4 Jul 2012

Difference & Sensation: Deleuze's Spinozistic Affect

by Corry Shores
[Search Blog Here. Index-tags are found on the bottom of the left column.]

[Central Entry Directory]
[Corry Shores, Entry Directory]

The following is my presentation at the Nederlands Genootschap voor Esthetica (Dutch Association of Aesthetics) Utrecht Expertmeeting Kunstfilosofie in Utrecht, November 2011

Corry Shores

Difference & Sensation:
Deleuze's Spinozistic Affect

(Animation above is my own, made with GIMP and Unfreeze,
image from Spinoza, Opera vol. 2, archive.org
, p.233)

Deleuze is commonly considered an anti-phenomenologist. However, I would like to explore the phenomenological value of his aesthetical ideas regarding affection and bodily sensation. The aim of this presentation is to offer a Spinozistic interpretation of certain concepts in Deleuze’s Francis Bacon book. For this aim, I draw primarily upon Deleuze’s writings on Spinoza’s affection. We will regard affection phenomenologically as involving a sort of affective awareness of bodily-given phenomena. We do this because Deleuze explains Spinoza’s kinds of knowledge in terms of the rhythm of affection.

Deleuze specifically refers to affective awareness as ‘the phenomenon of passage.’ It is the lived transition that we undergo when affections transfer us from one bodily state to another.

There are two primary dimensions, then, to such affective alterations.

One is the physical composition of bodies that becomes changed by the affection. The other is the dynamic of the alteration. Deleuze combines these two dimensions of affection, the compositional and the dynamic, by analyzing two sorts of infinities in Spinoza’s theory of affection, namely, extensive and intensive infinities. There is a cryptic diagram in Spinoza’s Twelfth Letter: the ‘letter on infinity.’ Deleuze’s novel interpretation of the diagram shows how it illustrates the two infinities.

Spinoza writes of the diagram that “all the inequalities of the space lying between the two circles ABCD in the diagram exceed any number, as do all the variations of the speed of matter moving through that area.”

We find similar diagrams in Spinoza’s Principles of Cartesian Philosophy. In the left diagram, both semi-circles share the same center. The space between their circumferences is everywhere the same. However, if the semi-circles do not share the same center, then the space between their circumferences will be everywhere unequal.

He also has us consider the circulation of water moving through the space between offset circles. And on account of the geometry of the non-concentric circles, every place along the circuit has a different width and hence “the fluid body that moves through the tube ABC receives an indefinite number of degrees of speed.”

The infinity diagram would then seem to be a hybrid of these two other figures.

Yet, Spinoza explains in his 81st letter that the infinity here is not obtained from the fact that there are more parts than can be counted. Instead, the diagram according to Deleuze, illustrates a mode’s infinite division into differential relations between infinitely small partitions.

Now, although Spinoza’s ‘letter on the infinite’ predates the inception of differential calculus, Deleuze locates in it what he considers to be seminal calculus notions. To explain the concept of infinitely small vanishing values, Deleuze guides us through the remarkably simple and illuminating visualization in one of Leibniz’ letters.

The diagonal line moves to the right, which diminishes the top triangle, all while increasing the bottom one; yet, because the triangles stay proportionally similar throughout the alteration, the ratio between the smaller one’s legs always remains proportional to the ratio between the larger one’s legs.

(Animation above is my own, made with OpenOffice Draw and Unfreeze)

The vanished triangle, Deleuze says, is not actually there, but is there “virtually,” because the vanishing lines have not yet entirely merged together at the corner. So the infinitely small legs of the smaller triangle are still distinct from each other and from the corner they are collapsing upon; and yet, they also do not extend beyond it. Thus, they do not bear extensive magnitudes but rather only intensive ones, which we will treat as degrees of variation. The philosophical idea here – difference without terms – is essential to Deleuze’s Spinozistic notion of affection. And it will allow us to see how Deleuze can use Spinoza’s diagram to illustrate both the intensive and extensive infinities that are involved in affection.

(Thanks en.wikipedia.org/ A.Greg)

Extensive bodies, for Spinoza, are divisible until reaching what he calls simplest bodies. Simplest bodies form compounds when ones moving at the same or at different speeds maintain a fixed relation in their mutual motions and when “the laws or nature of one part adapts itself to the laws or nature of another part in such wise that there is the least possible opposition between them.”

These infinitely small simplest bodies are never found alone, but rather only in infinite sets. These sets reciprocally unite with other infinite sets to compose a more complex body. These compound bodies are then combined with other bodies, and so on to higher orders until reaching the whole of Nature.

pulsing blue balls animated gif
heart cell beating
circulatory system pulsing beating pumping animated gif
circulatory system animation
Egypt protest bridge animated gif
amazon river animated gif
earth from space animated gif
solar system gif
spiral galaxy animated gif
galaxies animated gif

(Credits in order)
(colliding particles: Thanks A.Greg / en.wikipedia.org)
(blue molecule: Thanks M.L. Rahman / faculty.bracu.ac.bd)
(heart cell: Thanks Bluegrass Pundit / scinewsblog)
(heart beating: Thanks Sterile Barrier Solutions / sbsmed.net)
(circulatory system: Thanks John U / quietmoment.org)
(Egypt bridge protest: Thanks Freemanfilmsuk / youtube.com)
(Amazon river: Thanks BestofAttenborough /youtube.com)
(earth: Thanks UweTube / youtube.com)
(solar system: Thanks animated-sun.weebly.com)
(spiral galaxy: Thanks Kanal von beltoforion1 /youtube.com)
(galaxies: Thanks BrainMind.com / youtube.com)

In his letter on blood, Spinoza has his correspondent imagine a tiny worm so small that it can swim through the blood and observe how its tiniest particles collide and communicate their motion. The worm would see that the simple bodies of blood, the lymph and chyle, continually affect one another’s speeds. Yet, because they maintain their mutual affections without one destroying the other, they together make up the composite body that is our blood. The ratio of their speeds is a level of power that must stay within certain limits.

For otherwise, the simple bodies could decompose and enter into other relations. This happens, for example, when arsenic enters the blood. They will not combine. Rather, on account of their incompatible levels of power, arsenic will decompose our blood.

This sends a chain reaction of affective shockwaves throughout the body, decomposing all the other higher orders of differentially related parts. If it decreases our whole body’s power below a certain threshold, we die. Our body no longer expresses our modal essence, but instead its rearranged parts express the essences of other modes, such as the worms and soil we recompose into.

Thus, Deleuze interprets the infinity diagram as showing how a finite body extending between the limits of its size is divisible into an infinity of simplest bodies.

(Animation above is my own, made with GIMP and Unfreeze,
image from Spinoza, Opera vol. 2, archive.org, p.233)

Now to understand intensive infinities, first consider a ball on a chain swung in a circle. There are competing forces acting on the ball: on the one hand, it wants to fly outward, but on the other hand, its chain pulls it inward. As a result, the ball is always tending to go some certain way at each moment in its circular motion. If we were to cut the ball loose, it would not fly-off in a spiral, but instead outward in a straight line. This would also be the tangent to a circle’s curve at that point.
(Animation above is my own, made with OpenOffice Draw and Unfreeze)

The tangent on curves is like a tendency in the line’s change of direction at that place that is only implied in the movement. Physicists use techniques to find the instantaneous velocity of a moving object; it is something like the speed it is tending to go at that moment.

But how can a velocity be instantaneous? Well, nonetheless, it is a real quantity in the physical world, although it exists only as a virtuality.

Now, for a curve moving in a somewhat more irregular path, finding its tendency-toward-change is more complex, and here is where we might use Leibniz’ method.

(Animation above is my own, made with OpenOffice Draw and Unfreeze)

(Thanks Dr. Siddique / faculty.uncfsu.edu)

Sometimes we can almost feel where a certain part of the curve is heading just by judging its pattern of change. We can also create a triangle showing how the curve’s dimensions extend in a certain region. Then, like with Leibniz’ triangles, we slowly diminish the two triangle legs, and the third diagonal side gives us the tangent, which also tells us which way the curve is tending at that place.

Now, when sets of simplest bodies affectively impact the parts of our own bodies, their shocking collision corresponds with the production of an idea of that object in our imagination. “I look at the sun,” says Deleuze, “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.” These ideas also correspond to an increase or decrease in our power of acting, and the variations are continuous.

He has us imagine that we encounter on the street our enemy Peter who makes us afraid. Yet, we suddenly turn our glance toward our friend Paul, whose charm reassures us. While moving from the ideas of Peter to Paul, we underwent a continuous increase in our power of action. These variations, Deleuze explains, are ever-altering quantities: “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 she has,” and “this kind of melodic line of continuous variation will define affect.”

In the 22nd letter, we find “nothing else pertains to an essence than that which it possesses at the moment it is perceived.” Deleuze reinterprets this as, “there belongs to an essence only the present, instantaneous affection that it experiences.” Deleuze offers an example of this instantaneity of an affective alteration.

We are meditating in a dark room. Then without warning, someone enters the room and abruptly turns on the lights, which completely dazzles us and renders us no longer able to maintain mental focus.

We pass between two very different states in a “lightning fast” alteration: “Two successive affections, in cuts. The passage is the lived transition from one to the other.” Every passage between affections is then necessarily an increase of power or a decrease of power. So if instead we are looking for our glasses in the complete dark, and then someone turns on a dim light, we appreciate him, because then the light increased our power of action. What we note here especially is that the affection’s increase or decrease is seen as instantaneous, which means it does not extend in time. Rather, it is an intensity.

Hence Deleuze’s other illustrative use of the diagram. A body has a certain range of affective power, and when an affection takes it beyond its limits, the body’s parts decompose into other bodies, like when arsenic enters the blood. So consider how there is a largest and smallest limit in the diagram, and throughout it is a continuum of an infinity of differential variations. Deleuze has us conceive this range of variation as representing the range of affective power that we can sustain before we decompose. So this is the intensive infinity.

(Animation above is my own, made with GIMP and Unfreeze,
image from Spinoza, Opera vol. 2, archive.org, p.233)

Now, according to Deleuze, we obtain Spinoza’s second kind of knowledge through our interactive contact with affecting bodies. As we saw with arsenic, the affections of other bodies can decompose us. Yet, in many cases when we are threatened by certain affections, we might know how to modify our own bodies so that we may sustain ourselves.

Deleuze cites an example in Dante’s Inferno. A damned soul is pelted with rain. Yet, rather than let the rain destroy him, he continually modifies the relations of his own body’s parts by twisting around, so that he may co-sustain with the rain’s affections. By making changes in the relations of our body-parts, we send waves of affective alteration throughout us on the level of our simplest bodies.

These internal self-affective shock-waves are in a dance of sorts with the external waves of affection, and their perpetuated interaction is what Deleuze here calls “rhythm.” Another example he offers is swimming. While in the water, a wave draws near us. When it strikes, we and the wave affect each other’s simplest-body arrangements. In that very instant we might be learning how to adjust to the wave’s decompositional forces. By modifying our own body’s composition, we may stay afloat and swim in conjunction with the wave, causing our body and the wave to become a compound, a larger body.

Another illustration better expresses how the rhythm of affection is a matter of differential relations. Deleuze explains that a violin and a piano playing independently do not really produce affective rhythm. However, they may achieve a rhythmic relationship during a joint performance if the violin plays in response to the piano all while simultaneously the piano performs in response to the violin. In this way, they each affectively modify one another while at the same time they modify themselves, which sustains their dual improvisation. And according to Deleuze, Cézanne also describes this rhythmic interaction when he wrote about “how to compose the canvas-easel relation with the relation of wind, and how to compose the relation of the easel with the sinking sun, and how to end up in such a way that I might paint on the ground, that I might paint lying on the ground.”

This portrayal of Spinoza’s affection will now serve to interpret some difficult terminology in Deleuze’s Francis Bacon book. Deleuze writes here that in simple sensations, rhythm “appears as the vibration that flows through the body without organs, it is the vector of the sensation, it is what makes the sensation pass from one level to another.”

The vector here is like the intensity of the affective variation to change its quantitative value. We could then conceive the body without organs as the Spinozistic body composed of continually altering differential relations. Hence, Deleuze writes that the body without organs is “an intense and intensive body. It is traversed by a wave that traces levels or thresholds in the body according to the variations of its amplitude. Thus the body does not have organs, but thresholds or levels.” As the damned soul in Dante’s Inferno twists his once protected side toward the pelting rain, waves of affective variation now impact the newly exposed part directly. It then becomes the site of sensation, where the internal waves of self-affection meet the external waves of affective variation. Yet this status is temporary, because he continually twists in the rain, making instead other parts of his body the new sites of affective reception.

Deleuze continues: “When the [internal] wave encounters external forces at a particular level, a sensation appears. An organ will be determined by this encounter, but it is a provisional organ that endures only as long as the passage of the wave and the action of the force, and which will be displaced in order to be posited elsewhere.” Sensational rhythm, Deleuze explains, can be the unpredictable variance of intensity waves that continually alters our bodily composition.

Thus Deleuze’s body without organs and its waves of sensational intensity can be viewed in light of his conception of the Spinozistic body and its continuous variations of affection, with the concept of ‘rhythm’ playing a similar role in both cases.

This provides us with a more substantial explanation for one of Deleuze’s few attacks on traditional phenomenology, in this case regarding the body without organs in contrast to the phenomenological lived body.

He writes: "this rhythmic unity of the senses can be discovered only by going beyond the organism. The phenomenological hypothesis is perhaps insufficient because it merely invokes the lived body. But the lived body is still a paltry thing in. We can seek the unity of rhythm only at the point where rhythm itself plunges into chaos, into the night, at the point where the differences of level are perpetually and violently mixed. Beyond the organism, but also at the limit of the lived body, there lies […] the body without organs."

Thus, Deleuze breaks from traditional phenomenology’s manner of conceiving the composition of the body as being made of harmoniously integrated parts that work organically with each other and with the world around them during phenomenal experiences. Nothing in its environment would stand out and appear to such a body that is completely accustomed to all the affective influences around it. Rather, for phenomena to appear to us, our bodies would need to sense things that stand out; we would need to detect differences.

A Deleuze-inspired phenomenology would explain bodily-given phenomena that appear to our affective awareness as being based on differential relations within us, throughout the phenomenal world around us, and between our bodies and the world.

Image credits:

Blue and red particles in motion
Thanks A.Greg

Blue molecule in motion
Thanks M.L. Rahman

Heart cell
Thanks Bluegrass Pundit

Heart beating
Thanks Sterile Barrier Solutions

Circulatory system animated gif
Thanks John U.

Egypt protestors on a bridge
Thanks Freemanfilmsuk

Amazon river
Thanks BestofAttenborough

Thanks UweTube

Solar system
Thanks animated-sun.weebly

Spiral Galaxy
Thanks Kanal von beltoforion1

Thanks BrainMind.com

Spinoza. Opera, vol. 2. Edited by Carl Gebhardt. Heidelberg: Winter, 1972.

Geometrical Derivative animation:
Thanks Dr. Siddique of Fayetteville State University

No comments:

Post a Comment