...... Deleuze's Platonism: Ideas as Real

...........Slavoj Zizek

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Deleuze and the Lacanian Real

Recall the old Catholic strategy to guard men against the temptation of the flesh: when you see in front of you a voluptuous feminine body, imagine how it will look in a couple of decades - the dried skin, sagging breasts... (Or, even better, imagine what lurks now already beneath the skin: raw flesh and bones, inner fluids, half-digested food and excrements...) Far from enacting a return to the Real destined to break the imaginary spell of the body, such a procedure equals the escape from the Real, the Real announcing itself in the seductive appearance of the naked body. That is to say, in the opposition between the spectral appearance of the sexualized body and the repulsive body in decay, it is the spectral appearance with is the Real, and the decaying body which is reality - we take recourse to the decaying body in order to avoid the deadly fascination of the Real which threatens to draw us into its vortex of jouissance.

A "raw" Platonism would have claimed here that only the beautiful body fully materializes the Idea, and that a body in its material decay simply falls of from its Idea, is no longer its faithful copy. From a Deleuzian (and, here, Lacanian) view, on the contrary, the specter that attracts us is the Idea of the body as Real. This body is not the body in reality, but the virtual body in Deleuze's sense of the term: the incorporeal/immaterial body of pure intensities.

Deleuze's most radical anti-Hegelian argument concerns pure difference: Hegel is unable to think pure difference which is outside the horizon of identity/contradiction; Hegel conceives a radicalized difference as contradiction which, then, through its dialectical resolution, is again subsumed under identity. (Here, Deleuze is also opposed to Derrida who, from his perspective, remains caught within the vicious cycle of contradiction/identity, merely postponing resolution indefinitely.) And insofar as Hegel is the philosopher of actuality/actualization, insofar as, for him, the "truth" of a potentiality is revealed in its actualization, Hegel's inability to think pure difference equals his inability to think the virtual in its proper dimension, as a possibility which already qua possibility possesses its own reality: pure difference is not actual, it does not concern different actual properties of a thing or among things, its status is purely virtual, it is a difference which takes place at its purest precisely when nothing changes in actuality, when, in actuality, the SAME thing repeats itself. - Effectively, it may appear that it is only Deleuze who formulates the truly post-Hegelian program of thinking difference: the Derridean "opening" which emphasizes the endless difference, the dissemination that cannot ever be sublated/reappropriated, etc., remains within the Hegelian framework, merely "opening" it up...

But, here, the Hegelian counter-argument would have been: is then the "pure" virtual difference not the very name for actual self-identity? Is it not CONSTITUTIVE of actual identity? More precisely, in the terms of Deleuze's transcendental empiricism, pure difference is the virtual support/condition of actual identity: an entity is perceived as "(self-)identical" when (and only when) its virtual support is reduced to a pure difference. In Lacanese, pure difference concerns the supplement of the virtual object (Lacan's objet a); its most plastic experience is that of a sudden change in (our perception of) an object which, with regard to its positive qualities, remains the same: "although nothing changes, the thing all of a sudden seemed totally different" - as Deleuze would have put it, it is the thing's intensity which changes. (For Lacan, the theoretical problem/task is here to distinguish between the Master-Signifier and objet a which both refer to the abyssal X in the object beyond its positive properties.) As such, pure difference is closer to antagonism than to the difference between two positive social groups one of which is to be annihilated. The universalism that sustains an antagonistic struggle is not exclusive of anyone, which is why the highest triumph of the antagonistic struggle is not the destruction of the enemy, but the explosion of the "universal brotherhood" in which agents of the opposite camp change sides and join us (recall the proverbial scenes of police or military units joining the demonstrators). It is in such explosion of enthusiastic all-encompassing brotherhood from which no one is in principle excluded, that the difference between "us" and "enemy" as positive agents is reduced to a PURE formal difference.

This brings us to the topic of difference, repetition, and change (in the sense of the rise of something really new). Deleuze's thesis according to which New and repetition are not opposed, i.e., according to which New arises only from repetition, is to be read against the background of the difference between the Virtual and the Actual. To put it directly: changes which concerns only the actual aspect of things are only changes within the existing frame, not the emergences of something really New - New only emerges when the virtual support of the Actual changes, and this change occurs precisely in the guise of a repetition in which a thing remains the same in its actuality. In other words, things really change not when a transforms itself into B, but when, while A remains exactly the same with regard to its actual properties, it imperceptibly "totally changes"...

The Lacanian Real, in its opposition to the Symbolic, has ultimately nothing whatsoever to do with the standard empiricist (or phenomenological, or historicist, or Lebensphilosophie, for that reason) topic of the wealth of reality that resists formal structures, that cannot be reduced to its conceptual determinations - language is grey, reality is green... The Lacanian Real is, on the contrary, even more "reductionist" that any symbolic structure: we touch it when we subtract from a symbolic field all the wealth of its differences, reducing it to a minimum of antagonism. Lacan himself is here not beyond reproach, since he gets sometimes seduced by the rhizomatic wealth of language beyond (or, rather, beneath) the formal structure that sustains it. It is in this sense that, in the last decade of his teaching, he deployed the notion of lalangue (sometimes simply translated as "llanguage") which stands for language as the space of illicit pleasures that defy any normativity: the chaotic multitude of homonymies, word-plays, "irregular" metaphoric links and resonances... Productive as this notion is, one should be aware of its limitations. Many commentators have noted that Lacan's last great literary reading, that of Joyce to whom his late seminar (XXIII: Le sinthome [1]) is dedicated, is not at the level of his previous great readings (Hamlet, Antigone, Claudel's Coufontaine-trilogy). There is effectively something fake in Lacan's fascination with late Joyce, with Finnegan's Wake as the latest version of the literary Gesamtkunstwerk with its endless wealth of lalangue in which not only the gap between singular languages, but the very gap between linguistic meaning and jouissance seems overcome and the rhizome-like jouis-sense (enjoyment-in-meaning: enjoy-meant) proliferates in all directions. The true counterpart to Joyce is, of course, Samuel Becket: after his early period in which he more or less wrote some variations on Joyce, the "true" Becket constituted himself through a true ethical act, a CUT, a rejection of the Joycean wealth of enjoy-meant, and the ascetic turn towards a "minimal difference," towards a minimalization, "subtraction," of the narrative content and of language itself (this line is most clearly discernible in his masterpiece, the trilogy Molloy - Malone Dies - L'innomable). So what is the "minimal difference" - the purely parallax gap - that sustains Becket's mature production? One is tempted to propose the thesis that it is the very difference between French and English: as is known, Becket wrote most of his mature works in French (not his mother tongue), and the, desperate at the low quality of translations, translated them himself into English, and these translations are not mere close translations, but effectively a different text.

It is because of this "minimalist" - purely formal and insubstantial - status of the Real that, for Lacan, repetition precedes repression - or, as Deleuze put it succinctly: "We do not repeat because we repress, we repress because we repeat." (DR-105) It is not that, first, we repress some traumatic content, and then, since we are unable to remember it and thus to clarify our relationship to it, this content continues to haunt us, repeating itself in disguised forms. If the Real is a minimal difference, then repetition (that establishes this difference) is primordial; the primacy of repression emerges with the "reification" of the Real into a Thing that resists symbolization - only then, it appears that the excluded/repressed Real insists and repeats itself. The Real is primordially nothing but the gap that separates a thing from itself, the gap of repetition.

The consequence of this is also the inversion in the relationship between repetition and remembrance. Freud's famous motto "what we do not remember, we are compelled to repeat" should thus be turned around: what we are unable to repeat, we are haunted with and are compelled to memorize. The way to get rid of a past trauma is not to rememorize it, but to fully REPEAT it in the Kierkegaardian sense. What is the Deleuzian "pure difference" at its purest, if we may put it in this tautological way? It is the purely virtual difference of an entity which repeats itself as totally identical with regard to its actual properties: "there are significant differences in the virtual intensities expressed in our actual sensations. These differences do not correspond to actual recognizable differences. That the shade of pink has changed in an identifiable way is not all-important. It is that the change is a sign of a re-arrangement of an infinity of other actual and virtual relations." [2] Is such a pure difference not what takes place in the repetition of the same actual melodic line in Robert Schumann's "Humoresque"? This piece is to be read against the background of the gradual loss of the voice in Schumann's songs: it is not a simple piano piece, but a song without the vocal line, with the vocal line reduced to silence, so that all we effectively hear is the piano accompaniment. This is how one should read the famous "inner voice /innere Stimme/" added by Schumann (in the written score) as a third line between the two piano lines, higher and lower: as the vocal melodic line which remains a non-vocalized "inner voice" (which exists only as Augenmusik, music for the eyes only, in the guise of written notes). This absent melody is to be reconstructed on the basis of the fact that the first and third levels (the right and the left hand piano lines) do not relate to each other directly, i.e. their relationship is not that of an immediate mirroring: in order to account for their interconnection, one is thus compelled to (re)construct a third, "virtual" intermediate level (melodic line) which, for structural reasons, cannot be played. Schumann brings this procedure of absent melody to an apparently absurd self-reference when, later in the same fragment of Humoresque, he repeats the same two effectively played melodic lines, yet this time the score contains no third absent melodic line, no inner voice - what is absent here is the absent melody, i.e. absence itself. How are we to play these notes when, at the level of what is effectively to be played, they exactly repeat the previous notes? The effectively played notes are deprived only of what is not there, of their constitutive lack, or, to refer to the Bible, they lose even that what they never had. The true pianist should thus have the savoir-faire to play the existing, positive, notes in such a way that one would be cable to discern the echo of the accompanying non-played "silent" virtual notes or their absence... This, then, is pure difference: the nothing-actual, the virtual background, which accounts for the difference of the two melodic lines.

This logic of virtual difference can also be discerned in another paradox, namely the above mentioned cinema version of Billy Bathgate is basically a failure, but an interesting one: a failure which nonetheless evokes in the viewer the specter of the much better novel. However, when one then goes to read the novel on which the film is based, one is disappointed - this is NOT the novel the film evoked as the standard with regard to which it failed. The repetition (of a failed novel in the failed film) thus gives rise to a third, purely virtual, element, the better novel. This is an exemplary case of what Deleuze deploys in the crucial pages of his Difference and Repetition:

while it may seem that the two presents are successive, at a variable distance apart in the series of reals, in fact they form, rather, two real series which coexist in relation to a virtual object of another kind, one which constantly circulates and is displaced in them /.../. Repetition is constituted not from one present to another, but between the two coexistent series that these presents form in function of the virtual object (object = x).(DR-104-105)

With regard to Billy Bathgate the film does not "repeat" the novel on which it is based; rather, they both "repeat" the unrepeatable virtual x, the "true" novel whose specter is engendered in the passage from the actual novel to the film. This virtual point of reference, although "unreal," is in a way more real than reality: it is the ABSOLUTE point of reference of the failed real attempts. This is how, in the perspective of the materialist theology, the divine emerges from the repetition of terrestrial material elements, as their "cause" retroactively posited by them. Deleuze is right to refer to Lacan here: this "better book" is what Lacan calls objet petit a, the object-cause of desire that "one cannot recapture in the present, except by capturing it in its consequences," the two really-existing books.

The underlying movement is here more complex than it may appear. It is not that we should simply conceive the starting point (the novel) as an "open work," full of possibilities which can be deployed later, actualized in later versions; or - even worse - that we should conceive the original work as a pre-text which can later be incorporated in other con-texts and given a meaning totally different from the original one. What is missing here is the retroactive, backwards, movement that was first described by Henri Bergson, a key reference for Deleuze. In his "Two Sources of Morality and Religion", Bergson describes the strange sensations he experienced on August 4 1914, when war was declared between France and Germany: "In spite of my turmoil, and although a war, even a victorious one, appeared to me as a catastrophy, I experienced what /William/ James spoke about, a feeling of admiration for the facility of the passage from the abstract to the concrete: who would have thought that such a formidable event can emerge in reality with so little fuss?" [3] Crucial is here the modality of the break between before and after: before its outburst, the war appeared to Bergson "simultaneously probable and impossible: a complex and contradictory notion which persisted to the end" [4]; after its outburst, it all of a sudden become real AND possible, and the paradox resides in this retroactive appearance of probability:

I never pretended that one can insert reality into the past and thus work backwards in time. However, one can without any doubt insert there the possible, or, rather, at every moment, the possible insert itself there. Insofar as unpredictable and new reality creates itself, its image reflects itself behind itself in the indefinite past: this new reality finds itself all the time having been possible; but it is only at the precise moment of its actual emergence that it begins to always have been, and this is why I say that its possibility, which does not precede its reality, will have preceded it once this reality emerges. [5]

THIS is what takes place in the example of Billy Bathgate: the film inserts back into the novel the possibility of a different, much better, novel. And do we not encounter a similar logic in the relationship between Stalinism and Leninism? Here also, THREE moments are in play: Lenin's politics before the Stalinist takeover; Stalinist politics; the specter of "Leninism" retroactively generated by Stalinism (in its official Stalinist version, but ALSO in the version critical of Stalinism, like when, in the process of "de-Stalinization" in the USSR, the motto evoked was that of the "return to the original Leninist principles"). One should therefore stop the ridiculous game of opposing the Stalinist terror to the "authentic" Leninist legacy betrayed by the Stalinism: "Leninism" is a thoroughly Stalinist notion. The gesture of projecting the emancipatory-utopian potential of Stalinism backwards, into a preceding time, signals the incapacity of the thought to endure the "absolute contradiction," the unbearable tension, inherent to the Stalinist project itself. [6] It is therefore crucial to distinguish "Leninism" (as the authentic core of Stalinism) from the actual political practice and ideology of Lenin's period: the actual greatness of Lenin is NOT the same as the Stalinist authentic myth of Leninism.

And the irony is that this logic of repetition, elaborated by Deleuze, THE anti-Hegelian, is at the very core of the Hegelian dialectics: it relies on the properly dialectical relationship between temporal reality and the eternal Absolute. The eternal Absolute is the immobile point of reference around which temporal figurations circulate, their presupposition; however, precisely as such, it is posited by these temporal figurations, since it does not pre-exist them: it emerges in the gap between the first and the second one - in the case of Billy Bathgate, between the novel and its repetition in the film. Or, back to Schumann's Humoresque, the eternal absolute is the third unplayed melodic line, the point of reference of the two lines played in reality: it is absolute, but a fragile one - if the two positive lines are played wrongly, it disappears... This is what one is tempted to call "materialist theology": temporal succession creates eternity.

The Deleuzian notion of sign can only be properly grasped against the background of his redefinition of what is a problem. Commonsense tells us that there are true and false solutions to every problems; for Deleuze, on the contrary, there are no definitive solutions to problems, solutions are just repeated attempts to deal with the problem, with its impossible-real. Problems themselves, not solutions, are true or false. Each solution not only reacts to "its" problem, but retroactively redefines it, formulating it from within its own specific horizon. Which is why problem is universal and solutions/answers are particular.

Deleuze is here unexpectedly closer to Hegel: for Hegel, say, the Idea of State is a problem, and each specific form of the state (Ancient republic, feudal monarchy, modern democracy...) proposes a solution to this problem, redefining the problem itself. And, precisely, the passage to the next "higher" stage of the dialectical process occurs when, instead of continuing to search for a solution, we problematize the problem itself, abandoning its terms - say, when, instead of continuing to search for a "true" State, we drop the very reference to State and look for a communal existence beyond State.

Problem is thus not only "subjective," not just epistemological, a problem for the subject who tries to solve it; it is stricto sensu ontological, inscribed into the thing itself: the structure of reality is "problematic." That is to say, actual reality can only be grasped as a series of answers to a virtual problems - say, in Deleuze's reading of biology, the development of eyes can only be grasped as attempted solution at the problem of how to deal with light. And this brings us to sign - actual reality appears as "sign" when it is perceived as an answer to virtual problem:

Neither the problem nor the question is a subjective determination marking a moment of insufficiency in knowledge. Problematic structure is part of objects themselves, allowing them to be grasped as signs (DR-63-4)

This explains the strange way Deleuze opposes signs and representations: for the common sense, a mental representation directly reproduces the way a thing is, while a sign just points towards it, designating it with a (more or less) arbitrary signifier. (In a representation of a table, I "see directly" a table, while its sign just points towards the table.) For Deleuze, on the contrary, representations are mediate, while signs are direct, and the task of a creative thought is that of "making movement itself a work, without interpositions; of substituting direct signs for mediate representations" (DR-16).

Representations are figures of objects as objective entities deprived of their virtual support/background, and we pass from representation to sign when we are able to discern in an object that which points towards its virtual ground, towards the problem with regard to which it is an answer. To put it succinctly, every answer is a sign of its problem. Does Deleuze's argument against the (Hegelian) negative not hold only if we reduce the negative to the negation of a pre-existing positive identity? What about a negativity which is in itself positive, giving, "generative"?

For a Deleuzian Christology. How are we to grasp the (often noted) weird impassivity of the figure of Christ, its "sterility"? What if Christ is an Event in the Deleuzian sense - an occurrence of pure individuality without proper causal power? Which is why Christ suffers, but in a thoroughly impassive way. Christ is "individual" in the Deleuzian sense: he is a pure individual, not characterized by positive properties which would make him "more" than an ordinary human, i.e., the difference between Christ and other humans is purely virtual - back to Schumann, Christ is, at the level of actuality, the same as other humans, only the unwritten "virtual melody" that accompanies him is added. And in the Holy Spirit, we get this "virtual melody" in its own: the Holy Spirit is a collective field of pure virtuality, with no causal power of its own. Christ's death and resurrection is the death of the actual person which confronts us directly with the ("resurrected") virtual field that sustained it. The Christian name for this virtual force is "love": when Christ says to his worried followers after his death "when there will be love between two of you, I will be there," he thereby asserts his virtual status.

Deleuzian repetition "is not an objective fact but an act - a form of behavior towards that which cannot be repeated" (JW-33). This is why there is asymmetry between the two levels - actuality of facts and virtuality of pure differences - is radical: not only does the repetition of pure differences underlie all actual identities (as we have seen in the case of Schumann), i.e., not only do we encounter pure virtual difference at its purest in actual identity; it is also that "the repetition of actual identities is disguised in any determinate idea of pure differences" (JW-28): there is no "pure" difference outside actuality, the virtual sphere of differences only persists-insists as a shadow accompanying actual identities and their interactions. Again, as in the case of Billy Bathgate the virtual specter ("Idea") of the true novel arises only through actual repetition of the actual novel in the film.

The starting point of Deleuze's "transcendental empiricism" is that there is always a hidden virtual aspect to any given determined/actual object or process: actual things are not ontologically "complete"; in order to get a complete view of them, we must add to it its virtual supplement. This move from an actual given thing to its virtual conditions is the transcendental move, the deployment of the transcendental conditions of the given. However, this does not mean that the virtual somehow produces, causes, or generates, the actual: when Deleuze talks about genesis (of the actual out of the virtual), he does not mean temporal-evolutionary genesis, the process of spatio-temporal becoming of a thing, but a "genesis without dynamism, evolving necessarily in the element of a supra-historicity, a static genesis" (DR-183). This static character of the virtual field finds its most radical expression in Deleuze's notion of a pure past: not the past into which things present pass, but an absolute past "where all events, including those that have sunk without trace, are stored and remembered as their passing away" (JW-94), a virtual past which already contains also things which are still present (a present can become past because in a way it is already, it can perceive itself as part of the past ("what we are doing now is (will have been) history"): "It is with respect to the pure element of the past, understood as the past in general, as an a priori past, that a given former present is reproducible and the present present is able to reflect itself." (DR-81) Does this mean that this pure past involves a thoroughly deterministic notion of the universe in which everything to happen (to come), all actual spatio-temporal deployment, is already part of an immemorial/atemporal virtual network? No, and for a very precise reason: because "the pure past must be all the past but must also be amenable to change through the occurrence of any new present" (JW-96). It was none other than T.S.Eliot, this great conservative, who first clearly formulated this link between our dependence on tradition and our power to change the past: tradition

cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. There remains to define this process of depersonalization and its relation to the sense of tradition. It is in this depersonalization that art may be said to approach the condition of science. [7]

When Eliot writes that, when judging a living poet, "you must set him among the dead," he formulates precisely an example of Deleuze's pure past. And when he writes that "the existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted," he no less clearly formulates the paradoxical link between the completeness of the past and our capacity to change it retroactively: precisely because the pure past is complete, each new work re-arranges its entire balance. Recall Borges' precise formulation of the relationship between Kafka and the multitude of his precursors, from old Chinese authors to Robert Browning: "Kafka's idiosyncrasy, in greater or lesser degree, is present in each of these writings, but if Kafka had not written we would not perceive it; that is to say, it would not exist. /.../ each writer creates his precursors. His work modifies our conception of the past, as it will modify the future." [8] The properly dialectical solution of the dilemma of "Is it really there, in the source, or did we only read it into the source?" is thus: it is there, but we can only perceive and state this retroactively, from today's perspective.

Here, Peter Hallward falls short in his otherwise excellent Out of This World, where he stresses only the aspect of the pure past as the virtual field in which the fate of all actual events is sealed in advance, since "everything is already written" in it. At this point where we view reality sub specie aeternitatis, absolute freedom coincides with absolute necessity and its pure automatism: to be free means to let oneself freely flow in/with the substantial necessity. This topic reverberates even in today's cognitivist debates on the problem of free will. Compatibilists like Daniel Dennett have an elegant solution to the incompatibilists' complaints about determinism (see Dennett's Freedom Evolves): when incompatibilists complain that our freedom cannot be combined with the fact that all our acts are part of the great chain of natural determinism, they secretly make an unwarranted ontological assumption: first, they assume that we (the Self, the free agent) somehow stand OUTSIDE reality, and then go to complain how they feel oppressed by the notion that reality with its determinism controls them totally. This is what is wrong with the notion of us being "imprisoned" by the chains of the natural determinism: we thereby obfuscate the fact that we are PART OF reality, that the (possible, local) conflict between our "free" striving and external reality resisting to it is a conflict inherent to reality itself. That is to say, there is nothing "oppressive" or "constraining" about the fact that our innermost strivings are (pre)determined: when we feel thwarted in our freedom by the constraining pressure of external reality, there must be something in us, some desires, strivings, which are thus thwarted, and where should these strivings come if not from this same reality? Our "free will" does not in some mysterious way "disturb the natural course of things," it is part and parcel of this course. For us to be "truly" and "radically" free, this would entail that there would be no positive content we would want to impose as our free act - if we want nothing "external" and particular/given to determine our behavior, then "this would involve being free of every part of ourselves"(Fearn 24). When a determinist claims that our free choice is "determined," this does not mean that our free will is somehow constrained, that we are forced to act AGAINST our free will - what is "determined" is the very thing that we want to do "freely," i.e., without being thwarted by external obstacles. - So, back to Hallward: while he is right to emphasize that, for Deleuze, freedom "isn't a matter of human liberty but of liberation from humanity" (139), of fully submerging oneself into the creative flux of the absolute Life, his political conclusion from this seems too fast:

The immediate political implication of such a position /.../ is clear enough: since a free mode or monad is simply one that has eliminated its resistance to the sovereign will that works through it, so then it follows that the more absolute the sovereign's power, the more 'free' are those subject to it. (139)

But does Hallward not ignore the retroactive movement on which Deleuze also insists, i.e., how this eternal pure past which fully determines us is itself subjected to retroactive change? We are thus simultaneously less free and more free than we think: we are thoroughly passive, determined by and dependent on the past, but we have the freedom to define the scope of this determination, i.e., to (over)determine the past which will determine us. Deleuze is here unexpectedly close to Kant, for whom I am determined by causes, but I (can) retroactively determine which causes will determine me: we, subjects, are passively affected by pathological objects and motivations; but, in a reflexive way, we ourselves have the minimal power to accept (or reject) being affected in this way, i.e., we retroactively determine the causes allowed to determine us, or, at least, the MODE of this linear determination. "Freedom" is thus inherently retroactive: at its most elementary, it is not simply a free act which, out of nowhere, starts a new causal link, but a retroactive act of endorsing which link/sequence of necessities will determine me. Here, one should add a Hegelian twist to Spinoza: freedom is not simply "recognized/known necessity", but recognized/assumed necessity, the necessity constituted/actualized through this recognition. So when Deleuze refers to Proust's description of Vinteuil's music that haunts Swann - "as if the performers not so much played the little phrase as executed the rites necessary for it to appear" -, he is evoking the necessary illusion: generating the sense-event is experienced as ritualistic evocation of a pre-existing event, as if the event was already there, waiting for our call in its virtual presence.

What directly resonates in this topic is, of course, the Protestant motif of predestination: far from being a reactionary theological motif, predestination is a key element of the materialist theory of sense, on condition that we read it along the lines of the Deleuzian opposition between the virtual and the actual. That is to say, predestination does not mean that our fate is sealed in an actual text existing from eternity in the divine mind; the texture which predestines us belongs to the purely virtual eternal past which, as such, can be retroactively rewritten by our act. This, perhaps, would have been the ultimate meaning of the singularity Christ's incarnation: it is an ACT which radically changes our destiny. Prior to Christ, we were determined by Fate, caught in the cycle of sin and its payment, while Christ's erasing of our past sins means precisely that his sacrifice changes our virtual past and thus sets us free. When Deleuze writes that »my wound existed before me; I was born to embody it,« does this variation on the theme of the Cheshire cat and its smile from Alice in Wonderland (the cat was born to embody its smile) not provide a perfect formula of Christ's sacrifice: Christ was born to embody his wound, to be crucified? The problem is the literal teleological reading of this proposition: as if the actual deeds of a person merely actualize its atemporal-eternal fate inscribed in its virtual idea:

Caesar's only real task is to become worthy of the events he has been created to embody. Amor fati. What Caesar actually does adds nothing to what he virtually is. When Caesar actually crosses the Rubicon this involves no deliberation or choice since it is simply part of the entire, immediate expression of Caesarness, it simply unrolls or 'unfolds something that was encompassed for all times in the notion of Caesar. (Hallward 54)

However, what about the retroactivity of a gesture which (re)constitutes this past itself? This, perhaps, is the most succinct definition of what an authentic ACT is: in our ordinary activity, we effectively just follow the (virtual-fantasmatic) coordinates of our identity, while an act proper is the paradox of an actual move which (retroactively) changes the very virtual transcendental coordinates of its agent's being - or, in Freudian terms, which does not only change the actuality of our world, but also "moves its underground". We have thus a kind of reflexive "folding back of the condition onto the given it was the condition for" (JW-109): while the pure past is the transcendental condition for our acts, our acts do not only create new actual reality, they also retroactively change this very condition. This brings us to the central problem of Deleuze's ontology: how are the virtual and the actual related? "Actual things express Ideas but are not caused by them."(JW-200) The notion of causality is limited to the interaction of actual things and processes; on the other hand, this interaction also causes virtual entities (sense, Ideas): Deleuze is not an idealist, Sense is for him always an ineffective sterile shadow accompanying actual things. What this means is that, for Deleuze, (transcendental) genesis and causality are totally opposed: they move at different levels:

Actual things have an identity, but virtual ones do not, they are pure variations. An actual thing must change - become something different - in order to express something. Whereas, the expressed virtual thing does not change - only its relation to other virtual things, other intensities and Ideas changes. (JW-200)

How does this relation change? Only through the changes in actual things which express Ideas, since the entire generative power lies in actual things: Ideas belong to the domain of Sense which is "only a vapor which plays at the limit of things and words"; as such, Sense is "the Ineffectual, a sterile incorporeal deprived of its generative powers" (DR-156). Think about a group of dedicated individuals fighting for the Idea of Communism: in order to grasp their activity, we have to take into account the virtual Idea. But this Idea is in itself sterile, has no proper causality: all causality lies in the individuals who "express" it.

The gist of Deleuze's critique of Aristotle, of his notion of specific difference, is that it privileged difference to identity: specific difference always presupposes the identity of a genre in which opposed species co-exist. However, what about the "Hegelian complication" here? What about a specific difference which defines the genre itself, a difference of species which coincides with the difference between genus and species, thus reducing the genus itself to one of its species?

Bodies without organs, organs without bodies: as Deleuze emphasizes, what he is fighting against are not organs but ORGANISM, the articulation of a body into a hierarchic-harmonious Whole of organs, each "at its place," with its function: "the BwO is in no way the contrary of the organs. Its enemies are not organs. The enemy is the organism." [9] He is fighting corporatism/organicism. For him, Spinoza's substance is the ultimate BwO: the non-hierarchic space in which a chaotic multitude (of organs?), all equal (univocity of being), float... Nonetheless, there is a strategic choice made here: why BwO, why not (also) OwB? Why not Body as the space in which autonomous organs freely float? Is it because "organs" evoke a function within a wider Whole, subordination to a goal? But does this very fact not make their autonomization, OwB, all the more subversive?


[1] Le Séminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XXIII: Le sinthome, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2005.

[2] James Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Difference and Repetition: a Critical Introduction and Guide, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 2003, p. 27.

[3] Henri Bergson, Oeuvres, Paris: PUF, 1991, p. 1110-1111.

[4] Bergson, ibid.

[5] Bergson, ibid.

[6] One of the few historians ready to confront this excruciating tension is Sheila Fitzpatrick, who pointed out that the year 1928 was a shattering turning point, a true second revolution, not any kind of "Thermidor," but rather the consequent radicalization of the October Revolution. See Stalinism. New Directions, ed. by Sheila Fitzpatrick, London: Routledge, 2001.

[7] T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," originally published in The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, (1922).

[8] Jorge Luis Borges, Other Inquisitions: 1937-52, New York: Washington Square Press, 1966, p. 113.

[9] Gilles Deleuze - Felix Guattari, Mille plateaux, Paris: Les editions de Minuit, 1980, p. 196.

Slavoj Zizek's Bibliography

Slavoj Zizek's Chronology

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