I thought some readers of this blog might find this paper of interest. I presented it at the “Experimenting with Intensities” conference at University of Trent back in 2004 (the year Constantin Boundas retired, sadly). I’m not entirely satisfied with the argument today, though I would still contend that the transcendental in Deleuze’s transcendental or superior empiricism lies in a production of sensibility, rather than a mere receptivity. I suppose I shouldn’t post these things on a blog. But why publish anything anymore? Where there are no encounters and where there is no possibility of dialogue save the occasional inquiry I receive in email, what could the possible value of publication be? Perhaps one aim of academic writing today should be the destruction of the privilege surrounding the academic apparatus, its journals, its conferences, its books; all of which produce isolated islands and foster specialization, staving off any encounter with the non-specialist and fostering a form of writing aimed only at the specialist. Of course, I say all this as a rationalization for my own anxieties and idiosyncracies. Truth be told, I cannot stand revision and feel done with something the moment I write it. I see little value– for myself –in a writing that rewrites itself, though a great deal of writing in amnesiac repetition. At any rate, a teaser:
In the fourth chapter of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze remarks that, “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.” From the standpoint of an empiricism often attributed to Deleuze, this declaration cannot but appear startling. This remark, which is not at all isolated in Deleuze’s thought, suggests that difference, far from being equated with the actuality of what is given as Bruce Baugh would have it, is instead that which accounts for the actuality of the thing. In short, difference is the principle by which the given is given or produced, and not the given itself.
If this claim is startling from the point of view of empiricism, then it is because it completely undermines the central tenant of classical empiricist thought. In its most basic essence, empiricism is a thesis about the origins of our knowledge and ideas. Hume expresses this point with great clarity in A Treatise Concerning Human Nature, when he remarks that “…we shall content ourselves with establishing one general proposition, That all our simple ideas in their first appearance are deriv’d from simple impressions, which are correspondent to them, and which they exactly represent.” Now, the impressions of which Hume here speaks are exactly what Deleuze has in mind when he refers to the diverse given through which the given is given as given. It is in this respect that classical empiricism is a philosophy of origins, for the thesis of empiricism is that beneath these impressions of sense experience, there is nothing else to be known. The impressions of sense experience are the sine qua non of knowledge, or the ultimate foundation of all knowledge. Beyond these sense-impressions and the relations that are drawn between them through the work of association, there is nothing more to know. However, if difference is not diversity, if difference is not that which is given but rather that through which the given is given as diverse, it then follows that Deleuze has departed substantially from the position described by classical empiricism. For, according to the classical empiricist, the litmus test as to whether something is admissible or not admissible within the realm of knowledge revolves around the issue of whether it can be traced back to the sensible given. Yet in evoking the principle by which the given is given and treating it as the noumenon closest to the phenomenon, Deleuze has abandoned this litmus test altogether. Deleuze thus cannot be described as an empiricist in the classical sense, nor can his position properly be thought as an epistemology.
In light of the foregoing, we can safely say that Deleuze is not so much tracing all thought and knowledge back to its origin in sense-experience or impressions as was the case with Hume and other empiricists, as he is trying to account for the genesis of sensibility itself. As Deleuze remarks in the chapter entitled “Repetition for Itself” in Difference and Repetition,
The first beyond [of the pleasure principle] already constitutes a kind of Transcendental Aesthetic. If this aesthetic appears more profound to us than that of Kant, it is for the following reasons: Kant defines the passive self in terms of simple receptivity, thereby assuming sensations already formed, then merely relating these to the a priori forms of their representation which are determined as space and time. In this manner, not only does he unify the passive self by ruling out the possibility of composing space step by step, not only does he deprive this passive self of all power of synthesis (synthesis being reserved for activity), but moreover he cuts the Aesthetic into two parts: the objective element of sensation guaranteed by space and the subjective element which is incarnate in pleasure and pain. The aim of the preceding analysis, on the contrary, has been to show that receptivity must be defined in terms of the formation of local selves or egos, in terms of the passive syntheses of contemplation or contraction, thereby accounting simultaneously for the possibility of experiencing sensations, the power of reproducing them and the value that pleasure assumes as a principle. (DR, 98)
As this passage demonstrates, contrary to Baugh’s reading that holds that for Deleuze sensation is the ultimate ground of metaphysics, sensation is itself something that must be accounted for. The problem with classical empiricism and Kant, according to Deleuze, is that it assumes receptivity already has a constituted form and is therefore dogmatic. In contrast to this position, Deleuze seeks a genesis of the “sensibility of sense”, which also opens the possibility that sensations themselves are the result of this genesis and that an infinite number of different sensibilities or forms of receptivity are possible. It is for this reason that Deleuze’s aesthetic is a properly transcendental aesthetic, and not simply a representation of judgments made about art. What is at stake here is not simply the givens of experience, but how these givens come to be given.