Slow Reading (1.27): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 29-30)

No dinosaurs this time, but there are a few references to dogs.

My last post—which only read a handful of sentences from Difference and Repetition—concluded with a brief summary of the four tools philosophy uses to tame difference in itself: “identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance” (DR 29). Though Deleuze writes more about these tools (which he also calls “shackles”) in his upcoming confrontation with Aristotle’s Metaphysics, I want to return to and flesh out my concluding remarks from a few weeks ago (heavily revised):

In The Republics provisional metaphysics, differences that appear in contradictory sense-perceptions are simply occasions for investigating self-identical, non-contradictory forms (eidos). Beauty itself (unlike its numerous manifestations) never mixes with Ugliness. “And how could it?” Socrates might ask, “If ugliness was part of beauty, then beauty would cease to be beautiful. They must be ideally separate, unmixed.” When the manifestations of Beauty and Ugliness inevitably mix in the material world, however, philosophy has recourse to three other tools of reason and mediates irruptions of difference [a] with analogical taxonomies of correspondence between species within a genus, between genera themselves, and between a single species and its corresponding genus; [b] with oppositions that form the content of determined concepts (this thing is beautiful because it is not ugly; it is beautiful in this sense; ugly in that sense); or [c] with perceptions of resemblance between one thing and another. These tools of representation successfully translate singularities into the manageable continuities of ideal forms (identities), concepts (analogies, oppositions) and material perceptions (resemblances).

We will return to each of these shackles (slowly) in forthcoming posts. To anticipate these pages just a bit, I will say a few words more about identity, analogy, opposition, and resemblance.

  • Identity: The self-same. The unmixed ideal and original.
  • Analogy: The Two or the Many in relation or in taxonomic distribution. The tabled and organized and judged.
  • Opposition: The Two in dialectic.
  • Resemblance: The Two that are more or less similar, capable of being grouped in a conceptual, perceptual kinship.

Foucault Archaeology of Knowledge (1969)These past few weeks I’ve been rereading Michel Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge (1969), which I had never realized is contemporaneous with Difference and Repetition (1968). I bring it up now because Foucault’s effort to theorize a method and justification for studying discourse is largely powered by a concern with irruption or discontinuity as the paradoxical key to the unity or coherence of, for instance, discourses of madness, medicine, grammar, economics, etc. To undertake the study of discourses, Foucault insists that “we must rid ourselves of a whole mass of notions, each of which, in its own way, diversifies the theme of continuity” (21). Among this mass are “tradition”—which “makes it possible to rethink the dispersion of history in the form of the same”—and “influence” as well as “development and evolution”—the latter equipping researchers “to discover, already at work in each beginning, a principle of coherence and the outline of a future unity” (21-22). Just as Deleuze aims to undermine and suspend the tools of reason and representation in his conceptualization of difference and its state of repetition, Foucault aims to study the variability, relativity, and discontinuity at the root of all discourses and to disturb “the tranquillity with which” all “forms of continuity” are so easily accepted—e.g, the way in which we so easily accept “the book” or “the oeuvre” or “the text” as a coherent object of knowledge (25). The history of psychopathology (one of Foucault’s favorite examples of discourse) has neither conceptual consistency nor a common object which it studies or describes. Rather, “the unity of the discourses on madness would be the interplay of the rules that define the transformations of [its] objects, their non-identity through time, the break produced in them, the internal discontinuity that suspends their permanence” (33). In short, it appears that Foucault wants to find a way to study the difference and repetition of certain discourses, fields of statements connected not by lines of identity, opposition, analogy, or resemblance (or tradition, influence, or evolution) but, rather, by the patterns and irruptions of a singular dispersion. A unique pattern or “law of division.” Difference and Repetition is a partner in Foucault’s efforts insofar as Deleuze’s work is attempting to wrest difference out of the shackles of the very same notions, to conceptualize the singularity whose repetition is a perpetual differentiation.

The remainder of Deleuze’s prefatory paragraph wraps up his summary of philosophy’s treatment of difference and anticipates the intervention he hopes to make in the remainder of this chapter. After summarizing reason’s shackles, he writes:

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. It is therefore a question of determining a propitious moment—the Greek propitious moment—at which difference is, as it were, reconciled with the concept. Difference must leave its cave and cease to be a monster; or at least only that which escapes at the propitious moment must persist as a monster, that which constitutes only a bad encounter, a bad occasion. At this point the expression ‘make the difference’ changes its meaning. It now refers to a selective test which must determine which differences may be inscribed within the concept in general, and how. Such a test, such a selection, seems to be effectively realized by the Large and the Small. For the Large and the Small are not naturally said of the One, but first and foremost of difference. The question arises, therefore, how far the difference can and must extend—how large? how small?—in order to remain within the limits of the concept, neither becoming lost within nor escaping beyond it. (29-30)

A few allusions in this passage have tripped me up for several weeks, delaying my progress through this episode of “slow reading” (though a few other projects and personal matters are mostly to blame). The first allusion is to the “propitious moment,” which Deleuze and his commentators apparently think a rather commonplace reference (identified only by its role in ancient Greek philosophy). My difficulty here is not so much with the concept of “kairos” but rather with the determination of what it might mean to Deleuze (rather than to me). After all, his concern here has more to do with metaphysics and the practice of philosophy rather than rhetoric and/or sophistry (which seem to be the usual classical contexts for talk of propitious moments and opportunities), so the reference has a strangeness that most commentators tend to neglect.

IMG_0234Though Deleuze takes up Aristotle in the following section, he will be engaging with the Metaphysics rather than the Rhetoric, so in this passage I presume he’s referencing Phaedrus, which he mentions several times throughout his work. What role does “kairos”—understood as the propitious or opportune moment—play in this dialogue? Here’s a relevant excerpt:

Since the nature of speech is in fact to direct the soul, whoever intends to be a rhetorician must know how many kinds of soul there are. Their number is so-and-so many; each is of such-and-such a sort; hence some people have such-and-such a character and others have such-and-such. Those distinctions established, there are, in turn, so-and-so many kinds of speech, each of such-and-such a sort. People of such-and-such a character are easy to persuade by speeches of such-and-such a sort in connection with such-and-such an issue for this particular reason, while people of such-and-such another sort are difficult to persuade for those particular reasons.

The orator must learn all this well, then put his theory into practice and develop the ability to discern each kind clearly as it occurs in the actions of real life. Otherwise he won’t be any better off than he was when he was still listening to those discussions in school. He will now not only be able to say what kind of person is convinced by what kind of speech; on meeting someone he will be able to discern what he is like and make clear to himself that the person actually standing in front of him is of just this particular sort of character he had learned about in school—to that he must now apply speeches of such-and-such a kind in this particular way in order to secure conviction about such-and-such an issue. When he has learned all this—when, in addition, he has grasped the right occasions for speaking and for holding back; and when he has also understood when the time is right for Speaking Concisely or Appealing to Pity or Exaggeration or for any other of the kinds of speech he has learned and when it is not—then, and only then, will he have finally mastered the art well and completely. But if his speaking, his teaching, or his writing lacks any one of these elements and he still claims to be speaking with art, you’ll be better off if you don’t believe him. (271d-272b; Complete Works 548-49, emphasis added)

So what does this long passage have to do with the “propitious moment” Deleuze refers to? At first blush, the connection seems rather thin, but it also seems (and here I move into speculation) that Deleuze is equating rhetorical art (as sketched out by Socrates here) with Socrates’s own philosophical, dialogic practice. Indeed, in trying to identify, delimit, and describe rhetoric as something more than the mere capacity to influence or persuade, Socrates is attempting to reconcile unwiedly irruptions of difference with a rigorous concept that will retroactively render these irruptions coherent and consistent. (The normative project passes itself off as a descriptive one: What must a rhetorician know or do in order to be considered a true rhetorician?) The Platonic dialogue form itself is a genre suited for recording propitious moments, occasions of Socrates opportunely intervening, persuading, and reconciling the contradictory behaviors, opinions, or positions of others with a knowledge ostensibly nearing the ideal. These dialogues capture “propitious moments” in which a lover or friend of wisdom confronts the erroneous, monstrous, and sinful (the relativistic practice of those charlatan sophists!) and bends them back into the shape of the just, good, and true. All variants, all troublesome impediments to conceptual reconciliation, all rhetoricians who do not fit the mould Socrates is shaping with and against Phaedrus and other interlocutors in other dialogues, are conveniently left back in the cave, left out of the dialogue, ensuring the avoidance of a “bad encounter”—as Deleuze puts it—and the overcoming of philosophical failure. In shackling difference to representation from the start, Socratic philosophizing epitomizes Socrates’s own description of the ideal art of rhetoric. Indeed, Socrates employs rhetoric’s tools in order to produce the ideal form of rhetoric. In doing so, Deleuze seems to be implying, Socrates himself becomes his own ideal rhetorician. (Of course, it has been an open secret for some time that Socrates is so completely that which he challenges and despises and desires: a sophist.)

My sister’s dog, Sawyer.

This passage from Phaedrus might also help us unpack the second tricky component of the Deleuze passage above: namely, his  reference to some sort of “test” of the “Large” and “Small.” What on earth is Deleuze talking about? In his previous paragraph, he asserts that a difference or singularity emerges when “both determinations and the indeterminate combine in a single determination” and produce something deformative or “monstrous” (28, 29). In this paragraph, representational philosophy tames this monster through “a selective test” that will determine what differences of certain objects should and should not be part of their corresponding concepts. Deleuze’s diction of scale, though initially confusing (since he does not appear to be alluding to any specific philosophical text), is actually quite concrete and refers not the size of an object’s features but, rather, to how big or small a difference these features make in recognizing the object itself and distinguishing it from other objects. (“For the Large and the Small are not naturally said of the One [i.e., of the singularity], but first and foremost of [the] difference” between this thing and that.] In order to develop a concept of “dog” that approximates the ideal form Dog, I must select (if I am philosopher like Socrates) differences that are neither too big nor too small. The feature “four legs” is too small, since many creatures have four legs. These feature might work for some sort of more generic category of animal, but it will not quite do for a robust concept of “dog.” The feature “spots” is too large, despite the fact that it often works metonymically as a name for certain dogs, since many the coats of many canines do not have any spots at all. Therefore, other, better, more right-fitting differences must be determined and corralled into a concept of dog. How does Phaedrus help understand this conceptual testing? Well, one could track the method according to which Socrates dismisses certain forms or examples of rhetoric as monstrous or erroneous and determines others as appropriate or true. In fact, I may do this myself one day. For now, it helps to look back at the passage I’ve quoted and to see how well balanced and polished it is and how obviously it is the product of careful philosophical and scalar selection. The differences Socrates herds into his art of rhetoric are neither too Large nor too Small, neither too Hot nor too Cold. They are just right . . .

Deleuze ends his paragraph with a series of questions and a forecast:

It is obviously difficult to know whether the problem is well posed in this way: is difference really an evil in itself? Must the question have been posed in these moral terms? Must difference have been ‘mediated’ in order to render it both livable and thinkable? Must the selection have consisted in that particular test? Must the test have been conceived in that manner and with that aim? But we can answer these questions only once we have more precisely determined the supposed nature of the propitious moment. (DR 30)


The opening paragraphs of DR offer a brief “In the beginning…” story. In the beginning was difference in itself emerging wherever determinations (things we recognize) combined with elements of the indeterminate. Such combinations felt like errors, monsters, and cruelties. In the beginning (simultaneously) was philosophy engaging with these combinations, shackling them in the prison house of Representation and with the chains of Identity, Analogy, Opposition, and Resemblance. Deleuze’s closing questions, it seems to me, collectively ask: could it have been otherwise? Can it be otherwise here and now? Can one imagine different tests, other methods of selection, other understandings of moments or encounters in order to understand or even to make difference in itself? To approach the One without reducing it to mediations among or between? To work his way toward a “Yes!”—one that he will repeat throughout his life and work—Deleuze must move on from his obscure prefacing—which has tripped me up for months—and engage directly with the history of thought that precedes him in order to carve out his own combination of determinations and the indeterminate and to free his own monsters from their caves.

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