of habit and memory interact? Recall the representational account of associative memory. It could not explain on what basis the associations are made, since they are arbitrary when the memories are self-sufficient. Hume says that there is a passive synthesis of the imagination that contracts moments. But on what basis are the contracted moments selected? [I do not grasp very well the following explanation. Apparently the first important point is that the memories in the cone are already related, since they are “a field of similarities and differences between events”, with the example being that if we hear a word we can either evoke its meaning or the first time we hear it. I do not understand that very well. But maybe the basic idea is that the associations are built into the structure somehow. Perhaps the idea we take away from this is that the parts of memory are already ‘contracted’ in one whole, and additionally, particular regions are ‘contracted’ with the present through habitual actions and recollections. And we can choose to what degree we act in the present moment or detach from it and daydream.]
We still need to know how the imagination is able to select what it contracts, or what it fixes on as the basis for its anticipation. This is where the synthesis of the past comes into play. As we have just seen, Bergson represents the past as a cone, each level of which contains the entirety of the past, but at different levels of contraction and relaxation. At the widest level of the cone, we have the absolute relaxation of memory, the pure past. At the point of the cone, the past was contracted down to a point of practical generality. Between the two the past was layered in different degrees of contraction and relaxation. Each of these layers of contraction and relaxation can be seen as a field of different similarities and differences between events, just as in Bergson’s example of hearing a word in a foreign language can evoke either the meaning of the word, or the first time that I heard it. These two syntheses are therefore related as follows: ‘The sign of the present is a passage to the limit, a maximal contraction which comes to sanction the choice of a particular level as such, which is in itself contracted or relaxed among an infinity of possible levels’ (DR 83/105). The imagination that Hume talks about is therefore the point of actualisation of a particular plane of memory in relation to action. We therefore have two different contractions: the contraction of the plane itself, and then the contraction that relates the plane of memory to the actual world. Bergson’s account supplements Hume’s by providing a model of time within which the first synthesis can take place, but also by explaining how different contractions of the same temporal field are possible: ‘each chooses his pitch or his tone, perhaps even his lyrics, but the tune remains the same, and underneath all the lyrics the same tra-la-la, in all possible tones and all pitches’ (DR 83–4/105–6).
[By means of habit, we repeat instants, and by means of memory, we repeat the same past things but on different levels of expansion and contraction. Habit creates temporality and gives ‘material’ or ‘bare repetition.’ Underlying this repetition is the repetition based on memory. I am not sure how this is so, but maybe since the past itself is required for us to have the present moments of habitual repetition, and furthermore since the past is a repetition of layers, then habitual repetition is based on memorial repetition. The memorial repetition is ‘clothed’, but I do not know why this description is used. This memory is also responsible for the fact that the past determines the present, but we have the freedom to choose how we experience that past in the present. Deleuze calls this Destiny. Deleuze’s thinking and terminology here I find somewhat odd. I quote.]
We can therefore say there are two forms of passive repetition – the repetition of habit, which is ‘empirical’, and is the repetition of instants, and the repetition of memory, whereby the same past is repeated at a series of different levels, with different degrees of contraction and relaxation. Habit synthesises essentially indifferent elements into a field of temporality, or duration, and in doing so creates what Deleuze calls ‘material’ or ‘bare repetition. It does repeat, as in the case of the heartbeat, but only on the basis of the ‘clothed’ repetition which underlies it. This repetition is based on memory, and is responsible for what Deleuze calls ‘Destiny’: the fact that everything is determined by the past, but a past that still allows for freedom through the selection of the level at which the past is played out.
Somers-Hall, Henry. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2013.
Or if otherwise noted:
Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994/London: Continuum, 2004.
Bergson, Henri (1991), Matter and Memory, trans. N. M. Paul and W. S. Palmer, New York: Zone Books.