June 23, 2006
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Perhaps the conception of community I’m trying to think about– without much success –can aptly be summed up in the idea of a community without One, where the One might be thought as the master-signifier unifying the identity of difference, or the logic of masculine sexuation.
Communities premised on the One, by contrast, would necessarily fall into the logic of the imaginary and be pervaded by an intrinsic real conflict that would be unresolvable. Hegel seems to sum this logic up well in the dialectic of being-there (Dasein) and being-for-itself. It might seem odd to evoke Hegel, given my attachments to Deleuze. However, we must bear in mind that when we’re speaking of group identities we’re also speaking at the level of representation. Deleuze does not deny that there is representation, but rather argues that it is premised on non-representational forms of difference that aren’t organized around contradiction and opposition. However, insofar as a group strives to represent itself to itself, it will contain these elements of representation and Hegel can assist us in thinking through the knots that emerge from this self-representation in the imaginary, even if we do not accept his totalizing logic. In paragraph 92 of the Lesser Logic, Hegel writes,
“The being that is kept firmly distinct from the determinancy, *being-in-itself*, would be only the empty abstraction of being. In being-there the determinancy is one with being and is at the same time posited as negation; this determinancy is *limit*, *restriction*. Thus, otherness is not something-indifferent outside it, but its own moment. In virtue of its quality, *something* is first *finite and secondly *alterable*, so that the finitude and alterability belong to its being” (Geraets trans., 148).
I am not interested in advocating Hegel’s system, or presenting the “true meaning” of Hegel. What interests me here is a logic he presents in very formal terms. When Hegel describes something as being an “empty abstraction” he can be understood as claiming that it lacks determinancy. To say that something lacks determinancy is to say that there is a lack or absence of distinction. For instance, Peirce’s category of firstness is without distinction, and thus without informative difference. Consequently, in striving to think being-in-itself, says Hegel, we are inevitably led to think distinction or limit or to think the limit in terms of its other. In defining a boundary or a limit, we define both sides of the boundary, such that the inside (the One) is dependent on its outside and the two must be thought together. This entails that Identity, the One, is dependent on its other. The more sharply we define the Identity, the more sharply the Other comes into relief and the more intrinsically it is tied to this other in defining its limit. This other might be thought as being akin to a bit of gum stuck to the heel of one’s shoe that you are unable to rid yourself of.
So far so good. We can clearly see that in order to define an inside we must construct a limit and that this limit defines an outside. The consequences of this aren’t encountered until a few paragraphs later, when Hegel develops the logic of being-for-itself, which could be thought as the One representing itself as One. In the locution of the imaginary, this would amount to striving to represent our identity or our imaginary ego or the moi. There Hegel writes,
“As relation to itself, being-for-itself is *immediacy*, and as relation of the negative to itself it is what-is-for-itself, the *One*– that which lacks inward distinction, thereby *excluding* the *Other* from itself” (ibid, para 96, 153).
Let us treat the domain of the imaginary as the domain of reflexivity where we strive to reflect or represent ourselves or to say what we are. In doing so, we strive for unity or to be One (the vector of Lacan’s graph of desire running from A –> i(a) —> m —> S(A)). Hegel’s point here seems to be that there is an inverse ratio between “what-is-for-itself” (all those predicates we use to pin ourselves down: handsome, witty, temperamental, continental, etc), and the exclusion of the Other. The greater the degree of self-unification or “being-for-itself”, the greater the degree of desparate attempts to exclude the Other (which was a defining feature of the boundary or limit) as a threat to this unity of identity or the boundary. Here we would have a basic schema for comprehending the highly antagonistic and rivalrous nature of highly identified and self-representing groups and individuals such as fundamentalist religious sects, certain political movements, nationalisms, party affiliations, etc.
The paradox is expressed a few paragraphs later. Hegel notes that the many Ones exist in a negative relation to one another in the form of repulsion and exclusion. To maintain the boundary or limit, there must be repulsion. Yet, insofar as these Ones are interdependent, they exist in a relation of attraction as well:
“But the *many* are each one what the other is, each of them is one or also one of the many; they are therefore one and the same. Or, when the repulsion is considered in itself then, as the negative behaviour of the many ones against each other, is just as essentially their *relation* to each other; and since those to which the One relates itself in its repelling are ones, in relating to them it relates to itself. Thus, repulsion is just as essentially *attraction*; and the excluding One or being-for-itself sublates itself. Qualitative determinancy, which in the One has reached its determinateness-in-and-for-itself, has thus passed over into determinacy *as sublated*, i.e., into being as *quantity*” (ibid., para 98, 155).
Attraction and repulsion are perhaps poorly chosen words, and should be understood not as forces, but as logical moments or dialectical structures. Insofar as the One can only define its identity or being-for-itself through distinction or the drawing of a boundary or limit, its repulsion of the Other is necessarily an attraction of the Other insofar as it is dependent on this Other to establish its identity. This would account for why Lacan claims that murder of the other premised on the imaginary is also murder of the moi, as the moi is dependent on this inverted and reflected other to constitute itself. This would also account for why there is often an uncanny resemblance between the One and the other to which the One stands in an antagonistic resemblance, like a mirror in which one does not recognize one’s own reflection. Thus, for example, in a disturbing discussion I had with a conservative today about the Enlightenment and religion, I was informed that there would be no morality until the one true religion was established throughout the world. This discussion, of course, revolved around affairs in the Middle East. What is uncanny about this remark is that this is the very thing his antagonist, the terrorist, says as well. Apart from the disturbing prospect that such an aim could only be accomplished through the annihilation of one’s opposition, I wonder whether he would cease to exist or experience a collapse of identity should he be successful in his endeavor. Would his imaginary “being-for-self” become unstable in the collapse of the boundary or the limit defining the distinction between self and other?
Here also I think we can discern why highly identified groups and individuals so often experience themselves as persecuted or as victims, even when holding a good deal of power relative to other groups. If the formation of being-for-self is intrinsically tied to repulsion, and if this repulsion always maintains a negative relation of attraction, the more those boundaries strive to define themselves the more they encounter the other against which they’re defined as rendering these boundaries precarious and unstable, as the task of becoming pure, abstract, being-for-self ties us ever tighter to this other against which we define ourselves. Hence Zizek’s observation that the closer the Nazis came to succeeding in eradicating the Jews, the more paranoid they became that there were Jews lurking behind every tree and the more they saw themselves as victims of a Jewish conspiracy. Similarly, haven’t we seen a similar logic in the Unitied States, where the more mainstream fundamentalist variants of Christianity have become, the more these groups experience themselves as persecuted and under assault? This paranoia of the ego or the imaginary could thus be seen as a desparate attempt to *maintain* the existence of the other, so as to maintain being-for-self.
If, then, this logic is to be avoided, it becomes necessary to conceive a form of community that is without One or where the One is not. Yet how do you form a community without a name? The Jews seemed to be on to something in prohibiting the naming of G-d, as this seems to absent or void the place of the One. Yet a plurality didn’t emerge from such a gesture.
June 23, 2006
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The observation that my friend Jane makes about contentious relations in psychoanalytic organizations dovetails with some issues that I’ve been thinking about for a long time as well. Since the very beginning of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic organizations have been riddled with bitter and acrimonious conflicts and turbulent splits (Freud-Jung-Adler, Klein, Anna Freud, Lacan, etc). Lacanian organizations have been no different in this regard. There are bitter disputes and conflicts among the various Lacanian organizations as well.
So what is going on here? Are these bitter struggles a symptom of the failure of psychoanalysis? That is, do they indicate a failure to liquidate the imaginary? Are they representative of an unresolved transference or analysis? Is conflict intrinsically imaginary, territorial, and an attempt to maintain borders and distinctions as in the case of Hegel’s logic of the One in the doctrine of being portion of the Science of Logic, where the One must exclude the Other in order to constitute itself as One? Or are there non-imaginary forms of conflict such as Deleuze’s affirmation produced not out of a negation, but rather that produces negation as a consequence… An affirmative negation.
Or, quite the contrary, can we see these bitter struggles as indications of the triumph of psychoanalysis? This latter suggestion might be seen as surprising, but if we take seriously Lacan’s ethical injunction “don’t give way on your desire!” does it come as any surprise that free speech and desire produce such conflict. A friend of mine told me that Ellie Ragland used to say that analysis does not make you a better person. There seems to be something very true in this, if by “better” we’re thinking according to the standard ethics of the good advocated by Creon in Antigone. Indeed, Antigone’s actions and affirmation of desire bring a good deal of conflict and tears in their wake.
During his psychoanalytic period, Deleuze seems to express this point well with regard to the philosophy of difference. Deleuze writes: “…does the philosophy of difference not risk appearing as a new version of the beautiful soul? The beautiful soul is in effect the one who sees difference everywhere and appeals to them only as respectable, reconcilable or federative differences, while history continues to be made through bloody contradictions. The beautiful soul behaves like a justice of the peace thrown on to a field of battle, one who sees in inexpiable struggles only simple ‘differends’ or perhaps misunderstandings” (Difference and Repetition, 52). Many today seem to think difference as a synonym of tolerance. Yet tolerance seems to amount to a deferral of desire insofar as it calls for the levelling of all genuine differences or the suspension of all these differences, forbidding the pursuit of a difference that would make a difference.
At the end of Seminar 11, given a few years before the writing of Difference and Repetition, Lacan remarks that “The analyst’s desire is not a pure desire. It is a desire to obtain absolute difference, a desire which intervenes when, confronted with the primary signifier, the subject is, for the first time, in a position to subject himself to it. There only may the signification of a limitless love emerge, because it is outside the limits of the law, where alone it may live” (276). Is the absolute difference sought in analysis– the analysand’s difference –a difference that would also be that of the beautiful soul seeing only simple misunderstandings among all those in conflict? Or, rather, do all the conflicts we witness in the psychoanalytic field testify to a real love of difference and not a levelling of difference based on “tolerance” or being beyond the imaginary? If one thing takes place in analysis, it seems to be the analysand taking a stand on behalf of his/her desire.
Yet if this is the case, and if such stand-taking emerges on a bloody field of conflict– Badiou-Mao’s aphorism that “When one has an idea the One become Two” –what are we to think of psychoanalysis in the field of the political? And can we imagine a strange form of community where the community hangs together in its conflict or as its conflicts, like Laclau’s real of society that is riddled by an irreducible real in antagonism. Can we paradoxically think a form of community premised on the very Lacanian thesis that “society doesn’t exist”?
June 12, 2006
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It’s intriguing to note that I significantly misquote Lacan in the epigraph to the previous post. In Seminar 10 Lacan remarks that “Only love allows jouissance to condescend to desire”, rather than “only love allows desire to condescend to jouissance”. What is the significance of such an inversion?
June 8, 2006
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Love is desire that condescends to jouissance
I’m not sure why I quote this line, but it comes to mind and is therefore worth preserving. I have to confess that I’m ashamed of yesterday’s blog entry. While I indeed take it to be the case that guilt is what occurs when we give way on our desire, the formulation that we must therefore avow our desire leaves us trapped within the constraints of the moral law. Within the field of the analytic setting, the uncovering of desire is a crucial step. The analysand must discover those determinants of her actions and avow them as her own. Yet the crucial question is that of whether there is a beyond of desire? In this regard, it is significant that Lacan does not include desire among the “four fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis”, and that he there describes the end of analysis as the precipitation of of a subject of drive.
Everything revolves around the question of whether we are to be Freudians or whether we are to be Lacanians. By Freudians, of course, I am referring to Freudian determinism or the manner in which childhood is taken to determine adulthood. Lacan, in his development of the logic of apres coup, already seemed to move away from this position, for insofar as subsequent events can recode past events, it follows that there is no primacy of the past over the present. As Deleuze will put it in his articulation of Lacan, “We do not repeat because we repress, we repress because we repeat. Moreover– which amounts to the same thing –we do not disguise because we repress, we repress because we disguise, and we disguise by virtue of the determinant centre of repetition. Repetition is no more secondary in relation to a supposed ultimate or orginary fixed term than disguise is secondary in relation to repetition. For if the two presents, the former and the present one, form two series which coexist in the function of the virtual object which is displaced in them and in relation to itself, neither of these two series can any longer be designated as the original or the derived. They put a variety of terms and subjects into play in a complex intersubjectivity in which each subject owes its role and function in the series to the timeless position that it occupies in relation to the virtual object. As for this object itself, it can no longer be treated as an ultimate or original term: this would be to assign it a fixed place and an identiity repugnant to its whole nature. If it can be ‘identified’ with the phallus, this is only to the extent that the latter, in Lacan’s terms, is always missing from its place, from its own identity and from its representation. In short, there is no ultimate term– our loves do not refer back to the mother; it is simply that the mother occupies a certain place in relation to the virtual object in the series which constitutes our present, a place which is necessarily filled by another character in the series which constitutes the present of another subjectivity, always taking into account the displacements of that object = x” (DR, 105).
Deleuze here, of course, is referring to Lacan’s conception of objet a, which serves the function of the “dark precursor”, “empty square”, or “esoteric object” in Deleuze’s early work on subjectivity and social organizations. If objet a significantly transforms Lacan’s earlier work, then this is because we can no longer see psychoanalytic praxis in historicist terms, which amount to imaginary terms anyway. The concern surrounding Lacan’s conception of avowing one’s desire is that ultimately this submits us to the Law. As Lacan thematizes the production of desire in seminars 4-6, desire is produced through a metaphorical substitution that engenders the metonymical displacement of the object of desire. Everything ultimately refers back to the origins of the law and submitting to the law as the essence of desire. As Lacan will claim elsewhere, the Law and desire are one and the same thing.
Everything changes with the invention of objet a. For some time now I’ve found myself wondering how one accounts for the emergence of symptomatic phenomena in day to day life or in the clinical setting. How is it that at this particular time, at precisely this moment, this or that slip of the tongue appears? How is it that on this particular day I happened to leave my umbrella at the office? Why does such and such a dream occur on this particular night? Were there other possibilities? My thoughts are still murky on these issues, yet a suggestive passage in Lacan’s 11th seminar gives me pause. There Lacan writes that, “It is not enough that the analyst should support the function of Tiresias. He must also, as Apollinaire tells us, have breasts. I mean that the operation and the manipulation of the transference are to be regulated in a way that maintains a distance between the point at which the subject sees himself as lovable– and that other point where the subject sees himself caused as a lack by a, and where a fills the gap constituted by the inaugural division of the subject. The petit a never crosses this gap. Recollect what we learned about the gaze, the most characteristic term for apprehending the proper function of the objet a. This a is presented precisely, in the field of the mirage of the narcissistic function of desire, as the object that cannot be swallowed, as it were, which remains stuck in the gullet of the signifier. It is at this point of lack that the subject has to recognize himself” (S11, 270).
What fascinates me in this passage is Lacan’s reference to objet a as causing the subject ($). In Lacan, of course, the subject is not the ego or the sense of consciousness, but that which disappears the moment it appears, leaving only a trace of its passage in the parapraxis or symptom. When Lacan talks about objet a he is not talking about the object desired, but the cause of desire… That which functions as a lure of desire or an occasion for desire to take effect. Can we not discern something of Deleuze’s virtual at work in this conception of objet a? As Delanda theorizes it, the virtual is composed of both differential relations and singularities, yet these singularities serve the function of attractors presiding over the long term actualization of a particular material state. For instance, a pendulum is governed by a fixed point attractor that tends towards a single point of equalibrium. However, there are other attractors that aren’t attracted to a single point but which can be actualized in a variety of ways depending on the initial conditions presiding over the actualization.
As I said initially, my thoughts are still murky here, but couldn’t we think of objet a in terms of the relationship between fixed point attractors and “strange attractors”? Here I worry that my musings sound a bit trendy, but it is clear that change takes place over the course of analysis. In his work with dissapative structures, Prigogine discovered that some systems can shift from being governed by fixed point attractors that tend to be actualized in a single way– the monotonous repetition of everyday life, where we tragically experience ourselves as falling into the same folly over and over again without noticing it except retroactively… As in the case of the proverbial woman who always seems to find that one man who beats and abuses her –to actualizations that have multiple attractors when functioning far from equalibrium (as in the case of heating up a system where a new organization emerges). Indeed, we know that some systems can even be thrown out of their basis of attraction by a significant shock to the system (this seemed to occur in the U.S. with 9-11) that engenders a new set of attractors and organizations. Similarly, trauma as the “missed encounter” can signicantly transform the organization of a person’s life, generating a new set of repetitions differing qualitatively from the old. As I suggested in a previous post, something of the sort seems to take place in analysis as well. The analyst occupies the position of objet a in a purified state, absent the ordinary conventions that govern interpersonal relations. If change takes place in analysis, then could this not be due to the intensification of a basin of attraction transforming the analysand’s relation to objet a? For instance, what is it about an analytic intervention that might lead an analysand who constantly suffers from constipation when attending important business functions, meeting his lover, visiting family, etc., to suddenly experience a dissipation of this repetitive pattern (one that clearly relates to objet a as anal drive)?
What is suggested here is not simply a submission to the Law or desire as Lacan had it in Seminar 7, where all we can do is tragically accept our fate, but rather the possibility of the emergence of an entirely new order. As Harari (to whom I’m greatly indebted here) puts it in his brilliant essay “The sinthome: Turbulence and Dissipation”, “…the ‘disinvestment’ of the unconscious– there was an investment, a site fixed through repetition, but no longer –marks the limit of the dependence on metaphor, supporting with no regrets the ab-sence of the sexual relation. Instead of any regret, addressed to the Other as a demand for sense, resulting in the ‘moral cowardice’ known as sadness, the ab-sence of the sinthome embodies what Lacan terms a gay savoir. This last phrase, punning on savoir, could be read as ca a voir, ‘it/id to see.’ This, in contrast to sadness, constitutes a ‘virtue’ to the extent that it seeks not to understand or chew over meaning, but to ‘crush it as much as is possible.’ Thus, for the Lacan of the third period, there is no knowledge (savoir) but in non-sense, opening onto a space of the scopic and an undefined future, far from the closed circuits and anticipations of the Imaginary. For this reason, gay scavoir –the Nietzschean root of which is patent –is for the corollary of the stochastic, the unpredictable. Gay scavoir is the affect that authorizes the invention of the sinthome” (Re-Inventing the Symptom: Essays on the Final Lacan, Luke Thurston ed., 52-3). One must pass through the logic of not giving way to his desire, but there is a beyond to this alienation, a separation, that promises something very different.
June 7, 2006
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Lacan’s concept of ethics is among the most difficult to understand within his psychoanalysis. One of th central problems faced in the clinical setting is the issue of guilt. Guilt can manifest itself quite consciously in the persecutory voices we hear within our thoughts, but it can also manifest itself more subtly at an “unconscious” level, in the judgments we experience as issuing from others (“they hate me”, “they think I’m stupid”, “they think I’m incompetent”, etc) , or in actions that somehow produce painful consequences. For instance, I might steal a pack of gum from the store believing that I simply desire this gum and don’t have any cash on hand, but in pocketing the gum I do so in a reckless way as if the entire point were to get caught so as to create a situation in which I might finally bring about the punishment that would releive me of my guilt. Or perhaps I accidentally leave an internet link to pornography open in my office at the job I love, when leaving to attend to some other matter. What appears to be a simple act of innocent forgetfulness could here be understood as a manifestation of “unconscious guilt”, or the creation of a scenerio in which I lose my job so as to obtain the punishment I deserve (for unconscious issues quite unrelated to my job).
In seminar 7 Lacan raises the question of how guilt should be dealt with in the clinical setting. Lacan is clear in emphasizing that guilt should neither be ignored, nor should the analyst seek to persuade the analysand that she is not really guilt. According to Lacan, if the analysand feels guilt, experiences guilt, or acts in such a way as to indicate unconscious guilt or designs to be punished and lose the very things that are precious to oneself, then this is because the analysand is guilty. The whole problem is to discover what, precisely, the analysand is guilty of. In point of fact, this guilt is not irrational at all from the Lacanian perspective, but refers to something real ethically. Part of analysis consists in determining what this infraction refers to. Of what is the analysand guilty?
The analysand herself is often perplexed by her guilt. She feels guilty all the time, yet cannot see that she’s done anything wrong. She experiences guilt even over her thoughts, without acting on these thoughts. An examination of the actual actions she’s doing in the present seem to do little good in alleviating the feelings of guilt and self-punishing actions, as these events and situations in the present are only occasions for satisfying one’s guilt, they are not the cause of one’s guilt.
The mental gymnastics occur in relation to Lacan’s answer to this question. A somewhat standard understanding of guilt assumes that we experience guilt precisely when we have desires or engage in acts that are contrary to the moral law. Thus, for instance, this view would suggest that the woman feels guilty because, perhaps, she has fantasies of killing her boss that are contrary to the moral teachings according to which she was raised. If she could simply get rid of these thoughts, then she would no longer experience guilt. Under a cereal box reading of Freud, the superego would be the moral agency irrationally commanding that we obey certain moral prohibitions, producing guilt even when we merely think thoughts contrary to the moral law. Analysis would then consist in progressively coming to recognize the irrationality of this superego, so as to escape its sadistically demanding nature.
Nothing could be more contrary to this cereal box version of psychoanalysis that Lacan’s conception of guilt and the superego. Where the cereal box version of psychoanalysis claims that we experience guilt through the real or imagined violation of the moral law, Lacan argues that, “From an analytic point of view, the only thing one can be guilty of is having given ground relative to one’s desire” (Seminar 7, 319). If the man leaves the webpage linked to pornography open in his workplace office where everyone and anyone can see it, then this is indicative of a desire for punishment signifying that somehow he has given way on his desire. If the woman experiences others as judging her and wanting to reject her, then this is a trace of guilt indicating that she has given way on her desire. If one constantly experiences persecutory thoughts informing one how awful he is, how horrible he is, how he’s doomed to failure, and so on, then these are indications that one has given ground on one’s desire. From the popular psychoanalytic perspective the solution might seem to be one simply of ignoring these irrational thoughts. However, as Freud taught, the repressed is always accompanied by a return of the repressed. If I ignore these thoughts, they return as experiences of others persecuting and judging me, or in self-destructive actions unconsciously designed to bring me the punishment called for by the betrayal of my desire. We can thus see how far Lacan is from the notion that guilt is a product of having desires contrary to the moral law. In point of fact, it is the moral law itself that produces guilt by leading us to give ground relative to our desire. Yet paradoxically, desire itself is the moral law. Thus, for instance, Antigone follows her desire in burying her brother and going to her own death, i.e., following the moral law.
Things become even more perplexing when we approach Lacan’s conception of the superego. According to Lacan, the superego is not an agent of prohibition, but is rather a command or imperative to enjoy. As Lacan puts it, the superego bellows Enjoy! From this perspective, if we are to look for the superego, we shouldn’t look in the voices of guilt that we experience or the self-punishing actions we unconsciously engage in; rather, the superego is to be found in our compulsion to enjoy. In our contemporary capitalistic society, the superego is present in the almost overwhelming compulsion we experience to go out and buy. It is to be experienced in the imperative to have new and ever more exotic sexual experiences, to fuck at least 3.5 times a week, and worry over whether we’re doing it the right way (think of all the articles in Cosmopolitan, instructing women on how to be perfect sex kittens). And this is where things get very strange. If I feel guilt in relation to these activities (sex, buying, consumption, vacationing, and so on), it is not because I just decadently spent $80,000 on a Land Rover SUV that I don’t need, thereby violating the imperative of my thrifty protestant superego. No, according to Lacan my obedience to the superegoic command to enjoy (to buy the Land Rover) is not the violation of a rule, but is rather a betrayal of my desire. In buying the SUV, in enjoying, I have somehow given way on my desire. The more I obey this imperative to enjoy, the more guilty I feel and the more ferocious and commanding my superego becomes. The conclusion is that there is nothing “libertine” about Lacan’s conception of psychoanalytic ethics.
If Lacan’s views are here counter-intuitive, then this is because we ordinarily think of enjoyment as precisely that which is prohibited by the superego. How, metapsychologically, are we to understand a superego that commands enjoyment? I suspect that this is a question that can only properly be answered through a careful and precise reading of Freud’s essays “On Narcissism”, “Mourning and Melancholia”, “The Ego and the Id”, “Group Psychology and the Analysis of Ego”, “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, and “Civilization and Its Discontents”. As is suggested early in “On Narcissism”, the superego is a continuation of jouissance by other means through the introjection of the parental voice.
However, more importantly, if Lacan’s understanding of the superego, enjoyment, guilt, and desire hold up under scrutiny– and the practice of analysis seems to bear this out as guilt diminishes over the course of analysis when the analysis is moving forward –what is to be done? If enjoying is actually a way of fueling the superego and thereby promoting guilt, what is the alternative? Lacan argues that there is only one solution to this riddle: do not give way on your desire! Yet it is very easy to confuse desire with jouissance, as we see jouissance as the object of our desire. The only answer to this riddle is that desire must be unconscious desire, that it is something that we must discover within ourselves. It is this that leads to Lacan’s core ethical claim:
Wo Es war, soll Ich werden
Where the unconscious (desire) was, there I should come to be. Lacan’s claim is that the only way to escape the guilt that indicates the betrayal of our desire is to take responsibility for our desire, to avow our desire, to no longer put off our desire or to delay our desire, but to come to be the subject of our desire. It is only through the work of coming to know and enact our unconscious desire through free association, claims Lacan, that we can escape the crushing guilt that accompanies the command to enjoy, or the self-lacerating thoughts, persecutory experiences of others, and self-punishing actions that populate our day to day life. The paradox, then, is that it is precisely towards these bungled actions, self-lacerating thoughts, and persecutory interpretations of how others see me that I should look to discover my desire. And if this proves incredibly difficult, then this is because the psychic system is such that it does everything to push these things away and repress them. It is further complicated by the fact that while these things unfold in the present and appear to pertain to the present situation I inhabit (for instance, the man might think he leaves the pornography visible in his office because he hates his job), these thoughts are in fact clothed repetitions of things that belong to a very different scene. Four questions thus emerge:
1) What is this mysterious desire?
2) How do we discover this mysterious desire?
3) How is this mysterious desire to be distinguished from jouissance or enjoyment?
4) If jouissance is the guilt-producing command of the superego in which I give way on my desire, what does it mean to avow my desire (if not to enjoy)?
June 5, 2006
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My work with Deleuze has largely been organized around trying to make sense of a single claim he makes in chapter 5 of Difference and Repetition. There Deleuze writes, “Difference is not diversity. Diversity is given, but difference is that by which the given is given, that by which the given is given as diverse. Difference is not phenomenon but the noumenon closest to the phenomenon… Every phenomenon refers to an inequality by which it is conditioned. Every diversity and every change refers to a difference which is its sufficient reason. Everything which happens and everything which appears is correlated with orders of differences: differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential, difference of intensity” (DR, 222). If I find these remarks so fascinating and enigmatic, then it is because they stand so squarely opposed to traditional empiricism, yet Deleuze describes his ontology as empiricist. That is, empiricist begins with the premise that all knowledge originates in experience. Yet experience is precisely the given, the phenomenon, diversity. And indeed, I do not think it would be mistaken to suggest that a good deal of the secondary literature on Deleuze has often taken him as a traditional sort of empiricist. Thus in Patrick Hayden’s book, we find Hayden emphasizing the first synthesis of repetition in chapter 2 of DR, despite the fact that there are two additional syntheses and that Deleuze refers to the synthesis of habit as the ground of good and common sense upon which the image of thought is based. Massumi fairs a bit better, but it’s clear that habitus also enjoys a privilege in his reading of Deleuze. Yet if we take Deleuze at his word, the qualitative world of impressions is an effect of this world of intensities. As Deleuze will argue throughout chapter five of DR, intensive difference is cancelled and covered over by extensive difference, such that we must distinguish between a brute repetition (found in extensity such as the ticks of a clock) and a clothed and hidden repetition found in intensity.
Deleuze’s understanding of the manner in which intensive difference generates extensities or actualized forms can be drawn from the examples he provides in the passage above. The difference between an extensive difference and an intensive difference is that where the former remains the same when divided, the latter changes in kind when divided. Thus, for instance, if I divide a piece of wood in two, I’m left with two pieces of wood. Moreover, if I combine two teaspoons of paprika together I’m given two teaspoons of paprika. However, I cannot divide or add to something like a temperature or pressure without producing an increase in kind. According to Deleuze, these intensive differences are generative of qualities, forms, and parts. Thus, for example, an increase in temperature with regard to water produces a phase transition generating steam. Similarly, a soap bubble forms itself by equalizing surface tension among the component elements of which it’s composed, so as to cancel the difference by reaching a minimal state of tension. In doing so it produces the form of the soap bubble. If we begin with the actualized entity (the soap bubble) we miss the intensive difference of which it is an effect insofar as these differences tend to minimize or cancel themselves.
In light of these concepts, it can be said that transcendental empiricism unfolds the real conditions for the individuation of entities. These conditions (intensive difference, multiplicity, singularity), disappear in the actualized form, and in this regard Deleuze diverges from classical empiricism that begins and ends with the given. If such a position is transcendental, then this is because these intensive differences are the genetic conditions under which entities emerge. If this position is “empirical”, then this is because these intensive differences must be discovered, because they can’t be anticipated in advance, and because the effects that they produce are indeterminate and aleatory depending on the chance relations in which they’re brought together. As such, transcendental empiricism is not an epistemological position (as in the case of Hume or Locke, or Kant with respect to transcendental idealism), but an ontological thesis pertaining to how beings come to be. It is because the world is composed of inequalities (intensive differences) that diversity comes to be produced as an effect.
A good deal of excellent work has been done exploring the implications of this idea of intensive differences that cancel themselves in extensities in the secondary literature. Thus, in his brilliant Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Delanda shows the relevance of this idea in the biosciences, chemistry, and physics. These points are followed up nicely by Beistegui in Truth and Genesis. Massumi’s Reader’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia is highly suggestive as to a number of directions in which these concepts might taken. However, just as each field of actualities has its corresponding virtual field in Ideas or multiplicities composed of differential relations and singularities, all of which have their own calculus, so too does each individuated being have its intensive differences drawn out in extensity through which it is actualized.
Somewhere Deleuze remarks that these intensive differences as differences presiding over individuation must be surveyed in every field. There has been a good deal of success in thematizing these differences in the biosciences, chemistry, and physics, but what are the intensive differences presiding over the genesis of extensities in other fields such as art, the clinical setting, social relations, economics, political transformations, and so on? For instance, does part of the efficacy of analysis lie precisely in the fact that in the manner in which the analyst conducts himself as dead or the “dummy hand”, certain intensive relations are subtracted from social interaction that are normally present in other social relations? Suppose, for instance, we have an individual who is convinced that others wish to denegrate and reject him because he is short, Jewish, and is doing graduate work at the wrong university. Whenever he encounters someone new he anticipates these rejections and therefore pre-emptively responds to their remarks in a mocking and combattive fashion, producing the very thing that he fears and justifying his belief about the Other; albeit without realizing it. In entering analysis the analyst doesn’t respond to any of these strategies. He doesn’t take offense at being mocked or prickled. He simply nods and punctuates speech. He doesn’t even ask that the analysand speak about anything in particular. Does not this subtraction of a certain field of interactions introduce a new set of intensities into the analysand’s social interaction that minimizes itself in a different way? Doesn’t the absence of response become generative of new emergent ways of thinking, feeling, and acting? That is, over and above any “interpretations” given, there is already an intensive field in analysis that differs markedly from those we find in ordinary day to day life. What light would the investigation of this field of intensities shed on how the unconscious comes to actualize itself in the speech of the analysand. What other intensive differences are operative in the analytic setting. What counts as an intensity with respect to social change? Are there intensities that are conducive to the rise of fascist passions? Are there intensive social differences conducive to revolution? What are the relevant extensities that compose these fields? How can these concepts be put to work in other domains of experience in a non-metaphorical way that would allow us to avoid the reductive tendency to analogize everything to biology, physics, or chemistry, and truly speak of the conditions of real being rather than reducing one order of being to another order of being from which it differs in kind?
June 4, 2006
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Care must be taken in treating Ideas or multiplicities as having a greater permanence than they actually possess. When Deleuze speaks of “horizontal varieties of Ideas”, it is easy to get the impression that these are eternal natural kinds that have an atemporal organization. This conclusion easily follows from the example of varieties such as mathematical, physical, and chemical varieties, which are often taken to be intrinsic features of the universe. However, Deleuze’s metaphor of the “throw of the dice” should be enough to dissuade us from this route. Ideas or multiplicities are perpetually being made or unmade in terms of series that are drawn together forming new ontological problems and accompanying solution. This comes out clearly in Deleuze’s discussions of learning as opposed to knowing. Where we exist in a world, a chaosmos, that is perpetually changing by virtue of multiplicities and series being brought into contact with one another, we can only speak of emergent orders and learning, for there is no longer an eternal world that we might represent. As Deleuze puts it, “the Idea is not the element of knowledge but that of an infinite ‘learning’, which is of a different nature to knowledge. For learning evolves entirely in the comprehension of problems as such, in the apprehension and condensation of singularities and in the composition of ideal events and bodies. Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one’s own body or one’s own language with those of another shape or element, which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated if not to those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language” (DR, 192). It is in this conceptualization of learning that we can speak of an early concept of “deterritorialization” at work in Deleuze’s thought. In the marvellous example of learning to swim, the singularities composing the virtual dimension of the body are territorialized upon the earth. In encountering the water two series come to resonate with one another, forming a new Idea that progressively differentiates itself such that the problem of the body-water Idea becomes increasingly determined, generating a new actuality in the form of a specific style of swimming as a solution or actualization of this differential field and the singularities that populate it.
Series and their singularities are distributed by chance, and new actualizations generate new series that other series must adapt to, generating forever new divergent actualizations moving in all directions. Territories are prepetually deterritorializing and reterritorializing as Ideas or multiplicities come in contact with one another and modify their environment. Here, for instance, we might think of the introduction of cane toads into Australia to fight pests, which had the effect of significantly transforming the eco-system.
On dark days I’ve often found myself attracted to Dewey because of the process orientation of his thought. However, a comparison and contrast of Dewey with Luhmann’s conception of the artist reveal the limitations of pragmatic thought, and illuminates Deleuze’s concept of emergent orders and processes. In Art as Experience, Dewey seeks to account for the relationship of artistic production to lived experience and engagement. This account of artistic production is of interest as it forms a sort of master-key of Dewey’s entire “experimentalism”, by underlining the manner in which patterns of life emerge through engaging with the world about us (rather than thematizing experience in terms of passive receptivity or spectatorship, Dewey thinks it in terms of feedback loops and interactivity with the environment). Along these lines, Dewey writes, “When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement” (Hofstadter and Kuhns ed, Philosophies of Art & Beauty: Selected Readings in Aesthetics from Plato to Heidegger, pg. 579). From a Deleuzian perspective this thesis cannot but be appealing, as Dewey here seems to allude to the virtual field or problems in which the work of art emerges as a necessary condition for thinking the art. And indeed, a number of Deleuzians such as Massumi or Hayden have increasingly turned to pragmatists such as James, Peirce, and Dewey for more accessible thematizations of Deleuze’s thought.
However, very quickly problems begin to emerge. A few pages later Dewey writes, “Because of changes in industrial conditions the artist has been pushed to one side from the main streams of active interest. Industry has been mechanized and an artist cannot work mechanically for mass production. He is less integrated than formerly in the normal flow of social services. A peculiar esthetic ‘individualism’ results. Artists find it incumbent upon them to betake themselves to their work as an isolated means of ‘self-expression.’ In order not to cater to the trend of economic forces, they often feel obliged to exaggerate their separateness to the point of eccentricity. Consequently artistic products take on to a still greater degree the air of something independent and esoteric” (ibid., 584). In this passage it becomes clear that Dewey thinks all human productions territorialized on a static lifeworld not unlike the world described by Heidegger and the earth described by Husserl. Everything is to be traced back to this world and any deviation from this world (such as the artist’s “idiosyncratic self-expression” is seen as a deviation). What Dewey is unable to think here is the adaptation of world to adaptations. That is, Dewey is unable to think the manner in which new problems emerge generating new “speciations” or forms of life as a result of new technologies and relations that emerge among multiplicities. Dewey thinks of the lifeworld as permanent, and as a result he’s only able to see the new artist in terms of what is not (the old, integrated artists of organic communities), rather than in terms of what this new artist is as a new type of multiplicity or response to a new problem. Here Dewey’s thought is essentially conservative and nostalgic.
In contrast, the picture of the artist Luhmann gives us in Art as a Social System gives us a picture of the emergence of new identities as responses to ever changing problems. For instance, Luhmann speaks about how the emergence of the non-Aristocratic wealthy middle class also allowed for a deterritorialization of the artist as essentially tied to institutions such as the church and royalty. Insofar as this new middle class sought individualized works of art so as to compete with the aristocracy, this propelled artists to discover personal style which also led to what Luhmann calls “second-order obserserving” or observing how others observe, that led to a fragmentation of the world and eventually postmodern art. Here the artist is not conceived as deviating from an authentic and wholesome collective lifeworld, but as an identity in variation responding to new problems posed at the economic, social, and scientific level. That is, we are given an account of how encounters among multiplicities generate new Ideas or Ideas of Ideas precipitated through new syntheses of differential relations and singular points. On the other hand, Luhmann’s approach still suffers in that it conceives the work of art in terms of an order that is not its own (communicative or social systems) rather than unfolding the metric or organization internal to the work itself. What is important to emphasize here, however, is the manner in which new identities and local spaces are generated in relation to positive fields of problems, so as to guard against false nostalgia at a “world lost”.
June 4, 2006
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The point is not that everything is literally composed of differential equations (of this, Deleuze can thankfully wipe his hands clean). Rather, as Deleuze remarks, “…we must conclude that there is no difficulty with any supposed application of mathematics to other domains, in particular with regard to differential calculus or group theory. It is rather that each engendered domain, in which dialectical Ideas of this or that order are incarnated, possesses its own calculus. Ideas always have an element of quantitability (dy, dx), qualitability (dy/dx), and potentiality (0/0); there are always processes of determinability, of reciprocal determination and complete determination; always distributions of distinctive and ordinary points; always adjunct fields which form the synthetic progression of a sufficient reason” (DR, 181, cf. DR 170-176 for a discussion of complete determination and 0/0 in terms of Kant’s account of intensive quantities in The Critique of Pure Reason).
The aim is to uncover the characters of these various calculi in all the domains where they appear.
June 3, 2006
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I confess that I’ve often felt disgruntled by the secondary literature on Deleuze, and have often experienced a desire to distance myself from it. Somehow the constant talk of rhizomes, becomings, deterritorializations, and such rings hollow to me; like it is a new normative vocabulary designed to appeal more to the narcissistic image of the ego than to engage in tough critical work. In this regard, my interests in Deleuze have tended to gravitate more towards his earlier, more sober works such as Difference and Repetition and The Logic of Sense. There, in Deleuze’s account of different/ciation, I found the resources to conceptualize the immanent organization of situations, the relationship between genesis and structure, the primacy of relations over elements, and, most importantly, the critical tools for diagnosing false problems and discerning the manner in which these false problems are solutions of a poorly formed sort.
Very roughly, Deleuze’s account of different/ciation is designed to account for the conditions of actualization moving from the virtual to the actual. On the one hand, the process of differenTiation refers to the formation of virtual multiplicities organized around differential relations and the singularities that constitute them. In speaking of multiplicities– or what Deleuze, following and subverting Plato and alluding to Kant in the transcendental dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason refers to as “Ideas” –Deleuze is speaking of neither the one nor the many, but of an organization belonging to the many as such (DR, 182). Unlike the old ouisiological or identity based ontology, multiplicities need refer to no enduring substance or essence, but is a structure or system that comes to be without referring to any prior identities. In this regard, Deleuze attributes three properties to Ideas or virtual multiplicities: 1) they are undetermined in relation to themselves (dy is literally nothing in relation to y, just as dx is literally nothing in relation to x), 2) they are determinable in relation to one another (dy/dx generates a value), 3) and they bear an ideal of complete determination with regard to their potentialities.
From the standpoint of differential ontology, the importance of the differential and multiplicities is clear. What needs to be avoided is treating differences as identities. That is, we must avoid the temptation to think of difference as diversity (DR, 222), for a diversity is just a collection of self-identical atoms, which thereby returns us to the ontology of identity. Insofar as the differential is literally nothing in itself, it avoids this problem. However, insofar as differentials take on value in their reciprocal determination, we are given a principle describing the chance-governed emergence of order through various syntheses. If I’ve often felt disgruntled by talk of deterritorialization, then this is precisely because all too often it seems to ignore the question of how order emerges. Deterritorialization to what end? In response to what problem? In describing these multiplicities, Deleuze remarks that “‘Multiplicity’, which replaces the one no less than the multiple, is the true substantive, substance itself” (DR, 182). Multiplicity has come to replace the old substance that endured beneath accidental changes. It is substance as an effect of difference… An ironic substance when viewed through an Aristotlean or Cartesian lense.
In my previous entry I claimed that the death of God has two consequences: On the one hand, it follows from the death of God that identity must come second, that it must be a product or an effect. On the other hand, it follows from the death of God that all situations are local, that there is no global whole or totality; or, as Deleuze puts it, that the whole is open. The concept of multiplicity responds to both of these problems. In developing the concept of multiplicity, Deleuze characterizes multiplicities as “problems”. Here Deleuze follows the Kant of the first critique, where the Ideas of reason are conceived as problems pertaining to how the disparate experiences generated by the synthesis of intuition and understanding are organized into a whole. We might think of the difference between reason and understanding in Kant as the difference between a scientific treatise (such as Newton’s Principia or Hjelmslev’s Prolegomena to a Theory of Language) where the aim is to discover the principles that govern a disparate set of phenomena and an encyclopedia that gives us disparate “facts” about the world without showing how they are interconnected.
As Hjelmslev describes the project of science, “A priori it would seem to be a generally valid thesis that for every process there is a corresponding system, by which the process can be analyzed and described by means of a limited number of premises. It must be assumed that any process can be analyzed into a limited number of elements recurring in various combinations. Then, on the basis of this analysis, it should be possible to order these elements into classes according to their possibilities of combination. And it should be further possible to set up a general and exhaustive calculus of the possible combinations… in the theory of which all events (possible combinations of elements) are foreseen and the conditions for their realization established” (Hjelmslev 1961, 9). Of course, the idea of system that Hjelmslev is here proposing is not that which we find in autopoietic theory, complexity theory, or systems theory. Rather, Hjelmslev’s ideal of theory is closer to that of Newton’s, where on the basis of a few principles of motion, three in all, he claims he is able to exhaustively account for all varieties of motion we see in the physical world around us (this, of course, would progressively be undermined with the emergence of thermodynamics and chemistry, where such processes are no longer reversible in the order of time). In this regard, the reason that the Ideas of reason in Kant are problematic is that they refer to the continuous problematic of thought in integrating or subsuming the disparate cases of experience under general principles in a total system that articulates how they all hold together. Since experience is infinite, the task of reason is therefore infinite or endlessly open (Kant refers to this as the “unrest of reason”) and the problems of reasons are not problems solved once and for all, but continuous problems that condition the way mind relates to world (reason perpetually searches for the manner in which parts systematically belong to the whole, unlike the encyclopedia that is content simply to collect “facts” without seeking the more basic principles that underlie them).
For Kant the problematic Ideas of reason are an epistemological affair pertaining to how mind organizes its experience into a system; whereas for Deleuze Ideas or multiplicities aren’t mental entities at all (though there are psychological multiplicities), but rather dimensions of being presiding over the genesis of individuals or beings. Deleuze retains the notion that Ideas or multiplicities are problematic, while wresting them from their epistemological interpretation in Kant. Thus Deleuze’s account of problematic multiplicities is something of a synthesis between Kant, Plato, and Leibniz. From Kant Deleuze takes the notion that Ideas are problems. From Plato Deleuze takes the notion that Ideas are (that they aren’t simply mental entities). And from Leibniz Deleuze takes the notion that Ideas are not abstract forms, but coincide with the individual or the actual like the inflection of a point on a curve (or a tangent to a curve).
If Ideas or multiplicities are problems, then this is because they pose the question of how to synthesize a differential field of relations and singularities in emerging an actuality or phenomenon. Thus, in a beautifully poetic passage from chapter 2 of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes, “What we call wheat is a contraction of the earth and humidity, and this contraction is both a contemplation and the auto-satisfaction of that contemplation. By its existence along, the lilly of the field sings the glory of the heavens, the goddesses and god– in other words, the elments that it contemplates in contracting. What organism is not made of elements and cases of repetitition, of contemplated and contracted water, nitrogen, carbon, chlorides and sulphates, thereby intertwining all the habits of which it is composed” (DR, 75)? Drawing on Deleuze’s language from differential calculus, the wheat and the lily are “integrations” or solutions of a differential field defined in terms of water, nitrogen, carbon, chlorides, sulphates, proteins, etc. and the singular points that emerge when these elements are brought together. The world of actuality, the world of phenomena, consists of solutions to problems posed when these various series are brought together. A multiplicity defines the problematic field through which these integrations or solutions occur, and are thus the real conditions for the phenomena of the world.
In actualizing or integrating this differential field– what Deleuze refers to as the process of differenCiation, presiding over the genesis of qualities, species/kinds, and parts –identity is produced as an effect or product of these differences, which Deleuze refers to as “simulacra” by virtue of their status as effect and repetition. From the example of the lily and the wheat above, it is clear that problems or multiplicities are not forms of negativity that disappear in the solution, but rather insist in the actuality as virtual conditions with regard to which the actuality remains in communication. The lily remains in communication with sunshine, nitrogen, water, earth, etc. in a state of perpetual feedback, continuously actualizing itself over time. That is, identity is a continuous process that finds its limit in exhaustion. As Deleuze will write, “…the logical relation of causality is inseparable from a physical process of signalling, without which it would not be translated into action. By ‘signal’ we mean a system with orders of disparate size, endowed with elements of dissymmetry; by ‘sign’ we mean what happens within such a system, what flashes across the intervals when a communiation takes place between disaparates. The sign is indeed an effect, but an effect with two aspects: in one of these it express, qua sign, the productive dissymmetry; in the other it tends to cancel it” (DR, 20). An actualized entity just is such a signal-sign system, remaining in perpetual communication with the virtual multiplicity it actualizes, constituting its own elements and identity. Such is Deleuze’s account of what Badiou refers to as the operation of the “count-for-one”… An operation that is immanent to being itself and energetic in character.
Yet how are we to discern the local nature of ontological situations, the manner in which there is no global, overarching global situation in which all local situations are embedded as if parts of a whole? In part the above passage already responds to this question. If series must be brought into relation to communicate in order for causality to occur, and if the resonance of series is always a matter of chance, of a throw of the dice, like Lacan’s objet a where no series enjoys primacy of model over copy, then all we have are local situations without a total situation. Unlike Heidegger’s analysis of Dasein where Dasein is always being-in-THE-world, Deleuze’s simulacra or actualizations are always divergent, enjoying only local relations. Heidegger argues that in order to understand the being of Dasein we must understand the manner in which Dasein is a being-in-THE-world. By contrast, Deleuze’s concept of multiplicity provides us with the principle of a new structuralism, of a new local ontology, that allows us to understand the immanent organization of a multiplicity without referring it to an embedding global space. As Delanda so beautifully puts it in relation to the mathematician Gauss, “…when Gauss began to tap into these differential resources, a curved two-dimension surface was studied using the old Cartesian method: the surface was embedded in three-dimensional space complete with its own fixed set of axes; then, using those axes, coordinates would be assigned to every point of the surface; finally, the geometric links between points determining the form of the surface would be expressed as algebraic relations between the numbers. But Gauss realized that the calculus, focusing as it does on infinitesimal points on the surface itself (that is, operating entirely with local information), allowed the study of the surface without any reference to a global embedding space. Basically, Gauss developed a method to implant the coordinate axes on the surface itself (that is, a method to implant the coordinate axes on the surface itself (that is, a method of ‘coordinatizing’ the surface) and, once points had been so translated into numbers, to use differential (not algebraic) equations to characterize their relations. As the mathematician and historian Morris Kline observes, by getting rid of the global embedding space and dealing with the surface through its own local properties, ‘Gauss advanced the totally new concept that a surface is a space in itself‘” (Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, 11-12).
According to the old Cartesian method, we can only outline the properties of a space by relativizing it to a global space in terms of which it is then mapped. By contrast, Gauss is able to explore a space in terms of its intrinsic metric and organization as a local space, without referencing it to a whole of which it is conceptualized as a part. Deleuze sometimes spoke of getting up behind an author and “creating a monster”, as if his reading methodology somehow consisted of a distortion of the philosopher’s or author’s thought. Certainly there is a case to be made for this with regard to the process of deterritorialization, where something is wrested from a territory and reterritorialized upon a new territory, like the animal paw that is deterritorialized from the earth and reterritorialized on the branch. However, it seems to me that the more interesting aspect of Deleuze’s approach to other philosophers and art is not so much his “monstrous creations” (I seldom find them particularly monstrous), but rather their Gaussian or Riemannian style, where he explores them in terms of their own internal organization and metric, without reducing them to something alien such as history, society, biology (reductivism), or the signifier. What we find in Deleuze’s approach to phenomena is a Gaussian technique. For instance, take Deleuze’s books on Cinema, his book on Francis Bacon, or his study of Sacher-Masoch. In the first instance, Deleuze’s carefully separates cinema from narrative and the signifier, studying it in terms of its specific organization pertaining to the production of images. In the case of Bacon, Deleuze doesn’t look for an underlying narrative or “meaning”, but instead studies the manner in which Bacon composes and organizes his images and lines, both in terms of their production and actuality, so as to liberate a logic of sensation. Finally, in approaching Sacher-Masoch, Deleuze allows Sacher-Masoch’s novels to speak for themselves in terms of their desire and relation to pain, stalwartly refusing to reduce Masochism to the complement of Sadism. In each case, we have a local exploration of a “space” of multiplicities that is extremely precise.
Along these lines, a Deleuzian spirit can be found in many domains of contemporary inquiry. Systems theory, autopoietic theory, cybernetics, structuralism, contemporary quantum mechanics, and post-Darwinian evolutionary theory can all be seen as studying systems that both constitute their own elements or produce identity as an effect, and which study the local organizations of multiplicities without referring to a global space of resemblances. Thus, for instance, the Lacanian clinic engages with the immanent organization of an analysand’s unconscious, without referring it to a global set of diagnostic categories, seeking to determine how this analysand’s symptom here is organized, rather than seeing the symptom as an instance of a kind such as we find in Anglo-American approaches to psychotherapy where the patient’s symptom is referred to a set of diagnostic categories (thereby remaining in the heritage of Linnaeus’ biology). Deleuze provides the ontology proper to these “structuralisms”, unfolding both the ontological status of these “ideal” systems of relation, but also the manner in which these systems come to be actualized in the phenomena we see about us.
Rather than talk of deterritorialization and becoming-animal, it is this rigorous and careful analysis of multiplicities and their becomings that I would like to see more of. As Deleuze writes in Difference and Repetition, “Ideas are varieties which include in themselves sub-varieties. We can distinguish three dimensions of variety. In the first, vertical dimension we can distinguish ordinal varieties according to the nature of the elements and the differential relations: for example, mathematical, mathematico-physical, chemical, biological, psychical, sociological and linguistic Ideas… Each level implies differentials of a different dialectical ‘order’, but the elements of one order can pass over into those of another under new relations, either by being dissolved in the larger superior order or by being reflected in the inferior order. In the second, horizontal dimension we can distinguish characteristic varieties corresponding to the degrees of a differential relation within a given order, and to the distribution of singular points for each degree (such as the equation for conic sections which gives according to the case an ellipse, a hyperbola, a parabola or a straight line; or the varieties of animal ordered from the point of view of unity of composition; or the varieties of language ordered from the point of view of their phonological system). Finally, in depth we can distinguish axiomatic varieties which determine a common axiom for differential relations of a different order, on condition that this axiom itself coincides with a third-order differential relation (for example, the addition of real numbers and the composition of displacements; or, in an altogether different domain, the weaving speech practised by the Graiule Dogons)” (DR, 187). It is in the analysis of these multiplicities and their relations that real advances in learning are to be made and the real possibility of social and political change occurs. Yet this requires rigor and precision, not the haphazard formation of “rhizomes” like we see in so many celebrations of Deleuze and Guattari. Of particular interest here are the relations among different orders of Ideas or multiplicities, such as the relation between psychological and sociological ideas described by Niklas Luhmann in Social Systems, where the psychic system is structurally coupled with the sociological system to form systems of communication such that individuals cannot be said to belong to society but occur in the environoment of society. Here we have an instance of the social system constituting its own elements by using the elements of another system.
However, it is perhaps above all of importance to analyze the genesis of false problems and the poor solutions that accompany them. Too little of this has been done, as there has been a tendency to adopt Deleuze’s ontological theses about affirmation tout court, without loooking at the negative as an effect that plagues us at the level of the actual. As Deleuze writes in relation to Marx, “The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (DR, 186). Seldom do we see any discussion of these types of “solutions”, yet one of the ancient tasks of philosophy inaugurated by Epicurus, Lucretius, Epictetus, Machiavelli, and Spinoza was the diagnosis of humanity’s superstititions and false passions, so as to rescue us from sad passions and poor solutions. In the same space as this passage, Deleuze references Althusser who discovers a properly “static” reading of Marx, rescuing it from its historicism, and analyzing the multiplicities that underlie actual social relations. Should not the name Althusser lead us to evoke the analysis of ideology as a necessary moment in the formulation of genuine problems? And does this not lead us to look at the relationship between Zizek, Lacan, and Deleuze (despite Zizek’s Hegelianism which is questionable) in a different light as part of the ongoing critical project of diagnosing and overcoming superstitition? Need we necessarily see a strict opposition between the approaches of Althusser and Zizek, and those of Foucault and Bourdieu? Or rather, are the tools these thinkers give us all tools that allow us to examine the organization of Ideas or multiplicities at different levels of granularity, at different telescopings of Gaussian space?