6 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (2.9), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘2.9 Freud (16–19/18–22, 96/119–20)’, 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

2.9 Freud (16–19/18–22, 96/119–20)

Brief summary:
Deleuze is interested in non-representational repetition. Similarly, Freud is interested in repetitions of past traumas in our behaviors and psychic life that result from an experience that is non-representational, since it has been repressed. But while for Freud the compulsion to repeat is the brute repetition of matter, for Deleuze it is the intensive repetition of difference. In Freud’s account, the psyche is understood as a system that manages excitations, trying to keep itself in dynamic balance. Minimizing or keeping constant the levels of excitation leads to pleasure, and this is called the pleasure principle or a principle of homeostasis. Sometimes there is more excitation than it can handle, as in traumatic experiences, which leads to unpleasure. Yet, at times we now defer pleasure for greater pleasure in the future. This is the reality principle. But the repetition of past traumatic events cannot be explained by the pleasure principle.



Previously we discussed the eternal return. Deleuze then moves to a new topic, “biopsychic life (DR 96/119)” (SH 83). It is more of a repetition of the previous topic, now in terms of Freud rather than of Kant. “In this section Deleuze aims to show once again that at the root of the psyche is a field of intensive difference” (83). On the one hand, Deleuze would seem to side with Freud, since “Freud recognises that repetition falls outside of representation” (83). However, Deleuze does agree with Freud that “the source of our compulsion to repeat [is] the brute repetition of matter rather than the intensive repetition of difference” (84).

Freud is concerned with repression. In his account of it, he relates repetition, repression, and representation. He does so by saying that whatever a patient forgets and represses [that is, perhaps, whatever memorial representations they block from their recollections], they repeat by acting them out without being aware they are doing so (84).

A psychoanalyst could treat such patient by helping them “to form a representation of an initially unrepresentable trauma, which the patient repeats without being able to represent this repetition” (84). [I do not grasp this clearly. Perhaps the representation that the patient forms is something similar to a memory or some other repeatedly imagined image that somehow substitutes for the repressed one. I am not sure how the repetitions of this image would not be represented, and I am not sure why those repetitions need to not be represented. Perhaps the analyst guides the patients to repeat the image without them knowing the analyst is trying to do so and without knowing that doing so has some therapeutic value. And perhaps the patient must not be able to represent this repetition so that they do not put up defenses and block it. I am merely guessing.] Since Deleuze is also interested in non-representational repetition, Freud’s notion “bears certain structural analogies with that which Deleuze is interested in” (84). But, to understand Freud’s thinking, we must begin with his concept of pleasure. It would seem obvious that we act in order to maximize the pleasure we feel (84). To understand what Freud means by pleasure, we first note that for him, the psyche is a “system subjected to excitations from both inside and outside” (84). Sometimes the excitations can be too much for the psyche to handle, shocking and traumatizing it and thereby threatening its stability. Such destabilizing excitations would be “interpreted by consciousness as ‘unpleasure’” (84). [It seems then there can be a surplus of energy that the system cannot handle. When this surplus is reduced, we feel pleasure.] “A relaxation of the psyche, which involves a reduction in energy which hasn’t been incorporated into the psychic system, is seen, on the contrary, as involving pleasure” (84). The psyche tries to minimize the destabilizing energy. Such efforts, then, strive for the constancy of homeostasis, that is, to minimize or at least keep constant the quantity of excitation (84).

Yet, sometimes we defer pleasure, thereby experiencing unpleasure, for the sake of greater pleasure later on. This is the reality principle. Or, we may “repress particular drives in order that other parts of the psychic system can experience pleasure” (84). But when we repeat traumatic experiences, we are doing something that the pleasure principle cannot explain and perhaps is contrary to it. [SH writes “Reliving past traumas, for instance, or even the stability of our characters, are situations where it appears that our repetition of behaviours is either underdetermined by the pleasure principle, or worse, actually opposed to it” (84), but I do not know what he means by reliving the stability of our characters and how it goes against a principle of homeostasis.] SH ends this section by writing: “Deleuze sees Freud’s attempt to account for this fact as providing a transcendental account much like his own three syntheses of time” (85).

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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