by 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.]
Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition:
An Edinburgh Philosophical Guide
Chapter 2. Repetition for Itself
Chapter 2 of DR examines the role of repetition in the three syntheses of time and of the psyche. A) The three syntheses of time. The first time synthesis is of habitual contraction, which synthesizes the living present. The second is of the memory, which synthesizes the pure past. The third is of the pure form of time, and it synthesizes the future. This third synthesis is ‘time out of joint’, which takes two forms: time 1) as formal and pre-successive, as with Kant’s a priori intuition of time, 2) as passively synthesized by the eternal return. When we affirm the eternal returnability of the present, we anticipate not the same states of affairs in the future but rather that, like now, the future will be composed of differential intensity. It impregnates the present with the future, which liberates us from the past. B) The three psychic synthesis. The first is the compulsion to repeat, which is a habitual synthesis. The second is the virtual object, which recalls a past experience that never happened, but which satisfies a current need. The third is the death drive, which for Freud tends backward toward a prior inorganic state but for Deleuze tends forward toward a future self-variation.
Very brief summary:
Chapter 2 examines repetition in the three syntheses of time and of the psyche. The first synthesis is of the contraction of habit and of the living present. Often one experience will follow another. We then anticipate the second when experiencing the first. In these habitual contractions we constitute the living present as an experience of “waiting.” The second synthesis is of memory or of the pure past. All present experience is from the beginning integrated in with all other past experiences in the pure past. The past then determines the character of the present, while the present at the same time alters that character. We can experience the past-in-the-present either in expansion as individual parts of the past come to mind or in contraction when we express past moments all in one habitual action, like performing something we rehearsed many times. The third synthesis is of the pure form of time as the eternal return or of the future. Time experienced as a regular and unitized motion of success is “in joint”. It can be out of joint in two ways: 1) when it is not successive, as with Kant’s a priori intuition of time. 2) when it is not constituted actively by a transcendental ego, as with Kant, but rather passively or automatically by the eternal return. This happens when we affirm the present as eternally returnable. It liberates us from the past by impregnating the future in the present. (By the way, we see this structure with Hamlet, only not in an affirmative form. He is stuck in the past, and lingers in an uneventful present, with the past and present relating to an anticipated but delayed future). What is affirmed as returnable is not the current states of affairs but rather the world as composed of differential intensities, like it presently is. This brings the future into the present, and thus is the synthesis of the future. Deleuze sees repetition and time involved also in Freud’s three psychic syntheses. The first synthesis is the compulsion to repeat. This compulsion contracts traumatizing excitations into the psychic system, which manages them in accordance with the pleasure principle. It is thus also a synthesis of habitual contraction and of the present. The second synthesis is of the virtual object. We might substitute something we need with a virtual object that recalls a satisfying experience in the past, like sucking the fingers while waiting for the mother’s breast. But since this substitute was never a real source of satisfaction in the past, it is a pure past. Thus it is a synthesis of memory and of the past. The third synthesis is of the death drive. For Freud, the compulsion to repeat strives to bring the organism back toward a previous inorganic state, and is thus a variation on the death drive. For Deleuze, however, this death is not a movement to a past inorganic state but rather toward a future mutation. It is identity in its variability. As such, it is the synthesis of the pure form of time as the eternal return and of the future.
Chapter 2 looks at the role of repetition in time synthesis and in Freud’s model of the psyche, and also it looks at how time synthesis can be seen as passively constructive of subjects rather than actively conducted by a pregiven subject. Deleuze discusses Freud’s and the time syntheses using Kant’s three syntheses of time: the sense intuition constitutes the moving present of experience, while the imagination constitutes the memorial past, all while the understanding conceptually prefigures all futures of experience. Deleuze’s first synthesis of time is of habit and the living present. We find patterns of correspondence between events that are frequently coupled in succession. Then when we experience the first, we anticipate the second, which is contracted with the first even before we experience it. In this way we experience time in the form of waiting, which is the living present. The second synthesis of time is of memory or the past. All present moments from the beginning are also registered in the memorial past. They are expressed at some degree of expansion or contraction. It expands when we imagine it in sustained recollection, and it is contracted when many past moments express themselves at once in our habitual behavior, like when performing something we rehearsed many times. The third synthesis is of the pure or empty form of time, which is the synthesis of the future. Time is in joint when it is seen as following a mechanically regular circular motion that can be measured by means of units when it enters into fixed ratios with other regular movements. This enables an extension of successive moments. It is out of joint when it is not successive. This is the case for Kant’s a priori intuition of time, which is time in its structure (in its pure form) prior to the experience of actual successions. For Kant, the unity of the formal transcendental “I” is needed to unify all the temporally various moments of experience. But for Deleuze, it is not needed, since the synthesis of the world and of the self comes about by means of a passive synthesis. That synthesis is the eternal return. When we affirm the present, we are affirming a situation of intensive difference, and what repeats is not the same states of affairs but rather another such situation of intensive difference, unique all its own. Zarathustra first is stuck in the past, since he is fixated on revenge. But when he affirms each moment as eternally returnable, he is freed from the past. Hamlet, however, since he is stuck in the past (he never decides on the past command to commit murder) remains in the present (in his present indecisively), with the past and present relating to the future (of the coming murder). Zarathustra has this same structure, but it is affirmative. He is liberated from the past, and sees each present as more vital since it is pregnant with the future. So for Deleuze, the eternal return synthesizes time by bringing the past, present, and future into relation, since the eternal return impregnates the present with the future in liberation of the past. As such, the eternal return auto-synthetically synthesizes time, and unlike with Kant, it does not require an active transcendental ego. We then see the three syntheses in Freud. Freud thinks our psyche is a system that minimizes damage by managing destabilization excitations. The pleasure principle is what does this managing. But sometimes the excitations are so powerful that they cannot be managed by the pleasure principle. On account of such traumas, there is then an excess of excitations that spill outside or remain outside the system. The compulsion to repeat habitually contracts them into the system. This is the first synthesis of psychic habitual contraction. The disruptions can lead to destabilizing the psyche in a way that can cause it to mutate. So since the compulsion to repeat wants to maintain that stability, it wants to move the organism back closer to a non-organic material state. As such, it is a variation of the death drive. Freud’s second synthesis is of the virtual object. A child may suck the fingers as a virtual object for sucking the absent mother’s breast. This is a pure past that is brought into the present, since there never really was a time that the fingers gave milk. The third synthesis is the death drive. For Freud it is a personal loss. But for Deleuze, it is the flexibility of self-identity that allows for evolution, adaptation, and self-creation.
(2.1 Introduction) Chapter 2 has two themes. 1) Repetition seems to require two conditions which are impossible together: the repeated thing needs somehow to be the same, or else it is something new entirely and not something repeated, while also, it needs somehow to be different from prior instances, since otherwise it is a continuation and not a repetition of the prior thing. So how is repetition possible? 2) How can the world be constituted without a unified subject performing the synthetic unification of the parts of the world? (2.2 Background: Kant’s Three Syntheses of Time) For Kant, the unity of a subject is the basis for the synthetic unification of the world we cognize. Sensibility receives the manifold of intuition. Imagination retains chucks of it from recently passed moments and arranges them coherently. It does this constructive arranging on the basis of the unities of concepts in the understanding. These unifications allow us to make representational subject-predicate judgments. Also, since the parts are given at different moments, the a-temporal unity of the subject is the basis for them all to come together in one act of cognition. (2.3 Deleuze’s First Synthesis of Time: Hume) Deleuze has three time syntheses that follow Kant’s three levels of synthesis, starting with sense intuition. The first synthesis is the synthesis of habit and the present. We undergo a series of experiences, A, B, C, D, etc. But certain patterns in the series form pairings in our mind. So we see smoke, then we look down and see fire. We see this often, such that when we see smoke, we anticipate seeing fire. This creates an experience of duration. When we see the smoke, it contracts implicitly the future experience of fire into it. So the first synthesis of habit constitutes the experience of the living present. It is the experience of time as “waiting”. A self is any entity or activity that contracts anything whatsoever. So a heart contracts blood, and it is always “waiting” for more blood. It is thus a self, and we have many such selves inside us. All of which are waiting and thus have their own temporality. (2.4 Deleuze’s Second Synthesis: Bergson) Deleuze’s second time synthesis is of memory or the past. The present moment is replaced by a new one. But that means firstly the present needs to make room for the second. But that can only happen if there is a place in the past into which it is moving. But this means that the present somehow almost from the beginning and in its actual act of passing is in the past. For Bergson, this is so, because the past and present form one large entity with no discrete parts. When we remember something, we expand some layer of the past. When we are not expanding memories to be seen by our mind’s eye, we are expressing them implicitly in our habitualized behaviors, which contract all prior experience. This is evident for example when we perform something that we rehearsed many times before, and thus the performance is the sum of all those rehearsals. Or afterward we might sit back and recall one such rehearsal. The past is inserted into the present and helps determine it, just as the present determines modifications in the whole of consciousness. We cannot control these things. But we can control which parts to expand and when to expand them. This mixture of freedom and determinacy Deleuze calls Destiny. (2.5 The Third Synthesis 1: The Pure Form of Time) The third synthesis is the pure/empty form of time and the synthesis of the future. Time that is “in joint” is like the steady motion of a wheel around an axle. Ratios between such regular circular motions enable the flow of time to be unitized and measured. But time can also come out of joint. One sense of this is the experience of time without the experience of successive moments. Kant’s pure a prior intuition of time gives us this pure form of non-successive temporality, and is thus time out of joint. (2.6 The Third Synthesis 2: Two Different Paralogisms) We further understand time out of joint in the context of Kant’s cogito argument. For Kant, the “I think” accompanies all representations. But it does not alone determine us, like Descartes argues. Kant notes that there still needs to be some determination. Our “I” for Kant is formally just the glue that unifies all the variations we experience of the world and of ourselves through time. But it is just a unity, and it does not itself make any determinations of who we are. This requires we experience ourselves in the flow of time. We never actually experience our “I” or fundamental formal self. At any rate, for Kant, this transcendental, formal self actively synthesizes all empirically given intuitions. But Deleuze thinks that the unities of our world and of ourselves arise from a passive synthesis not conducted by a pre-given active subjectivity. (2.7 The Third Synthesis 3: Hamlet and the Symbol of the Third Synthesis) Deleuze uses Hamlet and Zarathustra to further elaborate the notion of time out of joint and how the third synthesis synthesizes the future. Hamlet is initially indecisive, so we do not know whether or not Hamlet’s actions conform to law, and thus time is out of joint. Also, Hamlet is stuck in the past when he was charged with his murderous task, which makes him live in a suspended present. Both this past and present gain their significance in relation to the anticipated future when he will commit murder. Zarathustra, also is stuck in the past, since he is concerned with revenge. But when he instead can fully affirm each present moment, he is freed from the past and sees each present moment as anticipatable as repeating eternally in the future. In a way like this, to break from time in joint is to see the future in the present, and in this way the future is synthesized. (2.8 The Third Synthesis 4: The Esoteric Doctrine of the Eternal Return) For Kant, time is a form of intuition, and is thus different in kind from the understanding. Kant could have further developed this insight by looking at how time and the subject synthesize passively or “auto-synthetically” rather than somehow be governed by the understanding and a transcendental subject. However, he instead holds to a formal subject that performs the active synthesis of time. Deleuze instead thinks time can be synthesized without the help of a transcendental ego. It is instead synthesized by the pure empty form of time understood as the eternal return, which is responsible both for the newness of each moment (as a return of intensive difference) while also it is responsible for the synthesis of time (since it anticipates a future as an affirmation of the present). (2.9 Freud) Freud is interested in the repetitions of past traumas in our actions and mental life. They result from a repressed experienced. As such, they cannot be represented, but only repeated. The psychic system for Freud manages excitations that threaten the stability of the system. When excitations are minimized or maintained, this leads to pleasure, in accordance with the pleasure principle or principle of homeostasis. When it cannot manage the excitation, there is displeasure. The system might defer pleasure now in exchange for pleasure in the future, in accordance with the reality principle. But since past traumatic events are unpleasant, their repetition cannot be explained by the pleasure principle. (2.10 Freud’s First Synthesis) Sometimes we have so strong of a threatening excess of excitation (a trauma) that in order to minimize its destructive influence, we habitually contract it and distribute it into our psychic system. This is the compulsion to repeat and the libido. The compulsion to repeat comes prior to the pleasure principle, since it merely contracts the excitations into the system, while the pleasure principle is what secondarily manages those contracted excitations. But these disruptive excitations also cause a system to mutate and evolve. Because the compulsion to repeat wants to return the system back to an earlier stage, which is closer to our inorganic origins, it is a variation of the death drive. (2.11 Freud’s Second Synthesis) To manage the trauma of the absent mother and the lack of milk, the child can realize the breast will come in the future, and in the meantime suck on their fingers. It serves then as a virtual object that provides excitations that lessen their inner distress. The fingers refer to a past experience of the breast. But since the fingers never actually gave milk like the breast did, it is a pure past. (2.12 Freud’s Third Synthesis: The Death Drive) For Freud, the death drive fuels the compulsion to repeat, since it is the tendency toward our inorganic material origins. As such, it is a material repetition. Deleuze however sees the compulsion to repeat in the creation of the virtual object. It is the repetition of a pure past, and as such is a spiritual repetition. Also, death for Freud is a personal loss, where for Deleuze death is more the variation of self-identity involved in evolution, adaptation, and self-creation.
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.