30 Nov 2012

Intro. Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. summary

Corry Shores
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[Note: All boldface and underlining is my own. It is intended for skimming purposes. Bracketed comments are also my own explanations or interpretations.]

Henry Somers-Hall

Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation.

Dialectics of Negation and Difference


Brief summary: Henry Somers-Hall’s book on Deleuze and Hegel will examine their different approaches to the same problematic of finite representation.


Deleuze avoids ‘the philosophy of identity’ or ‘representation’, which culminates in Hegel’s absolute idealism.

Deleuze argues that Hegel's philosophy completes the philosophy of identity, which can be traced back to Aristotle. (1)


the vehemence of his rejection of Hegelian dialectic often occludes the affinities between them. These affinities are not to be found in the results of their investigations, nor in their methods, but rather in the central problems from which their respective philosophies emerge. Both Hegel and Deleuze can be seen as attempting to overcome the limitations of Kantian philosophy, on the one hand, and an abstract and external image of thought, on the other. (1)

This text will not take a historical or analytical approach to the relation between Deleuze and Hegel’s philosophies (1). Rather:

The approach I have taken is to show how both Hegel and Deleuze develop their philosophies from a common problematic, which Deleuze calls finite representation. (2)

Although Deleuze sometimes uses Hegelian terms, this is merely a superficial affinity. Somers-Hall instead will relate the two according to their shared problematic.

A central strand of this book will therefore involve tracing the logical development of the problem of representation and looking at how Hegel and Deleuze take up the work of earlier figures, in order to provide a genetic account of how these concepts develop. (2)

The book’s starting point will be showing “how both Hegel and
Deleuze develop from difficulties in Kant and classical logic”. (2)

But briefly at the outset, ‘finite representation’ in Deleuzian terms

is the problem generated by a logic of discrete multiplicities, that is, a multiplicity made up of elements that remain indifferent to their relations or, at the least, preexist the relations between them. (3)

In Hegel, ‘finite representation’

is characterized not in terms of representation but instead in terms of the finite thought of the understanding. The operation of the finite understanding turns out to be much the same as that of finite representation, however, and just as Deleuze criticizes propositional thinking for instantiating fixed relations between elements in a homogeneous space, Hegel also criticizes the finite understanding of the proposition for the fixity of its parts, replacing it with the speculative proposition. (3)

Somers-Hall will begin by examining Hegel’s treatment of Kant and in particular Hegel’s statement that:

there are two ways of going further [than Kant] . . . : one can go forward or backward. Looked at in the clear light of day, many of our philosophical endeavours are nothing but the ( mistaken) procedure of the older metaphysics, an uncritical thinking on and on, of the kind that anyone can do" (EL, § 4 1 , Add. 1 ) . [Hegel qt, 3]

Deleuze relates himself through Kant through Deleuze’s ‘transcendental empiricism’. To differentiate Deleuze’s approach to Kant from Hegel’s approach, the first chapter will examine Deleuze’s place in post-Kantianism. (3)

For both Hegel and Deleuze, the difficulty with the Kantian project is in large measure its inability to provide genetic explanations. For Hegel, this amounts to a failure to carry through a proper metaphysical deduction of the categories, which can only be remedied by showing how the categories develop out of each other. Thus Hegel moves to a philosophy of what he calls "infinite thought," or "Reason," whereby contradictions inherent in | categories lead not to scepticsm, but instead to further, more adequate categories. Deleuze instead argues that the difficulty is that the categorical system developed by Kant cannot explain the genesis of experience, but only its conditioning. In taking this line, Deleuze posits a fundamental difference between the empirical and the transcendental, which allows us to understand the transcendental as truly generative. (3-4)

Somers-Hall will examine ‘three key points of intersection between Hegel and Deleuze’:

[1] Differential calculus,

[2] the concept of force, and

[3] the structure of the organism (4)

In Hegel’s analysis, the foundations of calculus fall outside the finite categories of mathematics, and “the calculus provides an illustration of the structure of reason as a whole” (4) For Deleuze, calculus draws its power from an “extra-propositional or sub-representational source”. (4) However, Hegel “resolves the problems found in finite representation by moving to a position of infinite representation”, while Deleuze tries “instead to understand representation as grounded in that which is nonrepresentational but still determinable”. (4) Somers-Hall will first see how Deleuze’s and Hegel’s positions are structured, and will afterward see how they relate to one another. Since their approaches are incompatible, “we will also have to look at whether either of these two thinkers has the resources to show the inadequacy of the other's approach” (4) The last chapter will discuss “Hegel and Deleuze's conceptions of the organism, which in both cases are implications of their respective logical positions”. (4)

Somers'-Hall will focus on Hegel’s Science of Logic and Deleuze’s Difference and Representation, because his “concern in this book is the structure of dialectic, in both its Hegelian and its Deleuzian varieties”. (5)

Somer’s-Hall then describes his interpretive approach:

In terms of the interpretations of Deleuze and Hegel themselves, I have tried with Deleuze to provide an interpretation that gives appropriate weight to both the philosophical and scientific sides of his thinking, as it strikes me that his work cannot be understood adequately from either position in its own right. Deleuze's use of science should be seen as providing a further level of determinacy to a metaphysics largely derived from Bergson. In interpreting the work of Hegel, I have argued for an ontological rather than a transcendental interpretation. The ontological reading is closest to that put forward by Deleuze and, I think, is well justified by the text. (5)

Somers-Hall then proceeds to distinguish his work from other similar texts. Unlike other works on Hegel and Deleuze, this book contains “a more sustained engagement” of Hegel’s and Deleuze’s relations to one another.

Also, this book does not have certain flaws found in other works. For example:

 Simon Duffy's The Logic of Expression: Quality, Quantity, and Intensity in Spinoza, Hegel, and Deleuze, does attempt to explicitly engage with the relationship between the philosophies of Hegel and Deleuze, mediated by their interpretations of Spinoza. While it provides many interesting analyses, the work as a whole suffers from a major interpretative error, positioning the axis of division between Hegel and Deleuze along the line of finite/infinite, rather than the propositional/extrapropositional. Thus, Deleuze is taken to use modern mathematical interpretations of the calculus to show the infinite thought of Hegel to be redundant. (6)

The book’s project has three main aims, which correspond to three general divisions in the text. In  chapters:

1 and 2: outline of the problem of representation

3 to 5: outline of Hegel’s and Deleuze’s responses to representation

[Third Section]: comparison of Hegel’s and Deleuze’s philosophies to assess their adequacy

6 and 7: logical questions regarding the one and the many

8: relation of Hegel’s and Deleuze’s approaches to the question of the organism.

I will argue that it is here that the limitations of the Hegelian account finally make themselves felt, with Hegel's philosophy unable to give a positive account of the variation necessary to evolutionary thinking. (6)

More specific summary of the chapters:

Chapter 1 provides “a basic understanding of the structure of Deleuze's philosophy through an exploration of his relation with Kant”. (6d)

Chapter 2 “is about the role of difference in classical theories of logic, thereby expanding the specific worries of chapter 1”. (7)

Chapter 3 “amplifies the critique of Aristotle and Russell from the previous chapter, as well as relating these to difficulties highlighted in the first chapter with the Kantian system.” (7)

Chapter 4 “provides the opening to an analysis of Deleuze's philosophy in terms of modern mathematical complexity theory, followed by a discussion of his theory of depth and its origins in the aesthetics of Merleau-Ponty. Finally, I explore Deleuze's concepts of the problematic and of the proposition.” (7)

Chapter 5 “begins by returning to Kant's first Critique and exploring his interpretation of the concepts of finitude and infinity in relation to discursivity. The aim is to show that, from a Hegelian perspective, Kant presupposes a certain interpretation of these concepts from the outset. I then show how a Hegelian dialectical approach to these ideas offers the possibility of genetic interpretations of them, which show each to be unthinkable | without the other.” (7-8)

Chapter 6 will “relate Hegel and Deleuze by exploring two concrete areas of disagreement between the two thinkers, that is, their interpretations of the differential calculus and the Kantian antinomies.” (8)

Chapter 7 “extends the discussion to Hegel's concepts of force and the understanding, and to the inverted world” and examines “how Deleuze can answer these possible criticisms”. (8)

Chapter 8 will “compare the accounts given by Hegel and Deleuze of the organism in order to show certain inadequacies in Hegel's logic.” (8) “By showing that Hegel's dialectic of the organism is itself implicated by Hegel's logic, I conclude that Hegel's philosophy is unsustainable in the face of important advances in our understanding of the world.” (8)

Somers-Hall, Henry (2012) Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. Dialectics of Negation and Difference. Albany: SUNY.

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