6 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (2.8), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘2.8 The Third Synthesis 4: The Esoteric Doctrine of the Eternal Return (90/113, 93–6/117–19)’, summary

Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. All boldface, underlining, and bracketed commentary are my own. Proofreading is incomplete, so please forgive my typos and other distracting mistakes. Somers-Hall is abbreviated SH and Difference and Repetition as DR.]

Summary of

Henry Somers-Hall

Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide

Part 1
A Guide to the Text


Chapter 2. Repetition for Itself

2.8 The Third Synthesis 4: The Esoteric Doctrine of the Eternal Return (90/113, 93–6/117–19)

Brief summary:

Kant makes an interesting move. He says that time is different in kind than the understanding. He could have further developed this insight by seeing how time synthesizes passively in habit and memory. But instead he holds to the authority of an active subject who performs a synthesizing operation on time. Deleuze likewise sees time as different in kind from the understanding. But for him, the synthesis comes about automatically, since the intensive differential relation (the pure empty form of time understood as the eternal return) that is responsible for the newness of successive moments is also what synthesizes them together. Thus for Deleuze, time can be synthesized without the help of a transcendental ego.



Deleuze’s third synthesis of time gives an account of the future (SH 81-82). And, it subordinates the syntheses of the past and future. We need first to explain how these other forms of time interact. [For the first synthesis, of habit and of the present, see sect. 2.3, and for the second synthesis, of memory and the past, see sect. 2.4.] Deleuze’s explanation is Spinozist, because he considers succession and co-existence as “attributes” of time [this might be a similar point to when SH describes them as ‘modes’ of time: “Deleuze will take up this notion to make the claim that the successive structure of habit and the co-existent structure of memory are both simply modes of one underlying pure form of time” (SH 75). The basic idea here seems to be that the pure empty form of time, which is responsible for the third synthesis, is like a substance with different attributes (essences) or different modifications which are equally expressions of the one same substantial time, with habit and memory being two such expressions. (Exactly how this happens is unclear to me, but that might be irrelevant since we seem to be dealing here with a metaphysical claim and not something that lends itself to a phenomenological or to a physics interpretation.)  Somehow, the third synthesis creates the “space” for the first synthesis, called “the field of individuation,” which allows the subject to become constituted. I am not sure how yet, but we may learn shortly. I do not grasp the remainder of this paragraph so well, so let me quote.]

The pure and empty form of time is therefore that which bifurcates itself into the past of memory and the present of habit. If we understand time apart from its references to the subject it constitutes, we have a pure form of time that is neither successive nor co-existent. The third synthesis is responsible for constituting the space of the first synthesis, what Deleuze calls the ‘field of individuation’ (DR 246–7/307–9, 2.10, 5.5), within which the subject is constituted. It is also responsible for constituting the relations between these fields of individuation, which are expressed by memory. Deleuze characterises this function as the ‘differenciator of difference’ (DR 117/143), or the ‘difference which relates different to different’ (DR 119/145), or as the ‘dark precursor’. As we saw (2.4), Deleuze followed Bergson in seeing resemblance as dependent on a sub-representational process. Here too, Deleuze’s claim is that the dark precursor does not relate two fields of individuation according to a resemblance between them, but rather because it finds expression in both simultaneously, while resembling neither, much in the manner that memory resembles neither of the presents it relates.
(SH 82)

SH now relates Deleuze’s account to Kant’s. For Kant, time is different in kind from the understanding [perhaps because it is a form of intuition and not something conceptual]. Thus “Kant opens up the possibility of a pure form of time that is not itself simply the expression of a prior intellectual order” (82d). SH continues, “Now, because Kant associates all | synthesis with an active subject, time is simply a material which can be taken up by the understanding” (82-83). [Perhaps here we mean that time is only synthesized by the understanding and is first given to us unsynthesized in intuition]. SH continues, “This means that he cannot fully develop the implications of this move, and is instead forced to posit the transcendental unity of apperception as responsible for the synthesis of time” (83a) [I think the move he cannot develop is the the move to make time different in kind from the understanding. One of the implications might be that time synthesizes itself “passively” or is synthesized by something not on the level of the understanding. And this move is hindered from the fact that time for Kant is only able to synthesize with the help of an active subject. Since Kant cannot take his thinking in the direction of auto-synthesis, he instead says that what makes time become synthetically unified is the unity of the transcendental ego.] However,

Once we recognise the possibility of syntheses that are not active, we can understand time as auto-synthetic. Time orders itself according to the modalities of habit and memory.

SH continues,

We can get clearer on what the pure form of time is by noting that ‘the eternal return is neither qualitative nor extensive, but intensive, purely intensive. In other words, it is said of difference’ (DR 243/303). What returns cannot therefore be actual states of affairs. To read it as such would be to read it in terms of time in joint, a mistake that Deleuze accuses Vico of making (DR 92–3/116). That is, the future, the pure form of time, is the same field of intensive difference that we encountered in the previous chapter. We can now see that repetition occurs not because the same forms repeat, but because the same field of intensive difference engenders these different forms. What returns, therefore, is the pure form of time in the form of intensive difference, in different actual expressions.
(SH 83)

[Perhaps SH is saying that the pure form of time is to be understood not as the extending succession of new states of affairs itself but rather as the intensive differential relation found between any and all successive states of affairs (with that relation itself perhaps being somehow responsible for the genesis of new moments), but I am not sure. If so, perhaps what I am saying here resonates with SH: “In the Still of the Moment,” pp.200–205 and 222–225.]

Recall that the first chapter “begins from an analysis of our metaphysical concept of difference, and arrives at a field of intensive difference” and that the second chapter shows how “the relation between habit and memory is made possible by the field of intensive difference that is the future” (83). [Since the eternal return is the recurrence of intensive difference, and since this intensive difference is the important basic concept in these two chapters,]

This final form of the eternal return therefore unites the first two chapters of Difference and Repetition. […] the metaphysical account of Chapter 1 is reinforced by the transcendental account of Chapter 2. We therefore have two eternal returns in Difference and Repetition, the genealogical doctrine of the second chapter and the ontological doctrine of the first. (83).

Citations from:

Somers-Hall, Henry. Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University, 2013.

Or if otherwise noted:

Deleuze, Gilles. Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994/London: Continuum, 2004.



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