18 Nov 2008

Continuous Melodic Variation of Affection in Deleuze Cours Vincennes - 24/01/1978

by Corry Shores
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An idea for Spinoza is "a mode of thought which represents something" (un mode de pensée qui représente quelque chose). So for example, the idea of a frog is a mode of thought that represents a frog. The idea's being-in-relation-to-its-object is its objective reality.

All modes of thought with no representation are affects; they are merely feelings. And all affects have objects, that which affects us, but ideas do not need affects to be, hence ideas have primacy over affects.

So an idea is an idea of something, and that is its objective reality. But an idea is also itself a something, it is an idea, and the idea's itself-being-something is its formal reality. So the idea frog's representing something is its objective reality, but the idea frog -- insofar as it is an idea -- is its formal reality.

It is for this reason that we may have ideas of ideas. Spinoza writes in Improvement of the Understanding:

For instance, the man Peter is something real; the true idea of Peter is the reality of Peter represented subjectively, and is in itself something real, and quite distinct from the actual Peter. Now, as this true idea of Peter is in itself something real, and has its own individual existence, it will also be capable of being understood — that is, of being the subject of another idea, which will contain by representation (objective) all that the idea of Peter contains actually (formaliter). And, again, this idea of the idea of Peter has its own individuality, which may become the subject of yet another idea; and so on, indefinitely.

The idea's formal reality is its intrinsic character.
Its objective reality is its extrinsic character.

This formal reality of each idea, its being-an-idea, has a certain degree of reality or perfection. Differences in objective reality are qualitative (ideas represent different types of objects). Differences in formal reality are quantitative (ideas differ in degrees of perfection or reality).

The idea of God and the idea of a frog certainly have two different objective realities, for the one's being-a-representation-of is characterized as its being the representation of a frog, and the other's as its being a representation of God. As well, the two ideas differ in formal reality, because the idea of God has a degree of perfection that is infinitely greater than the idea of a frog. This is because the idea of God is the idea of infinite eternal substance. In other words, the idea of God is on the one hand a mode, because it is an idea. Every mode is the product of a modification of substance, which is explicated differently among the infinite attributes of substance. But while humans can have the idea of God, which would be a mode, this special mode (the idea of God) has substance as its objective reality, and because substance has infinite perfection, the reality of the idea itself, as a modal explication of substance, implicates all other modifications no matter when, because it expresses (implicates and explicates) the eternal ground for all modifications. So the idea of frog expresses only a finite modification of infinite substance, but the idea of God implicates every other modification whatsoever and whenever of the infinitetly perfect substance. Hence as an idea, its formal reality is infinitely more perfect than the idea of a frog, because it expresses infinitely more than does the idea of a frog.

Because the degree of reality is quantified by its degree of expression, that is, by the amount that it implies, the idea's intrinsic character is "the degree of reality or perfection that it envelopes in itself."

Ideas follow each other, one after another:

Just now I had my head turned there, I saw that corner of the room, I turn...it's another idea; I walk down a street where I know people, I say “Hello Pierre” and then I turn and say “Hello Paul.”

Tout à l’heure j’avais la tête tournée là, je voyais tel coin de la salle, je tourne, c’est une autre idée; je me promène dans une rue où je connais des gens, je dis bonjour Pierre, et puis je me tourne, et puis je dis bonjour Paul.

And things and ideas also change by continuous gradients:

I look at the sun, and the sun little by little disappears and I find myself in the dark of night; it is thus a series of successions, of coexistences of ideas, successions of ideas.

je regarde le soleil, et le soleil petit à petit disparaît et je me trouve dans la nuit; c’est donc une série de successions, de coexistences d’idées, successions d’idées.

The ways these ideas affect us undergo a continuous variation, depending on the changes in our power of acting:

in the street I run into Pierre, for whom I feel hostility, I pass by and say hello to Pierre, or perhaps I am afraid of him, and then I suddenly see Paul who is very very charming, and I say hello to Paul reassuredly and contentedly. Well. What is it? In part, succession of two ideas, the idea of Pierre and the idea of Paul; but there is something else: a variation also operates in me—on this point, Spinoza's words are very precise and I cite them: (variation) of my force of existing, or another word he employs as a synonym: vis existendi, the force of existing, or potentia agendi, the power [puissance] of acting, and these variations are perpetual.

je croise dans la rue Pierre qui m’est très antipathique, et puis je le dépasse, je dis bonjour Pierre, ou bien j’en ai peur et puis je vois soudain Paul qui m’est très très charmant, et je dis bonjour Paul, rassuré, content. Bien. Qu’est-ce que c’est? D’une part, succession de deux idées, idée de Pierre et idée de Paul; mais il y a autre chose: s’est opérée aussi en moi une variation – là, les mots de Spinoza sont très précis, aussi je les cite: « (variation) de ma force d’exister », ou autre mot qu’il emploie comme synonyme, « vis existendi », la force d’exister, ou « petentia agendi », la puissance d’agir – et ces variations sont perpétuelles.


When the idea of Paul succeeds the idea of Pierre, it is agreeable to say that my force of existing or my power of acting is increased or improved; when, on the contrary, the situation is reversed, when after having seen someone who made me joyful I then see someone who makes me sad, I say that my power of acting is inhibited or obstructed.

Lorsque l’idée de Paul succède à l’idée de Pierre, il convient de dire que ma force d’exister ou que ma puissance d’agir est augmentée ou favorisée; lorsque, au contraire, c’est l’inverse, lorsque après avoir vu quelqu’un qui me rendait joyeux, je vois quelqu’un qui me rend triste, je dis que ma puissance d’agir est inhibée ou empêchée.

This continuous variation is the difformed difformation of modification, and it never ceases in varying continually:

I would say that, to the extent that ideas succeed each other in us, each one having its own degree of perfection, its degree of reality or intrinsic perfection, the one who has these ideas, in this case me, never stops passing from one degree of perfection to another. In other words there is a continuous variation in the form of an increase-diminution-increase-diminution of the power of acting or the force of existing of someone according to the ideas which s/he has.

Je dirais donc que à mesure que les idées se succèdent en nous, chacune ayant son degré de perfection, son degré de réalité ou de perfection intrinsèque, celui qui a ces idées, moi, je ne cesse de passer d’un degré de perfection à un autre, en d’autres termes il y a une variation continue sous la forme d’augmentation-diminution-augmentation-diminution de la puissance d’agir ou de la force d’exister de quelqu’un d’après les idées qu’il a.

We never cease passing from one degree of perfection to another,

however miniscule the difference, and this kind of melodic line of continuous variation will define affect (affectus)...

même minuscule, et c’est cette espèce de ligne mélodique de la variation continue qui va définir l’affect (affectus)...

Thus for Spinoza, affectus is variation, that is,

continuous variation of the force of existing, insofar as this variation is determined by the ideas one has.

la variation continue de la force d’exister, en tant que cette variation est déterminée par les idées qu’on a.

So we see something that decreases our power of acting, then we are affected with sadness, when we see something that increases our power of acting, we are affected with happyness. Along this "melodic line of continuous variation constituted by the affect" (ligne mélodique de la variation continue constituée par l’affect) Spinoza designates two poles: joy and sadness, the fundamental passions.

So affects, affectus, are not ideas but are caused by certain ideas.

Of ideas, Spinoza distinguishes three:

1) affectio ideas, or affection ideas
2) notions
3) essence ideas

An affection is

a state of a body insofar as it is subject to the action of another body.

l’état d’un corps en tant qu’il subit l’action d’un autre corps.

For example, we feel a ray of sunlight hit our body. The affection is the action or effect the sun has on us; so it is not the sun itself. Thus affectio is a mixture of two bodies: one acts upon the other, and this second one receives a trace of the first. And every mixture of bodies is an affection.


an affectio indicates the nature of the modified body rather than the nature of the modifying body, and it envelopes the nature of the modifying body.

une affectio indique la nature du corps modifié plutôt que la nature du corps modifiant, et elle enveloppe la nature du corps modifiant.

So the first sort of ideas, affectio or affection ideas,

is every mode of thought which represents an affection of the body...which is to say the mixture of one body with another body, or the trace of another body on my body will be termed an idea of affection.

est tout mode de pensée qui représente une affection du corps ; c’est-à-dire le mélange d’un corps avec un autre corps, ou bien la trace d’un autre corps sur mon corps sera nommée idée d’affection.

This is knowledge of the first and lowest kind.

[Lecture continues]


Deleuze, Gilles. "Cours Vincennes: 24/01/1978". webdeleuze.com

English and French versions available here. With profound gratitude I thank Richard Pinhas for providing these texts.

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