In response to my last post, nuno asks the following interesting set of questions. Nuno writes:

thank you for your post, i´ve been struggling with Deleuze problem of the reunification of aesthetics for years, and googling it last week !, and find secondary sources redundant, simply repeating Deleuze quite eliptical remarks.

My problem is that I grasp the idea textually – i could spit it in a exam – but in practice is a very hard to grasp.

1), if the the encounter with the work of art produces new a priori that means that it wasn´t really an a priori no?

or in another formulation:

2) these new forms of sensiblity are discovered – as if already there – or really created? they were just there waiting to be actualized or something new is produced?

3) if i produce a new a prior, say by watching a rosselini film, it will stay there hereafter (forever) or it will only last for the time of the film?

4) will the list of a priori forms of sensiblity be infinite?

sorry for all these questions, i never had the oportunity to discuss this issue with anyone.

As I understand it, Deleuze’s transcendental aesthetic is not the discovery of an a priori that was already there, but rather the production of a new a priori or form of sensibility. The key here is the three syntheses he outlines in chapter two of Difference and Repetition. These new a prioris are produced out of these passive syntheses. This is why they are also ever bit as artistic as they are forms of sensibility. The results of these syntheses are explored in chapter four of Difference and Repetition. Why call these forms of sensibility a priori? Consider the difference between my perception of an apple and a form of sensibility. In the former case I merely reproduce my image of the apple in memory when I recollect it. With a genuine form of sensibility, however, I am able to manipulate the structure of intuition in all sorts of ways, drawing further inferences from the structure independent of experience. As I argued in Difference and Givenness this is the same sort of thing we’re doing in the mathematics of toplogy when we imagine a geometrical figure undergoing variations. The structure that emerges through the activity of synthesis has its own logic or field of infinite possibilities that can be explored in thought, independent of experience. There’s a structure to the form of sensibility that opens a field of a priori inferences.

read on!

When Deleuze approaches an artist it’s these forms of the a priori that he’s exploring. When he claims that artists invent affects and percepts, he’s not talking about a perception or an affection, but rather about something that precedes any affection or perception and that structures them. What he investigates is the way these forms are unfolded throughout the body of an artist’s work. You could say he’s investigating the “deep structure” of the artist’s work, with the caveat that these structures are the result of a genesis or invention. Thus, for example, in his gorgeous essay on Masoch he’s exploring the transcendental a priori of Masoch’s desire. In Proust and Signs and The Logic of Sensation he does something similar with Francis Bacon. It’s a bit easier, I think, to understand what Deleuze is getting at by situating his point in terms of the theory of evolution. Bats experience the world in terms of sonar, while electric eels and sharks experience the world in terms of electric signals. Electric signals and sonar each have their own topology or structured field that is a priori in nature, having a structure independent of any particular sonar experience or electric experience. This is an a priori. Nonetheless, that a priori is generated by the process of evolution or natural selection. It’s something invented for and by that species.

Returning to the theme of synthesis, Deleuze remarks, early in Difference and Repetition, that we learn to swim by conjugating the singular points of our body with the singular points of the wave. All the elements of his reunification of the two halves of the aesthetic (as sensibility and work of art), coupled with the theme of learning we find throughout Difference and Repetition, are here in this example. The singular points of the body and the wave are synthesized together in learning how to swim, forming what, in chapter 4, Deleuze refers to as an Idea or Multiplicity. Here the Idea would be an affect or a capacity to affect (or act) and to be affected. These Ideas or multiplicities are structures and as structures can be manipulated or varied as in the case of mathematical topology. With the emergence of the Idea or affect, we can now play with this style, varying it, acting it in different ways, producing forms of activity that 1) were not themselves learned from experience, and 2) that encounter new variations in the environment that it has not previously encountered in terms of this structure or Idea.

To learn, argues Deleuze, is not to recollect particulars (the apple, for example) that we’ve perceived before, but rather to develop an affect, a form of sensibility, that structures how we experience a milieu or environment and that acts (affects) of which we’re capable in that milieu. Deleuze will argue, for example, that artists do not represent, but rather create new ways of feeling, and experience. Not only is the art work a deterritorialization, but it also has the capacity to deterritorialize readers and viewers through a sort of “migration” of the affect (i.e., the affect being internalized and explored/lived by the viewer or reader). Learning, across the board, is like this. Compare the difference between an English professor and the student of literature, for example. The English professor has developed an Idea, an a priori, that guides how they read literature and gives them a “feel” for text that the beginning student does not have. Likewise with the woodworker, the swimmer, the philosopher, the computer programmer, etc. Like bats evolving a field of sensibility characterized by sonar, to learn is to develop such a field capable of topological variations and mutations.

My thesis is that Deleuze’s transcendental aesthetic is an exploration of the interior world of objects. On the one hand, his approach is thoroughly posthumanist. Not only does he not generalize a universal structure that belongs to all humans (instead examining the particular fields or forms that “humans” develop), but he moves indifferently between the world of humans, bats, crystals, etc. The transcendental form of a rock or tree is every bit as interesting to him as the transcendental form of a particular artist. This is what will lead him, in The Logic of Sense, to speak of “disjunctive syntheses” between non-related entities somehow communicating through an anomalous sign that crosses their two series. These non-related entities genuinely belong to different transcendental worlds (here I distinguish between world and earth). On the other hand, these Ideas, multiplicities, or structures are the result of a genesis. They don’t fall from the sky ready-made like Platonic forms, but rather are invented through activities of passive synthesis. They are genuine novelties and mark new capacities of feeling and acting in the world. Of course, we will get degrees of deterritorialization or differing degrees of freedom where the ability to form new affects are concerned. Humans, bonobos, and plover birds appear to be more deterritorialized than wasps, trees, and rocks because they are more able to form new multiplicities or transcendental forms of sensibility and because they enjoy a greater freedom in varying entailments from these structures. The wasp, for example, rotely repeats a certain activity like pulling the body of another insect its paralyzed with its venom to the opening of the burrow where it’s laid its eggs. If, when the wasp enters the burrow, the body of the other insect is moved, the wasp will move the body back to the opening of the burrow, reenter the burrow, and then reemerge to get the body of the insect. It doesn’t simply pull the body of the other insect into the nest. The plover bird, by contrast, varies its activity in novel ways in response to the presence of predators. (I take these examples from Okrent’s excellent Rational Animals). There are thus degrees of freedom where the living and invention of affects are concerned. The wasp seems to have a rather fixed relation to its affects. Evolution created these affects or patterns of activity. By contrast, the plover is able to vary and play with its multiplicities or affects, varying them and generating new behavior based on them.