1 Jan 2013

Pt2.Ch3.Sb4 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘Bergson and the Two Kinds of Multiplicity.’ 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


Part 2: Responses to Representation

Chapter 3: Bergsonism

Subdivision 4: Bergson and the Two Kinds of Multiplicity

Very brief summary:

Bergson’s two multiplicities, extensity and duration, are two ideal limits toward which matter/duration can tend either by expanding or contracting. The continuous heterogeneous multiplicity that characterizes duration is not disordered, but merely ordered in a different way, because it is thoroughly differentiated.


Brief Summary:

Bergson has two interacting multiplicities, extensity and duration. They can be conceived in their purity, but in actuality duration/matter expands and contracts toward these two conditions which are ideal limits but not real possibilities. Bodily sensations are more extensional, and mental states are more durational. Extensity is not spatiality, which would be completely devoid of duration. Rather, duration is a vibration, and at its most extended there is still tiny vibrations of duration. This vibration is like the motion of succession, which cannot be removed entirely from matter. Bergson’s theory is dually monistic and dualistic: dualistic because there are two principles different in kind, but monistic, because they are merely two ideal limits of one process of expansion and contraction of matter/duration. A heterogeneous multiplicity might seem disordered because it does not have discrete analyzable parts that can enter into explicit external relations to one another. It is more like a mess. But for Deleuze’s theories, this does not mean that the world that is given to us is an abyss or disorder; for, it is thoroughly differentiated even if not into atomic self-identical (and representable) parts. According to Bergson, what we might call disorder is really order of another kind, just not the kind we were looking for in that analysis which deems it disorder.


Previously we examined Bergson’s method of intuition, which uncovers a multiplicity that is continuously-integrated and heterogeneous. It is based on mental duration, but it applies to biological processes like embryonic development.

Now we turn to Bergson’s multiplicities. Bergson has two multiplicities, and we will examine how they interact. Bergson says that we have two realities, one that makes itself and one that unmakes itself. But we are not to regard this in dualistic terms. Consider the Cartesian problem. If mental phenomena are unextended, then how do they relate to the extended world of our experience? For Bergson, all sensations are primarily extensive. In the previous section, we saw that Bergson criticizes Kant for not recognizing that there can be degrees of spatiality. Also for Bergson, mental states interpenetrate one another. A sensation or event can approach spatiality to a greater or lesser degree. So mental life [insofar as it is expressed extensively in this way] exhibits extensity just as much as physical objects. [There are two sorts of multiplicities in Bergson, the discrete multiplicities of space and the continuous integrated multiplicities of mental life]. At first this might seem to blur the two types of multiplicities. But this is only so if we (a) equate spatiality with extensity and (b) regard extensity as an absolute characteristic that is either present or absent. But extensity and spatiality are not the same for Bergson.

So even though sensations can express extensity to greater and lesser degrees, this does not mean that the experiences are spatial. We cannot divide extensity the same way we divide space. The more an experience [or just something in general] is extensive, the less it is durational. At the maximum of extension, experiences are discontinuous, and one moment with its physical conditions can predict the next. At the extreme of extensivity, matter would be completely spatial, and duration would no longer enter the picture. (86d) Being extensive is one tendency of matter, its other tendency is being durational. So for Bergson, Kant is right to consider space an a priori intuition, but this is not the only way objects are presented to the subject [for they can also be given less extensively and more durationally.] Science completely separates all entities from one another, which allows it to have useful analytical tools. But this view also does not completely match reality. The collapse of the Newtonian system, with its Euclidean foundations, is a result of this.

But extension never reaches the limit point of pure spatiality. Bergson begins with psychological duration, but he wants to generalize it to the world. Deleuze carries out this project by critiquing the classical representationalist paradigm. In Bergson’s psychological deduction, we begin with what is most removed from externality and least penetrated with intellectuality. (87) This brings us the closest to pure duration and furthest from the mathematical instant. We will need to regard the past as gathered up into the present as an undivided whole. In this moment we are the freest and the furthest from the mechanistic explanations of our actions. The past would no longer be a series of discrete events. It is instead an organic continuum. [In the mechanistic model, events are reversible. So we could conceivably trace backwards from the present to the past. This is because the past moments and the present one are considered as externally related to one another. But if moments interpenetrate, and the whole past is given now, there are no singular present conditions which can predict those of other moments, past or future. What happens next is not determinable on the basis of what happens now, because what happens now is a disentangleable mixture of everything that has already happened. This makes the present moment of durational progress undetermined and creative.]

As the past is contracted into the present as an interpenetrating multiplicity, action becomes creative, since we are no longer dealing with the (reversible) configuration of discrete elements. (87)

So this contracts duration into the current creative moment of action. If we relax the contraction of the past into the present [like when we sit back and daydream about how events led up to now, expanding the images out in our mind and allowing them to take up external relations to one another,] “we find that gradually the past coalesces into “ ‘a thousand recollections made external to one another’ (CE, 201).” (87d) But we can never bring duration to pure extensity, “Extensity is never equivalent to matter.” (88a) For, even in the most extended presentation of duration, when we are the closest possible to pure extensity, still there are very small vibrations, and even the shortest of them has a very slight vibration, “ at bottom, we have ‘'elementary vibrations, the shortest of which are of very slight duration, almost vanishing, but not nothing’ (CE, 201).” [So matter, extension, space is never without temporality. Because it is vibrating slightly, it contracts other moments with the present; for a vibration can only occur when there is some progress of time, only if there is succession. This also means that time itself does affect material characteristics. And as well, this means that we cannot have a pure duration without extension, because the vibrations need that there be something extensive to be in temporal motion. But this is not the vibration of a material atom. It is rather duration as a vibration, as a sort of motion of succession. So when we contract these vibrations, we have a more pronounced movement into an undetermined future, and hence more novelty.]

Bergson is thus proposing a vibratory model of extension. In doing so, Bergson is trying to overturn one of the key dogmas of the mechanistic view, that the interval of time over which a body is observed does not change its material characteristics, or, as Whitehead writes, "the lapse of time is an accident, rather than of the essence of the material." Instead, if we view matter in terms of a wave form, or vibration, it becomes clear that extensity, as a movement, carries temporality with it as a fundamental property. Extensity, under a pulsational theory of extension, requires a time for matter to "pulse." It should be noted that Bergson here is not talking of the vibration of an atom but rather a vibratory notion of duration itself: "there are movements, but there is no inert or invariable object which moves: movement does not imply a mobile" (CM, 147). Thus, the act of contraction leads to the drawing together of a larger part of these interpenetrating vibrations, leading to greater novelty. If we instead focus on the individual vibrations, we discover the simple repetition much like that found in a solid musical tone. Just like a musical tone, however, the durational character cannot be completely eliminated without eliminating the event itself. For similar reasons, the idea of pure duration, free from all extension, would seem to be impossible. What we have instead is a mixture. (88)

Thus Bergson here presents a theory that is dually monistic and dualistic. It is dualistic because it has two principles that are different in kind, namely, the contractive tendency toward pure duration and the extensive tendency toward pure matter. It is monistic, because duration is never either of these two, but always a degree of mixture between them. Consider Bergson’s vitalism in these terms: “the living organism is merely different in degree from the inorganic.” (88)

Recall our discussion about Schopenhauer and abyss.  Traditional philosophy has explained the foundation for the subject-predicate logic of states of affairs either as stemming from a supreme I, which is either a transcendental subject or an absolute being, or as being grounded on something indeterminate, an undifferentiated abyss. For Schopenhauer, for example, in the world there is an absence of categories governing our phenomenal experiences. Deleuze rejects this, because for him the empirical field is thoroughly differentiated rather than formless. Now with Bergson’s concept of multiplicity, we can further grasp Deleuze’s alternate proposal. Deleuze notes, with reference to Bergson’s discussion of philosophy’s treatment of order and disorder, that (a) the concept of order is thought to contain more than the notion of disorder [order is more than merely the lack of disorder], however (b) the concept of disorder is usually thought only in terms of order, as being a lack of order. The problem with this conception of order is that is presupposes that there is an unstructured neutral field to be ordered. [Rather, things have different sorts of organization, and something is ordered to the degree that it satisfies the way we are thinking things should be organized in that instance. So if we call a system disordered, it is because we were hoping for regularities and structures of some kind. What we call a disordered system when seeking regularities might be ordered when we are seeking a system capable of creative reconfiguration, in which case its parts would be organized or ordered for such an outcome, where the regularized system would be lacking the organization or order we are looking for.]

While order may appear to be an objective category, reflecting reality, Bergson will argue instead that "reality is ordered exactly to the degree in which it satisfies our thought" (CE, 223). Bergson gives the example of opening a book on my shelf at random, glancing at it, and uttering, "This is not prose," a statement that does not refer to the present absence of prose on the page but rather a failure of the book to meet the expectations that we have of it. In a similar way we may have picked up a book of prose, and said, "This is not poetry," having had a similar disappointment. In this example, it is clear that there are two varieties of structure at play and that it would be foolish to assert that underlying the two structures of prose and poetry there was a language, itself without structure, to which one or other of the structures could be added. To argue in this way would be to construct a false problem. The same holds true for the idea of order itself, which is posited as organizing a previously neutral field. In the idea of this field, we once again find the notion of a homogenous space that forms the ground for the structure of the system. We also find the Aristotelian idea of negation as exclusion, in that disorder is defined as the absence of being. Instead, what Bergson wishes to put forward is the idea of a difference of orders. This idea, which departs from the rigid exclusivity of Bergson's example, comes about through the belief that both kinds of order coexist as tendencies within the same system. (89)




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

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