Hume


This week my students and I began exploring Meillassoux’s After Finitude. The first chapter of Meillassoux’s After Finitude begins with a call to rehabilitate the discredited distinction between primary and secondary qualities. It will be recalled that secondary qualities are purely relational, existing only in the interaction between the body and the object or the subject and the object, whereas primary qualities are qualities that are in the object itself, regardless of whether any body or subject relates to them. Generally primary qualities are treated as any qualities that can be mathematized or quantified (extension, duration, mass, wavelengths, numerical temperatures, and so on). When elucidating secondary qualities Meillassoux gives the nice example of the pain you feel in your finger when burnt by a candle flame. To be sure, the candle flame causes this pain, but it cannot be said that the flame has pain as one of its qualities. The pain only exists in the relationship between my finger and the flame. Thus, in the traditional sorting of primary and secondary qualities, qualities like colors, tastes, textures, scents, sounds, pains, pleasures, and so on are all purely relational in character. And insofar as these qualities are all relational, it cannot be said that there is anything like colors, tastes, textures, scents, pains, and pleasures in the world itself.

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Back in January, Nick wrote a post arguing that questions of ontology and questions of politics should be sharply delimited. Nick’s controversial thesis– which looks obvious to me –is that ontological and metaphysical questions should not be decided by political considerations, nor do ontologies entail any particular politics. In my book, Difference and Givenness, I groped towards something similar without quite being able to put my finger on the problem. One of my great discontents with so much of the secondary literature on Deleuze was that it seemed to decide ontological and epistemic questions on normative grounds, rather than grounds internal to their theoretical coherence and adequacy. Thus you’ll come across books and articles that denounce Kant or Hegel because they are “State Thinkers”, but what does being a State Thinker have to do with the adequacy of Kant or Hegel’s metaphysics or epistemology?

In the spirit of Hume’s famous Is-Ought Fallacy where ethical reasoning encounters a logical leap when it attempts to derive an “ought” from an “is”, it seems worthwhile to coin a converse fallacy called the “Normative Fallacy”. The Normative Fallacy would occur wherever one seeks to either discount or infer an “is” from an “ought”. To be clear, one is not committing the Normative Fallacy when they judge some state of affairs as being unjust or unethical. If this is not an instance of the Normative Fallacy, then this is because the person is not denying the existence of what is, but rather arguing that things should be otherwise. This is perfectly legitimate and is operative in nearly all our reasoning about the world insofar as we must perpetually think in terms of potentialities in order to reason about anything at all.

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hubble-eagle-nebula-wide-field-04086yReid has written another interesting post developing his concept of Dark Matter and responding to my remarks in an early post in relation to his thoughts. Reid writes,

Whatever the value of these realist alternatives to object-realism, this nonetheless missed my point. I am no more trying to restrict humanity from any possible knowledge of the Real than I am trying to offer an alternative picture of it. My point is that all of these options – the reality of individual objects, of a formless unity, of an intensive spatium, or of noumena as unknowable but thinkable – simultaneously posit the Real as separate from thought, and nonetheless bind it to a given conceptual articulation.

Objectality, unity, intensity, unknowability – these are all concepts. If we are to hold to the rejection of correlationism characteristic of Speculative Realism, we must altogether abandon images of the Real that bind it to a concept, and instead posit that the Real is already given without concept. Philosophy cannot determine the mode of existence of the Real as it is apart from thought, because existence itself is still a determination of thought, through the concept. Non-philosophy properly begins by accepting this essential limitation of philosophy, and instead claiming that it is not thought that may (or may not) determine the Real, it is the Real that determines thought (in-the-last-instance).

So when Levi says:

The minimal condition for whether or not a philosophy counts as “realist” can be found in what that philosopher thinks can be said of a world in which all humans and rational animals have ceased to exist. Here the dividing line is not between whether or not the philosopher holds that a world independent of humans exists, but rather whether or not certain entities known by humans would exist as they exist even if humans did not exist…

he nonetheless betrays that for his onticology, the Real itself is amenable to concepts, to human thought. Even if the world is indifferent to its ‘being thought’ by humans at any given time, it is nonetheless still essentially bound to conceptual determinability.

My point here is not that the Real would fundamentally change if thought were to vanish, nor that the Real exists in some unthinkable form beyond thought. The thought of objects is not some ‘mere appearance’ of a greater Reality. My point is that the Real is neither genuinely thinkable nor unthinkable, but foreclosed to thought; it cannot be contained by either concept (thinkable or unthinkable), but eludes this decisional dyad. Both thinkability and unthinkability are modes of givenness, positing the Real as given in one or another concept. But for non-philosophy, the Real is already given-without-givenness; it is indifferent to either concept.

read the rest here.

In response a few points are in order. First, I think Reid misses a key consequence of the Ontic Principle in his critique of conceptual determination of the real. The Ontic Principle states that there is no difference that does not make a difference. To be, in other words, is to make a difference. It follows as a consequence of this that if something makes a difference then it necessarily is according to my ontology. Here, then, I think we encounter a fundamental difference between my ontology and the Laruelleian ontology with which Reid is working. Within Laruelle’s ontology, the real is something that is entirely beyond the human and indifferent to the human. Within my ontology, since being is to produce a difference, it follows that conceptual distinctions are. Conceptual distinctions are not something other than the real, but are one way in which the real is. In this respect, it cannot be said that conceptual distinctions prevent us from reaching a real that is unthinkable and beyond all thought because conceptual distinctions are one way in which the real is. My position is more subtle, here. It is not that conceptual distinctions are not, but rather that conceptually determined being is not the only way beings are.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, one of the reasons I’ve been resistant to the Laruellean strategy of realism is that I feel it simply concedes too much to correlationism. Reid claims that I do not recognize that determinations such as existence, being, relation, etc., are concepts. This is not the case at all. What Reid claims of my position, following Laruelle, is that I am still stuck within correlationism because I must evoke these conceptual determinations to speak of the real. As a result, the story goes, the real is determined by the conceptual. My strategy isn’t based on a naive misrecognition of the role my own determinations play in what I speak of, but rather seeks to sidestep this entire way of arguing altogether.

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Switzerland Particle ColliderAs a result of recommendations from both Nick (in his thesis) and Graham, I have been reading Roy Bhaskar’s remarkable Realist Theory of Science over the last couple of weeks. I am still trying to fully understand Bhaskar’s position and arguments, so if I misconstrue it in what follows I would greatly appreciate the input and clarification of those more familiar with his work. Bhaskar attempts to develop a position he refers to as “transcendental realism”, where it is argued that the entities and mechanisms discovered by science are not simply beings as they are for us or beings in terms of our access to these beings, but rather where these mechanisms or beings exist as they are regardless of human access to them. In a manner very similar to Meillassoux’s argument from the “Arche-Fossil”, Bhaskar argues that the intelligibility of science requires that mechanisms or entities discovered by science must be thought as belonging to a world without humans. In other words, according to Bhaskar, the existence of objects that are as they are independent of humans is a transcendental condition for the possibility of science. Just as Kant argued that we cannot account for how synthetic a priori judgments are possible unless we begin from the thesis that the mind imposes a priori forms of intuition and categories of the understanding on the manifold of sensibility, Bhaskar argues that objects completely independent of humans are a necessary condition for the intelligibility of scientific practice.

Bhaskar’s thesis is thus three-fold: First, Bhaskar is committed to the thesis that objects exist completely independent of humans. So far, with this first thesis, Bhaskar does not depart from the tradition of epistemological correlationism. The linguistic, social, or cognitive correlationist does not deny the existence of independent objects, only that we can have any direct or non-discursively mediated access to these objects. As Bhaskar sums up the correlationist argument,

…it might be objected that the very idea of a world without men is unintelligible because the conditions under which it is true would make its being conceived impossible. But I can think of a world without men; and I can think of a world without myself. No-one can truly say ‘I do not exist’ but that does not mean that ‘I do not exist’ is unintelligible; or that it cannot be meaningfully (sic.), just because it cannot be truly said. (47)

stellar-nebula-cone-nebula-stars-wallpaperThe epistemic correlationist holds that while it is true that a world without men exists, and while it is possible to think this world, it is impossible for us to know this world because our relationship to the world is always mediated by the concepts, language, history, or social constructs that we bring to bear on the world. As a consequence, we can only ever say what the world is for-us, not what the world is in-itself or for-itself independent of us. It is here that Bhaskar parts ways with the correlationist. For Bhaskar, we can come to know the world as it is in itself, as it is without humans, and not simply as it is for-us as mediated by human concepts, language, history, or social institutions. Bhaskar will call this form of knowing science. Moreover, he will argue that science is unintelligible if we do not being from these premise, and will go so far as to refer to the correlationist argument as a fallacy, where it is held that questions of ontology can be reduced to questions of epistemology.

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Of late, I confess, I’ve found myself exhausted with blogging or, more generally, communication. On the one hand, dialogue, especially academic dialogue, is constantly threatened by the perils of what Lacan referred to as the “imaginary”. When Lacan evokes the imaginary, of course, he is not speaking of what is imagined or fabrications of the mind, but rather the domain of identification with the specular image of our body. Of particular importance here are all the rivalrous struggles for recognition that Hegel depicted so well in the Phenomenology of Spirit. For some reason these struggles seem to occur with particular intensity and ferocity in academic dialogue. Indeed, where one might intuitively think that such fierce struggles are most intense between strongly polarized intellectual positions– for instance, the infamous split between Analytic and Continental thought –these struggles seem to occur with even greater intensity between intellectual positions that are fairly close to one another, thereby underlining Freud’s point about the narcissism of minor difference. To the outsider, for instance, it is very difficult to distinguish Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus from the work of late Lacan. Yet for partisans of these thinkers, deafening struggles ensue. Indeed, some of the most bitter struggles I’ve ever witnessed occur among the various Lacanian camps, such that smaller Lacanian groups must think long and hard over whether they would invite the wrath of Jacques-Alain Miller were they to invite Colette Soler to speak or submit a paper.

On the other hand, I’ve found myself haunted by this passage from Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:

If it happen, from a defect of the organ, that a man is not susceptible of any species of sensation, we always find that he is as little susceptible of the correspondent ideas. A blind man can form no notion of colours; a deaf man of sounds. Restore either of them that sense in which he is deficient; by opening this new inlet for his sensations, you also open an inlet for the ideas; and he finds no difficulty in conceiving these objects. The case is the same, if the object, proper for exciting any sensation, has never been applied to the organ. A Laplander or Negro has no notion of the relish of wine. And though there are few or no instances of a like deficiency in the mind, where a person has never felt or is wholly incapable of a sentiment or passion that belongs to his species; yet we find the same observation to take place in a less degree. A man of mild manners can form no idea of inveterate revenge or cruelty; nor can a selfish heart easily conceive the heights of friendship and generosity. It is readily allowed, that other beings may possess many senses of which we can have no conception; because the ideas of them have never been introduced to us in the only manner by which an idea can have access to the mind, to wit, by the actual feeling and sensation.

What I find particularly troubling in this passage is Hume’s reference to the man of mild manners and the man with a selfish heart. Hume’s thesis, of course, is that all ideas arise from experience. As a consequence of this thesis, the limits of our imagination are defined by the limits of our experience. Should the man with a selfish heart witness an act of genuine generosity or friendship, it would not, according to Hume, even register as such an act, for the associative web characterizing the thought of this man would immediately interpret the other man’s act according to his own universe where selfish motives are treated as axiomatic. As Lacan liked to say, “all communication is miscommunication”. Here we have Hume’s own version of this Lacanian thesis. Where thought is always situated or attached to a field of experience and where ideas are related by principles of association, it follows that no two people will exist in the same universe. Each event that occurs in the field of experience– hearing another’s words, for instance –will evoke different associations and relations, such that the relation between two people is a sort of babble or chaos rather than a communication. There are, of course, all sorts of problematic assumptions here about the nature of communication– namely the assumption that to communicate is to send a signal that is the same for both the sender and receiver –yet it is worthwhile to state the issue in the starkest terms possible.

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While not endorsing Hume’s position, I do think that he is able to explain a good deal about about human formations of thought and interactions with one another with his sparse epistemology. Do we not daily see the results of this phenomenon in the way we judge others, detaching their words and actions from the context in which they occur, speaking of issues as if there were some abstract reason or common sense against which their actions could be measured, and transforming actions into acts based on abstract motives that we can then judge? This phenomenon is especially attenuated in the blogosphere, where the field in which we encounter the other person is restricted largely to words and images, sans their daily life, their work, their obligations, their passionate engagements, and so on. Divorced from all context– and no writer could ever be equal to writing context –words and phrases instead dangle for whomever might come along, actualizing all sorts of associations in readers without necessarily having anything to do with the context that first led the author to generate them as a series of 0’s and 1’s that appear on ones monitor.

The consequences that follow from Hume’s simple and straightforward observation are rather bleak. If he is right we are collectively doomed to a comedy of errors. Yet where the literary comedy of errors usually ends with the rise of the prince or love fulfilled, our comedy of errors seems to be one that ends only in cruelty, conflict, and war. This cruelty is all the worse in that it is seldom even aware of itself for the same reason that the mild mannered man cannot even recognize the intense passions of others. Like Derrida’s analysis of the gift in Given Time, where the condition for the possibility of the gift paradoxically consists in a complete unawareness of giving a gift coupled with no unconscious surplus-value drawn from the gift, this would be a situation in which we would be completely unaware of others by virtue of perpetually being trapped in our own networks of associations when relating to others. However, where Derrida shows how this is a condition of the gift– a sort of regulative ideal, as Kant would say –this would be a circumstance fulfilled each and every day in our relations to others. If we like, we can engage in a lot of hand-waving about the formation of shared horizons of meaning, the production of shared contexts, etc., but the situation would still be essentially the same. The question, then, is whether this is the circumstance in which we find ourselves, or whether there is no some minimal transcendence that allows us in certain circumstances– not all –to surmount the limits of our embeddedness in context to encounter some minimal otherness of the other. In encountering others, do we only ever see our own reflection in the mirror?

In An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Hume, outlining the aim of his investigation, writes:

The only method of freeing learning, at once, from these abstruse questions [of philosophy], is to enquire seriously into the nature of human understanding, and show, from an exact analysis of its powers and capacity, that it is by no means fitted for such remote and abstruse subjects. We must submit to this fatigue, in order to live at ease ever after: And must cultivate true metaphysics with some care, in order to destroy the false and adulterate. Indolence, which, to some persons, affords a safeguard against this deceitful philosophy, is, with others, overbalanced by curiosity; and despair, which, at some moments, prevails, may give place afterwards to sanguine hopes and expectations. Accurate and just reasoning is the only catholic remedy, fitted for all persons and all dispositions; and is alone able to subvert that abstruse philosophy and metaphysical jargon, which, being mixed up with popular superstition, renders it in a manner impenetrable to careless reasoners, and gives it the air of science and wisdom. (6)

I do not, of course, advocate Hume’s specific epistemology, though I do agree with the spirit of his remarks with regard to “abstruse philosophy” that dresses superstition up in fine sounding jargon. A pig with lipstick is still lipstick. The first step towards recovery consists in admitting you have a problem. I would like to confess that I am a recovering Heideggerian. Yes, I know this is scandalous and it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Upon my bookshelves I have dozens of his lectures and enough secondary sources to kill a man in an avalanch. I’ve spent hours pouring over his various works, taking intricate notes, and writing detailed commentaries. As an undergrad I wrote a hundred page thesis on his theory of truth as aletheia or the play of revealing and concealing, prior to any referential propositions. I worked through the nuances and maze of his analyses of Aristotle’s account of the proposition, the apophantic, and logos. I chose to go to Loyola University of Chicago for graduate school so that I might study under the good Tom Sheehen and took more seminars on Heidegger than I took on any other philosopher. Yes, I am a recovering Heideggerian. And like anyone who has once intensely loved something and then given it up, I confess that I can hardly stand to read a paragraph of Heidegger before I am filled with irritation.

After Sheehen left to become a bigwig at Berkeley, I took up courses with Adrian Peperzak, the Levinasian, and Patricia Huntington, a feminist, Heideggerian, Kierkegaardian. And one of the things I began to notice is that the very structure of Heidegger’s questions is theological in character… Or more precisely, his thought has the structure of negative theology. Who could miss this resonance in the distinction between Being and beings, where “being is always the being of a being but is not itself a being” and where being withdraws and hides itself while nonetheless “giving”.

According to the story, and I’m being horribly reductive here, Western metaphysics forgets Being, the giving through which the given is produced, the play of revealing and concealing that is prior to any actuality. Heidegger thus calls for a return to the Greeks, the pre-Socratics in particular, who were still in communion with this poetic revealing and concealing of Being and beings, prior to the onset of the fall into ontotheology and the primacy of presence. But what if Heidegger’s thought (note my Zizekian flourish here!) has nothing to do with a sort of philogical excavation of pre-Socratic thought, but is itself simply a consequence of the emergence of late industrial capitalism? What if it is precisely the objectifying tendencies of capitalism that render the play of revealing and concealing accessible to thought. In volume 1 of Capital, Marx writes:

It was the common expression of all commodities in money that alone led to the establishment of their character as values. It is, however, just this ultimate money form of the world of commodities that actually conceals, instead of disclosing, the social character of labor, and the social relations between individual producers. (75-6, my bold).

Like Feuerbach’s polemical claim that God is just a fetishized version of man, could it not be said that Heidegger’s teutonic rumblings about Being, Sending, Giving, revealing, concealing etc., are just fetishized descriptions of processes undergone in the formation and exchange of commodities and that the play of revealing and concealing is not a Greek contribution, but rather something that becomes possible at a very specific historical moment under the conditions of capitalism? Indeed, when we pause to look at theoretical formations around this time, we find dialectics of revealing and concealing everywhere: Freud’s analysis of the formations of the unconscious and the dreamwork, anthropological discoveries of the symbolic underly various social practices, relational forms of thought that discover networks behind the atomistic actualities of the world. If this were the case, then all sorts of questions would be raised about the nolstagic narrative of the fall that underlies so much of Heidegger’s thought.

For the last few days I’ve been reading The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism, by Peter Gay. As I read the tale of these young upstarts, I find myself filled with enthusiasm, and fall to bed at night with names like Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Kant, Newton, Diderot, Jefferson, Franklin, and Spinoza on my lips. I think to myself that here are struggles that matter, struggles that transformed the face of the world. Although these thinkers certainly sought recognition and prestige, their intellectual work did not simply consist in getting another line on their CV, on making the most radical claim, on being aesthetic dandies like so many of our postmoderns, or in simply securing a position (we need only look at the lives of Diderot and Rousseau to see this). Rather, there was a profound desire to bring an entirely new form of social relations into being, an entirely new world. What is it that excites me so in the lives and thought of these thinkers? Is it their passion for freedom? Their desire to escape superstition once and for all (today we have a new category in addition to superstition: ideology). Is it their ill tempered militancy? Is it their celebration of reason? Or their joy in inquiry? It is not any particular set of claims that I agree with, but rather a sort of spirit or elan that animated these figures… A sense that intellectual work is not simply for the sake of promoting one’s academic capital, but transforming the world itself.

Perhaps what interests me most is the manner in which these thinkers were able to escape their historical moment, transforming history itself. Peter Gay writes,

…though distinguished members of that club [of the cultivated], the philosophes, intelligent and ruthless, were also unreliable: their encounter with the classics, often casual or insignificant, was also decisive for them as it was for few other men. It gave shape to their rebelliousness; it justified their radicalism. While a program of study is not normally a reliable intellectual pedigree, the philosophes’ classical education had special, lifelong meaning for them: it offered them an alternative to Christianity. There were critical moments in their lives, in adolescence and later, when they appealed to the ancients not merely for entertainment but for models, not merely for decoration but for substance, and not for bland substance– such as the staples of Horatian satire: complaints about crowded city life, laments on the brevity of existence, or the menace of bores and bluestockings –but for a philosophical option. (44)

The issue of whether the Enlightenment thinkers read the ancients in a hermeneutically accurate way is irrelevant. Their engagement with the ancients was one that had the character of a “history of the present”, a directedness towards the present, creating an opening within the field of possibilities populating the closure of the present. Phantasmatic or accurate, this encounter suggested that another way was possible, another world was possible, that other forms of social relations and ways of reasoning had existed and could exist again.

That is, their identification with the classics, with the Greek and Roman ancients, allowed them to gain a minimal distance from their own historical moment, and bring something else into being. This distance from the present was also accompanied by a collapse of self-identity, where the subject of Enlightenment discovered itself as a void or emptiness, no longer knowing who or what it was. Peter Gay describes the turmoil of this transformation well in relation to David Hume:

Even David Hume, whose good cheer was celebrated, had to brood and struggle his way into paganism. At eighteen, in the rebellion against the dour Scottish Presbyterianism of his childhood, and elated by his discovery that he had a vocation– philosophy –he stuffed himself, feverishly, with ‘Cicero, Seneca & Plutarch’, and was soon crippled by hysterical symptoms, loss of appetite, hypochondria, and melancholy. He was unable to study with concentration or pleasure.

Practicing some wild analysis, one can almost hear the Presbyterian superego intervening in Hume’s symptoms– His inability to eat reflects a resistance to reading further, a command by the superego refusing the incorporation of anything else. The hypochondria seems to be a defense on the part of his older identifications, suggesting that his new thoughts have rendered him ill and he’s in need of treatment, while his melancholy suggests that he’s lost his status as a love object for his community. Gay continues,

His memory of past ‘errors and perplexities’ makes him diffident; the weakness and disorder of his faculties and the ‘impossibility of amending or correcting’ them reduces him to despair and induces wishes of self-destruction. ‘This sudden view of my danger’ on the boundless ocean of lonely search ‘strikes me with melancholy; and as ’tis usual for that passion, above all others, to indulge itself; I cannot forbear feeding my despair, with all those desponding reflections, which the present subject furnishes me with in such abundence.

…’I am first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude, in which I am plac’d in my philosophy.’ To be sure, this isolation may be rationally explained, but the explanation has that strange and self-enclosed rationality characteristic of men in situations of extreme loneliness: ‘I have expos’d myself to the enmity of all metaphysicians, logicians, mathematicians, and even theologians; and can I wonder at the insults I must suffer? I have declar’d my dis-approbation of their systems; and can I be surpriz’d, if they shou’d express a hatred of mine and of my person?’ Detachment from society is mirrored by private emptiness: ‘When I look abroad, I foresee on every side, dispute, contradiction, anger, calumny and detraction. When I trun my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance.’ The world is hostile and, significantly, conspiratorial: ‘All the world conspires to oppose and contradict me; tho’ such is my weakness that I feel all my opinions loosen and fall of themselves, when unsupported by the approbation of others. Every step I take is with hesitation, and every new reflection makes me dread an error and absurdity in my reasoning.’ In the end, Hume proclaims that he no longer knows who he is; his stable self-image has dissolved in a sea of doubt and despair: he fancies himself, much as Diderot did in a similar predicament, ‘some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in ‘society, has been expell’d all human commerce, and left utterly abandon’d and disconsolate.’ And he is driven to ask: ‘Where am I, or what? From what cases do I derive my existence, and to what Condition shall I return? Whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? And on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me?’ (64-6)

These are passages worthy of Blanchot’s Thomas the Obscure, and I must confess that I find Hume’s breed of monster far more appealing than the sort of self-indulgent, aestheticized monster that often parades in the name of Deleuze and Guattari. Insofar as identity is diacritical, the product of differential relations among symbolic and imaginary subject-positions, it follows that a revolutionary subject must necessarily undergo a collapse of identity as there is no longer a place for this subject in this diacritical system. Hume asks “whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread”, indicating a relation to the Other or the symbolic. If this can become a question, then this can only be because the favor we court relies on a pre-existent symbolic system. If that system has collapsed for oneself, then we can no longer be certain whose desire we wish to capture and whose gaze we wish to avoid. We have become unmarked for the system, something that the system cannot count or recognize, and have thus, essentially, become void. Yet in this void something new can come to be.

In Difference and Repetition Deleuze writes,

Repetition is never a historical fact, but rather the historical condition under which something new is effectively produced. It is not the historian’s reflection which demonstrates a resemblance between Luther and Paul, between the Revolution of 1789 and the Roman Republic, etc. Rather, it is in the first place for themselves that the revolutionaries are determined to lead their lives as ‘resuscitated Romans’, before becoming capable of the act which they have begun by repeating in the mode of a proper past, therefore under conditions such that they necessarily identify with a figure from the historical past. Repetition is a condition of action before it is a concept of reflection. We produce something new only on condition that we repeat– once in the mode which constitutes the past, and once more in the present of metamorphosis. Moreover, what is produced, the absolutely new itself, is in turn nothing but repetition: the third repetition, this time by excess, the repetition of the future as eternal return. (DR, 90)

In constituting my history I constitute my influences or determine that through which I am influenced. I produce, as it were, my ground. Yet in identifying with the past, I also transform myself as an agent, and produce something new through the repetition of this identification in the present. To repeat in this instance is not to imitate or resemble the past. We would be hard put to find more than superficial resemblances between the ancients and the Enlightenment thinkers. Not only were their aims different, but in many cases their concepts were wildly different as well. Yet nonetheless the Enlightenment repeats the classical age. What, then, today would it mean to repeat the Enlightenment, in an age following Freud and Marx?