In What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari write,

…[P]hilosophers have very little time for discussion. Every philosopher runs away when he or she hears someone say, ‘Let’s discuss this.’ Discussions are fine for roundtable talks, but philosophy throws its numbered dice on another table. The best one can say about discussions is that they take things no farther, since the participants never talk about the same thing. Of what concern is it to philosophy that someone has such a view, and thinks this or that, if the problems at stake are not stated? And when they are stated, it is no longer a matter of discussing but rather one of creating concepts for the undiscussible problem posed. Communication always comes too early or too late, and when it comes to creating, conversation is always superfluous. Sometimes philosophy is turned into the idea of a perpetual discussion, as ‘communicative rationality,’ or as ‘universal democratic conversation.’ Nothing is less exact, and when philosophers criticize each other it is on the basis of problems and on a plane that is different from theirs and that melt down the old concepts in the way a cannon can be melted down to make new weapons. It never takes place on the same plane. To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy. All of these debaters and communicators are inspired by ressentiment (Deleuze’s emphasis). They speak only of themselves when they set empty generalizations against one another. Philosophy has a horror of discussions. (28-29)

Deleuze and Guattari must have been thinking of exchanges like this one with the lawyer Daniel, when writing the passage above. It is too much to even refer to such events as exchanges because nothing is exchanged. Those who participate appear to be talking to one another and to be talking about the same things, but are in fact talking about entirely different things. If this is the case, then it is because meaning is not in words, but is always the result of the relations a word shares with those other signifiers that are not present.

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Lacan makes this point nicely with regard to citation. Speaking in the context of truth as always being half-said, Lacan asks,

What does a citation consist in? In the course of a text where you are making more or less good progress, if you happen to be in the right places, of the class struggle, all of a sudden you will cite Marx, and you will add, ‘Marx said.’ If you are an analyst you will cite Freud and you will add, ‘Freud said.’ This is fundamental.

An enigma is an utterance– you do what you can abut the statment. A citation is like this. I make a statement, and for the remainder, there is the solid support you will find in the author’s name for which I hand responsibility back to you. This is how it is, and it has nothing to do with the more or less shaky status of the author’s function.

When one cites Marx or Freud– I haven’t chosen these names by chance –one does so as a function of the part the supposed reader takes in a discourse. The citation is in its own way also a half-said. It is a statement about which someone is indicating to you that it is admissible only insofar as you already participate in a certain structured discourse at the level of the fundamental structures that are there on the blackboard. This is the one point– could I have explained it before now?– That makes it the case that the citation, the fact that one cites an author or not, can have second-order importance…

Suppose that a second moment someone cites a sentence indicating where it comes from– the author’s name, Mr. Ricoeur, for instance. Suppose someone cites the same sentence, and that they put it in my name (my emphasis). This can definitely not have the same sense in the two cases. (Seminar XVII, The Other Side of Psychoanalysis, 37)

Lacan’s point here is that the sense of the citation changes depending on the name of the person attached to the utterance. Suppose, for example, we take the following proposition:

In the beginning was the word.

This proposition will have a very different sense depending on whether we say,

John said, “In the beginning was the word.” (John, 1:1)

Or we say,

Lacan said, “In the beginning was the word.”

Why is it that these propositions have an entirely different sense despite being identical? If these propositions take on a different sense, despite being identical, then it is because these propositions are inhabited by different virtual fields that do not themselves appear in the utterance. Suppose we represent the utterance using the diagram of a hyperbola:


Treat the utterance itself– “In the beginning was the word.” –as being the blue point at the center of the two lines. In the communicative situation, all that is present or encountered is the blue point, the utterance. By contrast, the virtual lines wound throughout the utterance themselves remain absent, outside the utterance. If the utterance “Lacan said, “in the beginning was the word” and the utterance “John said, “In the beginning was the word” are entirely different, then this is because they emerge out of entirely different virtual fields. Lacan’s utterance virtually refers to his theory of language, the nature of the signifier, his accounts of alienation and separation, the name-of-the-father, and all of the consequences that follow from our initial entrance into language with respect to desire and drive. In the case of a citation from John, by contrast, we are evoking the history of the Christian church, other texts in the Bible, a particular theology, and so on. We can imagine Peter the Christian nodding his head vigorously in agreement when Paul the Lacanian says “Lacan said, ‘In the beginning was the word.'” However, we here have a comedy of errors, for Peter and Paul are talking about entirely different things despite appearing to use the same words. It could be said that Peter’s virtual web for “In the beginning was the word” looks like this:


Whereas Paul’s looks like this:


It is, no doubt, this characteristic of language, its virtual dimension, that led Lacan to endlessly repeat that “all communication is miscommunication”. In evoking the theme of citation, Lacan isn’t simply hoping to acquaint his audience with sound principles of scholarly citation. No. If Lacan finds it necessary to underline that all citation is half-said, then this is because all speech is citational and because the symptom is itself a form of citation. To say that all speech has these characteristics of citation is not to say that we are literally quoting another author in all we say. Rather, it is to say that all speech has its inherited and virtual background from which it draws its sense. This speech will always come from elsewhere, though will be lived more as a paraphrase or a creative translation, than as a direct quotation. As Deleuze and Guattari put it elsewhere,

If language always seems to presuppose itself, if we cannot assign it a nonlinguistic point of departure, it is because language does not operate between something seen (or felt) and something said, but always goes from saying to saying. We believe that narrative consists not in communicating what one has seen but in transmitting what one has heard, what someone else said to you. Hearsay. (A Thousand Plateaus, 76)

Anyone who follows a variety of different news shows and papers regularly will be familiar with this phenomenon, or the way in which certain doxa are self-referentially repeated until they become reality.

“Don’t assume you understand what your analysand is saying,” councils Lacan.

Commenting on a text is like doing an analysis. How many times have I said to those under my supervision, when they say to me– I had the impression he meant this or that –that one of the things we must guard most against is to understand too much, to understand more than what is in the discourse of the subject. To interpret and to imagine one understands are not at all the same things. It is precisely the opposite. I would go as far as to say that it is on the basis of a kind of refusal of understanding that we push open the door to analytic understanding. (Seminar I, Freud’s Papers on Technique, 73)

The analyst must make an active effort not to understand if anything is to take place in analysis. And if this is the case, then it is because understanding is a bit like integrating one hyperbole to another. That is, when I too quickly believe I’ve understood, what I am really doing is simply integrating the other person’s utterances into my virtual web or hyperbole. Yet at this point, the citation takes on an entirely different sense and the original sense is lost. Rather, I must become attentive to the virtual network of the person I’m listening to, to learn their web, to learn what it is that their discourse is citing in their acts of speech and in their symptoms. It is for this reason that analysis so often takes so many years. Genuine understanding, genuine hearing, is not something that occurs overnight or at a glance.

All of this underlines the futility of discussion. There is a whole genre of philosophy textbooks that deal with the so-called “problems of philosophy”. A more advanced version of these texts would be Robert Audi’s Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction. Audi has kindly taken it upon himself to outline, for us, the problems of epistemology. Thus, for Audi, we can array Plato’s theory of knowledge right there beside Descartes’ theory of knowledge and Quine’s theory of knowledge. For Audi there are the problems of philosophy and every philosopher takes a stab at solving theproblems. In short, the problems are always the same such that each of the solutions can be seen as varied attempts to solve the same problem. As a result, one can ignore anything specific about Plato or Descartes or Hume or Quine, because anything specific to the context in which these philosophers developed their concepts and arguments is irrelevant a priori as the problems are always the same. One can only imagine the sort of evolutionary biology philosophers who have this view would give us.

No, in discussion, especially dispute, it seems that everything is leveled out, reduced to the same, such that the positions themselves are distorted beyond recognition. It appears that an exchange is taking place, when in fact those involved, as one my patients used to say, are only “making noises at one another”. None of this, of course, is to say that the philosopher ought to become a hermit, engaging only in his own thought. Rather, it is to say that the form of the round-table, of the public dispute, doesn’t accomplish much of anything apart from providing the opportunity for testosterone to flex its muscles as it resists, under any conditions, under conditions that are willing to engage in the most profound contortions and distortions of phenomena, language and concepts, being bested by the other person.

There are productive encounters. In these encounters those involved don’t understand one another any better than in the case of a dispute. Why bother speaking to someone who shares your same parabola? Rather, in these encounters you instead get something closure to what Deleuze referred to as a “disjunctive synthesis”. That is, you get a synthesis of difference that is productive of new forms of life. Seeking to thematize learning, Deleuze writes:

The movement of the swimmer does not resemble that of the wave, in particular, the movements of swimming instructor which we reproduce on the sand bear no relation to the movements of the wave, which we learn to deal with only by grasping the former in practice as signs. That is why it is so difficult to say how someone learns: there is an innate or acquired practical familiarity with signs, which means that there is something amorous– but also something fatal –about all education. We learn nothing from those who say: ‘Do as I do’. Our only teachers are those who tell us to ‘do with me’, and are able to emit signs to be developed in heterogeneity rather than propose gestures for us to reproduce. In other words, there is no ideo-motivity, only sensory-motivity. When a body combines some of its own distinctive points with those of a wave, it espouses the principle of a repetition which is no longer that of the Same, but involves the Other– it involves difference, from one wave and one gesture to another, and carries that difference through the repetitive space thereby constituted. To learn is indeed to constitute this space of an encounter with signs, in which the distinctive points renew themselves in each other, and repetition takes shape while disguising itself. (Difference and Repetition, 23)


In many respects, this simple example contains the very core of Deleuze’s entire philosophy. The connective synthesis of the distinctive points of the body with the distinctive points of the waves are what Deleuze refer to as a problem (here and here and here), Idea, or virtual multiplicity. The style of swimming that emerges would be the process of actualization and individuation. No being can here be thought as independent from its world, but rather all beings are perpetually becoming-Other in encountering various fields of distinctive points with which their distinctive points connect, producing yet new multiplicities and organizations. In learning to swim I become-wave, forming a new body than the one I hitherto possessed. The point to notice with respect to this type of problem, as opposed to Audi’s conception of a general problem, is that it is a singular constellation, specific to the singular points characterizing a unique field of relations, and is productive of new constellations and singular points. This, too, is what takes place in an encounter. In an encounter we become-Other such that a weaving of language and thought takes place, not producing the same, but rather producing a difference for all those involved… A new speciation.