Reflections on Deleuze’s Engagement with Natural Science in D&R

In chapter V of Difference and Repetition, “The Asymmetrical Synthesis of the Sensible,” Deleuze engages with the various scientific theories of 19th and 20th century thermodynamics, not by identifying his fictions with scientific facts, but by detonating the philosophical idea of “intensive depth” in range of the qualitative extensity studied in terms of the scientific concept of entropy. The scientific concept of entropy, when subject to the dogmatic image of thought, comes to be described as the universe’s smooth and continuous causal transition from an improbably heterogeneous past state into more probable homogeneous future state. Deleuze, it seems to me, wants to save the metaphysical implications of the concept of entropy from the physical reductionism of a still all too Cartesian science.

Some commentators, like Badiou and Joe Hughes (A Reader’s Guide, 2009), insist that Deleuze’s engagement with natural scientific concepts is purely metaphorical and not at all physical. Hughes writes (153):

“We therefore have to be careful about concentrating too much on the scientific notion of intensity. Deleuze is concerned with founding representation, not thermodynamics. He says of Nietzsche at one point in the chapter that ‘[i]t is true that Nietzsche was interested in the energetics of his time, but this was not the scientific nostalgia of the philosopher’ (D&R, 243). The same can be said of Deleuze. In the same way that Deleuze’s theory of Ideas was not fundamentally related to mathematics, his theory of intensity is not tied to thermodynamics (and his theory of individuation is not tied to biology). Deleuze is neither a scientist nor a philosopher of science. Science never leaves the realm of fact, but Deleuze is interested in the constitution of facticity itself. What is at issue in these discussions then is not the nature of intensity as it appears in science, or even of founding the scientific notion, but of drawing inspiration from science in order to develop a philosophical concept. ‘Intensive quantity is a transcendental principle, not a scientific concept’” (D&R, 240-241).

I must disagree with Hughes’ reading here. It is at best a partial reading. Partial because, when Hughes quotes Deleuze as saying that intensive quantity is transcendental and not physical, he shortens Deleuze’s sentence, which actually begins: “Energy or intensive quantity is a transcendental principle…” Deleuze is not just drawing inspiration from science, he is ungrounding representational interpretations of natural science to show that general concepts like “energy” in thermodynamics, “differential” in calculus, “gene” in biology, or “phoneme” in linguistics (D&R, 278) are really virtual intensive quantities which only become recognizable to scientific consciousness after they’ve been covered over by qualities and explicated in extensity. Far from turning to the natural sciences merely to extract their metaphorics, Deleuze critiques the naïve physicalism of these sciences in order to install the genetic power of the transcendental at the heart of nature itself.

Deleuze is trying to provide the natural science of his day with a metaphysics; but like Schelling (see Preface to Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature), he meant his metaphysics to come after physics, and not before it. By engaging with the natural sciences, Deleuze doesn’t mean to undermine them by applying transcendental limits to subjective knowledge; his transcendental empiricism aims to unsettle the clear and distinct categories of scientific representation by pointing to the ceaseless rumbling of a volcanic nature whose groundless ground (Abgrund) constantly disturbs the smooth surface features that allow for lawful generalization. The inner nature of the scientist, with all the truth and good sense of his inductive method, projects an external nature that circles and so repeats lawfully without undue difference. Deleuze’s philosophy of difference is a direct assault upon such a Cartesian science, on the way it covers over the implication of ideal intensities without affirming the virtual processes that remain behind or beneath these coverings, processes which Deleuze argues provide the conditions for the actuality of the qualitative extensities measured by the scientist. Deleuze’s differential concept of nature is spiralic: nature is groundlessly creative; it is eternally recurring but only by repeatedly disguising its own intensive depth; it is always spinning out of the general categories or circles of control posited by the spectating scientific Cogito. There is a ceaseless rumbling in nature that forms cracks in every smooth ground or sufficient reason that might pretend to hold back the transcendental volcano of virtual intensities, a rumbling forever forcing thought to think.

Notes on Intro and Ch. 1 of “Difference and Repetition” by Gilles Deleuze

As Adam/Knowledge Ecology has mentioned, a few of us are doing a reading group on Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. Here are my notes for our first session.

Notes for Introduction and Chapter 1 of Difference and Repetition by Deleuze

By Matt Segall

Preface: Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition is an initiatory text that, rather than putting the Cogito on trial or trying to out judge the judging ego according to its own rules, instead goes to war with the Self as an outlaw, seeking to destroy and dismember it without concern for the Self’s laws or habits. D & R is a work of philosophical terrorism, a concept-machine that lobs semiotic grenades and launches metaphoric missiles that do more than explode in the sky like fireworks: Deleuze’s ideas are weapons of cruelty that erupt from the ground, not displays of celebration in the air. Deleuze seems to argue that the only way to unmask the ego, to reveal it for the mere ghost that it is, is to scare it to death, to force it over the edges of representation, whether organic or orgiastic. In showing the Self the empty form of time, Deleuze dissolves it. Unlike the beautiful soul, who understands all difference merely as misunderstanding, as though he were standing on a field of battle as a justice of peace (52), Deleuze rejects all notions of common sense, notions of what “everyone” supposedly knows, since this “everyone” is precisely no one in particular. On the other hand, Deleuze seeks to redeem difference from the sinful and accursed lot it has been given within the regime of representation. If his project to compose a philosophy of difference succeeds, it is because what “at the outset seemed monstrous, demanding expiation, and could be alleviated only by representative mediation,” in the end becomes “the most innocent difference, the state of innocence and its echo” (67).

1) Two Kinds of Difference: Kind and Degree (Bergson’s Revenge)

To understand Deleuze, we have to understand the difference between differences in kind and differences in degree, even if, all things being different in themselves, this difference turns out to be only one of (differential) degree.

Deleuze’s philosophical method repeats Bergson’s, who repeats Plato’s: it is the method of division, of the authentication of the singular by tracing its genetic roots, following its line of descent into the ground. This method is opposed to the (Aristotlean, Hegelian) method of identification of the special (by analogy, resemblance, or contradiction) with the general:

“Difference is not between species, between two determinations of a genus, but entirely on one side, within the chosen line of descent…It is a question of making the difference, thus of operating in the depths of the immediate, a dialectic of the immediate. It is a dangerous trial without thread and without net, for according to the ancient custom of myth and epic, false claimants must die” (60).

Deleuze’s philosophical method proceeds by generating differences in kind where before, there was only a confused coherence, an illusory identity, an impure mixture, or an errant resemblance, resulting from both the habitual (passive/unconscious) repression of the discontinuous multiplicity of the ground, (the ground is different in kind from all the differences in degree it produces on the surface), and from the projection of the clear and distinct ideas of the self-identical ego onto the representational screen. Deleuze slices a razor across the center of this screen, not just to cut it in half (the line of limitation), or even to fold it in two (the plane(s) of opposition), but to reveal the depth behind it (see pgs. 50-51).

Deleuze learns from Bergson that the root of all badly analyzed composites and confused differences generated by the representational image of thought is the conflation of differences in kind with differences in degree.

A difference in kind is a genetic difference, a difference that rises from the depths, as an affirmation of the depths, to “make itself” (28), a difference that distinguishes itself from a ground that does not distinguish it.

A difference in degree is a special difference, a difference that appears as already made or determined, a superficial difference that does not itself repeat or express the genetic activity of the ground and so can be understood only negatively.

Further, we learn from Bergson (and Whitehead, in his own way) that time is different in kind from space: space is extensive and time is intensive or genetic. The spatial difference between matter and perception, for example, is a matter of degree, of speed, while the temporality of the élan vital makes it different in kind from matter, perception, or any merely external movement measurable by rulers or clocks. The élan is the differenciator, the creative process or genetic activity that instigates all apparent movement without itself ever appearing in physical space (as a body) or psychic time (as an image). Deleuze’s is a philosophy of difference, which makes it also a vital philosophy, a philosophy of life.

2) Learning is not imitation (pgs. 22-23, 25), it is the successful synthesis of incarnating signs (the ocean’s waves) with spiritual signals (the pre-individual thoughts of the swimmer’s dissolved self): “Learning takes place not in the relation between a representation and an action (reproduction of the Same) but in the relation between a sign and a response (encounter with the Other)” (22).

Deleuze’s education in difference is a spiritual exercise that kills God, dissolves the cosmos, and fractures the Self. Or it multiplies gods, cosmoi, and selves, generating new habits, desiccating old ones. “There is something amorous–but also something fatal–about all education” (23).

Learning is always takes place at a level deeper, more singular, than any generalized method of teaching can hope to reach:

“…beneath the generalities of habit in moral life we rediscover singular processes of learning. The domain of laws must be understood, but always on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws, which weave their repetitions in the depths of the earth and of the heart, where laws do not yet exist” (25).

3) Theater of Philosophy

Kierkegaard no longer simply reflects on theater (like Hegel and Aristotle, who “represent concepts instead of dramatizing ideas” [10]), he “lives the problem of masks, [he] experiences the inner emptiness of masks and seeks to fill it, complete it, albeit with the ‘absolutely different’–that is, by putting it into all the difference between the finite and the infinite, thereby creating the idea of a theater of humor and of faith” (8-9).

Theater of Repetition v. Theater of Representation =

“In the theater of repetition, we experience pure forces, dynamic lines in space which act without intermediary upon the spirit, and link it directly with nature and history, with a language which speaks before words, with gestures which develop before organized bodies, with masks before faces, with spectres and phantoms before characters–the whole apparatus of repetition as a ‘terrible power’” (10).

-Nietzsche’s Dionysian dance of life or Kierkegaard’s Christian leap of faith? (10-11)

  1. History of Philosophy (30-42) from Aristotle (being-genus-species), to Duns Scotus (neutral univocity of being), to Spinoza (affirmative univocity of being=pantheism), Nietzsche (eternal return of the different)…

“The history of philosophy has always been the agent of power in philosophy, and even in thought. It has played the repressors role: how can you think without having read Plato, Descartes, Kant and Heidegger, and so-and-so’s book about them? A formidable school of intimidation which manufactures specialists in thought – but which also makes those who stay outside conform all the more to this specialism which they despise. An image of thought called philosophy has been formed historically and it effectively stops people from thinking” (13).

5) Organic v. Orgiastic Representation:

“Orgiastic representation has the ground as its principle and the infinite as its element, by contrast with organic representation which retains form as its principle and the finite as its element” (42-43).

Organic representation (e.g., Aristotle, Spinoza) produces knowledge of finite things according to the requirements of the identity of the concept in general. It can produce no concept of difference in itself, since differences are always made extrinsic to the substantial identities of things, never internal to these things.

  • “Four shackles of mediation” (29, 34) in organic representation subject difference to
    • 1) identity of concept
    • 2) opposition of predicates
    • 3) analogy of judgement
    • 4) resemblance of perception
  • But is there not “an irreducible ground which continues to act under the apparent equilibrium of organic representation?” (35)…

Orgiastic representation (e.g., Hegel, Leibniz) discovers the infinite within itself and its objects and peers over the limits of the organized to reveal “the womb in which finite representation never ceases to be born and to disappear, to be enveloped and deployed within orgiastic representation” (43)

But, orgiastic representation, in that it remains foundational, still does not free itself from the principle of identity as a presupposition of representation: “it remains subject to the condition of the convergence of series in the case of Leibniz and to the condition of the monocentering of circles in the case of Hegel” (49). Identity remains the foundation, even while it is given infinite value and rendered coextensive with the whole, thereby reigning over existence itself.

The Large and the Small– Hegel and Leibniz overcome the false choice by making the large and the small coincide at infinity; however, Leibniz says the infinite of the finite through its infinite smallness (differential calculus), while Hegel says the infinite of the finite through its infinite largeness (the wholeness of the True Idea), such that difference is represented as contradiction and negation (44-45).

“If Hegel discovers in serene representation the intoxication and restlessness of the infinitely large, Leibniz discovers in the clear, finite idea the restlessness of the infinitely small, a restlessness also made up of intoxication, giddiness, evanescence and even death…the difference between Hegel and Leibniz is a matter of two ways of going beyond the organic” (45).

Contradiction v. Vice-diction- Hegel begins with the essential=genus, while Leibniz begins with the inessential (46).

6) Task of Modern Philosophy: Overturn Plato? (59)

Deleuze argues that Plato’s philosophy, though showing an undeniable preference for the One, had not yet become representational by succumbing to the abstract movement of mediation, since it still unfolded in the presence of brute, immediate facts. Physis/natura naturans had not yet been lost to it: “The Heraclitan world still growls in Plato” (59).

Deleuze distinguishes himself from Plato’s method of division when Plato enters the “play of myth” in order to trace an Idea’s line of descent according to the logic of participation (61). According to Aristotle, Plato lacks mediating concepts and so must resort to myth to provide “the imaginary equivalent of conceptual mediation” (61). Plato’s myth of a eternal return of metampsychosis is a sort of “story-repetition,” a myth of the turning and returning of the souls which circulate above the celestial fault. Plato’s mythic grounding of philosophy “always involves a further task to be performed, an enigma to be resolved. The oracle is questioned, but the oracle’s response is itself a problem. The dialectic is ironic, but irony is the art of problems and questions” (63). The Platonic art of problems becomes, when non-identically repeated by Deleuze, the genetic method of his philosophy of difference (the method of creating one’s own problems by marking new differences in kind where before only differences in degree were perceived).