10 Jan 2013

Pt3.Ch8.Sb9 Somers-Hall’s Hegel, Deleuze, and the Critique of Representation. ‘Conclusion’. 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 3: Beyond Representation

Chapter 8: Hegel, Deleuze, and the Structure of the Organism

Subdivision 9: Conclusion

Brief Summary:

Deleuze’s response to representational philosophy, and not Hegel’s, is compatible with evolutionary theory. For, Deleuze’s virtual explains novel variation in the organism’s structure, but Hegel’s dialectic does not.

Explanatory Summary:

Hegel’s theory of the organism’s structure is based on the dialectical relation between part and whole, that is, between organ and organisms (and individual and species). It is a teleological view, like with Cuvier, that regards the structure as being divided according to the functioning of the parts. But this means that a deformity would be understood negatively, as  a degradation of the structure and thus functioning of the organism. Evolutionary theory, however, presupposes a positive view of anatomical variation. It would see mutations as novelties from which natural selection can chose the most adapted. This positive view of evolutionary theory we see in Geoffroy’s homological theory of anatomy, the unity of composition. Here we can consider functionally different parts between different species as expressing the same part in an abstract, transcendental, unrepresentable model. For Cuvier and thus also for Hegel, a human leg and a dog leg can have the same name because they have the same function. Not so for an arm and a fin. But for Geoffroy, we see how the arm relates to the rest of the parts in its body, and how the fin relates to the rest of the parts in its body, and see if both of them can related to a third abstract model which is not expressed or drawn but merely implied in unifiability of the relational structures between the different species. So we might imagine a mutation in the fish where the fins take on the shape of arms, and allow the fish to craw on surfaces. This is just another expression of the same representable blue print. [However if the fish’s fins removed from their locations and reappeared inserted themselves in very different places, this would not be a homology, because it is no longer isomorphic with the abstract arrangement.] So because Hegel’s theory of the structure of the organism is dialectic, that makes it teleological, and that makes aberrations degradations rather than potentially useful novelties. Thus Hegel’s dialectic was a response to the problems of traditional representational systems, so his response to representational systems does not apply to a real world phenomenon, evolution. However, Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism functions like Geoffroy’s homology. For Deleuze, actuality is one explicit expression from a field of differentially related incompossible virtual possibilities. All the different ways a pendulum actually might swing are homologous to the phase portrait which depicts all possibilities in a non-representational form. So for Deleuze, organisms also express a certain unity of composition, as they are expression of the Idea, so Deleuze’s response to representational systems, the subrepresentationality of virtuality, does in fact apply to the real world phenomenon of evolution. Hence Deleuze’s response to representational systems is superior to Hegel’s.


The previous chapter discussed Deleuze’s three main criticisms of Hegel’s philosophy:

[1] its reliance on false movement,

[2] its focus on movement around a center, and

[3] its use of concepts that are too general to capture the particularity of the world.

We saw that if remained on merely the logical level, Hegel’s infinite representation, his solution to the problems of representation, remains consistent. So we needed to apply Deleuze’s and Hegel’s philosophies to a subject outside logic to better see if Deleuze’s criticisms hold, and in this chapter we applied them to theories of the structure of the organism. For Hegel, organs can only exist in their relation to the whole [and vice versa.] This is the movement of the infinite [because it is a sublation of contraries.] But this part/whole relation is still representable, even if with infinite thought/representation. Deleuze instead prefers to see the structure of the organism in terms of homology and the unity of composition. It escapes representation [because it is not a matter of identifying parts between species more rather a matter of saying that the relations between parts in organisms of different species is isomorphic to an abstract model that must remain unrepresented, because it can only manifest in its various actualizations.]

Just as with the calculus, the accounts of the organism offered by Hegel and Deleuze provided concrete exemplars of their logical positions. Thus, for Hegel, the organism represents the movement of the infinite, or of contradiction, with the particular organs only existing within the relationship to the whole. For Deleuze, what is required to explain the organism is the moment that escapes representation, the unity of composition that functions as a transcendental condition for the organism. Thus, for him, the virtual/actual distinction is vital to our understanding of the organism. (237)

So these accounts are implied in Hegel’s and Deleuze’s different responses to the problems of representation. And there are problems with Hegel’s account. Hegel himself rejects an evolutionary theory. But this evolutionary theory he describes can be seen merely as a description of the structure of organisms and not of their temporal genesis (there is an increasing scale of perfection). But, we still cannot resolve the conflict between Hegel’s dialectic, which is teleological, and teratology, which is a precondition of evolution; it is the study of variations, and under the teleological account, these variations are degradations in functioning  rather than evolutionary improvements. Evolutionary theory needs an account of variations leading to novel structures that can be naturally selected, so we need a positive account of aberration. Teratology tells us about the organism’s development and thus also about its structure. So we return to Deleuze’s three criticisms of Hegel now in this context of the organism’s structure. [1] Hegel’s movement is created with words and representations, so nothing follows. [Hegel’s movement of the infinite sees the dialectical relation between organ and organism, individual and species. However, these relations are representable. The structure of the specie’s anatomy is representable. But this is on account of the teleology, the purpose of the parts in the functioning of the whole. This cannot explain evolution, we noted, so Hegel’s infinite movement leads to a false movement and not the true movement of evolution.] [2] Hegel’s structure of the organism has a teleological unity, and so there is a ‘monocentering of circles’ [around the organic unity of the organism.] However, it cannot explain the evolutionary development that builds from aberrations. The individual itself, were it to vary from the species, would be [a non-functional monstrosity,] a “failure to embody the Idea in nature.” (237) Also, for Hegel, the boundary between the organism and the world is “too effective,” and so he cannot explain the transversal relations between organisms that brings about the variations that provide the novelty for natural selection to choose from. [3] Hegel’s account is not precise enough.

"Oppositions are roughly cut from a delicate milieu of overlapping perspectives, of communicating distances, divergences and disparities, of heterogeneous potentials and intensities" (DR, 50). In this sense, what Hegel calls the "impotence of nature" could be characterized by the Deleuzian as the impotence of dialectic itself, since it is unable to explain positively the contingency of nature, which is vital to our modern understanding of the world. (238)

[So because it understands the differentiation in the natural world in terms of determinate oppositions, Hegel’s dialectic too strongly divides the world rather than seeing the blurrings of boundary that allow for evolutionary variation.]

We cannot, therefore, follow the strategy of some Hegelian commentators of accepting the weakness of Hegel's position on evolution, before isolating this position from the rest of Hegel's philosophy. Instead, the limitations of Hegel's account of the organism must be seen as stemming from limitations of the more abstract metaphysical categories discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. (238)


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

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