Deleuze Leibniz Cosmogenesis


You would have thought it was Spinoza, but Leibniz turn out to be the beating metaphysical heart of the Deleuzian universe and its modelling of cosmogenesis, the creation of worlds (compossible and incompossible) around inflection points, the emission of singularities and series. While Deleuze is well-known among his readers for proposing the “univocity of being” and a radical conception of pure immanence, it is not always realized how that squares with the irreducibly pluralist character of Deleuzian thought. The univocity of being is only possible as a resonance communicated across singular points and bifurcating series brought to the highest possible pitch (that model is expressed in Difference & Repetition). Immanence is not the same as materialism, or even monism. Not a pure materialist, Deleuze plays with ideas, including, here in The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, the idea that there is one univocal matter riddled by multiple “souls” whose perceptions fold, unfold, and  refold that matter into pluriform configurations.

Deleuze is thinking with Leibniz about cosmogenesis, i.e. the genesis of a world composed of individuated percepts, sensations, and thoughts. Opposed as it is to Descartes, the world-fold, viewed as it is from inside a cave, remains, for all that, fundamentally dualist. Cosmogenesis starts in the dark, on a plane of consistency, as if in a baroque room made of black marble, and then fans out into light filled images. The dark room of matter is like a cell, a church, or a room. Light enters into the inside of the monad from the outside but with no view of the outside at all (pp.27ff). There is matter: spongy, perforated with holes through which light pores through and vibrates in its crannies.

The fold represents a unique contribution to arguments about mind/matter, soul/body dualism in both religion and philosophy. Against a simple monism, what distinguishes Leibnizian-Deleuzian substance-pluralism from Cartesian substance dualism is that Descartes presented two basic substances (mind/body) as both distinct and separable. With Leibniz, Deleuze makes the opposite point. Deleuze rethinks instead of rejecting the split between the one and the other. Body and soul, this and that, all those “things” are distinct and non-separable insofar as they belong to a single fold. The fold constitutes a labile formation, moving between distinct bodies and distinct souls, between outside and inside, between the façade and the closed room, between the free and billowing costume and the physical body. The fold is the tissue or texture, that inflection point connecting two distinct forms at their non-separation (pp.6, 35).

With his eye always on visual phenomena, the fold is recognized by Deleuze to be the Baroque figure par excellence. In the history of art and material culture, the reference is to wild folding and unfolding in the pleats of seventeenth century costume, undulating architectural columns and staircases, the thrust and pitch in the design and painting of that century. With not a scintilla of melancholy, for Deleuze the Baroque is all that energy plus a principle of cosmogenesis, particularly in relation to its opposite motion, the unfold. To unfold is to increase and to grow, whereas to fold is to diminish and withdraw into the recess of a world (pp.8-9). Like “flesh” in Merleau-Ponty perhaps, the Fold is between, moving about everywhere, between inorganic bodies and organisms, between organisms and animal souls, between animal souls and reasonable souls, between bodies and souls in general, always a part of the same fabric (p.13). Souls are “primitive forces,” “immaterial principles of life that are defined only in respect to the inside, to the self, “through analogy with the mind.” They exist everywhere, even in inorganic matter (p.12). Distinct as they are, but non-separable, body and soul “express” the one same thing, namely the world.

On this, Deleuze swerves with and then away from Leibniz. More important to Deleuze than to Leibniz is the idea of incompossibility. For Leibniz compossibility is represented in the harmony pre-established by a theistic God between multiple substances, an infinity of monads forming down to the smallest possible points. Incompossibility, also a theme (a minor one?) taken from Leibniz, is for Deleuze a way to develop his own understanding of the series, in particular, the idea of a bifurcating series. The possible worlds from among which Deleuze will have God choose the best possible world are incompossible with each other. For instance, the idea of Adam the sinner would be incompossible with the idea of another possible world, a world in which Adam did not sin. Rather than converge into a whole, all series eventually diverge one from the other. That is the basic difference between Leibnizian and Deleuzian thinking. The latter establishes a basic equality between incompossible worlds without a principle of selection with which to choose one over the other.

Each singular point in a series sets off a series composed of singular inflection points. Here’s what Deleuze means. We start with a series of inflection points or events. A series might consist of three such singularities: [1] Adam the first man, [2] living in the Garden, [3] a wife born from his rib [sic]. And then a fourth inflection point: [4] Adam is tempted by sin. But consider the inflection point where the series could diverge from the one we know. This would be the start of a new series. A fifth possible inflection point would be divergent, starting a different world in which [5] Adam resists temptation and does not sin, creating from that point on a completely different series. The world in which Adam did not sin would be a different garden, a different world diverging from and incompossible with our own. Deleuze calls this a “calculus or even a divine play at the origin of the world” (no doubt a reference to the image of the throw of the dice game in Difference & Repetition (Fold, pp.60-1; cf. Difference and Repetition???)

The structure of The Fold is worth a quick scan to get a sense of its undergirding metaphysical order and virtual coherence. Each single part is composed of separate chapters which I am combining together to make for a more quick exposition:

Part I starts with the fold between “matter” and “soul,” an introduction to these two different points at the level of the virtual. We are not yet in the actual world (not to be confused with “the real world”). Drawing on Paul Klee’s theory of composition, the analysis is modeled on the line composed of points. The singular inflection is “the pure Event of the line or of the point, the Virtual, ideality par excellence,” “not yet in the world,” “the World itself, or rather its beginning, as Klee used to say, ‘a site of cosmogenesis,’ ‘a nondimensional point,’ ‘between dimensions’” (p.14). The virtual inflection point moves through virtual transformations, lines folding into spirals, falling skyward and falling in on itself (p.15).

Part II moves from “inflection” to “inclusions.” An inclusion is an enclosure that enfolds different points of view. These are chapters on substance, unity and variation, worlds and the emission of singularities, incompossibilities, rules of convergence and, above all, divergence.  The move from inflection to inclusion is from world to subject but all folded up in to each other. The “world must be placed in the subject in order that the subject can be for the world,” this being the “torsion that constitutes the fold of the world and of the soul. What Deleuze means by this is expression, the incarnation of the virtual, the actualization of soul and the realization in matter (pp.25-6).

Part III speaks, finally, to incarnation, perception, to having a body. At the starting point are obscure and  infinite micro-perceptions from which emerge the clear macro-perceptions of the sentient individual, clear perceptions (e.g. color) out of differential relations. For Deleuze in all this there is something giddy and luminous in the unfolding “the folds of consciousness that pass through every one of my thresholds, the ‘twenty-two folds’ that surround me and separate me from the deep, in order to unveil in a single moment this unfathomable depth of tiny and moving folds that waft me along at excessive speeds in the operation of vertigo…I am forever unfolding between two folds, and if to perceive means to unfold, then I am forever perceiving within the folds (p.93). Perceptions have no starting point in existing objects insofar as there is no world outside its expression. Figures raise up out of the dust without objects. I perceive white that resembles froth. In this inverted Platonism, it is the resemblance that determines the object it resembles (pp.93, 94, 95, 98).

Readers of religion will want to look out for words like “giddiness” and “unveiling.” Because who is the “I” revealed as forever unfolding between folds? In his reading of Leibniz Deleuze is speaking in tongues (just like he does with Spinoza, Hume, Nietzsche, Bergson, and the painter Francis Bacon). One could just as well do the same reading Deleuze. The “I” in this passage could be transposed into any “I,” the I described by Deleuze as “revealed” in a single moment as an infinity of tiny, moving folds, the I unfolding between two folds. It could be a divine “I,” a human “I,” a woman I, a black “I” or a Jewish “I,” an animal “I,” a textual “I,” a Talmudic “I,” a Zoharic “I,” or any one of these singularities through another. Across a single plane of consistency, these philosophical personae and textual figures unfold as divergent series or bifurcating lines along singular nodal points as in Talmud, or on the model of an upper world in relation to a lower world, the folding into and unfolding out of the other, reverberating. Systems of religion would spread out ontologically as constellations of possible worlds, alternative worlds, incompossible worlds, doing and undoing, generating strange and different perceptions out of an obscure gloam riddled with spirits.

Lest any reader be confused, Deleuze will clearly signpost (the term is Gail Hamner’s) those points at which his thought diverges away from Leibniz and from the historical Baroque. In this grand narrative the “classical” world  is toppled under the pressure of divergences, incomposisbility, discord, and dissonance in a world in which “[b]eings are pushed apart”(p.81).  As conceived by Deleuze, the historical Baroque tried to reconstitute classical reason by dividing divergences up into multiple worlds, making from incompossibilities as many possible borders between worlds, resolved by “accords.” We are no longer Baroque. In contrast to the historical Baroque, the neo-Baroque would map worlds in which divergent series “unfurl” in one and the very same world, “incompossibilities on the same stage” where Adam will both sin and not sin. The emancipation of dissonance and unresolved accords is looked for, not combined into simple tonalities of the circle, but in the spiral, quoting Boulez, a “polyphony of polyphonies” (pp.81-2). “To the degree that the world is now made up of divergent series (the chaosmos), or that crapshooting replaces the game of Plenitude, the monad is now unable to contain the entire world as if in a closed circle that can be modified by projection.” More radical than that is opening “on a trajectory or spiral in expansion that moves further and further away from a center.” The last word of the book is that “We are still Leibnizian.” Even without “accords,” “what always matters is folding, unfolding, refolding” (p.137).

In this, we are, indeed, all still Leibnizians, even the Jews. But it’s at this point that one might refuse to step one step further, because some folds hurt too much.

About religion, we could look with Deleuze to that crisis in theological reasoning pushed to the brink by the memory and witness of catastrophic suffering leading to the collapse of the Leibnizian universe. Deleuzian thought remains staunchly opposed to any theodicy based on the play of possibility and plenitude, on the resolution of difference into a “universal harmony” (p.67). Instead of this, in a new fold of the neo-Baroque, Deleuze picks up on a more modern theme. The dissonance of the damned would be that “breath of vengeance, or resentment, a hate of God that goes to infinity,” but which for all that,  is “still a form of music, a chord –through diabolical– since the damned draw pleasure from their very pain, and especially make possible the infinite progression of perfect accords in the other souls” (pp.131-2).

This may be all too precious, too much like surrealist art, Artaud, and the Theater of the Cruel. As an expression of a theological concern, the status of this dissonance would depend upon whom one means by the damned whose pain is being staged here. Is one to mean the damned damned by God for whatever heresy, or the damned damned by “man.” Do the latter draw pleasure from pain? Do even the former? Does this have anything to do with why the truly violent and wicked prosper and why the innocent and righteous suffer? That can’t be what Deleuze meant, but the problem goes unaddressed. But to stay with the image as Deleuze has set it up, what would such a new harmony sound like that brings together and then splits apart the chorus of the damned and the hymns of the pious or that fold the one into the other and the other into the one? What makes Deleuze such an interesting voice for religious thought is this final consideration. For Deleuze, “the essence of the Baroque entails neither falling into nor emerging from illusion but rather realizing something in illusion itself, or of tying it to a spiritual presence that endows its spaces with (or without –zjb) a collective unity” (p.125, emphases in the original).


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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