Here’s a quick sketch of a diagram I’ll continue to refine that came to me while reading Deleuze’s discussion of the passive synthesis of imagination in D & R (71cf).

An easier to read version:


The past and the future are rhythmically/repeatedly synthesized via contraction into the lived present by imagination. The actual occasions of the past are gathered together via physical prehension, while the eternal objects of the future are envisaged via conceptual prehension. Both the cellular heredities of the past and the modal anticipations of the future are arrayed in a fractal structure of branching multiplicities. The concentric rings are the echoes of repetition, the rhythm of concrescence repeating again and again, though never in the same way.

[Update: a few videos with more explanation]:

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Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I recently picked up Joshua Ramey’s The Hermetic Deleuze again after having had to temporarily shelve it back in August due to other research obligations. Having all but completed my comprehensive exam on Whitehead, I’m turning now to focus on a paper on Deleuze for a process philosophy seminar. Having tried (admittedly not very hard) and failed to read and understand Deleuze’s books for myself in the past, I’d hoped Ramey’s treatment of Deleuze’s ideas in the context of religious esotericism and spiritual aesthetics might provided me with at least some sense of orientation as I begin reading Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? in preparation for my paper. On the menu earlier today were chapters 4 called “Overturning Platonism” and 5 called “Becoming Cosmic.” These two chapters on Plato and what Deleuze calls the “cosmic artisan” excited me greatly.

As for ch. 4, trying to “overturn” Plato requires no more than continuing to “turn over” Plato–as in continuing to turn over the pages of his dialogues to be reminded that, as Whitman would say, he contains multitudes. Or as Emerson put it:

“the acutest searcher, the lovingest disciple could never tell what Platonism was; indeed admirable texts can be quoted on both sides of every great question, from him” (journal entry, Oct. 1845).

Deleuze destroys the two world theory of perfect ideas poorly copied by sensory images, but he feels the erotic lure of Plato’s alternative conception of difference in itself. Where Aristotle reduces difference to the comparison of similars, Plato’s path forces him into the spiritual ordeal of thinking the dark and difficult idea of difference in itself. Individuals are not constituted by their substantial forms, or by their special determinations of a genus, as in Aristotle; nor is knowledge of individuals constituted by generalizations from a series. Rather, Plato’s is an ontology of singularity, where knowing an individual means intuiting its uniquely authentic line of descent, rather than representing or identifying or abstracting its general form. In other words, as Ramey puts it, “Knowledge is not a matter of generalization but of participation.” He continues:

“The claim to participation is not simply the claim to be identified as a member of a class or token of a type. It is a claim to have passed a test or to have a basis for one’s claim. The difference between the just and the unjust, pretenders to justice and authentic stewards of justice, is not a difference between any two, but an internal and constitutive difference. It is the difference an ‘immediate fact’ of participation makes. Unlike the Aristotelean development of form in matter, the participation of becoming in being is not the development of a material substrate. It is the selection of an icon from within a prodigious field of idols, false images” (THD, 118).

The difference is initiatory. That is, it has to do with undertaking the descent into the underworld and returning to tell the tale. Philosophy without initiation quickly becomes stale. Without stories to tell of planes beyond the horizon of sensory experience, a philosopher’s concepts can take on no flavor, nor acquire any personality. Once the journey into the darkness of pure difference has been undertaken, in the difficult idea one has partaken are discovered signs of its ingression into the light of appearances. The world becomes a problematic network of occult icons whose enigmas can only be known intuitively by the mental magic of talismanic thinking. Ideas are traced into appearances as signs, moments of discontinuity in physical time-space out of which the oddity of self-reference emerges. These recursive oddities fold themselves into the physical plane and erupt as problematic forces requiring of the flesh-hewn mind not new representations of a supposedly extra-bodily world, but self-transformation, metanoia. Deleuze’s Plato creates concepts not only iconically, but ironically, in that he never claims to represent an idea as true, but only to participate in an idea as “a way of problematizing, a manner of posing questions” (THD, 121). Deleuze pushes his Platonism as far away from any two world caricature as possible by positing, according to Ramey,

“the genesis of mind in direct encounters with imperceptible forces of perception, moments when the subtle and elusive patterns of difference and repetition animating life force the mind to interpret and even to create” (THD, 125).

This sounds like the Plato of Timaeus describing the genesis of the World-Soul from the mixture of the movement of the Same (the fixed stars) with the Different (the moving planets).

In ch. 5, Ramey discusses the role of “conceptual personae” in Deleuze’s thought. He describes these evocatively, so I’ll just quote him at length. Conceptual Personae are:

“internal dramas, replays of historical and archetypal potentials whose repetition enables forces to play a role in concepts…[They] introduce an idiosyncratic, impersonal element into thought, and that somehow this ‘cosmic’ element is the true subject of enunciation, the enigmatic voice of the real…[They] do not emerge through calculated deliberation; they befall the thinker in ordeals of becoming…[In] philosophy it is not the ‘I’ who speaks…Philosophy itself is…a mode of mediumship, and thought is…a séance where the mind channels mercurial avatars and confronts its atavisms” (THD, 166-167).

These personae think in me. “I” would seem to be merely one of their thoughts. I’m reminded of James Hillman’s polytheistic psychology. But somehow, this swarm keeps warm together, enduring at least for a time as some form of concrete and limited social value amidst an environment of more or less differing values. Plato called it a soul, each unique in its virtues. Even if the “I” is no more than an interesting habit it would seem a habit of enormous historical consequence.

I’ve just been made aware of this very new book on Deleuze and the Hermetic tradition. As the commenter who brought it to my attention already guessed, it couldn’t be more relevant to my current project. Hermeticism has long been an interest of mine; I’ve even described myself as a Christian Hermeticist in the past. The combination isn’t a new one but has its roots (aside from possible Christian influences on the original authors of the ~2nd century Corpus Hermeticum) in the Renaissance, beginning perhaps with Marsilio Ficino. Though I’ve tried, I can’t seem to shake the Christ archetype out of my psyche. To be honest, I’m often embarrassed by this, since much of what passes for Christianity these days (and for that matter, much of history) I find detestable. The hermetic side of the combo comes from my need for a worldly or cosmic religion, and a sense of the magic of nature. As for  Deleuze, I’ve never read him directly. Several friends and colleagues have shared their impressions of his thought with me, and he certainly comes up a lot in Iain Hamilton Grant’s work on Schelling and Isabelle Stengers’ work on Whitehead. I will be reading his text Bergsonism in a course on process thought this fall, and most likely, I’ll read Ramey’s hermetic interpretation even sooner. Here is an excerpt from the introduction of The Hermetic Deleuze:

In the face of contemporary ambivalence over the validity and significance of esoteric, let alone “occult,” apprehensions of nature and mind, the political risk of this reading should be immediately apparent. Reading Deleuze as hermetic in any sense may force a departure from received presuppositions—modern, secular, or merely academic—about what rightfully counts as thought. I take that risk in part because I am convinced that the marginalization of hermetic traditions, and the suspicion and contempt in which they are still held by much of contemporary thought, constitutes a symptomatic repression of the complexity of both the history of modern philosophy and the stakes of contemporary culture, which is, from the internet to the cinema, completely obsessed with magic and with the occult. However, I can of course only speak for my own convictions that this spiritual material can and must be addressed, at least here, through the modest step of taking Deleuze’s spiritual debts to the hermetic tradition seriously. I do this by arguing for three interlinked claims: that Deleuze’s systematic thought is not fully comprehensible without situating it within the hermetic tradition; that Deleuze’s writings make a subtle yet distinctive contribution to contemporary hermetic knowledge and practice; and that the experimental stakes of modern and contemporary philosophy, as Deleuze conceived them, call for a revision and extension of the perennial hermetic project: the proliferation, differentiation, and nonidentical repetition of cosmic processes of regeneration and renewal. What is at stake for Deleuze in thought—and at stake in this book—is ultimately a political issue. Indicating the contours of a renewed spirituality of thought and a new vision of the mutual intercalation of material and spiritual forces is part of an attempt to fulfill the task of philosophy in late capitalism, a task Deleuze himself characterized as the renewal of “belief in the world.” My particular extension of this task, by pushing Deleuze further in the direction of his own hermeticism, is motivated by the conviction that to challenge the all-pervasive magic of that confluence of desire and power Isabelle Stengers once described as the great “capitalist sorcery,” requires an exceedingly sober attempt to countenance the aspects of social and natural reality thus far confined to the gnomic dictates of inchoate spiritual gurus on the one hand, and to the black arts of the industrial-entertainment complex on the other. Thinking more stridently through the spiritual dimensions of Deleuze’s work may enable us to forge new alternatives to the sinister perversions of belief in capital times, as well as to usher in a more concrete and complex sense of how to engender new relations between knowledge, power, and the spiritual forces of desire.

Click here for a PDF of the entire introduction.

[Update]: I just read this review on Amazon by someone named Robert Richards (I don’t think it is Robert J. Richards, author of The Romantic Conception of Life, but maybe? Another Update:: I found out who Bobby Richards is):

I read philosophy to shock vasanas. In India, vasanas are conditioned habits of mind, conditioned frames of reference and dispositions. For 20 years Deleuze has been my favorite explosive. To qualify, he’s been my favorite explosive imported from Europe. Tibetan explosives like Dzogchen and Tantra, or South American explosives like shamanic practices have also been effective. I have problematized my life as one of self-experimentation: one in which the spiritual, affective, imaginal, vital, physical and cognitive modes are all explored, re-imagined and re-invented.

Eight years ago I naively approached two of the heavyweights in the Deleuzian academic industry. I asked them what Deleuze thought about radical spiritual, or radical transmutational practices. Their reception to my question could not have been colder. I realized that I had encountered a self-annointed hierarchy of post-hierarchical post-whatevers, ones who had territorialized their Deleuze for their own hyper-chic secularizations. Annoyed, but not deterred, I continued to use Deleuze as private dynamite.

When I first read Joshua Ramey’s brilliant critique of Peter Hallward’s misfire of a book (Out of This World: Deleuze…), I sensed and knew that here was someone on the same track that I was on. Ramey felt like a brilliant shaft of sunlight cutting into the labyrinthian coal mines of Deleuzian secondary scholarship. Googling more about Ramey, I learned that he was working on a book. Hermetic Deleuze is the book.

This book contains the latent Deleuze I’ve been sensing within his philosophy, but did not have the rigor or imagination to incarnate. If you’re one of those rare spirits that feels the call to a new, untried and unprecedented way of becoming a New Man or New Woman, then this is mandatory reading. This is the Deleuze for the esoteric spiritual quest, for realizing Nietzsche’s highest and most brilliant visions, the Deleuze for Sri Aurobindo’s evolutionary futures, for Sloterdijk’s yearnings, Gebser’s Integral, de Chardin’s Omega, Wilber’s Third Tier, and becoming-Kosmos. This book gives me hard evidence that superlative intelligence and spirituality are not only finding each other, but that they deliciously enjoy copulating.

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Philosophy and science can be distinguished: the former is primarily concerned with thinking, the latter with sensing. This distinction is superficial, however, since there can be no pure science or pure philosophy; no pure concept or pure intuition. Phenomenologically, what exists is an interpenetration of cognitive action and carnal reaction, a vast network of felt contrasts between future-directed mind and past-detected matter (the feeling and the felt). Matter is always already differentiating and so taking on form, and difference is always already materializing and so becoming other than its form. The real is the different–which is not to challenge the metaphysical status of the principle of non-contradiction by wedging contradiction into the heart of the Absolute, but to affirm this principle by thinking the Absolute as a differentiating process that never exists as a whole in an instant and so cannot be in contradiction. Difference becomes without contradiction, which is why wholes can endure as parts of other wholes. If time froze, there would not even be nothing, since nothing is still a difference and so always having to re-conceive of itself as not being so.

Experience is not only the present-at-hand representation of objects (as in conscious creatures), it is also the ready-to-hand prehension of dying subjectivities. I cognitively grasp things in space only after things have aesthetically grasped me in time. Light gave rise to the eye in the living time of evolution; only afterward did physical space take on depth. Consciousness emerges in the non-contradictory difference between space and time, between presence/distance and past/future.