. . . . . . Organs without Bodies - Gilles Deleuze
. . . . . . . .2. Becoming versus History

. . . . . . . .Slavoj Zizek

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The ontological opposition between Being and Becoming which underpins Deleuze's notion of the virtual is a radical one in that its ultimate reference is pure becoming without being (as opposed to the metaphysical notion of pure being without becoming). This pure becoming is not a particular becoming OF some corporeal entity, a passage of this entity from one to another state, but a becoming-it-itself, thoroughly extracted from its corporeal base. Since the predominant temporality of Being is that of the present (with past and future as its deficient modes), the pure becoming- without-being means that one should sidestep the present - it never "actually occurs," it is "always forthcoming and already past." [1] As such, pure becoming suspends sequentiality and directionality: say, in an actual process of becoming, the critical point of temperature (0 degrees Celsius) always has a direction (water either freezes or melts), while, considered as pure becoming extracted from its corporeality, this point of passage is not a passage from one to another state, but a "pure" passage, neutral as to its directionality, perfectly symmetric - for instance, a thing is simultaneously getting larger (that it was) and smaller (than it will be). And, is not the ultimate example of the poetry of pure becoming the Zen poems which aim merely to renderthe fragility of the pure event extracted from its causal context?

The Foucault closest to Deleuze is therefore the Foucault of The Archeology of Knowledge, his underrated key work delineating the ontology of utterances as pure language events: not elements of a structure, not attributes of subjects who utter them, but events which emerge, function within a field, and disappear. To put it in Stoic terms, Foucault's discourse analysis studies lekta, utterances as pure events, focusing on the inherent conditions of their emergence (as the concatenation of events themselves) and not on their inclusion in the context of historical reality. This is why the Foucault of The Archeology of Knowledge is as far as possible from any form of historicism, of locating events in their historical context - on the contrary, Foucault ABSTRACTS them from their reality and its historical causality, and studies the IMMANENT rules of their emergence. What one should bear in mind here is that Deleuze is NOT an evolutionary historicist; his opposition of Being and Becoming should not deceive us. He is not simply arguing that all stable, fixed entities are just coagulations of the all-encompassing flux of Life - why not? The reference to the notion of TIME is crucial here. Let us recall how Deleuze (with Guattari), in his description of becoming in/of philosophy, explicitly opposes becoming and history:

Philosophical time is thus a grandiose time of coexistence that does not exclude the before and after but superimposes them in a stratigraphic order. It is an infinite becoming of philosophy that crosscuts its history without being confused with it. The life of philosophers, and what is most external to their work, conforms to the ordinary laws of succession; but their proper names coexist and shine as luminous points that take us through the components of a concept once more or as the cardinal points of a stratum or layer that continually come back to us, like dead stars whose light is brighter than ever. [2]

The paradox is thus that transcendental becoming inscribes itself into the order of positive being, of constituted reality, in the guise of its very opposite, of a static superimposition, of a crystallized freeze of historical development. This Deleuzian eternity is, of course, not simply outside time; rather, in the "stratigraphic" superimposition, in this moment of stasis, it is TIME ITSELF which we experience, time as opposed to the evolutionary flow of things WITHIN time. It was Schelling who, following Plato, wrote that time is the image of eternity - a statement more paradoxical than it may appear. Is time, temporal existence, not the very opposite of eternity, the domain of decay, of generation and corruption? How then can time be the image of eternity? Does this not involve two contradictory claims, namely, that time is the fall from eternity into corruption AND its very opposite, the striving for eternity? The only solution is to bring this paradox to its radical conclusion: time is the striving of eternity to REACH ITSELF. What this means is that eternity is not outside time, but the pure structure of time "as such": as Deleuze put it, the moment of stratigraphic superimposition which suspends temporal succession is time as such. In short, one should oppose here development WITHIN TIME to the explosion of TIME ITSELF:time itself (the infinite virtuality of the transcendental field of Becoming) appears WITHIN the intra-temporal evolution in the guise of ETERNITY. The moments of the emergence of the New are precisely the moments of Eternity in time. The emergence of the New occurs when a work overcomes its historical context. And, on the opposite side, if there is a true image of fundamental ontological immobility, it is the evolutionary image of the universe as a complex network of endless transformations and developments in which plus ça change, plus ça reste le même:

I became more and more aware of the possibility of distinguishing between becoming and history. It was Nietzsche who said that nothing important is ever free from a 'nonhistorical cloud.' /.../ What history grasps in an event is the way it's actualized in particular circumstances; the event's becoming is beyond the scope of history. /.../ Becoming isn't part of history; history amounts only to the set of preconditions, however recent, that one leaves behind in order to 'become,' that is, to create something new. [3]

In order to designate this process, one is tempted to use a term strictly prohibited by Deleuze, that of TRANSCENDENCE: is Deleuze here not arguing that a certain process can transcend its historical conditions by way of giving rise to an Event? It was Sartre (one of Deleuze's secret points of reference) who already used the term in this sense, when he discussed how, in the act of synthesis, the subject can transcend its conditions. Examples abound here from cinema (Deleuze's reference to the birth of the Italian neorealism: of course it arose out of circumstances - the shock of World War II, etc. - but the neorealist Event is not reducible to these historical causes) to politics. In politics (and, in a way, reminiscent of Badiou), Deleuze's basic reproach to conservative critics who denounce the miserable and even terrifying actual results of a revolutionary upheaval is that they remain blind to the dimension of becoming:

It is fashionable these days to condemn the horrors of revolution. It's nothing new; English Romanticism is permeated by reflections on Cromwell very similar to present-day reflections on Stalin. They say revolutions turn out badly. But they're constantly confusing two different things, the way revolutions turn out historically and people's revolutionary becoming. These relate to two different sets of people. Men's only hope lies in a revolutionary becoming: the only way of casting off their shame or responding to what is intolerable. [4]

Becoming is thus strictly correlative to the concept of REPETITION: far from being opposed to the emergence of the New, the proper Deleuzian paradox is that somethinmg truly New can ONLY emerge through repetition. What repetition repeats is not the way the past "effectively was," but the virtuallty inherent to the past and betrayed by its past actualization. In this precise sense, the emergence of the New changes the past itself, that is, it retroactively changes (not the actual past - we are not in science fiction - but) the balance between actuality and virtuality in the past. [5] Recall the old example provided by Walter Benjamin: the October Revolution repeated the French Revolution, redeeming its failure, unearthing and repeating the same impulse. Already for Kierkegaard, repetition is »inverted memory,« a movement forward, the production of the New, and not the reproduction of the Old. "There is nothing new under the sun" is the strongest contrast to the movement of repetition. So, it is not only that repetition is (one of the modes of) the emergence of the New - the New can ONLY emerge through repetition. The key to this paradox is, of course, what Deleuze designates as the difference between the Virtual and the Actual (and which - why not? - one can also determine as the difference between Spirit and Letter). Let us take a great philosopher like Kant - there are two modes to repeat him: either one sticks to his letter and further elaborates or changes his system, as neo-Kantians (up to Habermas and Luc Ferry) are doing; or, one tries to regain the creative impulse that Kant himself betrayed in the actualization of his system (i.e., to connect to what was already "in Kant more than Kant himself," more than his explicit system, its excessive core). There are, accordingly, two modes of betraying the past. The true betrayal is an ethico- theoretical act of the highest fidelity: one has to betray the letter of Kant in order to remain faithful to (and repeat) the "spirit" of his thought. It is precisely when one remains faithful to the letter of Kant that one really betrays the core of his thought, the creative impulse underlying it. One should bring this paradox to its conclusion: it is not only that one can remain really faithful to an author by way of betraying him (the actual letter of his thought); at a more radical level, the inverse statement holds even more - one can only truly betray an author by way of repeating him, by way of remaining faithful to the core of his thought. If one does not repeat an author (in the authentic Kierkegaardian sense of the term), but merely "criticizes" him, moves elsewhere, turns him around, etc., this effectively means that one unknowingly remains within his horizon, his conceptual field. [6] When G.K. Chesterton describes his conversion to Christianity, he claims that he "tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen years behind it." [7] Does the same not hold even more for those who, today, desperately try to catch up with the New by way of following the latest "post-" fashion, and are thus condemned to remain forever eighteen years behind the truly New?

And, this brings us to the complex topic of the relationship between Hegel and Kierkegaard: against the "official" notion of Kierkegaard as THE "anti-Hegel," one should assert that Kierkegaard is arguably the one who, through his very "betrayal" of Hegel, effectively remained faithful to him. He effectively REPEATED Hegel, in contrast to Hegel's pupils, who "developed" his system further. For Kierkegaard, the Hegelian Aufhebung is to be opposed to repetition: Hegel is the ultimate Socratic philosopher of rememorization, of reflectively returning to what the thing always-already was, so that what Hegel lacks is simultaneously repetition and the emergence of the New - the emergence of the New AS repetition. The Hegelian dialectical process/progress is, in this precise Kierkegaardian sense, the very model of a pseudo- development in which nothing effectively New ever emerges. That is to say, the standard (Kierkegaardian) reproach to Hegel is that his system is a closed circle of rememoration which does not allow for anything New to emerge: all that happens is just the passage from In- itself to For-itself, that is, in the course of the dialectical process, things just actualize their potentials, explicitly posit their implicit content, become what (in themselves) they always-already are. The first enigma apropos of this reproach is that it is usually accompanied with the OPPOSITE reproach: Hegel deploys how "the One divides into Two," the explosion of a split, loss, negativity, antagonism, which affects an organic unity; but, then, the reversal of Aufhebung intervenes as a kind of deux ex machina, always guaranteeing that the antagonism will be magically resolved, the opposites reconciled in a higher synthesis, the loss recuperated without a remainder, the wound healed without a scar remaining... The two reproaches thus point in the opposite directions: the first one claims that nothing new emerges under the Hegelian sun, while the second one claims that the deadlock is resolved by an imposed solution which emerges as deus ex machina, from outside, not as the outcome of the inherent dynamic of the preceding tension.

The mistake of the second reproach is that it misses the point - or, rather, the temporality - of the Hegelian reconciliation. It is not that the tension is magically resolved and the opposites are reconciled. The only shift that effectively occurs is subjective, the shift of our perspective (i.e., all of a sudden, we become aware that what previously appeared as conflict ALREADY IS reconciliation). This temporal move backwards is crucial: the contradiction is not resolved; we just establish that it always-already WAS resolved. (In theological terms, Redemption does not follow the Fall; it occurs when we become aware of how what we previously (mis)perceived as Fall "in itself" already was Redemption.) [8] And, paradoxically, although this temporality may seem to confirm the first reproach (that nothing new emerges in the Hegelian process), it effectively enables us to refute it: the truly New is not simply a new content, but the very shift of perspective by means of which the Old appears in a new light.

Deleuze is right in his magnificent attack on historicist "contextualization": becoming means transcending the context of historical conditions out of which a phenomenon emerges. This is what is missing in historicist anti-universalist multiculturalism: the explosion of the eternally New in/as the process of becoming. The standard opposition of the abstract Universal (say. Human Rights) and particular identities is to be replaced by a new tension between Singular and Universal: the Event of the New as a universal singularity. [9] What Deleuze renders here is the (properly Hegelian) link between true historicity and eternity: a truly New emerges as eternity in time, transcending its material conditions. To perceive a past phenomenon in becoming (as Kierkegaard would have put it) is to perceive the virtual potential in it, the spark of eternity, of virtual potentiality which is there forever. A truly new work stays new forever - its newness is not exhausted when its "shocking value" passes away. For example, in philosophy, the great breakthroughs (from Kant's transcendental turn to Kripke's invention of the "rigid designator") forever retain their »surprising« character of invention.

One often hears that, in order to understand a work of art, one needs to know its historical context. Against this historicist commonplace, a Deleuzian counter-claim would be not only that too much of a historical context can blur the proper contact with a work of art (i.e., that, in order to enact this contact, one should abstract from the work's context); even more, it is, rather, the work of art itself which provides a context enabling us to properly understand a given historical situation. If, today, someone were to visit Serbia, the direct contact with raw data there would leave him confused. If, however, he were to read a couple of literary works and see a couple of representative movies, they would definitely provide the context that would enable him to locate the raw data of his experience. There is thus an unexpected truth in the old cynical wisdom from the Stalinist Soviet Union: "he lies as an eye-witness!"


[1] Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sensei>, New York: Columbia University Press 1990, p. 80.

[2] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari,What is Philosophy?, New York: Columbia University Press 1994, p. 59.

[3] Gilles Deleuze, Negotiationsi>, New York: Columbia University Press 1995, p. 170-171.

[4] Deleuze, op.cit., p. 171.

[5] When, in 1953, Chou En Lai, the Chinese Prime Minister, was in Geneva for the peace negotiations to end the Korean war, a French journalist asked him what does he think about the French Revolution, and Chou replied: ,,It is still too early to tell." In a way, he was right: with the disintegration of socialist states, the struggle for the historical place of the French Revolution flared up again. The liberal Rightist revisionists try to impose the notion that the demise of Communism in 1989 occurred at exactly the right moment: it marked the end of the era which began in 1789. In short, what effectively vanished from history was the revolutionary model which first entered the scene with the Jacobins. François Furet and others thus try to deprive the French Revolution of its status as the founding event of modern democracy, relegating it to a historical anomaly.

[6] Authentic fidelity is the fidelity to the void itself - to the very act of loss, of abandoning/erasing the object. Why should the dead be the object of attachment in the first place? The name for this fidelity is death drive. In the terms of dealing with the dead, one should, perhaps, - against the work of mourning as well as against the melancholic attachment to the dead who return as ghosts - assert the Christian motto "let the dead bury their dead." The obvious reproach to this motto is: what are we to do when, precisely, the dead do not accept to stay dead, but continue to live in us, haunting us by their spectral presence? Here, one is tempted to claim that the most radical dimension of the Freudian death drive provides the key to how are we to read the Christian "let the dead bury their dead": what death drive tries to obliterate is not the biological life, but the very afterlife - it endeavors to kill the lost object the second time, not in the sense of mourning (accepting the loss through symbolization), but in a more radical sense of obliterating the very symbolic texture, the letter in which the spirit of the dead survives.

[7] G.K.Chesterton, Orthodoxy, San Francisco: Ignatius Press 1995, p. 16.

[8] For a more detailed account of this move, see Chapter 3 of Slavoj Zizek, The Puppet and the Dwarf, Cambridge: MIT Press 2003.

[9] This holds even if we reformulate the Universal in the Laclauian sense of empty signifier caught in the struggle for hegemony: the universal singularity is not the empty universal signifier filled in - hegemonized by - some particular content. It is almost its obverse: a singularity which explodes the given contours of the universality in question and opens it up to a radically new content.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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