24 Nov 2008

Deleuze Cours Vincennes Spinoza 20-01-1981, selectively summarized

§1 Bleyenbergh: Composition and decomposition of relations

Deleuze explains that the reason that even the action of adultery is a virtue is because

it is something that my body can do; don't ever forget the theme of power (puissance). It is in my body’s power. So it is a virtue, and in this sense it is the expression of a power.

We distinguish base sensuous appetite from beautiful loves by associating

my action, or the image of my action, with the image of a thing whose relation is decomposed by this action.

So by committing adultery, one decomposes one's own marriage and that of the other adulterous partner. But in the most beautiful of loves, the action is the same as in adultery, but this bodily action is

associated with an image of the thing whose relation is directly combined, directly composed with the relation of my action. It is in this sense that the two uniting individuals lovingly form an individual which has both of them as parts.

Where in the case of basely sensual love, each destroys one another, resulting in a "whole process of decomposition of relations."

Spinoza is determinist, so when we give into base sensuous desires, it was not out of our free will, for

I am as perfect as I can be according to the affections that I have. That is to say that if I am dominated by a basely sensual appetite, I am as perfect as I can be, as perfect as it is possible, as perfect as it is in my power (pouvoir) to be.

And despite there being different levels of perfection, we cannot say that at any point we are deprived of a better state; for, to make such an assessment means that our minds compare a state we have to a state we do not have, "in other words it is not a real relation, it is a comparison of the mind."

it is just as stupid to speak of the stone by saying of it that it is deprived of sight as it would be stupid, at the moment when I experience a basely sensual appetite, to say that I am deprived of a better love.

To say that the stone is deprived of sight and the adulterer is deprived of virtue are statements of two different types (Letter XXI). The blind man is deprived of nothing, because "He is as perfect as he can be according to the affections that he has,

according to the affections of his power, that is according to the images of which he is capable. According to the images of things of which he is capable, which are the true affections of his power.

The blind man is not capable of having visual images, hence his perfection cannot be thought to be deprived on that account, no less that the stone's perfection should be thought deprived for the same reason.

§2 Pure instantaneity of essence

Deleuze characterizes Blyenbergh's objection using different terminology:

Blyenbergh answers Spinoza immediately by saying: all that is very pretty but you can only manage it if you insist upon (he didn't say it in this form, but you will see, the text really comes down to the same thing) a kind of pure instantaneity of the essence.
you cannot assimilate the blind man not seeing and the stone not seeing, you can only make such an assimilation if, at the same time, you pose a kind of pure instantaneity of the essence, namely: there belongs to an essence only the present, instantaneous affection that it experiences insofar as it experiences it.

So Blyenbergh objects that we can say we are never deprived of something so long as we consider only the affection that belongs to our essence here and now (See Letter XXII, Blyenbergh says: "nothing else pertains to an essence than that which it possesses at the moment it is perceived").

Spinoza replies simply that this is just the way things are, but this is curious because he is always telling us that essence is eternal. This is because the essence does not endure, and there are two ways of not enduring: the way of eternity or the way of instantaneity. But Spinoza passes slyly from the one sort to the other: "He began by telling us: the essences are eternal, and now he tells us: the essences are instantaneous."

the essences are eternal, but those things which belongs to the essence are instantaneous; there belongs to my essence only what I experience actually insofar as I experience it actually.
I am as perfect as I can be according to the affection which determines my essence‚ implies this strict instantaneity.

So in other words, our essences are eternal, but they undergo affections which are different for each instant.

Blyenbergh objects that you cannot define an essence as being a pure instantaneity, because sometimes we are affected by base sensual appetites, other times by better love, and each time we are as perfect as we can be, "there as in a series of flashes!" Blyenbergh says that there must be duration so that we can become better, "there is a becoming, and it is according to this duration that you can become better or worse." When we are overcome by a base sensual appetite, there is a duration over which we become worse than before. Thus "the essence cannot be measured in its instantaneous states," because essence is always in a state of becoming.

Blyenbergh thinks he corners Spinoza here, and begins to ask a flurry of questions, but Spinza stops the correspondence to be left in peace.

Some might conclude Spinoza stopped writing because he knew he was wrong. Deleuze's theory is that Spinoza thought Blyenbergh was his enemy, and if he were to answer his questions he would give away the essence of his Ethics, which Spinoza wanted to keep hidden and protected from Blyenbergh.

§3 The sphere of belonging of essence

Yet, Spinoza knows there is duration, and he plays also with the terms eternity and instantaneity. Eternity is the modality that belongs to essence, which means it is not subject to time. But what this means we do not know. Instantaneity is the modality of affection of essence; "Formula: I am always as perfect as I can be according to the affections that I have here and now." Thus an affection is really an "instantaneous cut;" it is

the species of horizontal relation between an action and an image of a thing. Third dimension, it is as if we were in the process of constituting the three dimensions of what we could call the sphere.

To explain, Deleuze makes use of a Husserlian term, "the sphere of belonging of the essence: the essence is what belongs to it." Spinoza would say that this sphere of belonging of the essence has three dimensions:

1) There is the essence itself, eternal;
2) there are the affections of the essence here and now which are like so many instants, that is, what affects me at this moment;
3) there is the affection's duration that envelopes the affect.

§3 Affection envelops an affect

The affection envelops an affect. The affection is "the instantaneous effect of an image of a thing on me."

For example perceptions are affections. The image of things associated with my action is an affection. The affection envelops, implicates.

We are to take the term "envelope" as a material metaphor: within the affection there is an enveloped affect.

Affection and affect are different in nature; for, the affect, although enveloped by the affection, is not dependent on it. These are two different things: being-enveloped-by, and being-dependent-on. The affection is both the thing's image as well as its effect on us, and it "envelops a passage or a transition."

§4 Duration is the passage, the lived transition

The passage or transition is not a mental comparison of one state with a previous state, rather, it is "a passage or transition enveloped by the affection, by every affection. Every instantaneous affection envelops a passage or transition." Because this is a "lived passage" or a "lived transition," it is not something conscious. "Every state implicates a lived passage or transition." The passage spans "the preceding (antérieur) state to the current (actuel) state," which are so incredibly close together that they are both called State A and State A'.

The passage itself that moves from the previous to the current state is itself a state, that is to say, it is the state that characterizes this movement between states, and it is different from either of the instants through which it passes. Duration is the lived passage between these two states. And although Bergson's use of duration is not inspired by Spinoza's, the two still coincide. Bergson says that

you can consider psychic states as close together as you want in time, you can consider the state A and the state A‚ as separated by a minute, but just as well by a second, by a thousandth of a second, that is you can make more and more cuts, increasingly tight, increasingly close to one another. You may well go to the infinite, says Bergson, in your decomposition of time, by establishing cuts with increasing rapidity, but you will only ever reach states. And he adds that the states are always of space. The cuts are always spatial. And you will have brought your cuts together very well, you will let something necessarily escape, it is the passage from one cut to another, however small it may be. Now, what does he call duration, at its simplest? It is the passage from one cut to another, it is the passage from one state to another.

Duration then is always in a sense "behind our backs," because it is "between two blinks of the eye."

If you want an approximation of duration: I look at someone, I look at someone, duration is neither here nor there. Duration is: what has happened between the two? Even if I would have gone as quickly as I would like, duration goes even more quickly, by definition, as if it was affected by a variable coefficient of speed: as quickly as I go, my duration goes more quickly. However quickly I pass from one state to another, the passage is irreducible to the two states.

It is in this way that affection envelops the affect:

every affection envelops the passage by which we arrive at it, and by which we leave it, towards another affection, however close the two affections considered are.

So even we might demark three moments, A, A,' A", with A' being the instantaneous affection of the present moment, A being the instantaneous affection of a little while ago, and A" being what is going to come.

Even though I have brought them together as close as possible, there is always something which separates them, namely the phenomenon of passage. This phenomenon of passage, insofar as it is a lived phenomenon, is duration: this is the third member of the essence.

Thus the affect is the duration that every affection envelops; "it is the lived passage from the preceding state to the current state, or of the current state to the following state."

So regarding the three dimensions of essence:

The essence belongs to itself under the form of the eternity, the affection belongs to the essence under the form of instantaneity, the affect belongs to the essence under the form of duration.

§5 Affect, increase and decrease of power

Every affection implicates (envelopes) an affect, but "the enveloped and the enveloping just don't have the same nature." We know that the passage is enveloped by the affection, and it envelops a duration, which is the affect. But the passage itself consists of an "increase or decrease of my power, even infinitesimally."

For example, when we are in a dark room, we are as perfect as we can be given the affections we have, and in this case we have no visual affections. Then someone enters and abruptly turns on the lights. "I am completely dazzled." In this event, there is a transition from two states that are extremely close together, the dark state and the lighted state. Even though only the flipping of the switch separates them, something that is lightning fast, there is still a passage from one state to the other. Our bodies then mobilize immediately to adapt to the new state. In this case, the affect is the passage from the dark state to the lighted state:

Two successive affections, in cuts. The passage is the lived transition from one to the other.

§6 Every affection is instantaneous

The passage between affections is "necessarily an increase of power or a decrease of power." If we were meditating before someone turned on the light, then we would become angry at him for causing us to lose the idea we were contemplating. This is a decrease in power. But, if we were looking for our glasses in the dark, then when someone turns on the light, we appreciate him, because then the light increased our power.

in general, without taking the context into account, if one increases the affections of which you are capable, there is an increase of power, if one decreases the affections of which you are capable there is a decrease of power.

But, every affection is instantaneous, so we are only as perfect as we can be given what we have at any instant. Taken in terms of instantaneity, there is no good or bad, but when we take into account the durations during which there is an increase or decrease of power, then we can say that there is good or bad. Thus we must keep in mind this passage between affections.

Affects that increase power are joys. Those that decrease are sadness.

Sadness is an affect enveloped by an affection, which is an image of the thing causing us sadness.

Something causes us sadness when its relations decompose my relations: the "thing has relations which are not composed with mine, and which tend to decompose mine." This is the affection or affectio. The affect or affectus is the passage by which the thing decreased my power. Hence there is the double reference to instantaneous affections and affects of passage.

When something decreases our power we hate it:

To hate is to want to destroy what threatens to destroy you. This is what hate means. That is, to want‚ to decompose what threatens to decompose you. So the sadness engenders hate.

However, hate also engenders joy. For example, when we imagine the cause of our hate as being unhappy, then we experience a 'strange joy.'

The man of hate, the man of resentment, etc., for Spinoza, is the one all of whose joys are poisoned by the initial sadness, because sadness is in these same joys. In the end he can only derive joy from sadness.

But these are indirect joys.

When we encounter something who relations decompose mine, then we obtain a fixation:

a part of my power is entirely devoted to investing and to isolating the trace, on me, of the object which doesn't agree with me.

So when someone decreases our power by abruptly turning on the lights, this leaves a trace of the disagreeable thing on me, and the whole part of my power invests its energy in this trace in effort to do away with its cause. The amount of power we invest in subtracting this cause is removed from us:

This is what is meant by: my power decreases. It is not that I have less power, it is that a part of my power is subtracted in this sense that it is necessarily allocated to averting the action of the thing.

However, we experience joy when we encounter something whose relations agree with mine, for example music: we might first listen to music that wounds us and decreases our power, and subsequently listen to music that we find pleasant and that increases our power. When listening to the disagreeable music, "a whole part of my power is hardened in order to hold at a distance these sounds which penetrate me." But the agreeable music has resonant relations that agree with our own relations.

So when we experience joy, there is not an investment of power: "there is not at all an investment of one hardened part which would mean that a certain quantity of power (puissance) is subtracted from my power (pouvoir)."

When something whose relations agree with mine come into contact with mine, it is as though we synthesize into a larger individual: "a third individual is constituted, individual of which me, or the music, are no more than a part. I would say, from now on, that my power (puissance) is in expansion, or that it increases."

These examples demonstrate that when Spinoza speaks of an increase or decrease of power, and Nietzsche of the Will of Power, they speak of the same thing. Likewise, affect is the same thing for both.

it is on this point that Nietzsche is Spinozist, that is, it is the decreases or increases of power (puissance). They have in fact something which doesn't have anything to do with whatever conquest of a power (pouvoir). Without doubt they will say that the only power (pouvoir) is finally power (puissance), that is: to increase one's power (puissance) is precisely to compose relations such that the thing and I, which compose the relations, are no more than two sub-individualities of a new individual, a formidable new individual.

Those who are sad lack power, and they try to make others sad so that others lack power too. "They can only reign over slaves, and the slave is precisely the regime of the decrease of power (puissance)."

The third individual that comes about when two bodies' relations co-compose each other does not pre-exist this synthesis; hence, we really do increase in power when we co-compose greater bodies.

§7 The eternal essence, degree of power (puissance)

Our essence is eternal, because we are a degree of power, which means we are a degree of God's power. This is the first sphere of being an essence. We all have different degrees of power, hence Spinoza has a quantitative conception of individuation.

But it is a special quantity since it is a quantity of power (puissance). A quantity of power we have always called an intensity. It is to this and to this alone that Spinoza assigns the term eternity.

We have instantaneous affections, and this is the second sphere of essence: "Following this dimension the relations compose or don't compose. It is the dimension of affectio: composition or decomposition between things."

The third dimensions of belonging to essence is the affects: "each time that an affection executes my power (puissance), and it executes it as perfectly as it can, as perfectly as is possible." This changes over durations, and so just because power is an eternal degree does not mean that it is unchanging.

The reason that there is not a contradiction between the changing of power and the eternity of power is because power is an intensive quantity and not an extensive one.

An intensive quantity is inseparable from a threshold, that is an intensive quantity is fundamentally, in itself, already a difference. The intensive quantity is made of differences.

Hence, powers as intensities are already made up of differences, so it should be no surprise that they are changing.

§8 Letter to Meyer on infinity

For the Scholastics of the Middle Age, there is an equivalence between the terms gradus or pars, part or degree. Degrees are intensive parts. This is why Deleuze is able to say that by being a part of God's power, we are an intensive degree of it.

The geometrical figure in the 12th letter to Meyer, "The Letter on Infinity," will help explain Spinoza's notion of individuality. In the figure, there are two non-concentric circles, and hence there is a greatest and smallest distance between the two. These maxima and minima are its limits or thresholds.

And he says: consider the sum, here the Latin text is very important, the sum of the inequalities of distance. You see: you trace all the lines, all the segments which go from one circle to the other. You evidently have an infinity. Spinoza tells us: consider the sum of the inequalities of distance. You understand: he doesn't literally tell us to consider the sum of the unequal distances, that is of the segments which go from one circle to the other.

Even though within the limits there is an infinity, it is still a limited infinity.

Deleuze notes that Spinoza does not say to sum up the unequal distances, which he means either to sum up the number of lines or their total distance when their lengths are added together. Instead, Spinoza has us sum up their differences. Deleuze proposes that Spinoza does so because he wants to explain essences, which are degrees of power, and thus which are differences between a maximum and a minimum: "in this way that it is an intensive quantity. A degree of power is a difference in itself."

Explaining what Deleuze means requires some analysis [which will be updated as we summarize more of the lectures]. He says that they are intensive quantities, which means we are not concerned with the sum of their lengths or a count of their number. Rather, we are looking for all the differences between the maxima and minima. Such a difference normally would be considered extensive, except when we think in terms of limits, which do not have extensive value but rather only intensive magnitude. Because there is an infinity of limits between the maxima and minima, there is an infinity of intensive magnitude.

The tape ends, and rest of the lecture is excluded from this summary. The subtitles are: How to become reasonable? and What am I capable of?


Deleuze, Gilles. "Cours Vincennes: 20/01/1981". webdeleuze.com

The lecture is available here: French and English

With profound gratitude I thank Richard Pinhas for providing these texts.

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