Slow Reading (1.34): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 34-35)

In the final paragraph of this section on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Deleuze seeks to clarify the point he has just made. Generic / categorical difference and specific difference are not identical, he repeats, but they are, nevertheless, co-constitutive; “the univocity of species in a common genus,” he writes, “refers back to the equivocity of being in the various genera: the one reflects the other” (DR 34).

It might be worth noting that Deleuze anticipates here his and Guattari’s extensive account of philosophical creation (What Is Philosophy?). He approaches Aristotle simultaneously as a creator of concepts and as a constructor of a plane of immanence (an Aristotelianism) on which these concepts co-exist, reinforce, and resonate with one another (WIP 35).

Despite the conceptual difference between specific and generic difference, they nevertheless make sense together and work together in the Metaphysics. They are “tied together by their complicity in representation” (DR 34).

The notion of reflection (that specific and generic difference reflect one another) is new to Deleuze’s argument. We’ll turn to it in a moment.

But first: how do we make sense of the complicity that Deleuze reads in the Metaphysics?

This is not to ask: is Deleuze a sound reader of Aristotle? (I wouldn’t be able to answer this question anyway.)

It is to ask: what is Deleuze actually arguing? What function does this version of Aristotle (accurate or not) serve in Difference and Repetition?

To repeat: The univocity of a genus (the self-sameness of its concept) speaks through the many species it encompasses and determines; the equivocity of being (the sensibleness of its distribution) disperses among the many categories that describe how things are (higher order genera like substancequalityquantity, etc.).

Can we concretize this?

Deleuze turns to “neo-evolutionism” as an example of how “these two related aspects of the categories of the Large and the Small” (i.e., equivocity and univocity) operate in large scale efforts to classify (DR 34). Since I’m not familiar with neo-evolutionism (aside from a layperson’s working knowledge of natural selection and mutation), I turn to my own field, literary studies, and wonder how distinctions among various literary genres might illustrate Deleuze’s critique of representation.

I’ve taught a version of Introduction to Literature at the University of Rhode Island and the University of South Dakota many, many times. Though I’ve occasionally organized the class around a particular broad topic or theme—love, death, self-conscious writing, identity—I’ve increasingly approached the class as a survey of literary elements.

There’s nothing novel about this, since most Intro to Lit textbooks approach the material in an identical way.

When we study short fiction, for instance, reading assignments and class discussions train students’ attention to basic features—e.g., theme, point of view (or narrative perspective), setting, plot, character, and so on. Students learn, for instance, that certain limitations and advantages characterize stories composed in the first-person while different limitations and advantages mark stories composed in the third-person (but is it objective, limited, or omniscient third-person?).

The point of this elemental study is not to evaluate the quality of the stories we read but, rather, to analyze how the particular features of particular stories work together to convey a meaning, significance, or Idea. Some sort of answer to the question, “So what?”

So what?

The “literary genres and their elements” approach to teaching / studying literature follows the genus / species model Deleuze has been studying in the Metaphysics. For instance, the univocity of “short fiction”—always already comprised of setting, POV, plot, etc.—speaks through the ocean of examples available to students (whether they are experimental or not).

Even modernist and postmodernist fiction is, at least initially, readable according or in opposition to these elements of fiction.

But what grounds this system of classification and division? What is the analog of “being” in this case?

Oddly enough, my Introduction to Literature courses tend not to dwell on the question, “What is literature?” While it might make some sort of initial sense to think of literature as a super-genus under which to classify short fiction, poetry, and drama—the category “literature” does not share the same relationship with short fiction, poetry, and drama that these genres share with particular subgenres or specific examples. While we might come up with provisional predicates that obtain across literary genres, the relation between fiction and poetry is not that of different species under a self-identical genus but, rather, distinct categories that exist in a relation of analogy, each enjoying an internal relationship to the largely empty category “literature.”

Of course, there are plenty of critics and historians who have defined literature. This isn’t the point. The point is that I can teach an entire course “on literature” that skips over the question “what is literature?” in order to study “literary genres.”

Indeed, repurposing Deleuze’s conclusion about neo-evolutionism, “these two aspects” of generic and specific difference constitute “the limits of [literary] representation” as well as “the requisites equally necessary for [literary] classification: methodological continuity in the perception of resemblances [within each literary genre] is no less indispensable than systematic distribution in the judgment of analogy [among literary genres]” (DR 34).

  • Methodological Continuity: The specific difference between this and that short story, for instance, allows for a passage from story to genre—no matter how different they appear, each story will (at least generically) resemble one another.
  • Systematic Distribution: The generic difference between poetry and short fiction will not lead us back to “literature,” but their respective, internal relationship to the literary (which, in my classes does not have a content of its own) allows our collective passage between them.

Again: so what?

In showing how specific and generic difference work together to classify genera and species, Deleuze argues that difference is doubly locked into a role as “reflexive concept” (DR 34). Its role is to reflect or mediate the relation between represented things—no matter the sort of relation that pertains to these representations. “In the concept of reflection” he writes, “mediating and mediated difference is in effect fully subject to the identity of the concept, the opposition of predicates, the analogy of judgment and the resemblance of perception”—all of which play a role in Deleuze’s 6-page account of Aristotelian difference (34). Locked into its role as a conceptual difference—as the difference between two representations—Aristotelian difference (specific or generic) fails to develop a concept of difference in itself.

Returning to the compelling initial pages of this chapter, in which difference in itself emerges as a monster or distortion (DR 28-29), Deleuze closes his paragraph and this section:

In effect, difference ceases to be reflexive and recovers an effectively real concept only to the extent that it designates catastrophes: either breaks of continuity in the series of resemblances [e.g., specific short stories, poems, or plays] or impassable fissures between the analogical structures [e.g., short fiction, poetry, or drama]. It ceases to be reflexive only in order to become catastrophic. No doubt it cannot be the one without the other. But does not difference as catastrophe precisely bear witness to an irreducible ground which continues to act under the apparent equilibrium of organic representation? (DR 35)

Indeed, a good deal of Difference and Repetition will theorize this irreducible ground—will theorize the (back)ground of indifference which follows the lightning flash of difference down (or up?) into a confrontation with the order of things. Perhaps this re-orientation will become the occasion (at last) of conceptualizing difference.

Reading on . . .

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