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
A Guide to the Text
Chapter 2. Repetition for Itself
2.7 The Third Synthesis 3: Hamlet and the Symbol of the Third Synthesis (88–92/111–16)
Another way that Deleuze elaborates his third synthesis of time, where ‘time is out of joint,’ is by discussing Hamlet and Zarathustra. Hamlet begins with the title character not deciding whether or not to take a serious action (avenging his father’s death by killing the murderer, Claudius). But without such actions, we are unable to organize Hamlet’s actions as being either conforming to the law or not. So the temporality of the first part of Hamlet is out of joint, because its events cannot be organized. Also, Hamlet in a way lives in a suspended present, since he cannot advance into his future drastic action, and this is also him being stuck in the past, back when he first was charged with the task of seeking vengeance. Furthermore, this lingering past and suspended present obtain their significance in relation to a future that they anticipate. We see something similar with Zarathustra. The title character at first is concerned with revenge and thus is stuck in the past. But when he comes to acknowledge the eternal return, he can live life unconditionally affirming the value of each moment and thus having no need to linger on the past and instead to see each present anticipatable eternally in the future.
We previously discussed how in a Kantian framework, concepts are different in kind from intuitions of time, since concepts are formal and are not given in the flow of time like intuitions are. This means that
time cannot be seen as the moving image of eternity, since it is no longer the expression of an underlying representational structure, whether the ‘number of movement’ or the true ‘order of things’. Time is no longer simply a confused intellectual determination.
[The following is a bit complicated. Let me quote it since I will misconstrue it with paraphrase. I think here an example or illustration would be helpful to grasp what it means.]
Kant reverses the order of determination that we found in the previous model. Rather than time being a mode of the appearing of an underlying succession, for Kant, succession is a way of synthesising a prior intuition of temporality. This opens the way to escaping from an understanding of the temporal as a derivative form of representation, and grounds representation instead on something fundamentally nonrepresentational. Succession is now a determination of an intuition of time which is not inherently successive.
Deleuze will do something similar. He will say that the first two syntheses, which are passive, are “ultimately united in a pure form of time that pre-exists both of them”. (78) Now, since this pure form of time pre-exists the others, it would seem to come before them and not after them, chronologically. Thus, “This pre-existing notion of time is, paradoxically, the future, which is determined simultaneously as the present, and as the past that co-exists with the present” (78). To better grasp this structure of time, we will examine first Deleuze’s discussion of the Hamlet, Oedipus, and Zarathustra stories. In this section specifically, we will look just at the Hamlet and Zarathustra ones.
On these topics Deleuze turns to Harold Rosenberg’s writings on drama [Note: Somers-Hall also has an excellent treatment of Rosenberg in his article, “Time Out of Joint: Hamlet and the Pure Form of Time.” Keith Faulkner as well goes into depth on Rosenberg in his Deleuze and the Three Syntheses of Time (2006 Peter Lang).] Consider actions in drama like Antigone’s morally justifiable crime when burying her brother Polyneices, an act forbidden by King Creon. Rosenberg understands these situations as presenting a legal conception of the human individual. [I will quote the next part since I will probably misconstrue it (I still need to read the Rosenberg text). Perhaps we can first consider two similar situations. There is a murderer who indeed murdered someone, and prior to that murder, they drive to the crime scene and all the while obeyed all the traffic laws. The other situation is you have a wrongly accused person who also drove to a murder crime scene, and as well they obeyed the traffic laws on the way there, however, they did not actually commit the murder. Since in the eyes of the law both men at first seem guilty, their strict adherence to traffic law may perhaps seem sinister somehow, maybe because the person seems to obey these laws only to break other far worse ones. But when we learn that the innocent man indeed did not commit the murder, his obeying the traffic laws now seems like innocent civil behavior. I do not quite grasp the point, but it seems to be that one way to interpret behavior or to judge people is in this legal manner which cares only whether or not the behavior is somehow bound up with a criminal act. I do not quite get what the other way would be, but it has something to do with relating the behavior to the person as a whole. Let me quote.]
When we look at the law, Rosenberg notes [the following up to citation is Rosenberg quotation],
The concepts of morality or social law, applying exclusively to human beings and ignoring possible analogies with other living creatures, tend to define the individual not as an entity enduring in time but by what he has done in particular instances. A given sequence of acts provokes a judgement, and this judgement is an inseparable part of the recognition of the individual. (Rosenberg 1994: 136) |
Now when we look at the legal conception of the person, it isn’t the case that the unity of the individual can be given in terms of their acts themselves. Rather, when someone comes before a judge, what the judge sees is not a unity governed by personality, but rather a series of acts which are unified by the last act’s relationship to the law. So, as Rosenberg notes, the acts of a murderer are in large part no different from the acts of anyone else, and are only made criminal by the fact that they precede the murder itself: ‘entering an automobile, stepping on the gas, obeying the traffic lights’ (Rosenberg 1994: 138).
In this sense, when we look at a criminal act, it is the law that provides a framework for the analysis of action, and which imposes a structure of artifice that unifies the conduct of the perpetrator. In the case of the law, Rosenberg notes that if it is suddenly discovered that the alleged perpetrator did not commit the crime, his entire identity before the law disintegrates. The actions of ‘stepping on the gas’ and ‘obeying the traffic lights’ now take on an entirely innocent aspect.
[Since the law is looking at different actions and uniting them all according to how they conform to laws, it in that way acts as an active synthesis of the individual. This is time in joint, perhaps because there is a unifying principle that structures the temporality of the actions (and thus certain determinations) of the individual’s life.]
We can therefore see Rosenberg’s conception of classical drama as being one of time in joint. Here, the phenomenal manifestations of characters in classical drama are merely manifestations of an underlying law, or an underlying judgement: the fate of the character. Hence, ‘psychology can establish the plausibility of Macbeth’s or Lear’s behaviour, but for the sufficiency of his motivation, we must not refer to a possible Macbeth or Lear “in real life” but to the laws of the Shakespearean universe’ (Rosenberg 1994: 140).
SH now turns to how Hamlet presents time is out of joint. For in it “we can see in the structure of the play itself an intimation of the reversal of the roles of time and succession/action/ movement” (SH 79).
[The next point seems to be that we might normally expect in Hamlet’s situation that his actions would be given value or interpretation by seeing how they relate to laws. So perhaps for example, if he at the beginning chose to kill Claudius, then we would interpret his actions as criminal but justified in the sense of obtaining justice. Or if he decides to serve Claudius, then we might see his subsequent actions as Machiavellian maybe, or if he forgives Claudius… and so on. That also in a way might be constituting time as in joint. I am not sure how, but maybe it is in the sense that all the actions ensuing after Hamlet’s decision would have a sort of linear order and logic/organization to them. But since Hamlet at first is paralyzed, we are never able to constitute his actions as being a part of a linear sort of organized flow. I will quote.]
The first half of Hamlet sees Hamlet himself not as an identity in the legal sense. As Rosenberg points out, the drama prior to Hamlet’s return from England concerns his inability to act [up to citation, the following quotes Shakespeare]:
I do not know
Why yet I live to say ‘This thing’s to do;’
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do’t. (Shakespeare 2003: IV.iv.43–6) |
Now, as this quote makes clear, Hamlet is very much aware of what he should do, but he is simply not able to do it. To this extent, we have an odd dramatic structure, since, if characters are understood in terms of the relations of acts to the judgement of the law, then Hamlet’s various speeches, and use of speech in the first half of the play, are simply irrelevant to the structure of his role. As Deleuze writes, ‘Hamlet is the first hero who truly needed time in order to act, whereas earlier heroes were subject to time as the consequence of an original movement (Aeschylus) or aberrant action (Sophocles)’ (ECC 28).
[I will run through the points in the next part, then quote it so it can be better interpreted. In order for the story in Hamlet to be set in motion and in order for Hamlet himself to play a role in it, Hamlet will have to decide to avenge his father, which he does while on the sea voyage. We then relate parts of Hamlet to different conceptions of time, but I cannot paraphrase these ideas well. The first half of Hamlet, where he has not yet made a decision, is like the a prior past. Maybe because he never gets past the ghost’s visit at the beginning he is stuck in the past, but I am not yet sure this explains why it is an a priori past. Also, I am not entirely sure I know what an a priori past is anyway, but SH then relates it to Bergson, so maybe it is the same as the past in general, the past that coexists with the present. I will confuse you if I try to paraphrase the rest, so let me quote it all. Maybe one over-simplistic thing to get out of it is that Hamlet was stuck in the past (the ghost’s call for vengeance), and that past event and his enduring (present) paralysis both take their significance in relation to the future act when he decides to and indeed does kill Claudius. The coherence of the self’s past, present, and future, is “exhibited by the eternal return,” and SH elaborates on this new topic in the following paragraph.]
Rosenberg’s interpretation is precisely this, that Hamlet exists as a person, rather than an identity, and hence exists outside of the role that the play assigns him. The task of taking on the role of avenging his father is simply too big for him. The sea voyage is therefore necessary to the structure of Hamlet, as it represents the break whereby Hamlet becomes equal to the task allotted to him. What does this involve? Deleuze talks about the first half of Hamlet in terms of the ‘a priori past’. In this sense, Hamlet exists in the past in relation to the event (he is yet to become equal to his action). Now, here the two notions of the past and of inaction should remind us of Bergson’s theory of the pure past. Hamlet, in the first half of the play, exists in a state of relation to a past that is disconnected from the present. In this sense, there is a failure to relate the past to action, which is mirrored by Hamlet’s failure to identify himself with the actual structure of the law. As Deleuze puts it in his discussion of Hamlet and Oedipus, ‘they are in the past and live themselves as such so long as they experience the image of the act as too big for them’ (DR 89/112). The second time, the action, is the moment of the present, where the self becomes capable of acting. This is where the emergence of our representation of the self emerges as a parallel to the self of habit (‘the projection of an ideal self in the image of the act’ [DR 89/112]); but it is only against the future that these two moments can be related. It is only the future that allows the self of the past and the present to be brought into a ‘secret coherence’. This secret coherence is the coherence exhibited by the eternal return.
SH then notes the parallels between Hamlet and Zarathustra. 1) Both main characters begin by being unequal to their action (that is, they are unable to take on a great action). Through much of Zarathustra, he is unable to think the eternal return. 2) The first parts of both texts are “bound up with the question of the past,” as for example in the parts about revenge. [The idea here seems to be that we are not inherently determined by our past, perhaps because we are always in a state of becoming or something like that. (Maybe it has something to do with the innocence of becoming, but I am not sure.) But when we hold on too much to the past, like when we resent some past insult or crime and want vengeance, then we are letting a temporal structure, the past, condition our lives and our mentality when normally it would have no influence. Now recall a basic idea we discussed regarding the eternal return. We could live our lives affirming the unconditional value of each moment, no matter how seemingly bad it might be. If we lived that way, we would never be structured by the past, since we would regret nothing.]
This first part of Zarathustra is bound up with the question of the past. ‘Of Redemption’ is central in this respect, in that it explores | two different relationships to the past. As Zarathustra says, ‘this alone is revenge itself: the will’s unwillingness towards time and time’s “it was” ’ (Nietzsche 2006b: 111). Now this conception of time, with its ‘dreadful chance’, is the past of representation. In this framework, temporality itself is seen as the ground for resentment, man is not the ground for his own actions (he cannot will backwards), and so he is in this sense alienated from what he is by the structure of temporality. In this, we can perhaps see the structure of the paralogisms – the inability of man to find the ground of his own activity through recourse to a determinable identity. The spirit of revenge is therefore engendered by the passing of time, and its incommensurability with the will. The eternal return is thus that which offers us the possibility of a more appropriate relation to temporality (‘the redemption of time’). It functions on the one level as an ethical principle, which Deleuze formulates in a way which parallels that of Kant (‘what ever you will, will it in such a way that you also will its eternal return’ [NP 68/63]).
But in the second part of Zarathustra, he “becomes adequate to the thought of the eternal return,” since he finally stops pitying the higher man and instead “truly embraces the form of temporality explicit in the eternal return” (SH 81). [I am not sure I understand the final point of this section, so let me quote it.]
we can read the eternal return in this formulation purely in terms of the first two syntheses. We act by incorporating the pure past into the present (we repeat), but this generates something truly novel, the future as new. In other words, it is on the basis of the return of the past (through memory) that the future is constituted as being in excess of the present. It is thus the future that allows us to relate the past to the present.
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.
Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. Hugh Tomlinson, London: Athlone Press, 1983/London: Continuum, 2006.
Rosenberg, Harold (1994), The Tradition of the New, New York: De Capo Press.
Nietzsche, Friedrich (2006b), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ed. and trans. Adrian Del Caro and Robert Pippin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.