Slow Reading (1.35): Deleuze’s DR (pp. 35-36)

The final sentence of Deleuze’s Aristotle section asks, “. . . 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).

Implication: if philosophers want to conceptualize “Difference in Itself,” perhaps they should start with/on/around this ground.

I. One More Rehearsal

Without rehearsing in too much detail the many steps of Deleuze’s engagement with Aristotle (which took me far too long to unravel and which I’m too untrained to access accurately), I want to remind myself of a few conclusions he comes to about Aristotelian difference:

1. “Specific difference”—which Aristotle identifies as the greatest kind of difference—”refers only to an entirely relative maximum” (32, emphasis added). It’s clear, for instance, that a greater difference exists between a rock and a bird (generic difference) than between a bird and a lizard (specific difference). Thus, specific difference fails to provide material necessary for “a universal concept” or “an Idea” that expresses “a differenciator of difference” (31-32).

2. The logic of specific difference “rests upon the condition of the identity or univocity of concepts in general taken as genera” (32-33). In other words, species A and species B can be said to belong to a single genus in one and the same sense. The logic of generic difference, however, is wholly other. While related species require the identity of the genus that encompass them, genera do not require a super-genus that encompasses them; they “are not subject to the condition that they share an identical concept or a common genus” (32). The only possible super-genus would be Being. However, in Aristotle, there is no univocal concept of Being but, rather, an “equivocity” best illustrated by the categories (substance, quantity, quality, etc.). The categories provide us with classes of entities (beings) that can be said to be but not in one and the same sense. 

3. For Deleuze, the univocity of the genus that characterizes its species and the equivocity of Being that characterizes diverse genera do not constitute a “fracture” in Aristotle’s thought (33) but comprise a “complementary double inscription” of difference within organic representation (34). Skipping a few steps of Deleuze’s argument, difference is thus “fully subject to the identity of the concept, the opposition of predicates, the analogy of judgement and the resemblance of perception”—the “quadripartite character of representation” (34-35).

So Aristotle’s Metaphysics crafts four unbreakable chains for difference.

Deleuze response? “In effect, difference . . . recovers an effectively real concept only to the extent that it designates catastrophes” (35). Difference and Repetition aims to unleash this catastrophe—”difference is monstrous” (29)—to bring us face-to-void with the Being that Aristotle had suppressed and dispersed into equivocal beings.

II. Back to Being

Best not to start with beings, then, when conceptualizing difference in itself. 

Best start with—best risk—Being.

“There has only ever been one ontological proposition: Being is univocal” (35). Whether one looks to Parmenides, Duns Scotus, or Heidegger, Deleuze asserts, “it is the same voice which is taken up, in an echo which itself forms the whole deployment of the univocal. A single voice raises the clamour of being” (35). For these philosophers, in other words, all of whom sought to articulate something about the “irreducible ground” of beings, all beings have to be said to exist in one and the same sense.

III. A Propositional (not Analogical) Illustration of Univocal Being

By insisting on Being’s univocity, Deleuze is not claiming that it must be understood (contra Aristotle) as a genus. (This would loop difference back into the representational logic of identity.) Rather, he seeks to displace the model of analogy and judgment altogether—i.e., the model that distributes Being into categorical entities—and to replace it “with that of the proposition” (35).

What does this mean?

To illustrate Being’s univocity, Deleuze will use the model of a single proposition (particularly an ontological proposition, like X is Y) to replace Aristotle’s analogical model (which illustrated Being’s equivocity).

So what are the components parts of a proposition?

  1. The Sense: “what is expressed in the proposition”
  2. The Designated: “what expressed itself in the proposition”
  3. The Expressors or Designators: “differential factors characterising the elements endowed with sense and designation”

(Think of “sense” as “meaning.” Think of “the designated” as the thing to which X refers in the proposition X is Y. Think of “the expressers or designators” as the particular Xes and Ys in the proposition X is Y. )

I’m not entirely sure what the origin of Deleuze’s terminology is here, but he does try to clarify these terms by offering some examples of how ontological propositions model the univocity of Being. (It is important to note that Deleuze is not yet attempting to justify his position; only to clarify and illustrate it.) 

He writes:

We can conceive that names or propositions do not have the same sense even while they designate exactly the same thing (as in the case of the celebrated examples: morning star—evening star, Israel—Jacob, plan—blanc). The distinction between these senses is indeed a real distinction [distinctio realis], but there is nothing numerical—much less ontological—about it: it is a formal, qualitative or semiological distinction. . . . What is important [here] is that we can conceive of several formally distinct senses which none the less refer to being as if to a single designated entity, ontologically one. It is true that such a point of view is not sufficient to prevent us from considering these senses as analogues and this unity of being as analogy. We must add that being, this common designated, in so far as it expresses itself, is said in turn in a single and same sense of all the numerically distinct designators and expressers. In the ontological proposition, not only is that which is designated ontologically the same for qualitatively distinct senses, but also the sense is ontologically the same for individuating modes, for numerically distinct designators or expressers: the ontological proposition involves a circulation of this kind (expression as a whole).


So what might we make of this?

A different sense/meaning is conveyed when I identify the “morning star” or “evening star.” There is the star that appears in the morningThere is the star that appears in the evening

However, it is the same star that I am designating. The sense is different, but I am designating the same planetary body (Venus, which appears in the morning and the evening).

There is nothing numerically or ontologically distinct between Venus as evening star or Venus as morning star. There is a real distinction in sense/meaning, but the morning star and the evening star exist—they are—in the same way. The being(ness) of Venus, “this common designated” (as Deleuze puts it), always is in “in a single and same sense” no matter what expressers or designators one uses (35).

Moreover, the is in any ontological proposition involving the evening star or morning star would convey that being(ness) “in a single and same sense.”

But what sense is that?

How do things exist? How are they?

They differ and repeat.

They repeat and differ.

The ontological proposition does not designate a static entity—this would, again, return us to the shackles of organic representation. Rather, it designates an entity that exists in perpetual individuation/becoming.

Beings express themselves as circulations—repetitions—of differences that continue to differentiate. The univocity of being, then, is a chorus, “a single and same voice for the whole thousand-voiced multiple” that is every being (304, emphasis added).

Deleuze’s formula is: Univocity = Multiplicity.

Reading on . . .