by Corry Shores
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[Henry Somers-Hall’s Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition, Entry Directory]
[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.]
Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide
Chapter 1. Difference in Itself
Chapter 1 of DR critically examines representational systems. They are unable to describe the fundamental world of intensive variation where determinate essential distinctions do not hold. Aristotle’s representational system of genus-species classification also is not even consistent, as it requires that the fundamental category of being be univocally defined while everything else under it equivocally defined. There are four solutions to the problems of representational systems such as Aristotle’s: 1) The univocity being in Duns Scotus, Spinoza, and Nietzsche. 2) The infinite representation of Hegel’s and Leibniz’s systems. 3) The perspectivism of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology. And 4) The partial participations in Plato’s system of division. Of these solutions, Spinoza’s and Nietzsche’s are the most successful.
Very brief summary:
The first chapter of DR is about the inability of representational systems to be self-consistent and/or to describe the fundamental intensive layer of reality, which is unrepresentable. A system is representational if it is based on the subject-predicate structure of judgment that allows for distinctions of the type “this is not that”. Aristotle’s representational system defines things using subject-predication on the basis of the genus-species structure (a man is an animal that thinks). One problem is the highest genus, being, cannot be defined using this structure, since no genus is higher than it. Aristotle’s solution is an equivocal conception of being, where it has various senses related to each other through their relation to a focal meaning of being. But this makes his system inconsistent, since everything else must be defined univocally. There are four sorts of possible solutions to the problems of representational systems. 1) Univocity. Scotus says that our finite being is a different degree than God’s infinite being. Spinoza has one being or substance, but it is internally differentiated modally. Nietzsche sees the world univocally as being a field of dynamically related intensive power variations that only secondarily and artificially is divided into a world of distinct subjects. 2) Infinite representation. Hegel’s dialectic is an infinite movement which generates the categories of the understanding, and is thus infinite representation. However, it is based on clear-cut oppositions which our complicated and ambiguous world does not conform to. Leibniz’ monads have a representational subject-predicate form, but since they have an infinity of inter-relational predicates, it is infinite representation. Leibniz however still has the opposition difference between our world and the other possible ones. 3) Perspectivism. Merleau-Ponty teaches us that really all things are merely perspectives, and we artificially posit whole things that are opposable to others. But he centralizes the body as the origin of all our perspectives and is thus using identity. 4) Plato’s Partial Participations. Plato sees the world as being made of things which never classify cleanly, since none are fully faithful to ideal forms. However, Deleuze notes that the origin of this system is still a representational world of distinct forms rather than the immanent world of intensive variation.
The world is fundamentally sub-representational. It is a field of intensive differences. Only secondarily do we divide it up into determinate things using the representational subject-predicate structure of judgment that enables us to say ‘this is an x” and thus also “this is not that’. But Deleuze notes how such representations cannot tell us about the more fundamental unrepresentable level of the world. Aristotle’s system of classification is one way that we use representational thinking to divide the world. We divide genuses into species that differ in kind according to an essential difference, and we define any species by designating first its genus then its specifying difference (man is an animal that thinks). At the lowest level the divisions terminate with individuals that differ not in kind but in number and in accidental traits. At the highest level is being, which cannot fit the structure required by the system, since it cannot have a genus above it. Aristotle’s solution is to say that there is one focal concept of being, and it equivocally takes a number of different but related senses. This introduces inconsistency into his system, since the fundamental category is defined equivocally, but all the rest by necessity are defined univocally. Duns Scotus’ solution is to use a univocal definition of being. He says that the difference between our finite perfection and the infinite perfection of God is a matter of intensive degrees of difference. But in the end, Scotus claims that the intensive difference between God and humanity is so great as to qualify as difference in kind, and thus it is not a fully univocal being. Spinoza, however, has a more univocal being. For him, there is one being that is internally differentiated into intensive modal variations. On the one hand these modes serve to differentiate and determine being, which is required for being to have any sense at all. However, the modes do not in reality (but only in our imagination) actually constitute distinct individuals but are rather expressions of one substance. Thus it is a univocal sense of being. Nietzsche as well has a univocal sense of being. For him, it is a mistake to see there being different subjects in the world each with moral values and obligations to other subjects. Rather, there is a field of dynamically varying intensive power relations that express as much power as they can. It is only when a weak party wants to externalize blame for their weakness that they arbitrarily carve up the world into victims and perpetrators. Seeing just a field of power relations is the nomadic view, while arbitrarily carving up that field is the sedentary view. When we take the sedentary view, we might say that one moral actor could have acted better, thus that we ourselves could have lived a better life. We would not then affirm the eternal returnability of our lives. However, if we take the nomadic view, then we think that expressions of power relations were always at their fullest, and thus nothing is wrong or missing in our lives. Hence we could affirm its eternal returnability. In this way, being is univocal (since it is one field of relations) and affirmative. The other way to avoid the problems of Aristotle’s representational system is to use infinite representation. Hegel for example sees the dialectic as an infinite movement which generates all other things. The dialectic also generates the categories of our understanding, and we use concepts and terms to represent the dialectic, and since also it is an infinite movement, it is an infinite representation. However, Hegel’s dialectic still has problems of representation. For example, it still has identities and also its notion of opposition is too crude for application in the real world where things are more ambiguous. Leibniz also uses infinite representation. For him there are an infinity of basic small parts of the world, called monads. Since these monads are subjects that are defined by a set of predicates, they are understood representationally. But since a) all monads are in relation to each other, b) also all those relations are expressed as predicates, and c) there are an infinity of such relations, the predicates of each monad are infinite. And thus this is infinite representation. But Leibniz still uses an oppositional notion of difference, since our existing world stands opposed to the inconsistent ones that God did not select. Phenomenology at first seems to present a world that is not made of opposing objects. We are never given things fully as whole objects in perception. As such, our world is made merely of phenomenal differences without opposing objects. However, phenomenology also tells us that we nonetheless posit the objects as whole things. Merleau-Ponty recognizes that fundamentally however our world is no more than a perspective. But since he places the body at the origin of those perspectives, his system is still based on a fixed identity, and thus it still is representational. Lastly, Plato’s method of division seems to avoid the problems of representation in Aristotle’s similar system of division. For Plato, things are not divided precisely, since inclusion under a type of thing is always a matter of being more or less like the ideal form for that thing. As a result, there are often imposters that get included with the better examples. The world then for Plato is one where there cannot be clear distinctions between things, since it is not always clear under which category they belong, and they can belong very well to one and just marginally well to another. However, Deleuze’s problem is that Plato traces the origin to a realm of ideas where the distinctions are clear-cut, rather than to an immanent world of intensive difference where such clear distinctions between things do not hold at this most basic level.
(1.1 Introduction) We live in a world of difference, but none of it in itself is overtly differentiated. To do this, we might designate different parts representationally by saying “this is an x” and using the subject-predicate structure of judgment. However, the grounds of representation that may explain whence and how representation comes about is sub-representational and thus cannot be represented. This deeper, unrepresentable sort of difference Deleuze wants to explore. (1.2 Aristotle’s Conception of Difference) Aristotle has a concept of difference that is bound up with this genus-species classification system. A genus is like a category, and it is divided into species, which share the general trait of the genus, but they have a specifying difference that distinguishes them within that genus. Thus difference in kind between the species is Aristotle’s notion of difference. It is an essential difference, rather than an accidental one. A genus can be a species within a higher genus, and a species can be a genus to lower species. The divisions terminate at the level of individuals, which do not differ in kind but rather they differ only in number and on account of accidental differences. (1.3 Aristotle’s Conception of Being) There is a problem in Aristotle’s system with the highest genus, being. Since there is no higher genus, it cannot be defined as being part of a group of other species sharing the same genus but differing on account of some essential distinction. Aristotle needs this concept of difference but he cannot have a higher genus. His solution is to say that there is one focal concept of being, but there are a number of senses of being that are different from one another. These different senses are like paronymous meanings, which are morphologically related but not identical, as for example ‘grammarian’ and ‘grammar’. But this solution introduces an inconsistency in the system. All species lower than being get their sense only from univocal meanings, which allow clear distinctions between species. However, the highest and most fundamental category only gets its sense by means equivocal meanings. (1.4 Duns Scotus) Medieval theologians follow Aristotle’s system, but they want to place God above being. They do this by understanding being equivocally through analogy. There is the being of our finite world, on the basis of which, we might by means of analogy understand what God’s infinite being would be like. Duns Scotus argues that this solution does not work. The only way we would be able to know that finite and infinite being are analogical is if we already knew what infinite being is like, when in fact we do not. So our own finite perfection cannot serve as the basis for knowing God’s infinite perfection. But for Scotus, the problem in these attempts that use analogy is that they assume that the finite and the infinite are different in kind, when really they are different in degree. This is an intensive understanding of the sense of being, and it allows for a univocal understanding of being. This also means that God is not higher than being, since being/perfection is not a property but rather a mode of substances. Since this is heretical, Scotus claims that since the difference in degree between God and humanity is so great, that indeed there is a difference in kind between God and humanity. Deleuze would instead prefer a more univocal sense of intensive variation. (1.5 Spinoza) Spinoza also has a univocal sense of being. For him, there is just one substance. But it is internally differentiated essentially, through its attributes, and it is further self-differentiated through intensive modal degrees of each attribute. Substance for Spinoza is not like a category that can be divided up into the individuals of the world. However, all the modes express substance modally. So even though the world may seem to be composed of many substances, there is really only one that is expressed through many intensive modal variations of it. (1.6 Nietzsche) Nietzsche also has a univocal understanding of being. We understand being as power. And the world is not fundamentally composed of distinguishable subjects. This is a fabrication created by the weak who want to externalize blame for their weakness. Instead, there are just competing forces that express themselves to their fullest. This is a nomadic view of the world, since it sees there being just a play of dynamic differential relations and not substantial things doing the actions. It is also affirmative, since in these relations the power is affirmed as much as it can be. The sedentary view instead sections-off parts of the field of dynamic differential relations and designates subjects with moral values. The more one such partition dominates another, the more it is said to be immoral. Since this has a this-and-not-that structure, and since it thinks that power should be self-limiting, it is based on negation, and it is secondary to the more original field of differential power relations (1.7 The Eternal Return) We see Nietzsche’s univocity of being in nomadic distributions further expressed in his notion of the eternal return. If we section-off the world in a sedentary way that generates moral subjects, then we might say that such a subject, ourselves especially, could have made more moral choices. In that case, we would not want to live our lives exactly the same way eternally, since we could have lived it better. However, were we to take the nomadic view, where being is understood as a dynamic of intensive power variations, then we would say that nothing could have been better, and thus we would affirm the eternal returnability of our lives. (1.8 Infinite Representation) We just saw how the univocal understanding of Being can remedy the problem of Aristotle’s system. Deleuze says another way is an infinite representation. A finite one uses limits to determine things. Infinite representation sees all things as existing moments of an infinite concept that encompasses everything. (1.9 Hegel) Aristotle’s system is finite representation, since it fixes everything in a stable system definitional limits. Hegel’s dialectic is an infinite movement. And since it generates the categories that we use in representational thinking, it is thus infinite representation. But there are still problems with it. 1) The source of the dialectic movement is not representable. However, Hegel represents it with concepts and terms. 2) Hegel’s infinite has a pattern-instance structure that is similar to Aristotle’s genus-species structure. Thus, Hegel does not get rid of a central identity. 3) Hegel’s basic structure of opposition is too crude to apply to the real world where there is much more ambiguity, overlap, mixing, etc. (1.10 Leibniz) Leibniz also has an infinite representational system. For Leibniz, the world is made of an infinity of parts called monads. Each has predicates which define it. Thus the world conforms to the subject-predicate structure of representation. However, each monad is related to the infinity of other ones. And for each such relation it has a predicate expressing that relation. Thus each monad has an infinity of predicates, and therefore it is infinite representation. Since in Leibniz’s world there are so many coexisting differences, we might think that he is operating using a non-oppositional notion of difference. However, he also thinks that this world stands opposed to other inconsistent worlds which were not chosen by God to be. So his system does have oppositional difference. (1.11 Phenomenology) Phenomenology offers a possible way to see the world as being composed of non-oppositional differences. Our knowledge of things in the world is always partial, since our perceptions are limited by our spatial and temporal perspectives. It would seem then that we only see the world in a fragmentary way, where there is a field of phenomenal differences, but no different things with their own determinate limits. However, phenomenology also tells us that we posit the fragmented things as whole things, thereby placing them into oppositional relations with other posited things. Merleau-Ponty recognizes this, and his phenomenology might also be based not on identity; however, because our body is for him always the center of perception, his system is based on a fixed identity. (1.12 Plato) Plato’s method of division might also seem at first to improve upon Aristotle’s system and to regard the world as composed of non-oppositional differences. For Plato, we can classify by dividing general groupings into more specific ones while maintaining a rough definition for the things we are trying to classify. But the divisions are not always so clear-cut. Inclusion into a grouping is relative, depending on how well the specimen is faithful to the ideal model for the thing we are trying to define and classify. Thus we can have less faithful imposters or pretenders getting mixed up with the more faithful examples. Deleuze’s problem with this system is that instead of tracing the origins to an immanent field of intensive difference, Plato instead traces them to a separate world of clear-cut Ideas.
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.