September 2007


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.

You can read the rest here:

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In an article for the New York Times, Mark Edmundson writes:

Late in life — he was in his 80s, in fact — Sigmund Freud got religion. No, Freud didn’t begin showing up at temple every Saturday, wrapping himself in a prayer shawl and reading from the Torah. To the end of his life, he maintained his stance as an uncompromising atheist, the stance he is best known for down to the present. In “The Future of an Illusion,” he described belief in God as a collective neurosis: he called it “longing for a father.” But in his last completed book, “Moses and Monotheism,” something new emerges. There Freud, without abandoning his atheism, begins to see the Jewish faith that he was born into as a source of cultural progress in the past and of personal inspiration in the present. Close to his own death, Freud starts to recognize the poetry and promise in religion.

A good deal of the antireligious polemic that has recently been abroad in our culture proceeds in the spirit of Freud’s earlier work. In his defense of atheism, “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens cites Freud as an ally who, he believes, exposed the weak-minded childishness of religion. Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins come out of the same Enlightenment spirit of hostile skepticism to faith that infuses “The Future of an Illusion.” All three contemporary writers want to get rid of religion immediately and with no remainder.

But there’s more to Freud’s take on religion than that. In his last book, written when he was old and ill, suffering badly from cancer of the jaw, Freud offers another perspective on faith. He argues that Judaism helped free humanity from bondage to the immediate empirical world, opening up fresh possibilities for human thought and action. He also suggests that faith in God facilitated a turn toward the life within, helping to make a rich life of introspection possible.

You can read the rest of the article here. I wont say too much about this article, beyond pointing out that it is one of the most creative arguments by omission (the author makes no mention of the account of God and the experience of the sacred as developed in Totem and Taboo, The Future of an Illusion, and Civilization and Its Discontents, and speaks of Freud’s late life “turn”, as if Freud had somehow changed his position on these matters), I’ve ever come across. Note the way the author hints that Freud was undergoing some sort of “death-bed” conversion due to his cancer. The author’s argument is a bit like suggesting that Marx later had a change of heart with respect to capitalism and the bourgeois because he often spoke of the emancipatory potentials of these things. Moreover, he conmpletely ignores the nature of genetic and immanent critique that strives to account for how some phenomena came to be on the basis of immanent devlopment and historical conditions. These sorts of sophistries seem increasingly common… Or perhaps they’ve always been about. It would appear that rightwing media spin has now even entered academia.

Nick, of The Accursed Share, has completed his thesis on Deleuze, politics, and assemblages. I have not yet had the opportunity to read it, but have generally found his work to be excellent in the past. I look forward to sitting down with this old friend and spur of thought when I can catch my breath and know whether I’m coming or going. Many congrats to Nick. Hopefully his posts over at Accursed Share will be less infrequent!

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Tomorrow is the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek. What vision of social life did this show give us?

[I]t had a crew that said discrimination was a thing of past; it had a future that said we were not all annihilated by nuclear holocaust; it had an economy that was driven by progress and achievement, not simple wealth accumulation; it had science as a guiding force, not mysticism or superstition; it had technology as a means to explore, not just make life easier; and, perhaps most importantly, it had a peaceful mission at its core, not one of conquest. The show screamed peace in a time of war.

Oh to live in such a world! I hear NBC is now contemplating a show called Ark Trek… Something about saving a bunch of animals on a big boat during a flood, appeasing some angry superhero, powerful guy with a white beard, and killing a bunch of other tribes that don’t believe in angry, whitebeard superhero guy, but instead try to appease an angry, superhero guy with a mustache, and another which tries to appease an angry guy with a mowhawk, and… Well you get the idea. Word is the women in the show are very obedient and there’s no hot, man on man action. I suppose times have really changed and with them the tastes of the viewing public.

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A few passages from Jean-Pierre Vernant’s brilliant Origins of Greek Thought:

The search for a balance and accommodation between these opposing forces, set loose by the collapse of the palace-centered system and occasionally coming into violent confrontation, gave rise in a time of troubles to moral thought and political speculation, that amounted to an early form of human “wisdom.” This sophia appeared as early as the dawn of the seventh century, and was associated with a rather odd assortment of figures who came to be clothed with an almost legendary radiance and whom the Greeks continued to revere as their first true sages. Sophia was concerned not with the universe of physis [nature] but with the human world: the elements that made it up, the forces that divided it against itself, and the means by which they might be harmonized and unified so that their conflict might give birth to order of the city… The problems of power, of the forms it took and the factors that formed its substance, were immediately posed in new terms. (40)

In this connection, Vernant chronicles how the collapse of the centralized Mycenaean social system, created a void within the social system that was not subsequently filled. A cascade of consequences followed from the appearance of this void. I am tempted to repeat the Deleuzo-Spinozist declaration, “we do not yet know what a body can do!” with “we do not yet know what a void can do.” The void in question, of course, was the voided place of the monarch and transcendent divinity.

Later Vernant observes that,

The recourse to a spatial image to express the self-awareness that a human group has acquired, its sense of existing as a political unit, is of value not only as a comparison; it also reflects the creation of a social space that was altogether new. Indeed, urban buildings were no longer grouped, as before, about a royal palace ringed by fortifications. The city now centered on the agora, the communal space and seat of the hestia koine [the central or public hearth], a public area where problems of general interest were debated. (47)

And,

The advent of the polis constitutes a decisive event in the history of Greek thought… With the polis, social life and human relations took on a new form and the Greeks were fully aware of its originality.

The system of the polis implied, first of all, the extraordinary preeminence of speech over all other instruments of power. Speech became the political tool par excellence, the key to all authority in the state, the means of commanding and dominating others. This power of speech– which the Greeks made into a divinity, Peitho, the force of persuasion– brings to mind the efficacy of words and formulas in certain religious rituals, or the value attributed to the “pronouncements” of the king when he rendered final themis [judgment]. Actually, however, we are dealing with quite a different matter (my emphasis). Speech was no longer the ritual word, the precise formula, but open debate, discussion, argument. It presupposed a public to which it was addressed, as to a judge whose ruling could not be appealed, who decided with hands upraised between the two parties who came before him. It was this purely human choice that measured the persuasive force of the two addresses, ensuring the victory of one speaker or adversary.

All questions of general concern that the sovereign had to settle, and which marked out the domain of arche [sovereignity], were now submitted to the art of oratory and had to be resolved at the conclusion of the debate. They therefore had to be formulated as a discourse, poured into the mold of antithetical demonstrations and opposing arguments. There was thus a close connection, a reciprocal tie, between politics and logos. The art of politics became essentially the management of language; and logos from the beginning took on an awareness of itself, of its rules and its effectiveness, through its political function. Historically, rhetoric and sophistry, by analyzing the forms of discourse as the means of winning the contest in the assembly and the tribunal, opened the way for Aristotle’s inquiries, which in turn defined the rules of proof along with the technique of persuasion, and thus laid down the logic of the verfiably true, a matter of theoretical understanding, as opposed to the logic of the apparent or probable, which presided over the hazardous debates on practical questions. (49-50)

This is simply gorgeous. Where the sovereign in the Mycenaean system, had decided these issues, these issues are now, in the Greek system, a contested, agonistic, or polemical space. Philosophy here emerges out of a particular rhetorical situation, brought to the fore through these social and political issues. As logos, speech, gains prominence and these issues are debated, focus shifts to the grounds of persuasion. In this focus on grounds, the basic concepts of philosophy begin to be generated as these are grounds of persuasion: cause, being, form, criteria of beauty, qualities of virtue and character, etc., etc. Philosophy here does not so much pose problems, but rather it emerges as a response to a problem. With that emergence it takes on an autonomy of its own. Where initially it is the handmaiden of rhetoric, a special branch of rhetoric that investigates the grounds of persuasion, it now undergoes a speciation, becoming an autonomous form of engagement.

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Over the last couple of weeks, David, of Indifaith, has written a series of posts responding to my characterization of the history of philosophy as a series of attempts to think immanence (here, here, and here). I have been impressed by the openness and interest with which David, a pastor, has approached this discussion, and am genuinely grateful for his probing questions that have helped me to further clarify my own positions. As I recall, Voltaire somewhere or other has a short little essay describing an encounter he had with a Quaker. As is well known, Voltaire, that sparkling giant of the Enlightenment, was certainly no friend of religion and often leveled his acerbic wit at various forms of religious dogmatism, hypocrisy, superstition, and brutality. Yet Voltaire went away from this encounter with nothing but praise for the virtuous nature of the Quaker and his quiet and unassuming inward religious belief. In this exchange, David has comported himself in a similar fashion.

The remark that set off this entire discussion occurred in a thread responding to a passage I had quoted by Guattari, where his sounded remarkably close to Badiou in his critique of postmodernism (the entire exchange can be found here). Responding to some questions by David, I there wrote:

In a number of respects, I draw my distinction between theology and philosophy from Jean-Luc Marion who rigorously tries to define the limit of philosophy. I differ from Marion in holding that theologies that posit transcendence ought to be left behind. I read the history of philosophy as the history of attempts to think immanence. These attempts can be deployed in a variety of ways, can be more or less successful, and the question of whether or not immanence has ever been fully thought is entirely open. By immanence I understand the thesis that we don’t need to refer to anything beyond, or to any intervention outside the world, to explain the world or to account for value. Consequently, when Thales says “all is water”, he is appealing to a principle of explanation that is strictly immanent to the world and is breaking with mythos or narrative explanations of the world such as those found in Greek mythology. To complicate matters more, we can have ontological forms of immanence and epistemological forms of immanence, and various combinations of the two. An account is epistemically immanent if it rejects any form of appeal in establishing a conclusion that cannot be arrived at through reason or some form of experience. That is, epistemological immanence rejects any appeals to privileged esoteric experiences, revelation, etc. Ontological immanence would be the principle that there are no causes outside of natural causes.

I don’t think I’m so much excluding poetry from this project (though philosophy and poetry are distinct), as questioning your characterization of poetry as the articulation of the sacred. Certainly a number of poets would themselves take issue with being characterized as Rilkean. The case of theology is complex. Professional theologians mean so many different things by theology, that it’s difficult to make generalizations. Descartes, for example, would fit the criteria of epistemological immanence in his proofs for the existence of God as his conception of God and proof for the existence of God is not premised on any revelation or esoteric experience, but proceeds through reason in a way that all can repeat. His position does not meet the criteria of ontological immanence, as he conceives God as being outside nature or transcendent to being. Spinoza, and Whitehead’s conception of God as I understand it, do meet the ontological forms of immanence. If these are theologies then they fall within the scope of philosophy. The moment a theology appeals to revelation, whether in the form of sacred texts, the authority of a prophet or man in the form of God, or esoteric, non-repeatable experiences, that theology is no longer in the domain of philosophy, though it can certainly remain of interest as a phenomenon to be studied by the psychoanalyst, sociologist, or the anthropologist.

The concept of “immanence” is relatively new in the history of philosophy (as I understand it, it appears in various scholastic philosophies, but really doesn’t come into prominence as a central theme until Deleuze and Badiou), however, the more I’ve thought about it since initially making this assertion, the more I’ve become convinced that a number of moves in the history of philosophy immediately gain clarity if situated in terms of the problem of immanence. Take, for example, Plato’s Meno and Phaedo. It will be recalled that Plato famously argues that learning is recollection. That is, to learn is not to acquire new information from the outside given to us by a teacher– elsewhere Socrates will refer to himself as a midwife of knowledge, i.e., he does not bestow or give knowledge but only asks questions that allow a person to recollect knowledge they already have –but rather to learn is to recollect an unconscious, innate knowledge. Every beginning philosophy student is baffled by Plato’s theory of learning. Indeed, it is likely that a number of Plato scholars are themselves baffled by Plato’s theory of recollection (as can be seen in the way that it is quickly swept under the rug as but a moment in Plato’s thought). However, as soon as we situate Plato’s theory in terms of the problem of immanence, its motivation suddenly becomes clear. Recall that for Plato, knowledge is not a knowledge of this or that particular thing, but a knowledge of forms, essences, or universals. The problem is that we nowhere encounter forms in sensible experience. This comes out clearly in the Phaedo, when Socrates is discussing the Identical. We never see anything identical in the world. All things differ in some respect or another. Consequently, the story goes, we could not have learned about the identical from experience. Yet we have knowledge of the identical. As Socrates reasons– almost as a proto-Kantian –we could never recognize two things as being the same if we did not first (a priori) know the form of the Identical. Knowledge of the form precedes knowledge of any particulars. So 1) we have the concept of the Identical, and 2) we did not learn this from experience. The grammar of philosophy stipulates that we cannot appeal to authority (“because I said so!”) or revelation as a ground for knowledge. Consequently, we must account for this knowledge in some other ways. The theory of recollection or innate ideas! What marvelous conceptual gymnastics to maintain immanence! What magnificent conceptual creations!

We can see the history of philosophy as a series of attempts to preserve or think immanence. Some of these attempts are more successful than others. Some are more interesting than others. If Deleuze and Guattari are led to describe Spinoza as the “Christ of philosophers”, then this isn’t because Spinoza was a prophet or divine, but because Spinoza went furthest in thinking ontological immanence, or a way of explaining the world that relied on no intervention from anything outside the world, history, or nature (certainly this claim can be disputed). The history of philosophy will therefore be a history of strategies for thinking immanence. Empiricism would be one strategy (whatever is immanent to sensation). Rationalism will be another (whatever is immanent to reason). Transcendental idealism will be yet another, and phenomenology yet another. Each of these strategies generates its own unique problems– like Plato’s problem of learning arising out of the immanence of the forms to thought and their absence to experience –and it would be possible to write a “cartography” of the history of philosophy that charted the problems that emerged as a result of particular drawings of immanence and the conceptual gymnastics and inventions that result as a function of these problems. Some day I would like to work through all of this in much the same way that Marion attempted to work through the problem of givenness in Reduction and Givenness, in hopes of arriving at a point where I could pose the problem of immanence. For immanence itself must be accounted for in terms of immanence, and cannot be treated as a transhistorical form floating about outside the world.

In this connection, David writes,

My only point drawing attention to equations and eggs is that they are assumed to function in a static therefore repeatable manner. I am not convinced this is the case in human relationships and therefore needs to be accounted for in any political theory. I am of course all for careful and reflective observations of human social behaviour.

No disagreements here. The significance I was aiming at with my examples from mathematics and boiling eggs wasn’t their universality, but rather that we have access to these things without having to rely on narratives or stories. We can know these things regardless of whether we are Greek, American, Chinese, Hindu, etc. For instance, arithmetic exists the world over in some form or another, in more or less advanced states, yet we would be tremendously surprised to discover that two groups of people with no communication whatsoever had created, say, baseball.

However, as David here point out, inquiry must be tailored to its object. We already begin to approach this with the case of boiling eggs. The point at which water boils is not universal, but rather depends on other factors such as air pressure, altitude, etc. I have tried to develop the concept of constellations to talk about these sorts of things

Compare a mathematical equation with an armadillo. The value of x for 2x + 4 = 12 is going to be the same for all times and places, independent of context, history, psychological idiosyncrasies, etc. However, if we wish to understand living organisms, we can no longer make these kinds of generalizations. Rather, we have to look at the way the organism fits within a particular constellation such that this constellation is not a global or universal logos, but a local logos or structure with a history, and its own immanent organization that cannot be generalized to other cases. We shouldn’t speak of logos, or a universal law underlying all being, but rather of logoi, or divergent and differing patterns of organization. A good example underlining this point would be the last great meteor impact that wiped out most life on earth. The life that returned subsequent to this event was radically different than the sort of life that existed prior to this event. The lesson to take away from this story is that there aren’t “laws” of life similar to say the Newtonian laws of physics. Rather, we have highly local “logics” (where “logic” here refers to patterns or organizations) that look more like what we refer to as customs than necessities– Customs and styles of matter. Another example would be language. Languages each have their own immanent structure of sounds, their own pattern. We cannot know a priori what this structure of language will be for a particular language because the patterning of sound is differential (it is determined in terms of relations to others sounds that may or may not be present in another language).

Life and language are not universal or particular (where the particular is the instantiation of a species, form, or essence), but is rather singular. However, contrary to Hegel, the singularity of these things in now way precludes our ability to map and comprehend these things, nor does it require any special revelation. In this connection, I think biology is again an excellent example. An organism is always problematic in the sense that it is a solution to a problem within the world. Yet there are many ways of solving one and the same problem. Thus, fur and sweat are one way of solving the problems of heat and cold. There is a frog in Canada, the Eastern wood frog, that solves the problem of cold in another way. When freezing temperatures are reached, the frog itself freezes, effectively dying (there’s no brain or heart activity). When heat returns the frog de-thaws and comes back to life. . . The Christs of the animal world.

Here we have different solutions to one and the same problem. We can transfer this way of thinking to cultural formations. In certain regions of India people eat off a banana leaf with their fingers. Here, of course, we use silverware. The lack of universality involved in these customs doesn’t undermine their intelligibility, nor prevent us from collectively deliberating about these things. I think this is, perhaps, one of the key points about philosophy– It’s only requirement is that of open-ended deliberation with others.

Philosophy begins with the other, the stranger, or the person who does not come from the same cultural background as ourselves. It begins from the standpoint of difference and is an attempt to solve the problem of difference. Philosophy tends to appear in periods of cultural crises– philosophy, by no means, always exists –where traditions have broken down, and we’re no longer able to rely on shared narratives to coordinate human action and the understanding of the world. This is why philosophy is always an affair of the city, rather than the countryside (even when the philosopher lives in a rural region like Heidegger), because the city is a community of strangers, of people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds. This difference in background, this otherness, suspends the possibility of assuming the existence of shared mythos or narratives, requiring the invention of other interpersonal technologies, other ways of grounding social relations.

I think this aspect of philosophy tends to get obscured because of the “book form”. Today we tend to encounter philosophies in the form of books and articles. The book is itself a problem of time, distance, and otherness. Books surmount space and distance, allowing encounters with an absent other that is not present. Leibniz writes his New Essays on Human Understanding, responding to Locke’s Essay point by point. He is in dialogue with Locke even though he’s never met him. We are led astray by Descartes’ Meditations. There it seems that Descartes is simply reflecting privately on what he can know, seeking to ground his knowledge. We forget that the Meditations begin with a letter to the Church, and that he’s perpetually looking for those things that can be repeated. He is constantly with the other. Everything is a Platonic dialogue, even Husserl’s wretched attempts to think the other in the Cartesian Meditations. Unlike Plato, we just forget to add the names of the interlocutors. The difference, then, is that where other stances begin with a certainty, a conviction, such a thing is, for philosophy, a perpetually receding horizon that is only ever approached asymptotically without ever being reached.

For those who are interested, a translation of Tarde’s Social Laws: An Outline of Sociology can be found online here. Tarde is one of those underground figures in the thought of Deleuze and Guattari (if memory serves, Deleuze refers to his work as early as Difference and Repetition). Speaking of his importance, Deleuze and Guattari write,

In homage to Gabriel Tarde (1843 – 1904): his long-forgotten work has assumed new relevance with the influence of American sociology, in particular microsociology. It had been quashed by Durkheim and his school (in polemics similar to and as harsh as Cuvier’s against Geoffroy Sain-Hilaire). Durkheim’s preferred objects of study were the great collective representations, which are generally binary, resonant, and overcoded. Tarde countered that collective representations presuppose exactly what needs explaining, namely “the similarity of millions of people.” That is why Tarde was interested in the world of detail, or of the infinitesimal: the little imitations, oppositions, and inventions constituting an entire realm of subrepresentative matter. Tarde’s best work was his analysis of a minuscule bureaucratic innovation, or a linguistic innovation, etc. The Durkheimians answered that what Tarde did was psychology or interpsychology, not sociology. But that is true only in appearance, as a first approximation: microimitation does seem to occur between two individuals. But at the same time, and at a deeper level, it has to do not with an individual but with a flow or a wave. Imitation is the propogation of a flow; opposition is binarization, the making binary of flows; invention is a conjugation or connection of different flows. What, according to Tarde, is a flow? It is belief or desire (the two aspects of every [social] assemblage); a flow is always of belief and desire. Beliefs and desires are the basis of every society, because they are flows and as such are ‘quantifiable’; they are veritable Social Quantities, whereas sensations are qualitative and representations are simple resultants. (A Thousand Plateaus, “Micropolitics and Segmentarity”, 218-219)

It bears repeating that, for Deleuze, the problem of individuation is not the question of how an individual is identified or distinguished from another individual, but rather is the question of how an individual comes-to-be or is produced. As Deleuze will tirelessly repeat, “individuation is not the individual.” Individuation, rather, is an ontological process. In Difference and Repetition, this process is shown to have two dimensions or halves: differentiation and differenciation. Differentiation refers to the differential relations and singularities belonging to a multiplicity and defining a “problematic field”, where a problematic field can be taken as the forces, matters, and tensions a being must navigate in coming to be. Differenciation, by contrast, refers to the manner in which this field is resolved so as to precipitate species, qualities, and parts. For instance, the color of your skin (a quality and part) will be a function of how it is actualized or how it intergrates, sunlight, genetics, diet, and so on. These integrated elements are the problematic field resolved in the course of individuation.

Deleuze and Guattari’s interest in Tarde has to do with how speciation takes place at the level of the social, i.e., those processes involved in subjectivization:

…[S]ocial classes themselves imply ‘masses’ that do not have the same kind of movement, distribution, or objectives and do not wage the same kind of struggle. Attempts to distinguish mass from class effectively tend toward this limit: the notion of mass is a molecular notion operating according to a type of segmentation irreducible to the molar segmentarity of class. Yet classes are indeed fashioned from masses; they crystallize them. And masses are constantly flowing or leaking from classes. (A Thousand Plateaus, 213)

In this particular instance, class would belong to the domain of differenciation, whereas the tensions and forces populating the field of masses would belong to the realm of differentiation. We must not assume a sort of universal human nature where we are born with inherent ways of being affects, of perceiving, of living the world, and so on. For instance, we must not begin with the premise that “humans”, at all times and places, are born with inherent mystical or transcendent experiences, or with the capacity to love as we think it today. Rather, we must examine the way in which bodies are individuated so as to produce these kinds of affects. Niklas Luhmann, for instance, shows how the contemporary experience of love emerged from a particular set of social and historical processes in Love as Passion. Marx shows how new types, sensibilities, subjectivities emerge historically in the bourgeois and proletariat (thereby undercutting a good deal of bourgeois ideology that posits universal human passions such as greed by showing the historical specificity of this sort of subjectivity). A similar ethno-socio-historical analysis could be written for various religious experiences. These are all instances of subjectivization that refer to particular individuations within a social field. The themes here are very close to those Deleuze had explored decades before in his study of Hume, Empiricism and Subjectivity, where he sought to show how Hume is attempting to account for the formation of the subject or how a subject emerges.

I have not yet read the Tarde, but it looks well worth the time.

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