11 Aug 2015

Somers-Hall, (3.6), Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, ‘3.6 The Kantian Sublime and the Discordant Relation of the Faculties (145–6/183–4)’, 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 3. The Image of Thought

3.6 The Kantian Sublime and the Discordant Relation of the Faculties (145–6/183–4)

Brief summary:
Deleuze wants an account of thinking where Ideas are a product of the discordant operation of our faculties. Kant has something similar in his analysis of the sublime. Consider if we are standing before a gigantic mountain. We have a stream of intuitions, but our imagination cannot retain enough of them and process the information sufficiently to take in the whole mountain at once. But our faculty of reason has the idea of totality, and so it forces our other faculties to keep working even though they will never succeed. Each faculty has something different as its object, and they continue communicating with each other in their effort to synthesize a common object, so they are working discordantly. However, Deleuze is not fully satisfied with this model, since the Idea comes from one particular faculty, the reason, rather than coming from the discord itself between the faculties.






As we saw previously, while at first it may seem with Plato that the faculties work discordantly,  in fact they do not. Deleuze then turns to Kant’s sublime “to find the first instance of a model of the faculties operating apart from common sense” (SH 117).

We have sublime experiences when what we are trying to grasp goes beyond “the ability of our imagination to understand them as | a totality” (117-118). [Kant distinguishes the mathematical and the dynamic sublime. Regarding the mathematical sublime:] “‘We call that sublime which is absolutely large’ (Kant 1987: §25)” (SH 118). And so, “For Kant, situations that engender a feeling of the sublime are those in which we encounter something that shows the limitations of our powers of sensation, such as ‘shapeless mountain masses piled on one another in wild disarray, with their pyramids of ice or gloomy raging sea’ (Kant 1987: §26)” (SH 117). But note that it is the experience which is sublime and not the things themselves. For, no matter how large the mountain or ferocious the storm, they are really not absolutely great, as another of greater magnitude is possible (118).

While we might be able to use mathematics to determine the height of such mountains, we are unable to “bring together the object into a single intuition – to see it all at once. Either it is simply too big, and so we apprehend the object through a series of moments that appears to go on to infinity, or else the size of the object means that the parts of the object that we began by apprehending fall away from the imagination before we are able to reach the final elements” (118). So it is on account of our imagination’s inability to estimate the object’s magnitude that we are supplied with the idea of it being infinite. But reason demands that we grasp the thing in its totality, even though our imagination is incapable of it. “What therefore generates the feeling of the sublime is not the object itself, but the fact that the failure of the imagination to synthesise the object into unity points to the fact that reason is capable of thinking a unity that transcends any presentation, thus pointing to our own transcendence of the phenomenal realm” (118). What interests Deleuze in this analysis of the sublime is that the faculties are communicating, but not a common object. [I am not absolutely certain I know exactly what the different objects are, but it seems that the reason has as its object ‘totality’, and the imagination something infinite (thus something not total, since the infinite is unlimited), and perhaps we might guess that the intuition has as its object something ‘continuously fractured or partial’, but I am not sure. What seems important and interesting are the mechanics of this breakdown. The intuition supplies the imagination with the endlessly partial series of fragments, but the imagination has certain limits to how much it can retain and process. So it synthesizes images that never reach completion and are thus in a sense unlimited or deformed. At this point I am not sure if we are to distinguish the understanding and its concepts on one side with the reason and its ideas on the other. Suppose they are distinguished. The understanding is not able to supply the appropriate concept, which would be something like the concept for a giant mountain. Instead it can only supply the concept of the infinite. But our reason has the idea of totality and on its basis forces all the other faculties to keep communicating as best they can until they can totalize the manifold as a commonly experienced object, even though none share the same object, and even the reason has as its object something none of the other faculties are dealing with. While the specifics of the mechanical relations are uncertain to me, what is obvious is its discordant and distressed operation.] SH then notes something similar with regard to the three syntheses of time. Memory and habit are different in kind, but they can communicate, “with memory able to inform our practical life through the structure of habit” (119). SH continues, “As we also saw, what allowed the communication between these faculties was not the legislation of one faculty in particular, but rather the field of intensive difference, which in turn was different from either memory or habit, but nonetheless was expressed in terms of the virtual planes of co-existent memory, or the actual succession of impressions” [I do not recall how this worked, with the field of intensive difference allowing the communication between memory and habit, but he discusses it, it seems, in section 2.8, the final two paragraphs on pages 82-83. There it had something to do with the eternal return being the pure form of time in the form of intensive difference. But I am not sure how to put all this together. It could be that there is a field of intensive difference between the planes of memory, and there is also a field of intensive difference from moment to moment (and this affects habit somehow), and then somehow the fields of intensive difference in each case allows them to communicate. But I am really unsure how all this works.] [The next idea ideas is that for Kant, even in the sublime perhaps, what is being communicated is an Idea of reason. So on the basis of the idea of totality, the reason pressures the other faculties to continue operating in parallel even though they will never succeed at attaining a totalized notion for the experience. For Deleuze however, the Idea does not come from some particular faculty, but rather from their discordant exercise itself.]

Deleuze here therefore differs from Kant in that Kant associates what is communicated with the Ideas of reason, whereas Deleuze claims that we need to associate the Idea not with any particular faculty, not with, for instance, ‘the pure cogitanda but rather [with] those instances which go from sensibility to thought and thought to sensibility, capable of engendering in each case, according to their own order, the limit- or transcendent-object of each faculty’ (DR 146/183). We will have to wait for the next chapter to see exactly what the nature of these instances is.
(SH 119)


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.


Kant, Immanuel (1987), Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.


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