Difference and Repetition


Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition is confusing as hell but also one of the most fascinating philosophy books I’ve read.

The concept Deleuze uses to start his philosophy from is difference-in-itself. Part of the reason this idea is confusing is because it precedes our ability to speak of it in language (this is also what makes Deleuze’s philosophy so fascinating). Every concept we can speak of in language is already a multiple. That is to say that when we say the word “tree” we don’t mean one specific tree. We mean the concept of the tree– Plato’s form of the tree. Because we think in language all of our thoughts necessarily refer to this concept of the tree rather than to any specific tree itself.

“The map is not the territory;” it is possible to separate the word from the thing it denotes. There exists Tree1, Tree2, Tree3, etc. This is true for any noun and is also true throughout time. There exists Tree1(3:00PM), there exists Tree1(3:01PM), there exists Tree1(3:02PM), etc. None of these are the same tree.

That is what difference-in-itself means. Deleuze brings this concept down to the atomic level: outside of language everything can be continually split into difference. (Some might object here science could eventually disprove this. Einstein believed he disproved Kant).

With difference-in-itself the idea of repetition is thrown out the window. Every repetition is different. The world is different every moment we exist. How can we create any sort of ontology (study of reality) with this mess?

That is Deleuze’s mission. He posits three syntheses, all occurring at once in the present. The first of these syntheses is the passive synthesis. We receive sensory input of the world around us. I am typing on a keyboard. I see the screen of my laptop. These are sense-experiences that cannot themselves be communicated through language.

The second synthesis is the active synthesis. We think in terms of language. The active synthesis thinks about the problems the passive synthesis runs into. Deleuze says something along the lines of the whole world being awash in contemplation. We think about the problems we have in life and how to solve them. One problem may be trying to understand this blog post and another problem is me trying to communicate exactly what I’m trying to say. The active synthesis is contemplating a method to do so. We try to manipulate the symbols until they fit, and then we continue contemplating about whatever it’s time to contemplate on next.

The third synthesis is that of empty time and is associated with Freud’s death drive. While the active synthesis tries to order the passive synthesis and put it into understanding, and does so to the degree that it does or appears to do, empty time fails to comprehend the active synthesis. This is the level of a psychotic episode or a bad trip. Epistemology fails. We don’t know what’s happening. We don’t have a master symbol set to order reality in. Phenomenology had to be created to deal with this problem.

[Ultra-fast explanation of Kant’s Antimonies in the Critique of Pure Reason: Phenomena are things we experience and noumena are the things-in-themselves (the object outside of human experience; the object as it truly is itself. If this idea makes little sense it’s because it is literally nonsensical). Reason can only talk about that which it has experience of. Anything else is going outside its bounds. Humans have no experience of God therefore reason cannot speak of God. Boom! Death of God! That’s the third synthesis.]

Where the third synthesis succeeds is in presenting reality as it appears. There’s a quote by Nietzsche I can’t find right now; it’s something along the lines of, the skeptic is right in saying that they can’t know anything. The problem is, it’s already happening!

The active synthesis succeeds on a real level and the thoughts we think are the thoughts we think.

Those are the first two chapters, basic ontology. The third chapter, the Image of Thought, is where things get interesting.

All thought is currently representational because it can’t account for difference-in-itself. Deleuze identifies eight images of thought that are fallacious:

1. The Postulate of the Good Will of Thought

This is the idea that thought itself is necessarily good. (If you need to think at all, your spirit’s already been broken). This is also relevant morally to some extent; think Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man. You can’t assume everyone has good will, even in a utopian society.

2. The Postulate of the Ideal, or of Common Sense

The idea that there is some common ground binding all of thought. Anything along the lines of “Everybody must agree that…” is fallacious. One point Deleuze makes is that all conflicts are based on common sense and established values (power, money, etc.).

3. The Postulate of Recognition

The idea that something is recognized as supposedly the same. This is where difference-in-itself becomes important. Everything is different at every moment. In actuality there is no sameness.

4. The Postulate of the Element, or of Representation

A representation is built disregarding difference-in-itself based on the Same and the Similar, the Opposed and the Analogous. There is no sameness and any sentence using the word “is” is merely an analogy.

5. The Postulate of the Error, or of the Negative

The idea that anyone could be wrong about anything in thought based on the previously-built representation (which is necessarily false itself within its own system).

6. The Postulate of the Logical Function, or the Proposition

“Designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralized double or the infinite doubling of the proposition.” Taken from the book itself– basically the opposite of the last postulate, the idea that something could possibly be right.

7. The Postulate of Modality, or of Solutions

“Problems being materially traced from propositions or, indeed, formally defined by the possibility of their being solved.” The idea that problems can be solved despite being fallacious in themselves– in the breakdown of thought there is no problem capable of being postulated let alone solved (there is also no problem).

8. The Postulate of Knowledge

“The subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method.” Anything still living (learning and culture) is subordinated to that which is dead (knowledge and method) and the image of thought is complete.

The last two chapters are more esoteric and I won’t go into them because I don’t understand them enough to write confidently on them. They have to do with intensities of thought which I believe have to do with materialist philosophy and the mind-body connection (a tautology in this case). Also this book is exhausting to write about but I can’t stop thinking about it. This is like the fifth summary I’ve written of it.