3 Jan 2012

Time & Method. Ch.2.2 of Williams' Deleuze's Philosophy of Time

summary by Corry Shores

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Time & Method

James Williams'

Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time:
A Critical Introduction and Guide

Chapter 2: The first synthesis of time

Part 2: Synthesis and method in the first synthesis of time

In Deleuze's account of his first synthesis of time, what does his methodological shiftings from empirical to transcendental got to do with you?

Who are we? Does it have something to do with how we behave and view the world at any moment? Our minds put experiences together. So each time we let go of something heavy, we anticipate it dropping; so perhaps we automatically move our feet out of the way. This is on the basis of empirical observation. But would we not also say that part of being who we are is that this contracting process always is going on, because if new occurrences did not come into and merge with past ones, we would stay the same in a timeless way, which is like death in way. When we deduce that it is logically necessary that this process is at work, we are using a transcendental methodology: we are explicating the conditions of possibility for our lives to move forward in time.

Brief Summary

Deleuze mixes empirical and transcendental methods. We empirically observe our mind's tendency to contract. We transcendentally deduce the necessity of passive synthesis for this tendency to be at work.

Deleuze also does not limit his account to subjective and objective perspectives. The repetition of cases is not seen objectively, because the occurrences do not each already have contracted relations to the others (it must be performed on them). Yet, the repetition is not understood subjectively [perhaps because each contraction changes the mind itself, so the contractions are not based on some stable subjectivity; rather, that subjectivity is under alteration on account of the contracted occurrences].

There are three moments involved in repetition: succession, contraction, and representation.

There are two further ways to distinguish repetitions. The first regards additions. They are closed insofar as an addition will change it qualitatively, like how the fifth bell toll feels different than the fourth, and thus the fourth one was closed off to further addition. And they are open insofar as the addition strengthens quantitatively certain paths of anticipation. So the more times we hear the bells toll at five o clock, the more we anticipate the fourth toll being followed (and contracted with) the fifth toll. Another way to distinguish repetitions is on the basis of grouping status. Each new toll makes a new contraction, and this is the repetition of elements. But each toll is what it is on account of its paired contractions, and this is the repetition of cases.

When our sense impressions contract, they do so on the level of passive synthesis, but also we may more explicitly consider representations of occurrences not seen in terms of their mergence with others. The representational level is not adequate to capture everything about the immediate sense experiences, and so also thinking representationally about our habitual contractions is not enough to change them; we must instead somehow do so on the level of passive synthesis. Each contraction is a sign for how we might make future contractions. But interpreting the sign representationally misses implicit components of its meaning.

Points Relative to Deleuze:

Deleuze mixes empirical and transcendental methods. Also, he regards representation as inadequate for a description of what is going on in the syntheses of the lived present.


Deleuze's writings on the first synthesis of time also raise questions of philosophical method. Recall the role of retention and expectation in the 'living present' (from Ch.2.1). For example, we always find that heavy things fall when we let go of them in the air. We retain all these similar particular events retentionally in our mind. Then, just as soon as we see ourselves about to let go of a heavy object, all similar past occurrences contract together to make our mind anticipate the object falling. This much is empirical, because it is all based on experience. But what is not empirical is the very fact that synthetic processes are required for this contraction; for, "It is a logical deduction from the independence of instants" [For different instants to relate together in the contraction, they must first be different, thus they are not inherently related, and so an additional synthetic exercise is necessary to relate them contractively.] What is also not empirical is the fact that the processes involved are conditions for each other and also that that their relations are asymmetrical. [The conditions for example for possible future contractions are grounded in actual ones now, and because this concerns the conditions of possibility for other processes,] it is transcendental rather than empirical. However, we do not deduce logically that there are at work these process of the first synthesis of time; rather we observe them as such. Williams wonders why Deleuze turns to Hume's thinking when perhaps there might be more recent and convincing support in psychology, neurology or Merleau-Pontian phenomenology. (30bc.d)

Williams finds the first clue in Deleuze's distinction between the empirical and the formal with regard to processes. What makes Deleuze's argumentation different than scientific and phenomenological ones is that he moves swiftly from empirical to speculative remarks regarding the formal properties of these processes. So he begins with 'a sketchy empirical observation' [contraction of like causal pairings] in order to set out a 'speculative formal frame' [perhaps, an account of the necessity for these processes and their relations] with a transcendental element [describing the conditions of possibility for these necessary processes]. (31a.b)
"This partly explains the difficulty of setting down a label for his philosophy: it is empirical, speculative and transcendental. It also invites a deep worry, since there is a danger of failing in each of these moves and standing as poor (unscientific) empiricism, (non-rigourous) phenomenology and (logically deficient) speculative philosophy" (31a.b)
Deleuze makes use of the resources of all three, without falling victim to their dangers, through a careful analysis of them in the history of philosophy. (31b) To do so, Deleuze first "establishes the priority of passive synthesis and the living present." (31c) So it is not that what is most primary are the individuality of the instants, and then secondarily they are synthesized. Rather, it is only on the basis of the synthetic processes that they can be conceived as separate in the first place [perhaps because they would not be relatable as being different from one another if there were not some synthesis that brings them together into such a relation]. Also, the synthesis is the condition for the incompleteness and the secondary nature of our conception of the separations of occurrences [perhaps because the process is ongoing; or perhaps because the repetitions involved are not merely repetitions of the mind, but continuous new differences given to the mind and thus the mind itself is always changing with its contractions]. (31-32)
"What this means is that repetition cannot be thought of as either the repetition of objects, which explains why Deleuze presented such an approach as leading to a paradox, or as repetition in the subject, which explains why it would be a mistake to associate his reading of Hume with an interpretation of both philosophers as setting down the human mind | as the condition for repetition." (31-32)
So because Deleuze's theory of time avoids taking the objective and subjective perspectives, "Deleuze can appeal neither to brute empiricism, nor to simple phenomenology." (32a) This raises the question as to how we conduct or philosophical inquiries without basing them on objective or subjective grounds. Deleuze shows that the necessity for repetition is not found in any object alone. Instead, repetition is a matter ideal relations that provide the conditions for actual differences. (32d)

Deleuze proceeds then to show that:
"Time and synthesis, as well as the living present, cannot be subjective in the sense of properties of the understanding or memory of a thinking subject." (Williams 33b)
Deleuze reads Hume to be saying that our conceptually represented memory contains individual memories with their own distinct times and spaces. These separated memory representations is not the same as the retended past, because events in retention are inseparable.

Williams then discusses two 'far-reaching conclusions on time and repetition' that Deleuze draws from these ideas.

1) Repetition implies three moments:

1a) objective instants passing away because they cannot be repeated
1b) contracting through passive synthesizing
1c) representing (specific distinguishable occurrences) reflexively in the active memory and understanding (34a)

Each of these moments, however, reciprocally determine the others. (34b)

2) Each moment is necessary and has methodological facets:

2a) "expression of individuation in the living present (duration in Bergson and imagination in Hume)",
2b) "representation of identity in memory and understanding", and
2c) "creation of syntheses in a thinking of the relations of the other two and all presupposed ideal relations." (34c)

There are two sorts of dissimilarity in Bergson's and Hume's examples of repetition (the clock tolls and the AB causal parings) [see paragraph 3 and paragraph 4]

1) Closed vs Open repetition

1a) Closed [contraction changes qualitatively with addition] (Bergson's 4 tolls would change at 5)
1b) Open [contraction changes quantitative 'weight' or tendency for association with each new repeated occurrence] (oncoming Hume's AB parings are contracted together and can keep being contracted as more come) (35d)

2) Element vs Case

2a) Coupled [Case]: "Hume's involves cases of AB couples"
2b) Undivided [Element]: "Bergson has repeated undivided elements or strikes" (34d)

Deleuze notes that in Bergson's example where we hear the bell toll four times, the first and second toll were also contracted as an AB coupling, as was the second and third, and finally the fourth and fifth. So on the one hand, like with Hume, we just have recurrences of AB pairings, but like with Bergson, each pairing can be secondarily differentiated from the others representationally by means of spatializing duration. (35a)

Empirically we observe that the passive synthesis tends to experience the clock's ticking as having tick-tocks (contracted pairings). We know transcendentally that the condition that makes the contraction possible is the synthesis itself. In this way Deleuze integrates empirical and transcendental methods. (35b.d)

The relation between element and case is different on each of the three levels of its operation ("passing away of instants, contraction and representation"), in regard to sensibility and sensation. (36a) The contractions of our sense impressions happen automatically. [Here the elements, each occurrence, and the cases, their groupings, seem to coincide.] On the level of representation, we might inquire whether something will give us some certain sense impression. But doing this presupposes the passively synthesized contractions. [Here the elements are not yet cases, but it is on the basis of their having been contracted into cases that we can pick certain ones out representationally and anticipate the coming contraction of pairings.]
"on one level, our sensibility is just a contraction of organic syntheses, a series of sensations of warmth, say, prior to and independent of any representation or concept: ‘[. . .] a primary sensibility that we are’ (DRf, 99). On another level, though, we are intending beings who can intend towards an object and ascribe a given quality to it, for instance, when we reach out and ask the question, ‘Is it warm?’ From this point of view, contraction is prior to even that sensation, if sensation is defined as a conscious faculty. This is because we cannot have the sensation in that form until there has been a series of passive organic contractions." (36b.c)
According to Williams, each contractive synthesis is a 'level', and each level is a 'sign'. Because a contraction selects paths of how we might contract future occurrences, it is like a sign pointing to the future. (36-37) But to interpret these signs, we need to use representations, which for some reason will always miss something about the prior syntheses it is trying to interpret. So this poses a problem in Deleuze's thinking, because signs have an importance for helping us understand "how we are becoming what we are", while also it is impossible to fully represent and interpret those signs. So, "what is the right way of living with and living up to the passive syntheses constituting and driving us forward?" (37a.b)

If we want to change a habit, we will miss things about it if we remain on the level of representation; thus "learning and unlearning habits must not be seen in terms of the conscious repetition of movement, for instance, but instead must be seen as an interaction with processes that we cannot directly represent or act upon." (37d)

Williams, James. Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.

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