For every speaking being, the cause of its desire is, in terms of structure, strictly
equivalent, so to speak, to its bending, that is,
to what I have called its division as subject. That is what
explains why the subject could believe for so long that the world knew as much
about things as he did. The world is symmetrical to the subject– the world of what I
last time called thought is the equivalent, the mirror image, of thought.
That is why there was nothing but fantasy regarding knowledge until the advent
of modern science.
Jacques Lacan, Seminar XX, 127

In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze, having developed his account of difference, raises the spectre of the “beautiful soul”.

…does not 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 differences 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 the inexpiable struggles only simple ‘differends’ or perhaps misunderstandings. (52)

As an aside, it’s worth noting just how close Deleuze here is to Badiou’s Maoistic aphorism that “when you have an idea, the one becomes two.” That is, Deleuze is not the priest of a new cosmic harmony, but a thinker of constitutive antagonism or the real, where the affirmation of difference necessarily produces exclusions and selections. Like Zizek or Badiou’s universality or truth, that generates an transversal exclusion, Deleuzian affirmation of difference necessarily contains the dimension of struggle. For Deleuze, worlds– and I must forever remember to pluralize this term henceforth –are products of differences, asymmetries, inequalities, such that they do not form a harmonious totality, but only divergent series without One (despite his occasional, unfortunate statements about the One, it must be recalled that for Deleuze the One cannot be given, and is thus analogous to the set of all sets. Indeed, like Badiou in Logiques des mondes, Deleuze will claim that the non-giveability of the whole is the condition for any appearing whatsoever, cf. Proust & Signs, pg. 129 and Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, pg. 7). For Deleuze, it is difference that produces the world, not identity. Thus,

The world can be regarded as a ‘remainder’, and the real in the world understood in terms of fractional or even incommensurable numbers. 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, differences of intensity. (222)

In developing the ontology of difference it is thus not enough simply to see individuals, objects, entities, beings, as products of difference, such that the individual is always an ongoing process of individuation, where the being is simultaneously produced and producing itself within a preindividual field of singularities, and in which it constantly has to negotiate its relation to an environment such that the individual cannot be thought independently of its environment or is indistinguishable from its environment (as Nick has so nicely put it). Rather, the spectre of the whole– a theological ghost, if ever one there were –must be banished as well. That is, it is not enough to banish the spectre of substance metaphysics by demonstrating the manner in which there is no self-identical substance, hypokeimenon, underlying ever shifting and changing predicates (e.g., My hair turns grey, yet I remain the same subject. Fire burns the paper, yet some substance that is neither paper nor fire remains, etc), the whole too must be banished as a theological illusion, as a fantasy of the imaginary, as an idea borne of the desire to disavow constitutive antagonism, the real, and difference. Or yet again, as Lacan would have it, the whole is an instance of the discourse of the master, where one seeks to banish or disavow the real. As Deleuze puts it in his beautiful little book, Proust & Signs,

The mistake would be to suppose that the consciousness or the discovery of unity, coming afterwards, does not change the nature of the function of this One itself. Balzac’s One or Whole is so special that it results from the parts without altering the fragmentation or disparity of those parts, and, like the dragons of Balbec or Vintueil’s phrase, is itself valid as a part alongside others, adjacent to others: unity “appears (but relating now to the whole) like any one fragment composed separately,” like a last localized brustroke, not like a general varnishing. (164-5)

This need not simply be taken as a simple observation about the art of Balzac, but as a general ontological thesis. The whole is not a whole of parts, but is a part alongside the other parts (in systems theoretical terms, a whole would just be a system that takes the parts as parts of its environment, while the parts are quite indifferent to this whole). That is, a whole is always the result of an operation, as in the case of set-theory where a set is the result of an operation that unifies its elements, such that the whole is not itself ontologically primary. And just as in the case of set-theory, where we cannot form a set of all sets by virtue of the power-set axiom that tells us that the parts of a set are always larger or in excess of the whole, similarly we cannot form a constitent totality with being. Being does not form a whole. It is precisely this that is intended by the declaration that God is dead, that the Other does not exist, that there is no metalanguage, and that there is no universe of discourse (Seminar XIV), that there is no Other of the Other.

Yet strangely, whenever one talks about systems (worlds, situations), organizations, autopoiesis, interrelations, and so on, a sort of New Age spiritualist madness returns. Here one is more than happy to dispense with the God of transcendence, surveilling the whole like an Archimedean point from which the world itself may be moved, yet God is reintroduced in the vision of a harmonious whole, where everything is “interconnected”, where one takes solace from being a part of some grand, cosmic scheme, and where the guilty ones are those who “upset the balance” (clearly it’s difficult to see how anything could upset the balance if all is a part of this cosmic, harmonious world system– If the priests and apostles of the harmonious Whole were truly consistent in their ontology, then they would find the courage to affirm that even apparent imbalances are a part of cosmic harmony and that imablance only appears to be imbalances from the standpoint of a finite subject that cannot see the whole. Indeed, this is precisely what Descartes asserts in his epistemic argument against teleological explanations in the fourth meditation). One of the most striking examples of this in popular press would be Fritjof Capra, in his Web of Life. There Capra announces that a new paradigm is emerging around sciences such as autopoietic theory, systems theory, chaos theory, and complexity theory, that leads to a profoundly different vision of the world. As Capra describes this vision,

The new paradigm may be called a holistic worldview, seeing the world as an integrated whole rather than a dissociated collection of parts. It may also be called an ecological view, if the term ‘ecological’ is used in a much broader and deeper sense than usual. Deep ecological awareness recognizes the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the fact that, as individuals and societies, we are all embedded in (and ultimately dependent on) the cyclical processes of nature. (6)

In describing the ethics that emerge from this new paradigm, Capra goes on to say “What is good, or healthy, is a dynamic balance; what is bad, or unhealthy, is imbalance– overemphasis on one tendency and neglect of the other” (9).

In reading passages such as these, one wonders whether Capra and those who espouse similar new age sentiments, have thought about the very theory upon which they base their conclusions. Far from leading to the conclusion of holism, autopoiesis and systems theory lead to precisely the opposite conclusion– That there is no World (with a capital), only worlds (as Badiou would have it in Logiques des mondes, or even as Nelson Goodman would have it in Ways of Worldmaking). That is, systems and autopoietic theory is a theoretical view that sees being in profoundly antagonistic terms. This conclusion follows necessarily from systems theory for two reasons: First, insofar as the first distinction of systems theory is the distinction between system and environment, it follows that there can be no global or total system (after the fashion of a Spinoza, Hegel, or Whitehead). Systems constitute themselves by distinguishing between themselves and their environment. This distinction itself “re-enters” the system, such that it is the system that produces its environment, or draws the distinction between the system and environment (viz. the distinction between system and environment is a distinction that belongs to the system itself, and not one that can be found in the environment). That is, there is no one thing “out there”, present-at-hand, that is the environment, and another thing that is a system, but rather environments are themselves products of systems. Each system produces its own environment, or observes the world according to its own distinctions. There is no “world-in-itself” or “environment-in-itself” that all systems could be taken to coverge on, but only world-making. The result of this is that there is no Whole that would define harmony or the system of all systems, nor even any World that all these systems are in or that all these systems relate to as their shared environment. Capra’s conception of the world remains representational in that it is premised on a self-identical world existing independently of systems. But if such a world there is, it is not identical but rather pure multiplicity… Or as Nietzsche would have it, it’s turtles all the way down (masks without originals).

Second, insofar as systems are governed by operational closure (i.e., systems do not relate to an environment in relations of output and input, but rather only produce more of their own elements through their own operations– thoughts produce thoughts in psychic systems, communications produce communications in social systems, economics produces economics in economic systems, cells produce cells in biological systems, and so on), there is no system of systems that could be define the operations of all other systems. While it is indeed true that systems can enter into relations of structural coupling with one another, this does not entail that structurally coupled systems form a higher harmony. If the economic system enters into a structural coupling with the legal system, the economic system still encounters events issuing from the legal system in terms of the code “profit/loss” or “payment/nonpayment”, just as the legal system still interprets events issuing from the economic system in terms of the code “legal/illegal”. Systems do not communicate with other systems. Rather, the best we get is one system using another system to produce perturbations or irritations in itself, that the system then uses to generate information according to the code of that system. Strictly speaking, information doesn’t come from the world, but is a product of the system itself. Capra assumes that we can adopt a view from nowhere that would survey relations among all systems according to the code “harmony/disharmony”, but the problem is that each system produces itself according to the constraints of its own code. The system of capital, for instance, thrives precisely on disharmony and systematically produces disharmony so as to continue its operations.

This, incidentally, is the basic premise of Lacanian analysis. If the analyst comports herself in the way she does, then this is because there is no communication between systems. The analysand is brought to that point where he encounters the non-existence of the Other, or the manner in which the distinction between system and environment (subject and Other) is seen to re-enter the system of the subject himself (traversing the fantasy), or the manner in which the subject was always already producing the Other that was previously seen as the external impediment to the satisfaction of his desire. Oedipus tears his eyes out when he discovers that it was him all along, just as Johnny Angel is filled with horror upon discovering that he was the person he was searching for on behalf of Louis Cipher in Angel Heart.

Far from producing a Unity or Whole where all parts are interconnected, we instead get a sort of mad collection of scraps, that have no underlying unity. No doubt it was this that led Deleuze to formulate his concept of Multiplicity as that which is neither One nor Many, but a series of disjunctive relations belonging to the many as such. What Deleuze sought was a form of relation that isn’t embedded in a higher unity or space, defining its features, but rather an immanent topology that defines its own metric and organization. As Deleuze puts it in the in The Logic of Sense,

…the serial form is presented in a form irreducible to previous ones, that is, as a disjunctive synthesis of heterogeneous series, since these heterogeneous series now diverge. This is also a positive and affirmative use (no longer negative and limitative) of the disjunction, since the divergent series resonate as such; it is a continuous ramification of these series, relative to the object = x which does not cease to be displaced and to traverse them. (229)

It is not difficult to relate the term “resonance” to the manner in which systems enter into structural coupling with one another without representing one another, diverging without a common world. As he goes on to put it more strikingly, later in his essay “Klossowski or Bodies-Language”,

In Kant, therefore, we see that God is revealed as the master of the disjunctive syllogism only inasmuch as the disjunction is tied to exclusions in reality which is derived from it, and thus to a negative and limitative use. Klossowski’s thesis, with the new critique of reason that it implies, takes on therefore its full significance: it is not God but rather the Antichrist who is the master of the dijunctive syllogism. This is because the Anti-God determines the passage of each thing through all of its possible predicates. God, as the Being of beings, is replaced by the Baphomet, the ‘prince of all modifications,’ and himself modification of all modifications. There is no longer any originary reality. The disjunction is always a disjunction; the ‘either-or’ is always an ‘either-or.’ Rather than signifying that a certain number of predicates are excluded from a thing in virtue of the identity of the corresponding concept, the disjunction now signifies that each thing is opened up to the infinite of predicates through which it passes, on the condition that it loses its identity as concept and as self. The disjunctive syllogism accedes to a diabolical principle and use, and simultaneously the disjunction is affirmed for itself without ceasing to be a disjunction; divergence or difference becomes objects of pure affirmation, and ‘either-or’ becomes the power of affirmation, outside the conceptual conditions of the identity of a God, a world, or a self. (296)

In his discussion of Kant, Deleuze is here referring to The Critique of Pure Reason, Pt. II, Div. II, Bk. II, Ch. III, entitled “The Transcendental Ideal”, where God is thought as that being that selects among the totality of possible predicates pertaining to things, selecting those predicates that can be thought together without contradiction (Kant claims that God is not knowable, but is thinkable; indeed, according to Kant, God is a necessary regulative Ideal for the production of knowledge). As is my less than elegant custom of writing, I’ll quote at length:

Every concept, in regard to what is not contained in it, is the indeterminate, and stands under the principle of determinability: that of every two contradictorily opposed predicates [think of Aristotle’s square of opposition] only one can apply to it, which rests on the principle of contradiction and hence is a merely logical principle, which abstracts from every content of cognition, and has in view nothing but the logical form of cognition.

Every thing, however, as to its possibility, further stands under the principle of thoroughgoing determination; according to which, among all possible predicates of things, insofar as they are compared with their opposites, one must apply to it. This does not rest merely on the principle of contradiction, for besides considering every thing in relation to two contradictorily conflicting predicates, it considers every thing further in relation to the whole of possibility, as the sum total of all predicates of things in general; and by presupposing that as a condition a priori, it represents every thing as deriving its own possibility from the share it has in that whole of possibility. The principle of thoroughgoing determination thus deals with the content and not merely the logical form. It is the principle of the synthesis of all predicates which are to make up the complete concept of a thing, and not merely of the analytical representation, through one of two opposed predicates; and it contains a transcendental presupposition, namely that of the material of all possibility, which is suppossed to contain a prior the data for the particular possibility of every thing. (A571/B579-A573/B601)

[Incidentally, Nick, this is your response to Benjamin regarding how Deleuze is critiquing possibility]. For Kant, conceiving any individual thing requires the assumption of the sum total of possibilities as a consistent system without contradiction, like Leibniz’ best of all possible worlds that excludes all other worlds. In practicing science, claims Kant, we must employ the regulative Idea of the world as a totality that contains no contradictions, so that we’re perpetually striving to see how all of the parts fit together in a unified whole. While we do not know this world (the position of dogmatism), we must nonetheless think this world so as to intregrate our findings in a system. Here we might think the difference between an encyclopedia, which doesn’t search for the underlying unity of its elements, and a scientific treatise that does look for the unity of its elements. The transcendental condition for the latter is the Idea of a world where all the parts fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is this that Deleuze has in mind by his thesis of “God as a master of disjunctive syllogism”. A disjunctive syllogism has the form “P or Q”, “not P”, therefore “Q”, yet applied to the totality of the universe. The idea is that God selects among those elements that do not contradict one another, excluding the others. Kant, of course, claims that this is a regulative ideal, not a truth that can be known, but rather a premise of any scientific practice (I must have the Idea, in the Kantian sense, that the world forms a consistent totality to study any particular thing in the world; or in Husserl-speak, the world is the horizon of all phenomenal appearances). No doubt this is also what Badiou has in mind as the object of his criticism when he argues that ontology has been subordinated to logic (the law of non-contradiction), and when he gets excited about topos theory, that allows us to think logics of worlds (thereby not submitting all worlds to Logic, but immanently conceiving worlds according to their own immanent systematicity), rather than the Logic of the world. Kant’s world is sym-bolic in that it ties together or relates all elements in a total system, subordinated to the law of non-contradiction.

By contrast, the world of Deleuze, Badiou, and systems theory is dia-bolic in that it is disjunctive or heterogeneous, marked by divergent series that do not converge on one and the same object. Indeed, when Deleuze evokes the “object = x”, we should understand this to mean that the object as an “in-itself” has disappeared altogether, or that there is no longer an independent “environment” within which all systems converge on one and the same thing, such that adding all these “perspectives” together would give us the object itself. It is for this reason that Badiou asserts that mathematics is ontology or the discourse of being (not that being is mathematics), insofar as mathematics is the only discourse that can speak of multiplicity as such, without treating being in terms of a set of system-environment distinctions.

Habermasians often contend that Luhmann is conservative because he asserts that social systems are composed only of communications and that human beings belong to the environment of social systems (i.e., they are outside of social systems). It’s notable that this is a thesis shared by theorists as diverse as Levi-Strauss, Saussure, Foucault, Althusser, etc., though never there formulated in precisely these terms. For Luhmann, communications systems produce communications, not human beings. Moreover, if social systems are operationally closed, then it also follows that human beings cannot steer or control communication systems. If persons are included in the social system (as distinguished from biological individuals and psychic systems), then they are included as communications (for instance, as a person I am a professor, American, male, etc. that is I fall into various communicative categories. Or as Lacan would put it, the signifier represents the subject for another signifier. Lacanian theory could here be thought as thinking the knot produced through the structural coupling of three distinct systems: the social system, the psychic system, and the biological system. At most psychic-systems can perturb or irritate these systems, bringing the social system to process these irritations in terms of its own distinctions, like the economic system using the perturbation of a legal system according to the code “profit/loss”, rather than “legal/illegal”. Just as I cannot buy something with the law, but must have money (thereby participating in the economic system), individual persons cannot steer or control the communications systems. It is here, I think, that the political question emerges. We cannot rely on a harmonious totality as modernity is characterized by functional differentiation, where all we have are disjunctive series of heterogeneous systems all subject to operational closure or governance by their own codes (hence Zizek’s assertion that the relation between the economic and the political can only be thought as a parallax, not as one controlling the other). But if this is the case, how is it possible to make an intervention in the divergent systems that all constitute different worlds? Where there is no longer a world to speak of but only fragments, what is the difference that might make a difference? While it might very well be reassuring to think of the “world” as a harmonious totality, such a position is ontologically unsound and leads us to pose the wrong sorts of questions and problems… And as Deleuze points out, we always get the solutions we deserve based on the questions we ask and the problems we pose.