Slow Reading (1.12): Deleuze’s DR (pg. 12)

Last time, I promised to cover several paragraphs in one post in order to get to the end of this section a bit more quickly. I lied. Warning: things might get a little dry . . .


The second paragraph of this section introduces a problem into the “vulgar” theory of difference Deleuze quickly sketches out in his first paragraph (and against which he promises to oppose repetition). This problem concerns conceptual blockage: “However, a concept can be blocked at the level of each of its determinations or each of the predicates that it includes” (DR 12). What does it mean for a concept to “blocked”? According to Henry Somers-Hall, conceptual blockage occurs when a concept (inevitably) falls short of “completely specifying” an object’s singularity (DDR 15). This limitation poses a problem to the principles Deleuze outlines in his previous paragraph (which articulate the reciprocal formula of one concept per thing, one thing per concept). If, as Deleuze will attempt to show, concepts always encounter some sort of blockage in relation to the things they are purported to represent (a problem that actually grounds all three of Kant’s Critiques), then repetition — understood as the recurrence of a singularity — must be opposed to this model of conceptual representation and, especially, to its theory of difference. (See SR 1.11 for more on this theory of difference.) The next few paragraphs of Deleuze’s introduction inventory various kinds of conceptual blockages, beginning with “artificial blockage” (DR 12). Why artificial?

Before we answer this, I think we need to move a bit further into the paragraph. Deleuze writes,

In so far as it serves as a determination, a predicate must remain fixed in the concept while becoming something else in the thing (animal becomes something other in man and in horse; humanity something other in Peter and in Paul). This is why the comprehension of a concept is infinite; having become other in the thing, the predicate is like the object of another predicate in the concept. (DR 12)

If I understand Deleuze correctly, his point here is actually quite simple. In a sense, all he’s saying is that any conceptual determination falls short of expressing the uniqueness of the thing it is meant to conceptualize. The point of his parenthetical is that this claim can be illustrated with the simplest of comparisons: if I take my concept of “man” and “horse,” for instance, I will see that they both contain the predicate “is an animal.” However, when I actually observe the things themselves, I learn that the animalities of man and of horse are utterly distinct. The predicate “is an animal,” while identical in these two concepts, does not represent two identical features in the things themselves. Because “is an animal” falls short of being a singularizing determination, it becomes an occasion for further determination — that is, it becomes, as Deleuze puts it, “like the object of another predicate in the concept” — prompting the further predication of “man-animality” and a “horse-animality.” This need for further predication, one surmises, can never be satisfied. In order to express the singularity of an object, all the predications of its corresponding concept would always compel further predication, more determination. This is why, as Deleuze writes, “the comprehension of a concept [extension = 1] is infinite”; the conceptualization would never be finished; the concept-map would never be vast enough, complete enough, or specific enough to represent the singularity of its object. (Though, of course, this is never quite, as far as I know, the promise of mediation or representation. )

To counteract this process of infinite, run-away comprehension, “each determination remains general” insofar as it “defines a resemblance” (DR 12). In other words, while each predication becomes a spur to further conceptual determination, this predication — e.g., “is an animal” — does not go away or breakdown but, rather, becomes a link or a conduit that maintains general affinities between concepts (and, thus, between our understanding of distinct things or objects). Here, Deleuze teases out a third feature of concept formation. In addition to limited extension and infinite comprehension, he seems to be sketching out a notion of an overriding infinite resemblance: “each determination remains general or defines a resemblance, to the extent that it remains fixed in the concept and applicable [convenant] by right to an infinity of things” (12). This lateral infinity that encompasses or touches more than one thing overrides a concept’s “infinite comprehension,” and it must do so if one has any hope of setting up some sort of communicable, logical, or useful conceptual grid or analytical system. While “is an animal” becomes something else in man and horse (and something else in this or that man; this or that horse!), prompting further determination of more and more specific predicates, it is still, nevertheless, a point of resemblance and conceptual kinship between man and horse, this man and that man, this horse and that horse (and all other “animals”).

Deleuze distinguishes two uses that result from this story of concept formation: the “real use” of a concept and its “logical use.” On the one hand, according to Deleuze, real use honors a concept’s infinite comprehension. But what does he mean by “real use”? When I talk to a friend or colleague about Virginia Woolf, for instance, my concept of her need not be blocked; I am referring, in a fully mundane way, to the totality of attributes that belong to her (and to my concept of her). On the other hand, logical use introduces “artificial blockage” — the arbitrary generalization of a particular predicate — in order to make sense of and to secure something’s relation to other things within a larger taxonomical system. The following predicates, in “logical use,” become potential points of blockage: Woolf “is a modernist novelist” and “is a feminist” who “committed suicide.” Each of these three potential blockages can halt or slowdown the comprehension of my concept and dramatically increases its extension. By fixing the predicate “committed suicide,” the extension of my concept, “Virginia Woolf,” becomes “greater than 1, in principle infinite” (DR 12), for my concept of her now touches, is now in a representational (thus mediated) relationship to others who have “committed suicide.” This blockage of comprehension and extensive expansion means that the concept no longer corresponds to any specific thing at all. By fixing “committed suicide” or “is a modernist novelist” in my concept of Virginia Woolf, I might mean something entirely different from someone else who is using the same concept. No singular “Virginia Woolf” corresponds to our respective concepts because we might have very well fixed different predicates. The one Woolf has become a pack of represented and mediated Woolves: a feminist Woolf, a formalist Woolf, a political Woolf, a queer Woolf, a manic-depressive Woolf, Woolf-the-aesthete, Woolf-the-atheist, Woolf-the-spiritualist, etc., etc. (and any combination of some or all of these and others).

What’s the point of this? The implication is that any attempt to generate enough predications for a concept such that the concept would effectively repeat its singularity will, in every case, fail. By necessity, even when it might appear to honor the uniquness of an event or a thing through some sort of “real use,” it will always operate under the domain of generality (see SR 1.1). There’s nothing inherently wrong about this. After all, it is quite useful to deal with concepts in this way, especially when dealing with multiple objects in multiple domains across multiple spans of space and/or time. But it is worthwhile, Deleuze wagers, to be aware that this mode of investigation or understanding does not necessarily exhaust our powers of investigation and expression, and it certainly does not give us empirical access to the experience or to the phenomenal encounter with objects themselves. (Note: We might not always want access to the experience or phenomenon of the encounter. Deleuze’s later critique of Freudian psychoanalysis [in his collaborations with Félix Guattari] have far less to do with a wholesale critique of representation in itself than with the conflation in psychoanalysis between representational concepts and general categories and the singularity of a life. I think.)

But there’s more to be said regarding difference. Deleuze ends his paragraph,

Thus, the principle of difference understood as difference in the concept [. . .] allows the greatest space possible for the apprehension of resemblances. Even from the point of view of conundrums, the question ‘What difference is there?’ may always be transformed into: ‘What resemblance is there?’ But above all, in classification, the determination of species implies and supposes a continual evaluation of resemblances. Undoubtedly, resemblance is not a partial identity, but that is only because the predicate in the concept is not by virtue of its becoming other in the thing, a part of that thing. (DR 12)

What is Deleuze arguing here? Namely, that the vulgar theory of difference that emerges from the point of view of conceptual representation (or representational concepts) is not actually a theory of difference at all. Rather, conceptual difference is nothing but the ground of the erasure of difference itself. A conceptual difference between Virginia Woolf and George Eliot, for instance, (that the first “is a modernist” and the second “a Victorian realist”) becomes a point of resemblance between these authors and others in their particular literary period. (Don’t get me started on periodization.) In short, what is missing from the “vulgar Leibnizianism” that Deleuze sketches out in the first paragraph in this section of his intro — what is missing from mediation as conceptual difference — is a concept of difference in itself. As I have already indicated, and as any reader may have surmised by now, Deleuze plans to conceptualize this “difference in itself,” and this requires the simultaneous conceptualization of “repetition for itself” (again, note the titles of chapters 1 and 2).

But perhaps I am bumbling this close reading (I am certainly out of my depth; nothing new here). Perhaps I need a better, more concrete example. Consider Pluto, the once-planet, now-plutoid-or-dwarf-planet. Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates:

Pluto, you look much more like these other objects than you (or these other objects) look like anybody else in the solar system. You’re kinda small, kinda icy, your orbit is a little weird, and your orbit is more tilted than the other planets. Tyson’s explanation is a near perfect illustration of the points Deleuze makes here about “artificial blockage” and the way in which the predicates that once marked Pluto’s oddness among the other planets actually become fixed during the process of constructing these impressive displays of the solar system. In other words, these predicates block Pluto’s singularity as a solar body by becoming mundane (i.e., quite normal, widespread, common) points of resemblance between it and other transneptunian objects in the Kyper belt. Again, I want to emphasize that Deleuze’s point is not that this reconceptualization is a “bad thing” or that scientists should do a better job of honoring the singularity of each distinct solar body. (This would be impossible, after all.) Rather, he seems to be drawing attention to a different way of viewing the world, the cosmos, and its entities and encounters… the consequences of this “different way of viewing” will have to wait for a later post. (For those interested in a more lengthy explanation of how the predicates of the concept “planet” also become re-determined, check out this presentation.)

One comment

  1. “… the consequences of this “different way of viewing” will have to wait” you mention for a later post. I am just curious in all these years since the publication of these works by Deleuze, if these different ways of viewing were adopted by any crowd/practitioners. If so what consequences if any did it have for their practice.

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