The word “object” derives from the Latin prefix ob, meaning “against”, and the word jacere, meaning “to throw”. Presumably there is a relationship between objects, on the one hand, and existence on the other hand. To be an object is also to exist. The term “existence” comes from the Latin term existere (ex and sistere) meaning “to stand forth”. It would thus seem that to be an object is “to be thrown against” or “to stand forth”. Here, then, would be a first reason for conceiving objects in relation to difference. If to be an object is to stand forth or to be thrown against, then it follows that to be an object is first and foremost to differ. On the one hand, we here see why objects must always be attached to a field. If objects stand forth or are thrown against, there must be something from which they stand forth or against which they are thrown. Minimally, then, it must be said that there are not just objects, but object-field relations. There is nothing for the object to stand-forth from if there is no field against which the object stands. This field could be anything and the question of what constitutes a field would be a central question of ontological speculation. Is the field in question the void, as in the case of Lucretius? Is it other objects? Is it a background-foreground relation as in the case of the Gestaltists? Is it the One substance of Spinoza? The question is open. All that can be said is that minimally objects are a differentiating. For this reason objects are necessarily attached to a world; or rather, there are no worldless objects.
The second notable feature of the etymology of the terms “object” and “existence” is that both contain verbs. “Object” contains the verb jacere, meaning to throw. “Existence” contains the verb sistere, meaning “to stand forth”. The term “object”, of course, is a noun. When we think of nouns we tend to think of something fixed and established. Something that presides. Yet the etymology of the terms “object” and “existence” suggests a verb or action at the heart of objects and existence. If objects stand-forth or are thrown, then there is an activity at work in the object or the existent. In this respect, the Greek concept of φύσις or phusis as that which emerges, grows, or is born would be at the heart of objects. When the Ontic Principle claims that there is no difference that does not make a difference, we get one sense in which objects are. The difference of an object is a difference that is made and constantly remade, emerging from out of a field. Consequently, objects should be thought as events.
It is unfortunate that we so often use “difference” as a noun. The differences that constitute an object should not be understood as the properties by which an observer distinguishes two objects from one another, but should instead be understood as difference internal to the object, presiding over the process of how it stands forth from a field or throws itself. Difference should be understood in the sense of “to differ” or “differing“, as the activity by which the objects unfolds, blooms, or emerges against a field. Perhaps the term “differentiating” would be preferable to “difference”, so long as differentiating is understood as what objects do, not what minds do in distinguishing objects from one another. While we do indeed make distinctions, so long as difference is understood primarily as distinction, difference becomes a negative term describing relations between identicals. When we speak of difference as distinction, we here speak of difference in terms of what something is not, rather than affirmatively as the differentiating taking place in the heart or volcanic core of objects. “This cat is black, that cat is not.” Hence Deleuze will remarks that,
The difference ‘between’ two things is only empirical, and the corresponding determinations are only extrinsic. However, instead of something distinguished from something else, imagine something which distinguishes itself– and yet that from which it distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it. Lightning, for example, distinguishes itself from the black sky but must also trail it behind, as though it were distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it… Difference is this state in which determination takes the form of unilateral distinction. We must therefore say that difference is made, or makes itself, as in the expression ‘make the difference’. (Difference and Repetition, Columbia University Press, 28)
As I argued in a previous post, the epistemic and the ontological are deeply intertwined due to the philosophical tradition, such that we must perpetually struggle to untangle the two if we are to get anywhere. Difference-between is a relation between three terms where, on the one hand, we have two objects that differ from one another (black and white cats) and a mind contemplating that difference or distinguishing these two terms. Such would be difference epistemically conceived. Implicitly this form of difference would involve an observer or mind distinguishing the two objects. However, difference as Deleuze here conceives it would be ontological and strictly an affair of the object itself, regardless of whether any minds were about to distinguish the object from other objects. Here we would have the object distinguishing itself through some sort of internal force or power– an internal difference –rather than objects being distinguished.
ASIDE: There has been a recent trend assimilating Deleuze to Kantian transcendental idealism in the Deleuzian secondary literature, for which I am partially responsible. Under this account of Deleuze’s thought the syntheses he discusses in Difference and Repetition and Anti-Oedipus are an affair of the mind rather than being. Passages such as this and others suggest that Deleuze’s project is strictly ontological, rather than critical in the Kantian sense. When Deleuze does make references to mind, these references should be understood in the Spinozist sense of an attribute of substance, not the Kantian sense of a transcendental subject. That is, Deleuze can certainly be read as a panpsychist– though I prefer not to read him that way –but he cannot be understood as a correlationist, radicalized or otherwise. His claims are claims about being, not claims about being-for-us.
How, then, to think this difference that distinguishes itself? Much later, in chapter five of Difference and Repetition, Deleuze gives us a clue as to how this difference that distinguishes itself is to be thought. Deleuze writes,
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’, 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, difference of intensity. (DR, 222)
If there would be no world with inequalities, if the world would not exist were it composed of equations like 12 divided by 3, then this is because objects can only stand-forth as objects where there is an inequality that conditions the phenomenon as its sufficient reason. The absence of this inequality would cause the phenomenon, the object, to recede back into the field like a wave that disappears in a body of water after the force propelling the wave dissipates. Deleuze attributes three properties to this sufficient reason or intensive difference. First, claims Deleuze, intensive difference or intensive quantity contains the unequal in itself (DR, 232). “It represents difference in quantity, that which cannot be canceled in difference in quantity or that which is unequalisable in quantity itself: it is therefore the quality which belongs to quantity” (ibid.). The temperature at which water boils at a particular altitude or air pressure is an inequality that generates a particular difference. It is a difference that makes a difference. Here the difference made is the quality of water boiling, whereas the inequality is the temperature and the air pressure. In this connection, Deleuze gives the illuminating example of number to illustrate his point:
In the history of number, we see that every systematic type is constructed on the basis of an essential inequality, and retains that inequality in relation to the next lowest type: thus, fractions involve the impossibility of reducing the relation between two quantities to a whole number; irrational numbers in turn express the impossibility of determining a common aliquot part for two quantitites, and thus the impossibility of reducing their relation to even a fractional number, and so on. (ibid.)
The number type would here be the “phenomenon”, whereas the inequality would be the “noumenon” by which the number type is constituted or generated. The irreducibility of the inequality is what opens the domain of the particular number type, generating a new type of number.
“A second characteristic,” claims Deleuze, “flows from the first: since it is already difference in itself and comprises inequality as such, intensity affirms difference” (DR, 234). Difference here is not a negation or the distinction between two things (what something is not), but rather the intensive difference or inequality that conditions the object. As such, intensive difference is affirmed or is affirmative. Better yet, it could be said that intensive difference is not so much affirmative, as it is something positive, a power, a potency. While the unequal distinguishes itself from a ground or field, this unilateral distinction is not a negation, but a positive being in its own right. We might think of a child’s soap bubble floating through the spring air. The form this bubble takes in the variations of its adventure through time-space involve air pressure, the different fluctuations of the wind, heat, and so on. Consequently, the shape of the bubble constantly shifts, now appearing as a sphere, now obloid, now a contorted cylinder, etc. Each of these intensive differences must be translated by the differences of the molecules composing the soap, which are, in turn, intensive differences in relation to one another.
Finally, claims Deleuze, “…a third characteristic which includes the other two, intensity is an implicated, enveloped or ‘embryonised’ quantity” (DR, 237). Thus,
…intensity is neither divisible, like extensive quantity [space], nor indivisible, like quality. The divisibility of extensive quantities is defined in the following manner: by the relative determination of a unit (this unit itself never being indivisible but only marking the level at which division ceases); by the equivalence of the parts determining the unit; by the consubstantiality of the parts with the whole which is divided. Division can therefore take place and be continued without any change in the nature of what is being divided. By contrast, when it is pointed out that a temperature is not composed of other temperatures, or a speed of other speeds, what is meant is that each temperature is already a difference, and that differences are not composed of differences of the same order but imply series of heterogeneous terms. (DR, 238)
Deleuze argues that these embryonic or larval intensive differences preside over the genesis of extensive qualities insofar as they are the volcanic inequalities through which qualitative differences are generated. Color, for example, is conditioned by a difference in light frequency reflecting off of a surface. Qualitative differences thus implicated (contain enfolded) intensive differences which are the sufficient reason for these qualities. In Bhasker’s terms we could say that intensive differences are the causal mechanisms by which phenomena are generated.
Deleuze tells argues that these intensive differences are themselves composed of heterogeneities. Thus, according to Deleuze,
Every phenomenon flashes in a signal-sign system. In so far as a system is constituted or bounded by at least two heterogeneous series, two disparate orders capable of entering into communication, we call it a signal. The phenomenon that flashes across this system, bringing about the communication between disparate series, is a sign… Every phenomenon is composite because not only are the two series which bound it heterogeneous but each is itself composed of heterogeneous terms, subtended by heterogeneous series which form so many sub-phenomena. The expression ‘difference of intensity’ is a tautology. Intensity is the form of difference in so far as this is the reason of the [object]. Every intensity is differential, by itself a difference. Every intensity is E – E’, where E itself refers to an e – e’, and e to ε – ε’ etc.: each intensity is already a coupling (in which each element of the couple refers in turn to couples of elements of another order), thereby revealing the properly qualitative content of quantity. We call this state of infinitely doubled difference which resonates to infinity disparity. Disparity– in other words, difference or intensity (difference of intensity)– is the sufficient reason of all [objects], the condition of that which [stands forth]. (DR, 222)
Insofar as intensive difference stands-forth as an inequality from a field, it must be coupled to that field. This disparity or inequality produced in that coupling, this affirmative or positive difference, flashes across these heterogeneous series producing the extensive qualities as a result or product of the inequality through which it is conditioned. Consequently we see the rationale behind the Hegemonic Fallacy. If it is a fallacy to treat one difference as making all the difference or the most important difference, then this is because in the coupling of differences new disparities or inequalities are produced that generate or produce new objects and qualities. When the instances of the Hegemonic Fallacy treat other objects as pure vehicles without friction for other differences, these models forget to track the intensive differences produced in and through these couplings of series.
This heterogeneity and serial nature at the volcanic heart of every intensive difference will lead Deleuze to claim that,
There is a crucial experience of difference and a corresponding experiment: every time we find ourselves confronted or bound by a limitation or an opposition, we should ask what such a situation presupposes. It presupposes a swarm of differences, a pluralism of free, wild or untamed differences; a properly differential and original space and time; all of which persist alongside the simplifications of limitation and opposition. A more profound real element must be defined in order for oppositions of forces or limitations of forms to be drawn, one which is determined as an abstract and potential multiplicity. Oppositions are roughly cut from a delicate milieu of overlapping perspectives, of communicating distances, divergences and disparities, of heterogeneous potentials and intensities. Nor is it primarily a question of dissolving tensions in the identical, but rather of distributing the disparities in a multiplicity. Limitations correspond to a simple first-order power– in a space with a single dimension and a single direction, where, as in Leibniz’s example of boats borne on a current, there may be collisions, but these collisions necessarily serve to limit and to equalise, but not to neutralise or to oppose. As for opposition, it represents in turn the second-order power, where it is as though things were spread out upon a flat surface, polarised in a single plane, and the synthesis itself took place only in a false depth– that is, in a fictitious third dimension added to the others which does no more than double the plane. In any case, what is missing is the original, intensive depth which is the matrix of the entire space and the first affirmation of difference: here, that which only afterwards appears as linear limitation and flat opposition lives and simmers in the form of free differences. Everywhere, couples and polarities presuppose bundles and networks, organised oppositions presuppose radiations in all directions. (DR, 50 – 51)
Such would be ontological difference that makes itself, where we have assemblages of assemblages of assemblages all the way down and all the way up.