Aristotle associates potentiality with matter. Here I am not endorsing Aristotle’s four causes, nor his hylomorphism, but simply thinking about the category of potentiality. If matter is associated with potentiality, then this is because is teeming with possible forms. Clay is the classic example. The lump of clay can take on many forms. It can, through the agency of the efficient cause, become a bowl, a plate, a cup, a sculpture of Zeus’s face, etc. While the clay already has a form– actuality –of its own, it is subject to further becomes through which that form is transformed and mutated. Here, pushing back against Aristotle’s hylomorphism– or maybe not! –it should be said that the distinction between form and matter is a formal distinct rather than a numerical distinction. Two things are numerically distinct when they exist independently of one another. Two things are formally distinct when they are really and truly different– as in the case of color and shape –but nonetheless cannot exist independently of one another. They are always attached to one another. They can be conceptually distinguished, but can never exist independent of each other. Consequently, while form and matter are distinct from one another, there is no such thing as formless matter, nor matterless form. They are inextricably wed to one another.

Perhaps we can think of the relationship between form and matter therefore as a sort of continuum between potentiality and actuality. Pure matter– which is a concept, not something that really exists –would be absolutely plastic potentiality, while pure form would be absolute actuality without any residual potentialities. Matter, perhaps, should be thought as plasticity in this connection (notice how hesitant I am in all of this; so many “perhapses”). Matter would be that which is latent within entities harboring the possibility of mutation or transformation. Here it would be a mistake to treat potentiality and possibility as synonyms. As Kant noted in the first critique, there is no conceptual difference between 100 imagined farthings and 100 real farthings. This is why, he argues, the ontological argument for the existence of God does not work. Through the concept alone we cannot deduce actuality. Deleuze will later vigorously distinguish possibility from virtuality (and here I’m running together potentiality and virtuality, though there are some differences). The possible, says Deleuze, resembles the real. Again, there’s no conceptual difference between the two. By contrast, there’s no resemblance between the virtual and the actual. And this is how it is with potentiality; at least to my thinking. The potential does not resemble the actuality it will become. It is a sort of wildness at the heart of matter, at the heart of things, a metastability (as Deleuze will say in The Logic of Sense), a plasticity, a capacity to produce new form.

It does not seem to me that we should treated the potential as a fixed quantity within matter. Rather, potentiality seems to be variable. Not only can potentiality perhaps be exhausted such that no further becomings are possible, but the nature of potentiality also changes under different conditions. Returning to the clay with which I began, the potentials of that lump of clay are dramatically different depending on its state. If the clay is dry its potentials for mutation are limited. It will break and flake apart. If the clay is too wet it turns into a soupy mess. It is only at a certain point of moisture that the clay can become the bowl or the sculpture. The clay as mud and the clay as flakes is a sort of fatigue of the potentialities of the clay. Yet sometimes, in states of fatigue, our greatest becomings overtake us, almost as if there’s been a loosening of the grip of actuality holding potentiality at bay, allowing potentials to swarm and begin to grow.