Slow Reading (1.2): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 1-2)

Two days ago I posted some thoughts on the first two paragraphs of Deleuze’s introduction to Difference and Repetition. Though I thought I could cover the next two paragraphs in a single post, I will definitely have to limit myself just to the third one.

Re-emphasizing his earlier designation of repetition as a “point of view” and as a “conduct,” Deleuze continues: “To repeat is to behave in a certain manner [se comporter], but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent” (1). This claim is clear to me, given his conceptual distinction between repetition and generality in the previous paragraph, but two things still give me some trouble. First, I don’t yet grasp  how something could be singular or unique in the first place (presumably Deleuze will address this later).  And, second, it isn’t at all clear what sort of conduct or behavior could be associated with (or assigned to) his examples of repetition, that is, to “[r]eflections, echoes, doubles [or] souls” (1).

Perhaps the only one of these examples to which I can assign some sort of behavior is the double. Thinking back to the example of Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” from Slow Reading 1.1, Mr. Wilson’s double certainly conducts itself “in a certain manner.”

His [i.e., the second William Wilson’s] cue, which was to perfect an imitation of myself, lay both in words and in actions; and most admirably did he play his part. My dress it was an easy matter to copy; my gait and general manner were, without difficulty, appropriated; in spite of his constitutional defect, even my voice did not escape him. My louder tones were, of course, unattempted, but then the key, it was identical; and his singular whisper, it grew the very echo of my own. (Poe)

A few paragraphs later, upon sneaking into his double’s bedroom while he slept, the singular Mr. Wilson exclaims,

Were these—these the lineaments of [the other] William Wilson? I saw, indeed, that they were his, but I shook as if with a fit of the ague in fancying they were not. What was there about them to confound me in this manner? I gazed;—while my brain reeled with a multitude of incoherent thoughts. Not thus he appeared—assuredly not thus—in the vivacity of his waking hours. The same name! the same contour of person! the same day of arrival at the academy! And then his dogged and meaningless imitation of my gait, my voice, my habits, and my manner! Was it, in truth, within the bounds of human possibility, that what I now saw was the result, merely, of the habitual practice of this sarcastic imitation? (Poe)

Indeed, Mr. Wilson’s double never quite behaves as others behave because everything he does and everything he is—from his name to his tone to his gestures and whispers and gait and clothes and height and age—is directed toward the singularity of Mr. Wilson (as if Mr. Wilson were the permanent indirect object, so to speak, of his double’s every act and activity). This is repetition as fantastical behavior. It seems to me that the conduct which Deleuze is conceptualizing—and what we can learn from the example of Poe’s story—is repetition as a higher order activity, one that can mark or inflect other activities: reflecting, rehearsing, doubling, echoing, reciting, whispering, etc. Repetition is, in short, any activity accented with the indirect object of a non-exchangeable singularity. This grammatical metaphor helps to flesh out the economic model of repetition which Deleuze suggests just a sentence or two earlier: that is, an economy of theft and gift. Every activity of the double, because it secretly references Mr. Wilson, operates like a theft, sneaking Mr. Wilson’s uniqueness into every nook and cranny of its existence (threatening, in a sense, to do the impossible: to de-singularize him, to repeat him). Perhaps this threat comprises the true source of the narrator’s fear and anxiety.

Apologies for any obscurity here. I’m trying inhabit Deleuze’s logic.

Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, he writes, “And perhaps this repetition at the level of external conduct echoes, for its own part, a more secret vibration which animates it, a more profound, internal repetition within the singular” (1). The “perhaps” shifts the tone of Deleuze’s introduction from confidence and certainty (“Repetition is not generality”) to uncertainty—or, more accurately, from proposition to intimation. Deleuze, I think, is attempting to entice us here, to trigger intuitive agreement in us as well as a hope for an analysis and a provocative argument still to come. To put it simply: he is suggesting that the double’s conduct is the mere effect of a more fundamental operation of an original or, using his words, a uniqueness or singularity. The source of repetition, in other words, is not in the mirror or in the double or in the echo but in the “more secret vibration” of that which it repeats. Deleuze offers a surprisingly concrete example: “This is the apparent paradox of festivals: they repeat an ‘unrepeatable’ [irrecommençable]. They do not add a second and a third time to the first, but carry the first time to the ‘nth’ power” (1). Deleuze’s use of “irrecommençable” is significant; while its root word is a synonym for “répétition,” it has the additional sense of “beginning again.” To say that festivals repeat the “irrecommençable” is to say that they repeat that which cannot begin again. To repeat is not to give rise once again to the singular conditions of a prior beginning. It’s “to behave in a certain manner” toward those initial non-exchangeable conditions. It is, in short, a festival, not an event.

Poe is quite useful again here insofar as Mr. Wilson narrates the story. All external conduct is literally animated by him (not by his double). To draw analogy between this example and Deleuze’s own example, we might say that each act of Mr. Wilson’s double is a kind of festival or observance of a “first time.” In itself, the double has no substance; it is a form or a vessel that merely “carr[ies] the first time” (the singularity of Mr. Wilson) to a higher power. “With respect to this power,” Deleuze goes on to write, “repetition interiorizes and thereby reverses itself [se renverse en s’intériorisant].”


Perhaps this is all Deleuze is saying: The singularity’s vibration (whatever this is) is itself the simultaneous making-possible of external repetition, “revers[ing] itself” insofar as its interiorization grounds any reflection, celebration, observance, echo, or festival to come. I’m beginning to sense a bit of clumsiness in Deleuze’s use of the binary internal/external. It’s also not quite clear why the “internal” operation of the singularity should also be called a “repetition.” Wouldn’t it be better to say that repetition as a process or a commemoration requires both the singularity and the echo (neither internal nor external; not two repetitions but one composite repetition)?

The remainder of the paragraph is quite surprising. Giving a more specific example of “festival,” Deleuze references “the fall of the Bastille” (a common example when French philosophers attempt to concretize their sense of an event or historical singularity) as well as “Monet’s first water lily” (1). We have moved, then, from mundane examples of twins and reflections and echoes (and the fantastical examples of doubles and souls) to the examples of revolution and of painting. Citing Péguy, whom I have never read [Edit: I return to him much later], Deleuze completes a reversal of activity that he began with his “And perhaps [. . .]” a few sentences earlier. Repetitions are, ontologically speaking, mere (though necessary) effects of the singularity itself. Singularities repeat. That’s what they do! And, according to Deleuze, they are the only thing that can repeat: “Generality, as generality of the particular, thus stands opposed to repetition as universality of the singular” (1) The “Federation Days” which celebrate and repeat the fall of the Bastille, again, are mere effects of the initial event, “which celebrates and repeats [them] in advance” (1). Likewise, Monet’s water lily “repeats all the others” beforehand (1). This re-definition of repetition is grammatically striking, since it moves the singularity from “indirect object” (see the Poe example above) to that of “subject.” It is the singularity (the first William Wilson; the contingent fall of the Bastille; the emergence of the original water lily) which accomplishes all subsequent repetitions. Presumably Deleuze will tease out the conceptual significance and consequences of this grammatical shifting later.


The example of Monet completely de-rails Deleuze’s train of thought here (or, at least, re-directs his preparations in this introduction). He claims, “The repetition of a work of art is like a singularity without concept.” Is this an echo of Kant’s Third Critique (which argues that the beautiful is a “universal” experience of pleasure “without concept,” i.e., without utility or interest)? I’ll leave it to others to decide. Since Deleuze will reference the Third Critique later in this text, it does seem likely.

Moving on (and turning the page), Deleuze makes a surprisingly naïve statement: since we must learn poems “by heart,” it follows that “[t]he head is the organ of exchange” while “the heart is the amorous organ of repetition” (2). Deleuze is distinguishing, it would seem, between the activity of generality, which requires the mental faculties of reason and understanding, while the activity of repetition is far more visceral, affective, bodily, sensuous, and (sentimentalizing the point) loving. Though repetition can certainly be sensed by the head too, Deleuze states parenthetically, the head experiences repetition as “its terror or paradox.” Since repetition exceeds the epistemological grasp of generality, we might surmise, any intellectual observance of the repetition of “my” singularity will be (or might be) met with a kind of terror. Again, the fantastical example of “William Wilson” (though it might be problematic to generalize it) is a nice example ready at hand. To encounter one’s double means trouble for “the head,” though to recite a poem or to celebrate the singularity of an event requires a kind of feeling or loving of the singularity “by heart.”

Deleuze gives yet another example that distinguishes generality and repetition: Pius Servien’s distinction between “the language of science” and “lyrical language,” but I think it would be redundant to meditate on this. All the same, it might be important to note the opposition between science and art here and to wonder where Deleuze might be locating philosophy in relation to these two domains (aligned, respectively, with generality and repetition). Perhaps philosophy is the uncanny repetition of them both?

The final sentence of the third paragraph brings us full circle to the last sentence of the first paragraph (which adequated generality and resemblance, both being distinct from repetition): “Repetition can always be ‘represented’ as extreme resemblance or perfect equivalence [i.e. qualitatively or quantitatively], but the fact that one can pass by degrees from one thing to another [i.e., numerically or evolutionarily or cosmetically] does not prevent their being different in kind” (2). Though this statement might not yet seem too important (a rehashing of earlier points that admits some traffic between generality and repetition), Deleuze interestingly divides the term “difference” between the concepts “generality” and “repetition.” The first type concerns difference in “degree” (both qualitative and quantitative); the second type concerns something presumably more radical and fundamental: difference in “kind.” This latter difference is strictly tethered to the process of repetition and gives some indication of how Deleuze will be reconceptualizing difference itself. While we usually think of something as “different from” something else with which it shares at least some generalities, he will be attempting to give conceptual substance to a notion of difference that belongs to the singularity (and only to the singularity), “something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent” (1). Not “difference from” but “difference of.” Difference in itself.

Thus the title of this book: Difference and Repetition. Difference in kind and Repetition of the singular and non-exchangeable. Difference in itself and Repetition for itself (thus the respective titles of chapters 1 and 2).

Next time: Repetition and the Law. Yikes…

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