Slow Reading (1.25): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 28-29)

It took me nine or ten months to make it (slowly) through the introduction to Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition. Will it take me a year or two to finish the first proper chapter? We’ll see.


I. Difference and Indifference, Being and Nothingness

Gilles Deleuze begins “Difference in Itself” with some enticing comments about indifference:

Indifference has two aspects: the undifferenciated abyss, the black nothingness, the indeterminate animal in which everything is dissolved—but also the white nothingness, the once more calm surface upon which float unconnected determinations like scattered members: a head without a neck, an arm without a shoulder, eyes without brows. (Difference and Repetition 28)

None of the guidebooks to DR really explicate this passage, which seems odd since it is the departure point for Deleuze’s upcoming challenge to all philosophies of difference. Rather than thinking about difference as a counterpoint to identity or similarity, Deleuze opposes difference to indifference and, by doing so, alters the initial condition under which one might fashion a robust concept of the former: what is difference? how does it begins? how does it emerge? how is it made? and why does it affect one so powerfully? To begin answering these questions without recourse to generalities or readymade categories or normative codes or concepts, DR tasks its readers with imagining regions or planes in which difference does not matter, in which indeterminacy (and not uniformity or identity) is the dominant feature. When first putting this post together, I skipped over this task, opting to unpack the later points in this first dense paragraph. Three thousand words in, I felt stuck and returned to Deleuze’s perplexing description of these two zones of nothingness. What is the relation between the animal and the abyss, I asked? What makes an animal indeterminate? And what is indeterminate about a “calm surface”? What sense can we make of the landscape of arms and heads and eyes invoked here? Why does Deleuze insist that we begin our attempt to think difference with the indifferent abyss? With this grotesque picture of useless body parts?

[1] The black nothingness. Not uniformity or sameness. Rather, Deleuze begins with the absence of all meaning, truth, significance, thought, reason, subjectivity, and category. The abyss. I cannot represent the abyss (how could I? with what tools? with what signs? with what material?). One can only evoke it, allude to it, figure it, trace its limits by skirting our own fixed and fuzzy boundaries. But why does Deleuze figure the abyss as “the indeterminate animal”? Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008) might be of some help here:

As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called ‘‘animal’’ offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the ahuman, the ends of man, that is to say, the bordercrossing from which vantage man dares to announce himself to himself, thereby calling himself by the name that he believes he gives himself. (12)

While I always cringe a little whenever I feel the need to turn to Derrida in order to help explain Deleuze, this passage does help in teasing out the latter’s figuration of the abyss as an animal. The abyss that Derrida explores in his text is the gap or rupture between the human and the animal (thus the very sort of categorical distinction which Deleuze is not interested in conceptualizing here), but his notion of the “bottomless gaze” of the animal suggests a non-dialectical event in which mutual recognition is neither a telos nor a process but, quite literally, an impossibility. Though we tend to anthropomorphize our relationships with tamed pets, imbuing their gestures with human emotions, motivations, or intentions, these are merely normative attempts to include the tamed animal within a family unit, a routine life, or an intimate relationship. To truly share a moment with the gaze of the animal is to stare into the dissolution of all we may (or may not) hold dear. Animals may eat like us; sleep like us; reproduce like us. But the whole grid of intelligibility for which these activities have social meaning or collective affect has no purchase for Derrida’s cat (who famously shares a moment of mutual nudity with him in this text) or my childhood dog. This is the dissolution of which radical indifference is capable. The animal, however, is a mere figure here; it is not the abyss. One can, after all, form nonhuman companionships with animals (as they can with one another). However, the abyss itself—the pure indeterminate—is complete dissolution, radical emptiness. Black nothingness is not a bottomless gaze. It is the bottomlessness of indifference itself. The void. Deleuze says: we must begin here if we are to conceptualize difference.

[2] The white nothingness. But what is this other nothingness? Why the visceral imagery of a slaughterhouse, dissection room, or butcher shop? Perhaps it might help to refigure this nothingness as a junk heap, a graveyard of undead objects (as it were). These objects are/were/could be determined things embedded in a network of values, concepts, and uses. (See the image below.) But in this space these things become “unconnected” and inoperative, “floating determinations [that] are no less indifferent to each other” than the “completely indifferent” abyss itself (DR 28). In the junk heap, indifference is also the rule, filled with severed pieces without home or environment or function in a set of equipment. If one wants to understand difference in itself, this calm surface of inoperative and undead determinations works just as well as the abyss. It is the other side of nothingness.

One could tell a story about difference using indifference’s black and white aspects. In the beginning was darkness, the deep, the void. Then came intermediate difference, which (at the end) ran its course, fragmenting and dispersing into unconnected pieces on the calm surface of a junk heap or slaughterhouse.

Deleuze seems to intimate this story when he asks, “Is difference intermediate between these two extremes?” (DR 28). A careful reader, however, already knows this is a rhetorical question. No. Difference is not a waypoint or pathway from nothingness to nothingness. He follows up this question with another rhetorical question that seconds as his thesis statement: “Or is [difference] not the only extreme, the only moment of presence and precision?” Interesting. Despite the vivid, visceral images of the depths and surface of nothingness, it is difference that is the true rupture; it is the presence that manages to “distinguish[] itself.”

But distinguish itself from what?

Before turning to this question in the next section, it is worth taking another Derridean detour. In Of Grammatology (published the same year as Difference and Repetition)Derrida argues that the history of philosophy and science has always (and with moralistic fervor) aligned presence with being, proximity, corroboration, and self-identity. Absence, presence’s opposite, has always been aligned with nothingness (the abyss), distance, uncertainty, and difference. Deconstruction—whether it destabilizes meanings or values or laws or tools or some other state of affairs—requires but one assumption: namely, “the structural necessity of the abyss” (Derrida 163). “[T]he indefinite process of supplementarity,” which goes by many names in Derrida’s oeuvre,

has always already infiltrated presence, always inscribed there the space of repetition and the splitting of the self. Representation in the abyss of presence is not an accident of presence; the desire of presence is, on the contrary, born from the abyss (the indefinite multiplication) of representation, from the representation of representation, etc. (163)

We glimpse here an affinity between Deleuze and Derrida. However, Derrida’s work is predicated on the simultaneous undoing of and reliance on the binaries he deconstructs. Though he playfully refers to “the abyss of presence” (italicizing “abyss” so that we do not miss this intentional play), such a phrase is only useful if we maintain the associated and historical binaries of presence and absence, only if we retain the link between presence, being, knowledge, and self-identity. What is interesting about the opening sentences of Deleuze’s chapter on “difference in itself” is that he betrays the history that Derrida continues to honor. He disrupts the chain of binary oppositions that Derrida retains, breaking difference away from its association with absence and aligning it, instead, with being and presence (thus altering what these terms mean for us). In doing so (as we shall see) Deleuze also decouples self-identity from being. Since it belongs to the realm of representation, identity is aligned neither with presence nor with absence; it operates on a completely separate plane.

Screenshot 2014-06-18 08.06.37For a literature student who has been steeped in Derrida’s argument, as I have, Deleuze’s references to “essence” and “presence”—especially in Proust and Signs and Difference and Repetition—can seem somewhat naive or antiquated. However, after reading Deleuze, it is often Derrida who can seem naive. For him, difference must remain in opposition to identity; (self-)identity is still the point of departure from which he asserts the movement of the trace, the inescapable operation of differance, and (of course) “the structural necessity of the abyss.” For Deleuze, however, the primary relation is not between identity and the abyss. It is still, of course, between presence and absence or being and nothingness (as the tables above show), but these terms are now aligned, respectively, with difference and indifference. Difference is and is the only thing that truly is, but it is only in relation to its ground: indifference, nothingness, the abyss, the calm surface.

Despite this conceptual rearrangement, Derrida and Deleuze still seem to agree. The abyss is a “structural necessity” of presence. How they understand presence and its relation to the abyss, however, seem very distinct. For Deleuze, difference—and, for that matter, presence—has nothing to do with a secure “empirical” contrast “‘between’ two things.” (What’s the difference between this pen and that pencil? This tiger and that lion? This ceiling and that floor? This prince and that pauper?) It also has nothing to do with the imposition of a hierarchical order and its world of equipment onto the abyss. It also has nothing to do with identity. Rather, difference has to do—as we will see—with an ontological relationship: namely, the relationship between a field of determinations and the indeterminate itself, that is, between a thing and its ground, between distinction and indifference, lightning and sky, cruelty and calm, thought and unthought, disturbance and background. We should “imagine” the first term in each of these pairs, Deleuze writes, as “something which distinguishes itself” from the second term, and “yet that from which [the first term] distinguishes itself does not distinguish itself from it” (DR 28, emphasis added). It is odd that most commentators ignore this difficult sentence, for in it we glimpse the asymmetrical model of Deleuze’s metaphysics.

II. On Cruelty: Determination as Unilateral Distinction and Deformation

The remaining sentences of Deleuze’s paragraph are dizzying, but they all share one purpose: namely, visualizing this asymmetrical partnership between difference and indifference. Deconstruction proceeds with the slow and selective work of turning binaries around in order to undo them (provisionally), privileging the subordinate (again, provisionally), and reconceptualzing terms at hand (e.g., ontologizing difference into “differance,” expanding writing into arche-writing, putting sovereign signifiers sous rature, reading everything as a supplement or trace of a trace of a trace…), but Deleuze handles binaries much less playfully, elegantly, or strategically. Rather than undoing them, he intensifies the division between them, giving them peculiar roles within a larger ontological machine of determination. (Note: In Deleuze, The Dark Precursor (2012), Eleanor Kaufman addresses Deleuze’s tendency to establish rigid conceptual barriers between parts of a single conceptual machine; in his “disjunctive logic,” which he shares [she argues] with Sartre, “there is no mediating term” [35].) It is important that difference and indifference are radically divided (rather than deconstructed), for this radical split serves as the condition of the double struggle of determination (what Kaufman dubs Deleuze’s “dialectics”): a singularity distinguishes itself from the abyss or the surface; the abyss or surface latches onto, trails behind, supports, and lends its power to the singularity. There is only one distinction here (that of the singularity, of the “extreme [. . .] moment of presence and precision” [DR 28]), but this oneness requires and cannot break from the persistent, indifferent background of the indeterminate and indistinct.

To help us visualize “[d]ifference [as] this state in which determination takes the form of unilateral distinction,” Deleuze employs the common figure of a “black sky” from and against which a bolt of lightning “distinguishes itself” (DR 28). A black sky is neither erased nor filled in by lightning; the bolt and sky do not blur or bleed together; the sky is not rendered any less indistinct. Rather, its darkness is pulled along with the flash and made all the more impressive and momentarily sensible by it. “Lightning,” Deleuze writes, “distinguishes itself from the black sky, but must also trail it behind [mais doit le traîner avec lui], as though distinguishing itself from that which does not distinguish itself from it” (DR 28). This clumsy description expresses a non-dialectical relation in which the sky—as persistent “ground” rises “to the surface” along with the singularity of a bolt, indeed, with each singular generation of a bolt. The singularity/bolt requires the abyss/sky in order to distinguish itself most powerfully, but the black sky remains, lending its power and “continu[ing] to espouse that which divorces it” (DR 28).

What does Deleuze gain by mobilizing nothingness into a “rising ground” (DR 28)? By introducing movement into the abyss? What sort of espousal does nothingness contribute to the process of determination or the moment of distinction? Perhaps we might say that nothingness has a way of calling the bluff of our most treasured beliefs about why we exist, what our purposes are, and how we should live. This is, one might say, the great lesson of naturalist literature (e.g., Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” [1897]). But no matter how much we might insist, no matter how inclusive our moralities become, or how just our institutions are, nothingness continues to haunt us, as Virginia Woolf puts it, like “a sadness at the back of life” (Essays 4:50). Encounters with nothingness—whether the abyss or the calm surface—have a way of deflating the naturalized status of social values, scripts, and expectations. To illustrate this radical power of nothingness and its importance for determination, Deleuze slides from his figure of the black sky and the lightning bolt to more disconcerting terms which teeter between figurative and literal. “There is cruelty,” he writes, “even monstrosity, on both sides of this [double] struggle against an elusive adversary, in which,” he repeats, “the distinguished opposes something which cannot distinguish itself from it but continues to espouse that which divorces it” (DR 28, emphasis added). “We must therefore say that difference is made,” he continues, “or makes itself, as in the expression ‘make the difference’. This difference or determination as such is also cruelty” (DR 28, original emphasis).

Why does Deleuze call this relationship between difference and indifference cruel and monstrous? In his guidebook to DR, James Williams writes,

[Deleuze] associates the belief that things can be determined independently of a chaotic backdrop, and the belief that we should move towards a complete determination of things and away from chaos, with the belief that it is possible to finally do justice to things, to act without cruelty. His counter-view is that difference as chaos is necessary and compels acts of determination to a necessary cruelty. His precise understanding of cruelty is, then, the generation of emotion and change as things are determined in relation to an indifferent background. (Gilles Deleuze’s DR 58)

He also comes to Deleuze’s rescue should anyone think Deleuze is promoting cruelty in this paragraph:

It would be a mistake [. . .] to move too readily between actual forms of cruelty and Deleuze’s definition. He does not mean that we cannot avoid actual specific acts of violence, as if we could only shrug our shoulders at images of torture. His work for a group concerned with prison conditions, the Groupe Information Prisons, in the 1970s, alongside Foucault, testifies to the belief that philosophy can be engaged against cruelty. But this engagement does not mean that philosophy can somehow aim to be pure or that it can bring ever greater purity to the world. Even when we determine something as wrong and something as better, we have to throw others back into indistinctness and we carry something of the indistinct forward. (58-59)

Weird. Anyway, Williams is correct, I think, that any moment of difference or determination “carr[ies] something of the indistinct” or indifferent “forward” with it (a fragment of that “chaotic backdrop,” if you will), but his immediate defense of/apology for DR‘s terminology also obscures Deleuze’s obvious effort to unsettle us and to fashion a troubling conceptual link between difference and repetition. In the first passage, Williams conflates difference and indifference. Is the “indifferent background” conceptually identical to the “chaotic backdrop”? If so, how can we then define “difference as chaos”? By “cruelty” here does Deleuze really mean “the generation of emotion and change” that necessarily fails “to finally do justice to things” in themselves? Part of me doubts it.

Rather, there is a structural cruelty to the struggle between the singularity and the ground. Though Deleuze does not explicitly figure this struggle as a struggle between a jealous lover and the fabricated image of the beloved (à la Proust), I think there is still a useful analogy to be made here. We might imagine the harshness of the lover (Marcel or Swann himself) who—as Deleuze puts it—”sequesters” the beloved (Gilbertine, Albertine, or Odette) and “is careful not to avow his love to her, in order to remain a better guardian, a better jailer” (Proust and Signs 79). But in his effort to distinguish their love through such harshness, the lover again and again discovers the cruelty of the beloved’s indifference, the way in which he is himself not the center or “the origin of the worlds she implicates in herself” or “the point of departure of her gestures, her habits and tastes that she [only] temporarily devotes to” the lover (PS 79). While this is a problematic analogy, it helps to illustrate how Deleuze is envisioning the mechanism of determination itself as a double harshness: the singularity boldly distinguishing itself; the background persistently reintroducing indifference. “This difference or determination as such is [. . .] cruelty” (DR 28). Deleuze’s reference to cruelty, then, does not refer to our inability to do justice to a thing in itself (conceptually or empirically). Rather, it has to do with the very process of determination itself. A conceptually internal cruelty that, really, has nothing to do with our own (impotent) intentions.

But I think there is another way in which to read Deleuze’s reference to cruelty, one which also discords with Williams’s analysis. Continuing on with Deleuze’s paragraph, he writes:

The Platonists used to say that the not-One distinguished itself from the One, but not the converse, since the One does not flee that which flees it; and at the other pole, form distinguishes itself from matter or from the ground, but not the converse, since distinction itself is a form. In truth, all the forms are dissolved when they are reflected in this rising ground. [Nothingness] has ceased to be the pure indeterminate which remains below, but the forms also cease to be the coexisting or complementary determinations [destined, one might say, for the junk heap or graveyard of dismembered limbs]. The rising ground is no longer below, it acquires autonomous existence; the form reflected in this ground is no longer a form but an abstract line acting directly upon the soul. When the ground rises to the surface, the human face decomposes in this mirror in which both determinations and the indeterminate combine in a single determination which ‘makes’ the difference. (DR 28, emphasis added)

I do not know who Deleuze’s “Platonists” are. Despite a bit of casual searching, I have come up empty-handed. If anyone can track down a reference or source for the beginning of this passage, it would be appreciated! (Note: I’m interested in the not-One/One distinction and the extent to which Deleuze might be forcing a correspondence between his own work here and that of Plato/nists.)

However, I’m less invested here in Deleuze’s comments on Platonism than I am in the association between difference and deformation. Deleuze has already figured the extreme moment of difference as cruel struggle between the singularity and its background (lightning and the black sky), but here he asserts more directly how difference is made and what its relationship is to determined (ideal?) forms. Moments of difference, Deleuze appears to be claiming in the passage above, far from offering us a foothold for understanding the cosmos or a clear picture of how the world is or should be, actually holds up a “mirror” that cruelly distorts and dissolves forms. In short, difference deforms “the human face.”

Wait, what? What on earth does any of this have to do with faces?

The form of unilateral distinction that Deleuze theorizes here—which characterizes the moment of difference—actually describes a deformation of conceptual distinctions and determinations. It comprises the odd union of the indeterminate (the rising ground, a mobilized, autonomous fragment of nothingness) with a group of already-formed determinations. This union constitutes a new and singular determination that dissolves the ideal operation of those determinations, decomposing their established relationships and our own expectations about what they purport to explain, describe, or (generally) do. When Deleuze uses the word “Idea” and “singularity” in Difference and Repetition, it is clear to me that he is referring to a “new and singular determination” that is the result not only of orphaned, bastardized, and rearranged components but also of a little bit of indifference, a fragment of the abyss with which Deleuze’s chapter begins. Can we get more concrete about this? I will in the following section.

But, first, I have to linger with the question: what does this have to do with faces?

Perhaps we might say that when one encounters or experiences the extremity of difference, it is as if one’s everyday expectations or anticipations, one’s ideal understanding for how things go, becomes fractured. I and my conceptual apparatuses encounter and undergo what Mauro Carbone, in his book on Proust, late Merleau-Ponty, and early Deleuze, calls “an unprecedented deformation” (Unprecedented 43). Difference is this deformation, this harsh combination of “determinations and the indeterminate” (DR 28). My sense of the world does not fracture in this cruel encounter with difference from a lack of empirical content or from not having enough experience or from not having a more robust inventory of concepts with a greater number of predicates. Rather, my sense of/and self break down when brought face-to-“face” with the indifference in this difference, with the trace of facelessness in the singularity. In the mirror of (in)difference, the reflection that looks back at us is the ontological truth of our own identity: that its most naturalized, idealized, self-evident determinant (i.e., the human face) is a fragile and conceptual combination of readymade determinations. The face is but one contingent (ideal?) form among many. Our face is only possible because of a radical facelessness that constitutes its background and which deforms it in the extreme moment of difference. Returning to Williams’s comments on cruelty, we have to say that Deleuze’s references to cruelty have nothing to do with a cruelty to things in the world, with the fact that our conceptual apparatuses will never do justice to them or present them as they are in themselves. Rather, it has to do with [1] the structural cruelty at the heart of difference itself (in the relationship between the singularity and indifference) and [2] the process of deformation that I encounter when I come face-to-facelessness with a singularity, with “something,” as Deleuze will later put it, “that forces [me] to think” (DR 139).

III. Recipes for Difference: On Monsters, Painting, and Thought

Goya, Francisco. El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.

Can I make (a) difference? Deleuze’s paragraph continues: “It is a poor recipe for producing monsters to accumulate heteroclite determinations or to overdetermine the animal. It is better to raise up the ground and dissolve the form” (DR 28-29). In the following sentences, Deleuze refers to two non-contemporary painters: Francisco Goya (1746-1828, Spanish romanticist) and Odilon Redon (1840-1916, French symbolist). Despite their non-contemporaneity, he uses them and their work to exemplify how one might actually bring about the combination of the indeterminate with certain determinations. In the case of Goya, he references (but does not name) Los Caprichos (1797-1798), a set of 80 critically-edged aquatint prints, specifically one entitled “El sueño de la razon produce monstruos” (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters). “Goya worked with aquatint and etching,” Deleuze writes, “the grisaille of the one and the severity of the other” (DR 29). I’m not entirely sure what his point is, since aquatint is a kind of etching (at least as I understand it). In truth, I’m just not sure I know enough about the forms and techniques in question. Suffice it to say that Deleuze saw Goya’s turn to aquatint as a deformation of traditional etching, plugging an indifference to tradition and custom into the old form, thus producing—aesthetically and socio-critically—these singular prints. In his biography of Goya (2003), Robert Hughes writes, “Goya was perfectly capable of stealing a form or a motif from a strict Neoclassicist like Flaxman, but his drawings never look as if he did. Rather, they exalt the scribble, the puddle, the blot, the smear, the suggestive beauty of the unfinished—and, above all, the primal struggle of light and dark, that flux from which all consciousness of shape is born.” Sounds quite Deleuzian: stealing, smearing, blotting, leaving radically open, introducing a bit of the indeterminate into the work of art. But while Goya’s Caprichos attacked—satirically, scathingly, beautifully, disturbingly—what he saw as widespread stupidity and ignorance and violence, Deleuze turns the title of his most recognizable print on its head later in the paragraph. It is not “certain,” he writes, “that it is only the sleep of reason which gives rise to monsters: it is also the vigil, the insomnia of thought, since thought is that moment in which determination makes itself one, by virtue of maintaining a unilateral and precise relation to the indeterminate” (DR 29, emphasis added). Interestingly, Deleuze steals from Goya in precisely the same way that Goya stole from someone like Flaxman (according to Hughes). He borrows a phrase, refers to an experimental work, but instead of adopting the critical subtext of the work of art he actually affirms the birth of monsters: thought itself, unable to sleep, vigilant as Goya himself, also achieves deformation. Under this logic, painting—for Deleuze—is a thinking, and great painting is a thinking-otherwise.

Deleuze appears to admire the play of light and dark in the work of Redon as well:

Redon used chiaroscuro and the abstract line. The abstract line acquires all its force from giving up the model—that is to say, the plastic model of the form—and participates in the ground all the more violently in that it distinguishes itself from it without the ground distinguishing itself from the line. (DR 29)

This is the third or fourth time in a single paragraph that Deleuze has used this clumsy, non-dialectical formulation: a thing distinguishes itself from a second thing, which does not distinguish itself from that first thing. It was the case with lightning and sky, lover and beloved, but here Deleuze argues that it manifests visually in Redon’s work. In the first endnote for this chapter, Deleuze cites a passage from Redon’s À soi-même: Journal, 1867-1915 (1922) in which Redon claims that the sources of his paintings are not objective forms or “the laws of light and dark” and “the conventional means of relief” (DR 308). In his own words, his paintings are confined “to the resources of chiaroscuro” and “also owe[] much to the effects of the abstract line,” which he calls “the agent from a profound source, acting directly on the spirit” (308). This alignment of the abstract with the immediate and the ideal/formal with the mediate resonates with Deleuze’s own conceptual arrangement of difference with precision, presence, extremity, and being (and also repetition’s alignment with “an instantaneity” in his introduction [DR 2]). It is difficult for me to judge the extent to which Deleuze is forcing his conceptual architecture onto Redon without an example. In an effort to understand a little bit of what Deleuze seems to be getting at, I turned to Jodi Hauptman’s Beyond the Visible: The Art of Odilon Redon (2005).

(Note: It was here, in Hauptman’s book, that I realized—for the first time—that Baudelaire (though unnamed here) may have been one of the sources for Deleuze’s reference to Goya in this paragraph. In The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays (1964), Baudelaire writes of Goya, “All those distortions, those bestial faces, those diabolic grimaces of his are impregnated with humanity” (in short, they are mirrors, as Deleuze puts it; mirrors which dissolve forms). “In a word,” Baudelaire continues, “the line of suture, the point of junction between the real and the fantastic is impossible to grasp; it is a vague frontier which not even the subtlest analyst could trace, such is the extent to which the transcendent and the natural concur in his art” (“Some Foreign Caricaturists” 193). Transcendent/natural might align nicely with the transcendental/empirical binary which Deleuze will fuse later in Difference and Repetition. But back to Hauptman on Redon . . .)

Redon, Odilon. The smiling spider (1881).

“Like Goya,” Hauptman writes, “Redon traffics in the monstrous and the diabolic, in distortion and degeneration, and deploys line, shadow, and hue to induce sensations of unease and dread” (17). Her “geography” of that borderland between the real and the fantastic, she writes, “is based on close analysis of specific artistic practices: the use of chiaroscuro, the invention of a language of indeterminacy, the representation of the dream, the exploration of transformation and metamorphosis, the turn to color.” Despite his late turn to color and chalk and lithography, Redon’s “primary tool” for creating the “‘obscure world’ of shadow” and “indeterminacy [. . .] was charcoal” (28). Hauptman makes a great deal out of this tool, seeing it as the perfect medium for fusing—in Francesca Pietropaolo’s words “spirit and matter” (qtd. 28). Why? The “fundamental qualities” of charcoal—”its evanescent power, its crystallized shadows”—allow for a peculiar deformation or transformation of “mark-making itself,” turning from the “explicit, defined, and precise” markings of classical drawing to “the vague, the nebulous, the obscure in both form and subject matter.” Indeed, the radical uncertainty of Redon’s drawings—”the ambiguity of body, being, and nature, the vague humanity of organisms and plants, [. . .] the nothingness of air, water, and darkness” (31)—achieve a singular fusion of recognizable determinations (spider, smile, tile, hair, legs) with a disconcerting indifference to these very same determinations (and those normally associated with them). This singular fusion is thus a new determination, unilaterally distinguished against the same ground that lends its power of disruption to the images themselves. The uncanny “emotional life” of Redon’s “monsters,” which Hauptman takes up a bit earlier in her essay, are the very thing that constitute the distorted mirror to which Deleuze refers, that “abstract line” that plays along that vague borderland between light and shadow, that leads us into the very center of the spider’s body, and that connects our own deformed face—recognizing ourselves eidetically in that which we do not resemble—to the smile of the spider. “We should not be surprised,” Deleuze writes, “that difference should appear”—as this spider does—”accursed, that it should be error, sin or the figure of evil for which there must be expiation. There is no sin other than raising the ground and dissolving the form” (DR 29).

So what do we learn about Deleuze’s conceptual architecture from these examples of Goya and Redon? Namely that one makes (a) difference when one enacts unilateral distinction, when one fashions a mirror which distorts and deforms the faces of those who look into it, and when a fusion of the indeterminate (that “chaotic backdrop” of nothingness that Williams references) and a few readymade determinations create a singularity/Idea. And this making-difference is the activity, at least for Deleuze, of painting and of thinking.

Postscript: Francis Bacon and Three Creative Activities

This uncanny model of composition—the combination/deformation of the indeterminate with determinations—anticipates Deleuze’s later monograph on Francis Bacon (1981) as well as his final collaboration with Félix Guattari, What Is Philosophy? (1991, trans. 1994). In the first text, deformation is but one method of a larger set of techniques which include isolation, deterritorialization, and the application of prostheses. And, as in Goya and Redon, these techniques—which Bacon enacts through blurring and blotting and vivid coloring. Like his two examples in DR, Bacon creates “monsters” (xxxiii) and often does so by “dismantl[ing] the face” (19), creating the sensation of “the Scream,” and fashioning “the hole”—through deformation—”through which the entire body escapes” (24).

Bacon, Francis. Fragment of a Crucifixion (1950).

In the latter text, Deleuze and Guattari define three modes of creativity activity—art, philosophy, and science—as well as the their three respective productions: [1] affects and percepts, [2] concepts, and [3] functions. These creations are not representations of the world but, rather, compositions that link various components (or determinations) with a bit of “chaos” (or the indeterminate).

Deleuze and Guattari write:

[. . .] art, science, and philosophy [. . .] cast planes over the chaos. These three disciplines are not like religions that invoke dynasties of gods, or the epiphany of a single god, in order to paint a firmament on the umbrella [that we construct to hide or protect ourselves from chaos], like the figures of an Urdoxa from which opinions stem. Philosophy, science, and art want us to tear open the firmament and plunge into chaos. We defeat [chaos] only at this price. [. . .] The scientist brings back from the chaos variables that have become independent by slowing down, that is to say, by the elimination of whatever other variabilities are liable to interfere, so that the variables that are retained enter into determinable relations in a function: they are no longer links of properties in things, but finite coordinates on a secant plane of reference that go from local probabilities to a global cosmology. The artist brings back from the chaos varieties that no longer constitute a reproduction of the sensory in the organ but set up a being of the sensory, a being of sensation, on an anorganic plane of composition that is able to restore the infinite. [. . .] And philosophical thought does not bring its concepts together in friendship without again being traversed by a fissure that leads them back to hatred or disperses them in the coexisting chaos where it is necessary to take them up again, to seek them out, to make them leap. It is as if one were casting a net, but the fisherman always risks being swept away and finding himself in the open sea when he thought he had reached port. [. . .] It is as if the struggle against chaos does not take place without an affinity with the enemy, because another struggle develops and takes on more importance—the struggle against opinion, which claims to protect us from chaos itself. (WIP 202-3)

I do not have the space to explicate this whole passage, but I hope that you can sense resonances between the opening paragraph of DR‘s first chapter and these words from the conclusion to WIP. For difference to emerge—we might say, for a concept, a percept/affect, or a function to emerge and become operational—it must be in a kind of collaborative struggle with  chaos (or what Deleuze calls in his earlier work “the indeterminate” or “indifference”). And what do these compositions resist? As in DR, they resist all forms, all opinions, all efforts to guard us from chaos that have not learned (or have forgotten) to work with components of that chaos.



  1. I have to let you know my gratitude for these posts, having recently started DR but feeling overwhelmed by his prose, especially such difficult sections as this…I can only hope that you will continue writing!

    1. Thank you for your comment! The book will always be overwhelming for me too, but I’m still chipping away at it. Some off-site projects have kept me from continuing with my Slow Reading (of DR and of Three Guineas), but I’ll get back to it in a few weeks. Cheers!

  2. the abstract line and the face get used in a thousand plateaus too – difficult stuff but maybe worth looking into. the abstract line, from what i remember, is used as part of a distinction between abstract/inorganic (via pollock) and organic (i.e. representational) art and ties into the development of the concept of inorganic life. DG also refer to a process of facialisation, which i took to be some sort of transition from animal to human

  3. The reference about the Platonists seems to be, primarily, about Plotinus. In his Enneads he’s telling the story of the One (εν) that in its fullness emanates all beings (όντα). (The whole exposition is quite Hegelian, or the other way around.) Deleuze, already, hints on the “Neo-Platonists” in his “Spinoza et le problème de l’expression”, where he connects the terms “implication”-“enveloppement” (the One implicated in what it expresses) and “explication”-“developpement” (expression of the One to the Many), claiming that these are not opposites but really modes of expression, He later suggests that “expression” is a synonym of “emanation”. These neoplatonic terms are to be found again on “Le Pli”.

    1. I’m at a time in my career when I might have to formalize this series into a primary project in order to continue. Then again, it’s possible I’ll take it back up after the end of the semester. I certainly want to keep going!

  4. Deleuze’s depiction of “the white nothingess” as, “a head without a neck, an arm without a shoulder, eyes without brows” is a reference to this fragment from the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles of Acragas:

    “By her [Love] many neckless faces sprouted,
    and arms were wandering naked, bereft of shoulders,
    and eyes were roaming alone, in need of foreheads.”

    Empedocles believed the world was composed of the four elements (earth, water, air, and fire), which eternally persisted but were mixed in different ways by the force of Love and decomposed by the force of Strife to make everything that exists. I’m not sure what the significance of this reference is, but it’s interesting.

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