Slow Reading (1.11): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 11-12) [notes on Péguy and Marx]

Deleuze opens the third section of his introduction by briefly outlining his earlier points and previewing a new one: “Repetition and generality are opposed from the point of view of conduct and from the point of view of law. It remains to specify a third opposition from the point of view of concepts or representation” (DR 11). Goodness, things just don’t get any easier . . .

Before detailing this paragraph, which sets up some terminological grounding for the next several pages, I want to back up and flesh out two passing references in some earlier pages of the introduction. The first reference — to Charles Péguy — recurs on pp. 1, 5, and 7 (and in an endnote on pg. 306). The second — to Karl Marx — appears on pg. 10.

Charles Péguy
Charles Péguy

It is not very easy to find  information about Péguy, and nearly impossible, it seems, to get access to his work in translation  (let alone in French!). Even when I use research databases through my university’s library, it appears that interest in his work — again, even in French research journals — has waned quite a bit. One of the few useful sources I could find comes from Roger Kimball (yes, the Kimball who wrote the rather tiring Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education). While my feelings about Kimball are a bit biased by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s response to him in her essay “Queer and Now,” his 2001 article on Péguy — found here — nevertheless includes some rather fascinating quotations. Kimball, though occasionally saying things that don’t really say anything (e.g., “Anyone who has followed the divagations of contemporary literary criticism or museological practice will know what Péguy means”), does give a sense of how important and influential Péguy was during his life and in the decades following his death. But what does any of this have to do with repetition?

A recent article, published in History of the Human Sciences, explores how Péguy’s Clio: Dialogue de l’histoire et de l’âme païenne (Clio: Dialogue between History and the Pagan Soul) also fascinated Bruno Latour, given the many references to it in works like The Pasteurization of France (1988) and We Have Never Been Modern (1993). Henning Schmidgen, the author of the serendipitous article, helps illuminate some of Deleuze’s own references to Clio in the opening pages of Difference and Repetition. Check out the following excerpts of his excellent article:

History of the Human Sciences (25.1, Feb 2013)

Charles Péguy was a philosopher, writer and editor. He wrote essays, polemics, dialogues, stage plays and religious epic poems. Péguy was also the founder, editor and publisher of the journal Cahiers de la Quinzaine, in which from 1900 to 1914 contributions by authors such as Henri Bergson, Anatole France, Jean Jaure`s and Romain Rolland appeared as well as Péguy’s own texts, among them some polemical statements directed against the ‘Sorbonne sociology’ [cf. DR 7] as represented by Émile Durkheim. (8)

As a first step Clio can be understood as the result of transposing Bergson’s philosophy of time onto the problem of history under the auspices of a gradual turn to Roman Catholicism. Similarly to how Bergson contrasts time and duration, intellect and intuition, Péguy differentiates between history and tradition, science and experience. To illustrate this difference, in Clio, for example, historical accounts are compared with a long railway line that runs along the coastline at a certain distance from it which allows one to stop at any station one wishes; tradition, the collective memory, in this metaphor is the coast itself, with its marshes, people, fishes, estuaries of rivers and streams, the life on land and the life on the sea. (9)

Péguy’s Clio (pub. Gallimard)

Clio develops this ambivalent metaphor in the context of a critique of modernity and the importance it accords to scholarly engagement with history [. . .] In contradistinction to the methods of professional historians, which are imbued with a belief in progress and therefore only ostensibly neutral, Clio relies on the ethos of memory, preservation, and bringing to mind. With concepts such as rendreentendreinterpréter, and représenter Péguy designates a method of remembering and recounting. (9-10)

Gilles Deleuze has pointed out that Péguy’s philosophy of history is associated with a specific conception of repetition and event [. . .] As [he] further explains, Péguy does not understand tradition from a particular end-point of a series of events (as the ‘railroad’ historians), he proceeds from the unique event that is the reason for the process of passing something on in the first place [e.g., Monet’s first water lily; the storming of the Bastille; both of these examples are Péguy’s, something I missed in SR 1.2; cf. DR 1]. (10-11)

Latour approaches [Clio] via the reader [. . .] On readers, Péguy’s [repetitious style of writing] — ‘these unceasing digression, these monstrous paragraphs, these violent accelerations’ ([Latour PF] 1977: 79) — would exert a specific, precisely calculated effect: namely, suspension of all the usual criteria for readability. In this sense, Péguy is indeed unreadable, for the underlying goal of this writer is to dissuade readers from pursuing their usual habits of reading, comprehending, thinking, and even living [. . .] True reading persuades a text to start over again, and makes it into an event [i.e., like Monet’s first lily; like the storming of the Bastille; like Christ’s incarnation], which comes to the reader in the present moment from far away. (12)

I think these excerpts give us crucial insight into how and why Deleuze links Péguy, even if parenthetically, to Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in the previous section of his introduction (pp. 5-10; see SR 1.8, 1.9, and 1.10). For Péguy, according to Schmidgen’s summary and analysis, certain events can become the passage of their own repetition; they become reasons — through creative, critical, or politico-revolutionary passion — for the emergence and establishment of what Péguy calls a “tradition.” Though one might take issue with his theology and while it might seem strange for Deleuze (and other thinkers from Henri Bergson to Walter Benjamin to Bruno Latour) to admire his work so much, Péguy’s notion of “tradition” reverses the colloquial sense typically attributed to it. It is not simply a rigid, retrojected, or outmoded system of norms or rituals from which I might heroically break in order to achieve some modicum of intellectual or ethical freedom. Rather, taking on the features of Bergsonian duration (part of Schmidgen’s argument) and resembling Kierkegaard’s definition of repetition as a “recollection forward,” a tradition constitutes a singularity that can recur in the future passion of others and that, moreover and more importantly, will differ in that recurrence. Tradition, for Péguy, is not an occasion for encoding, dogmatizing, or conserving some originary intention. Rather, and not too unlike contemporary literary pedagogy and  research, it is a persistent re-occasioning of the opportunity to think, read, love, and live otherwise. If my attempt to read Péguy through Deleuze, Kimball, and Schmidgen is near the mark (whatever that might mean), then it makes a great deal of sense to pair him, as Deleuze, with his unintended doubles and echoes in Nietzsche and Kierkegaard: “There is a force common to Kierkegaard and Nietzshce. (Péguy would have to be added in order to form the triptych of priest, Antichrist and Catholic [. . .] To each corresponds a Testament as well as a Theatre, a conception of the theatre, and a hero of repetition as a principle character of this theatre: Job–Abraham [K], Dionysus–Zarathustra [N], Joan of Arc–Clio [P])” (DR 5). (I wish I knew more about Latour to be able to do justice to the majority of Schmidgen’s article, but, alas, I don’t.) 

I’ll get around to a few comments about Marx at the end of this post. For now, I should return to the new issue at hand: the opposition of repetition and representation: “Repetition and generality are opposed from the point of view of conduct and from the point of view of law. It remains to specify a third opposition from the point of view of concepts or representation” (DR 11).


Why oppose repetition to concepts and representation? In a sense, Deleuze has already worked through this issue when discussing exchange and substitution, the two conducts of generality (see SR 1.1). For something to be properly exchanged or substituted, one must first bring it under some sort of order (qualitative or quantitative) according to which it will be represented or conceived, yes? In this new section, Deleuze is not worried about these conducts or their corresponding orders of generality. Rather, he proposes a philosophical kinship between “singularity” and a concept of “infinite comprehension.” (Note: Deleuze is setting up this kinship in order to dismantle it, as he does in prior sections; also, what he refers to here as “concept” differs a great deal from what he and Guattari will conceptualize as “concept” in their last collaboration, What Is Philosophy?) Deleuze refers to this latter term (i.e., a concept of infinite comprehension) when he writes, “Let us pose a question quid juris: a concept may be in principle the concept of a particular existing thing, thus having an infinite comprehension. Infinite comprehension is the correlate of an extension = 1″ (DR 11). What does this mean? Drawing his terminology from disciplinary Logic, Deleuze simply means that if we limit a concept’s application to one particular thing (rather than to a general category of equivalence or resemblance), if, in other words, a concept refers to one object (and one object alone, “extension = 1”), then the concept must contain a vast set of infinite attributes. A concept of the smallest extension, in short, correlates to a micro-universe of innumerable predicates and attributes (thus, “infinite comprehension”).

Huh? How?

Simple put: the more objects I want to include under a concept, the fewer attributes I can presume to be included (and fewer predicates to be affirmed). The concept “plant,” for instance, has a very large extension. For something to be a plant, it does not matter whether or not it is poisonous, whether or not I can digest it, whether or not it can grow or thrive in a desert climate, whether or not it grows beautiful flowers or fruits, etc., etc. All of these attributes are not necessary to the concept “plant.” Thus, this concept has a very large extension (= 1 + x) and a finite comprehension (i.e., a limited set of necessary or relevant attributes). Thus, there is an inverse correlation between extension and comprehension, and it is the limit case that Deleuze is drawing out here: extension = 1, infinite comprehension. My concept of the planet Jupiter, for instance, or of the novelist Virginia Woolf refers to something non-exchangeable and non-substituteable. Thus, is it not the case, given what Deleuze claims on his very first page, that a singularity is merely the limit case of a concept? Perhaps.

Within the vastness and limitlessness of infinite comprehension, certain predicates can be traced and fixed. I know that Jupiter’s orbit is so many miles, that its distance from the Sun varies between this distance and that; I know that Virginia Woolf wrote Jacob’s Room, that she suffered from bouts of mania and depression. These predicates (and an infinity of others) can be traced, affirmed, and fixed within my concept of Jupiter and Virginia Woolf; indeed, these concepts enfold them (and others I have not yet articulated or determined). This tripartite composition of the smallest possible extension, infinite comprehension, and predicative determination makes possible a whole technology of mental faculties, Deleuze speculates. He writes,

It is very important that this infinity of comprehension be supposed actual, not virtual or simply indefinite. It is on this condition that predicates in the form of moments of concepts are preserved, and have an effect on the subject to which they are attributed. Infinite comprehension thus makes possible remembering and recognition, memory and self-consciousness (even when these two faculties are not themselves infinite). The relation of a concept to its object under this double aspect, in the form that it assumes in this memory and this self-consciousness, is called representation. (DR 11)

Remembrance and recognition: if a concept of infinite comprehension and “extension = 1” constitutes a singularity, as Deleuze seems to be hypothesizing (again, as a position against which he’ll set his own actual argument), then might we surmise that memory and self-consciousness actually comprise the conducts or mechanisms of repetition? That they are repetition? That representation — the mediation between object and concept in the forms of memory or self-consciousness — is repetition? Given that Deleuze goes on to extract three “principles of a vulgarized Leibnizianism” from this sketch of a concept of infinite comprehension, it is safe to say that the answer, at least as far as he’s concerned, is “No” (DR 11).

But why? The answer, it turns out, has to do with difference (at long last, repetition’s partner!). Deleuze writes:

From this may be drawn the principle of a vulgarized Leibnizianism. According to a principle of difference, every determination is conceptual in the last instance, or actually belongs to the comprehension of a concept. According to a principle of sufficient reason, there is always one concept particular thing. According to the reciprocal principle of identity of indiscernibles, there is one and only one thing per concept. Together, these principles expound a theory of difference as conceptual difference, or develop an account of representation as mediation. (DR 11-12)

What on earth is Deleuze doing? Moments like these always arrest me. Though he has already told us that he is going to oppose repetition to concepts (and representation), he delays this opposition and builds up a positive account of his opponent. For those interested in some of the source material of this “vulgarized Leibnizianism,” check out Daniel Smith’s essay, “Deleuze on Leibniz: Difference, Continuity, and the Calculus” in Essays on Deleuze (2012). All we need to know at this juncture is that Deleuze is sketching out a quick and dirty articulation of a theory of the relation between things and our notions of things (i.e., of representation). First principle (restated): any attempt to differentiate between two things is actually an exercise in differentiating two concepts (with fixed predications). What’s the difference, after all, between the planet Jupiter and Virginia Woolf? Well, the first is a solar body (a predicate enfolded in my concept, “Jupiter”) and the second is a novelist (a predicated enfolded in my concept, “Woolf”). This differentiation has nothing to do with their essences (their “in themselves”) but, rather, with whatever predicates I have determined. Second principle (restated): each thing must have a concept of infinite comprehension that correlates to it. This principle means that there is a way to understand each thing I encounter, that I can create, form, and develop a concept that mediates my relation to it. Each thing, in short, is representable, or — as Smith puts it — “everything has a reason.” Third principle (restated): each (unblocked) concept refers to one thing and one thing only. Why? According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the principle of the identity of indiscernibles, at its most basic, means, “no two distinct things exactly resemble each other [. . .] no two objects have exactly the same properties.” Since properties (or predicates) are actually contained in the concept rather than the thing in itself, this means that no two objects would fall under the same concept (of infinite comprehension). For two things to be identical, they would be indiscernible and, thus, would be the same thing (and not two things).

What is the implication for difference then? What theory of difference follows from this abstract outline of representation? Difference here is always a conceptual difference, a difference understood in terms of predications and determined properties. In short, the difference of a thing is always a difference from something else. This takes us away from the thing itself, I suggest, and also implies a model of repetition qua representation, remembrance, and recognition that is profoundly different from the examples of repetition that Deleuze offers on the first page. Recall that he writes, “Reflections, echoes, doubles and souls,” which belong to the domain of repetition, “do not belong to the domain of resemblance or equivalence [or, we can now add, conceptual mediation or representation]; and it is no more possible to exchange one’s soul than it is to substitute real twins for one another” (DR 1). The difference, the singularity, which repeats in my reflection, echo, double, or soul is not a difference from. It is not a conceptual difference. It has nothing to do with another singularity or the particular predicates according to which I differ from or resemble that singularity.

But perhaps I am getting ahead of myself. Next time, I will try to cover the next several paragraphs, getting us a bit closer to Deleuze’s coupling of repetition (as understood in opposition to conduct, law, and concepts) and a pure difference, a concept of difference (rather than a conceptual difference).


I want to close with a (lengthy) note on Deleuze’s reference to Marx at the end of his previous section (a reference which will recur a few times throughout Difference and Repetition). Much like his references to Péguy, Deleuze makes this allusion parenthetically:

We have in mind the theatrical space, the emptiness of that space, and the manner in which it is filled and determined by the signs and masks through which the actor plays a role which plays other roles; we think of how repetition is woven from one distinctive point to another, including differences within itself [cf. my note on Péguy’s notion of “tradition” above]. (When Marx also criticizes the abstract false movement or mediation of the Hegelians, he finds himself drawn to an idea, which he indicates rather than develops, an essentially ‘theatrical’ idea; to the extent that history is theatre, then repetition, along with the tragic and the comic within repetition, forms a condition of movement under which the ‘actors’ or the ‘heroes’ produce something effectively new in history.) The theatre of repetition is opposed to the theatre of representation, just as movement is opposed to the concept and to representation which refers it back to the concept. (DR 10)

I’ve already gone over the sentences around Deleuze’s parenthetical (though I’m not convinced I’ve actually made sense of them; one commenter provided another useful take on Deleuze’s sense of “theatre” here). But what of Marx? Where can we see this “‘theatrical’ idea” to which Marx is “drawn” and “which he indicates rather than develops”? Where does Marx indicate that repetition constitutes the “condition of movement under which [someone or some people] produce something effectively new in history”? And what does this even mean?

Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon III)

Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte famously begins, “Hegel observes somewhere that all the great events and characters of world history occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: the first time as high tragedy, the second time as low farce” (19; I’m using the Carver translation found in Cowling and Martin’s collection, Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire” [2002]). What is the main recurrence to which Marx is referring? One need look no further than the title. The “Eighteenth Brumaire,” of course, does not refer to Louis Bonaparte but, rather, to his uncle Napoleon, who overthrew the French Directory on the 9th of November 1799 (or, the 18th of Brumaire, Year VIII of the French Republican Calendar). Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état (over 50 years later) led to the dissolution of the French National Assembly but did not take place on the 9th of November (18 Brumaire) but on the anniversary of his uncle’s coronation: 2 December 1804 (11 Frimaire, Year XIII). Marx’s application of “18 Brumaire” to Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew marks an historical repetition, but should also be read as a scathing critique of this repetition: a farce of the accomplishments of the “heroes of the former French revolution, as well as the political parties and massed crowds alike” (20).

Deleuze’s comment, however, has very little to do with Marx’s argument, namely that in the case of Louis Bonaparte’s coup d’état, “the state has merely reverted to its oldest form, to the shameless, bare-faced rule of sword and cross”; “society [has not] gain[ed] for itself a new content” at all (22). Rather, he seems far more interested in Marx’s second, third, and fourth paragraphs:

Marx’s “Eighteenth Brumaire”

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please in circumstances they choose for themselves; rather they make it in present circumstances, given and inherited. Tradition from all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living. And just when they appear to be revolutionising themselves and their circumstances, in creating something unprecedented, in just such epochs of revolutionary crisis, that is when they nervously summon up the spirits of the past, borrowing from them their names, marching orders, uniforms, in order to enact new scenes in world history, but in this time-honoured guise and with this borrowed language. Thus Luther masqueraded as the Apostle Paul, the [French] revolution of 1789–1814 draped itself alternately as Roman republic and Roman empire, and the revolution of 1848 could come up with nothing better than to parody 1789 at one point, the revolutionary inheritance of 1793–5 at another [. . .]

[. . .] [As] unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nevertheless required heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war and national conflict to bring it into the world. And in the strict classical traditions of the Roman republic its gladiators found the ideals and art forms, the self-deceptions that they needed, in order to hide from themselves the constrained, bourgeois character of their struggles, and to keep themselves emotionally at the level of high historical tragedy. Thus at another stage of development, a century earlier, Cromwell and the English had borrowed Old Testament language, passions and delusions for their bourgeois revolution. When that goal was actually attained, when the bourgeois transformation of English society was complete, [the prosaic empiricist (trans. note)] Locke supplanted [the sorrowful prophet (trans. note)] Habakkuk.

Thus the resurrection of the dead in those revolutions served to glorify new struggles, not to parody the old; to magnify fantastically the given task, not to evade a real resolution; to recover the spirit of revolution, not to relaunch its spectre. (19-21)

Here we see the idea that Marx does not entirely develop (for he goes on to map out the failure and farcical travesty of the 1851 coup): namely, that newness can emerge out of a theatrical repetition, the donning of roles by actual persons and peoples as a means to fuel passion, in which “phrase[s] transcend[] [the] content” of those phrases and roll out something of an historical stage upon which to act (22). This is a fruitful way to rethink what many non-Marxists might read as the unhappy determinism of Marxist base-superstructure theory and to give some color and flesh to the “class struggle” Marx and Engels emphasize in The Communist Manifesto. Moreover, these passages resonate with the quasi-analysis (or borrowed analysis) I offer above of Péguy and his notion of tradition: that the past, that history can repeat and that the singularity of an event can serve to occasion a difference here and now by means of this repetition. Repetition, then, is not simply a second occurrence of the same thing (just like my reflection in a mirror is not an actual second occurrence of me), is not the time warp of a return to old ways (as Marx argues is the case in Louis Bonaparte’s coup) but, rather, the catalyst or the passage to a beginning again (for the first time) of something new. The strangeness of this idea is precisely that it links newness/difference not to a rupture from tradition or a breakage with the past, but the introduction of fragments or shards of the past (phrases, roles, passions, a stage) into the present as a means to differentiate the present through a repetition of the past. We see here, again, a resonance with Deleuze’s reading of the Nietzschean eternal return and Kierkegaard’s “recollection forward.” We might not yet be able to sense the extent to which this reconceptualizing of difference and repetition in regard to historical and material movements and struggles is useful or provocative (after all, there is quite a gap between the repetition of “me” in my reflection and that of the Roman Empire in the Napoleonic), but I think it’s worth marking nevertheless as we begin our slow movement away from Deleuze’s enigmatic rethinking of “repetition for itself” to his equally odd recasting of “difference in itself.”

Next time: I’ll be continuing with the third section of Deleuze’s introduction (pp. 11-15) and how even concepts of infinite comprehension can become blocked.

One comment

  1. The mention of Marx and the suggestion that repetition could be thought of as ‘the passage to a beginning again (for the first time) of something new’ bring to mind Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History and his idea that the future revolution lies in what was stifled, and thereby failed, in the past. By ‘repeating’ a revolution of the past we retroactively enact it and bear its fruit. Benjamin opposes the idea of an evolutionary path from past to present; instead, the past (or a part of the past) is appropriated and, through the act of repetition and re-creation, difference emerges.
    History is the subject of a structure whose site is not homogeneous, empty
    time, but time filled by the presence of the now. Thus, to Robespierre ancient
    Rome was a past charged with the time of the now which he blasted out of the
    continuum of history. The French Revolution viewed itself as Rome incarnate. It
    evoked ancient Rome the way fashion evokes costumes of the past. (Theses XIV)
    Perhaps, too, there is something worth pondering in the last eight words of this quotation,
    suggesting as they do another possible example — alongside Deleuze’s ‘reflections, echoes, doubles and souls’) — of something that has its home in the domain of repetition.

    There is a brief but thought-provoking passage in Zizek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology (pp. 140-142), entitled Revolution as Repetition, about Benjamin’s Theses.

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