(Deleuze) Difference & Repetition Reading Notes and A Few Critical Remarks


Open to your correction and emendation, here’s a rough outline with some added critical notation to Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. Too important a text to gloss, I decided with this one to go chapter by chapter. My basic understanding was initially oriented from what I first culled and adapted from the entry to Deleuze at the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It says that what Deleuze sets out to explore (determine?) are the conditions, not of possible experience as per Kant, but the conditions of “actual” experience out of “virtual” ideas as “pure sensibility” (i.e. outside and against the canons of representation, resemblance, cohesion, common sense, good sense, etc.) (cf. p.285). The philosophical focus is on the idea and on the mental faculties (sensing, imagining, thinking) as each are brought to their own divergent and highest dissonant pitch. The “what” that Deleuze wants to think is nothing less than the origin of the world (cf. p.200), “the univocity of Being (the concept is introduced as early as p.35ff; its clearest statement can be found on pp.303-4), the experience of pure forces (p.10), surpassing actuality as the most profound reality of potential multiplicity. In this formulation, absolute “empiricism” is constituted as a direct apprehension of differences in the sensible, a direct opening of Being, not collected or gathered in-the-world, but in and for difference (cf. pp.57, 58).

Chapter outline

Introduction: Repetition and Difference

The introduction sets up the primary concepts driving the book, but in reverse order from the way they appear in the book’s title.

Deleuze distinguishes “repetition” in opposition to “generality.” By repetition, he means a function as simple as the act of repeating (a phrase, a thought, an act). An example used by Deleuze (it will have reminded this reader of something by Franz Rosenzweig) is the ritual system of festivals. Deleuze’s primary example will turn out to be the repeat throws in a game of dice. In the introduction, we see already the intense interest by Deleuze in serial form. The form of a general series is A=B=C. In this series, under the general form of law and representation, each term is equal to and can be substituted for each other. An example that we might consider could include the statement “the religious (A) is political (B).” The points in a general series are reduced to an identity, to the same. In contrast, the form of the series in repetition is a deceptively simple A + A + A + A. In this series, each successive point is intensified or magnified, made bolder and more intense than the one just prior. This is what Deleuze means by “raised to the nth degree.” In repetition, the figures in the series cannot be replaced by another one. Examples include reflections, echoes, doubles, decorative elements, masks, costumes, and souls (!).

The novelty and the force of will in repetition are in tension with, if not in opposition to the regularity of natural and moral law. About this, however, one must be clear about the sober character of Deleuzian anarchy. Deleuze states clearly that he does not intend to rid thought of generality, natural law, and morality. Rather, repetition allows thought to recapture under these regular and lawful consistencies what he posits as the prior form of difference. Close to the end of the introduction, Deleuze clarifies, “Beneath the general operation of laws…there always remains the play of singularities,” which entails a way of understanding the “domain of laws…on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws” (p.25). Echoing Kantian aesthetics, repetition has been defined as “different without concept.” (p.23, 27). At the heart of this conception is the singularity within that which repeats. Deleuze suggests here the image of the body of a swimmer combining with the mass of a wave and the difference carried through by the swimmer swimming from one wave and gesture to another, carrying through that difference, the one between body and wave, in and though the repetitive space thereby constituted/created (p.23)

Chapter 1: Difference in Itself

This chapter and the next are close readings drawn from the history of western philosophy. They are often presented as preparatory to the Deleuzian project as such. But consider several important moments in these chapters upon which basis Deleuze builds his own system. The chapter leaps from Aristotle to Scotus, to Spinoza, plotting out the theme of difference in terms of divisions. Unlike in Derrida, difference for Deleuze is bound up, not with indetermination, but with determination.

What Delezue rejects in Aristotle is the entire system of classification, a conception according to which Being is equivocal. What Deleuze sees in Aristotle is a theory according to which difference is reduced to the cutting out of “generic identities from the flux of a continuous perceptible series.” In Aristotle, this means that difference (and here it becomes clear that by this Deleuze means “division”) is not primary. It only mediates, submitted to the identity of concepts, the opposing of predicates, the drawing of analogies in judgment, and resemblance in perception. As read by Deleuze, difference in Aristotle has lost its concept and reality as catastrophe. For Aristotle, difference means nothing more than the breaking up of a continuity into a series of resemblances and impassible fissures between analogical structures (p.34).

Against Aristotle, what Deleuze finds in Scotus is the first expression in the history of philosophy for the “univocity of Being.” What Deleuze means by this is a single voice streaming through and out of the multiplicity of beings, traversing the many divergent and bifurcating senses of Being, conceived of as prior. As a reader of Deleuze, I have always found something misleading in the concept insofar as univocity would seem to suggest the idea of unity. For Deleuze, Being is, indeed, ontologically one. But one would have to add the key point that Being is dependent upon its determinations as radically different. To the univocity of Being belongs singular individuating factors in which distributions and divisions are divided up either according to properties, parts, and domains or in which the distribution in space is without enclosure property or measure. The univocity of being means leaping towards and over limits. With Scotus as per Deleuze, difference is first and foremost a principle of division, and individuating.

Spinoza represents the next moment in this historical survey. Against analogy in judgement in Aristotle, and compared to the neutrality and indifference of Scotus, the univocity of Being in Spinoza is affectively affirmative. Difference as division in Spinoza is the division into Substance, into attribute and mode, distinctions, which for Spinoza, are never real but only “modal,” and with Substance conceived as independent of modes (a concept rejected by Deleuze)  This allows the turn to Nietzsche. For Deleuze, Nietzsche reflects a return of the extreme and excessive as the common being of all theatrical metamorphoses, “energy” composed of “crowned anarchy.”

More interesting than this relatively quick historical sketch, a major part of chapter 1 is devoted to the difference between Hegel versus Leibniz. The discussion starts on p.42. Deleuze begins with the notion that the infinite can be sensed in the finite in one of two ways, either as very (infinitely) large or very (infinitely) small (p.44). Deleuze finds in Hegel and Leibniz, respectively, a discovery of the large and small not as “organic” repetition, but as “orgiastic” repetition, meaning “the tumult, restlessness, and passion underneath apparent calm” in finite determinations (p.42).  The critique of Hegel’s ultimate resolution of difference is by now standard philosophical fare, whereas the deep dive into Leibniz is quite unique to Deleuze (in particular the finding in the clean finite idea of Leibniz a principle of restlessness and the idea of maximum continuity) (pp.45, 48).

Pushing past both thinkers, what Deleuze is looking for is a more open notion of difference, the experience of difference beyond limit (in the case of Leibniz) and opposition (in Hegel), a “more profound real element” as potential multiplicity (p.50). It is at this point that Deleuze begins to affirm pure difference as prior to negation, as that moment in which identity is swallowed up. The point is to apprehend directly difference in the sensible as the (univocal) being of the sensible (pp.50-7).

Oddly enough, Plato and platonic division get the last word in this chapter. Plato is understood by Deleuze to have established difference as division. Instead of establishing difference within the single species or genus, Plato’s principle of division is considered to be more radical. There is in Plato either one or two sides of a basic bifurcation. The Idea and the Idea alone sits on one side of the division with copies and simulacra sitting on the other side of the division. Examples included are the Idea of Justice versus all of those who lay claim to it at any number of possible removes from the ideal. On the other side of the Idea are both the true lovers of Justice who stand alike together with its false lovers (pp.59-62). This basic distribution gets taken up in the next chapter where Delueze will mention two kinds of image: copies, which Plato accepts, and simulacra, which he rejects (p.127).  The inversion is a neat one. Whereas Plato divides Being from the copy and the simulacrum, Deleuzian thought glorifies “the reign of simulacra and reflections,” including “the infinity of copies.” According to Deleuze, “Everything, animal or being assumes the status of simulacrum.” What this means is that “the thinker of eternal return –who indeed refuses to be drawn out of the cave, finding instead another cave beyond, always another in which to hide– can rightly say that he is himself burdened with the superior form of everything that is, like the poet ‘burdened with humanity, even that of the animals” (pp.66-7). This for Deleuze is the grand finale of the Sophist, the sophist being the one who raises everything to the level of the simulacrum so that one can no longer distinguish copy from models. Deleuze calls this “the lived reality of a sub-representative domain” insofar as, one can imagine, sophistry disrupts not just the hierarchy between copy and form, but the very form of the relation between the two (pp.68-9, cf. p.127).

Chapter 2, Repetition for Itself

This chapter surveys more history of philosophy to make the point that “repetition for itself” is for the sake of repetition itself, not for the sake of any self-identical original reality or truth. A most interesting takeaway is the privileging of the pure past in a chapter devoted to the passive and active syntheses of habit and memory in relation to the contraction of elements or a succession of instants into serial form (A,A,A) (AB, AB, AB). The newness in repetition lies not in any change in the object but rather in a change in the perceiving mind (in what Husserl would call an intending consciousness). Any thing or person is at root a contraction of elements, a sum of contractions, physical and temporal. It is in this chapter that Deleuze introduces the concept of the “larval subject” –i.e. a passive subject “composed” out of “thousands of habits,” “contractions, contemplations, pretensions, presumptions, satisfactions, fatigues.” The larval subject is not one that undergoes modifications, but is “itself a modification.” The dissolved self “still sings the glory of God –that is, of that which it contemplates, contracts, possesses” (pp.78-9).

Passive syntheses of habit combine with the even more passive syntheses of memory with respect to a “pure past” defined by three paradoxes: the contemporaneity of the past, the coexistence of the past and present, and the pre-existence of the pure past that “was” never present because it always “is” (pp.83-5). Contra Kant (who killed God only to resurrect a form of identity in order to save the world of representation by way of active synthesis), the sense of time that Deleuze looks for is demented and out of joint. Caesura is the event that tears the image into unequal parts, creating new possibilities of temporal series, the shattering of the self and the gravitation around a sublime image in relation to which all is repetition. “The order of time has broken the circle of the Other at the end of the series,” “the ‘once and for all’ of the order” being “there only for the ‘every time’ of the final esoteric circle” in the three temporal moments, past-present-future (pp.87-91). “The past is the repeater, the past is repetition itself, but the future is that which is repeated” (p.94). For Deleuze, the “essential point” is “the simultaneity and contemporaneity of all the divergent series, the fact that all coexist,” and not simply successive as viewed from the point of view of the present (p.124). Like in the previous chapter, Deleuze ends this one back with Plato and the Sophist, reversing him and thus to sing the triumphant glory of the simulacrum and other demonic images, their lived life against the “good” image that would claim to resemble an original (pp.127-8).

Chapter 3, The Image of Thought

Perhaps the most cited chapter in Difference and Repetition, chapter 3 is where Deleuze lifts off from Plato and the Sophist into his own conceptualization of difference against what he calls “the image of thought.” By this, Deleuze means epistemologies of representation and recognition, the kind of image that represents something else, or by which one might recognized something (A) in relation to something else (B), for instance, when the same object is recognized as the same or similar according to the coordination of two separate faculties. The image of thought presumes the very notion that thought has an affinity with the true (see p.131). Against the idea of common sense (a sense in common by which are drawn together the separate faculties such as sensation, feeling, memory, imagination, thought, etc.) Deleuze argues that the distinct faculties are not united in or by a single subject or cogito. The target in this chapter is Kantian reason (the tribunal of critique, respectful knowledge, morality, and judgment) (pp.136-7). “I think,” “I conceive” and “perceive,” “I judge,” “I imagine.” In the philosophy of recognition (the image of thought) there is agreement across the faculties about the object in question. On these separate branches of a single cogito, difference is “crucified” (p.138).

Key to Difference and Repetition is the differential or splitting-away theory of the faculties. Breaking away from the philosophical doxa of representation and recognition, conformity and the commonplace, what Deleuze finds in repetition as pure thought would evoke thought without a clear or stable image (i.e. the image of thought), without a clear and stable relation to the true. There is no unity of the thought, no unified image of thought in the philosophy of pure difference and pure repetition. Readers of religion will look for this particular revelation motif, that moment, the “contingency of an encounter” the event in which “something in the world forces us to think,” the sense of which eludes any dogmatic image of thought (p.139) The something could be anything: Socrates, a temple, a demon. This something would be “grasped in a range of affective tones: wonder, love, hatred, suffering,” sensed but not recognized, perplexing the subject and creating problems. What bursts representation is precisely the kind of sudden and disorienting intensity of an “encounter” that should cue readers of religion to the rhetoric of revelation in modernist religious thought, a form of religious thought with its own roots in Nietzsche.

Each single faculty generates its own separate series, its own form of expression, raised to the highest pitch, to the nth degree of intensity (p.140). While “intensity” is a technical term for Deleuze (see below), I think we can use it casually to suggest the sharpness of an isolated color or sound tone in modernist art or music, or the bright clarity of a well-constructed concept in philosophy. What it means to say that common sense is unhinged is to say that each single faculty (sense, imagination, thought) is unhinged from the other, no longer converging upon one another into a common, unified project but ceaselessly breaking apart into a discord of the faculties, “each faculty…in the presence of that which is its ‘own.’” For Deleuze, the point of departure is the coexistence of contraries in “an unlimited qualitative becoming,” each bifurcating faculty “borne to the extreme point of its dissolution” at which point each faculty discovers “its own unique passion” (pp.141, 143). Every faculty is brought to a limit: the sensed is brought to imperceptible, the imagination to that which is impossible to imagine, language brought to silence, sociability pushed into anarchy. What carries each faculty to its respective limit is that “intensity,” understood as the expression of pure difference in itself (pp.143-4).

Chapter IV, Ideas and the Synthesis of Difference

Does difference hold together? While the faculties and their expression do not form together into a relation or an identity, Deleuze already maintains in the previous chapter that there is “communication” that leaps demonically across the intervals created by the distinct faculties (imagination, memory, thought, etc.) raised to that most intense pitch or what we might call excitement. But they do so without affinity or predestination towards an object or subjective unity. Violent, disharmonious, etc., the communication is for all that called by Deleuze a “discordant harmony” or “differential flashes” (pp.145-6; emphasis in the original). The following reference is to Artaud, but no doubt one could look for this with Deleuze in the music of Messiaen and Boulez. Ideas and the role of ideas in the synthesis of difference and the actualization of virtual multiplicity is a main topic of interest now in chapter 4. Reading against the Kantian grain, Deleuze looks to  how “Ideas swarm into the fracture, constantly emerging on its edges, ceaselessly coming out and going back, being composed in a thousand different manners.” Deleuze concedes that, “Perhaps this does not appear sufficiently clearly in Kant.” His primary complaint is that Kant did not provide a principle of genesis in the determination of actual objects out of a virtual manifold (pp.169-70).

The concept of the “harmonious Discord” is returned to after a long excursus on ideas excluding the “forms of identity, convergence, and collaboration.” Ideas are not the monopoly of pure thought (although Deleuze confirms the special relationship). As pure multiplicities, ideas operate across all the distinct faculties. Ideas animate all works of art and art genres, no less than philosophy. Raising each expression to that highest pitch poses the problem or question of its own singular difference, always without resolution. What is writing? What is it to sense or to think? Instead of the shift in classical philosophy from the hypothetical and possible to the apodictic and necessary, Deleuzian thought is focused on the question in the imperative voice. It is the imperative that throw of the dice, that power of decision that “makes us semi-divine beings” The imperative that most interests Deleuze is the imperative always to return, to repeat, to throw the dice from which ideas emerge (pp193-7). The form of the dice throw is not arbitrary. Since each throw of the dice is affirmed, it is in this affirmation that a synthesis emerges not just as discordant, but as “resonant.” It is now the case that “divergence itself” is “the object of affirmation within a problem” (p.198).

The imperatives and dice throwing do not belong to the subject, but to Being. As Deleuze has it, the dice throw is ontology, the “chaosmos from which the cosmos emerges” (p.199). Ideas emerge out of imperative questions and the play of chance to which we return again and again, because there is no other choice. What is repeated is the throw of the dice and the differential relations generated by each successive throw. There is nothing apodictically certain about any one single throw. Here echoing Heidegger, everything begins in the question. What is affirmed is not this or that individual throw, but Being, the whole of chance, and a confidence that what will emerge is a “resonance” (that univocity of Being) established between “problematic elements” and bifurcating faculties (p.200).

Ideas are real without being actual, which is to say that ideas are virtual (p.214). After a long discussion comparing the power of the affirmation over against negation (which for Deleuze, following Bergson, is always secondary and shadowy, not primary) (pp.200-8), Deleuze will now pick up the problem of the actualization of an idea and its virtual content (p.206). It is in this chapter that Deleuze picks up for the first time in Difference and Repetition the distinction between the virtual and the actual. (The “actual” is opposed to “real” since the virtual for Deleuze is the most real of all). The virtual (consisting of differential elements and relations, and corresponding singular points) is not “undetermined,” as one might have suspected, but fully determined, embryonic, even structured (p.209). Nor is the virtual to be confused with the possible (210). Citing Bergson, Deleuze conceives of the virtual as a gigantic coexistence of multiplicities (like some gigantic Ein Sof) from which emerge actual divergent lines “grounded” by difference and repetition, condensing in such a way as to determine a threshold of consciousness in relation to bodies by which “little perceptions are actualized” (212-13).

I have suggest above a resonance with the idea of revelation in modern religious thought, but Difference and Repetition operates more like a theory of creation. In the Deleuzian “dramatization” of genesis, everything, including the hardest rock, is foundationally fluid, volcanic, mobile, stressed, strained, and embryonic. Things are fixed by ideas borne in the flesh “in a movement that is under way,” but not as “ready-made or already complete” (p.218-9). Relating to our own human experience in the world, actualization takes place across three series: space, time, and emergent consciousness. In this, repetition is the virtual power that condenses singularities, accelerates or decelerates time, alters space (p.220), and transforms consciousness. The final question posed at the end of this chapter: whence this power of actualization qua dramatization (p.221)?


Chapter V, Asymmetrical Syntheses of the Sensible

In this doctrine of creation (if we can call it that), “intensity” constitutes the ground and power of actualization. By intensity, what Deleuze means technically is the sufficient reason of the sensible (i.e. of all phenomena) (i.e. the condition of that which appears), the form of difference and individuation, individuating difference produced by way of repetition, grasped most clearly as differences of level, temperature, pressure, tension, potential. This is all introduced in the opening paragraph of the chapter (p.222). The opposite of intensity is “extensity,” relating to extended things, surface areas and tensions, linear energy, primary physical qualities and secondary perceptible qualities (quale), defined in terms of opposition and limit (as per Hegel and Leibniz above). Intensity and extensity are distinct but inseparable from each other. Intensity also tends to deny or cancel itself out in extension and underneath quality, yielding to a “reduction of difference, uniformisation of diversity, and an equalization of inequality,” whereas, in contrast, intensity “seems to rush headlong into suicide” (pp.223, 224, 235).

What follows in this chapter is a repetition of Deleuze’s critique of common sense and good sense, its partitioning function, the way it excludes difference, its bourgeois character (224-6). This train of thought continues onto the paradox of thought, which is thought thinking the absolutely different than thought which we are forced to sense and to think, that which cannot be totalized, etc. (This swerve from common and good sense to the paradox thought starts with the paragraph that beings with a firm “Nevertheless” (p.226-7). While there is a subjective dimension to this notion (having to do with the breakup of the faculties), the emphasis is on objectivist considerations regarding the ultimate relativity of all extensive determinations (high/low, right/left, etc.) which only testify to “the absolute from which they come,” understood in terms of “depth,” “heterogeneous dimension,” and “matrix of all extensity” (pp.227-9). With a reference to Schelling, it is intensive depth that “unites” a “bubbling sensibility” and a rumbling form of “thought.”  Bubbling sensation would be intense sensation raised to its highest pitch, and essentially paradoxical, caught between the imperceptible and “that which can only be sensed” (p230). (I would note here that this reference to “depth” finds no counterpart in The Logic of Sense, in which Deleuze rejected “heights” and “depths” in favor of “surfaces.”)

In this respect, Difference and Repetition is a theory of prophetic vision. (Deleuze will turn to the figure of the seer in Cinema 2). Intensity aligns as an imperceptible but still sensed “potential energy to which every field of forces refers back, which traces “hardly recognizable intensive paths through the ulterior world of qualified extensity.” Again paradoxical, the “‘something’ which simultaneously cannot be sensed (from the point of view of the empirical exercise) and can only be sensed (from the point of view of the transcendent exercise,” which with Plato in the Philebus Deleuze means a “contrary-sensible” that “gives rise to contrary sensations at the same time” (p.236). This “energy” (i.e. energy in general or intensive quantity” is what Deleuze calls the pure space or theater of all metamorphosis or difference (p.240).

It is at this point in the chapter that Deleuze returns to the idea. Ideas are central to a discussion based on the attempt to clarify what conditions the actual experience of concrete beings in the world. Intensity grounds and determines the Idea as actual. An idea is introduced as “problematic” or a “‘perplexed’ virtual multiplicity.” An intensity is composed of “relations between asymmetrical elements which direct the course of the actualization of Ideas and determine the solution to problems” (p.244). Ideas, like “blue,” are dramatized/actualized through intensive quantities and differential relations in such a way as to incarnate itself in a “distinct quality” and “distributed extnsisty.” This means that the “essential process of intensive quantities is individuation out of a pre-individual state, which is not defined as indeterminate but rather composed of a free floating “reservoir of singularities” (Deleuze refers precisely here to Simondon) (p.246).  Always in response to questions, the individual “integrates” disparate elements into “a state of coupling” which ensures its internal resonance.” (p.245)

What follows from here is a long and I think concluding excursus on “individuating differences” and “differences in intensity” in which the thinker is the privileged expression (247). Included in this vista are biological data, plants, animals, embryos and embryology as perhaps the first germ of fully individuated life or “first movements of actualization.” The entire project, based on transcendental analysis, begins to take shape as life, and then finally around the form of the thinker as if at some creative summit. The thinker is the one who “makes his [sic] individual differences from all matter of things,” “laden with stones, diamonds, plants, and animals, made up of interpenetrating “individuating and individual differences,” individuality formed not as a clearly organized subject but as the “system of the dissolved Self.” (pp.247-54). For Deleuze, the self is not indivisible. Conceived of as a larval subject, it never stops dividing, changing its nature, floating, enveloping and enveloped, communicating the full power of the indeterminate as a positive function of individual determination (pp.257, 258).

If there is a theory of redemption in Difference and Repetition we would arrive at it here, with death, which is the last word of the last substantive chapter. No heteronomous figure, death is inscribed in the I and the self, desired from within as the cancelling out of large extensive difference, as the “liberation and swarming of little differences in intensity,” also as a “protest  by the individual who has never recognized itself within the limits of the Self and the I, even when these are universal” (p.259). (Deleuze will later refer to death in terms of “the ultimate repetitions…in which our freedom is played out”) (p.293). Ultimately what “[testifies] to the presence of individuating factors” is this “other,” which itself belongs to the “I-Self system.” Embedded in the individual, the other is an expression of a possible world, or the “swarm of possibilities around reality,” and a “manifestation of the noumenon understood by Deleuze to mean “the appearance of expressive values” and a “tendency towards the interiorisation of difference” (p.261). These are the very last words of the very last chapter.


In concluding, Deleueze turns again against the philosophy of representation, which is said to tame difference by all kinds of theological, aesthetic, and scientific techniques in order to exorcise simulacra as the state of free, oceanic differences,” “nomadic distributions, and ‘crowned anarchy.” He seems to do so with “all that malice which challenges both the notion of the model and that of the copy.” (pp.264-5). From the critique of representation, Deleuze outlines simulacral systems composed of intensive, multiple and diverging series as sites for the actualization of ideas in order to establish resonances across those diverging series, with a singularity as a point of departure. This is what it would be to think without an image, assuming as does Deleuze, that image refers to something fixed and coherent (p.276-8). (We are many years away from the very different conceptualization of images in Cinema 1 and Cinema 2). At some point, reason just “plunges into the beyond.” Finally, where do ideas come from in the first place? From the throw of the dice, which Deleuze takes to be a non-human game, the only word for which he has is “divine.” We’re left with Heraclitus and Mallarmé, and Nietzsche, between earth and sky, in a game of different winning and losing throws ruled by pure chance and “phantasmagoria of the imagination” (pp.282-5).

Critical Notes

Difference & Repetition was originally published in 1968 very much under the influence of the tumult and chaos embraced in the text. Much of that initial excitement has since gone stale. In later works, Deleuzian style and substance will be marked by something that comes close to, without ever passing into sobriety. With that in mind, three critical notes.

Mentioned above and throughout these reading notes are claims made by Deleuze about “real” experience, real exposure to chaosmos and cosmos, to “pure sensibility,” to direct experience of pure forces (p.10) and to the most profound reality of potential, multiplicity, opposition, and individuation. What Deleuze (in all innocence?) means by real experience is made possible by ruptures in the language of representation, as if one could, by way of concepts and art, make an end-run around the Kantian critical apparatus (concept, schema, idea, judgment). In Deleuze, the rejection of closed structure was standard to this particular period of French theory, and one can appreciate it as such in relation to the history of style and art. This is not an extraneous judgment insofar as Deleuze’s text is completely invested in the history of modern art). As such, what gets sensed in Difference and Repetition ultimately belongs very much to an order of alternative images, unfixed and unstill, moving (hence the eventual exploration of prewar and postwar cinema in Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 or of the art of Francis Bacon). Reading Deleuze along the lines of Dada, surrealism, and abstract art (the connections to which Deleuze is quite clear), we know that we’ve seen this before, understanding clearly how, in Deleuze’s own terms, both art and philosophy now “resonate,” having each been raised to a high possible pitch.

How unhinged and dissolute is what Deleuze calls the I-self system? In the Deleuzian picture, the self, particularly in its highest and most intense instantiation as “the thinker” or “the contemplative soul” is primarily passive and open, before going to work on contracting syntheses of disparate elements into and out of each other (pp.254, 286). But here’s the problem. The Deleuzian subject affirms chance, the throw of the dice, with no sense at all that one could or would want to cheat repetition, to rig the game in one’s favor, even if this were to go against the divine dice-thrower. With epistemology giving way to ontology, the Deleuzian subject is dangerously exposed to death as that site where our freedom plays out (p.293). Indeed, we have noted above, and do so again with a sadness relating to the author’s own biography, the concession by Deleuze that intensity is suspect only because “it seems to rush headlong into suicide” (p.224); and later he will refer again to suicide as the individual’s protest against the system of recognition and limit (p.259).

Headstrong and reckless, has Deleuze made a strong case for paradox and the paradox of splittings against common sense and good sense? The bravura performance will persuade some more than others. Or more to the point, it might satisfy some faculties of mind more so than others.

A better way out of the problem of death is around a point where, with Kierkegaard, Deleuze bobbles a concept with obvious connection to Jewish religious thought. The critique of moral law introduced in the book’s introduction is truly unexceptional until precisely that point at which Delueze suggests an alternative point of view. This is the view that because Abraham submitted “humorously” to the law commanding him to slaughter Isaac that the finds there the “singularity” of his only [sic] son. Here one could interrupt the line of thought to observe that Deleuze has conflated “law” with “commandment,” which are really two separate things (as per Rosenzweig). “Law” consists of regular structure and determinate content, whereas “commandment” is fundamentally disorienting and reorienting. The point is that, by setting out to kill Isaac, Abraham did not submit to the “law.” Indeed, there is no law to slaughter children; the opposite is precisely the case, but that does not mean that God cannot command it. I am not entirely sure if this is funny, except to note how in the history of Jewish liturgy, the children of Abraham will actually hold God to account on exactly this score: God should have to forgive them, not for their own insignificant merit, but because their father Abraham was prepared to slaughter his son Isaac.

So here’s what’s funny. Thought as a dynamic of constant splitting, even the humor with which Deleuze reads the Binding of Isaac, should not be too foreign a model for readers of Jewish Textual Studies. Abraham affirms God’s willful and capricious commandment, that divine throw of the dice on display in the book of Genesis. What Deleuze gets right about the law appears a few pages earlier in the introduction. There are two ways to overturn the moral law. It might be that the less interesting way is the first one mentioned by Deleuze, which is to “ascend” to the first principles in order to reject the law as secondary; this, according to Deleuze, involves irony. The second way is to “descend” towards the consequences, to submit to the law with an “all too-perfect attention to detail.” Adopting the law in such a way allows a “falsely submissive soul” to “evade it and to taste pleasures it was supposed to forbid.” This second approach involves not irony, but humor (p.7). The Deleuzean language of descent should remind one of Plato’s cave. As humor, this descent into consequences ad absurdum is Talmudic to the core.


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. http://religion.syr.edu
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