Recently Mark of K-Punk has written a post on the “Zizek affair”, where he makes passing reference to Deleuze’s fetish for affirmation. There Mark writes,

A final word on the negative. If I’m not convinced by Steve’s rejection of Zizek’s mechanical ‘labour of the negative’ in the name of the Deleuzean interdiction on negativity, it is because I have long found Deleuze’s abjuring of the negative equally as wearisome as Zizek’s brandishing of dialectical negativity. Deleuze’s hectoring call to renounce all negativity constitutes an ‘ascesis of the positive’ that chimes in all too well with contemporary capitalism’s obligatory positivity. (In this respect it is the equivalent in philosophy of what Popism – or better Poptimism – is in pop criticism.) Even the attack on the ‘reactive’ seems flat with Business Ontology’s insistence that we become vigilantly pro-active. Negativity in Deleuze is usually understood in terms of pathology; Deleuze’s work may well have overcome Good Sense, but at its worst it remains in thrall to a dreary and reductive model of Good Health, which it prosecutes with all the zeal of a happy-clappy Anglicanism. And, as Infinite Thought is wont to argue, what is the philosophical basis for the rejection of the negative if not the emptiest of tautologies: positivity is good because it is positive, negativity is bad because it is negative.

While I agree that Deleuze often pushes his pursuit of affirmation too far, denying himself productive tools that can be drawn from formations of the negative, both K-Punk and Infinite thought here seem to suggest that Deleuze has a preference for affirmation which cannot itself be grounded. However, I wonder if this is, in fact, the case. Does Deleuze present some sort of argument for the primacy of affirmation? Is the primacy of affirmation in Deleuze simply a tautology as Infinite Thought suggests? And more importantly, is it a moral preference or judgment, rather than an ontological thesis?

I do not have a whole lot to say on this issue, but it does seem that if there is one place where we might look for an argument for Deleuze’s “affirmationism”, this would be in Nietzsche and Philosophy. Outlining Nietzsche’s thesis of the eternal return as a cosmological and physical doctrine, Deleuze writes that,

Nietzsche’s account of the eternal return presupposes a critique of the terminal or equilibrium state. Nietzsche says that if the universe had an equilibrium position, if become had an end or final state, it would already have been attained. But the present moment, as the passing moment, proves that it is not attained and therefore that an equilibrium of forces is not possible. But why would equilibrium, the terminal state, have to be attained if it were possible? By virtue of what Nietzsche calls the infinity of past time. The infinity of past time means that becoming cannot have started to become, that it is not something that has become. But, not being something that has become it cannot become something. Not having become, it would already be what it is becoming– if it were becoming something. That is to say, past time being infinite, becoming would have attained its final state if it had one. And indeed, saying that becoming would have attained its final state if it had one is the same as saying that it would not have left its initial state if it had one. If becoming becomes something why has it not finished becoming long ago? If it is something which has become then how could it have started to become? ‘If the universe were capable of permanence and fixity, and if there were in its entire course a single moment of being in the strict sense it could no longer have anything to do with becoming, thus one could no longer think or observe any becoming whatsoever.’ (47)

Deleuze-Nietzsche’s thesis is thus that being is populated by in-eradicable inequalities and these inequalities are both the motor of being (the force that leads it to perpetually become– Deleuze will argue that being is the being of becoming and becoming is the becoming of being) and are affirmative. For each series of actualizations that take place, further inequalities are produced, further tensions, such that an equilibrium state is never reached. These, properly speaking, are what Deleuze refers to as “affirmations” and they are the genetic factors that preside over further actualizations or individuations. They are the lines through which qualities and individuals are produced within the world. Were being not populated by these inequalities, then, according to Deleuze, there would be nothing at all as being would become a “smooth surface” absent any diversity, much like the universe would be were it to suffer heat death.

Deleuze thus argues a bit earlier that there can be no equilibrium of forces, but rather that the relationship of force to force must be characterized by a difference in quantity as the genetic condition under which a quality is produced (this, in essence, is the core thesis of Deleuze’s “transcendental” or “superior” empiricism).

If a force is inseparable from its quantity it is no more separable from the other forces which it relates to. Quantity itself is therefore inseparable from difference in quantity. Difference in quantity is the essence of force and of the relation of force to force. To dream of two equal forces, even if they are said to be of opposite senses is a course and approximate dream, a statistical dream in which the living is submerged but which chemistry dispels. Each time that Nietzsche criticizes the concept of quantity we must take it to mean that quantity as an abstract concept always and essentially tends towards an identification, an equalization of the unity that forms it and an annulment of difference in this unity… What interests him primarily, from the standpoint of quantity itself, is the fact that difference in quantity cannot be reduced to equality. Quality is distinct from quantity but only because it is that aspect of quantity that cannot be equalized, that cannot be equalized out in the difference between quantities. Difference in quantity is therefore, in one sense, the irreducible element of quantity itself. Quality is nothing but difference in quantity and corresponds to it each time forces enter into relation. (43-44)

A few pages later Deleuze will refer to this perpetual reproduction of inequality as a “truly sufficient reason”, and will remark that “This is why we can only understand the eternal return as the expression of a principle which serves as an explanation of diversity and its reproduction, of difference and its repetition” (49). In characterizing eternal return as a principle of sufficient reason, Deleuze is arguing that these inequalities are the ground of actualized beings or that which account for the being of the diverse actualized beings that we discover in the world around us. I have outlined, in crude form, what such an account looks like in my post entitled Working Notes for an Appendix on Deleuze’s Theory of Individuation. There I attempted to show how a series of inequalities condition a phenomenon, leading to its actualized form and to give a few examples to illustrate this thesis. Such an account is attractive in that, in its focus on the genetic conditions of a thing, it goes all the way to the actualized individual itself, capturing that individual in its concrete, situated, historically specific being in a way that leaves no remainder between essence/form/concept and existing thing. Deleuze will develop this “principle of sufficient reason” in great detail in chapter 5 of Difference and Repetition, and will also present an extensive critique of the second law of thermodynamics and similar equilibrium based concepts. There Deleuze will write 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. It is therefore true that God makes the world by calculating, but his calculations never work out exactly, and this inexactitude or injustice in the result, this irreducible inequality, forms the condition of the world. The world ‘happens’ while God calculates; if the calculation were exact, there would be no world. The world can be regarded as a ‘remainder’, as 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)

Consequently, while we might express dissatisfaction with Deleuze’s argument, I do not think it can be honestly argued that he simply has a preference for affirmation. Rather, Deleuze’s thesis is that these differences in intensity, these affirmations, are the sufficient reason, the ground, of phenomena such that if we wish to account for a phenomenon we must look to the differences that condition it and preside over its actualizations. In the world of social theory, this would consist in an examination of the tendencies and tensions that populate a population and that allow us to trace the contours of a group formation. Such tensions would be the “energetic factors” that preside over the formation of such and such a type of organization. None of this is to suggest that there aren’t valid grounds for criticizing Deleuze, but I do feel that treating his remarks as tautological is highly dismissive of the ontology he actually does develop and the arguments he provides in support of that ontology.

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