In my last post—completed over two months ago (eek!)—I tried to unpack the point of departure for DR‘s philosophy of difference. And where did I leave it? “There is no sin other than raising the ground and dissolving the form” (DR 29). In short, no other sin, no cruelty, no assault on common sense or representational systems quite like “that precise point at which the determined maintains its essential relation with the undetermined.” The state in which the relation between the determined and undetermined is maintained, Deleuze asserts, is difference in itself and is also the condition of possibility for repetition (see my previous Slow Reading posts).
In the following paragraph, Deleuze reframes the history of philosophy as an urgent, even heroic response to his disconcerting (monstrous) notion of difference:
To rescue difference from its maledictory state seems, therefore, to be the project of the philosophy of difference. Cannot difference become a harmonious organism and relate determination to other determinations within a form—that is to say, within the coherent medium of an organic representation? (DR 29)
These two audacious sentences locate a fallacy at the root of philosophy: namely, the presumption of a radical harmony or determining balance that governs the diversity of things and processes. (This would apply, it seems, to metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and politics.) Would it not be a better world—more rational, less frightening, more satisfying—if every singularity was not—in fact—a singularity at all? If general categories could be invented that would correspond to fundamental bonds of affinity or similarity between even the most unsettling deviations? According to Deleuze’s retrojective argument, philosophy must find a way to tame and tolerate the monstrous, cruel, sinful, or evil and to translate difference (qua the dissolution of forms, qua singularity) into formal, conceptual difference. By doing so, philosophy also transforms the notion of singularity into a myth, evidence of unsophisticated ignorance and awe.
It is tempting to slip from Deleuze’s metaphysics to contemporary political theory here, particularly to the democratic ethos of tolerance, which Wendy Brown critiques so persuasively in Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (2008). But in order to illustrate the clash between difference in itself and systems of representation, perhaps a more popular example will suffice:
The opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) encapsulates so many of the film’s recurring themes and anticipates how they will inform one another later on: modern technology (especially electronic and networked technology), the resurrection of monstrous yet alluringly elegant creatures, the dangers of misapplying general strategies of control or containment to unique or underestimated subjects, the isolation of capital-production from ethical training, the danger of neglecting ecological thinking, the corporate willingness to sacrifice the dispensable and nameless on the altar of Spectacle, etc.. When the deviant velociraptor introduces a deadly error into an otherwise very practiced and regimented procedure—the transportation of a wild animal into its enclosure—the panicked response, the excessive use of firepower (could the animal really survive that many shots at close range?), the verbal refrain (“Shoot her! Shoot her!”), and the shared gaze of the creature and Robert Muldoon form a microcosmical version of the film’s larger point. Put Deleuzianly, the effort to tame difference using well-established and well-polished systems will eventually hit that “precise point at which the determined”—the resurrected, genetically modified, Latinated, and controlled creatures from another age—”maintains its essential relation to the undetermined.” Another famous scene explicitly dramatizes this point:
Dr. Malcolm: “Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun [. . .] [B]efore you even knew what you had, you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunch box and now you’re selling it, you want to sell it.” Dr. Sattler: “Well, the question is, ‘How can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem? Therefore, how could you ever assume that you can control it?'” While Malcolm’s objection to the park largely turns upon a sentimentalization notion of Nature—as if it were a conscious agent which “selected” dinosaurs for extinction (not quite what natural selection means, it seems to me)—what his and Sattler’s insights share is a recognition that there is a fundamental difference that has not been part of John Hammond’s calculus (or the calculus of his team of scientists). Hammond has relied upon the most advanced techniques and technologies for containing known and extant animals, the most tried and true methods of branding and design, and the most tired, romantic arguments for feeding the humanity’s childlike wonder at prehistoric lifeforms and, by doing so, brings everyone in the film (including his own grandchildren) to that “precise point” at which the determined meets the undetermined, and the effects (though thrilling and suspenseful for the audience) spell death, disaster, and/or trauma for everyone. The monsters cannot be fully tamed, and the effects of the postmodern repetition of the prehistoric are unforeseen and must be dealt with in provisional and impromptu ways. For Deleuze, philosophers have always been a little like John Hammond when it comes to dealing with difference, setting up conceptual theme parks in which difference can be distributed, monitored, controlled, and studied from the safety of general schemas and systems.
[Potentially Unrelated Aside: In a weird way, the film and its associated promotional distribution in the early 1990s ended up repeating the failures of the fictional park and park designer. Though fiction has the capacity to tame rather wild creatures and though the film follows through on the complete branding and containment of monstrousness—appealing (as Hammond wished to do) to the wonder of children—that success was also pretty fraught. The branding within the film—the banners and exhibits and audiovisual recordings and automated displays and vehicles—leak into the real world in the form of toys, happy meals, and (to the dismay of Ian Malcolm) lunchboxes. In fact, the very font of the opening credits is identical to the font used again and again in the fictional park itself. Indeed, by targeting children and young people in their promotions of the film, producers and advertisers of Jurassic Park ironically ended up becoming a little too much like John Hammond. As many reviewers noted when the film was released: this is not a kids movie: it is suspenseful and—for many young dinosaur romantics—potentially terrifying. On top of that, there are several scenes in which Hammond’s grandchildren are just inches away from being eaten! Jurassic Park is not The Land Before Time (1988), and thus the experience of watching the film was, for many young people, a little too much like being on the fictional tour of Hammond’s island.]
But enough about dinosaurs. If Hammond relied upon modern advertising and technology to structure his failed park, then what have been the strategies of philosophers for handling difference in itself? This leads us nicely into the next few sentences of Deleuze’s paragraph (the last I will be dealing with in this post…):
There are four principal aspects to ‘reason’ in so far as it is the medium of representation: identity, in the form of the undetermined concept; analogy, in the relation between ultimate determinable concepts; opposition, in the relation between determinations within concepts; resemblance, in the determined object of the concept itself. These forms are like the four heads or the four shackles of mediation. Difference is ‘mediated’ to the extent that it is subjected to the fourfold root of identity, opposition, analogy and resemblance. On the basis of a first impression (difference is evil), it is proposed to ‘save’ difference by representing it, and to represent it by relating it to the requirements of the concept in general.
Though Deleuze seems Aristotle in mind here (as the next several pages demonstrate), Plato’s speculations on ideal forms in The Republic are useful and instructive for making understanding this passage. In an effort to explore the difference between the sensible world and the world of ideas/forms and to anchor a definition of philosophy in the activity of engaging with things in themselves, Socrates prompts Glaucon:
‘Since beautiful is the opposite of ugly, they are two things.’
‘In so far as they are two, each of them is single?’
‘And the same principle applies to moral and immoral, good and bad, and everything of any type: in itself, each of them is single, but each of them has a plurality of manifestations because they appear all over the place, as they become associated with actions and bodies and one another. . . . Theatre-goers and sightseers are devoted to beautiful sounds and colours and shapes, and to works of art which consist of these elements, but their minds are constitutionally incapable [of that which the philosophers are capable: namely,] of seeing and devoting themselves to beauty itself.’ (476a-b)
In a famous passage a few sections later, Socrates argues that only things which provide contradictory sensations force us to think, and that these contradictory sensations actually draw us into questions about the “in itself” of an ideal form like “beauty itself.” He argues:
‘What about the bigness or smallness of the fingers [. . .]? Is what sight sees adequate in this case? Does it make no difference to it whether or not the finger it’s looking at is in the middle or on either end? And doesn’t the same go for touch and the fingers’ thickness and thinness or hardness and softness? And the other senses also give inadequate impressions in this kind of situation, don’t they? I mean, here’s how each sense works: the main point is that the sense into whose domain hardness falls is inevitably also the sense into whose domain softness falls; and the message it passes on to the mind is that, in its perception, the same thing is both hard and soft [. . .] And this, in outline, is why it occurs to us to ask what in fact bigness and smallness really are, isn’t it?’
‘And that’s how we come to distinguish what we call the intelligible realm [of the philosopher] from the visible realm [of the mere sightseer or theater-goer].’ (523e-524a, 524c)
For the Plato of these passages (there are many Platos, after all), difference is tamed through a metaphysical division between the intellectual world and the sensible world as well as between the Form and its “plurality of manifestations.” For this Plato, an ideal form (eidos) is a difference but an undetermined identity, completely harmonious with itself while its material/sensible manifestations are more or less similar or dissimilar to one another, manifesting contradictory sensuous encounters. Thus, the same object—a finger, a toe, a painting—can be both big and small, beautiful and ugly, depending on what other objects one compares it with or what the condition is under which one observes it. Thus Plato and Socrates relegate difference to the sensible world and, specifically, to the conceptual relations between the things in the world (which are simultaneously similar to and different from one another). This thing is different from that thing only insofar as it is more or less beautiful, which is to say more or less ugly. Thus identity (the most fundamental, ideal, and formal unit of Plato’s metaphysics), similarity, and opposition become the mechanisms of a representational view of the world. In this system, the appearance of difference within a thought-provoking sense-perception is nothing but a point of departure for investigating self-identical, non-contradictory Forms. Beauty itself never mixes with Ugliness itself. When they do mix, philosophy has recourse to other tools of reasons, to mediating difference [a] with analogical taxonomies of correspondence between species within a genus or between genera themselves or between a species and its genus; [b] with oppositions that form the determined, negative content of concepts themselves (this thing is beautiful because it is not ugly); and [c] with the sensual perception of objects that resemble one another (thus translation the repetition of singularities into continuity between conceptualization and material perception).
I’m not sure I have a good handle on these sentences yet, but as I prepare to finish up this paragraph in my next post and launch into Deleuze’s difficult paragraphs about Aristotle, I will have a bit more time to chew on them.