Slow Reading (1.28): Aristotelian Detour (Metaphysics Book X, Part 3)

Bust of Aristotle. Roman marble copy of Lysippos’s bronze (330 BC).

So, as usual, I’m lagging more slowly than I would like on my “slow reading” of Difference and Repetition (though perhaps that has become the point: to get through the book by the time I’m sixty or sixty-five, rereading parts I’ve already “read” and reading other things by Deleuze and his collaborators along the way). To prepare for the next section of Chapter 1 (pp. 30-35), I’ve been tinkering with bits of Aristotle’s Metaphysics (cited in one of DR‘s endnotes [308n2]). I came across something in Book X (or Iota), Part 3 (uncited) that might be relevant to a passage that confused me in Slow Reading 1.27. Here’s the Deleuze passage:

[When difference is shackled by representation,] the expression ‘make the difference’ [. . .] 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 [. . .] 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)

The source of the befuddling allusion to the “selective test” of “the Large and the Small” still escapes me (is Deleuze making this test up? I’m sincerely asking any readers better versed in the history of philosophy than I am), but his meaning, I think, is pretty clear: when we set ourselves the task of understanding a thing in the world by refining our the concept of it, we have to select some sort of filter or calibration test as a means to determine what is distinct or essential about this thing. What makes it “one” or “one of those”? What goes into our concept of it? What features are too minor (i.e., too small)? Too general (i.e., too large)?

And now this passage from Metaphysics:

And the one derives its name and its explanation from the contrary, the indivisible from the divisible, because plurality and the divisible is more perceptible than the indivisible, so that in definition plurality is prior to the indivisible, because of the conditions of perception.

To the one belong . . . the same and the like and the equal, and to plurality belong the other and the unlike and the unequal. (Book X, Part 3).

The last sentence here reminds me of Deleuze’s sentence, “For the Large and the Small are not naturally said of the One, but first and foremost of difference” (DR 29). I’m aware that I’m trespassing on specialized territory here. I’ve not read the Aristotle’s Metaphysics in its entirety (and I have no plan to do so), so I’m inexpertly and unletteredly leaping into the middle of a long, developed, complicated argument.

But still, I have a few observations all the same:

  1. Confirming Deleuze’s account of how philosophy learned to tame difference, Aristotle claims that “the one”—or at least our sense and understanding of it—is a result of our intellectual labor (or the labor of another). Our intellectual or conceptual sense of “the one” is derivative of a fundamental “plurality,” a perceptual field of divisible, contrary, and other things.
  2. The Large and the Small—like other oppositions—are features of this plurality. They are said, as Deleuze writes, “first and foremost of difference,” specifically the difference between two things (DR 29). It makes no sense to say of “the one” that it is Large or Small, for that would mean describing its substance/essence with a relation that is accidental to it.
  3. In order to move from plurality to a concept of “the one,” one must rely on the features of this field, testing out which differences must remain in this field of plurality and which contribute to a consistent, whole, individual, and universal intelligibility of “the one.”
  4. Though Aristotle does not list difference in the passage—as Deleuze will explain in the next paragraph of DR, he actually distinguishes otherness from difference—he will come to argue that a certain kind of contrariety is appropriate for thinking through “the one.” Contrariety at the level of genus is “too Large.” Contrariety at the level of individual things or creatures is “too Small.” The greatest, most complete difference is in the middle: at the level of differing species which share a single genus.

I’m not sure I’m getting anywhere here, but as potential food for thought, I think this tinkering with Aristotle helps makes some sense of the earlier passage in Difference and Repetition and prepares us to move forward into Deleuze’s account of the Metaphysics.

Reading on . . .

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