Slow Reading (1.22): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 23-24)

There are three more paragraphs remaining in this section of DR‘s introduction (and two more to deal with after that before moving on to Chapter 1!). I want to deal with the next one carefully.

Deleuze begins his new paragraph with a concession: “We are right to speak of repetition when we find ourselves confronted by identical elements with exactly the same concept” (23). These elements would be the determinations or predicates that a (blocked) concept gathers under itself, increasing its extensivity beyond one thing in the world. However, the elements that repeat—that is, these “repeated objects”—are not “the secret subject [or] real subject of repetition” (DR 23). The question of what this subject is has bothered me since I began this project. What is it that repeats in repetition? (I came closest to answering this question when leaning on Daniel Smith in SR 1.18, though I posed it all the way back in SR 1.1.)

This particular paragraph offers an interesting assertion that helps me continue this struggle, for Deleuze claims that if I am to “find the Self of repetition, the singularity within that which repeats,” then I should aim to understand repetition outside of representation altogether; I should understand it “in the pronominal” (DR 23). What does this mean? Namely, that the substance of “a repetitious soul” is not found in an element or an effect to which a concept refers but in what we might call a thisness (anticipating Deleuze’s theft of “haecceity,” a term of medieval philosophy/theology).

And what does this mean? When I refer to “this dog” or “my dog,” what work does the pronoun—the pronominal—do in this sentence? It signals. It signs. It expresses the sense of a non-substitutable or non-exchangeable singularity distinct from (though not independent of) the conceptual elements of “dog” which relate “this dog” or “my dog” to each other and to other dogs (cf. DR 1-2, SR 1.1 and 1.2). Earlier in his introduction, Deleuze considered the respective styles of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, that is, their introduction of theater into philosophy (cf. DR 8-9, SR 1.9). These styles constitute their respective singularities, the souls of their lives and oeuvres which enable us to involve ourselves in their eternal repetition. In the simpler case of “this dog” or “my dog,” can we not also speak of style, of a dogged charm that is not an identity, that is, rather, exterior to the generality “dog” and thus non-conceptual? If so, are we not beginning to anticipate the need (which has already been felt) of a double account of difference that corresponds to this double account Deleuze has been giving of repetition?

Of course! Consider the difference between two identical dogs (bare repetitions of the Same)—dogs of the same breed, same age, same litter. From the point of view of generality, the difference between them is entirely non-conceptual insofar as it consists of spatial differences, differences in ownership, differences in birth order . . . in short, differences that are insignificant to the concept “dog.” In this case, Deleuze would say, “difference is taken to be [. . .] a difference between objects [that falls] into the indifference of space and time” (DR 23-24). In the pronominal case of “this dog” or “my dog,” however, the non-conceptual difference is related to a much more profound repetition. Here, difference is not external to the identity between two or more dogs of the same breed or litter but is, rather, “internal to the Idea” of a singular creature that is distinct from all other creatures (DR 24). In this latter case, repetition and difference do not concern two objects separated by the “indifference of space and time” but one “secret vibration” (DR 1) that resonates through the effects, reflections, and celebrations beneath which it subsists. Though I have struggled with Deleuze’s notion of “the Idea” in previous posts, which he defines here as the “unfolding [of] pure movement, creative of a dynamic space and time,” I am still not equipped to unpack what Deleuze means (24). At the very least we can get a sense that, for Deleuze, singularities are not inert objects in a uniform space and time. Rather, they actively shape their own spatiotemporal condition of engagement with other singularities and objects in the world. They dramatize a singular Idea—what we might call a complex sense—that is ontologically distinct from the realm of representation and its concepts. (Note: in their later work, it is probably the case that what Deleuze means by “an Idea” in Difference and Repetition corresponds [at least in part] to the creative activities he and Guattari assign to philosophy, art, and science respectively: i.e., the creation of concepts that populate a plane of immanence with conceptual personae, affects and percepts that populate a plane of composition with aesthetic figures, and functions that populate a plane of reference. But perhaps not.)


The rest of Deleuze’s paragraph—which follows his difficult examples of geometry, music, evolution, and literature—repeats the content of another paragraph back on pg. 20 (see SR 1.19). This earlier paragraph generates a list of distinctions between Deleuze’s two types of repetition, many of which recur here on pg. 24. One repetition concerns the Same, the static, the effect; the other concerns the internal heterogeneity of the Idea (whatever that is), the dynamic, and the cause. As if swept up with enthusiasm as he nears the end of his introduction, Deleuze continues this rhetorical wave of distinctions:

One [repetition] is extensive, the other intensive. Once is ordinary, the other distinctive and singular. One is horizontal, the other is vertical. One is developed and explicated, the other enveloped and in need of interpretation. One is resolving, the other evolving. One involves equality, commensurability and symmetry; the other is grounded in inequality, incommensurability and dissymmetry. One is material, the other spiritual, even in nature and in the earth. One is inanimate, the other carries the secret of our deaths and our lives, of our enchainments and our liberations, the demonic and the divine. One is a ‘bare’ repetition, the other a covered repetition, which forms itself in covering itself, in masking and disguising itself. One concerns accuracy, the other authenticity as its criterion. (DR 24)

What do we make of this somewhat unsettling list of distinctions? First, we might note the trace of Bergson here and his distinction between a whole movement (whole in duration, intensive in its indivisibility) and a movement that is represented by a sequence of images or a juxtaposition of extensive points: calculable, measurable, and divisible into parts. This difference between intensivity (a perception of change or movement without recourse to units of measure) and extensivity (a measurable change or movement) structures the early distinctions in this passage. On the one hand, an “ordinary” repetition—whether it be a routine at home, a route to work, or a family resemblance—can be mapped out into a grid of conceptual relations, spread out horizontally into tables and taxonomies, naturalized and normalized into readymades which are already “developed and explicated” for us (pre-digested, as it were). Everyday language use—in which our terms and concepts so rarely confuse us, where our opinions are often so self-assured (at least on the surface)—operate in this way: developed for us ahead of time, ready at hand, in accord with codes and conventions and grammars within which we are habituated or enculturated. On the other hand, a “distinct and singular” repetition of my thisness in a mirror, in a double, in the desire of another, in encounters I will never foresee, in a legacy (if I have one) is non-exchangeable and (thus) non-equal or disequal with other thisnesses. The singularity “this Benjamin Hagen” is no more significant, no more important, no more non-substitutable than any other other. It is simply one thisness among dynamic, unfolding spaces of other thisnesses.

Mrs._Dalloway_coverBut what do we make of Deleuze’s assertion concerning verticality? Or interpretation? Since I’m teaching Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway this semester, it is easy for me to look for assistance in one of the closing scenes of the novel: Clarissa’s encounter with Septimus Smith. Though the novel sets up these two characters as doubles—the first in the middle years of her life and several decades into a socially beneficial marriage, the other a thirty-year-old veteran of World War I suffering from “shell shock”—they never meet until this final scene, hours after Septimus’s suicide. Hearing the news of this stranger’s death at her party, Clarissa separates herself from her guests and thinks:

She had once thrown a shilling into the Serpentine, never anything more. But he had flung it away. They went on living (she would have to go back; the rooms were still crowded; people kept on coming). They (all day she had been thinking of Bourton, of Peter, of Sally), they would grow old. A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death.

But this young man who had killed himself—had he plunged holding his treasure? (Mrs. Dalloway 180)

9780156030359Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, Septimus Smith is treated as the repetition of a readymade, extensive type. Dr. Holmes, for instance, argues that there “was nothing whatever the matter” with him (88); that “health is largely a matter in our own control” (89); that Septimus should stop giving his wife Rezia “a very odd idea of English husbands” (90). When Septimus throws himself from his Bloomsbury apartment window, Holmes cries, “The coward!” (146). Septimus has failed to play the part of a courageous, proper, dutiful Englishman. Peter Walsh also treats Septimus as the repetition of a type or model. Though he only encounters him twice—once in Regent’s Park; once (by proxy) through the ambulance taking Septimus’s (dead) body to a hopsital—Peter nevertheless experiences what she sees as the impressive modernity of London. In Regent’s Park, he reads Septimus and Rezia as “lovers squabbling under a tree” and admires “the domestic family life of the parks” (69). For him, they are a sign of London’s enchantment: “the softness of the distances; the richness; the greenness; the civilisation, after India.” This ethnocentric alignment of civilization with Britain and city life anticipates his thoughts as the ambulance takes Septimus away: “One of the triumphs of civilisation [. . .] It struck him coming back from the East—the efficiency, the organisation, the communal spirit of London” (147). And Rezia reads him as the repetition of a proper husband who should look at things, should desire children, and should take care of his family. Dr. William Bradshaw reads him as a case study in the virtues of Proportion. His boss, of course, can only think of him as one of “his young men” who might one day—should he keep his health—”succeed to the leather arm-chair in the inner room under the skylight with the deed-boxes round him” (83). These types (all of which Septimus fails to repeat successfully) are components of the conceptual—one might way horizontal—grid of “civilisation,” an impressive plane of organized streets, parks, shops, institutions, monuments, libraries, and public transportation that (for all its impressiveness) utterly fails to recognize the injury of Septimus Smith as well as its own mistaken presumption that the “War was over [. . .] it was over; thank Heaven—over” (4-5).


Though these thoughts on War belong to Clarissa at the beginning of the novel, her own encounter with Septimus at its end comprises an encounter with a much more profound repetition, one that occurs without recourse to these types. She knows him, after all, in the pronominal, as an envelope as yet unopened, a stranger urgently in need of being read for the first time. The “verticality” Deleuze associates with a more profound repetition is illustrated here. Septimus’s repetition has nothing to do with the transcendental position of an Ideal Form to its copies (or to copies of its copies) or with any model, for that matter, toward which our concepts and representations asymptotically reach. Rather, this verticality constitutes a “leap” between distinct yet interdependent planes, that is, between the contours of the city (which control every other encounter in the book) and the nonground, the groundless ground I try to explore in earlier Slow Readings. Septimus’s resurrection in Clarissa’s drawing room is the powerful and yet provisional and accidental expression of an Idea, what we might also call a problem or (non)sense that troubles the surface world. Septimus repeats, but neither as a man nor as a husband nor as a criminal nor as a patient or psychopathology but as an haecceity (thisness). The incommensurability of “his treasure” (note the pronominal) confronts and upends the logic of Clarissa’s own life (even if provisionally), and thus the end of Mrs. Dalloway suggests that the (non)ground of depth can interrupt the surface and that the secret vibrations of more profound repetitions can affect and disrupt our most orderly planes, our bare repetitions of the Same. (This event is itself doubled for Peter Walsh and for us too as readers in Clarissa’s pronominal return to her party on Mrs. Dalloway‘s very last page. The last sentence becomes an envelope, a profound repetition, a verticality: “For there she was” [190].)

Mrs. Dalloway‘s play with life, death, and repetition (cf. J. Hillis Miller’s Fiction and Repetition) also helps me make sense of the mystical, even religious language at the end of Deleuze’s paragraph above: this other repetition is “spiritual [. . .] the secret of our deaths and our lives, our enchainments and our liberations, the demonic and divine” (DR 24). What do we make of these distinctions? Is this merely a rhetorical flourish? And what does “authenticity” mean for Deleuze in a system that rejects Platonism?

I have always been struck by the strong trace of romantic, sentimental, even naïve thought in Deleuze’s work, his tendency to affirm enthusiasm, for instance, or to use a discourse of love, to adequate madness and charm, to locate his knowledge of Spinoza in his heart (rather than his head), to insist on the powerful affects in the dryest philosophy, to claim that his “ideal” when writing about an author “would be to write nothing that could cause him sadness, or if he is dead, that might make him weep in his grave” (Dialogues 119). Even here in Difference and Repetition, Deleuze has established a swiftness to risk the sentimental or the mystical. Deleuze references “the spirit” in other parts of the introduction, after all, and also aligns his sense of hidden repetitions with the heart on the first and second pages: “The repetition of a work of art is like a singularity without concept, and it is not by chance that a poem must be learned by heart. The head is the organ of exchange, but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition” (DR 1-2). And recall that “there is something amorous […] about all education” (DR 23). Is this rhetoric aimed to evoke the non-materiality of the immanent plane he is ontologizing? Perhaps. They definitely evoke the sense of repetition he wishes to establish: “singularity […] universality […] distinctive […] instantaneity […] eternity” (DR 2-3). Yet I’ve always admired these phrasings as components of Deleuze’s own madness, charm, or style, the envelopes (that is) of something unthought within his own life and oeuvre. After all, I’m not very convinced that charm and love operate as philosophical concepts in Deleuze’s work (concepts like “difference” or “plane of immanence” or “rhizome”). Rather, they are little repetitions of Deleuze’s passion for philosophy and art, unabashedly noncritical at times in its engagement with them yet fully capable of serving as a critical point of departure for others. Indeed, whenever I read passages like this one on pg. 24 of DR, I often feel as if I’m repeating Clarissa’s encounter with Septimus in my own encounter with Deleuze. The parallels are sometimes too uncanny; did this old man who killed himself plunge holding his treasure?


But something should be said for these mystical distinctions: the secret subject is simultaneously “spiritual” and “natural,” not out of this world—in Peter Hallwards’s sense—but so much of this world—in the pronominal, non-conceptual, immediate sense—that it evades our capacity to represent the world. It is, in a sense, the breath (spirit) of the world, those accidental singularities that the world and the cosmos continuously creates and destroys. This radical picture of repetition means that it is pre-special, pre-individual, pre-organic, pre-organized, -normalized, etc. In his original preface to Difference and Repetition, Deleuze writes, “We believe in a world in which individuations are impersonal, and singularities are pre-individual […] What this book should therefore have made apparent is the advent of a coherence which is no more our own, that of mankind, than that of God or the world” (DR xxi). This is the (cosmic) coherence of repetition and difference. This repetition and its corresponding difference without concept are at the root of what we are able to think ourselves, our worlds, our possessions, our chains, our rights, our politics, our lives, and our possibilities to be. As one observes across Woolf and Deleuze (and those they admired), this repetition—itself indifferent, without favorites or intentions—can be both terrifying and enlivening, a poison and a medicine, the key to a death (Septimus) and, perhaps, to a life (Clarissa?), a two-pronged potentiallity in which the “two” is not an opposition, but a play of doubles, reflections (that is) of a singular Idea.

Perhaps I have gotten off track . . . 

The next paragraph pulls me back to Deleuze and emphasizes the interdependence of the two types of repetition (of the Same, of difference). There can be no “singular subject,” no “interiority,” not “heart” or “depth[]” without the gathering of resemblances, that is, “the external envelope” or “abstract effect” of basic symmetry, cadence, or concept formation (DR 24). It is important, for Deleuze, that singularities remain connected to their conceptual envelopes, that they do “not pre-exist [their] own disguises.” Why? I will pick that up in Slow Reading 1.23. 


  1. Thanks for all your work. I wouldn’t have survived the Introduction without your blog posts!

    For me, Deleuze’s thoughts on pp.1-2 about poems being learned by the heart (and, actually, a lot of his more personal musings on art) become much clearer when I allow them to be explained by his notion of an affective pedagogy(?) discussed in this and the last post. The head is what we rely on to recite and even write a poem (specifically, to write an idea of a poem) – like your freshman students’ first essays depend on what is in their heads rather than their hearts to produce an idea of what they believe you’re expecting from them – but it is not without the heart (to whom and what it leads us), which brings us closer to the repetitive motion of singularities (the repetition of difference), that we desire/need/are driven to write a more “pronominal” poetry…? (And thus learn to “recite” poetry.)

    I am really thinking aloud here, which I think is all this book will ever allow me to do and is what makes it so enjoyable.

  2. This from p.25 helps clarify my thought: ‘The domain of laws [I will start my freshman essay with the template ‘X-text by Y-author’] must be understood, but always on the basis of a Nature and a Spirit superior to their own laws, which weave their repetitions in the depths of the earth and of the heart [from which I write/recite my more pronominal poetry], where laws do not yet exist’…

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