The Road Thus Far, or What Do the Guides Say?
What do other commentators make of Deleuze’s summary/critique of Aristotle? In his Gilles Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Critical Guide and Introduction, James Williams writes:
According to Aristotle, difference is more than otherness or diversity—it is opposition. In opposition, it reaches its greatest form in contraries. Furthermore, the greatest contraries are those that hold between species of a same genre (for example, in the difference between animals capable of flight or earth-bound). Outside these oppositions, difference becomes less strong, in the sense of less well-determined and, therefore, imperfect. So completely different things . . . are merely other. This otherness cannot be captured in a concept (Is this moon creature better than a truffle-hunting dog? How should I know? It’s just different.) Similarly, different individuals differ only in insignificant ways—that is, ways that cannot be thought of in terms of general concepts giving rise to species (Yeah, OK, this one’s a bit more ‘handsome’ but they’re both excellent truffle-hunters and that’s what matters.) (60)
I have not always been kind to Deleuze’s commentators, but Williams succinctly captures what I spent several thousand words trying to understand in my past few Slow Readings (see here and here). However, he does not really spend much time on Deleuze’s initially generous interpretation of Aristotle’s specific difference as a pure, qualitative, synthetic, mediated, and productive concept—one that suggests “a transport of difference, a diaphora (difference) of diaphora” that divides, distributes, and sustains a genus as it “condenses” into more and more species (DR 31).
However, Joe Hughes does touch on this in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition: A Reader’s Guide. He writes:
In Aristotle, difference could be considered as productive in the sense that by predicating a difference of a genus, you end up with a species. . . . Right down the tree it is always a difference which turns a genus into a species. The difference ‘corporeal’ (or ‘extended’), when attributed to ‘substance’, produces the species ‘body’. A body is an extended substance. ‘Body’ then becomes the genus which supports the next difference. The difference ‘animate’ turns the genus body into the species animal. When attributed to the genus animal, the difference ‘rational’ produces man. . . . From this point of view [Aristotle’s and Porphyry’s], difference appears to be individuating—or at least productive of species . . .. Specification [in Paul Patton’s translation, “determination of species”] relates one difference to the next. (Deleuze’s DR 40-41)
Again: much more succinct than my effort to unpack the daunting paragraph on DR‘s 31st page. And what of Henry Somers-Hall in Deleuze’s Difference and Repetition? He writes:
In order for two things to differ, Aristotle argues that they must also have something in common. We cannot have a difference between, for instance, a horse and an apple, as these two forms are too far apart from each other; they are what Aristotle calls ‘other’ to each other. Thus, a man and a horse differ in that man is a rational animal and a horse is a non-rational animal. The difference . . . makes sense because of the shared predicate of animal. . . . Specific difference is what allows species to be defined in Porphyry’s tree by dividing the genus. So, if we take the genus, animal, we are able to determine the species, man, by dividing animals into two kinds: rational and non-rational animals. Difference is the criterion by which we divide the genus into two species. (Deleuze’s DR 25-26)
Good. Okay. So difference—specific difference, specification, determination of species—is greatest, for Aristotle and his interpreter Porphyry, because it constitutes the mechanism of existential and/or ontological organization. “The determination of species,” to turn to Deleuze again, “links difference with difference across successive levels of division, like a transport of difference” from the top of Porphyry’s tree to the very bottom, “until a final” and indivisible “difference, that of the infirma species (lowest species), condenses . . . the entirety of the essence and its continued quality” (DR 31). But more than this, beyond the essence, difference “gathers” the essence and its quality “under an intuitive concept and grounds them along with the term to be defined [e.g., man, horse, moon creature], thereby becoming itself something unique and indivisible” (DR 31). Such is the promise of this classic treatment of difference: it links being—the essence of things in the world—with the categories and concepts according to which we define and know them. “In this manner,” Deleuze concludes, “the determination of species [which Hughes terms “specification”] ensures coherence and continuity in the comprehension of the concept.” I tried to slow read my way through these passages last time. I’m not sure I succeeded in teasing out what Deleuze is doing here, but Williams, Hughes, and Somers-Hall have helped to review the road thus far. Now it is time to move on with Deleuze’s critique of Aristotle.
Deleuze’s Critique of Aristotle’s Specific Difference
Aristotle calls “contrariety in the genus . . . the most perfect and maximal difference” (30). It is “the greatest.” But after all of Deleuze’s interpretative work—in which contrariety becomes “a transport of difference” “across the successive levels of [generic] division” (31)—Deleuze begins his critique of Aristotle with a simple imperative: “Return to the expression ‘the greatest difference.'” Despite the elegant maneuvering of the paragraph above, the very point of departure—Aristotle’s categories of opposition—show us “that specific difference is the greatest only in an entirely relative sense” (31, bold added). Which amounts to saying that contrariety, specific difference, or whatever other name the “diaphora . . . of diaphora” goes by, that contrariety is not greatest, maximal, or most perfect.
Absolutely speaking, contradiction is greater than contrariety—and above all, generic difference is greater than specific. Already, the manner in which Aristotle distinguishes between difference and diversity or otherness points the way: only in relation to the supposed identity of a concept is specific difference called the greatest. Furthermore, it is in relation to the form of identity in the generic concept that difference goes as far as opposition, that it is pushed as far as contrariety. Specific difference, therefore, in no way represents a universal concept (that is to say, an Idea) encompassing all the singularities and turnings of difference, but rather refers to a particular moment in which difference is merely reconciled with the concept in general. Thus Aristotle’s diaphora of the diaphora is only a false transport; it never shows difference changing its nature, we never discover in it a differenciator of difference which would relate, in their respective immediacy, the most universal and the most singular. Specific difference refers only to an entirely relative maximum, a point of accomodation for the Greek eye—in particular for the Greek eye which sees the mean, and has lost the sense of Dionysian transports and metamorphoses. (DR 31-32, bold emphasis added)
I want to work with the phrases and words I’ve bolded in this passage.
The crux of Deleuze’s beef with Aristotle’s Metaphysics is that it gives a limited—albeit brilliant—account of the world; it is a world without movement; of many forms without formation, deformation, or transformation; existence without the emergence of this or that genus or species. Aristotle’s progression of predicates (extension → animate → rational) might appear to capture a differential transport (substance → body → animal → human), but it does no such thing. Why?
- The supposed identity of a concept. Aristotle’s greatest difference is relative and also incredibly strained, for it only works if we suppose the self-sameness of our concepts (horse, man). Even if we have not yet mastered or inventoried the predicates of this or that concept, we suppose that the concept has a (self-)identity different from the (self-)identity of other concepts. In Deleuze’s generous reading of Aristotle in the previous paragraph, difference may appear to ground the coherence and self-sameness of each concept, but it is merely added to a presumed coherence retrospectively; concepts must already have an identity in order for them to be different from each other. Difference, then, is a representational effect of two related concepts (man is rational; the horse is not) that is then mistaken for a generative cause: “diaphora . . . of diaphora” (31). In short, identity is not an effect of difference in the Metaphysics; it is presumed ahead of time; it is there from the start as the condition of possibility for Aristotle’s fiction of the “greatest difference.”
- The form of identity of the generic concept. Deleuze’s objection runs deeper than the supposition of each concept’s self-sameness (in content), for the very notion of what a concept is in the first place presumes a readymade form that relegates difference, from the start, to contrariety (the rules of relation between predicates of difference species: webbed, winged; rational, irrational; animate, inanimate). Difference, according to the form of identity, does not differentiate. It merely constitutes the lines of organization in a genus-tree of related species already in place. As such, the greatest difference does not account for the distinction between genuses (the Large); it does not account for the accidental distinctions between individual members of a species (the Small). It cannot zoom out or move laterally between and among various genus-trees. It cannot zoom in to diverse packs or populations. It is related to—and thus trapped within—the form of identity, which controls its place in the categories of opposition and its important and yet particular role as contrariety. It is the greatest difference . . . given that everything in the world must correspond to a self-same, coherent concept (an identity, species).
- False transport. Aristotle’s elegant portrait of a “most perfect difference” thus leaves out too much, associating it with “a particular moment” that excludes the accident, the relation between genuses, the fundamentality of contradiction, the formation of things, the process of the world’s unfolding, the becoming of a species that is still becoming. Thus, Aristotle’s “greatest difference”—contrariety between species—is not and cannot be a concept of difference; it cannot be the difference in itself that governs the process of differentiation. It does not encompass, as Deleuze puts it, all twists and turns of singularities (as they repeat); it does not tells a story of the “differenciator”—the maker of difference?—that accomplishes the task of reconciling universality with singularity. (Differenciation occurs everywhere; singularities are everywhere; yet each one is radically singular, difference, irreplaceable, repeatable).
- Dionysian transports and metamorphoses. Deleuze writes and publishes Nietzsche and Philosophy—one of DR‘s sister texts—in 1962. It does not take long to for him to turn to the Dionysian as foundational to Nietzsche’s writings, which makes sense given that Nietzsche himself begins his first major work, The Birth of Tragedy (1872) with a key, foundational opposition in Greek tragedy between the Apollonian and Dionysian. He writes:
Through Apollo and Dionysus, the two art deities of the Greeks, we come to recognize that in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition, in origin and aims, between . . . the art of sculpture, and the nonimagistic . . . art of music. These two different tendencies run parallel to each other, for the most part openly at variance; and they continually incite each other to new and more powerful births. (Basic Writings 33, trans. Walter Kaufmann)
A few pages later, Nietzsche alludes to Schopenhauer to illustrate the Apollonian:
. . . we might apply to Apollo the words of Schopenhauer when he speaks of the man wrapped in the veil of [illusion] . . .. “Just as in a stormy sea that, unbounded in all directions, raises and drops mountainous waves, howling, a sailor sits in a boat and trusts in his frail bark: so in the midst of a world of torments the individual human being sits quietly, supported by and trusting in the principium individuationis.” In fact, we might say of Apollo that in him the unshaken faith in this principium and the calm repose of the man wrapped up in it receive their most sublime expression; and we might call Apollo himself the glorious divine image of the principium individuationis, through whose gestures and eyes all the joy and wisdom of “illusion,” together with its beauty, speak to us.
In the same work Schopenhauer has depicted for us the tremendous terror which seizes man when he is suddenly dumbfounded by the cognitive form of phenomena because the principle of sufficient reason, in some of its manifestations, seems to suffer an exception. If we add to this terror the blissful ecstasy that wells from the innermost depths of man, indeed of nature, at this collapse of the principium individuationis, we steal a glimpse into the nature of the Dionysian, which is brought home to us most intimately by the analogy of intoxication. (35-36)
Why quote Nietzsche at length here? An analogy can be drawn, I think, between the quite brilliant statuesqueness of Aristotle’s Metaphysics—the self-identicial species (difference) content to ignore the storm outside its genus (difference)—and the Apollonian principium individuationis. Aristotle’s “greatest differerence,” like this principle, captures all the “joy and wisdom of ‘illusion.'” It is an illusion. A beautiful one, but an illusion of a concept of difference (an Idea) all the same. As Deleuze writes in his book on Nietzsche, “Dionysus . . . returns to primitive unity, he shatters the individual [recall: intoxication, not dream or illusion], drags him into the great shipwreck and absorbs him into original being” (NP 11). And later: “Dionysus is like the background on which Apollo embroiders beautiful apperances; but beneath Apollo Dionysus rumbles” (12). Dionysus, as Deleuze puts it in DR, “transports and metamorphos[es].” He has no place in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. In short, we might say that while Aristotle’s system creates a convincing grid for identities and individuals, his system has no account of “the pains of growth” or “the sufferings of individuation” (Deleuze NP 13). He has no story of process, differenciation, difference in itself.
And so here we go. In Aristotle’s Metaphysics, “we find the principle which lies behind a confusion disastrous for the entire philosophy of difference” (32). Instead of “assigning a distinct concept of difference,” one that captures the Apollonian and Dionysian planes in agitation, Aristotle inscribes “difference within concepts in general” and believes he has succeeded in determining “a concept of difference,” the self-identity of all difference as opposition and contrariety within and among related species. He believes he has told a story of difference’s movement and the division of a genus into species, but all he has done is inscribe it “in the identity of an undetermined concept.” Even if we have not fleshed out the predicates of a self-identical concept, even if a great deal of it remains undetermined, difference is inscribed—indeed, drawn, from the very start—into the form and presumption of the image of a concept’s self-identity. “This is the slight of hand,” Deleuze continues, “involved in the propitious moment,” that careful selection of the Not-too-Large and Not-too-Small, which is itself nothing more than a “point of accommodation” that fails to grasp the (musical?) unfolding of difference in itself.
Difference is thus a predicate of “the concept in general.” What is a concept? It is, formally, different from other (related) concepts. What is man? Rational (and not non-rational).
And yet while “Aristotle constantly reminds us of this predicative character of specific difference, . . . he is forced to lend it strange powers such as that of attributing,” as we see in Deleuze’s previous paragraph,
as much as that of being attributed [d’attribuer autant que d’être attribué], or of altering the genus as much as of modifying its quality. All the ways in which specific difference seems to satisfy the requirements of a distinctive concept (purity, interiority, productivity, transportivity…) are thus shown to be illusory [Nietzsche: Apollonian!], even contradictory, on the basis of this fundamental confusion. (32)
So what are we to make of this? Namely, that Aristotle’s attempt to create an Idea (or a concept) of difference fails to meet the criteria for a concept. The picture of difference that emerges is thus split between a strange ideal—a predicate capable of being more than a mere predicate—and a hopeless and confused constraint. In the next paragraph Deleuze will consider whether or not generic difference (i.e., at the level of genus) might offer an alternative and more satisfying sense of a radical, fundamental difference of difference (a differenciator!) that accounts for difference’s capacity to transport and metamorphose.
Reading on . . .