octopusWhenever the concept of memes comes up it seems that people get really incensed. I’m baffled by this reaction. What is it about this concept that gets folks so worked up? I certainly understand the point that meme theory is underdeveloped, but this is a call for theoretical elaboration and development, not outright rejection. I get the sense that memes get some worked up for one of two reasons. On the one hand, I sometimes sense that hostility to the concept of memes is really driven by disciplinary territory disputes. Here you have the upstarts like Dawkins and Dennett come along, spout the word “memes”, and suddenly everyone yahoo that knows nothing about social theory or the broad and deep discipline of semiotics gets all excited. I wonder whether there isn’t a little of resentment and envy at work here. On the other hand, I get the sense that some associate memes with socio- and psychobiology (more on this in a moment).

From the standpoint of object-oriented ontology, I find meme theory extremely attractive precisely because meme theory treats memes as real objects or actors in the world. Here, more specifically, are the reasons that I find memes attractive:

praying-mantis-cannabilism-eating-mate1) Far from falling into vulgar socio- and psychobiology, meme theory allows us to tell a far more complex story about human beings and behavior. The central thesis of meme theory is that at some point in human biological history a new type of replicator emerged in contrast to gene replicators. Genes are replicators in the sense that they are units of some sort that get copied or replicated through reproduction. Under Dawkin’s formulation, at least, the “aim” of genes is not the advantage of the organism, but to get themselves copied through reproduction. In this respect, genes construct vehicles (bodies, organisms) as strategies for getting themselves replicated.

Just as we do not act primarily for the welfare of our cars but use cars for our own aims, genes aren’t primarily “interested” in the welfare of bodies or organisms. This comes out with special clarity in the case of the preying mantis, but also my favorite animal, the octopus. In the case of the preying mantis, of course, the female devours the male preying mantis’s head after mating with him. In contributing half his genes the male has done his work. His sole value after mating consists in contributing nutrients to the impregnated preying mantis. Moreover, were the male to go his happy way after mating he might mate with other females, generating dangerous competitors to the offspring of his first mate. Cruel world. The case is similar with the octopus. After the female octopus is impregnated she finds a well protected cave or pipe and lays her eggs around the mouth of the cave opening. For the next few weeks after laying her eggs she never again leaves the cave, but rather spends all of her time jetting water over the egg sacks hanging from the cave opening and cleaning the eggs with her tentacles. Once the eggs hatch the female octopus is free to leave the cave, but at this point she is so weakened from lack of food (she hasn’t hunted during this whole time) and is very quickly, and somewhat ironically, devoured by the fish and crabs that she previously feasted upon. Once again, the genes of the female octopus were not acting on her behalf, but rather she was a vehicle or strategy for getting her genes replicated. When that replication is complete her job is done. Cruel world.

read on!


art_whitney_marx-insideN.Pepperell has begun posting chapter drafts of her long awaited thesis on Marx over at Rough Theory. The work that she’s doing is well worth the read and promises to new light on a number of competing approaches to social and political theory. Might we not get an actor-network version of Marx… Including the hyphen and suitably responsive to Braudel? I look forward to watching the text unfold. I do, however, have one gripe. I cannot find a “thesis workshop” tab in her categories section, so it is difficult to follow the order of the text. NP, add a tag stat!

Surplus-jouissance, Desire, and Fantasy

In Seminar 6: Desire and its Interpretation, Lacan articulates fantasy as the frame of desire. The fundamental fantasy does not imagine a particular satisfaction, but is rather the frame through which our desire is structured. In this respect, fantasy answers the question of what the Other desires.


As I remarked in my previous post, the desire of the Other is enigmatic and opaque. Fantasy is what fills out this enigma, articulating it, giving it form, such that it embodies a determinate demand. Lacan persistently claimed that “desire is the desire of the Other”. This polysemous aphorism can be taken in four ways. First, at the most obvious level, it can be taken to signify that we desire the Other. Second, and more importantly, it can be taken to entail that we desire to be desired by the Other. Third, it can be taken to signify that we desire what the Other desires. For example, a petite bourgeois might desire a particular car not because of the intrinsic features of the car, but because it will generate envy in his neighbor. Likewise, someone might mow their lawn not because they see an intrinsic virtue in doing so, but because they fear that their neighbor will become angry if they don’t. Finally, fourth, insofar as the unconscious is the “discourse of the Other”, the thesis that desire is the desire of the Other indicates the manner in which desire is articulated through the network of signifiers that haunt our unconscious, producing all sorts of symptomatic formations based on the signifier.

Read on


I sometimes feel as if I go through a sort of eternal return, where I repeat things I have said before yet experience myself as having just thought them for the very first time. Hopefully, despite these repetitive iterations, despite these re-loops of loops, each iteration is nonetheless somehow producing something new or allowing some other thought to emerge that, for whatever reason, could not before emerge. As Spinoza argues, ideas can only produce ideas. Yet why is it that ideas sometimes get fixed or repetitive like a skipping record? Why is it, I wonder, that we obsess over certain themes and ideas– almost as if our life is a musical variation –such that we perpetually return to these things without realizing that we’re doing so? The Bird and the Bee song: “Again and again and again and again… Do it again! Do it again!” In his preface to Meillassoux’s After Finitude, Badiou remarks that in a true work of philosophy,

…it is possible to detect the sense of something new– texts which respond to the question: “What wound was I seeking to heal, what thorn was I seeking to draw from the flesh of existence when I became what is called ‘a philosopher’?” It may be that, as Bergson maintained, a philosopher only ever develops one idea. In any case, there is no doubt that the philosopher is born of a single question, the question which arises at the intersection of thought and life at a given moment in the philosopher’s youth; the question which one must at all costs find a way to answer. (After Finitude, vi)

This is a surprisingly Deleuzian thought for Badiou; one that almost stands in contradiction with his charges of a Deleuzian “aristocratism” in The Clamor of Being. I do not know that I follow Badiou in the thesis that the wound is unique to the philosopher, but, as I argued in Difference and Givenness, I would certainly agree that the wound– what I there called “the encounter” –is constitutive of thought. To think is to be wounded. That is to say, to think is to be out of step with the world, to not be at home in the world, to experience the world as unheimlich. We think because we are not at home and perhaps the degree of our homelessness marks the degree of our thought’s intensity… Unless we are consumed by a homelessness so profound that it ends in catatonia or mute autism. Thought then would be a way of attempting to sublate or overcome that wound, that crack that prevents any adaptation to the world.


It is this that is fundamentally missing from accounts of collective assemblages such as we find proposed in Spinoza. Conatus, the endeavor to persist in one’s being, lacks– at least on the surface –the dimension of death drive in speaking-being. While the Spinozist body is indeed excessive rather than homeostatic or adaptive in its active drive to promote its power to act, what seems to be missing is this dimension of repetition, of death drive, that is at odds with action premised on benefit or enlightened self-interest.


This can be sensed above all in Spinoza’s conception of love, where the madness of love, the willingness to destroy everything else for the sake of love, is entirely absent. Despite the fact that Spinoza asserts love can be excessive, one gets the sense that for him, the difference between a good meal (which he also characterizes in terms of love) and mad love is a difference in degree rather than kind. If, as speaking beings, we are constitutively wounded, divided by language, and therefore subjects of an irrepressible question that we cannot escape, how must we understand collective assemblages and the perils that haunt them? Clearly these assemblages will perpetually be perturbed by the repetition, the eternal return, that haunts the subjects that inhabit these assemblages. On the one hand, this will be one of the prime sources of those lethal identifications with demagogues, tyrants, and dictators where the body of these figures is encountered as an answer to the repetitive question of the wound, as that which can sublate the wound and produce the “heimlich” in the world.

On the other hand, the wound, the death drive, will be the source of our most profound creativity, political struggles, thought, love, invention, etc., as we choose the wound over adaptation. Is there a way to channel the wound, the death drive, in one way rather than another? Certainly this is one of the aims of psychoanalytic practice– to transform painful, paralyzing, and intolerable incarnations of the death drive manifested in the symptom, into productive, liveable, creative symptoms or forms of repetitive jouissance. Witness Joyce.

Or is it, as I asked months ago in another post, that the death drive, the symptom, repetition, jouissance is simply psychoanalysis’ own myth of original sin: a reactionary ideological mystification that argues that lethal and mal-adaptive repetition is natural and necessary, rather than contingent? Spinoza argues that our collective irrationality arises not from original sin, but from a set of cognitive processes that take place at the level of how our emotions function. Death drive is something quite different than the simple confusion of two things that resemble one another as in the case of an object confused with love object or object of hate that shares a quality with these objects without possessing any of the same causal properties, e.g., Hating one’s student named Tom, because one was the victim of a childhood bully named Tom, and failing to realize this completely contingent connection. Death drive is not a confusion, but a sort of ever repeating glitch in a system, that causes the perpetual return of an insistent question that places the subject out of step with the world. One might think of the people obsessed with a certain image in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (the image, ultimately, of the mountain), to such a degree that they completely neglected their bodies, families, jobs, and all the rest (viz., they were completely disjointed from the world) trying to figure out why this image would not leave their mind and what it might represent. The difference here, of course, is that for the characters in Close Encounters, they do get an answer. There is no answer to the death drive, only the repeated failure of any and all such answers– Which can be a source of a positive jouissance. “Do it again!”


From roughly June until a few weeks ago I was in the midst of a deep and black depression. The strange thing was that I did not feel sad, but simply disengaged from everything. I wasn’t, as it were, even aware that anything had changed. I had lost all desire for everything. I no longer read. I felt no inclination to respond to emails. No books, shows, movies, or ideas interested me. Whenever I got a new paper published or received some sort of praise for my book, it left me feeling cold. I had no desire to be around other people. I slept a lot and just walked through the world like a sort of zombie. There was no malice in any of this. If I didn’t respond to an email, it wasn’t because I harbored animosity towards the person. I didn’t respond to anyone unless it was a professional matter I couldn’t ignore. I simply couldn’t bring myself to care.

The worst part is that you blame yourself for this state and experience it as a moral failing. You tell yourself that perhaps your brain has hardened and you simply can’t think fluidly in the way you once did. You tell yourself that you’ve become lazy, ceased caring, etc. Somehow it is something that you’re doing that’s led to this malaise. But just as anger in the midst of a nicotine fit seems absolutely convincing and like a matter of your will, the depression is not experienced as depression, but as some set of choices you are making. Of course, from a psychoanalytic perspective this is because somehow, at some level, you have betrayed your desire and repudiated yourself as a subject. The question is how?

Perhaps now I am in a manic period– I’ve certainly been writing a lot –but something seemed to break a few weeks ago. And even if it is manic, it feels good. It feels good to care. It feels good to write. It feels good to draw connections, to find images to represent things, to read, to dance with others in thought. I began exercising and this seemed to produce significant changes. Who knew? But what was it that brought this on? Why did I fall into this pit? In her beautiful essay, Why Psychoanalysis?, Elizabeth Roudinesco argues that depression, melancholia, is the unique malady of our time, produced by our contemporary ideological conditions and conditions of production.

If neurosis– a loud, noisy, antagonistic symptom in protest of the reigning social order — is the symptom of the late nineteenth and twentieth century, argues Roudinesco, depression is the reigning symptom of an era where great causes have collapsed, where alternatives to the social organization of this world have disappeared, where there is nothing to protest as all norms have collapsed, and where all that is left is the pursuit of happiness, the improvement of one’s body and health, and the endless pursuit of ever new and novel forms of exotic enjoyment. The depressive age is an age where the Soviet Union has collapsed and China has become capitalistic, such that the only [once] credible alternatives to the world of liberal democratic capitalism and the promise of “happiness” and a life without risk, have disappeared. Likewise, with the death of God we get a world closed to transcendent possibilities, to ideals higher than those of appetite.

Insofar as all symptoms are a protest, of sorts, against the Other– a trace of the lack in the Other or the fact that the Other is a sham, a semblance, an impostor, that the Other does not provide the answer or jouissance promised –depression, the disappearance of desire, the fading of desire, is a protest against such a closure where all alternatives have disappeared. But, like so many symptoms, what a painful symptom! Perhaps depression is what occurs in the absence of being able to even articulate what is missing, what is absent. Depression would be a sort of silent speech, a mute speech, that speaks the absence of signifiers worthy of desire. Or better yet, depression would be a marker of that which falls outside of language or that for which there are no signifiers. As such, in the borromean clinic, depression would be located at the intersection between the circles of the imaginary and the real: A mute witness of the imaginary body in response to a certain real that haunts the symbolic.


Is there a way in which depression can be made active? Is there a way in which this mute withdrawal of the subject from the empty world of “bodies and pleasures”, this existence as undead, as zombie, that capitulates to the closure of possibilities, the absence of alternative, can make this silent and passive resistance an active resistance? Such a resistance would no longer be one that assaults the body of the depressive, such as in the case of the depressive subject that blames himself, but would be a subject that might find a way to reject the idea that happiness, exotic enjoyments, and bodies and pleasures are the only alternatives, the only things, we can hope and live for… Or rather, that we can hope and be dead for.

“No, it’s not Zygote that made me,” he said to Art, looking behind them to make sure that Coyote was really sleeping. “You can’t shoose your childhood, it’s just what happens to you. But after that you choose. I chose Sabishii. And that’s what really made me.”

“Maybe,” Art said, rubbing his jaw. “But childhood isn’t just those years. It’s also the opinions you form about them afterward. That’s why our childhoods are so long.”

~Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars

I don’t do vacations well. For the last few weeks I’ve had a brief respite from the duties of teaching. During the academic year I dream of the summer when I’ll finally have the time to read what I wish to read and write what I wish to write, yet strangely, when vacation finally comes along, I find myself strangely disengaged, unable to think, concentrate, or do much writing. In a number of respects I think this relates to my “Symptom”. Here the Symptom should not be thought as a tick such as repeatedly washing ones hands, the inability to say a particular word (like Charlie’s inability to say anything pertaining to parents or fathers in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), or a moment of hysterical blindness. These too are symptoms, yet there are symptoms and then there’s the Symptom. Where symptoms are these various ticks and idiosyncracies that inexplicably trouble the life of a subject, the Symptom should instead be thought as the complex theme animating a subject’s life. In Seminar VII, The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, Lacan writes that,

…analysis progresses by means of a return to the meaning of an action. That alone justifies the fact that we are interested in the moral dimension. Freud’s hypothesis relative to the unconscious presupposes that, whether it be healthy or sick, normal or morbid, human action has a hidden meaning that one can have access to. In such a context the notion of a catharsis that is a purification, a decantation or isolation of levels is immediately conceivable. (312)

This hidden meaning of ones action is desire. We find ourselves repeatedly doing something– repetitively washing our hands, unable to enjoy vacation –and analysis is that process by which this meaning is finally delivered to us, where we are finally able to understand the meaning of what it is that we’ve been doing all this time. As Lacan will put it a few pages later, this activity is a complex theme pervading our lives that has the status of being a sort of destiny.

Doing things in the name of the good, and even more in the name of the good of the other, is something that is far from protecting us not only from guilt but also from all kinds of inner catastrophes. To be precise, it doesn’t protect us from neurosis and its consequences. If analysis has a meaning, desire is nothing other than that which supports an unconscious theme, the very articulation of that which roots us in a particular destiny, and that destiny demands insistently that the debt be paid, and desire keeps coming back, keeps returning, and situates us once again in a given track, the track of something is specifically our business. (319)

Lacan contends that the only thing we can ever be guilty of is having given way on our desire. If I experience guilt, then in some way, somehow, I have given ground relative to my desire or betrayed my desire. Guilt thus does not arise as a consequence of betraying some moral rule or principle– for instance, stealing something or having impure thoughts –but rather results from a betrayal of one’s desire. This simultaneously explains both why those who are truly wretched morally so often have such clean consciences and why those who are so upstanding morally have such ferocious and persecutory guilt. All of us are familiar with jokes about Catholic and Jewish guilt. If the phenomenon of ferocious guilt so often accompanies devoutly religious lifestyles that are free from moral infraction, then this is because these lives so often entail a betrayal of ones desire by virtue of their very structure. Moral consciousness, in its obedience to the moral law– what Lacan refers to as the “order of Creon” or the “service of goods” –leads to a renunciation of desire. “The morality of power, of the service of goods, is as follows: ‘As far as desires are concerned, come back later. Make them wait'” (315). Yet desire insists regardless of whether one wishes to renounce desire or not. And it returns one way or another in the form of either guilt or symptoms, which are themselves way of maintaining ones desire.

It would thus seem to be an easy matter to avoid the return of desire in the form of the symptom and guilt: Forget morality and pursue what one wants. The analysand reading Lacanian psychoanalytic literature concurrent to his analysis thus reasons that,

If the ‘service of goods’, established morality, modesty, and the system of consumption lead me to betray my desire and thereby produces symptoms and guilt, then I should simply pursue what I want, and live a deliciously hedonistic life, full of the most profound debaucheries and transgressions.

It would be nice were such a simple solution available, however no sooner does the analysand pursue such a course of action than does he find himself consumed by guilt and populated by symptoms far worse than those he knew before. “Why,” he wonders, “does he now feel more miserable than I did before? Why have these boils (I kid you not) break out all over my body, am I now impotent, and do I suddenly find myself beset by all sorts of unfortunate accidents such as the loss of my wallet, minor car accidents, leaving my computer open to porn at work, etc?” It sounds fantastic, but it happens in analysis.

The error that such an analysand has fallen into is the confusion of want with desire. The analysand believes that he knows the meaning of his action and thus knows the true nature of his desire. But analysis shows that the reason for our repetitions, the desire animating our action, is hidden from us. Our desire is embodied in our repetitions and symptoms, yet the whole problem is that we do not know why it is that we repeat. For this reason, the way out of the deadlock of guilt and symptoms cannot be a simple determinate negation of the service of goods or the established system of morality. Rather, we must come to that point where we are in a position to make a decision with regard to our desire. We must come to know our desire. In describing desire as a theme we should think of something like a complex theme in music or Jazz that repeats itself while varying itself. What we have here is the identity of difference, a pattern that plays again and again throughout a person’s life, functioning as the secret cipher, the meaning, the sense, the Sein-zu-Tode, animating a person’s life and imbuing it with meaning. Here I cannot agree with Zizek’s politicization of the ethics of psychoanalysis, for this politicization strikes me as one of the surest ways to give way on ones desire. There might indeed be unconsciousnesses that are political in the way Zizek describes, but we can just as easily imagine a woman named “Rose” who has betrayed her desire by becoming deeply involved in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in Chiapas– as would have been (dis)approved of by her parents and colleagues –when she should have been cultivating roses. Desire is often banal such that the outsider is unable to fathom why one pursues a particular activity with such zeal– think of how thoroughly Kinsey was obsessed with his research on dung-wasps… Do you understanding it or share this intense fascination? –but it is nonetheless singular and specific to that subject. As Lacan will later say in Seminar XXIII, The Sinthome, “we are never interested in another’s symptom.” It is in this connection that Lacan’s distinction between writing and sense is to be situated: Writing opens on to the real, to the senseless, and refers to a set of traces in the unconscious that take on a libidinal charge irregardless of any sense they might have.

In Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, Lacan draws an example from Serge Leclaire to illustrate this point:

One must interpret at the level of the s [signifier, not the signified], which is not open to all meanings, which cannot be just anything, which is a signification, though no doubt only an approximate one. What is there is rich and complex, when it is a question of the unconscious of the subject, and inteded to bring out irreducible, non-sensical— composed of non-meanings –signifying elements. In the same article, Leclaire’s work illustrates particularly well the crossing of significant interpretation towards signifying non-sense, when he proposes, on the subject of his obsessional neurotic patient, the so-called Poordjeli formula, which links the two syllables of the word licorne (unicorn), thus enabling him to introduce into his sequence a whole chain in which his desire is animated. (250)

The case Lacan is referring to can be found in Serge Leclaire’s Psychoanalyzing: On the Order of the Unconscious and the Practice of the Letter, and is well worth the read. If Lacan’s remarks here seem incomprehensible, then this is due to the fact that he is working at the level of writing, writing in the unconscious, rather than at the level of sense. To fully understand the claim made here with regard to Leclaire’s obsessional patient, we would have to follow the case notes and trace how a writing (note the indefinite article) unfolds in this analysand’s formations of the unconscious. Similarly, Rose should not be cultivating roses because this is what “rose” means, rather this is one possibility through which the desire animating the writing “r-o-s-e” might unfold itself in the life of a particular analysand. It is the homonym that matters here, not the sense. Moreover, the sense follows upon the senseless writing– as Deleuze argues in The Logic of Sense, sense arises from nonsense –not the reverse. Another trajectory might have had Rose obsessively researching the Knights of the Rose, or Gillian Rose, never noticing the proximity to her name, going on and on about the underappreciated socio-historical-political significance of the Knights of the Rose without drawing any connection between the unconscious desire, the unconscious writing, that animates her and this particular academic pursuit.

It is in this connection that Lacan’s reference to “destiny” ought to be situated. To speak of destiny in this context is not to speak of astrology or the gods defining one’s future. Rather, destiny here refers to the agency of the signifier in the unconscious. Among his many aphorisms describing the unconscious, is that where Lacan defines the unconscious as “the discourse of the Other”. Before being born, prior to being a subject, the infant is already surrounded by a discourse not of his own making. For Lacan, like Whitehead, the subject is a superject– A product rather than an underlying substance defining a trajectory. A writing weaves itself around the body of the young infant, laying the groundwork of nonsense that will function as the ground from which sense might be produced. As Whitehead will say, “No actual entity can rise beyond what the actual world as a datum from its standpoint– its actual world –allows it to be” (Process and Reality, 83). This too will hold for the writing woven around the infant, functioning as a constraint on the becoming of that subject. However, this should not be taken as a deterministic or grim statement, for the play of language embodied in puns, double entendres, homonyms, equivocations, etc., allows for indefinite variability emerging from this writing. Without constraint and limitation, without selection, there can be no creation. Consequently, the writing populating the unconscious, this discourse of the Other, should not be understood to be akin to a computer program that simply sets on its course once initiated. Nonetheless, this writing insists throughout all subsequent action in much the same way that Oedipus finds himself unable to escape Loxias’ prophecy despite every effort to escape it. Desire returns in the form of the symptom and one can either make a decision to follow ones desire– which requires coming to know ones desire– ultimately one enters analysis because they do not know what they want –or to strive to evade ones desire.

After causing all manner of turmoil with my reading group last week by shifting our meeting from Saturday to Tuesday, I noticed that I am often at the center of maelstorms such as this. Whether it be the various religion and theory wars here, the madness of the last academic year with administration, personal email disputes that emerge from time to time with those whom I love, and so on, I repeatedly find myself in the midsts of some sort of conflict. Indeed, I seek it out. The first thing I open to in the newspaper is the editorial page. I gravitate towards religious and political debates. I often continue engagement with persons I actively dislike or believe to have little that is genuinely interesting to say, despite the unpleasantness of conflictual discussion with such persons. And perhaps, above all, I chose to pursue philosophy, an agon seconded only by the political arena. There is a repetition here that has woven itself all throughout my life, and in suddenly discerning this repetition my desire to write or engage with anyone suddenly disappeared (hence my silence this last week). Strangely however, I felt no guilt in not engendering conflict for a week, indicating that this action, in being articulated, had found a different trajectory through which to unfold itself. In discerning this repetition, I do not thereby discern my desire. Indeed, the relationship between agon and desire might be quite oblique– like the relationship between the manifest- and laten-content of a dream in the dreamwork –and difficult to understand without extensive analysis. Falling into conflict is an action, yet the meaning of the action, the desire that animates it, is opaque to me. What obscure desire animates such an action? This is a question that cannot be answered generically such that someone on this list– a Jungian, no doubt –could say “oh, that means x”. Rather, like Leclaire’s analysis of his obsessional, it is something that can only be revealed in tracing the furrow of a signifier in symptoms, dreams, slips of the tongue, or a life.

On a few occasions now, Anthony Paul Smith has poked fun at my celebration of the Enlightenment. For instance, in response to one of my posts today he writes,

Never have you whined about how “Christo-fascism” (and I can take that about as seriously as I take Islamo-fascism) is destroying your hope for a society perfectly ordered along purely rational lines, just like Iceland.

I take it that in this remark he is disparaging my occasional defense of rationalists and my assertion that Deleuze can be thought as a sort of hyper-rationalist. I think he comes by his misunderstandings in an honest way. Or, at least, I hope he does.

In friendship and gratitude for his patience in continuing to engage with me in dialogue which I do often find productive, I thus try to clarify my positions. In his preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes,

…we can now raise the question of the utilization of the history of philosophy. It seems to us that the history of philosophy should play a role roughly analogous to that of collage in painting. The history of philosophy is the reproduction of philosophy itself. In the history of philosophy, a commentary should act as a veritable double and bear the maximal modification appropriate to a double. (One imagines a philosophically bearded Hegel, a philosophically clean-shaven Marx, in the same way as a moustached Mona Lisa.) It should be possible to recount a real book of past philosophy as if it were an imaginary and feigned book. Borges, we know, excelled in recounting imaginary books. But he goes further when he considers a real book, such as Don Quixote, as though it were an imaginary book, itself reproduced by an imaginary author, Pierre Menard, who in turn he considers to be real. In this case, the most exact, the most strict repetition has as its correlate the maximum of difference (‘The text of Cervantes and that of Menard are verbally identical, but the second is almost infinitely richer…’). Commentaries in the history of philosophy should represent a kind of slow motion, a congelation or immobilisation of the text: not only of the text to which they relate, but also of the text in which they are inserted– so much so that they have a double existence and a corresponding ideal: the pure repetition of the former text and the present text in one another. (xxi-xxii)

Deleuze gives us little indication as to just why one would engage in this practice of reading and writing. Perhaps this is to maintain maximal openness, to avoid artificially limiting the reasons that one might engage in history. But perhaps the most interesting line in this passage comes at the end, when Deleuze alludes to the text in which these texts are inserted. This could be taken literally to refer to the commentary itself and the way the commentary comes to double the text it comments upon. But it also could be taken more broadly to refer to the field of discourses, of texts, we live in in the present as our ecospace. What does Rousseau, for instance, become when plugged into our time and space, our discourses?

Read on

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