Slow Reading (1.23): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 24-26)

The next paragraph of DR‘s introduction insists on the interdependence of Deleuze’s two types of repetition (i.e., the bare repetition of the Same and the repetition of difference). There can be no “singular subject” of repetition, he argues, no “interiority,” neither “heart” nor “depth[]” without the simultaneous generation of resemblances, that is, “the external envelope” or “abstract effect” of basic symmetries, cadences, or concepts (DR 24). It is important, for Deleuze, that singularities remain connected to their respective conceptual envelopes, that they do “not pre-exist [their] own disguises.” But why? This is the question with which I end my previous post (SR 1.22).

It is clear that Deleuze aims to overturn a vulgar form of Platonism in DR, a form in which the authenticity of any subject or object is measured according to the accuracy of its representation of an ideal form or divine model. For Deleuze, however, a singularity does not pre-exist its masks (as ideal forms do in crude varieties of Platonism); rather, it comes into existence by way of masking itself. It “forms itself,” Deleuze writes, “by disguising itself [. . .] and, in forming itself, [it] constitutes the bare repetition within which it becomes enveloped,” which is to say, through a creative process of hiding itself from sight (DR 24). This means, for instance, that a musical theme does not exist in a pure, ideal form without a variation and that Monet’s first water lily (which Deleuze mentions on the first page of his introduction) is already a variation on the theme which will subsist beneath and beside all subsequent lilies. All this is to say, in short, that a singularity (or a profound, hidden repetition) is not a model that bare repetitions approximate. Bare repetitions are not copies of a model but collateral simulacra without model. The relationship between the singularity and its simulacra is not determined, then, by the logic of representation but by the logic of a pure difference, a process according to which a singularity expresses itself by becoming different from itself. The theme expresses itself through variation. Whatever “I” am (as singularity) expresses “myself” or become expressed as “myself” in the mirror, in a friendship, in an occupation, in my taste, through my movements, through the complexities of living as “I” butt up against different lives. “I” express “myself” and become expressed as “myself” through these many disguises.

But even if it does not pre-exist its disguises, the singularity, for Deleuze, is still more ontologically fundamental than its simulacra: “This is the secret, the most profound repetition: it alone provides the principle of the other one, the reason for the blockage of concepts. In this domain, as in Sartor Resartus, it is the masked, the disguised or the costumed which turns out to be the truth of the uncovered” (DR 24). The reference here to Thomas Carlyle’s 1836 novel is interesting and somewhat befuddling, though once we remember that it is a novel that disguises itself as the lengthy review of “a Philosophy of Clothes” (Carlyle 6), it becomes a bit clearer. The true “work” at work in Carlyle’s novel is not the fictional philosophy of clothes which the narrator purports to be sharing with his fellow Englishmen; rather, the “work” is the disguise itself; the disguise is the truth of the uncovered, which is the repetition of the composition itself (and Carlyle himself) as a singularity. The truth here is not, “What is the philosophy of Teufelsdröckh?” but, rather, the whole plane of composition that subsists beneath and sustains the entirety of Sartor Resartus: its signs, signals, and Ideas that express themselves (and Carlyle’s singular thought) through the satirical repetitions of an editor’s or biographer’s typical work. The truth of Sartor Resartus is not independent of its mask or its clothes; there is no naked text resting beneath its fragmented surface (which this surface would merely approximate). The truth is (in) the clothes! The truth of any singularity is the fact of its maskedness, of its many disguises. It is not a pure substance, only a genetic movement that leaps from one mask, one role, one disguise, one reflective surface to another. This genetic movement is the profound repetition, the secret subject of all repetitions: the theme, the composition, the Idea.

I think.

“Important consequences follow from this,” Deleuze writes. He continues:

When we are confronted by a repetition which proceeds masked, or comprises displacements, quickenings, slowdowns, variants or differences which are ultimately capable of leading us far away from the point of departure, we tend to see a mixed state in which repetition is not pure but only approximate: the very word repetition seems to be employed symbolically, by analogy or metaphor. It is true that we have strictly defined repetition as difference without concept. However, we would be wrong to reduce it to a difference which falls back into exteriority, because the concept embodies the form of the Same, without seeing that it can be internal to the Idea and possess in itself all the resources of signs, symbols and alterity which go beyond the concept as such.  The examples invoked above concern the most diverse kinds of cases [. . .] [W]e wished to show the coexistence of these instances in every repetitive structure, to show how repetition displays identical elements which necessarily refer back to a latent subject which repeats itself through these elements, forming an ‘other’ repetition at the heart of the first. We therefore suggest that this other repetition is in no way approximate or metaphorical. It is, on the contrary, the spirit of every repetition. It is the very letter of every repetition, its watermark or constitutive cipher. It forms the essence of that in which every repetition consists: difference without concept, non-mediated difference. It is both the literal and spiritual primary sense of repetition. The material sense results from this other, as if secreted by it like a shell. (DR 24-25)

What objection is Deleuze anticipating here? I’m not entirely sure. Since his reconceptualization of repetition allows for the widest possiblity of difference and variation, it’s possible that he is forestalling a reader who may misunderstand him as metaphorizing repetition. (Indeed, the lure of figurative, metaphorical, and lyrical language is strong among his contemporaries.) But he also seems to be forestalling those who have misunderstood his definition of repetition as “difference without concept.” He does not simply mean what Immanuel Kant means when Kant argues that space and time are extra-conceptual aspects of a thing in the world (whether a hand is a “left” hand or  “right” hand has no bearing on my concept of “hand,” for instance). For Deleuze, the repetition of a singularity is, in a sense, outside its concepts. In this way, he shares something with Kant. But this outsideness takes the form of a more radical insideness, a folded-inside or -beside or -beneath the concept, which operates as an envelope. There is empty, inaccessible space inside the concept, and this is where the singularity does its work: emitting signs and signals, generating new envelopes for itself. (Note: this model of singularity and simulacra helps explain why Deleuze is more sympathetic to Freud in his earlier work [i.e., prior to Capitalism and Schizophrenia]. This inaccessible space within concepts or cadences or symmetries is very akin, it seems to me, to Freud’s notion of the unconscious as a repository of repressed drives.)

The range of Deleuze’s examples throughout this introduction is meant to illustrate, it would seem, that no matter the bare repetition there is always a latent repetition at play: a non-mediated, insensible difference at work. The repetition of this difference is spiritual in the sense of not being tied to the material realm (consider my example of Septimus Smith in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway from SR 1.22). But this spirituality and virtual interiority also means that it is the most literal form of repetition possible. Just because there is a wide possibility of difference, a wide array of potential disguises and masks for each and every singularity, does not mean this repetition is figurative. It is literal, spiritual, and genetic, coming into existence by way of the generation of its simulacra on stage: its roles, masks, and disguises. The mechanics of how singularities and simulacra operate will have to wait for Deleuze’s later chapters, but for now I think we have properly sketched out the dimensions of his metaphysics: beneath all bare repetitions of the same—whether these bare repetitions are geometric symmetries, literary rhymes, musical cadences, psychical compulsions, the motions of a swimmer, or seasonal rotations—there is a spiritual, literal, and genetic repetition at work, the repetition of a singularity, of an Idea that emits signs, signals, and sensations.

The last paragraph of this penultimate section seeks to make one last point: in explaining repetition in the way that he aims to explain it, Deleuze is also aiming to craft a better philosophical description of generality itself. “[W]hen we discover the literal” and spiritual “interior of repetition,” he argues, “we have the means not only to understand the outer repetition as a cover, but also to recapture the order of generality” (DR 25). We begin to see, in other words, that “the general operation of laws,” the “[c]yclical generalities in nature,” and “the generalities of habit in moral life”—while certainly very real and effective in giving order to the chaotic flux of being—do not cancel out that flux but become the very conduit through which “the internal repetition projects itself” and, indeed, varies itself (25). Singularities are always at play beneath bare repetitions, interfering with one another, inspiring and instantiating “singular processes of learning” which are physical, mental, emotional, social, natural, or sensual. Deleuze’s double ontology of repetition seems, then, to include the non-categorizable and non-categorized natural world, to fold (in other words) the flux itself into a metaphysics. This flux is not primarily dialectical or oppositional (as in Heraclitus or Hegel) but differential, webbed, spiral. In some sense, this is the world of the infant and the child who has not yet been acculturated into rituals or routines that have been deemed appropriate, who has not yet been steeped in norms or mores that they must imitate (perhaps slipping partially back into this pre-Oedipal realm is what Deleuze and Guattari refer to in A Thousand Plateaus as becoming-child, becoming-cosmic, becoming-music).

Generality itself emerges from the primary relation between difference and repetition:

The interior of repetition is always affected by an order of difference: it is only to the extent that something is linked to a repetition of an order other than its own that the repetition appears external and bare, and the thing itself [is] subject to the categories of generality. It is the inadequation between difference and repetition which gives rise to the order to generality. Gabriel Tarde suggested in this sense that resemblance itself was only displaced repetition: real repetition is that which corresponds directly to a difference of the same degree as itself. Better than anyone, Tarde was able to elaborate a new dialectic by discovering in mind and nature the secret effort to establish an ever more perfect correspondence between difference and repetition. (25-26)

Thus ends Deleuze’s penultimate section (only two paragraphs/pages to go!). It’s useful to quote a snippet of the endnote related to this passage:

In his Lois de l’imitation [. . .] Gabriel Tarde shows how resemblance between, for example, different species refers back to the identity of the physical milieu; that is, to a repetitive process affecting elements inferior to the forms in question. All of Tarde’s philosophy, as we shall see more clearly later, is founded upon the two categories of difference and repetition: difference is simultaneously both the origin and the destination of repetition, in a more and more ‘forceful and ingenious’ movement which takes ‘greater and greater account of degrees of freedom’.  Tarde proposes to substitute this differential and differenciating repetition for opposition in every domain. (DR 307-08 n15)

I admit that I am a bit unfamiliar with Tarde’s sociological theories, but what seems to be at stake is the qualification of Deleuze’s earlier definition of repetition as non-mediated difference. It is more precise to say, as these passages indicate, that difference and repetition are intimately bound up but importantly inadequate in correspondence with one another. It is because they are not the same thing that generality itself emerges, since the interiority of repetition is itself linked to a bare repetition that it creates, a repetition that is of a completely distinct—which is to say different—ontological order. We might understand this as the differential relation between the theme and its variations, the rhythm and its cadences, the rhyme and its recitations. The emergence of generality is precisely what allows imitation to become, for Tarde, one of the primary features of society (indeed, of existence); moreover, at least according to Deleuze, it is a model of natural and sociological relation that challenges theories of primary opposition (pushing opposition and conflict to a secondary position). The son imitates the father, for instance, before he opposes him (and not vice versa, as in Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus model). Here, imitation—which is to say, bare repetition—as it spreads out and diffuses through the social plane is actually creative, enabling the emergence of a primary difference—what Deleuze calls “this differential and differenciating repetition,” which Tarde refers to as invention—to continue its play through endless, fractal variation without telos. But how closely does this take on Tarde actually correspond to Tarde’s own sociological theory of imitation? Of difference and repetition?

Perhaps. I’ll give the final words here to Tarde himself:

Would any organic progress be possible without heredity? Would the exuberant variety of geological ages and of living nature have sprung into existence independently of the periodicity of the heavenly motions or of the wave-like rhythm of the earth’s forces?

Repetition exists, then, for the sake of variation. [. . .] All repetition, social, vital, or physical, i. e., imitative, hereditary, or vibratory repetition (to consider only the most salient and typical forms of universal repetition), springs from some innovation, just as every light radiates from some central point, and thus throughout science the normal appears to originate from the accidental. For the propagation of an attractive force or luminous vibration from a heavenly body, or of a race of animals from an ancestral pair, or of a national idea or desire or religious rite from a scholar or inventor or missionary, seem to us like natural and regular phenomena; whereas we are constantly surprised by the strange and partly non-formulable sequence or juxtaposition of their respective centres, i.e., the different crafts, religions, and social institutions, the different organic types, the different chemical substances or celestial masses from which all these radiations have issued. All these admirable uniformities or series [. . .] all these innumerable masses of things of like nature and of like affiliations, whose harmonious co-existence or equally harmonious succession  we admire, are related to physical, biological, and social accidents by a tie which baffles us. (The Laws of Imitation 7-8)

And for Deleuze the “tie which baffles us” is the tie of difference and repetition; for Tarde, it is the tie of invention, imitation, diffusion, and variation that crosses and connects the cosmic, geological, biological, historical, and social realms.

Next time I will be finishing my “slow reading” of Deleuze’s introduction to Difference and Repetition.

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